Thursday, January 3, 2008

Modesty and Slacks

I was talking to someone today who admitted to buying a couple of pairs of new slacks to wear. She mentioned feeling almost-guilty about it, because of all the disapproval out there in some circles directed toward the wearing of slacks by women. Strangely enough, I had already decided to discuss the subject; it's winter, and many of my more northern sisters are facing the annual dilemma: skirts for modesty, or slacks for warmth and practicality?

Some women insist that you can be perfectly warm and comfortable in skirts even in the coldest climates. Just toss on a pair of leggings, or some good tights, and you're all set! Why, it's no different from the pioneer women, after all.

With all due respect, it is different. Pioneer women wore clothing made of warm, heavy, durable fabrics the like of which are seldom seen today, not readily available nor affordable. They also wore several layers of clothes that are no longer even made (corsets, anyone?) which added to the overall bulk and weight of the garments they wore each day. Woolen underwear was actually made of wool; it scratched, but it got the job done in terms of warmth: the long armed top shirt, the long-legged bottoms that went under the petticoat. In less dreadful weather the underwear was softer flannel--but still quite thick and bulky to wear.

The truth is, they don't make clothes like they used to. There are still wool skirts, even long ones, that you can buy; but they're much thinner than the pioneer woman's skirts, are generally unlined and almost always dry-clean only: not the most practical choice for wearing out in the snow so your toddlers can play for the twenty minutes they're actually able to be outdoors. Skirts made of washable fabrics are generally lighter and thinner, and even less warm for outdoor activities. Tights and leggings may help, some, if you can find them in your size at a reasonable enough price to be able to replace them frequently--because you will have to replace them frequently; they run and tear, and don't hold up for too many washings.

Of course, there's the really long coat option--but if your purpose outdoors is chasing after the aforementioned toddlers the really long coat may make your speedy-Mom-stride turn into something resembling a waddle through quicksand, a fact that any toddler worth his salt will be quick to capitalize on.

So the dilemma remains: skirts for modesty, or slacks for warmth and practicality?

But the answer to the dilemma is, to me, quite simple: skirts for modesty; slacks for modesty.

It is perfectly possible for a Christian woman to be modest in a pair of slacks. (If this were not true, why would they be acceptable attire for women who are touring the Vatican?) She may have to take a few things into consideration when buying them, but that's not any different from the sort of consideration she must take when buying skirts and dresses, these days. Not all dresses are modest. Not all skirts are modest. The halter sundress (on anyone over age four or five) and the leather miniskirt are not modest.

How do you know the slacks you are buying are modest? Here are a few suggestions; there may be some I overlook, which you are welcome to add in the comment boxes:

  • The slacks must not be tight. They must be secure but comfortable around the waist, roomy enough in the hips to allow easy sitting/standing, and loose enough around the legs for ease of movement. They should not define or emphasize the backside; there should be no serious risk of injury in the event of a sudden sneeze. You should be able to bend over at the waist without suddenly emphasizing areas that are better left undefined. It is imperative that you look at yourself in the mirror both from the front and from the back to determine this (there's nothing so obvious, or so unfortunate, as a woman who has clearly neglected to look at herself from the back before wearing a pair of slacks out in public).
  • The slacks should not be tapered; that is, loose enough in the hips but getting tighter and tighter through the legs and into the ankle area. This is not only for modesty, but also for fashion: tapered pants make anyone who is not emaciatedly thin look like a walking mushroom.
  • They should look good with a tunic-style top, long sweater, or other long top. The biggest complaint many people have about pants on women has to do with the revealing of the crotch area; if the pants aren't too tight they shouldn't do that anyway, but by covering the slacks to mid-thigh you can be sure that the slacks you're wearing won't reveal too much.
  • Slacks that you wear around the house may not always be suitable to wear in public. This doesn't make them immodest; after all, chances are that you wear pajamas and bathrobes around the house on occasion, and they're certainly not immodest, but it wouldn't be appropriate to wear them to the grocery store. I find sweatpants comfortable in the winter, but I don't ordinarily wear them out of the house.
  • If you ever have to wear slacks to Mass (I don't, here in Texas, but I know there are some of you who sometimes might have to do so, especially for a holy day evening Mass when the weather is well below freezing) try to wear a pair of really dressy ones, the sort of slacks that you wear with heels and a very nice top, sweater, or even matching jacket. (Of course, if it's forty degrees below zero and blizzarding and you are wearing your thickest flannel-lined corduroys with snow boots in case you get stuck in a snowdrift two miles from the church and have to hike the rest of the way, God bless you, and no one should criticize what you're wearing!)
  • If you are unsure about the slacks you have purchased, or some old pairs hanging in your closet, ask some people you trust (and won't get offended by) how they look on you. Start with your husband, and then children (they can be so devastatingly honest, can't they?). If you're still not sure, as yourself this question: if you were out at the park or the grocery store in this pair of slacks, and suddenly met up with a) your parish priest, b) your mother or mother-in-law, and/or c) a friend you haven't seen since high school, would you be comfortable? (In the case of "c," subtract points if you've actually owned that pair of pants since high school, and "c" is likely to recognize them before she recognizes you!)
  • Slacks are always appropriate for a pregnant woman to wear. I'm sorry to have to add this one, but with all the negativity directed at women who wear slacks it is important to say it. Maternity dresses and skirts can be really, really expensive; they're cut either extremely long, making them impossible for petite women, or really, really short, making them less modest than the slacks are. The only time in my life when I wore slacks to Sunday Mass was during my pregnancies; the few dresses I found to wear with my first pregnancy couldn't be worn during my second, because I was still nursing the first baby! I always chose a nice pantsuit rather than a pair of casual slacks with a maternity top, but there were Sundays when the slacks outfits a relative loaned me were the only things that still fit to wear to church. Women who are expecting babies are already dealing with many physical discomforts and added expenses, and it's uncharitable to demand that they wear skirts and dresses exclusively when we have no idea whether they can find, fit, or afford them.
The prevailing principle here should be the principle of charity. Most moms who don slacks, especially in the winter, don't do so in order to try to look sultry or immodest; most of them do so to stay warm and keep up with the little ones. It is possible to dress modestly in slacks; it's important not to elevate our own personal rules for holiness, whatever those may be, to the level of law.


StBasil said...

The argument from comfort is far from convincing. Should we use this argument in other areas of life? It is uncomfortable for me to fast also but it is good for my spiritual health. I see many women wearing beautiful dresses and skirts to the traditional Latin Mass. Apparently they've yet to all die off from frostbite and hypothermia. It's a poor excuse to have one's own preferences in tact.

As for touring the Vatican, there is really no solid foundation for a moral choice here. The Vatican may or may not be making the right decision in what they allow. The modern influences which have influenced the Church are alive and well in Rome too - just as the Bishop who flat out refuses to comply with the Motu Proprio on the Latin Mass. Pope John Paul II also kissed a Koran and prayed with pagan religious leaders, but I won't make my moral decisions based off of those actions.

The only true way to consider the topic is to consider it objectively - not based on comfort or on what other people do but on the objective modesty or lack thereof with certain articles of clothing. The fact of the matter is, pants cannot compared to both the modesty and femininity of a long, modest dress. It's a telling indictment indeed that people say: "She wears the pants in the family." I guarantee they don't say that because she is a true woman but because she has assumed another role.

Pax Christi tecum.

Red Cardigan said...

St. B, I see that you are young, and that you are male. In a spirit of deep, heartfelt charity I ask you to do one thing before judging women who occasionally wear slacks.

Find a skirt that goes down to your ankles (borrow it from someone, perhaps). Put it on. Go outside (in a fenced back yard, so no one will see you) in 15 degree weather in the snow (put on a coat, of course). Now chase a well bundled two-year-old over the snow-covered yard for about twenty minutes.

I would never presume to tell a man that he ought to wear a three-piece suit to chase a child in the back yard in snowy cold weather without trying it myself, first.

As for wearing slacks to Sunday Mass, it really depends on so many different factors that I believe it's not my place to lecture women who occasionally find themselves needing to do so, though I don't generally wear them to church myself, as I said.

John Thayer Jensen said...

I am quite nervous about commenting on this matter, as I am male, and in addition my wife disagrees with me on this (and she reads this blog), but ... here goes...

It seems to me that modesty is not the primary issue here. It goes without saying, of course, that both men and women need to be modest - which means a lot more than just not trying to be sexually provocative. I am 65 and my wife is 61. Neither of us is really likely to be a sexual temptation to others. Modesty includes not wearing quirky clothing, to show off - etc etc etc.

Neither, I think, is it a matter of formality. A dress or skirt is not inherently more 'dressy' than trousers.

But as to women wearing trousers, there seems to me a different matter. Trousers are male clothing. Dresses and skirts are women's. I don't really see any way around that. My wife tells me that these days, trousers are appropriate for women. They are, indeed, worn by women. Nevertheless, there seems to me no question but that trousers are male clothing which has been recognised as ok for women. The opposite is certainly not the case. A man wearing a dress is certainly making a very definite statement, and not a modest one! A woman wearing trousers seems to me also to be making a statement.

That said, I certainly recognise the suitability of trousers for certain purposes. I think it would be silly of my wife to do her paper delivery run (which she does at 6 in the morning) wearing a dress. Likewise, gardening is best done in trousers.

She grants me my quaint prejudice so far as to wear a skirt to Mass. Other times as well, when she wishes - but she will often wear quite decent, quite modest, trousers - but trousers none the less.

I am not worried about this but I do think a point is being missed. In our culture in which male and female roles have been so mightily, and often deliberately, confused - well, I love seeing a woman in a dress. Indeed, I will go further and say that I love seeing a woman in a dress, as opposed to blouse and skirt.

But then I am 65 years old - perhaps that accounts for a lot :-)
Still - if there are other male readers of Red's blog, I wonder what the rest of you think? When you see a lady in a dress - doesn't it strike you as much more feminine - more female, in fact??


StBasil said...


I couldn't agree with you more! I find a long dress both more modest as well as more feminine. The gender roles have been so confused (thank you feminism) which has impacted the family. You're right. Pants are male clothing which has been accepted as female clothing. So many men and women, if you stand them side by side, wear the same clothing these days! Beyond the modesty factor, I do think skirts and dresses are more properly feminine and pertain to femininity in a way pants never could.

P.S. I just posted on Pius XI/John Paul II's conception of gender roles in the family on my blog if you have any interest.

Pax Christi tecum.

StBasil said...

"I would never presume to tell a man that he ought to wear a three-piece suit to chase a child in the back yard in snowy cold weather without trying it myself, first."

Well, surprisingly, I won't follow your advice to dress myself in a skirt or dress. However, it is good to note that I am sure I could do many things dressed in a three-piece suit that while they could be done more comfortably in another outfit can be accomplished just fine all the time. I know many women who wear skirts and dresses exclusively and have not had any problems in a variety of activities. Sure, I think there may be instances - such as going out running, exercise, etc. - when another outfit may need to be worn.

It reminds me of the religious sisters out there in Michigan who we saw one day playing soccer in their habits. How could they run in those dresses and habits? Apparently they found a way. It may not have been the most comfortable, but it was possible.

Pax Christi tecum.

Marilena said... is possible to dress very modestly in slacks. i own a nice pair myself, and they are pretty, but very modest. i don't wear slacks or jeans to look immodest. i wear them for comfort and warmth. while wont wear tacky pants, i do wear modest pants. be they slacks, jeans, or cords. they are modest, not low, and they look good and all at an affordable price too. i don't care for hip hugging low waist and revealing pants. no thanks.

Sarahndipity said...

The idea that slacks are "immodest" is just nuts. I agree with you that it's entirely possible to dress modestly in slacks. I don't see how slacks would be sexually arousing to a man if they are not tight.

It's a telling indictment indeed that people say: "She wears the pants in the family."

I'm sorry, but this comment seems almost like a parody to me. :)

Keep in mind that we’re looking at this through the lens of our culture. Men in Scotland have worn skirts for years. Ok, they’re called “kilts.” But still. Are men who wear kilts “less manly?”

But then I am 65 years old - perhaps that accounts for a lot :-)

Ummm, yes, I think so. :) But then you’ll probably thing that my being 27 accounts for a lot too…

Anonymous said...

To say that it's o.k. for women to wear pants in the winter because it's cold is silly. That's like saying that tank tops or short shorts are o.k. in the summer because it's hot.

It's o.k. for women to wear pants (at least the kind that Red has described) because pants are not immodest.

If it's a ninety degree summer day and I choose to wear loose fitting light weight pants, I am not being immodest. If it's a twenty degree winter day and I choose to wear corduroy bib overalls, I am not being immodest.


The gentlemen of my acquaintance see nothing whatsoever amiss with a lady wearing pants. Granted, they do prefer that we wear dresses or skirts (either one) to Mass, because dresses or skirts are more appropriate for higher occasions. By the same token, I prefer that they wear dress pants and and dress shirts, sport coats and ties, or suits to Mass for the same reason.

The bottom line here is: It isn't o.k. for women to justify wearing pants because it is expedient - it's o.k. for women to justify wearing pants because pants are not immodest.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Just a couple of comments to Sarahndipity. First:

"Keep in mind that we’re looking at this through the lens of our culture. Men in Scotland have worn skirts for years. Ok, they’re called “kilts.” But still. Are men who wear kilts “less manly?”

It is indeed a matter of culture. That is exactly my point. There is nothing at all inherently manly or womanly about the details of the clothing we wear. My understanding of the ancient world is that everyone wore pretty much the same sort of thing - a long dress-like garment. I may be wrong, but I think I have heard that trousers actually came in from the eastern European / western Asian cultures who were so strongly horse-oriented.

Be that as it may, I would much prefer a toga-like outfit. I really don't much like clothing, and particularly close-fitting clothing. But then I live in Auckland where at the coldest our winters seldom get down to freezing even.

But my point is indeed that this is a cultural matter. And culture is not only a matter of what people actually do, but of what they believe. I suggest that what people believe in our culture is that dresses and skirts are feminine, trousers are masculine. I suggest that women wearing trousers is precisely a matter of saying that, given the standards, those standards are meant to be transgressed - by women.

And as I have said, I do not think the dresses/trousers matter is a matter of modesty - at least not of sexual modesty. I work at the University of Auckland. I have long since learnt to bear with the young ladies on campus who either ignorantly, or in some cases, I fear, deliberately, dress in ways that are sexually provocative - and I would say that probably at least as many of those are wearing dresses or skirts as wear trousers.

Modesty is a matter of wanting to attract attention. Thus a many who wears a kilt in our culture - I recall when I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii there was one such, a Scotch medical student - a man who dresses such is immodest. I lived for eight years in the island of Yap, where I worked in the local education department as a linguist. There I sometimes wore traditional men's clothing - more elaborate than a loincloth, but along those lines. If I were to wear that here - it would be immodest, and not for reasons of sexual provocation.

Shall I mention one sort of dressing that I think immodest? Ladies who wear a dress or a skirt over a pair of trousers - and this often in summer where there certainly is no reason connected with the weather. This is deliberately, it seems to me, transgressive. This is what I see is the issue also with non-standard body piercing. I say 'non-standard' because in our culture it is normal for a woman to pierce her ears. When, then, she pierces them half a dozen times, or her nose, or ... well, we won't go any further with that :-) - or when a man starts to do it - the point is immodesty - "look at me!"

Ah, well, I could go on ... my wife will thank God that I do not :-) That reminds me of this. Sarahndipity also commented:

"But then I am 65 years old - perhaps that accounts for a lot :-)

Ummm, yes, I think so. :) But then you’ll probably thing that my being 27 accounts for a lot too…"

Sarah, no, I don't at all think that. My wife, who is 61, agrees with you, I think. And I think quite a few who do not come from the younger generation. I think we as a culture have, particularly since the despairing 1890's, come to regard cultural transgression - deliberately doing the "not-done" thing - as culturally required. "Edgy" is our new "normal."

"Normal" - in the sense of just accepting what we have received, and getting on with the essentials of life - love, joy, peace, for example - seems to me what modesty is really about.


Anonymous said...

Let me first tell you where I'm coming from so there are no surprises: Not only do I wear pants, but I won't wear long skirts. Right now, not only are they are out of fashion but they are not considered appropriate for corporate America.
And sorry, but long enough tops to hit mid-thigh? Totally out of proportion and again, inappropriate for work. Some of us have a vocation to the court room or the board room, not the convent. I need not dress like a nun when I am not.

While I'm at it, I think yes, it is OK to wear tank tops in 90 degree weather just like it's OK to wear one while going running or working out in the gym or wear a bathing suit when you're on the swimming team. We are Catholics, not Puritans.

These discussions, eventually, always lead to what I see as some kind of ritual purity. If we shouldn't wear pants, nor tank tops, nor bathing suits but only long skirts and long baggy tops, I usually hear some negative comment directed toward makeup. And then hair-coloring. Do you have pierced ears? Do you wear jewelry? Do you cut your hair? If any one of these is acceptable, then they all are.

And I will add: when you physically like to remind the entire world that you are "apart", like the Amish, and you refuse to make any kind of accommodation that you are living in this world, this culture and this point in time, that is itself immodesty. "Look how holy I am! Look how I stand out from all the ritual impurities around me! Lord, thank you for not making me as lowly as them!"

Lastly, I must refute this idea that "trousers are male clothing". The only thing missing in this discussion is the suggestion that all women should dress like Mary. When Jesus wears trousers, I'll wear his dress, 'k?

I'll sign myself:

Red Cardigan said...

Just a couple of points, here.

DLS, I wasn't attempting to make an argument from expedience. Rather, I was attempting to point out that it is uncharitable to insist that dresses or skirts are the only modest clothes for women. I have heard this said, with the phrase about pioneer women meant to cover any objections we might have to the insistence that slacks may never be worn by females.

Mr. Jensen, with all due respect, I must disagree with you about a few things. First, if women should only wear long dresses, and not even skirts or blouses, how can they nurse their infants? While there are nursing dresses available, they are not available for every budget (nor for every size; petite women in particular have a very hard time finding such clothing). In fact, as a petite woman I can tell you that finding a "long dress" that I can afford is virtually impossible!

Cultural standards do have a lot to do with this, but women in our culture have been wearing slacks for a considerable amount of time, now. To me, the insistence that slacks are never modest for women involves the placing of a burden on women which the Church does not place on them, and such things trouble me. Christian women who choose to wear skirts or dresses only as a matter of personal sacrifice are one thing, but insisting that Christian women must wear only skirts or dresses is quite another.

StBasil said...

"Rather, I was attempting to point out that it is uncharitable to insist that dresses or skirts are the only modest clothes for women." It is not uncharitable. I will stand by the belief that skirts/dresses are more modest than the most modest pants. I don't do so as a lack of charity but rather as an objective fact. Also, it can be more charitable towards men for women to wear dresses and skirts.

The fact is that pants cling to the woman's body in a way traditional skirts/dresses simply do not. Pants draw attention to parts of the female anatomy that traditional skirts/dresses do not. It is a simple fact. Plus add to that that men wear pants which makes them far less feminine.

To those who think Irish kilts are like skirts/dresses, try telling that to an Irish man. Somehow I think that it is not the same. Kilts did not start out as female only clothing which was assimilated by Irish men as part of radical masculinism.

Now, culturally, it doesn't matter what has or has not been accepted. This argument is like those who say that indigenous peoples are mostly naked so to them nakedness is modest. It does not take into account the fallen nature of man which is common to us all.

And those wonderful Christian women who do wear skirts and dress don't all do it "as a matter of personal sacrifice." Many of them, which may surprise you, do so because they believe it is more modest and more feminine.

I don't believe it is about age groups or anyone of that either.

Regardless, no one can convince me that pants are as feminine as skirts or dresses. There is simply no way. Articles of clothing that men wear which have been assimilated into women's clothing just cannot be as feminine as clothes made specifically for women. I find women who wear skirts and dresses far more attractive than those who do not.

Now, obviously Red we will disagree and that is that. I've read your posts in the past on this issue. May God help us restore an authentically Christian culture.

Pax Christi tecum.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Red, thanks for your reply, and I absolutely agree with you. It is simply wrong even to suggest condemnation of women for wearing trousers. No disagreement at all here.

Secondly, several people appear not to have understood one thing I was saying: I do not think that the issue is one of modesty. I think precisely that modesty is a cross-cutting matter. I think it is a cultural statement.

I mentioned dresses only, perhaps, because I like them. I said nothing about length, although that can involve questions of modesty - but again, not what I am talking about.

It is exactly the cultural matter. I absolutely agree with you that trousers have been considered ok for women for some time - particularly since the second world war. What I am suggesting - and could be wrong about but haven't heard any argument against it other than "everybody does it" - is that the wearing of trousers by women is exactly an "anti-culture" thing.

Not - please, ladies! - not that I am suggesting anything whatever about the motivations of trouser-wearing ladies! My wife's own motivations tend to be (1) warmer; but (2) it's what she is used to - she mostly wears trousers in summer as well; and (3) dresses and skirts tend to be dearer (so she tells me; I rarely buy them myself so can't judge :-)).

But the objective reality is, I think, that trousers are male clothing and that is precisely why they came into use by women. Historically this is certainly correct. It was the late-Victorian feminism, which said, in effect, "what nonsense! Men ride astraddle; we are expected to ride side-saddle! This is ridiculous. We are going to wear riding habits and jodhpurs like the men - deal with it!"

And they were absolutely correct. I do not, repeat, not, think that trousers are immodest as such. I think that trousers for women came about as a protest against an improper enforcement of a kind of sexual role-modelling for women, because of the sexual hangups of the 19th century. And I think that trousers for women today contribute to a new kind of sexual hangup of the 20th century.

I suggest that in the 21st century we might begin to return to normalcy - but how silly of me :-)

Thanks everyone for your comments. Please wear your trousers. Wear your skirts. Wear your dresses. I am not going to look down my nose at anyone for it. I love ladies, however dressed! I think I am reflecting on cultural issues - and in the style of Bill Buckley in 1954, or whenever it was that he wrote "God and Man at Yale" (if that is the right title of the book) I want to "stand athwart history and shout 'Stop!'"

God bless us every one!


Anonymous said...


I didn't mean to suggest that you were making an argument from expedience, I was just trying to point out to St. Basil that his assumption that you were was misplaced.

All this really boils down to is personal preference. Some men prefer women in skirts, some men are more open-minded in considering what truly looks feminine. (In other words, they don't judge a book by it's cover.) By the way, I've seen plenty of "long skirts" that are rendered far more immodest than any pair of pants by the thigh-high slits or pop-open buttons that are necessary to enable the wearer to walk.

One other tip, ladies: When buying or trying on pants, go for the size larger than what you regularly wear and I guarantee that they will look great and feel amazingly comfortable!


freddy said...

I think that one thing that gets people interested in (and perhaps a bit perturbed by) this subject is that we're still in a state of cultural flux, fashion-wise. It's really only been about 100 years since women's wear began to change so dramatically. Prior to that it was men's fashions that most often changed -- look at the styles for men from the Roman toga through the Victorian top-hatted gentleman. The fact that the biggest change in women's fashion -- wearing slacks -- makes some uncomfortable, though widely accepted for many years, is an indication of just how hard we cling to the familiar -- even investing it with some sort of quasi-morality.

Maybe this will sound odd, but to me the issue is rather like the food issue in Acts: the eating of meats sacrificed to idols. Not immoral, per se, but "charged," if you will and with the possibility of making others uncomfortable. We are taught to approach difficult issues with kindness and liberality.

It's perfectly all right for both gentlemen and ladies to have preferences in clothing; Mr. Jensen expresses his with great charity and gentility. It is uncharitable to go beyond what the Church allows, however and insist that slacks for women are somehow inherently immodest.

BTW, DLS, thanks for the great tip! I'll have to remember that!

StBasil said...

The idea that we should remain "open-minded in considering what truly looks feminine" is ridiculous. That is like saying we need to be open-minded as what is beautiful. While there is a subjective aspect to what each person considers beautiful, there is some objectively in there. It isn't entirely subjective.

Pax Christi tecum.

StBasil said...

"I didn't mean to suggest that you were making an argument from expedience, I was just trying to point out to St. Basil that his assumption that you were was misplaced."

Dear anonymous, the fact of the matter is that Red devotes substantial time and place to comfort. After her proofs she queries: "So the dilemma remains: skirts for modesty, or slacks for warmth and practicality?"

That is an argument based on "warmth and practicality," that traditional dresses and skirts cannot meet the demands of warmth and practicality.

It remains, however, that women have done it before. I'm sure some of them still do it today.

Pax Christi tecum.

Red Cardigan said...

St. B, did you read my post in its entirety?

After setting up the false dilemma (modesty vs. warmth/practicality) I say that both skirts and slacks are modest. My argument isn't based on "warmth and practicality" but says that slacks are modest apparel for women as well as for men.

And I agree that "women have done it before." They also, as I said very clearly, had access to fabrics, undergarment options, and layers that a modern woman is hard-pressed to reproduce. Do you agree or disagree?

In addition, I do think we have to be "open-minded" as to what looks truly feminine. Otherwise, we would, accepting Our Lady as the only possible model of femininity, still be required to garb ourselves in the clothing worn by a modest Jewish woman of the first century A.D. Today's "modern" skirts and dresses don't even come close!

Daddio said...

I applaud you for getting so many emotional comments on the topic of pants.

Sarahndipity said...

I applaud you for getting so many emotional comments on the topic of pants.

LOL! I was thinking the same thing - "wow, 19 comments on this post?"

Lisa said...

Oh, wow! I don't know when I've read such riveting comments, and everyone so polite and thoughtful, really! This is a subject of much debate for us in our circles, too. I may have to pull together my thoughts on this one, esp after reading all these insightful comments and post on it... hmmm...

StBasil said...

I know it's been awhile but there is a tremendous article in the New Oxford Review called "Church, Women and Pants." It is written by Gerrie Goguen, a homeschooling mother of eight. Here are some excerpts:

"Nevertheless, despite the theological roots of the problem, a woman may still find herself at a loss about the depth and intensity of these problems. And so should it be, since her gender inhibits her from a deeper understanding of the male problem with lust. This is the battlefield for men: the sexual arena. This is why most pious men express such aversion toward immodestly dressed women in church. This is the last bastion where a man should be able to approach God and plead for a clean heart, to withdraw from the temptations of the world. Yet they find that some women come to church dressed to kill. These women (some intentionally, others not) go out of their way to get noticed in church. This is a grave injustice on their part, for they are no longer contributing to the sanctification of their brothers, but are instead in league with the devil (when done intentionally). They become obstacles in a man's path to sanctification. And let's not hear the tiresome excuse that it's the man's problem if he looks, for yes, we are our brother's keepers, in a complete antithesis to Cain who declared the opposite after his murderous deed (Gen. 4:9).

It is often said that "the devil is in the details." So, we are forced once again to discuss details that some may find unpleasant or difficult, but which are nonetheless necessary to make the point as clear as possible. Pants, regardless of how tight or loose they are, direct the eyes of men to a woman's rear end and to her (pardon me) crotch. Most women are completely unaware of this phenomenon. Is this something women truly desire? Perhaps not, but their intentions do not really matter. It is what women in their immodesty do to men that is of import here. Because of what pants do, men's eyes, by their own nature, immediately go to those areas. Men cannot help it, since their concupiscence is ever present and most of them engage in viewing these parts which have been made available to their eyes by women's pants. (Yes, women can pontificate all day long about men's custody of the eyes, but I am speaking to the practical end of the issue.)"

"Let us look, on the other hand, at the traditional garment, the skirt. What do skirts do in general? If the skirt is not form-fitting, too short, or with immoderate slits, it conceals, from the waist down, the exact shape of a woman's anatomy from the eyes of men, and in this way it veils properly what must not be seen except in the intimate setting of marital activity. Pants outline and accentuate the woman's form and thereby distract men's minds from the business at hand in church, which is praying and pleading for their own sanctification.

It is not only a woman's prerogative to properly adorn herself, but also her obligation."

Excellent article. She explains the entire situation very well.

Pax Christi tecum.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, stbasil, but a saint trumps a writer from NOR any day. Let's pray to St. Gianna for this strain of American Puritanism to be eliminated from Catholic thinking.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Speaking as a male, and although I was writing not from the point of view of modesty, nevertheless I must agree with the point made in the NOR article. No doubt this classes me as a lust-ridden dirty old man. So be it, but I must point out that there are more issues here than Puritanism. Males are different from females. Reflect on the ancient line: "Women make love when they want to; men make love when they can."


StBasil said...

Anonymous: no one has ever said that everything a Saint does or says is right. I could show you dozens of Saints who will testify what I am saying.

JJ: I don't think it makes you a "lust-ridden dirty old man." It makes you realistic. The author of the NOR article spends a lot of time re-enforcing the reality of our fallen state. If we did not suffer under the effects of our fallen nature, maybe what people wear wouldn't be such an important issue. As it stands, in our fallen state, it is important. Thank you for your comments and for sharing your wisdom.

Pax Christi tecum.

Daddio said...

We all know that women have two legs. Nice pants that fit properly do not lead us all into temptation.

Anonymous said...

i didn't make it through all of the comments...i was too shocked. so, if we catholic women should wear skirts out of modesty and tradition (skirts are for women, "trousers" are for men), shouldn't we then be wearing the styles that were traditional as well? and couldn't we then carry the argument into other realms? blogging/emailing is not traditional. a man doing any type of domestic chore is not traditional. a woman working for pay is not traditional (my husband works for the church, and we need two incomes to get, our one child, our old car, and our rental house, with 2 college degrees).

i don't buy it. i don't think that Christ viewed women in this way. historical evidence points to women in the early church as being very involved. never is it mentioned that women should wear anything in particular.

i hate skirts. i feel un modest, and modesty isn't even a typical concern for me. i wear trendy, loose fitting pants and whatever shirt i please. never has anyone pointed to anything i wear being "immodest". i find it absolutely absurd that catholics waste their time on an argument involving the attire of women, when christ made it abundantly clear that his alignment was with the poor. who cares about clothing? get out there and be christ-like! this argument is disgustingly wordly. allow a woman to choose how she feels comfortable dressing, modesty-wise, practically, and financially.


Kristen said...

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (my daugter's patron) wore pants. She even wore fitted pants on occasion, which were fashionable in her time. In pictures of her wearing those pants alongside her husband and children, she was clearly beautiful, modest....AND SAINTLY!

clara said...

"And I will add: when you physically like to remind the entire world that you are "apart", like the Amish, and you refuse to make any kind of accommodation that you are living in this world, this culture and this point in time, that is itself immodesty. "Look how holy I am! Look how I stand out from all the ritual impurities around me! Lord, thank you for not making me as lowly as them!" anonymous

I like what this commenter said so much I have to repeat it. I am a Catholic homeschooling mom too and I try to be modest, but I don't think of myself as a walking temptation. I don't think I should have to hide my body, just normal pants and shirts, tailored and close fitting. Dressing like an adult in my 30's is what I try to do, but not look totally apart from the norm.

I worry about not being part of the world, to me its very important to be out among everyone, as a Catholic--but I'm not talking about conformity--just dressing comfortably and stylishly as my budget allows.

Felicity said...

"My daughter, I see more Pharisees among Christians than there were around Pilate."

Thanks to Elizabeth Foss for this quote by St. Margaret of Cortona. Glad I read it before coming here. Yikes! What minutiae!

Anonymous said...

I have greatly enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. I, too, am very impressed by how respectful and charitable the disagreements have remained.

I'll state up front that I am a women who wears both pants and skirts. I just have one point to add. Several people seem to have made the point that when women wear pants, it draws men's attention to their crotch and therefore can be an occasion of sin for them. I agree that this can be true.

Although I know that men tend to be inherently more visually tempted than women, it is still true that women can be drawn to temptation through their eyes as well. There have been times that I have been sitting behind nice-looking young men in Mass and the pants they were wearing have drawn my attention to their backside, causing my thoughts to go astray at times. Does this mean that men shouldn't be allowed to wear pants to Mass either, because it can accentuate their backsides and be an occasion of sin for women?

Just something for your consideration.