Let me begin by saying I've been debating this topic for a while. I have an ear infection that I've been battling for a number of weeks, which leaves me feeling tired not to mention uncomfortable. So I'm not much in a mood to contend with the crazies who come out of the woodwork over modesty standards. But then Cam bravely wrote a post and so I said, oh what the heck.
I wear skirts. I've written a couple of posts on the topic.
Before I got sick, I was at a play group with the kiddos. And my friend R, bravely mentioned that she noticed I wear skirts. She said I looked nice and asked me if it was part of my religion. To soften the blow, she said her church growing up also promoted conservative dressing. "No," I replied. "I'm Catholic. We don't have to wear skirts. I just choose to." And then I indicated that I wore skirts in part to look nicer especially since having children often leaves you covered in spit up and food. It's one of the many reasons, but I didn't figure she needed the whole list. She isn't the first to ask me if it was my religion. My boss back in the day care asked the same thing. Back then I wore skirts because it was required of me as a teacher to dress nicely. My boss ended up encouraging us to wear scrubs so naturally I wore scrubs (including pants) for a while.
Some conservative Catholic circles would have you believe that wearing pants or sleeve-less shirts in public is against Church policy. But that's not true. Outside of the Vatican posting what is appropriate to wear inside St. Peter's, there is no official dress code for Catholics. None. If anyone tells you different they have been seriously misled or lying. The only mention of modest dressing in the Catechism says it's a matter of conscience based on the cultural standards of where you live. In other words, what I wear is probably not modest for someone living in Afghanistan.
The two most common "guidelines" people promote are those on Mary-like modesty and those attributions which make it sound like the Church has some official dress code. The first one was promoted by an American priest as a return to modesty. It is extreme with shirts coming down to the wrists and skirts to the ankles, and it is not official. It's his personal convictions. As for the second one.... Modesty is talked about by various Popes, but no Pope has ever officially specified a type of dress. The closest is a Bishop wrote a document to Catholic nuns in Italy about the type of dress in their schools. The document says something to the affect that skirts should be worn to the knees and shirt sleeves to the elbows. This was from the 1930s and later in the 1950s someone said that Pope Pius XI agreed. However, there's no official Church teaching about such a dress code from Pope Pius XI. In other words, it's not universally applicable. There is equally an undocumented attribution to St. Padre Pio. It's said that he would turn away women from the confessional whose skirts were shorter than 8 inches above the ankle. As I said, there's no reason to believe that's true either. In other words, the Church doesn't have such guidelines. To add insult to injury...St. Gianna Molla is depicted wearing short-sleeve shirts and pants.
And it's because people believe this that I've had to give up some facebook groups. I was part of one for a while, in part, because I enjoyed the modest fashion ideas. Remember we are called to discern modesty, but there is no official dress code. I eventually decided after much turmoil that it's periodic promotion of these false ideals as being Church "guidelines" was too much. I watched horrified as several women including a published author ignored a fellow facebook user explaining that there are no "guidelines." I mentally threw my hands up in the air and just unjoined the group. "If this is what modesty is, devolving into pride and lies, then I want no part of it. It isn't helping me in my discerning any longer," I thought. Maybe I should start my own modesty discernment group. But that's a big maybe.
EWTN: On Padre Pio's dress standards
EWTN: No Official Dress Code
FishEaters Forum: Discussion about Modesty pamphlets