ANSWER: Many Christians would love to see this question answered this way: “It is absolutely wrong for a woman to wear trousers!” Others would like to hear the opposite: “A Christian woman is free to wear whatever clothing is appropriate for the occasion.” But the question defies a simple answer.
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10 God answers the first part of this question simply and clearly. He tells us that women are to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with … costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” In His infinite wisdom God has not seen fit to address the second part of this question in a definitive way. Where God speaks, we do well to listen carefully. Where He chooses to be silent, we do well not to speak with authority. Human definitions and opinions are right only as far as they are consistent with God’s Word. The norms of society and culture in a degenerating world are certainly not to be trusted. But neither are we doing right when, in our desire to resist these downward trends we substitute our own dogmas and tenets or even our likes and dislikes for the authority of God’s Word.
Essentially, modesty does not draw attention to the individual. As Christians we are in this world to point people to Christ. The Lord said that we are to let our light shine so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). Clothing designed to attract attention to the person or a portion of the body, whether male or female, is inherently immodest. Many fashion designers openly say that they design clothing to be sexually provocative, in other words, immodest.
God’s Word shows us that clothing serves several functions. According to Genesis 2:25, man in his unfallen state had no need of clothing. In the next chapter, when our first parents sinned, they immediately sought to make clothing for themselves to cover the nakedness they felt and were ashamed of. In spite of their efforts, they still felt their nakedness in God’s presence. God in His mercy made clothes of skin for them, showing us that an innocent victim had to die on account of man’s sin (Gen. 3:7,10,21).
There are frequent indications in Scripture that another essential purpose of clothing is to give protection against the environment, such as cold or heat or thorns or nettles. When we think of the very different conditions in which people live upon the earth, we can appreciate that our all-wise God did not give us a detailed list of proper/improper clothing.
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, it is evident that clothing also serves the purpose of adornment. Indeed, there are many verses in Scripture indicating that this is a legitimate purpose of clothing. The Jewish high priest was provided with specially designed garments for glory and beauty. Wealthy people could afford to wear garments of purple. The Christian woman is not to display her family’s wealth (or her ability to use credit cards and so bring her family into debt) by wearing costly clothing. The “good works” that God appreciates as adornment of godly women will ultimately be displayed as a part of the “fine linen, clean and bright” of the Lamb’s bride (Rev. 19:8), where it is defined as “the righteous acts of the saints.”
Deuteronomy 22:5, which is often referred to in discussions on appropriate clothing for men and women, shows us another purpose for clothing. God, who made men and women differently and who gave them different but complementary roles, also insists that men and women be distinguished from one another by their clothing. Clothing for godly believers who wish to obey God’s Word is not to be “unisex” in an attempt to hide or obliterate the distinctions of the sexes. It should be noted that God does not tell us what the difference between men’s and women’s clothing consists of. This may vary greatly among different peoples or in different countries but will always be recognizable. The question of whether trousers are appropriate for women is an important issue in some societies. But when Christians teach that trousers are men’s clothing and dresses women’s clothing they have no Scriptural support.
These, then, are some of the reasons Scripture gives us for wearing clothing, and some of the criteria for our clothing as Christians. God often places special emphasis upon women’s clothing and adornment, knowing that a woman, whether instinctively or deliberately, normally dresses to please men, especially the man she loves and respects. God – who has told mankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth – has not given the kind of definitions of what is properly men’s and women’s clothing that many would like. We know that believers in the day of grace are set free from the Law. When a Christian who knows this pulls isolated verses of the Law out of context and tries to apply them literally as law to other Christians ( Dt. 22:5, for example) he displays a lack of understanding of spiritual principles.
A godly Christian woman should, however, prayerfully weigh the issues which we have touched upon in these few lines: Is what I am wearing truly modest? Will I please and glorify the Lord by wearing it? Can I wear it with propriety where I intend to wear it (for example, attire for swimming is quite different from attire to wear when shopping or worshiping)? Is my clothing the kind that others regard as “proper for a woman professing godliness” in my community?
By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.