Touching a Nerve

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on January 5, 2011

Why skirts are such a hot-button issue.

This past January I wrote a piece for the website Faith and Family Live! entitled Skirting the Issue. In it I asked readers to weigh in on the question of why some Catholics feel that women should favor wearing skirts over pants. 200 passionate responses were left in the combox before Danielle Bean, the web editor, opted to disallow additional comments.

In August, Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote an article entitled Ninnies, Tyrants and Those Damned Pants challenging the opinion of an influential Catholic author that women should consider jettisoning their pants. His article blew up on Facebook after being shared 204 times.

In September, Simcha Fisher challenged that same author on her blog, I Have to Sit Down. She, too, chose to close her combox after the number of comments climbed to 317. That conversation was continued on author Mark Shea’s site, Catholic and Enjoying It!, where his comments eventually numbered 324.

What is it about a topic as seemingly mundane as women’s fashion that touches a nerve with so many? Why, when this topic is raised among Catholics, do web editors and blog owners have to step in and close comments due to heated rhetoric and flaring tempers?

Our Unique Place in History

We find ourselves in a unique place in history. Though women today are experiencing unparalleled freedom, we are not yet far enough away from a time when we were socially marginalized to have completely moved on. Because there may be some residual fear of having their liberties taken away, some women have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear it suggested that there might be some benefit to their favoring skirts over pants. Several of the individuals who contributed to this conversation asserted that the mere fact that the question had been raised concerned and insulted them.

Gender Roles

When questions are raised regarding the appropriateness of women wearing pants, they are often received as a demand that women take a step backwards in the quest for equality. One of the key tenets of the feminist revolution of the 1960’s was that, in order to be equal, women should not be asked or expected to do anything differently from men. The assumption being that to do so would be an infringement upon our autonomy and might prevent us from living full lives. This worldview has so infiltrated our culture that the average American wouldn’t even think to question it.

Rampant Immorality

Most Catholics are desperate to do something about rampant immorality. For those of us with children the issue of sexual immorality feels especially urgent. During this debate the “Live and Let Live” argument was repeatedly put forward by those who rejected the assertion that women ought to show preferential treatment to their skirts. That is not an argument that will appease many Catholics, though, as it is overused and often misapplied in today’s indulgent atmosphere. The fastest way to alienate a group of Catholics is to hand them the “Live and Let Live” card as it implies that the discussion isn’t even worth having. That simply isn’t going to suffice for those gravely concerned about the decline of Western civilization.

The Convert Experience

As a convert, I can attest to the fact there is often a period of correction and healing that we must go through at the beginning of our conversion experience. Fashion can play an important role in this process. For those who came from a fundamentalist background, wearing pants may help them to heal from a repressive religious or family upbringing. For those who grew up in a liberal environment that celebrated androgyny, wearing skirts may help them to rediscover and celebrate their femininity. This is an important journey for many converts and there can be a temptation to get upset when these necessary corrections are questioned.

Rise of Sexual Abuse

The numbers of those affected by sexual abuse continues to rise. For these individuals the issues of modesty, sexuality and gender identity may be particularly difficult ones to consider. Several people involved in this debate contended that pants are cut in a way that is too suggestive for a woman’s figure. The argument was then made that women who wear pants are sources of temptation and should assume some responsibility for the resulting sins of men. For victims of sexual abuse such an assertion sounds far too much like the cruel implication that they had asked to be abused. In fact, society as a whole has such an acute awareness of the horrible phenomenon of sexual abuse that even those who have not been abused may become understandably upset with any philosophy that seems to blame the victim.

Our Church leaves much up to personal discretion. How a woman chooses to clothe herself is included in that category. That is not to say that the relative goodness, or lack thereof, of various fashion trends is not worth discussing, but as the Magisterium is unlikely to ever weigh in authoritatively on such issues the debate will probably persist indefinitely.

As we continue to carry on these sorts of discussions we would be wise to take into account that we usually know very little about the individuals we encounter online. We can only begin to imagine the wide variety of experiences that lead people to their conclusions. Without the benefit of being able to witness another’s facial expressions, hear their tone of voice and ask follow-up questions that require extensive clarification and elaboration we all run the risk of falling victim to misunderstanding.

It takes humility to remember that the person on the other side of the screen might have certain life experiences that lend themselves to a better understanding of the issue than your own. It takes compassion to see that there might be pain behind another’s misguided comments. And it takes fortitude to soldier on in defense of the truth when dealing with unjust treatment. If we can persevere through these challenges, though, we will all benefit from the shared wisdom of individuals around the world who can only be united by that imperfect little thing called the Internet.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Allie January 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Nicely done! What a great analysis of many viewpoints. Hopefully this post results in more unity. ^_^

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priest's wife January 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm

very nice post! My 'pants post' was one of the most commented on (I have a very small blog)

My problem- a 'pants post' will get hundreds, thousands of responses on a big blog- but the slaughter of Christians in Iraq and Egypt are virtually ignored…

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Young Mom January 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm

It is a touchy topic, I guess because people get defensive if they feel as though someone else is telling them how to live.
I'm sure that skirts would be nice to wear if I hadn't grown up fundamentalist, but they just give me the heebie-jeebies and turn me into a sullen/submissive uncommunicative doormat like I was trained to be. I feel like I am wearin a bag no matter how beautiful the dress is. I have no problem with people wearing skirts, or even exclusively skirts, but some of the mentality behind it still creeps me out (I written more on that at my own blog)
I kind of disagree with the "decline of culture" thing, I feel that most of the issues that christians face today have always been there. Some of them are better known today, but sexual immorality, immodesty, and questions of sexual orientation and gender have always been a big part of this world. What period of "good morals" are we declining from? I can't think of one.
Also, on the topic of sexual abuse, I actually feel that it is possible that skirts can make you more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Aside from easier access to private areas, the mentality behind wearing exclusively skirts can also teach helplessness and excessive trust of authority figures along with "femininity".
Just my rambling thoughts on the topic.

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Christine the Soccer Mom January 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I think this is pretty touchy, too, but you've handled it with decorum and grace here.

Personally, I prefer skirts until Winter sets in, at which point I realize that I have very little in the way of "tromping through the snow" stuff skirt-wise. I love skirts the rest of the year, and sometimes go weeks without pulling out my jeans once Summer comes. Skirts are actually cooler then.

But I have no problem with women wearing pants all the time. And I have no problem with women who never, ever, ever wear pants (including when it snows). And if we all went back to dressing like people did in the 1920's, I'd be thrilled! (Oh, think of the pretty clothes in "The Music Man!" I'd TOTALLY dress that way!)

But please, ladies, calm down a bit and don't berate me for throwing on jeans when the temperature dips below 60. And, conversely, the other side needs to calm down when I, homemaker & homeschooler, pull out my skirts and wear nothing else all Summer long. We can all live in peace, and we can all display a good amount of modesty at the same time!

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That Married Couple January 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Good idea to analyze the rationale behind these conflicting approaches! Nicely done. "The convert experience" resonates most with me, as I did discern a need to dress more modestly after entering the fullness of the faith. As I was reevaluating my wardrobe, I did decide I wanted to dress more femininely, but in my case that simply meant more skirts, not exclusively skirts.

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Emily January 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I went to Catholic school for 9 years, and for 8 of them, I wore a skirt almost every day. So I am very used to them. When I look at skirts now, I judge them by modesty–if it doesn't hit the tip of my longest finger when I hold my arms down against it, it's a no-go. I think basic modesty rules, when it comes to all clothing, are a good idea.
I wear pants, especially in the cold Ohio winters, but I do prefer dresses/skirts. Even with pants there can be modesty issues (too tight, too low-cut, etc.). So I have decided that modesty in dress–whether it be skirts, pants, shorts, dresses, tops, whatever!–is the way to go.

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Anonymous January 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm

BEtty- this is fascinating!! I had seen all those posts about skirts & pants and always wondered why its such a big deal. I think you hit the nail on the head. I'm going to forward this to some of my friends-we were talking about this issue last week. thank you! :-D

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Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge January 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I myself have been criticized, to my face, for wearing pants. Here is the thing, I do not feel modest in skirts…whew, there I said it. I guess I got my skirt caught in my tights too often as a kid or caught in too many windy situations but I feel naked and exposed when I am in a skirt. I do occassionally wear dresses or skirts, but I am never comfortable in them.
I thought the same thing as Young Mom about sexual abuse and skirts, probably because I know two women this happened to as children. One of whom will never wear a skirt again and at her wedding had a custom-made suit made because she was that traumatized. Unfortunately several law enforcement and psychologists I have known have all said that if a person is a pedophile he or she will see a child in a burlap sack as sexual and the articles of clothing are totally secondary. :(
I appreciate your careful analysis, it is difficult to speak of this without personal emotion creeping in, I believe this is probably the most fair assessment I have read.

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Teresa January 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I kind of disagree with the "decline of culture" thing, I feel that most of the issues that christians face today have always been there…What period of "good morals" are we declining from?

Youngmom – Not to speak for Betty but I think it's pretty clear that we're seeing a decline in public values like never before. For example.. there has always been homosexuality, and many cultures have even accepted gay life styles to some extent (which I support – homophobia is bad), but there has almost never been a culture that said that two people of the same gender marrying is the exact same thing as a man and a woman marrying. Abortion has existed all throughout human history, but there is no question that, in the western world anyway, there has been a rapid decline in respect for unborn life. Whereas people in Europe and America had abortions in the 19th century, the government did not help fund it, and unborn life was not legally deemed subhuman.

Yes, the world has always been fallen. No society has been without huge problems, and I doubt that behind-closed-doors human behavior has changed all that much over the millennia. But I submit that there has been a distinct, rapid, undeniable decline in society's ideals of what a moral standard even looks like over the past 100 years.

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Marianne January 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I was kind of annoyed when the debate first took off. This helps me to understand why it's an important topic for some so thanks!

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elena maria vidal January 6, 2011 at 3:09 am

Well said. It intrigues me how this issue gets such a rise out of people!

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Susan January 6, 2011 at 3:29 am

I think that one reason pants are such a hot button issue is that, unlike most convictions or even preferences, our belief about pants is always displayed in public. No one knows, unless I tell them, how often I pray the rosary, whether or not we use birth control or how well I pay attention in mass. But everyone who knows me well and sees me often knows that I don't wear pants.
Now, in my experience, women who feel comfortable and confident with who they are don't really care what I wear. In fact, if giving up skirts they might offer them to me. The few that raise the issue and make some sort of "I just couldn't dress that way" statement usually have some other issue they are struggling with.
Interestingly enough, I don't wear pants because I don't like them nor do I feel comfortable in them. That's it. My daughter also doesn't wear pants, even though we have not discussed the issue extensively. My only comment to her is that I don't feel she looks "ladylike" in pants. I have never said that they were sinful or against Biblical teaching because I don't have any particular proof that they are. Its just not something I, or she, like to wear.

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Young Mom January 6, 2011 at 4:49 am

Teresa-

I acknowledge that the church has less of a political voice than it did 100 years ago. I recognize that for issues like abortion and sexual ethics, the political scene has changed quite drastically in the last century. However, I do not see an overall “distinct, rapid, undeniable decline of society’s ideals”. It all depends on what issues you are looking at.

100 years ago we had the eugenics movement, horrible mistreatment and abuse of disabled persons, children working in factories and many being severely injured or killed, violent corporal punishment of children both at home and in schools, extreme nationalism that eventually produced 2 horrific wars (WW1 and WW2), women are second class citizens with limited legal rights, abortifacient drugs are freely advertised and distributed to “regulate cycles”, we are on the eve of the Russian revolution and state mandated atheism in communist countries, and racism and mistreatment of minorities is rampant.

If we go back 200 years, we have the enslavement and legalized torture of an entire race, colonialism gaining wealth for European countries at the expense of what is now called the third world, absolute monarchies governing most of Europe in the wake of the French Revolution, exploitation of workers (think bob cratchett in “A Christmas Carol”. Come to think of it, read anything by Charles Dickens.) We have The Irish Potato famine where wealthy protestant land owners will do nothing to stop the starvation of over a million catholic tenants in Ireland. Prostitution (and the mistreatment of prostitutes) is rampant.

No matter what century we are in, there are moral strengths and weaknesses. I still can’t believe that we are in a time period that somehow trumps all the others in lack of moral standards. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to make progress on the moral issues of our time, thank God there were abolitionists who worked to end slavery! We can be glad that child labour and exploitation has ended in the western world! But in the end only the second advent of Christ will resolve the sins of the world.

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Kate January 6, 2011 at 4:57 am

I'm with Young Mom – I feel exposed and vulnerable in skirts in an uncomfortable way, although I don't have any sort of misogynistic upbringing to pin that on. And I get riled at the historical misunderstanding that just because, in western culture, men starting wearing pants a few hundred years before women that pants are therefore forever modest for men and immodest for women. ;-)

My observation is that although discussions on this topic may become heated, typically out of a 400 comment length discussion perhaps only ONE person is actually arguing an absolute prohibition on an article of clothing. But since everyone here wears either pants, skirts, or some combination of the two, everyone has the potential to be offended by each other's observations or feelings about skirt- and pants-wearing.

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Kate January 6, 2011 at 5:03 am

Young Mom – Bravo! I am a HUGE fan of having some historical perspective.

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Betty Beguiles January 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Young Mom and Kate: I think it's debatable whether we're worse off than we were 100 years ago (I happen to think we are) but that wasn't actually my point. I was asserting that our civilization is currently in a period of decline. Over the course of my lifetime things have gone from bad to worse, morally-speaking–a pattern that doesn't seem to be on the cusp of change.

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Charlotte January 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Since I'm the one who got the commbox closed down by Danielle, am I allowed to say something here? (If I'm nice? Pretty please…) : )

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Betty Beguiles January 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Charlotte–Of course! I'd love to hear your thoughts. :)

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Andrea January 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Hallie what I really like about this post is that you are assuming the best about people.
I think that often people do not assume the best about each other, especially online (I watched the internet skirt explosion, without comment). This is a skill for life, for most circumstances. Assuming the best about a person is neither judging them nor accepting relativism. The fact is, we just don't know what are on others' hearts, what their pasts are, what their hurts are, and so forth. Your post here helps everyone to see different sides of each others thoughts on the issue.
I went through a phase of skirts-only. It was a detox from years of truly immodest dress and I really needed it.
At this point, I almost never wear skirts on a regular day because I feel that I have figured out how to dress appropriately in pants and I am uncomfortable (and frankly ineffective at my work at home) in them.
I assume the best from a lady in skirts only. I know that she is convicted, and has reasons that I may or may not know about concerning her chosen garments. I assume the best about ladies in pants, and most importantly, I assume the best about ladies who do dress immodestly because I was one, and I know why I dressed that way (it was not ill-intentioned – it was a true lack of understanding). I don't condone immodest dress, but I think it helps to assume the best of others and have some compassion. The same holds true with skirts/no skirts.

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Charlotte January 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Thanks!

1. You write, "What is it about a topic as seemingly mundane as women’s fashion that touches a nerve with so many?"

Unfortunately, from the beginning (at least in the *commboxes* of those discussions), it wasn't about FASHION – which yes, is normally something kind of mundane. Instead, it quickly became about being right or wrong/being a good or bad Catholic. That's why it took a bad turn. That's what inflamed people (including me). It's one thing to say such-and-such is immoral and wrong and cite it in the Catechism. It's another to imply it and have no basis for saying so other that strong recommendations by Good Catholics (TM) and/or throwing it in a person's face about how wrong or immodest/immoral they are.

2. On your paragraph "Gender Roles" and things that might "prevent us from living full lives":

You make a valid point here that I think is correct. However, again referencing back to those blog posts that caused such a stir, there seemed to be the allegation (directly or between the lines) from many in the commboxes that women who DON'T wear skirts/dresses all of the time were *also* being prevented from living full lives…..in all the glory that is true modesty and true femininity. Worse, the allegation was that many women were too stupid or duped by modern culture to even know it.

So yes, people like me were offended, because fellow Catholic women were basically sticking knives in other women's backs, assuming and telling other women that they were stupid, naive, blind, and knowingly or unknowingly immodest. Which means that at the foundation, Catholic women were attacking other Catholic women (me included) over something that is a very subjective thing – the way we dress ourselves – telling other women that they were somehow missing out on living a full life by not dressing a certain way. And let's face it, that's a very subjective and personal thing. Maybe a person is missing out on living a full life by not wearing skirts, but maybe not. And who is "Superty-Duperty-Catholic-Mom" commenter to tell me so?

To be continued……

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Charlotte January 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm

3. About "rampant immorality" and the "live and let live card":

I understand when you say that the "live and let live" card solves nothing where big-time issues are concerned. Many times it's a cop out, so I generally agree with you. But as concerns this one, specific issue/topic, I can't agree because the "issue" of wearing skirts (in my opinion) is absolutely 100% NOT an issue of "rampant immorality." Like you say later in your post, it's not as if the Catholic Catechism addresses whether women should be wearing dresses and skirts all the time. (And sorry, I'm not buying the Traditional Catholic argument that the Church *does* have specific rules about how a woman should be dressed, since the "rules" they cite are from the Edwardian era and aren't in the Catechism.)

I understand that there are some Catholics who deeply and truly believe that women wearing skirts/dresses really is an issue of morality, and I can respect that to a certain degree, even if I think it's a misguided notion. (As in, respect for the sake of respect.) But see, those people who hold to to that notion typically believe that the *opposite* of wearing skirts/dresses is a wholesale expose of skin and sensulaity –
an idea which I reject on principle, because it is short-sighted, one-sided, and informed by "evidence" of the selective-observation type.

Cloth covering your body is not an issue of "rampant immorality," especially for the decent Catholic women in those discussions who DO wear pants and felt completely blind-sided by the allegation that otherwise nice women trying to grow in holiness had somehow missed the memo about how horribly immoral they were. Thus, the only solution was to roll your eyes and say "live and let live" in the face of such baseless tripe.

To be continued……

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Charlotte January 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

4. Your paragraph about "religious correction" is right-on, and you know I have cited your writings on this topic before. However, let it be said that religous corrections to the left or to the right should be corrections made by "self," not by others. (I'm not saying this for you, Hallie, but for others who might be reading this.) For example, when certain Good Catholics (TM) go on and on and on and on at their blogs and in commboxes about how great and righteous and pure and moral they are for switching over to skirts, do they have any idea of how this comes off to other equally-lovely Catholic women who don't want to wear skirts, never entertained the idea, or don't agree? Sometimes it sounds like they're trying to recruit or something. Worse, it comes off to other perfectly nice Catholic women as "you're not welcome or good enough, etc., if you don't agree with me."

5. The "blame the victim" theory of sexual abuse has been convoluded by the feminist movement. Camille Paglia – the feminist that all feminists hate – has said numerous times that feminists screaming that they should be able to wear whatever they damn well please anytime without fear of rape, etc., is like living in fantasyland. Paglia says, in essence, "Hey, if you dress like a ho or a slut over at that frat party, honey, what do you expect? Take a look in the mirror before you walk out the door and ask yourself what kind of message you're sending to men?" In other words, let's take a little responsibility for how we present ourselves and not expect men to act like castrated prince charmings. Now, this is not to say any woman who's been raped or abused in relation to how she looks or is dressed deserved what she got. (Anyone who comes back here and asserts that I'm saying that is off-base.) But on the other hand, I assure everyone reading this that in the history of the world, women were raped and abused on a routine basis, in all of history and in all generations, whether wearing togas, skirts, or fig leaves. It's the nature of sin, and rape/abuse will continue as long as we live in this valley of tears. To pin rape/sexual abuse ONLY on pants or revealing blouses is to miss the point entirely.

I bring up Paglia's view point not as a help in building up totally insane views of modesty that border on puritanical, but rather as a thought to restore balance to the discussion. It's about being "in the middle" and modest in a relevant way where people take you seriously. Which, in my mind, does not require a dress, nor does it require pants.

Sorry I'm being a commbox hog here……

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LeeAnn Balbirona January 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I'm studying 1st Corinthians with my parish CSS study group. Coincidentally, we got to chapter 11 this week…the headcovering verses…which is relevent to this discussion.

I think the point St. Paul was trying to get across there is that our clothing should not attract the wrong kind of attention toward us. Christians should be known for their great virtue (especially charity), not their flouting of traditional societal norms in dress. Men should be men, women should be women, and each should do what is appropriate for their sex.

If I lived five hundred years ago, I would not buck society to get the right to wear pants. But I grew up in 1970s California and mainly wore dresses for only church and special occasions. I grew up to be a teen and young adult that thought skirts were uncool; that being feminine was uncool.

As an adult, I've gone through phases of wearing skirts-only as I've overcome that and learned to enjoy and appreciate the feminine. I now wear both pants and skirts…and sometimes pants under skirts!

I think the main thing for a Christian woman is to be modest, feminine and appropriate. We don't want to be the Amish, where the main thing they are known for is their refusal to be modern. We want people to "know we are Christians by our love"…not our dress.

That being said, it's Universal Jeans At Mass that bugs me…jeans on folks who wear nicer clothes to work during the week but can't be bothered to do the same on Sunday.

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Charlotte January 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm

6. Finally, your closing comments on this topic were perfect! It does take lots of insight, patience, and humility, etc., to try and discern (if possible) where people are really coming from in these discussions. (With myself needing LOTS more of all that! Ha!)

However, I've come to the conclusion that unless I'm really, really hot and bothered about a modesty/femininity/clothing issue from a Catholic perspective, it's best to leave that topic alone. (I'll call it the "Erin Manning Protocol," so named for Erin Manning of the "And Sometimes Tea" blog who wisely decided a year or so ago that she would avoid hot-button "mommy" topics that got otherwise nice Catholic women all upset and arguing and fighting with one another in commboxes.) The bottom line is that the skirt/dress topic is never going to be resolved and Catholic women are always going to take offense (either way, whichever side of the fence), and it's probably best not to even think about hosting the hostility.

Woe be to the girl who wore the same prom dress as another girl in her class. Woe be to the woman guest who wore white to the bride's wedding. It's the same way here – woe to the woman who steps forward saying that all good Catholic women are only modest if wearing skirts – OR – Catholic women who wear only dresses are puritanical nut jobs.

As women, we should know better.

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Dianne January 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Pants or skirts — it is really a personal choice. Either can be suggestive or immodest — I feel a lot "sexier"(and thus more sexually vulnerable) in a skirt than I ever have in the pants that I wear. While
I realize that some of you may be "hot mamas", I have a feeling that most of us concerned about this topic are not that enticing in either pants or skirts! I hope this is the hardest thing any of you have to face in your life, as I myself have had to deal with way harder things in life than whether I should wear pants or a skirt.

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Laurence January 7, 2011 at 12:43 am

Your blog was referenced by a friend’s blog, so I have missed the entire goings on of which you all speak. (Am I the male who reads your blog?) I want to be very careful with what I say; it is obvious that emotions have been running high.

Just curious, for the women who wear trousers all of most of the time; do you wear them to Mass too? I ask because I attend the traditional Latin Mass and nearly all the women wear dresses. And, in case you are wondering, yes I always wear a tie. I’m going to meet the King of Heaven, what else would I wear? I live in Salt Lake City. I was always very embarrassed when Mormons, who always dress their best for church, visit the average Catholic parish and see folks in flip flops, shorts and jeans—what must they think?

The other thing I noticed is that there seems to be the idea that it is either trousers or look Amish. Up until the 60’s when everything went crazy, women wore dresses all the time and never looked Amish. Doesn’t everybody have photos of their mothers and grandmothers? Mine didn’t look Amish.

And from this mans point of view, dresses are feminine, and trousers just aren’t.
Thanks for letting me offer my two cents. No offense intended.

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JMB January 7, 2011 at 2:13 am

My issue with the skirt/pant thing is that somebody always brings out Mary and states that he or she "knows" for a fact that Mary would be against pants. Then I just want to laugh. Because it is completely ludicrous that Mary should be involved in this discussion.

I use prudence in picking out my clothing for the day, mind full of the tasks or events that I will be present for. I don't judge other people by what they wear or expect to be judged by anyone else.

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Young Mom January 7, 2011 at 2:54 am

I love what LeeAnn said, there is no need to look Amish. You can look great and still wear dresses. I grew up in the Amish clothes, and you stand out like a sore thumb and get alot of attention.

Laurence
On dressing nicely for church, I agree. I try to wear nice slacks, or sometimes a long skirt. But that being said, I would rather people show up at church in jeans then skip coming at all. And there are sundays where I can barely manage to feed and dress all my kids and drag myself to church in jeans and a clean shirt much less find the time to dress myself up.

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Charlotte January 7, 2011 at 3:10 am

Laurence,
Yes, I wear "trousers" to mass all of the time. Jeans, to be specific. My nice jeans, with dressier shoes and dressier tops and dressier jewlery. All that's different is the part about the "trousers" and everything else I'm wearing to mass is the same as all your traddie ladies. Just one piece of clothing difference.

See, I'm fat. And I mean fat, overweight. I look horrendous in almost all dresses, and to find a skirt combination that looks OK on me is a difficult task. In the last 6 years, I've found 2 such combinations, which have been saved for weddings and funerals. I do not look "modest" in these clothes – rather, I look frumpy, dumpy, and ugly. If you think that's pleasing to God – great – but I really don't think he cares. I give him my best as I see that I look the best.

I have been to TLM's and let me tell you, some of those women in the all-hailed dresses and skirts look like total crap. I'm just being me and I'm just telling the truth as I see it, no one has to agree. ***Dresses/skirts do not automatically make a women look feminine or modest – that's a huge myth and misnomer that I'm sick of people (especially TRADS) subscribing to.***

If I sound a bit on the edge, it's because I feel that your bringing up the TLM/N.O. dichotomy has absolutely zero to do with this issue. Mass is mass – Christ is there, either way – all liturgical arguments aside. So your observation about giving God your best should apply regardless of the liturgy.

I give God my best, the way I look best. Trust me, at 40-some years old, I KNOW what I look good in and what I look like a stuffed rollover in. If I ever lose 50 or 60 pounds, well then, I would likely reconsider if "my best" would include some skirts. It probably would. In fact, I'll guarantee it. But that being said, I don't believe that skirts all the time, 24/7 is an issue of morality whatsoever.

By the way, your use of the word "trousers" is interesting. No intent to use a MALE version of pants to stain the idea of pants as a purely male article of clothing? Just wondering.

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Kate January 7, 2011 at 7:18 am

JMB – the ludicrous part of asking 'what would Mary wear' is that both Jesus and Mary wore robes, at a time and place in history when most items of clothing were pretty unisex for common folk. There were differences, but the modern western observer would have a hard time picking out anything besides differences in head coverings.

I maintain that to be consistent at all, someone ought to be arguing for a return to robes/kilts for men as well. Or at the very least, insisting on tunics long enough to render those bifurcated leg coverings decent.

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Elisa January 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm

You are such a good writer. I don't really understand what the big hubbub is about. I wear skirts to Mass when I can, but this past Christmas Mass after I just had baby #3 all I could fit was either maternity jeans or black yoga pants. I chose black yoga pants because I thought they looked more dressy. I know God understands. But down here in TX in the "country" I will see people wearing everything form farm jeans to beautiful dressy clothes at Mass.

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Stephanie January 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm

To comment or not to comment…that is the question.

I think this topic is such a hot button topic because we as women identify ourselves by what we wear. Rich or poor, thin or fat, prude or loose. (And no, I'm not saying it is that black or white…just examples.) Like it or not the clothing we choose to wear says so much to those around us as to who we are as a person. The idea that certain clothing isn't more modest or more appropriate in different settings is just silly. Your clothing speaks for you no matter if you want it to or not. Haven't you ever watched "What Not to Wear"?! Haha!

I think the reason this hits a button on people is they feel personally attacked because they are struggling to feel comfortable with the statements they are making. Few people like to be told that the statement they are choosing to make does not, in fact, reflect what they want it to say. Every woman wants to feel and look attractive and they have convinced themselves that the way they dress is doing that the very best way possible – pants, skirts, whatever. When someone comes along with another idea than what they have chosen, they have a couple of different options at that point. They can argue that the person is just being inflammatory and judgmental because how could they ever be thought of as having missed something in their decision making. Another option is to quietly ask themselves whether the other person may have a point worth considering – they may or may not.

To ask someone to change their clothing (ie their identity) is asking a lot. I think that it takes a great deal of time and wrestling on the part of the person changing. There are so many things to let go – feeling "comfortable", attractive, cost, and at the end of the day humility of seeing they may have missed something along the way.

I think that every single thing we choose to wear needs to be carefully considered whether it be shirts, skirts, dresses, or pants. What are we saying? Whose are we? We are children of the Almighty God. Are we really giving Him all that we have? To feel questioned that we might not be can hurt. And of course this applies to more than just what we are wearing, but to believe that what we wear does not effect anything else besides the outer appearance of our body is naive.

I think that anyone who believes they have come to a deeper understanding of how to give Him more of themselves and wishes to share that with others shouldn't be attacked! I would hope as dearly beloved daughters of the Almighty King, that we would jump at the opportunity to glean more insight from a fellow sister. Maybe what she says doesn't apply to you at this time, and maybe it never will.

My prayer for us all is that we would be able to offer our insights with love and respect. Whether that be the choice to wear skirts or pants. We should think before we type and ask ourselves "is what I am saying coming from a place of encouragement and love of our Lord?".

Certainly each of us could be offering more to our Lord each and every day. I for one feel so blessed when someone loves our Lord (and me) enough to share the wisdom they have gained in their walk. It can only help me in my ultimate desire of becoming a saint. If our decisions (skirts vs. pants, comment vs. not commenting) are guided by anything less, then we should really take a step back and ask ourselves what we are doing.

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DeAnn January 8, 2011 at 12:09 am

This is a touchy subject in our area as well. I appreciate your approach and giving most people the benefit of the doubt. It saddens me to see women attacking each other over this issue. There was a time at our local church when various women would find a copy of a certain book on their car or doorstep as if to say, "You really need to read this." (and not in a nice way) I've read this book and will refrain from my line by line analysis. There are two points that I would like to make, though. One is that the "book" and others assume that all men are animals and cannot control themselves when they see a woman in pants. I'm a woman and was offended for most men out there. Yes, men are more visually oriented but, I would never want to assume that every male out there is unable to control his eyes and thoughts. I fear that these hard-core folks may be doing their sons a disservice by sending the message that it's the women who need to control the way they dress and not the men that also need to learn to avert their eyes and redirect their minds. Secondly, as Charlotte stated earlier, some women's body types simply look better in skirts and some in pants. We are where we are in fashion history right now, so we have the choice(sometimes I hate using that word) to wear what makes us feel the prettiest and most feminine. That could be pants or skirts. Thanks for posting such a thoughtful article.

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Hope January 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I've been on both sides of this at points in my journey. I feel like I'm still a recent convert (does 6 years mean recent?)

I live in a remote farming community. We are few in number. Nobody bothers to dress up for Mass. We're just glad when there are more than 3 people for Mass and that the priest will still show up for 3 people.

I wear dress clothes to work but not for church because it would be out of place.

And one Sunday as I was observing the mother/daughter bringing up the gifts in their winter parka and jeans (no one had come early to turn up the heat)I thought I distinctly heard in my head "Come as you are." Which transcends clothing entirely.

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JMB January 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Hope,
That was beautiful! Thanks.

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Peter and Nancy January 14, 2011 at 12:37 am

I believe that the main points of your post were summed up nicely by Augustine: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all else, charity."
Nancy

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Laura January 17, 2011 at 6:06 am

IMO: Due to the fact that women are the only ones that wear skirts (excluding kilts), skirts have been associated with femininity, but that is no reason to assume that by opossition pants aren't feminine. Skirts can be inmodest and pants can be modest and vice-versa. The skirt/pant situation was something humanity came up with, it wasn't a divine order, and I believe that God cares more about that woman's heart than what she's wearing. For 12 years I wore a skirt (my catholic school uniform) and I'm perfectly fine with them. It's probable that skirts help a lot of women to serve God in a better way, but not everyone. Bottom line, we shouldn't judge women because they wear pants or skirts, and instantly assume that we know what is in their hearts because only God knows that.

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