My wife blogs about feminine genius and recently wrote a reflection on her year of wearing skirts. Unsurprisingly, at least to me, it provoked some backlash and criticism from a few faithful Catholics.
The Pants vs. Skirts war has gone back and forth across the Catholic blogosphere over the past few years, with new battles sporadically popping up when someone writes about it. The general stereotypes are: people who are pro-skirts are over-the-top reactionaries stuck in the Dark Ages, while those who are pro-pants are the normal, orthodox Catholics.
And while there is some truth to the stereotypes, my wife emphasized (to little avail) that she was normal. I can vouch for her normality, but the mere mention of preferring skirts to pants incites a knee-jerk reaction in many Catholics, who put up the shields and draw swords, prepared to repel the reactionary assault that (they are sure) is about to come their way.
A Few Skirtly Observations
I’m a man. And I like it that my wife wears skirts. Did I ask her to? No, it was completely something she wanted to do and has done. The fact is she looks quite lovely in skirts. To me, it looks more feminine than wearing pants. Note well, I did not say or imply that women who wear pants look un-feminine, but rather than women look more feminine wearing skirts. That’s my opinion; I don’t have a magisterial document to back that up, nor does this area require one.
My non-scientific survey is that most people respond quite favorably and admiringly to women wearing modest, lovely skirts and dresses. The other day I was in a coffee shop and a young lady came in, wearing a pretty dress. The heads of the patrons turned toward her, not in an ogling way, but simply because she was markedly different from the other ladies in the cafe. She looked quite lovely in her dress, in spite of the fact that her features were otherwise ordinary. So much so, that no less than two people complimented her on her dress.
Similarly, I hear the oohs and ahhs of people over the dresses worn on Downton Abbey. The ladies’ attire seems to highlight their beauty and gracefulness. The same goes for period pieces portraying Jane Austen’s novels, for instance.
An Analogy to Comestibles
“But what difference does a skirt or dress make?” you may ask. “Isn’t it enough that the body is covered in a reasonable fashion by clothing?” The argument is that pants can “do the job” just as well as a skirt can, so there is no real difference between the two, other than personal preference.
Perhaps so, but I have heard a similar argument regarding food. Namely, the argument goes that it doesn’t really matter what we eat. Food is food. Chicken is chicken; beef is beef; a tomato is a tomato. Yet, most people nowadays recognize that eating fast food is not that good for you. So while fast food may have as many calories (or more) than a healthy home-cooked meal, the latter is better for you.
So while people can survive on fast food, TV dinners, supermarket mush tomatoes, and hamburger helper, in fact they would be much healthier if they ate fresh vegetables, grow in more natural ways, and pastured meat rather than meat from confined-feeding operations. You can survive and live a good life either way, but one is better than the other.
I feel the same way about skirts. They are the better choice, for any number of reasons, but wearing pants is an okay choice too. You will most likely survive and grow to adulthood in either case.
Clothing Hits Close to Home
People’s choice of clothes is usually closely connected to their social identity. A doctor doesn’t wear rapper hip-hop outfits. An attorney dresses professionally and not in beach attire. A gang member wears certain colors, accessories, and his clothes in a certain way to identify with his gang and to tell others to watch out.
So it is no surprise that if someone criticizes what we wear, we get defensive. It’s taken as a personal attack almost subconsciously. Also, we are creatures of habit. We get used to wearing certain things, in certain ways, and trying something new is uncomfortable for us. I’ve seen women of all ages wearing skirts and dresses, and doing so handsomely, yet many women feel like they couldn’t “pull that off.” Maybe they’re right. I’m not a fashion expert. But I do feel that, perhaps with some help, they could find something that would look just as good or better than what they currently wear.
A Casual Culture
A friend of mine was lamenting recently that she and her husband went to a fancy restaurant, and most of the young people there were “dressed down” quite egregiously. She was especially focusing on the super-casual clothes that the young men were wearing: flip-flops, shorts, casual shirts.
This seems to be a sign of our times. We dress casually as if to say that we don’t take things too seriously. We “can’t be bothered” to get all dressed up, “as if it matters anyways.” After all, it doesn’t affect who we are, does it? “My presence here is enough, no matter what I am wearing,” we seem to say.
But just as the body expresses the person, our clothes affect how we present our bodies to others. They are not unimportant, or irrelevant, to who we are and to how we interact with others. When I dress well, I send a message to others that I respect them, that I take them seriously.
Now, specifically with regard to pants, can women wear pants and still be “dressing well”? I think so. Of course, all pants are not created equal, some are more equal than others. We’ve all seen pants that are not so nice and ones that are quite stylish. This may seem contradictory, but I am not attempting to make a new skirt-as-dogma here.
Bring the Noise
My wife made her blog post and was surprised at the vitriol of the criticisms, even from faithful Catholics. I was not. Even with the caveats I made at the beginning, I know that the mere mention of preferring skirts over pants will, in many people’s minds, place me firmly in the angry reactionary oppressive male camp.
That’s fine. But I’m not a member of that camp. I’m just a Catholic guy who thinks his wife looks lovely in skirts and am happy that they make her happy to wear. This is an issue that most Catholics have never even considered. They just wear what they wear as they’ve always worn it, informed largely by the broader culture or by the particular subgroup they identify with. I write this to hopefully present to women a gentle case for considering wearing skirts. Maybe they’ll contribute to your general happiness and bonhomie as they have my wife.