“My 9-year-old daughter attends a Catholic school and is supposed to be making her First Communion this Sunday,” mom Chris Mansell wrote in her Oct. 10 post to the private Facebook group Pantsuit Nation. “She has a love for suits and wears them often. Since there wasn’t initially a dress code given for the event, we assumed she could wear a suit. We went all out and made a weekend out of finding her the perfect outfit … one that makes her feel beautiful and confident.”
She continued: “Unfortunately, her school and church heard about the suit and told us today, 3 days before the event, that my daughter is uninvited to attend First Communion as long as she plans on wearing a suit because it violates the dress code that was just released last week. My sweet girl is heartbroken.” The post has gone viral with more than 20,000 comments.
Despite the fact that pantsuits have become practically synonymous with Hillary Clinton and her supporters after the 2016 election, the fourth grader’s desire to wear a pantsuit isn’t a political one. Cady is just a kid who has loved suits since she was 4 years old.
Mansell had taken her daughter shopping in early August, before Catholic school started, and Cady chose a white pantsuit from Nordstrom to wear for the special occasion. The suit had to be ordered since the store didn’t have her size, and then Cady came back with her mom for alterations. “Cady was really excited about the suit,” Mansell tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We made a big deal about getting it, just as I do when I take my teenage daughter to get her prom dress. She was so proud of it.”
The mom says that the school sent out a dress code on Aug. 16 — the second day of school — that stated girls could not wear spaghetti straps and had to wear a white sweater over the straps. However, the Catholic school eventually caught wind of Cady’s fashion choice and then issued another dress code to parents on Sept. 21.
“It wasn’t until a week before [Communion] that we were emailed the dress code that said girls must wear dresses,” Mansell says. “By then it was too late and too expensive. I thought, we’re just going to go with it because what are they going to do?”
But four days before Communion, Mansell, who works at Cady’s school as a teacher’s aide, was asked by the principal to stop by her office. “Never did I think it was about Cady’s suit,” Mansell tells Yahoo Lifestyle. When Mansell walked into the office, she was greeted by the principal and the director of religious education, who wanted to talk about the suit. Mansell was told the church pastor wanted Cady to wear a dress for Communion. Or if she wanted to wear the suit, she could have First Communion on her own after the ceremony — “after the real event,” says Mansell, “but she was not to participate at the Mass, couldn’t sit with her classmates, or be in the group photo. The Mass is a big part of Communion. This goes against everything [the pastor] teaches. I thought even more than that, that’s ridiculous — why would I be ashamed of my daughter? And that’s really the message they’re conveying.”
At first, Mansell thought she would bring a skirt that her daughter could put on over the pantsuit to avoid a big fuss. But out of curiosity, Mansell mentioned during the meeting with the principal that some parents weren’t putting sweaters over their daughters’ dresses since that first dress code was sent out late — “Where do you get a white sweater in October?” she says. Mansell asked, “‘Are you not going to give them Communion as well?’ They said they guess they would still give them Communion.”
“Whether shoulders are bare or Cady wears pants, it’s one violation of the dress code,” she says. “I thought, ‘Now you’re really singling out my daughter.’ When I got to my car, I was enraged.”
The mom spoke to the church pastor later that day to see if he would reconsider, but he wouldn’t. Still, Mansell and her husband hoped the pastor would change his mind in time. But when Mansell’s husband took Cady to First Communion practice the next day, he was told that the pastor wanted a word with him. “[The pastor] said, ‘You’re raising your daughter wrong,’” Mansell says. “‘She doesn’t have the mental development and maturity to make decisions like this. You’re doing her a disservice by not making her wear the dress. You’re the parent — she gets no say-so.’ My husband said, ‘I don’t agree with you. I think this conversation is over because we’re not going to agree.’”
Mansell says the pastor told her husband that if Cady showed up in a suit, she would not receive Communion and that the family would have to leave the church. “My husband said, ‘I think we’re already leaving your church.’”
After her husband told her what had happened at practice, the mom emailed the pastor to let him know that she was resigning as a teacher’s aide at the school and that the family was leaving the church, which they had been members of for five years.
Through friends who had tried to intervene, Mansell was told that if she apologized to the pastor and to the parish in writing, they could talk about allowing Cady to wear a suit on Sunday. But “it was too late,” says Mansell. “We’d already told him we were leaving the church, and I don’t think we can recover from him telling me I’m raising my daughter wrong. I felt unwelcomed in that church.”
Not that leaving was easy for the family. She adds, “It was my job. It was my kid’s school. We really loved that parish. We lost our school and my job and all of our friends but one who stood by us. It turned into a scandal. It’s heartbreaking to say the least.”
The Mansells are now looking for another church for their daughter’s Communion — hopefully one that will allow Cady to wear her beloved white pantsuit. In the meantime, they’ve luckily found a more accepting school nearby — with an empathetic principal who was told about what had happened — and enrolled their daughter. Cady started on Monday. “It was such a blessing,” says Mansell.
The mom says that, despite the uproar over Cady’s pantsuit, normally people have a positive response to her kid’s style. “People think it’s awesome,” she says. “They come to her all the time and say, ‘You have such a great style.’ And Cady loves that. Every once in a while we get looks, and quite often she is called a boy. It used to affect me but never Cady. And now it doesn’t affect me.”
Mansell’s advice to others: “Just see kids for who they are. She’s just expressing herself. I’d rather she express herself than be a robot she thinks I’d want her to be. I also don’t understand why someone would be interested in what another child wears. I’m a grownup. I have bigger things to worry about.”
She adds, “Since the story came out, a lot of people think she’s trans. We don’t know if she is. She’s 9, and the only thing she identifies herself as is a Jedi and a stormtrooper! Why can’t we just let them be? Can we just let a little girl wear a suit?”
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