As he promised last week, Msgr. Charles Pope has a post up this week discussing proper attire at Sunday Mass. I found it to be a balanced and sane look at the question for the most part, with advice given both to men and to women on how to dress nicely for Mass.
One minor quibble I have is that Msgr. Pope generally just says, "...at Mass..." or "...in Church..." to talk about these concepts. As I wrote here, I think there's a difference between dressing for Sunday Mass and dressing for daily Mass or for times when one will be in the church building for other purposes (e.g., helping to clean the church). No one expects the standard of Sunday Best to govern those times when we might pop in to the church for a little visit, or when we are signed up to help remove live evergreens from the church after Christmas (and for which occasion a fancy dress or crisply-ironed suit would be highly inappropriate).
Beyond that minor quibble, I also disagreed slightly with Msgr.'s point number 11, which reads as follows: "Women should wear a nice blouse (if they are not wearing a full dress). The blouse or shirt they wear should not be too tight." As I explained in the comments, most "nice blouses" these days are cut one bust size smaller than the shirt size--because clothing designers want blouses to be tight and revealing. I know very few women who can wear a blouse and look nice in it, and most of them are, to put it delicately, not particularly well-endowed, so to speak.
And when it comes to dresses--well, where are they? Any woman who has had to find a dress for some occasion can agree that the dresses available today leave a lot to be desired. Like blouses, dresses are often cut to be tight and revealing, or made of clingy fabrics that leave little about the woman's figure to the imagination.
Sure, there are places that specialize in "modest dresses." However, a lot of these dresses seem to be knee-length or slightly above knee; I'm not going to debate whether that length is "modest" or not, but I will just point out that few women over the age of 35 display their knees to advantage, something that even many secular fashion advisers agree about.
Another problem with dresses, even the ones from shops specializing in "modest dresses," is the price. Dresses can easily cost between $80 and $120, and can go up considerably even from that point. This is especially true if you are petite, tall, or a "women's" size, as the price of dresses in these "specialty" sizes can be ridiculous. The availability decreases in these special sizes, too--it's much easier for me, as a short woman, to find skirts and tops to wear than it is for me ever to find a decent dress.
Add to cost, availability, and so forth the problem that so many dresses are dry-clean only (never a sensible choice for a mother of toddlers, for example) and you begin to understand why so few women wear dresses anymore, even to Mass.
In fact, most of the women I see at Mass are wearing either a skirt and top, or a pants outfit. And we can deplore the casual nature of this all we want to--until we go shopping, and try to find something that isn't either a skirt and top or a pants outfit. Our culture decided before many of us had even reached adulthood that dressy skirt suits, pretty Sunday dresses that were modest, washable, and affordable, and similar traditional articles of apparel were hopelessly outdated. I can remember adult women wearing those long hippie-looking sun-dresses to Mass when I was a child--so the "slobby casual" look has been around for a pretty long time, at this point. Compared to the mini-dress at Mass, even a pair of jeans is a better alternative; so often, when we talk about what people ought to wear to Sunday Mass, we're not being realistic about the clothing options available to us, but imagining that Catholic women are simply avoiding buying the reams of modest, decent, affordable, dressy "Sunday Best" clothes that are available in every store (complete with a helpful shopkeeper who knows his customers by name, and an on-site tailor to make those tiny little adjustments necessary for a perfect fit).
In other words, it's easy to think that we can somehow go shopping in the clothing stores of the past, when the culture still provided plenty of opportunities for both men and women to dress nicely, when a man of middle income could afford half a dozen suits (as my father had, when I was a little girl), and his wife, a closet full of nice dresses.
But we live in a culture of slobby couture, a place and time when people seldom dress up for even the most solemn occasions. Buying even a handful of decent skirts and pairing them with tops that are a step or two above a tee-shirt is a time-consuming, frustrating, expensive chore for most women, and even a traumatic scenario for some. That mythical, idyllic clothing store where a variety of tasteful, grown-up, well-fitting Sunday Best clothes with decent necklines, decent hem lines, ample room for bust and hips without showing off either, with both a wide variety of sizes and affordable price tags, does not exist any more.
That doesn't mean, I must emphasize, that we ought to give up on the idea of dressing nicely for Sunday Mass whenever possible. But it does mean that we may have to be more creative and more flexible about what our Sunday Best really is. If showing up for Mass bearing the marks of a slobby couture culture displeases God, I'd have to think that sighing over the clothes we don't have and probably couldn't afford even if they did exist isn't going to be pleasing to Him, either.