Why What I Wear Matters

by | Jul 8, 2014 | Catholic Living, Things I Think, Travel | 39 comments

In the comments to my post about the time it took us thirty-nine hours to fly to France, Erica noted that I was wearing a dress. 
And I was. The same dress the whole time, as a matter of fact, since while WE were hanging out in Toronto, our bags were kickin’ it in LA. 
But anyway, yes. I do usually travel in a dress. 
Today I shall tell you why.
I should note that not only do I dress up for air travel, I also “dress” for things like shopping and going on field trips. Not like these ladies:
but I give it a go.

I’ve been the yoga pants mom. I’ve done that. I’m a runner, and there was many a day, as a mom of little kids, that if I managed to get up and put on some workout clothes, it was unlikely that I’d change into anything else all day.

I’ve been the jeans to church gal, in a former life. If I even went to Mass on Sunday at all in my early twenties, I certainly wasn’t going to put on special clothes to do it.

I don’t think I was ever the pajamas on a plane girl. But probably only because I don’t think that was a thing yet when I was a teenager.

But as my kids have gotten older, and I have a little more time to spend on myself, my perspective has slowly changed.

I still like to get up in the morning and run. I still put on yoga pants to do it. But, then, if I’m doing other things during the day, even if those things are only going to the grocery store or meeting another mom at the park, I change clothes. I put on something I like.

I still go to Mass. In fact, I ALWAYS go to Mass now. But, now, I gussy myself up a bit to do it. I put on makeup and curl my hair. I usually wear heels. I wear a skirt or a dress. Not because some folks say that only boys can wear pants (’cause that’s crazy talk), but because I think dresses and skirts are cuter than pants.

And, yes, I also wear dresses on the plane. Crazy, right? I know. But stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

The dressing for things started in a reactionary way. I worried about what people would think of me, appearing in public with many small children. So I started putting on jeans and a top to go to the store, instead of stretchy pants. And I started wearing dressy clothes to Mass, instead of jeans. And I started wearing special clothes for special occasions. All of them. Including travel.

I think it does the trick. People pretty much give me a pass on having all these kids once they see that they don’t absolutely prohibit one from wearing things that button. So that’s nice.

But I’ve kept it up because, in addition to affecting the way other people perceive me, it also affects the way *I* perceive things.

Yoga pants are great for running. They’re probably great for yoga, I wouldn’t know. They’re good for sick days and getting stuff done around the house days. But, for me, they make everything feel NOT SPECIAL. They make me feel schlubby.

I’m happier and more productive on days I try to look cute. I’m more efficient and more effective. I’m sweeter to my husband. I’m not suspicious of everyone I meet, wondering if they’re judging me. In fact, I’m pretty sure now that they’re probably not.

I think it’s easy to take special things for granted in this day and age. We have so many opportunities people didn’t used to have. It used to be a rare and wonderful treat to go to the movies or out to dinner or to fly on an airplane, so people got excited about it and dressed accordingly.

Flying on an airplane, travel in general, is a special thing. I don’t want to forget that. When I dress accordingly, I don’t.

And if travel is a privilege, what can I even say about church? About Jesus coming to me in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? I may have an eternal spiritual soul that can sometimes appreciate the majesty of my faith, but I also have a temporal fleshy body that doesn’t always recognize and appreciate things like a propitiatory sacrifice which is offered for the living and dead, for the remission of sins and punishment due to sin, as satisfaction for sin and for other necessities. Somehow, being in heels seems to help it remember that this is Something Important.

For me, Uncle Screwtape was right, “for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”

Dressing up isn’t an every single day thing for me. Especially in the summertime, when most of my days are spent walking between the house and the pool and the park — getting kids to swim practices and picked up from day camp. But that makes the days when I wear something nicer to meet a friend for lunch or to go to the mall with my sister in law or out to dinner with the husband, feel that much more special.


  1. Joanne Kibbe

    I cannot get 'into' dresses. I mean I like them but I don't like them on me when I'm pregnant because I think I look huge and nursing because I don't find it convenient. It seems that I'm either pregnant or nursing or neither but then I get pregnant (funny how that happens!)

    I will say that I LOVE a great skirt. I try and buy myself one nice skirt a year. The best skirt to me is one I can wear during any stage – not pregnant, pregnant or post-pardum. I have only found one or two that I really can wear anytime but I'm always on the lookout.

  2. Sarah

    What a timely post this is for me. We are on vacation in south Florida, and were able to attend Latin Mass Sunday, which we normally have to drive 100 miles to attend. Fathers homily was all about women dressing modestly and both men and women dressing appropriately for specific occasions. Personally, I prefer to dress modestly, though I admit in the summer it can be a struggle. I too was once the jeans to church type, but now put more effort into dressing myself and all the kids. What hit home the most about this post was your respect for how important the sacrifice of the Mass is, and how we should dress accordingly. Our home parish has a terrible epidemic of women (even lectors and Eucharistic Ministers) dressing almost prostitute like. And members if the congregation in shorts and flip flops. I just don't get it. It's so disrespectful to me.
    I just got back into running about 6 weeks ago after baby #6 turned 1, and I have found myself staying in my running gear longer than I should, because it's just easier. But you are so right about how you feel and approach the day, kids, and hubby when you take the time for yourself first. As Moms, it's so easy NOT to do that. I am so incredibly glad I stumbled across you and your blog a couple months ago. I find myself referring to you in conversations about Faith, homeschooling, and just life quite often now.

  3. Wendy Klik

    I wear dresses a lot in the summer and while on vacation to warm places because they are easier, cooler and more comfortable for me. I live in Michigan so I don't wear dresses too often in the winter because slacks are warmer for me. I don't get dressed up for the grocery store but I do get dressed for church or the theater or a nice dinner. I am a big believer in dressing for a purpose. I think children who wear uniforms to school, get the mindset that it is work time and not play time. I believe adults who dress for work accomplish more and look and act more professional than those who are in casual everyday clothing. Ok, I'll shut up now!!

    • BeenAround

      No, you shouldn’t shut yourself down. For a long time I have believed that a large part of the breakdown in our school system was the loosening of standards, allowing the students to see school as a less than important place, not to be taken seriously. When I was young, we had ‘school clothes’ and ‘play clothes.’ As soon as we got home, we had to change into play clothes to keep our school clothes nice. How you appear does make a difference in how you feel and how others who see you perceive you. Like it or not, it is true.

  4. Catie

    Just this weekend I decided to dress a little nicer for Mass only to find out that I own three dresses and no skirts. I happen to wear those same three dresses for every special occasion. I guess I need to go shopping. I try to only do that once every five years.

  5. Ann-Marie Ulczynski

    Great perspective. I freeze on airplanes, so it is always pants for me, but I love the idea. My Mom remembers when people would really dress up, complete with hat and white gloves to fly. Love it. My white gloves only come out when I go to a DAR meeting nowadays.

    It's so true that I feel so much better about myself when I am wearing something that I like and feel good in. I just went through my closet and donated the clothes that still fit, but that I just don't wear because I don't like the way I feel in them.

  6. Laura Pearl

    Kendra, if someone asked me why I always wear dresses on planes, I would probably get all tongue-tied; but you explained it perfectly. My husband has flown for a major airline for 26 years, and when he got hired my boys had to wear real shoes, dress shirts, and ties (no shorts) to use employee passes. I had to wear a dress, skirt, or pantsuit (nothing denim), nice shoes (no sandals), and hose. Everything has gotten very casual–we can dress like the rest of the flying public now. But I still think of air travel as such a huge privilege that I continue to dress as if those early rules were still in place. Besides, dresses are so comfortable! I submit that they are a heap more comfortable for sitting on an airplane than jeans are.

    And as you said, if flying is a privilege, then how much more so is the Mass?!

    I also believe in trying to look semi put-together, even for daily errands; the times I have run out to tge grocery store all shlubby, I've invariably run into domeone i kniw snd been mortified. I like trying to look good for my husband, even if we're just staying home watching a movie together.

    I do all these things because they feel right; but I just love the way you explain the good sense behind it all. Sweats and yoga pants certainly have their place–but it's so nice to embrace your femininity and put some thought into how you present yourself to the world.

    Great post! (But then again, what else is new? :))

    • Kendra

      Laura, my mom was a flight attendant, so we grew up flying on her passes with those same rules for dressing!

  7. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    OK, so for those of us who have no fashion sense, who have trouble putting together anything "cute" and tend to go with just "safe" when we can manage it, could you spend a blog post or two just talking about wardrobe choices that make it possible to do this? See… you appear to me to be a tall, slender, beautiful lady. ( I say "appear" because I've thought in my head that some bloggers I only knew online were taller than my average 5' 6" height only to find out that they were really much shorter than myself.) For those of is who fall into the more "short and stocky" category, dresses aren't always a good choice for flattering our figures. Skirts and tops seem to work better for my figure, I know that, but then that just adds another layer of anxiety to my shopping trips because now… I have to match things up myself!?!?! Ugh!

    But I did like what you have to say about the specialness of Mass. We have always tried to dress up for Mass. I tend to have one or two outfits of "Church clothes" that I rotate through for each season. I'm not very creative in my dress though and while I don't really do the yoga pant thing, I do have knit pants that I only wear around the house and to the store, but for a friend's house… yeah… I guess I would probably through on a skirt. Jeans are my weakness though. Jeans are so universal and in Texas are accepted pretty much everywhere… although we don't wear them to Mass.

    • Kendra

      Well, I'm 5'8", which is moderately tall, and I've always been pretty thin. So I know that finding clothes I like and that fit well isn't that big a challenge. But I don't naturally have a great fashion sense, I don't think. That's why I like dresses. It's just one thing to put on, a pair of shoes, maybe a necklace, done. If I wear separates, I buy them together and wear them like that. I'm terrible at mix and match, it's just too time consuming. So, I buy and outfit and store it together and wear it together. I'm always so impressed with people (like Rosie from A Blog for my Mom) who mix up outfits each week for What I Wore Sunday.

      I don't wear skirts as much because most of my dresses are stretch knit or empire waist so I can wear them pregnant or not, but somehow I feel like a Christmas tree in an a-line skirt with a shirt on top when I'm pregnant. And same with jeans. I wear them, but I don't think they're as comfortable as dresses when I'm not pregnant, and when I am pregnant, I spend half the day tugging them up!

    • Charlotte {WaltzingM}

      Yay! I'm so glad I was finally right in thinking that someone I knew online was tall! I used to think that 5'8" was the perfect height for a woman and was so disappointed when I stopped growing at 5'6" (well to be honest… I'm 5' 5 and 3/4" if I stand up really tall but I round that up to 5'6"). I'd love to know where you find your Empire waist dresses. I guess that's why I shy away from dress fashions today because they all seem to have a belt or cinch in right at the worst part for my figure.

    • magda

      "a blog post or two just talking about wardrobe choices that make it possible to do this" – yes, I'd be interested too!

    • Lizzie

      A blog that really helped me to understand how to "dress" is http://www.un-fancy.com
      She isn't writing anymore, but her previous posts are still there. I don't like all of her outfits, bit I got a lot of ideas from her.

    • Anonymous

      I know this is a bit late… But for questions about what to wear, how to wear, dressing for your body type, etc. I would look into:

      "Dressing with Dignity" by Colleen Hammond.

      She has tons of information about dressing fashionably. There are videos and a book on it. She has a website coming loaded with everything a person would want to know about everything that can be worn.

  8. Endless Strength

    I have to "dress" every day since I work outside the home.
    as a matter of fact, my particular department "allows" jeans and tennis shoes. But since I am a "boss" (I manage people) I choose to dress nicely Mon-Thur and use "jeans day" on Friday. It does make a huge difference in how I approach my day.

    We try to dress nicely for Mass as well at our house, but I no longer stress if the only Mass we can make that weekend is one in which we all will make it together as a family, even if we are wearing jeans. We just try to minimize those times. 🙂

    Lovely post. I like the way you wrote it. These types of posts can come off all Judgy-McJudgerson, and yours didn't. Nice work.

  9. Claire

    I'm with you on the " reactionary" dressing, which then you realize actually helps your own state of mind. Thank you so much for the Screwtape quote! So wise. I look forward to talking with C. S.Lewis someday in Heaven.

  10. Jena

    I agree! While I am in a stage of life where casual is best (toddler and newborn), it definitely helps to get dressed. If I do go out, I will get dressed, even if it's in workout clothes, which sometimes make me feel BETTER in than "real" clothes (they aren't faded, cotton, and baggy; they are "fitted" and do my postpartum body good!). It is also the most comfortable for the moving and bending I'm doing with two little ones without worrying what's showing…and it's washable, which is important with a newborn! And while I don't always shower and get made up for the everyday at home, it's because I don't WANT to, not because I CAN'T…there is usually always a way, even if it means a video and a screaming baby in the swing. If I'm going to be around others, though, I will almost always be dressed, for myself and them.

    For church, I always put thought into what I'm wearing. I figure if I/others can dress and put effort into XXX occasion, I can certainly put in the effort for God. It might not end up being the dressiest of outfits, but I DO try to put in the EFFORT.

    I think this is an important point you make! Dressing makes a difference in how we feel and how others perceive our situations. Being a mother doesn't (always) mean being frazzled with dirty hair and clothes. Sometimes it is, but usually it's doesn't have to be.

  11. Elizabeth Anne

    Awesome post!! I want to start seeing more of your outfits too! I need to do this more often! I just struggle with practicality as a nanny and still wanting to look nice! But some things in life are worth dressing up for! I am so glad you believe that too and share it! It really does make a difference!

  12. October Rose

    With three under three, I feel like getting out of the house (with or without kids), even to go grocery shopping, is such an event that I ought to make the most of it and put on a little mascara and one of my nicer tops … perhaps even a skirt. 🙂 I've been slowly building my wardrobe with stuff that is cute/fits/looks nice without being so "dressy" I'm afraid of it meeting my day with kids.

    I also think it's important to feel comfortable in your own skin, so sometimes the makeup doesn't happen … but clothes are easy to change! 🙂

  13. Cassie Williams

    I completely agree! Now if I could just find clothes that fit and I could afford all would be set. Some us are extremely limited (because of size, store options near by, and budget) on even being able to dress nicely.

  14. Tacy

    I try to dress like a gang leader when I fly to Europe. Thug central right?!

  15. Erica Saint

    Kendra, you are a well dressed rock star!

    Like I mentioned before, I never fly, but when I do, I plan on dressing up and will appreciate the privilege of the event.

    I love this post!

  16. Stefanie

    I am fully into dressing up at this point in my life too, though I had not even recognized it much until I read this. I love getting us all into our Sunday best; it definitely helps with how the "old church ladies" feel about this young tattooed couple and our very active two year old being at Mass every Sunday!

  17. Nanacamille

    As Kendra said her family always dressed to the 9s in the good old days of airline travel on my airline and others. We were quite often in a premier cabin but even in coach we were dressed up and the flights were no less pleasant than if we had been in our pajamas.
    I spent 37 years serving passengers and picking up after them in a uniform of dress, hose and heels and it was just fine.
    Travelers today come from a broader range of the population than they did before and it seems they feel the grubbier they dress the more they will look like a frequent traveler instead of a first year flier. I have seem some outfits getting on a plane lately that wouldn't even be seen in a tornado shelter in the past. Rules have changed.

  18. Tia

    One follow-up — how do you have time to have such a nice and stylish wardrobe? I think between being pregnant, and not pregnant, and postpartum, and then not having time to shop, i now have about 6 items that fit and they are all super worn out. I know I need to step up my game but finding one piece of nice clothing can take an hour, not to mention a whole wardrobe.

    • Kendra

      For a while, I used to mostly just grab something here and there at Target when I was there for other things. But I usually didn't love it, or have the rest of an outfit to go with it. So about 5 years ago, I decided to quit doing that and shop more mindfully. My husband is really great about helping me. Once or twice a year, he'll watch the kids and send me to get a new outfit. Or if I have a new baby, he'll come with me and hold the baby so I can try things on.

    • KC

      Tia, I have four children under seven and have gravitated more and more towards dresses with each child specifically b/c they are so forgiving if you buy the right style–I can wear them at 9 months and at my skinniest point between babies. With an empire waist and wrap or v-cut neckline (usually with a cami underneath), I can expand, shrink, and nurse all in the same dress! I try to pick up classics that will last through the years at the end-of-season sales. I live in rural Michigan and often buy online from Old Navy or Land's End or Target sometimes (those are what I can afford) and then return in the store when I go to the city if they don't offer free returns. Once you find a style that you like, you will be able to return less. I've been able to build up a nice wardrobe over the past few years adding about two or three dresses and maybe a new cardigan or necklace each year (or at Christmas as a gift!) and I've spent maybe $200 per year. Now I feel like I'm set for a while and finally like my clothes and how I look in them and don't stress out that I never have anything that fits! I like this style from Old Navy:


      and this from Lands End:


      If you have a little money to splurge with and an hour online, just order a bunch of stuff and try it on at home. It's so much better than shopping! And you can ask your husband what he thinks 🙂

  19. Elise

    Love your style and the thinking behind it! Great post, Kendra.

  20. Anonymous

    My style in pretty non-existant. I had a baby in college so I dressed like a "college kid" jeans, over-sized t-shirts, hoodies etc… in the early days. Then I got a job in an office, but we were on a budget, and I never was very girly, so I was gifted some slacks and picked up a few from the Goodwill, and was gifted a blouse or two here and there, or picked one up from Target or the Goodwill. I am approaching a cute wardrobe now, but am wishing I had more dresses, especially since I am newly pregnant.

    I would also love a post on style/wardrobe basics.

  21. handmaidmama

    Can you recommend some favorite camisoles? I need to restock and would love some suggestions 🙂


    • Kendra

      My favorite camisoles are from Costco. They are long and have a shelf bra, which is enough for non-curvy gals like me.

  22. Rosa Patterson

    I just got a dress from milknursingwear that's easy to nurse in without exposing anything and it's flattering to belly flub aaaand I could wear it pregnant. It was on clearance for $20. I've been window shopping on theirs and other nursing/maternity clothes websites forever and drooling over all the clothes. Because a dress that you can wear pregnant or not and also while nursing is the number one most awesome thing you could spend your money on.

  23. LeAnna

    With all the transatlantic flights I've had to take in the past five years, I'm happiest if I have the chance to dress in comfy clothes (like sweatpants, which I normally refuse to wear outside of the house). But most of my flights have seen me wearing my heaviest & bulkiest articles of clothing, because airline luggage policies are not kind to those of us who keep having to move abroad and back again!

    I love dressing the kids up in clothing that makes them look neat & well presented when we go somewhere likely to put us into contact with an adult majority (ie — going to town or Mass). They look cute, I feel more confident because of their cuteness, and we get lots of smiles and kind words (always a plus). And I love dressing myself up too — it's always a confidence boost which means I'm in a better, more secure feeling mood and hopefully makes me nicer/more helpful/more friendly when I'm dealing with other humans. Trips out with 2 under 2 do not always go smoothly, but throwing some cute (or in my case, interesting?) clothes into the mix at least softens hearts when the 11 month old is busy shoplifting luxury chocolate bars while I'm distracted at the checkout (so glad I caught her before we left the store).

  24. Christie Gregor

    Thank you, Kendra for your candid insights…truly worth pondering what you wrote on perception of reactionary dressing of others and yourself. Yes, dressing up is always striking the balance between being respectful of ourselves and others. It is always appropriate to dress up according to the occasion and practically also according to weather and seasons too. We should also take into account the manner of comfort and ease of handling ourselves once we dress up. God bless! Say It With God’s Word

  25. 7 Seven

    Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing…58eveningdress.

  26. Amy

    As a mom of one (about to be two any day now), I'm am SO encouraged when I see moms put together. It's sort of a "ok, I can do this too." But when I see a mom looking "schlubby" I actually find it discouraging. There is a family that attends our church that sticks out to me for a couple reasons, but they have maybe 6 or 7 kids and I've never seen the mom and dad smile; they always seem so glum; and it's hard not to think, maybe that life (more than my current number of kid(s)) is too much for me to handle. Does that make sense? Anyway, I'm saying thank you to all you moms who put even the tiniest bit of effort into yourselves because I want to grow up to be like you 😉
    -Amy Z

  27. Mary Lenaburg

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I cannot love this enough. Totally sharing. I could not agree more. No more schlepping about.

  28. Amo

    Well I love a tall problem-solver, she sounds awesome!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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