Now that we have established the bounds of modesty, and identified that a women’s waist ought to be defined for maximum effect, the fraught question of women’s trousers demands our attention. There is no official ban on women wearing trousers in canon law. However, when women’s trousers were first introduced some senior clergymen did frown upon them. In essence the difficulty is that trousers, being developed to suit men’s more rectilinear frame do not suit a woman’s figure. Most modern trousers for young women have therefore become very tight so that the women’s legs provide the structure and appeal rather than the garment itself. Unfortunately this is not particularly modest. If we were to admit of tight pants as being modest, then we would have to accept opaque women’s tights and stockings as modest, and then there would be no reason to wear a knee length skirt, or indeed any skirt at all. To go in public clad only in undergarments may in some cases be sexy, but cannot qualify one as being well dressed. We are therefore forced to conclude that women’s skin tight pants are not appropriate Catholic women’s wear.
Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton have made the women’s trouser suit their habitual costume. Neither of them are models of Christian womanhood and their choice in clothing reflects that. In contrast Queen Elizabeth II very rarely wears pants and, in spite of being considerably older than Merkel and Clinton, she presents far better. A long skirt, or a mid-length skirt with opaque tights is generally a better option than baggy trousers for women who do not want to exhibit their legs and ankles. By choosing a long skirt you will set an example to younger women that long skirts are a socially acceptable garment, and also preserve your dignity.
Where there is no overriding need to wear trousers, the woman who desires to be well dressed will find this a far easier task in skirts than in pants, and will also silently tell those around her that she embraces her womanhood. Formal dress in modern society suggests that culture still acknowledges that trousers suit men and skirts women. Only lesbians wear tuxedos to weddings. The Duchess of Cambridge almost always wears skirts or dresses to the many functions she attends. It is only at the most informal occasions that she is seen in skinny jeans. While her figure is flattered by dresses, the very tight jeans tend to make her look somewhat underweight and the effect produced by such an outfit is far less noble than her usual attire. This is especially so, because tight fitting jeans are really not comfortable or practical. The Duchess’ usually good deportment is undermined by having to repeatedly hitch up this ill-considered garment. You will also observe that she struggles to find a way to properly define her waist in pants.
This does not mean that no women’s pants are permissible. Looser styles which do not cling to the buttocks and thighs are likely to be sufficiently modest for public wear today. However, finding a flattering cut of women’s pants which will emphasise ones femininity is far harder than finding a flattering cut of dress. Western civilisation, which grew up and around Catholicism has always dressed women in skirts and men in trousers. When women’s trousers were first introduced to western civilisation they were revolutionary. Therefore, even those rare trousers which are of a flattering and modest cut do not generally produce an image of Christian womanhood. For this reason it is recommended that trousers be saved for those sporting events and physical occupations where pants are either necessary or desirable for their utilitarian benefits.
It is also worth considering that the relative restriction of skirts and freedom of pants has been rather too emphasised in modern times. Perhaps this is because most women are exposed more regularly to tight mini skirts worn over bare legs than the long full skirts with warm stockings beneath which women wore throughout our history. Of course the mini skirt made of denim or some other inflexible fabric which allows no range of movement and exposes ones underwear with the slightest movement is hardly a convincing alternative to pants. In the experience of most women, pants, even tight ones, are warmer and less revealing than the ubiquitous short skirt. Obviously however, it is a modern phenomenon for skirts to be so impractical. Ballet is performed on stage in skirts and dresses everyday. Women’s netball, hockey and tennis are often still played in skirts. Old fashioned gym suits for women were cut like a dress, came in at the waist and were made of sufficient material to allow for free movement. The only real difference from a dress was that they came in and gathered at the knee to prevent anyone from being able to see up the skirt. Bathing suits were even more elaborate, with a dress over pants. It is not that women’s physical activity cannot be done in a skirt, but that we are not in the habit of so doing.
Where one participates in some kind of exercise which demands the use of pants for the preservation of modesty loose track pants are the easiest solution. These are of course a very boring look for women, but by not attempting to dress them up into a fashion item it is clear to onlookers that you are wearing them because circumstances demand it, and there is no shame in wearing boring clothes for that reason. A ‘jogger’ style of pants are perhaps a slight improvement over plain track pants which are still loose enough around the behind to be modest. These pants will not make one well dressed, but are quite tasteful compared to the other options available. If you play a sport with a uniform, obviously you should wear that uniform, perhaps adding opaque tights under shorts or mini skirts to render the outfit as modest as circumstances will permit.
Try to choose plain pants rather than ones with prints. Also to be avoided are obvious brands on sportswear, bright colours and metallic finishes. The reality is that most modern sportswear does not qualify a woman as well dressed, and therefore a woman should not seek to draw any additional attention to herself in such apparel. Visible brand names will give the impression that you think that sportswear is a fashion item worth spending time and money upon. We do not want the general public to think that our conception of good dress is a matching designer track suit.
If you are committed to wearing trousers as a dress item in spite of these arguments, do ensure that they emphasise the waistline. A waistline on your trousers as low as the high hip is acceptable, but hipster or low rise styles are to be avoided. Shirts should be tucked in unless they have a tie or belt at the waist, as we discussed in the previous article upon the importance of the waist. High-waisted trousers with very wide legs which pleat or gather from the waist are perhaps best because when standing with ones legs together they will look like a long skirt. By choosing feminine fabrics and colours, trousers can be made to look less masculine. Those styles which are cleverly designed to look like skirts can also be used to good effect.
Perhaps the safest pants are high-waisted, floor length palazzo pants where the bulk of the fabric is gathered or pleated at the waistband. Flowing kinds of fabric without a centre crease running down the leg will help to render this a more feminine garment.
Bell bottom or bootleg cuts are ill advised as they are usually quite tight around the bottom and thighs, and merely loose around the calves. The close fit around the bottom is rather immodest, and the flared style will further draw the eye to that close fit. Loose flared styles simply make a woman look chunky, and are not recommended. Also to be avoided are styles which are wide, but whose width falls from the low hip or buttock, rather than being gathered and falling from above the hip. This too will focus the attention on the upper thigh and bottom region and create an illusion of thickness in that area.
Shorts should be no shorter than knee length to be modest. Shorts should either be so voluminous as to convincingly appear to be a skirt, or taper or gather at the hem. A wide leg ending suddenly half way up the leg looks heavy and unattractive, particularly in thick fabrics. Culottes often embody this error. Many culotte style shorts would make very neat skirts, but as shorts they give the impression that a large pair of men’s trousers has been clumsily cut off and re-purposed as women’s clothing. These styles may work in a full length pant, because they create a smooth line from waist to floor by ending at the ground. Where the pants end mid way down, the continuity is disrupted, which focuses the attention on the gap formed between the pant-legs. If in doubt, perhaps avoid shorts altogether.
Though it should go without saying, cargo pants are not to be worn. Drop crotch pants are also forbidden, not only because of the unappealing implications of the name, but also as a ridiculous item of clothing. It will be particularly important when wearing trousers to choose feminine accessories and hairstyles to ensure there is no confusion over your gender, and to make it clear you are not trying to overthrow the social order. Do not allow the more masculine style of your costume induce you to behave in mannish ways. Instead, let your feminine poise and grace restrain any such tendency.
Read on to the fourth principle.