Does God really care about what I wear? As a woman am I supposed to only wear dresses, or are pants O.K., too? Does it really matter?
In our culture it is sometimes hard to know what to wear and still be considered a godly woman. Because Christians disagree and judge each other on this issue quite often.
Some believe strongly that women must only wear dresses, no pants of any kind, considering culottes (split skirt) as a form of pants.
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Others, who believe strongly that women must only wear dresses, believe that it is O.K. to wear culottes and long full-legged swim shorts. While still others who believe in dresses only, don’t see anything wrong with wearing pajama pants, but only in their own homes.
Then there are others who believe just as strongly that women may, with a clear conscience, wear pants…of any kind…and anywhere.
But, the real question is, What would God have us ladies wear? What type of dress honors Him?
I grew up wearing pants. All the women of my family wore them. Wearing pants was never questioned. My Mom just wanted us girls to always wear a dress or skirt for church services, with the idea that we should wear something nicer and different from what we wore for everyday life.
When our girls were really young I began growing in the Lord and studying my Bible. My desire was to be holy and to please God. I did a study on dress and believed that the Bible was telling me that women should only wear dresses. So, I got rid of all mine and my daughters’ pants. We wore only dresses for many years. However, we also wore culottes.
After a while our daughters began to question why I had them wear only dresses. Because of this, I decided to revisit this belief. Was I interpreting the scripture correctly?
How was it that so many godly Christian men, pastors even, and godly women think that it is O.K. for women to wear pants? Which one of us was misinterpreting the scriptures?
I did not want to impose upon my daughters any restrictions that God had not required. I would have been as guilty as the Pharisees, making my own rules, and thus “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7)
So, I began to study the scriptures again, praying that God would teach me what was right. I truly wanted to do what would please Him, but I also knew that there was no virtue in denying my flesh in ways that God did not require.(Colossians 2:20-23)
As I studied, I realized some things concerning the issue of dress, which led to the discovery of, what was for me, a surprising truth about pants and dresses. Read on to find out what that is.
A few things I realized as I studied—
1) “Breeches” Are Not Pants!
I revisited the scriptures that I had previously understood as indicating that pants were not allowed for women, starting with a verse we read this week in Exodus.
And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: Exodus 28:42
I had previously reasoned that since breeches in the Bible were only mentioned as worn by men (priests), that only men could wear breeches.However, as I looked closer I realized something. These breeches were not the pants we all know today! These were actually undergarments—under-shorts! These men were not wearing pants. They wore robes as their outer garment!
And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. Exodus 28:4
Furthermore, these breeches were one of the holy garments required of the priests, not men in general. And worn only when serving in the holy place in the tabernacle. (Leviticus 16:3-4, 23-24)
Just because priests are men, and required to wear undergarments in their service to God, didn’t mean that God was making a statement about what all Israelite men (or men in general) were required, or even allowed, to wear. Nor about what women can and cannot wear. This passage only speaks to the holy garments required of priests. And nothing else.
2) Robes Were The Outer Garment For Everyone In Bible Times!
I then moved on to another verse I had heavily relied on to decide not to wear pants.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 22:5
Reading this years ago, I thought, “Well, that’s pretty clear. People in our culture view dresses as only for women. So, pants must be the garment for men.”
I also thought, “Historically only men wore pants, at least until the 1900’s. So, didn’t that mean that when women strayed from their norm of wearing dresses, they were wearing men’s garments?”
However, had I gone far enough back in my thoughts of history, I would have realized something important to this issue. I would have seen that actually historically, both men and women wore the same garment type…robes!
In fact, the garment God made for both Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was the same…coats of skins.
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. Genesis 3:21
God did not make two different garment types, one for Adam and a different one for Eve.
Furthermore, Deuteronomy 22:5 couldn’t have been a statement about garment type, as Clothes in the Ancient World were similar for both men and women. Men and women, at that time, wore the same outer garment type…a robe and/or tunic. Robes for men and robes for women were distinguished by the fabrics and colors of fabrics used to make them.
This command then had to do with wearing clothes that would confuse a person’s look. A man was to look like a man. A woman was to look like a woman. A man’s robe had a different look from the woman’s robe.
3) Modest Apparel Is Not A Dress, But A Robe!
Lastly, I looked again at the verse 1 Timothy 2:9—
In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
Many refer back to the Greek for this issue of dress for women.
Therefore, let’s take a look at the Greek. In the Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, the Greek number for “apparel” is G2689. The Greek word is “katastole” and according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, means—
1) a lowering, letting down
2) a garment let down, dress, attire
One might see these definitions and conclude that God is saying here that women must wear dresses. However, in that day, both men and women wore a robe! (Luke 15:22, Mark 12:38, Luke 20:46) Therefore, the dress, or attire, referred to in this verse was a robe! And as there was only the one outer garment type being worn, the general term “apparel” fits.
Or, God would have led the English Bible translators to use a word for the specific feminine garment type…had there been one.
This verse isn’t giving specific rules for women’s dress. The context of this passage is that women be concerned with godliness rather than an outward show of wealth (“costly array”) or outer beauty. As is also the context of the similar passage, 1 Peter 3:3-4.
The context is modesty…in behavior and outward appearance…which includes dress.
And even if this verse is viewed as giving specific rules for women’s dress, it would be telling us to wear a modest robe! Which were nothing like any of today’s American/European style of dresses!
Culture and Scripture Interpretation
As I looked back at these three references…Exodus 28:42, Deuteronomy 22:5, and 1 Timothy 2:9…I realized that I had committed a no-no of scripture interpretation…interpreting scripture according to today’s culture.
I’ve had others point out bathroom signs to me, as “proof” that even the world at large knows who should wear which garment type. However, just because bathroom signs today, show a dress on the women’s door and pants on the men’s door, does not prove that pants are approved by God, but only for men.
Since the time men first strayed from the garment type God made in the beginning, different cultures at different times have viewed pants as the feminine garment, or as allowed for both sexes.
When the Romans first encountered trousers in Gaul (France) they considered them unmanly.*
In the Roman world, the toga was the typical wrap garment for men on formal occasions. Casual wear consisted of a tunic. Earlier members of the military didn’t wear trousers, seeing them as effeminate like their Greek predecessors. (See When did Men Start Wearing Pants?)
Which illustrates why our pastors warn us against interpreting scripture based on the culture of the day. Cultures change.
The bathroom signs in Jesus’ day would have been the opposite of what we see today!
Or, else they would have shown a robe for both!
What then is the surprising truth I learned about pants and dresses?
I finally understood that I had indeed been seeking rules of do’s and don’ts that made me feel better or more godly, but were actually of my own making. The biblical rule for dress for both men and women is modesty (as defined by scripture) that reflects godliness of heart, whatever are the current culture and styles.
From that time forward I’ve sought to wear clothes that aren’t immodestly revealing…no matter if I’m wearing a dress, a shirt and skirt, or a shirt and pants.
Modesty is God’s standard. And by the way, we will all go back to God’s clothing type in Heaven. We will ALL once again be wearing robes! (Revelation 7:9)
Which begs the question…should we not ALL be wearing robes even now? And never have strayed from the garment type God gave us in Eden?
Side note…If pants are immodest for a woman, then they must also be considered immodest for a man. The garment fits a man just like it fits a woman. I mean, let’s be real.
If you feel more modest or feminine wearing a dress, then do so. I like to wear skirts and dresses, too. I especially like maxi skirts.
But we also need to understand that an American style dress is not as modest as the robes women wore in Paul’s day. Those robes were far less form revealing.
The greater focus—as God is silent on the matter of modern day pants and dresses—is to rather dress modestly and keep…
Drawing nigh to Him,
*”Trousers In History” Fact Monster.© 2000–2017 Sandbox Networks, Inc., publishing as Fact Monster. 14 Aug. 2018 <https://www.factmonster.com/cool-stuff/fashion-and-dress/trousers-history/>.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
Where do you fall on this issue of dress? Have you ever faced this struggle about what to wear? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here? Remember, please be kind and gracious.