The Thinking 

A Prophetic Warning on the Subject of Women’s Dress

June 19, 2012

THREE extraordinary developments in women’s fashions have occurred over the past 100 years. They are so widely accepted that most people barely notice them anymore. They are:

1) The gradual acceptance of pants. Once exclusively reserved for men, pants were completely embraced by the 1960s and are so universal now that a first violinist in a major orchestra in my area sits with her legs spread-eagle during the performance. She is wearing pants and is considered free to sit in any position.

2) The rise of informality. Everyday clothes worn 100 years ago would be considered special occasion dress today. Even nuns wear T-shirts and jeans.

3) The striking increase in revealing clothing.  Unisex pants lead to camisoles and other forms of public lingerie, clothes that are unambiguously feminine. College presidents and congresswomen even wear low-cut blouses.

These changes have not liberated women. Far from it. They have confined them. They have encouraged women to ape men. They have caused them to lower themselves, especially in the eyes of their children, as a pseudo-man is necessarily inferior to a real man. They have created a world that is less beautiful and less ceremonious. Sixteenth-century peasants dressed with more dignity than wealthy Western women today.

All of this is by way of introducing a remarkable document on this subject. No one has expressed the consequences of these changes better than one particular man writing 52 years ago. Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa, wrote a prophetic letter to local clergy in 1960 on the subject of the increasing appearance of women in “trousers.” Archbishop Siri maintained that the adoption of masculine dress by women would ultimately spell disaster:

When we see a woman in trousers, we should think not so much of her as of all mankind, of what it will be when women will have masculinized themselves for good. Nobody stands to gain by helping to bring about a future age of vagueness, ambiguity, imperfection and, in a word, monstrosities.

When a sense of the eternal feminine is lost, there is a flattening of society. He wrote:

The consequences of such violations are not a new outline of man, but disorders, hurtful instability of all kinds, the frightening dryness of human souls, the shattering increase in the number of human castaways, driven long since out of people’s sight and mind to live out their decline in boredom, sadness and rejection. Aligned on the wrecking of the eternal norms are to be found the broken families, lives cut short before their time, hearths and homes gone cold, old people cast to one side, youngsters willfully degenerate and — at the end of the line — souls in despair and taking their own lives.

His letter, posted at, is well worth reading in its entirety. These are extreme words, but all of it has come true.


— Comments —-

Jesse Powell writes:

I was very impressed reading the Cardinal’s letter in its entirety. I have never read such a good explanation of why masculine dress for women is not a good idea. If a man walked around wearing a dress he would be seen immediately as a freak or a transvestite or perhaps someone who’s trying to be funny; regardless the sight would be jarring. A woman wearing pants however is no big deal, the woman wearing a dress would be more noticeable. In general, as a man, I am always pleased when I see a woman wearing a dress. The woman is more beautiful, more colorful, more feminine; she is projecting to the world that she is happy to be a woman. I would also say that dresses encourage in me romantic idealization rather than lust.

If there was a general societal norm that men wore pants while women wore dresses it would be very clear that there was a difference between the sexes. In such a setting chivalry or “gentlemanly respect towards women” would be easy to maintain and would even come naturally on the part of men. By the same token, women behaving in a demure manner, in a polite and respectful way towards men is also something I would expect. Such changes in the behavior of men towards women and of women towards men would go a long way in healing the damage that has occurred in the relations between the sexes.

I most like part three of the Cardinal’s letter:

“The changing of feminine psychology does fundamental and, in the long run, irreparable damage to the family, to conjugal fidelity, to human affections and to human society. True, the effects of wearing unsuitable dress are not all to be seen within a short time. But one must think of what is being slowly and insidiously worn down, torn apart, perverted.

Is any satisfying reciprocity between husband and wife imaginable, if feminine psychology be changed? Or is any true education of children imaginable, which is so delicate in its procedure, so woven of imponderable factors in which the mother’s intuition and instinct play the decisive part in those tender years? What will these women be able to give their children when they will so long have worn trousers that their self-esteem goes more by their competing with the men than by their functioning as women?

Why, we ask, ever since men have been men, or rather since they became civilized — why have men in all times and places been irresistibly borne to make a differentiated division between the functions of the two sexes? Do we not have here strict testimony to the recognition by all mankind of a truth and a law above man?

To sum up, wherever women wear men’s dress, it is to be considered a factor in the long run tearing apart human order.”

It is amazing to me how perceptive and prophetic religious leaders often were in the earlier stages of social breakdown. It is a shame that by and large they weren’t able to “hold the line” against the forces of modernity. We’re now in the situation where the culture has to be rebuilt almost from scratch. A return to feminine dress among women is a move in the right direction; it is a part of the overall process of reestablishing sex roles.

 Thomas F. Bertonneau writes:

Since for better or worse I have stubbornly made my career (the word seems a bit pretentious) in academia, a chapter of modern life deeply and uncritically imbued by all modern trends, I have had occasion to notice the way modern women dress. The woman’s “pants-suit” is, of course, ridiculous, a caricature of male dress. Frankly, blue jeans and a blouse are sartorially more dignified than any “pants-suit.” Blue jeans and a blouse are perhaps unexceptionable as coed attire, but it is nevertheless striking when a coed shows up in actual, feminine attire, like a skirt-and-blouse or a dress. An actual, male awareness notes the difference, the step up in dignity and womanliness. A recent development in coed attire is what I can only describe as pajamas: flannel-wear that looks like the garments one sleeps in. Again, denim would be more dignified.

I knew a girl in graduate school in the 1980s who wore skirt-and-blouse combinations and dresses, but of the “professional” cut, maybe from the Anne Klein catalogue. The effect, despite the female cut, was a parody of male attire. I noticed this again when I taught college in Michigan. There is a severely cut type of female “professional wear” that caricatures male attire and makes the women who don it look quite risible. Many of the female professors dressed in that mode – and the effect was one of deliberate and rather puritanical de-sexing. Is that the intention? I suspect that the intention, misguided and ineffective, is to “look like men,” or to look like what sufferers from feminism-inspired misandric resentment think men look like.

These directions of couture are summed up in the usual attire of Secretary Clinton, who is the apotheosis of the “style.”

Some of the best dressed, most feminine women whom I have encountered, I was fortunate enough to meet, of all places, in the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, in remote Mecosta, Michigan. I was associated with the Center in various capacities in the second half of the 1990s. Mecosta, as remote from anywhere as you can get in Michigan, was a stellar venue of well dressed, cultured, feminine women, whose presentation embodied the ideals of order and beauty.

Lisa writes:

 From John Bunyan:

“Why are they for going with their…naked shoulders, and paps hanging out like a cow’s bag? Why are they for painting their faces, for stretching out their neck, and for putting of themselves unto all the formalities which proud fancy leads them to? Is it because they would honor God? Because they would adorn the gospel? Because they would beatify religion, and make sinners to fall in love with their own salvation? No, no, it is rather to please their lusts…I believe also that Satan has drawn more into the sin of uncleanness by the spangling show of fine clothes, than he could possibly have drawn unto it without them. I wonder what it was that of old was called the attire of a harlot: certainly it could not be more bewitching and tempting than are the garments of many professors this day.”

Laura writes:

Bunyan’s statement is too extreme.

He is railing not just against immodesty but against fine clothes and make-up. He also seems to have a revulsion toward the sight of female anatomy.

Joe A. writes:

Thomas F. Bertonneau really ought to be more careful in his name-calling.

The Puritans delighted in the sexes and in sex, strictly within marriage of course which they encouraged at a young age by today’s standards. Their costume emphasized secondary sexual characteristics and was highly functional for the clearly defined jobs assigned each sex. Besides, a Puritan woman would be too busy raising her five or ten children even to think about an office job with or without Ann Taylor.

Mary writes:

“The Puritans delighted in the sexes and in sex…”

My interest is piqued – please provide the source for this claim.

“Their costume emphasized secondary sexual characteristics…”

If you say so:


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