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Why Dressing Traditionally Matters

Why Dressing Traditionally Matters

It doesn’t take a fashion designer’s sense to notice the decline of American clothing in the last few decades. The neat suits and dresses of yesteryear have been replaced with stretchy athleisure, the hats and coats vanished in favor of sweatshirts and leggings.

Quite honestly, I don’t think fashion and clothing is all that important. Sure, we’ve lost some aesthetics and have nearly erased any sense of modesty. But in the end, clothes are still just clothes, right?

And yet, even the humblest elements of history have something to teach us in this regard.

For example, I have been a skinny jeans girl all my life. I literally used to sleep in jeans as a teenager! I prioritize comfort, as do most of my generation. I would be the last person anyone would expect to promote a return to wearing dresses. And yet, here I am, writing this while wearing an ankle-length skirt. What happened to me, a lover of comfortable modern clothes?

I got pregnant. How very ordinary, right? I am currently expecting my third child with my husband, and since during my pregnancies I tend to get extremely sick, clothing choices rank at the absolute bottom of the priority list. That is, until this third time around, when I have some new symptoms. Let’s just say I am dealing with some inflammation in very sensitive areas! Tight clothes, legging seams, and denim fabric only worsen the discomfort. So, I’ve had to put away my beloved jeans in favor of soft skirts and dresses.

And that’s when I realized why skirts have been so very practical throughout most of history. Most women, up until recent decades, did a lot more childbearing in their lives. It was common to have at least three children, if not seven or eight or more. Of course skirts would be more comfortable than pants as women carried, delivered, and nursed many consecutive babies! It’s only in recent decades that birth rates and motherhood have drastically decreased.

On top of that, skirts and dresses are also far more adjustable for changing figures and weight fluctuations, which are a natural part of childbearing. I’ve been surprised these days that the garments that fit me the longest through my pregnancies are different dresses I’ve had since I was a teenager. Historically speaking, this type of adjustability was imperative during centuries when women could only afford two or three dresses. They needed clothes that would fit many seasons of life—it was simply impossible to buy different clothes for different body changes, as we have the option to do today.

Along with that, historical—that is, non-synthetic—fabrics are far more durable. In the last couple of decades, we have had the luxury of clothing made of elastic fabrics. Clothes made of nylon blends, spandex, and jersey can stretch and accommodate pregnancies easily, as well as being affordable. So why am I nevertheless turning to skirts these days? Simple. Those elastic fabrics don’t hold up. They function like a rubber band and can only be stretched so often before losing their ability to “snap back.”

The stretchy clothes I do have remain functional for only a year or so. The longest-lasting fabrics—coincidentally, those my dresses are made of, are woven from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool. These fibers are simply more durable, and because they don’t stretch, they last for years and don’t wear out with laundering. It’s easy to see how this greatly benefited mothers throughout history.

Along with these unexpected practicalities, I’ve also come face to face with dresses being gendered clothing. Our culture has distinctly pursued androgyny and unisex fashion, where men can wear women’s clothing or vice versa. Wearing traditional clothing is not in itself going to fix the gender confusion in our culture. But it does make an often subliminal visual statement.

I recently came across this post by the Modest Mom from way back in 2012. I was impressed that her primary reasoning for dressing traditionally was not Biblical modesty, as I  expected of her, stereotypically. Instead, she wrote about the stark visual difference skirts give to denote the female versus the male form. She said this is a very easy way to show her children the beauty and differences between the sexes.

It reminded me of an experiment I took part in back in college. I, my sister, and a good friend were all in the depths of our coursework, and we had a lot of male classmates. We were discussing one day the popularity of androgynous athleisure fashion on our respective campuses. One of us had the bright idea to try a little social experiment just to see what would happen if we dressed completely femininely. So, on a normal day of classes, we each wore a pink dress all day long—and, yes, we agreed it had to be pink.

We were shocked at the results. Yes, female students would comment “I like that outfit!” or “You look cute.” But the more drastic change came from our male classmates.

My friend was in organic chemistry with almost exclusively male students; in her group project, she’d been pulling most of the weight in writing a hefty paper. But during the pink dress day, every member of her group offered to do double the amount he’d previously contributed! My sister experienced chivalry in the streets—every car driven by a man stopped to let her cross the road that day. I was offered multiple better seats in lecture halls, and every single time, men I barely even knew opened the door to let me pass. Without exception, we saw a huge increase in the amount of positive attention and deference from men in every setting.

What was the lesson we learned? Men respond positively to women who look like women! Far from being preyed upon, as modern culture claims, looking feminine offered us three college girls more respect and kindness than wearing androgynous clothes ever did. And of course, I’m not the only writer to have noticed the difference dressing well can make in our lives.

“What does our own sloppy dress tell us about ourselves?” asks Jeff Minick. “Are we rebelling against the idea of beauty and culture? Or are we just too lazy to pull on a pair of slacks instead of wearing the sweats we slept in?”

As Maida Korte previously wrote on Intellectual Takeout, “Getting dressed in something more than flannel-patterned pants and a somewhat stale T-shirt signals that we are part of life and living it on purpose.”

In our modern culture, have we too quickly thrown out skirts? What have we lost by rejecting the classic gendered dress of yesteryear? I don’t think we need to burn our jeans or swear off leggings forever, but we could certainly consider the benefits of returning to clothing that reflects our traditional values. What might dressing traditionally look like in our modern culture? It can start very simply:

  • Recognize the value and visual signals of a classically gendered appearance.
  • Apply good hygiene in our daily habits.
  • Take five minutes to do something extra for our appearance, like curling or braiding our hair or having a fresh shave.
  • Choose our clothing pieces thoughtfully.
  • Practice frugality by maintaining the clothing we already have.

There are so many small things like this we can practice, things that were commonplace mere decades ago. We don’t need to burn our newer wardrobes, or try to look like sock hop attendees, or start completely from scratch. A few small changes like this go a long way toward making our outward appearance reflect our values. Let’s rediscover the wisdom traditional culture can offer our modern closets.

Image credit: Pexels


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  • Avatar
    Thomas Byrnes
    March 18, 2024, 4:22 pm

    Excellent article. In my youth, and still, nothing cheers me more than the sight of a woman in a nice dress, or preferably, the loose cotton peasant blouses and long swirling, multicolored peasant skirts of the 1960s and '70s. Those clothes are extremely feminine in the best possible way and not only get men's attention but attention that is chivalrous, protective, respectful and ofttimes romantic. The white dress worn by the woman in the photo is gorgeous and flattering. Femininity is not weakness; to the intelligent woman it is strength. We guys are so easily manipulated by lovely feminine women. Truth be told, a woman in tight jeans and a tight t-shirt, initially at least, tends to inspire lust, which does have its place in the scheme of things. But a woman in a feminine frock inspires our higher feelings, and as the old adage says "Dress like a lady and you'll be treated like a lady."

    • Avatar
      Cadence McManimon @Thomas Byrnes
      March 18, 2024, 8:36 pm

      Thank you for your reflective comment! You bring a refreshing male perspective to this discussion. Thank you for reading and your encouragement!

  • Avatar
    March 18, 2024, 5:17 pm

    Perhaps the pendulum has begun to (finally) swing back? Here are more articles regarding clothes, dresses, etc. that may interest the author and other readers:


    As one of the articles suggests: traditional, feminine fashions are … counter-revolutionary!

    • Avatar
      David Sweatt@TeachEm2Think
      March 18, 2024, 6:01 pm

      I like traditional dress for men and women.

      This is a view that reflects good taste and good manners.

      What we wear is what others must see.

      Therefore we owe it to ourselves and to others to, prefer traditional dress.

    • Avatar
      Cadence McManimon @TeachEm2Think
      March 18, 2024, 8:37 pm

      Thank you for providing the link! I am definitely seeing the pendulum swing toward counter-revolutionary, as you put it.

  • Avatar
    Bruce E. Brown
    March 19, 2024, 4:56 pm


    Spot on about how 'nice' clothes do get attention. I'm 60 years old. I'll dress 'nice' for 'important' events and ALWAYS get the attention. WHY.., because so many Americans dress like crap. If you travel out of USA you'll see a significant difference. In Europe dress still means something, but in the US it has become a bit of a 'stigma' to LOOK GOOD! You might even be racist or par to f some 'superior group' just looking well dressed. So sad.

    • Avatar
      Cadence McManimon @Bruce E. Brown
      March 19, 2024, 9:11 pm

      I have yet to travel outside of the nation; what an interesting perspective you offer about other countries still valuing proper dress! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  • Avatar
    March 20, 2024, 10:19 am

    Excellent observation tying pregnancy and childrearing to the skirt.
    I've long been a proponent of slacks over jeans and sweats. Clothing doesn't just affect the way I am perceived but also how I present myself.


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