Q&A: Women's Clothing
Written by Arnoud Vergunst
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Reformed Practice - Modesty and Dress

Question: In our community the difference in men and women's clothing has become of so much of an importance the wearing of pants is often seen as a reason women should not be allowed to go to the Lord's Supper. (In the community's opinion) Though I realize that in Deuteronomy 22:5 "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." Yet in the same chapter concerning dress code it mentions "Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together" (Deuteronomy 22:11) I would like to know why we adhere to the one and not the other since there is no direct command given in the New Testament about either of these issues? The only caution in the New Testament concerning dress code I can find is to dress decently, which I find can often be found in woman wearing pants as well as skirts, so why has this clothing issue become such a big deal in our community?  Janet


Answer:

Dear Janet,

It seems clothing always continues to be a very contentious subject.  I am afraid far more contentious than the Lord would want to make it for us.   It is obvious that clothing styles keep changing with the ever restless minds of mankind.  However, God's principles laid down in Scripture are not changing.  From Scripture I have gleaned the following principles that should guide us in clothing ourselves.

1.  It needs to be concealing our nakedness and sexual attractiveness to the other race rather than revealing.  In Gen. 3 Adam and Eve made themselves loin cloths but the Hebrew indicates that God made coverings that covered the body from neck to lower legs.  So when we choose our clothing, we need to keep this principle in mind, both men and women.  Tight clothes, skimpy coverage and sensually stimulating aren't according to God's fashion.   We need to clothe so that we help the other person not to sin by being sexually stimulated in their thoughts.  Don't forget to include this principle also when you think about the issue of the women's slacks because (tight) slacks are sexually tempting to males.  Yet, in all honesty, there are also activities in which a regular dress would be immodestly revealing and then you could say that slacks are better again.  Most of our people would hold that opinion when it comes to yard work, or helping on the farm, or even those women-nurses who work in an ambulance.

Here is nice quote from a Puritan:  "If the women don't do their best to avoid being a snare, then they are somewhat responsible.  You must not lay a stumbling block in their way nor blow up the fire of their lust.  You must walk among sinful person as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder or else you may see the flame which you did not foresee when it is too late to quench." I know families where the girls are never allowed to wear slacks but they are allowed to wear short skirts, tight blouses, low-neck lines etc.   They may feel good about nor allowing slacks but they certainly miss the point!

2. It needs to be gender-distinctive.  The verse in Deut. 22 you quoted is not always well understood.  Notice that God adds to this verse the word "abomination."  In Scripture this always refers to something of horror, detestation, loathing. It is used 117 times in the Bible.  God has marked the following sins with this word: idolatry (Deut. 7:25), sexual perversion (Lev. 18:27), occult and witchcraft (Deut. 18:9-14), human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31).  Looking at those passages, it seems clear to me that far more is meant in this verse than a female putting on a male clothing or vice versa.  Comparative study of the words "that which pertaineth" reveals that it is used to refer to the "things of a man or woman" such as armor, instruments, weapons, tools and clothing as well.  Thus it seems to point to the various things used in different occupations.  Therefore I agree with those who see this verse as forbidding the sex-role reversal and even more, transvestism.  Transvestism is when a male begins to act and live like female and vice versa.  Today even surgeries are performed to make such reversal even more physical.   Mostly this was associated with homosexuality, fertility rites and idolatry.  Seen in that light, it is clear why the Lord adds the word "abomination" to this practice.  God has stamped upon human nature a definite distinction in the different sexes and has created "feminine and masculine" (as it literally states in Gen. 1).  This uniqueness of the male and female personhood is also expressed in various occupations, use of tool and equipment (some need great use of muscles) but also in clothing style.  That doesn't mean, however, that this verse has nothing to say about the differences of male and female clothing.  Our clothing should remain gender distinctive in such a way that it always clear whether you are a male or female.  Erasing those distinctions would be a transgression of this commandment.  The common argument used that today's women's slacks are totally different than men's slacks isn't the point.  In the Bible times there was probably less distinction in the male and the female robe.  To maintain, however, that the wearing of slacks by a woman is breaking this commandment, seems also unrealistic.  Our clothing should never cause "confusion," or hinder the identity of the male or female;  we should never seek to blur the line of distinction.  The way this is done is somewhat culturally bound.  When Moses wrote Deut. 22, the people were wearing skirt-type of clothes yet both were also wearing distinctive ornament of head-dresses, jewelry and especially the males would have beards!  So Deut. 22:5 forbids creating such confusion in clothing, occupation, roles which would lead to a sex-reversal, thereby overturning God's created order.

3. Clothing should be sober and functional to the occasion (1 Tim. 2:9-10;  1 Peter 3:14)  The priest wore special clothing while serving in the Tabernacle;  he didn't wear this at home however.  So there is clothing fitting for work, weddings, funerals, offices etc.  Yet of course, they are to agree with the first two principles.

4. Clothing is governed by the law of charity (Rom. 14:13-17)   Most people have a hard time obeying this command of God.  Scripture doesn't always define exact lines of acceptable and unacceptable. That's also true in the clothing issues.  Yet charity will do everything not/never to grieve or offend a weaker brother in the faith.  Charity will impose a severer law upon self and allow larger indulgence to others.  So sometimes I need to deny myself a right in order to serve others.  So if in your church family community slacks remain an hot issue, then you owe it to your church family to not push your own point.  I don't mean to say with this that female-slacks isn't a real issue but that you are also to be guided by your surroundings.  In Fiji-culture, all men walk with some long skirt while women wear a different type of skirt.  If in that community it would be an offense if I would walk with normal slacks, what do you think I need to do if I live among them? So, these are a few thoughts on this difficult area.  Your question about the different textiles, and later about the different sorts of seeds that couldn't be mixed, isn't clear.  In the seeds mixing, the Lord may have cared about the development of hybrids but I don't really know.  Yet is noticeable that the "abomination" isn't added to either of these commandments.  What was an abomination to God in the OT is still an abomination because it deals with the laws of holiness.

Warmly,

Pastor Arnoud Vergunst

Rev. A Vergunst is the pastor of The Reformed Congregation of Carlton, New Zealand.  He answers questions on his church's website, www.rcnz.org.