We could say that women wearing pants today encompasses what the early Feminists believed in. We can certainly say that pants are not the most feminine or ladylike approach to clothing. (We can also say that it’s a good thing corsets and long, heavy skirts of the 1800s/1900s are no longer in style!) But has the Church discouraged pants on women?
Nowhere is it said that pants on women is sinful or wrong. In fact, the Vatican’s official modesty guide, to be let in, shows a woman wearing pants. See photo.
Cardinal Giuseppe Siri wrote on the dangers of women wearing pants; but He recognises that trousers might not be thought of as immodest “because they cover more of a woman’s body than do modern women’s skirts” – unless, of course, they are provocatively tight-fitting.
His main point, however, is to do with the psychology of women wearing trousers: he believes “Male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man’” ie it changes the psychology of women.”
Another mention of pants on women can be found in, “The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866 (Letter 99)”, in which Pope Nicholas I answers the question concerning the Bulgars women wearing pants:
“We consider what you asked about pants (femoralia) to be irrelevant; for we do not wish the exterior style of your clothing to be changed, but rather the behavior of the inner man within you, nor do we desire to know what you are wearing except Christ — for however many of you have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ [Gal. 3:27] — but rather how you are progressing in faith and good works. But since you ask concerning these matters in your simplicity, namely because you were afraid lest it be held against you as a sin, if you diverge in the slightest way from the custom of other Christians, and lest we seem to take anything away from your desire, we declare that in our books, pants (femoralia) are ordered to be made, not in order that women may use them, but that men may. But act now so that, just as you passed from the old to the new man, [cf. Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10] you pass from your prior custom to ours in all things; but really do what you please. For whether you or your women wear or do not wear pants (femoralia) neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue. Of course, because we have said that pants are ordered to be made, it should be noted that we put on pants spiritually, when we restrain the lust of the flesh through abstinence; for those places are constrained by pants in which the seats of luxury are known to be. This is why the first humans, when they felt illicit motions in their members after sin, ran into the leaves of a fig tree and wove loin cloths for themselves.[cf. Gen. 3:7] But these are spiritual pants, which you still could not bear, and, if I may speak with the Apostle, you are not yet able; for you are still carnal.[I Cor. 3:2] And thus we have said a few things on this matter, although, with God’s gift, we could say many more.”
Taking a look at what they were referring to as pants that Bulgarian women wore is also a large factor in why Pope St. Nicholas I said it wasn’t immodest. We can certainly say that it isn’t even close to what is worn on the street today, that are called “pants”.
Saint Gianna Molla is pictured wearing pants when she skiied and climbed mountains.
A large portion of the weight of sinfulness is the desire of the person committing the sin. If a person has no idea of the consequences of seriousness of their actions, they are not punished as severely (though it DOES depend on the gravity of the sin!). Modesty in dress is one good example of this;
Most women have no sense of modesty or reverence for their bodes. But many times a woman dresses to incite pleasure and/or lustful glances purposefully. If this is indeed the goal of the wearer, than of course, it is immodest! More so than if the wearer has no idea of the feelings or scandal they are causing by their immodest clothing! It is still a scandal, and a sin, but less so than if they wore it out of spite, for vanity sake, to gain sexual attraction in the wrong way, and so on.
Those who make it their duty to incite hatred, disgust, or commit slander and rash judgement on others who dress differently are very much in danger of serious sin.
Those who write articles, publicly making fun of women who dress more modestly than the writer thinks is proper, are also in danger of serious sin.
Those who have serious scruples about modesty and how others should look, and go about giving information concerning Modesty in the wrong way (see this article) are in danger of serious sin.
Those who obsess themselves over who is wearing how much of an immodest outfit and so on, are in danger of sin.
In conclusion; immodesty is not the only sin (though it is a huge one!) and modesty is not the only virtue (though it is also a huge one). Making Modesty as if it were your religion and treating others uncharitably is not Christian. We are called to save our souls first; “Therefore every one of us shall render account to God for himself. Let us not therefore judge one another any more. But judge this rather, that you put not a stumblingblock or a scandal in your brother’s way.” Romans 14:12
See also this very thorough and informative video on the subject of men/women wearing pants!!