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.