Long have I wearied over the trivial debate of tired old men attempting to teach that women wearing what we now call pants is a sinful act. Perhaps not surprisingly, you’ll find a common thread among the men who claim these teachings – they are stuck, mentally, in the 1940s and 1950s when clothing standards in America began to change due to World War II and other socio-political alterations to society.
These men often teach other cultural standards of the same era, such as claiming facial hair on men to be a ‘well-trimmed spirit of rebellion’. David K Bernard, in his In Search of Holiness book made the audacious claim, that Women wearing pants is a significant factor in creating homosexual men. Are these men legit? Do they have valid claims, or are they fearful of their era of dominating women, and men alike are slipping through their fingers?
Clothing styles, and what has been deemed masculine or feminine in various cultures, have changed dozens, hundreds, likely even thousands of times during the history of documented human fashion.
Christian, or not, we all know that the earliest documented visual history depicting humankind, known as petroglyphs dates back around 10,000 years. Right? Maybe – it is claimed the Sumerian tablets date to roughly 15,000-20,000 years ago, and by their writings, it seems plausible. That is another study…
Regardless, early petroglyphs, hieroglyphs and early human art don’t do well to describe clothing styles. However, from the art dated to times wherein we can see illustrated evidence, in paintings, sculptures, murals and other forms of art, clothing styles start becoming more transparent.
What we find would shock the stalwart men of the 40’s and 50’s that claim their era is the only ‘manly’ time frame for which our modern dress styles should re-enact. Most specifically, we are looking at the stands of the United Pentecostal Church, International., and other Holiness movements that adhere to very strong dress codes, claiming that they are Holy, eternal commandments of God and that violating them would bring about God’s wrath.
For instance, in the book In Search of Holiness, written by the leader (General Superintendent) of the United Pentecostal Church, International., David K. Bernard. Bernard equates the modification of the dress standards of the ’40s and ’50s, more specifically, crossing supposed gender boundaries on dress styles as a cause of homosexuality, including hair length
What I think Bernard fails to recognize in his writing, and perhaps, his understanding is the most basic of realities of what men and women’s apparel is, and more importantly, who decides what men and women’s apparel is.
For instance, Bernard at once admits that what culture defines as appropriate for a single-gender is morally acceptable but then contradicts this by saying it only applies if a single-gender wears the article of clothing.
If Bernard is truly saying that clothing must be used exclusively for specific gender and that it must not be shared by the opposite sex than even the ancient Hebrews would have violated this idea. Furthermore, and to the level of trivial silliness, most befitting of these asinine standards being created, most of our clothing crosses gender boundaries in this sense, such as running shoes, jackets, beanies, gloves, you name it.
Clothing Traditionally Associated with Men or Women
It must be true that God does define and demand gender identity in behavior and appearance. It must also be true, that God did not define the only acceptable model of what gender identity looks like in clothing. This leaves society in place to determine, at that time, and for that region, what is both gender-specific, and modest.
As you see in the image above, dated to the era of the King of Salem, or Melchizedek, men and women’s clothing have very subtle differences. Men were always depicted with facial hair, and often with weapons. Yet, the full-length robes and skirts were always the same.
In another example, the holiness standards of the United Pentecostal Church, International., attempt to use Scriptural references to breeches as a clarification of separation of clothing articles between males and females. Yet, this still doesn’t hold muster when using definitions and context.
The word breeches in the Bible, specifically the King James version (the only acceptable version in the UPCI view) of the Bible, is translated from the Hebrew מִכְנָס, miknâs;
in the sense of hiding; (only in dual) drawers (from concealing the private parts): – breeches.
Most notable was that breeches were a requirement only of priests to wear, as a holy garment while in service to the Tabernacle, and specifically at the altar.
Exo 28:42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
Exo 28:43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him.
This is found in Exodus 28:42, Exodus 39:28, Leviticus 6:10, Leviticus 16:4 and Ezekiel 44:18.
Breeches have been found in history, as early as the 1200s in Celtic culture as to mean hairy leg coverings (animal furs), but they did not become popular until the 16th century. By today’s western societal conclusions of what is masculine, these early dress styles would now be considered very feminine.
In the 1400s, men mostly still wore tunics, which was a full shirt that went down to the thighs, typically very stylish and flared at the base, with hose underneath and knee to thigh-high heeled and pointed boots.
By the 16th century, breeches became a popular replacement for the tunic and hose, but often hose was still worn and breeches only extended down to the knee until trousers were adopted in later centuries.
This time period saw the birth of the exaggerated use of blouses and frilled neck/wrist lace and ruffles, puffy and airy clothing was the fad. This lasted even into the 1700s with the American colonies assuming the standard dress standards of colonizers.
It is true, that throughout these periods of history, society deemed it ‘appropriate’ for women to wear skirts/dresses as feminine, and men’s clothing was different. It is equally true that in many historical settings, especially during the time of the historical Jews in Deuteronomy 22, men and women’s clothing was incredibly similar – the primary distinction between the sexes was facial hair, jewelry and decorations, and weapons and armor.
I fear that the lack of reasoning from people that take a stance that we must live (socially, clothing, etc) as the ancients did are ignorantly fooling themselves and their followers.
For instance, a church that teaches men should not have facial hair is ignoring the entirety of history and basing their stance on the social atmosphere of America in the 1940s. Is this not letting society dictate what is the norm for men OR women to dress and appear?
What is not up for debate is whether or not God wants there to be a distinction between male and female. He absolutely does. He does not, however, in His Word, ever define exactly what that looks like in clothing. I will never forget a man telling me, “I was studying to teach a Bible Study on Holiness Standards (UPC standards) and I couldn’t find a single scripture to support shirt of skirt length.”
Does not common sense itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her ornament and glory? For her long hair is given to her as a covering. – 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 AMP
By the discourse of Paul, he makes it clear that hair was a very important distinction between males and females. We see this to be true in the early paintings and clay sketches from the time – women often had longer hair than men. Men, however, did not wear short-cropped hair by any means, but the women’s hair was indeed longer, and men had facial hair as a distinguishing mark.
Can we take this to mean there must be a distinction between the sexes but that it is not hardcoded dress standard, so long as the intent and reaction of the viewer (society) are not one of confusion?
Even Bernard references the kilt of the Scottish society in his book In Search of Holiness In looking at this picture, these men look very much like the schoolgirls in my old church’s Christian School. Does that make them effeminate, crossdressers, verging on homosexual?
Of course not! The culture in which they exist views this is a man’s apparel and thus, the standard by which we dress is culturally subjective. If the intent of the teaching on dress standards is to ensure we are not crossing gender boundaries, but no one in society feels a boundary has been crossed, how then have we violated God’s gender appearance desires?
In modern American society, men in women in trousers are considered quite normal, and women in trousers, pants, shorts, tights look no more like a man, then the men wearing kilts look like women.
In our article Men and Women’s Apparel in Ancient Days, we highlighted an image of two men and two women and asked the question, “Can you mistake the gender identity of these people based on their clothing?”
If the conversation is centered around modesty, this is a different article, but again I would say modesty itself is a culturally subjective ideal. A tribe in the Amazon would consider a woman topless as nothing sexual or immodest. Yet, in the same tribe, if the women were without a hair dress or a lip ring, she would be considered immodest and improperly dressed, and potentially punished for the violation.
The truth is, there is no society that did not determine at large what dress standards were, and this transitioned many times as time progressed. What is modest, what is pushing the edge or crossing the line, is a push and pull of society, not a hard and fast line in the sand.
The Weslyen based Holiness movements are still rooted in the time of their creation and want to cling to that, I understand, and neither do I condemn it. In the era they came into existence (1900’s-1940’s) in American society, the general will of all peoples was that women wear dresses, men wear trousers, and even during that time, facial hair was considered rebellious on me, and a woman cutting her hair (very short) was considered rebellious. I highlight very short because there are still circles today that teach any amount cut (even an mm) dishonors a woman’s husband and God.
The conclusion is that those who adhere to a strict dress standard based on a particular era, who then teach it a Biblical commandment are missing a very important component in human behavior; Intent.
I, the Lord, search and examine the mind, I test the heart, To give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds. – Jeremiah 17:10
The Biblical commandments all, Old Testament and New, focused around a rebellious heart. If the intent of a person is to cross a boundary, in a spirit of rebellion and rejects God’s Word, then God will judge their intent. If I wear a kilt to experience the culture from whence it came, and my intent is not to become a woman, God knows my heart and mind.
To play judge and jury for God based on the exterior and superficial image of man is to ignore God’s Scripture itself;
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. – I Samuel 16:7
The Lord told Samuel that ‘you cannot judge another man’s qualities or deficiencies based on their appearance’. The real determining factor of a person is in their heart. Can we discount the purpose of the heart simply because someone wears a t-shirt instead of a dress shirt?
I’ve heard preachers say, “If you are preaching in jeans and an untucked shirt, you are just a hireling and not a man of God.” The person who could utter this did not catch the meaning of I Samuel 16:7.
The reality is God knows our intent. I am not God. You are not God. We can now our own convictions, but we cannot know what God has for someone else and neither should we play His judge, jury, and executioner of other souls.
The faith which you have [that gives you freedom of choice], have as your own conviction before God [just keep it between yourself and God, seeking His will]. Happy is he who has no reason to condemn himself for what he approves. – Romans 14:22