I'm one of those women who tends to wear skirts and dresses pretty exclusively. While I own one or two pairs of pants, I never wear them except in extremely cold weather (or what seems like extremely cold weather deep in the heart of you-know-where). I have nice, dressy skirts for Sunday Mass, casual skirts for everyday wear, and one or two really comfy knit dresses that I enjoy wearing around the house but wouldn't be caught dead outdoors in unless I was fleeing from a house fire.
And there's not one single solitary virtuous thing about that.
Wearing skirts doesn't make me more of a woman, more feminine, or more truly a model of our Lady. Donning a loose-fitting dress instead of a cute pair of shorts to wear around the house is in no way a sign that I'm holy, or even trying to be. Skipping the racks of capri pants in the local discount store and making a beeline for the breezy cotton waves of loose, flowing fabric that boast an elastic waist and a scalloped or handkerchief hem doesn't mean I'm a member of some kind of inner circle of Catholic women who've made some great mysterious connection between skirts and sanctification.
What it means is that as a short but round woman I've totally given up on expecting fashion designers to realize that just because a woman is under 5'4" she is not automatically a skinny hipless flat-stomached, flat-bottomed gamin of a figure. And as a M.I.S.C.R.E.A.N.T. I lack the ability to buy the regular sized slacks that would fit me in the waist and hips, chop off the bottom three to eight inches of 'leg' and hem the slacks to fit--and I'm far too cheap to pay someone else to do it for me, especially when skirts are so affordable and so comfortable for someone shaped like I am.
I've been wearing skirts instead of slacks since I first realized how much more comfortable they are for a woman with my figure. Maybe someday if I lost all the weight I'd like to lose the cute pairs of petite 'gamin' pants might fit, but even then I'd probably opt for the skirt from sheer force of habit.
But because I know this about myself, because comfort dictates my choice of skirts rather than some deep spiritual longing to find the most virtuous apparel possible, I get a little bothered when the inevitable "skirts vs. pants" discussion comes up among Catholic women. There tends to be a default position that of course it's an act of pure virtue to wear a skirt, that if our hearts are truly fixed on holy ideals we'll inevitably choose the skirt or dress option, that there are really no circumstances which make it necessary to wear slacks, and that we can't more easily please the Blessed Mother than by imitating her style of dress.
Quite apart from the fact that if we really imitated our Lady's style of dress, we'd probably find ourselves under observation in the psychiatric ward of our local hospital, there remains the fact that wearing a skirt or dress isn't necessarily a virtuous option. It can be, of course, especially if a woman is the sort who really prefers pants, but who chooses to wear a skirt a few times a week as an act of private mortification, an offering to God that no one knows about but her. But deciding that the mere act of donning a skirt is always and everywhere an act of virtue is to overlook the simple but obvious truth that it's no such thing.
For someone like me, wearing a skirt is a clothing choice I make with comfort as the supreme consideration. A tall woman with lovely legs might choose to wear skirts in the serene conviction that nothing will be more flattering to her. A woman I know made several jumpers to wear to work when she had her first teaching job, because jumpers were an easy and practical "uniform" for the type of work she was doing. Other women might choose skirts or dresses because they are more chic, more stylish at a given point in time, more readily available, more professional for office wear, or for dozens of reasons that have nothing at all to do with a desire to be virtuous by avoiding slacks.
Which raises a question: is it virtuous for women to avoid wearing pants?
To answer that question in the affirmative is to affirm that it is somehow less than virtuous for women to wear slacks. It is almost to imply that there is something actually sinful for a woman to choose to wear a pair of pants instead of a skirt of dress. But can we say, or even hint, that?
Considering that female tourists in the Vatican may enter St. Peter's if they are wearing pants or jeans, but not if they are wearing a skirt that is too short, it seems clear that it is impossible to say that it is a sin for a woman to wear pants or jeans. (The issue of wearing skin-tight slacks is not the one we're discussing today, but let's just get this out there: it is clearly not right for a woman to wear either a skirt or dress, or slacks of any kind, if these garments are skin-tight. The tightness of the garment rather than its category is what makes it inappropriate.) If it were a sin for a woman to wear slacks of any type in public, then I think good priests from the Vatican to our local parishes would be making sure we knew that.
So, if it is not a sin for a good, holy, Catholic woman to garb herself in a pair of slacks from time to time, how can it be "more virtuous" to wear a skirt? Saying that one of two options is better or holier automatically implies that the other option is not as good or less holy, but it would seem that the Church considers the wearing of slacks by females to be a morally neutral act. Is it possible to say that wearing slacks is morally neutral, but wearing skirts is morally good?
No. I'm sorry, but there it is. The morality of our clothing choices has to do with our intentions in wearing the clothes, not in the specifics of the garments themselves (specifically and obviously immodest garments excluded). Skirts are just as morally neutral as slacks; what makes the choice of a skirt over a pair of slacks a morally good act is the intention of the wearer--but this works both ways.
For example, a woman could choose to wear a skirt instead of a pair of slacks even though, as I said above, she generally prefers slacks. If she is choosing the skirt as a tiny act of sacrifice, the choice becomes a morally good act.
A woman like me who generally wears skirts could make a similar choice to wear a pair of slacks as an act of sacrifice, though. The moral goodness of my choice of slacks would be the fact that though I find them confining and uncomfortable I am choosing to wear them as an offering to our Lord, perhaps offering my discomfort for the poor souls in Purgatory.
What if the first woman chooses to wear that skirt, however, because she's going to a homeschool group meeting and doesn't want to risk the censure of the group for wearing slacks? In that instance her choice might even be an act of hypocrisy, which is never good.
And what if I'm wearing the slacks to fit in with a style trend? Vanity's not so good, either.
The point is that virtue arises out of the heart, not out of the closet. We can't assume that one type of clothing elevates its wearer above other people, making her more holy and more good. And if there lurks in our hearts the tiniest scrap of judgment toward those who don't choose to dress as we do then any good we were trying to do by choosing the skirt option was erased before we even selected a coordinating blouse.