Question: The church I attend does not believe in women wearing pants (anything that pertains to a man), braiding hair, or wearing expensive clothing. Do women have to wear this at all times, or only to church? What exactly is modest according to the Bible?
Some churches or traditions teach congregations that women must wear “dresses” and not wear pants, braid hair, or wear expensive clothing. What does the Bible teach in regards to these matters? Some use the passage in the Old Testament from Deuteronomy to justify the teaching of women not wearing pants. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”
To begin with, we need to understand that in different cultures, clothing can look very different. Biblical times had a very different style of dressing compared to what modern clothing looks like. To correctly understand modest clothing for both men and women, we are to understand the principle of the passage. Deuteronomy 22:5 was commanded to maintain gender distinctions in their clothing and prohibiting cross-dressing. Wearing pants in our modern-day culture is not viewed as a male-only piece of clothing; instead, it is something both men and women wear. Similarly, in biblical times both men and women wore some type of robe, and the differences would have been slight but distinctive. There is no scripture in the Bible permitting or prohibiting specific pieces of clothing for men or women such as pants, skirts, or others but what we see in the Bible is the command of modesty.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 says “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”
The key to this passage is to understand where the focus is. The focus is not to be on outward appearance but godliness. When a woman emphasises outward beauty rather than her inner perspective on what glorifies God, it may mean that the outlook is worldly and external. Instead, Christian women are to adorn themselves with good deeds. The expression of our faith and worship is through our good deeds. If all you are doing is adorning yourself with gold, pearls, and expensive clothing, then it draws attention to yourself, resulting in pride and self-centeredness. These are contrary to the spirit of Christ.
Peter also has a similar command. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious”. Again, the focus is inward beauty rather than external. So a woman wearing pants can be modest and not focused on outer appearances if her heart is set on the Lord seeking good works with a gentle and quiet spirit. The focus is modesty.
These New Testament passages do not ban women braiding hair, wearing jewellery, or wearing expensive clothes. Instead, the passages were correcting those who went to great effort and expense on external beauty. Women are to put the emphasis and effort on their heart condition so as to be marked by good works and the adorning of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Amen!
Your dressing can reflect your value system with God. Does your dressing reflect your emphasis on external beauty and a worldly outlook, or do your dressing and character reflect your focus on glorifying God? Some modern clothing can be seductive or shameful, attracting attention to one’s body and possibly creating a stumbling block in another believer’s life, especially in the thoughts of the men around you.
Modesty must be an attribute of a Christian at all times, whether at church or outside of the church. The difference is that those inclined to draw attention to themselves will dress in a manner with little restraint and little regard for others. In comparison, the one whose heart is set in the LORD will take care to dress modestly, appropriately, and decently. In essence, there is no list of wear and wear-not’s; instead, does your clothing reflect the attitude of your heart? Wearing revealing or provocative clothing in public or church could signal your pride rather than godliness and draw more attention to yourself rather than glorifying God. This is a poor testimony and witness of someone who is professing to be a Christian.
In conclusion, the Bible gives us instructions for women to dress appropriately, emphasising godliness, and adorn the heart with gentleness, patience, and grace. Remember that we are ambassadors of Christ, so we should always be dressed with dignity and present ourselves appropriately in every situation bringing glory to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Remember that you are to be a light to the world and a witness of Christ, whether in the church or outside the church. A testimony to be reflected by your character, your dressing, and in all you do, bringing glory and honour and praise to Christ Jesus our Lord.