Do Virtuous Women Wear Pants or Short Hair?
By Joshua Joscelyn
There are two reasons I believe women should not wear pants. First, God commands modesty: "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety" (I Tim. 2:9). As a man who knows all too well what lust is, I will tell you that pants reveal far more about a woman’s shape than a good, modest dress or skirt, and can cause a brother to stumble and lust. God created men to be physically attracted to women in marriage, but if a woman is immodest, it can cause him to lust much easier than women realize, though she is not his wife. Even if she is fully clothed from chin to toe, if a man can make out her shape, he will often mentally undress her and sin in his mind. This applies to tight dresses and skirts too. Ladies, do you want to be the cause of your brother's stumbling?
Secondly, pants have historically been, and still very much are, a man’s apparel and linked with his God-ordained place of leadership (I Pet. 3:1). And the Bible tells us that for a woman to wear that which pertains to a man is an abomination to God – it makes Him sick. He says, "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" (Duet. 22:5). God ordained two very distinct roles for the man and woman, and though this is not popular in today’s culture, it is Bible – not sexism. This is reflected in their apparel. Men are the ones to go outside and work and make it happen for their families. They are in authority, and thus are often active physically to protect and provide for their family. For this reason, it is simply practical that they “gird up their loins” as the Bible often tells MEN to do (I Kings 18:46; II Kings 4:29; II Kings 9:1; Job 38:3. etc). It never tells women to do this. God further confirms that pants, or “britches,” are for men in the many verses it describes them (“breeches,” often worn under a priestly robe) as man’s apparel (Ex. 28:42; Lev. 6:10, etc.). And it is also interesting to note that the first real feminist (a woman who rejects God's chain of command) in American history, Mary Edwards Walker, who shook off God’s place for her, wore pants (she called it “bloomer attire”) as an expression of her rebellion and usurpation of God’s role for man.
Some would argue that they simply cannot do the same things in a skirt that they could in pants. But then the question should not be whether or not to wear man’s apparel, but rather: should women be doing those things? Women are commanded to be meek and quiet as the “weaker vessel” (I Pet. 3:1-7). Now, I find nothing wrong with little girls putting on modest riding skirts or divided skirts, because these appear both feminine and modest - they do not gird up the loins or define the shape of the body. There is nothing wrong with a little girl wearing such things and being active, climbing trees, or playing ballgames, or even older women wearing the same on a boating outing in the interest of modesty (one of the two reasons for skirts in the first place). But a mature, virtuous lady does not run around doing rambunctious things that would usually be immodest in a skirt. She is quiet and tends to things around the home (Prov. 7:10-11).
The issue of long hair is a very related topic as it also deals with the outward appearance demonstrating the role of a woman. God equates long hair on a woman with submission to her God-ordained authority. Let’s look at a passage in I Cor. 11, which lays out God’s order of authority:
3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.
9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
In verse 5, we find that a woman with a head uncovered is wrong – our first clue of what “covered” means is in the last word of the verse: “shaven.” Verse 10 then tells us that a woman should have power (authority) “on her head.” It sounds like this covering is a symbol that she is under the correct authority. Then, to contrast between a man and a woman on this issue, verse 14 comes out and says it – “long hair.” This covering that a man should not have, and that a woman should have, is long hair. And then, confirming our suspicion that long hair is that covering, verse 15 says it very clearly: “her hair is given her for a covering.” So her long hair is her covering that she is supposed to have according to verses 5-6. In fact, in addition to the term “long” being used in verse 15, we also know it is to be long from verses 5-6, in which Paul says in effect, “If she doesn’t have long hair, she might as well be bald.” So in summary, the issue of apparel and hair length is not about appearances so much as it is about showing that you are in submission to your authority, whether it be your father, grandfather, or husband, etc.
There are many who make a great issue over such things and act almost as though a woman cannot be saved and wear pants or have short hair. This is not my intention, and I don't mention such things often. However, God has given us instructions for all matters in both doctrine and daily life (II Peter 1:3), and we would do well to respect God's wishes on even the most seemingly trivial details about how we live our lives. Godly women should want more than anything to please God by exemplifying modesty and submission. And they can do this by having modest clothing and long hair. But this should be a matter of the heart and not of legalism or self-righteousness. One is not godly simply because she never wears pants and has long hair. She might wear skin-tight dresses and do her hair in gaudy, flirtatious styles. It is not enough to wear dresses and have long hair - the heart must be right.
When it comes to application and gray areas, always remember that the goal is submission and modesty. If a lady is going on a boating trip and a dress might be immodest, perhaps a riding skirt would be best. As Christians, we have been given liberty to serve God to the best of our abilities. Let's not browbeat women who wear pants or have short hair - I have known many submissive women who desired to be modest, but who were never taught such biblical standards. But as God told the older women in Titus 2:3-5, we should teach our young ladies how to behave in their appearances. Keep the focus on their heart and their modest submission will demonstrate itself outwardly.