Friday, July 29, 2011

The Skirt Wars and the "Sola Skirtura"

This post has been on my mind for a while. It’s a subject that’s come up before in the Catholic online world, with disparaging little comments on forums, but lately it seems to have become more widespread and the insults have become almost “mainstream” (mainstream in the Catholic blogosphere at least), popping up on blog after blog with a hearty amount of comments following in each combox as skirt-wearing Catholic women are thrown under the bus.

I’d never actually heard the term “Sola Skirtura” until I read it in one of my favorite blogger’s posts on the NCRegister last month. It’s a term used to describe Catholic women who only wear skirts or dresses and is generally used in a negative light. There are other terms that seem to be used as insults as well. Recently I’ve heard “Longskirts” and “traderific Tradity-Cat Catholic who wears denim jumpers” (a quote from one of the blogs I love to read that’s actually on my blogroll… ).

It’s all been a bit disturbing to me. I wear skirts. I wear dresses. I don’t wear pants. But I really don’t care if you wear pants. I don’t believe that skirts and dresses are inherently more modest than pants. In terms of potential for immodesty, dresses and skirts usually are more likely to take the cake.

I have personal reasons for choosing to wear only skirts and dresses. In a way it’s a reminder of my vocation and femininity. Additionally I do find them more comfortable and easy to move in (I know many people will find that hard to believe, but once I got over the general unease I felt in a dress I did feel more comfortable. When I went back to pants after my first month-of-dresses experiment my legs actually felt restricted and uncomfortable… and that is actually my #1 reason!).

And, while it may not be PC to say this, I do find that men treat me with more respect when I’m dressed in a modest dress, than they did when I was dressed in my most modest pair of jeans and a baggy sweatshirt.

I first began noticing the differences in reactions that I got when I lived in Africa. I gave it more thought after I returned from the Middle East. You see, when I was in the Middle East I wore dresses almost every day. One day, when we were going to be swimming and hiking, I wore pants. The difference in reactions was enormous. I can honestly say that, had I been wearing a dress I never would have been picked up and flung onto a camel (now that I think about it, I also had that happen in Africa, if you replace “camel” with “some scary guys shoulder” when I stepped off a bus… the reactions in Africa were actually quite similar… maybe someday I’ll have to write a blog about that particular incident…).

The differences in treatment aren’t as pronounced in the US (although in my experience they certainly do exist) and aren’t actually my primary motivation, but I have found that it does make life considerably simpler for me.

Some of you may have experienced the exact opposite and that’s fine too.

I’ve also noticed that when people get going about the Catholic “Skirt Wars” they almost inevitably have to throw in something about “denim skirts” and “jumpers.” Apparently if you only wear skirts and dresses you must be dowdy and the people who make this argument seem to think that “denim skirt” and “jumper” is the embodiment of dowdiness.

I will admit that I own both denim skirts and a jumper. I wear the jumper when I know we’re going to be getting down to some major Sadie projects because it’s tough and easy to wash (or when it’s really cold! Because it’s warm!) and I wear the denim skirts on days when I feel more casual.

If you’re not into dresses this might help you understand: Do you ever wear sweats or old comfortable jeans? You know they’re not the most fashionable choice in the world, right? But they’re comfortable and some days you don’t feel like going all out? That’s how my favorite denim skirts are. I’m pregnant. Some days I’m tired. And even when I’m not pregnant, some days it’s just nice to throw on a denim skirt and a t-shirt and get going.

I don’t go around the internet telling you not to wear pants. So please, fellow bloggers and Catholic forum members, don’t go around the internet making fun of those of us who do decide to wear dresses. It’s our right too. And it isn’t because I “think I’m better than everyone else” (a frequent claim that gets thrown in). It’s because it’s my choice and it works for me. It makes my life simpler and it reminds me to be gentle.

We don’t like to be lumped into one huge, insulting category any more than you do. And maybe, if you got past the pants, you’d find that we have more in common than you think…


  1. I never understand why this is such an issue for some people. I wear skirts. I wear pants. And I wear dresses. All those come in modest versions and immodest ones. And there is no dogma from the church on the subject, though the Church encourages modest dress in whatever is worn.

    Why people get their blood pressure up over this boggles me.

  2. I know what I want to say - but I'm having a hard time putting it into words. I'm going to try...and I hope no offense will be taken in this attempt.

    In my marriage, I try to dress nicely for my husband. I don't get glammed up every day, but he likes me a a well-fitting pair of fashionable jeans and a stylish top, or a cute pair of Gap shorts with a J. Crew tank top, a little makeup, casual but modern... Some days I wear stretch yoga pants with a fitted t-shirt if I'm going to be running lots of errands and doing childcare/housekeeping, or if I just want to be comfortable. I do have a couple of sarong-type skirts that get worn occasionally too. I would say I dress like your average Southern California mom (but not like a "Real Housewife!! - No booty shorts, tube tops, excessive cleavage, etc!") And yep - when I am feeling really grungy the sweats and oversized t-shirts come out!

    If I wore a longish skirt and blouse, or a jumper, my husband would be turned off. That's just not HIS thing. He would say I was dressing too old for my age (30) and drawing attention to myself by being overly conservative. Now, if YOU came out wearing some of MY clothes, YOUR husband might not like the way you looked either!

    So keeping my preference in clothes and my husband's in mind, I wear what I wear. Do you do the same? If you're happy in your clothing, and your husband enjoys seeing you in it, then who the heck cares? My husband probably wouldn't prefer that I dress like you, and yours probably wouldn't prefer that you dress like I do. You probably wouldn't feel comfortable in my wardrobe, nor I in yours.

    If it works for you and your husband likes to see you in that kind of attire, go with it. I think the reason people get snippy about it is the same reason people get snippy about anything someone does that deviates from the "norm" or draws attention. If you're comfortable, confident and happy and your husband is too, it's none of anyone else's business!

  3. While I do wear pants and dresses for the occasion I don't think there's anything wrong with wearing either or. I wouldn't let it get you down or take it personally for your clothing choices you just have to rise above it.

  4. BRAVO!! I feel the same way. I LOVE the soft flow of a really long skirt. I wear skirts every day, lengths vary from below my knees to the floor-- love long skirts!!

    Love how feminine they are. Love how the fabric drapes and flows. Love everything about skirts.

    But I do not care at all what other women choose to wear. If my skirt loving ways make them feel guilty it is THEIR PROBLEM.

  5. See, I wear pants 99% of the time because I am too lazy to shave my legs every morning. Since I commute over an hour (one-way) every day, I'm pretty rushed in the mornings and I really value that extra half-hour of sleep (and yes, that's how long it takes me!!) too much to give it up so I can wear skirts or dresses every day.

    On the rare occasions I do wear a dress (usually to Mass), I wear dark pantyhose (WAY too uncomfortable -- and too hot in summer -- to wear all day every day). If they could invent something inexpensive that removes all your leg hair in five minutes (I've tried Nair and etc. but they don't do the job -- I still have to shave afterwards no matter how much I use or how long I leave it on), I'd probably wear skirts and dresses way more often than I do!

    Plus, with my body type, I find it really difficult to find a skirt/blouse combo that looks good on me, and doesn't make me look dumpy. Same with dresses.

    But I will say, Cam, I think you look lovely in all your skirts/dresses, and I wish I had half as much panache. :)

  6. *face palm*

    You're kidding me. Granted, I'm new to this whole blogging business, but you've just opened my eyes to a world of folly that I seriously had no idea existed.

    People will seriously NITPICK at this???

    Thanks (I think?) for bringing this to my attention. Wow. Ha.

  7. Kateri,
    I think Cam is trying to say what your trying to convey.

    Personally, I wear almost nothing but dresses outside of the house these days. That is a choice I made. Cam and my friend Dayna are actually the ones who kind of inspired me to do it. Yes I own jeans (1 pair long and 1 pair of jean shorts) and one pair of workout pants. A year ago I had maybe 3 skirts/dresses in my closet and the rest were pants (I was a size 8). I've gained a lot of weight in the past year (now I'm a 14/16) and as things stopped fitting I started replacing pants with skirts because I find that they make me look thinner and they are more forgiving. I also wanted to look more feminine. My husband likes my dresses and they make me feel pretty. I have no problem with pants and never have. I just prefer to wear dresses. As long as other's clothes aren't too short, too low, or too tight I have no problem with what others wear. If that makes me frumpy O well to bad. I honestly don't care what others think of the way I look. As long as my husband approves I'm not going to change what I wear to impress others.

  8. It is funny to me that this is such an issue. I guess I do not read enough blogs are spend enough time in the Catholic forums. I do not have any strong opinions about it either way, other than to say, as long as someone is dressed modestly, I do not think it matters if you wear skirts all the time or pants.

    BTW- I had not read that article by Simcha . . . as a runner myself, I only wear running skirts now! They are so much more comfortable as easier to run in that shorts. I can understand why the girls track team ran faster!

  9. I love wearing skirts. I found my love for skirts after getting involved in historical reenactment. I felt so feminine and pretty. I was very uncomfortable at first but after working, running, jumping, crawling, tumbling in a skirt for hours day after day I found I was much more comfortable in a skirt. I wore bloomers and petticoats under my skirt and if I fell I knew my modestly was still intact.

    I wish people wouldn't look at you so funny when you try to dress up once in a while. Church is fine but going to the store or walking around your neighborhood they just look at you oddly. I loved the historical reenactment faires because I would often have to do a store run in my garb. You could imagine the stares I got. I think the point you were trying to make is that we are judged for wearing skirts or dresses and often times not nicely.

    I love to wear skirts because it reminds me to be more feminine. I was a tom boy growing up and I walk like a guy at times because I was in the military. Skirts change the way I walk. I also have doors opened for me far more often when I wear skirts. I guess guys are unsure about opening doors and being courteous unless they know for certain you want to be treated like a lady, and the skirt or dress seems to be that symbol of "treat me like a lady".

    Love this post. Thanks.

  10. I just started reading your blog, I really like it!

    I prefer dresses/skirts and almost always where them to Mass. I am tall 5'11 and plus size and I have found a ton of great dresses here: they go on sale frequently and go just past my knees. If you are large chested you can always add a little tank for more coverage. I just wanted to share as I know how hard it can be to find modest dresses.

    As much as I love dresses, I also wear pants when working out or if it is really cold. I don't judge others for how they dress and I don't understand why we as women attack each other over something so trivial. If your modest, who cares?

  11. I have to admit that skirts are a whole lot cooler at Mass in the summertime. I just have yet to find skirts that are warm enough to wear in our not very well heated English gothic style church in the winter time. I wish that inexpensive wool skirts and dresses were more available, but synthetics really don't do the trick in a Vermont winter. I still wear pants some of the time in my ordinary days, but I do like dressing up for Mass.

  12. @Liz
    To warm up your skirts add layers underneath. Pettipants/bloomers will help with warmth and then add petticoats underneath. Your summer skirts are instantly warmer. Before hoops were used people tried to puff out their skirts with many layers of petticoats. Stick with cotton and wools and try to avoid polyester as it does not breathe. Hope that helps.

  13. I recently blogged about this same topic. It is so ironic to me that you and I were both feeling such similar things but on opposite sides of the issue. I usually wear jeans and t-shirts, I always have. Recently a friend shared with me that this is seen as immodest and inappropriate to a few others in our Catholic home schooling group. She was told not to wear her pants around their sons. She had been judged for not wearing only skirts and she and I had a long conversation about it. I left feeling very judged too, though I was not even a part of the original conversation!
    It is so sad that we can not be more supportive of each other as Catholic wives and mothers as we all try to serve God and our families. I have, after thinking a lot about it, started wearing more skirts and dresses and have seen the benefit of them. I have not yet thrown out my jeans though.

  14. I don't wear skirts 100% of the time. I've thought about it before but I love my blue jeans a little too much! But I did make a conscious decision a while ago to only wear skirts and dresses to mass.

    Growing up Mormon that was all we were allowed to wear. A woman would NEVER come to church in pants. When I converted and saw so many people come to mass in jeans and shorts it was shocking (the Bengals jerseys were the most shocking to me I think, closely followed by soccer and baseball uniforms!). After a while I became insensitized to it, and then started wearing pants almost every week (although very rarely jeans..that still felt wrong).

    A while ago however, I decided it was time to get back to wearing skirts/dresses only to Mass. It just felt more respectful and submissive to me I guess. But I always still believe that if all you have in your closet is jeans, God would rather have you there in those than not at all!

  15. I just went shopping for skirts for a physical therapy clinical of mine. And even though I know I will most likely be the only woman in the professional setting wearing a skirt, I'm out to prove that wearing a skirt doesn't make me any less fit for the profession.

    I can have a brash personality sometimes, and I love what a skirt can do to make me mind my movements, the way I carry myself and even how I speak.

    I'm still trying to figure out the best option for under the skirt, as occasionally, I may have to demonstrate an exercise the could put my skirt at risk for flipping up :) But a little creativity should work that out! ( (I've figured out how to keep my modesty riding an old man's Schwinn bike not to long ago :) )

  16. Though I can understand why you're insulted and some of the names for skirt-only people aren't charitable, I don't think the authors are referring to people who wear skirts by choice and don't judge people who don't. I recently read a pamphlet that basically said that pants are bad because they let a woman be like a man, and the author promoted a very very narrow view of what a woman is supposed to be. Let's just say St. Joan of Arc would not have cut it, along with any woman who is athletic, works outside the home, has an advanced degree, etc... Grr. I think that those who don't like the skirts-only or you're going to Hell people also have a problem with the often-accompanying ultra-conservative, not Church teaching, ideology. When skirts are forced on women (as opposed to a choice) as a tool of restriction--the pamphlet even at one point seemed to discourage women from exercising--people take issue and I can see where they're coming from. That said, I wear skirts basically all the time, except for heavy work and exercise. They are more comfortable, fashionable and versatile, and with the way pants are made now, they are generally not modest for my body type (bottom heavy O.o). I'm sorry that you feel lumped in with people who are off the deep-end. Anyone who reads what you have said really can't honestly group you with the people who say pants are immoral. And you're right, when I picture a really trashy outfit, there is usually a skirt involved (before the advent of the jegging).

    From a fashion perspective, I really like what high fashion designers are doing now, as a lot of their stuff is knee length or longer and their simple, clean lines manage to convey strength and professional competence, while honoring the shape of a woman and her beauty. Sigh, I wish I had the budget...

    On a related note, I am currently obsessed with these dresses made by Alexander McQueen.

    They are strong and feminine at once, and I don't think that even ultra-Traditionalists would object to the feather dress. I don't find everything AM does modest, but most of it's so beautiful that I would fill it in where necessary, even though that is probably fashion blasphemy. Good thing fashion is not God.

  17. I really cannot comprehend the mindset of people who write pamphlets like the one described by HannahElizabeth. They do not sound like Catholics at all.

    Our local Muslims will put out pamphlets like that, often writing in such a way as to avoid being I.D.'d as Muslim.

    I'm a 20 year home school mom, and some of the various things that come up in some of the home school groups is kinda off the wall. One of our local groups makes everyone sign a creed that NO CATHOLIC could ever sign-- they wrote it specifically to keep Catholics who were not protestant theologically out of their home school group; there are some extremes in other directions too. The groups big on "submission" of women, which is not a particularly Catholic concept considering it is based on an error of Biblical interpretation, sometimes get really extreme in how they dress too.

    The home school group insisting that jeans are immodest is over-board. I loved jeans during my jeans phase.

    Any type of clothing can be modest-- or it can be raunchy if you try hard enough.

  18. I like dresses and pants.
    I though dont think that the "denim jumper" names are necessarily uncharitable-providing that they arn't said with malicious intent/intent to harm.
    I'm not suggesting this refers to you,but just generally speaking,people need to try to not become too oversensitive and we need to be able to be a bit objective and be ok with criticism.
    Sort of like on X Factor:D

  19. I feel like I need to come over and apologize to you for what I wrote. I did already apologize to Tridentine Wife in my comment box. I do want to point out that what I intended to do was refer to the minority group who were very vocal a few months ago on Simcha's blog, and told all of us pant-wearers that we were immoral temptresses. I'm not kidding. We were told that we were going to hell, and that all the sins that were prophesied about at Fatima rest on our shoulders for taking up this "immoral fashion." That is the group I was referring to. As far as I'm concerned, when lunacy crops up it should be recognized as such.

    But, as I told Tridentine Wife, she is quite right that my comments came across as bashing all traditionalists, something that I certainly did not intend. And for that I do apologize. For the record, I love skirts and wear them almost exclusively in the summertime. It's just too hot for pants!

  20. Hi Calah-

    No apology is necessary! I love your blog (and I actually agreed with a lot of what you posted in that post that got you so much flak last week!) and those sort of comments drive me crazy too... because it kind of gives all of us that wear skirts and dresses a bad name.

    I didn't get that far in the comments on Simcha's I guess (I just couldn't stomach any more after a while) because all the comments I read in the beginning were about skirt-wearers and it just kind of got depressing...

    It does make me feel better to know that you see a difference though! On Simcha's posts I wasn't sure that a lot of people did... it was kind of an us vs them attitude.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say again your blog is one of my favorites! You're always so brave in your posts and I love reading them!

  21. I love my jeans (my job lets me wear jeans to work, I couldn't be happier!), but I also enjoy how feminine a nice skirt or dress makes me feel.

    I couldn't imagine feeling obligated towards one or the other. Slacks and pantsuits can be very modest and feminine if tailored correctly. I lean more towards skirts because I'm more bottom-heavy and pants are hard to get to fit properly.

    P.S. In your "about me" profile, shouldn't it be a "Stay At Home Mom of three" now? :)

  22. Hi Cam! I too now wear a lot more skirt and dresses. My husband has noticed, and always comments on how pretty it looks, but then says "so dressy! aren't you uncomfortable?" And the fact of the matter is, I find dresses and skirts SO much more comfortable than pants! Especially in the warmer weather. Being home during the day now without air conditioning, I much prefer skirts. Much cooler.

    But I still do wear pants, a lot of capri pants in the summer (I don't wear shorts. Hate the way they look on me). I don't see a modesty issue one way or the other, as you said.

  23. Hey there! :) I love your blog - and congrats on your pregnancy! :)

    I wear skirts almost all the time. But I do own jeans and jogging pants, and I wear those too. I don't mind if ladies wear pants, I just prefer skirts myself because they're so comfortable! I love how feminine I feel in them, too. I can do nearly anything in a skirt that I could do in pants (except maybe go horseback riding or bike riding...).

    I own a couple denim skirts, but they're cute stylish ones that, when paired with a modest fun top and earrings, become a great outfit.

    To Mass I always wear a skirt - and a mantilla. :)

  24. MJ- I wear skirts and mantillas to mass too! What a coincidence. I've even started wearing mantillas that kind of match with what I'm wearing. (Helps I mostly have black, white, and navy in my closet and I inherited black, white, off white, light blue and navy mantilla's from my grandmother and great-grandmother.)

  25. I have a question for those of you who wear skirts and/or dresses most or all of the time....

    How do you sit in them all day long?

    Okay, obviously I know if you're working at a desk then it's probably a lot easier.
    But let me explain...

    I like wearing skirts, but let's face it, I'm 32 years old, I have 4 children, and up until 10 months ago I was working in Early Childhood Education for many years. Despite the fact that I'm 35 weeks pregnant, I'm simply more comfortable sitting on the floor, usually sitting "Indian Style" (*gasp* I know that wasn't politically correct, but not everyone understands "criss-cross, applesauce"), though I do stretch my legs out, especially when pregnant.

    All the skirts I have fall at or below my knees, but only my floor length black "bohemian" skirt, can I comfortably sit on the floor.

    I do wear shorts in the summer (they fall to my knees) and I wear jeans or pants in the winter. I would love to wear more skirts, but most floor length skirts make me look a bit dumpy, (not because of the skirts, but because I'm overweight and shaped likes a refrigerator - yes, if I were taller, a man, and black I might be mistaken for The FRIDGE). And since I do spend so much of my time on the floor, I find it more modest to wear pants and even shorts, my kids only need to see my underwear when they're helping me fold laundry.

    Any advice or suggestions...?

  26. I think the backlash you're seeing is coming from people who have been burned by the smugly superior, nastily condescending minority that just loves to beat pants-wearing women over the head with Bible verses and their own brand of legalism. There are some pretty obnoxious types out there that attack everyone who doesn't follow their very narrow views on The Way Things Should Be, from calling pants wearers masculine to Jezabels to... well. Anything but their given names, let's say. And half the time, those blogs have an insidiousness to them, a deliberate twisting of Christianity and femininity that is really repulsive! It's really terrible and alarming, especially if you don't follow that faith, like myself. I decided some time ago to try and go with dresses more because I hate pants and don't like spending a lot of time matching clothes. Most of the blogs I ran into are just... hateful and I can't read them. Yours is a breath of fresh air though!


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