Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Great Skirt Debate and Why I Finally Started Wearing Pants Again

So I wanted to find a "before" picture from back in the day
that wouldn't be scandalously low cut or teeny tiny...
but I didn't really want to put that on my blog...
so the compromise is strapless, which I know
some people will have no problem with
and others will find totally immodest...
When I first converted to Catholicism I found myself struggling with modest dress.

Throughout high school and college I'd spent quite a bit of the money I'd earned working as lifeguard/barista/pet store clerk/ assistant in the training room on clothes, and most were pretty standard fair for what you find would find in any junior's department, or in any of the other stores that are generally aimed at the high school/ college set.  For the most part they were strapless or had teeny tiny straps, or were super low or super short... and across the board they were ultra tight.

And suddenly they just didn't feel right anymore.  If I wore something that was moving, in my mind, into the too short/tight/low category, I'd find myself tugging at it until I finally threw my hands up in the air and went to change.

Around the same time I began to read more about Catholicism, both in books and online, discovering first Catholic forums and then the Catholic blogosphere.  I read quite a few books with very traditional views on dress, marriage and femininity and quite a bit of what I read resounded as true, or at least bits and pieces of the chapters did.

And so, over the next months, I came up with rules for myself, to help myself navigate a complex world of clothing that I wasn't a natural at understanding as it was.  You see I've never been naturally inclined to understanding fashion.  When I went to high school I still loved horse t-shirts and jeans.  And when I tried to dress fashionably and fit in... well it just wasn't my thing.  But I knew that there were women who looked fabulous and modest and I was going to give it a try, even if my attempts didn't look quite so lovely.

In the beginning I did very closely follow those certain oft-quoted standards for modesty that I see floating around the Catholic blogosphere rather regularly and passed off as standards for the laity, although they were actually advice for nuns and sisters that were laid out decades ago.  I embraced those standards as completely as I could with the clothing pieces that I found and could afford here and there on sale racks and at yard sales.

Around that time I started blogging, and would often stumble through posts on my attempts at dressing more modestly, trying to explain what I was feeling.  I met both women who could relate to the steady feeling that I found rising in my chest that something needed to change and I found an equal measure of criticism from people who seemed only too enthusiastic to call names, tell me that they're husbands were so, so thankful that they weren't married to someone like me and let me know that I looked like a freak (these insults usually included disparaging remarks about other religions as well, that I'd rather not bring back up specifically, since they were so ugly, but that showed a general hostility to any form of dress that didn't conform to typical American standards).  Most readers probably didn't really care one way or another, but the comments that came through were usually from the people on one end of the spectrum or the other, as so often happens.

After about a year of thinking about modesty, I made the move over to wearing all dresses and skirts.  I never said that I thought that pants were immodest, and honestly, I didn't find them immodest for other women, but in embracing my vocation as a wife and new mother I suddenly felt that dresses better expressed the role I found myself embracing and exploring.  It was almost a uniform of sorts.

It didn't take long for dresses to feel more comfortable than pants and I really found the arguments that most people made about dresses to not be true in my case.  I didn't live someplace particularly windy and I was constantly down on the floor with my toddler, but with many of the flouncy fun skirts I found movement just wasn't a challenge.  And with layers I could stay toasty warm when it was in the teens outside.

I had readers ask how I stayed warm and I even wrote a post about how it wasn't a problem at all and could be easily done.  Looking back pride was certainly already beginning to creep in (or maybe had already arrived in a torrent and I was totally submerged) but as so often is the case I couldn't see it, because dressing modestly these days was at the same time rather humiliating, especially with the fairly frequent mean comments I received fairly regularly on my blog back in those days.

When the ice storm hit this last year I didn't have a single pair of pants sitting on the shelf in my closet... after all, it had been years since I'd worn pants. The temperature with wind chill was regularly below zero and we were trying to go back to the house during the day to see if we could move back during those eight days without power, and finally I broke down and dragged everyone across town to Target and bought a pair of jeans.

And then I found myself not wanting to wear them... at all.  I turned that problem over in my head over and over again.  They weren't too tight.  If I saw those pants on someone else I would think were perfectly fine.  So what was the problem?

I tried to ignore it, but it was sitting there, facing me while Paul was going into stores trying to find firewood where none existed.

I didn't want to put on those pants because then I couldn't say "I haven't worn pants in more than three years."  It was as simple as that.  And it was pride pure and simple.

There are lots of reasons that women wear dresses all the time that have nothing to do with pride.  They're the reasons that I first discovered when I began thinking about wearing dresses.  But over time the reason had changed.  In the beginning I absolutely had needed to change the way I'd dressed, and I think that for a time over correction was beneficial as my heart healed and my view of how I dressed and my body and modesty in general, apart from dress, began to form, but I also believe that over time the reasons for making those changes had begun to slip away and had hardened into a sort of pride for lasting that long while doing something that many saw as radically different.

So I put on those perfectly practical pants and wore them when it was -15 degrees outside and broke that gloriously prideful going-on-four-year streak.  And when I went out to shovel snow I wasn't wrapped in a wet heavy skirt afterwards.

And then I started to fret.  I remembered how I basically got slaughtered (or felt like I did) when I asked if it was okay to wear sleeveless shirts when I was out walking, pushing a stroller, when I was pregnant and sweltering in south west Florida's super humidity (oh how I hate that that is still one of my most popular posts of all time).  And I also knew that a lot of women had related to my journey towards wearing skirts... would I suddenly lose all the friends I'd made across the blogosphere if I admitted to... wearing pants?

Although now we're reaching the point where
very few things... from dresses to skirts
to pants... fit all that well...
Logically I knew that that wouldn't happen.  Logically I knew that 99% of the bloggers who I love to read wear pants and shorts and look amazing and modest.  And logically I also knew that very few of you would really think I was horrible for wearing pants again, or even care at all one way or another.

Still, it took me months to sit down and write this post.  And honestly, it has probably affected my writing in general as it always does when I have something that my brain apparently wants to write about that I keep trying to hush and push to the back burner to simmer for a little bit longer.  I was sure I wouldn't be able to find the right words.  Maybe I still haven't.  And yet I felt compelled to write about this roller coaster of a journey, which in part has involved that aspect of modesty that involves dress and that probably bores 99% of the people reading it (who are at this moment, if they've read this far thinking: Did you really think anyone would care?!?!?!).

In the end, these days I do wear dresses most of the time.  It's what's in my closet and I do find them pretty comfortable after years of wearing nothing else.  But pants are in the mix now too, especially when it's practical, but also on some days, just because the corduroy maternity pants that have been tucked away in a box for the past six years that I discovered on my trip back to California are quite possibly the most comfortable piece of clothing in existence... and I'm finally starting to accept that I don't need an excuse to wear them!


  1. I remember that post about the sleeves and at some point the link to a survey about what teen males found tempting. When they said bare elbows, I shook my head. Please don't worry, we random people on the internet don't get a say in what you wear or what you do, no matter how much we bluster. During my last 2 pregnancies maternity overalls were my daily friend. So uncommon I had to order them from Canada but had the advantages of pants without the constriction around the belly.

  2. Oh, the sola-skirt! It's so infuriating and I wear skirts all the time. I've joined a few facebook groups on modesty and finally gave up on the most recent one. Seriously, there are no dress-specific "guidelines" from the Church. None. "Mary-like modesty" is not something promoted by the Church. As you pointed out (or I assume from your reference) there was a bishop who spoke to all-girl convent schools back in the 1950s, but that had nothing to do with lay people. I cannot people keep perpetuating it as being for lay women. There is also no documentation that Padre Pio ever refused to here confessions from women whose skirts were too short. And that one gets perpetuated to much too. Whatever happened to St. Joan of Arc and St. Gianna Molla? I've been debating writing a post on the topic myself so you sort of invigorated a rant. Sorry about that. Point is it's lying at worst. This silliness needs to stop. Go on, girl! Wear your pants. My skirt-wearing self will not judge you.

  3. This is a great post! Everyone loves a good "I changed my mind post" and I really admire your humiity in writing this one.

    I think as long as bare minimum modesty standards are met (things like no bare midriffs, no deep cleavage, no super short shorts) then I think everyone should wear whatever they like that they feel good in.

  4. Great post! When my husband and I first came back to the Church, I made the switch over to all skirts all the time. I think I needed to reset my idea of fashion and modesty as you mentioned. Eventually, I started wearing pants again (during my last pregnancy), but I still wear skirts a lot. I agree with Amelia. It is important to not wear anything that is very revealing, but other than that wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable.

  5. This is a nice post, Cam. I think it's almost more about the journey of motherhood and humility than it is about pants. Because you have written on the subject so publicly, it is a great model of humility to also publicly reveal your personal changes. Honestly, you look lovely in both. :)

    I spent a couple years wearing the stereotypical homeschool mom jumpers. My husband hated them. I have no problem with jumpers at all... but they weren't for me... or my husband! It took time for me to embrace my own unique place in Catholic culture, skirts or not. (Plus, Cleveland Winters are just COLD!!!)

  6. This is a great honest post Cam...I got a taste of some of those modesty debates and they got ugly.

    I happily wear skirts in the spring and summer. But once the fireplace is burning and it's time to shovel snow, I am in pants almost daily except for Church.

    Hope all is going well and you are feeling good.

    God bless.

  7. I wear skirts most of the time (for personal and practical reasons - knee braces and pants don't mix) but I don't care if other people wear pants. I tend only to care when people make it skirt-wearing an ideology or accuse me of being "holier-than-thou" because I choose to wear skirts.

  8. Beautifully written from the heart. One chooses to wear skirts/dresses for all sorts of reasons. As the PP said, there is not official Church teaching on what is modest and what is not. Please don't feel like you have to defend yourself!

  9. Oh you are wearing pants? That's it your entire way of life is now invalid! LOL (Oh wait, people will probably tell you that)

    Is it weird that I'm the other way around, I would rather wear shorts and jeans in the summer, but want the leggings and skirts in the winter?

    (I consider myself a skirt wearer, but in this heat, I'm currently wearing shorts and a tank top. The horror! The scandal!)

  10. This is an interesting post. When I lived in FL, I had a lot of knee-length skirts. But after receiving too many comments on my legs, I stopped wearing them to Mass (I didn't receive the comments at Mass, mind you!). I was no longer comfortable in them because on me, they were a distraction to some people around me. While that may sound absurd, I do think its also important for us to recognize, beyond the three simple guidelines mentioned by Amelia, whether or not our particular body structure is such that what may be modest on one woman is not modest on another. So there is room for personal discretion based on body type. Some women can pull off sleeveless v-neck shirts, and other women who are more buxom may not be able to do so modestly. Prayerful, personal discretion is an important facet of attempting to dress modestly. TB

  11. We all have things we hang on to out of pride. I've never been inside a Walmart, and there is part of me that wants to be able to say, "I've never shopped at a Walmart" and part of me that says, "Who cares?" I know I just need to go inside and get it over with!

    Living in California, I'm in shorts almost year-round. Pants "bug" me (too restrictive, too hot) and dresses/skirts make me feel too dressed up. I'm TRYING to branch out a bit since the last time I put on a skirt, my kids asked if I was going to a party!

    I think it's great that you wrote this post. It's so refreshing to hear an honest perspective coming from a place of humility rather than a lot of the sanctimonious blather blogs can consist of. I love it! You rock the pants, skirts or whatever else you want to wear :)

    (And yes, tank tops are fine - ESPECIALLY for pregnant women! I'm five months along with my fourth, and I don't think I could excite a man prancing down the street in the nude, much less a sleeveless top.)

  12. Love this post, Cam. Thank you for writing it. And I can assure you, you look lovely (and very modest!) in the pants-wearing picture you posted. :)

  13. I don't know what it is that as we begin to draw closer to God, the Holy Spirit begins to make us think about how we dress, and whether we are modest or not, but to me the fact someone "wakes up" to how they dress and does something about it is a sign of growing in virtue. And then, as we grow in virtue, we get to a point where the scales tip, and we see some of our choices are really prideful, and so we rethink our behavior and change again.
    I imagine as you age you will rethink again and again whether the dress or outfit you choose is modest, tasteful, and appropriate.
    Honestly, I think you look absolutely great in the photo with the grey corduroy pants. Really great. And somehow, you look MORE modest to me in that outfit than in some of the dresses you've had on, not that you ever look immodest. Those pants and that top, at this time in your pregnancy, just look comfortable and great.
    I like what some commenter said (on your Facebook page) "that it it's nice to see that there isn't some magical age that we're just suppose to know everything or have arrived. That everyone goes through seasons growing through the same kinds of things."
    God bless. ~ Bonnie

  14. Don't we all have those ideas and practices we hang on to just so we can appear a certain way? I think it's great that you've shared your growing maturity with your readership! People should all be so authentic.

  15. This is a great post about the ebb and flow that we all go through as we grow older. I have always worn both dresses and pants but have grown to be much more modest over the years and hope to pass on a level of security to my daughters about being modest in their dress and not feeling so pressured by their peers to follow current fashion trends. Run on sentence! God Bless!

  16. Great post, Cam. You go, girl.


  17. The 1st time I saw your last picture I didn't even notice that you had pants on. Now that you point it out I just noticed.

    My main idea about the picture was Wow that is really a good picture of the 3 of them. Then, that baby is getting big, and then, When is he due to join us out there?

    So yeah the pants thing really not a huge deal to me. I mean I switch back and forth day to day. I have noticed I have been wearing more jeans lately. Probably because I find skirts and sneakers to be kind of unattractive and my feet have been hurting pretty badly lately so sneakers are my go to shoes and skirts are on the low side.

  18. I don't think there is anything lacking in modesty about the cordoroy or jeans. Both can be very comfortable and very modest. I wear what I do because it feels good to me. This is the most important criteria IMO. Clothing should be comfortable. Often, it is also modest. But some people can be modest in clothing that others would feel exposed in, primarily due to conformation.

    There are tops that my small framed friends can wear elegantly and modestly which, if placed over my big bust would not be modest at all. I sigh over those fashions but know better than to wear them!

    Then there is the tendency to skin cancer that has me preferring longer sleeves and more skin under fabric. My dermatologist approved totally!!

    Modesty is something that is going to be different person to person. Go with what suits you.

  19. I love this post I too tried to do all skkirts all the time after converting I found my large frame made me look ridiculous to the point of tears thankfully my Muslim neighbor explained that modesty starts in your heart not your clothes and showed me that well fitted not revealing or baggy jeans and modest tops can be modest so I tied on my tichel pulled on jeans and a long sleeved shirt and never cried over clothes again. I think women in skirts are gorgeous and modest I sadly am not also I've heard the whole men's and women's clothes debate some people can't see women's pants are women's pants men would look funny in ours I love this blog and commend all the women who wear skirts gracefully you have my respect

  20. I am old enough to remember when dresses or skirts were required in PUBLIC grade school, high school, and college (I never went to Catholic school). On snowy days, we went to school with snow pants on, removed them in school, and put them back on to go home.My last two years in college, we were allowed to wear pants (and when we bought jeans, we went to the army and navy store and bought men's that would fit our hips). I sometimes wore jeans to conform to the rest of the college newspaper crew, but after a few days, I really wanted to (and did) change back to skirts.

    About 20 years ago I reverted back to only skirts and dresses.It helped when I saw a photo of a young horse-riding Amish woman who was wearing a dress/jeans combo. I adapted the grade school "snow pants" to leggings or even pants under my skirts.

    I think there are two extremes to avoid with pants. One is to avoid the the skin-tight ones. The other is to avoid the unisex look seen too often with older couples: women wear jackets, caps, and jeans/pants that are almost identical to those their spouses or boyfriends are wearing. If the women have short hair, the couples are even more difficult to tell apart.


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