As much as my Diocese (on the Niger) does not permit women to come to church on trousers that will not make me declare female trousers sinful attire. I know number of Anglican Churches in Nigeria where ladies are permitted to come to Church on trousers or on skirt! I also don’t want my comment to be seen as rebellious to the Diocese on the Niger or the entire Christian faith. If we want to preach modesty and decency, let us do just that! But then, I don’t think condemning female trousers is doing justice to the “being” decent! Just as there are indecent gowns, skirts and wrappers; there are indecent trousers too! But then, we shouldn’t single out trousers and start condemning the act of wearing trousers. I wouldn’t permit ladies to come to my programs on trousers (especially if I am doing it under the Church or Diocese where it is forbidden), not because it is a sin but because I have respect for every system. But yet, that doesn’t change the biblical truth! If women shouldn’t wear trousers, they shouldn’t wear T-shirts too because it was originally decent for the military men!
It is curious how those that forbid trousers on women, based on their idea of separation, never seem to consider the clothing norms in the Bible.
Even the most basic study into biblical clothing norms reveals that there was very little distinction between the articles of clothing worn by men and women.
In Genesis, we find the first accounts of clothing mentioned in the Bible. First, we find that upon recognizing their nakedness, Adam and Eve sewed garments of fig leaves together to cover themselves (Gen 3:7). This is an interesting account in that we find humans attempting to clothe themselves, but obviously God was not pleased with their choices, as later we find that God made new clothes for them. Gen 3:21 records that God made “coats of skin” for them to wear. The word coat in this verse is the Hebrew word ‘kethoneth’ and means “a long shirt- like garment.”
Interestingly, Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose the exact same word to describe the specific type of clothing that God made for both Adam and Eve. Where is the distinction here? If God chose to make so little distinction between a man’s and woman’s clothes that a single word can describe the specific clothing worn both by Adam and Eve, then who are we to require a greater distinction?
Later, throughout the Old and New Testament, common dress consisted of two separate pieces. In the Old Testament, the first part of the Jewish costume was still the ‘kethoneth’ such as was worn by Adam and Eve. In the New Testament, this garment is called ‘chiton’ in the Greek and is often translated as coat in the King James Version Bible. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the kethoneth/chiton was, “…a long-sleeved tunic worn over the sadhin, likewise a shirt with sleeves… Here the ‘coat’ (Hebrew ‘KThohneth) was the ordinary “inner garment ‘worn by the Jew of the day, in which he did the work of the day (see Mt 24:18; Mk 13:16).
It resembled the Roman tunic, corresponding most nearly to our ‘long shirt,’ reaching below the knees always, and in case it was designed for dress occasions, reaching almost to the ground.”
Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that this basic garment was worn by both men and women: “The ‘coat’ (kethoneth), of wool, cotton, or linen, was worn by both sexes.” Easton’s further states that, “The robes of men and women were not very much different in form from each other.” The second part of the common Jewish costume was the “outer garment.” Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the outer garment varied in size, shape and purpose. It is given various names (both in the original Hebrew and in translation) and is used in a variety of ways. This outer garment was commonly used to cover the head of both men and women (cf. Ruth 3:15, 2 Sam 15:30) and was also commonly wrapped around the shoulders (cf. Isa 3:22). While the outer garment served many purposes and was at times used in different ways by men and women, the way it was used was not consistent with either sex. The garment itself does not appear to have been made functionally different to any significant degree, and the distinctions between the male and female outer garments were merely stylistic (i.e. color, trim, size, etc.). In light of the ample information we have on male and female garments in the Bible, it is hard to justify the radical distinction between men’s and women’s clothing required by Christians that forbid women from wearing trousers. There is no evidence that such a radical distinction existed in biblical times. While there was a difference in men’s and women’s clothing in the scriptures, these differences were merely stylistic and not functional differences. The differences were only found in color, trim, size, etc. and not in the actual form or function of the clothing as is seen in trousers and skirts or dresses. The differences between men’s and women’s trousers today are as great as the differences between men’s and women’s garments in the Bible. Essentially, Christians today that forbid women from wearing trousers demand a difference in form and function in men’s and women’s clothing, whereas the Bible only records a stylistic difference. This amounts to adding to God’s Word and placing requirements on our sisters in the Lord that the Bible does not support.
Many that forbid women to wear trousers argue that if it is acceptable for women to wear trousers, then it should be acceptable for a man to wear a dress or a skirt. This is a valid point. However, there is no inherent sin in a man putting on a skirt-like garment, which is a common practice in some cultures around the world just as it was in the Bible. The error would be in the fact that a man wearing a skirt in modern American society would be deemed as counter-culture to the very people we, as Christians, are trying to be examples to — namely unbelievers. However, women wearing trousers is hardly counter-culture. While there was once a time in our society when a woman in trousers would have been viewed negatively by society, such is not the case today. Is that because society’s morals have declined, and it no longer sees women in trousers as the sin that it is? Of course not, it is merely a change in fashion. Just because society had a particular view in the past, does not mean that such a view was inherently more moral. Ford once made only black cars and refused to make any other color. Today, Fords come in every color under the sun. Was that the result of some sort of moral backsliding? No, it is just that society’s tastes have changed. In Renaissance Europe, silk hosiery was considered appropriate attire for men, yet today they are deemed as feminine. Changes in style and fashion aren’t inherently sinful and most of the time only reflects a change in taste. Women’s trousers are no different. Women did not start wearing trousers as a means of rebellion or to be more “manly” but because they were more comfortable and functional. Fashion has been moving in the direction of more function and less style for well over a century now. This is evidenced most recently by the fact that suits and ties are much less common in the workplace now, having been replaced by khakis and button-up shirts. Does that signal some moral decline? Absolutely not — it only reflects a trend in fashion for more basic and functional clothing just as women’s fashions did in moving toward trousers. It is important that we do not have a knee-jerk reaction to every change in fashion. Clearly, some are indicative of moral decline, but many are not. As with everything, changes in fashion must be weighed against biblical truths to make the determination. In short, the issue of clothing must always be carefully, thoughtfully and honestly studied from a scriptural perspective while allowing the scriptures to be the ultimate authority on such issues. A thorough study into the clothing norms of the Bible reveals that there was no distinction between men’s and women’s clothing in the Bible beyond stylistic differences such as trim, color and size. In fact, God Himself made clothing for Adam and Eve that was so similar that one word (kethoneth) could describe the specific garment he made for each of them. This same word describes the clothing worn by Godly men and women throughout the Bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Yet today, many Christians demand much more than even the Bible did by requiring not only a difference in style but a difference in function and form as well. If God makes no such clothing demands on His people, then who are we to make them? Do we know better than God?
George O.N is the president of The YAC Ministry (Diocese on the Niger), he is a model, an evangelist, a teacher, a pastor, a singer, a writer, a student and still counting.