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Should Women Wear Long Dresses or Skirts?

By J. Parnell McCarter

While in much of past history this question was not so much in question or so controversial, in our own day it surely is. There used to be a consensus among conservative Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, and Jews that long dresses were the appropriate garb of women, but that is certainly not the case today. However much societal views may change though, God's word is eternal, and it is where we must look to answer this question.

Let me first posit what I am referring to in the term "long dress". Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines "dress" as follows: "an outer garment (as for a woman or girl) usually consisting of a one-piece bodice and skirt". In this particular article I am not limiting it to "a one-piece bodice and skirt", but I am differentiating it from pants in which the outer garment covers each leg separately and is generally more or less tightly formed around each leg. By long dress, I mean the apparel is worn in such a way that the entire leg is covered, and arguably even the feet.

Some of the most relevant Biblical texts in considering whether long dresses should be worn by women are these:

I Timothy 2:9 - "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array"

Jer 13:22 - "And if thou say in thine heart, Wherefore come these things upon me? For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, [and] thy heels made bare."

Isa 47:2-3 - " Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.  Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet [thee as] a man."

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."

According to Thayer's Lexicon, the Greek word translated "apparel" in I Timothy 2:9 ( katastole ) means "a garment let down, dress, attire". The Greek word for apparel in this text is Katastole, meaning a long dress. Kata meaning down - a garment flowing down; and Stole - a long garment, covering or wrapping. It should be noted that Thayer's Lexicon describes the Greek term stole in this way: "a loose outer garment for men which extended to the feet", and it is found in such passages as Mark 12:38 and Luke 20:46 where it is translated as "long clothing or long robes". But in I Timothy 2:9 women are commanded to adorn themselves in modest katastole , which seems to emphasize that women's legs and even feet should be covered by loose forming apparel. When women here are commanded to wear modest katastole , the term katastole is not just a more general term for clothing, apparel, or array like the Greek term himatismos, which is translated "array" at the end of I Timothy 2:9 and apparel in Acts 20:33 . The Greek word for modest is Kosmios , meaning orderly, well-arranged, decent, modest, harmonious arrangement, or adornment. Modesty is also Biblically applied to one's demeanor or behavior. This same Greek word is translated good behavior in 1 Timothy 3:2 in the qualifications of bishops. Therefore, women are instructed to wear modest long dresses ( Kosmios Katastole ). Thus this Kosmios Katastole not only specifies that the article of clothing should be a dress, but also specifies that the dress should be of a suitably long length. And I Timothy 2:9 teaches that this dress is to be characterized by "shamefacedness" and "sobriety".

According to Gesenius's Lexicon, the Hebrew word translated "skirts" in Jeremiah 13:22 (shuwl) means "the train, flowing skirt of a robe".

Jeremiah 13:22 and Isaiah 47:2-3 imply that for someone, especially a woman, to bare her leg in public is regarded in scripture as exposing one's nakedness. 

As I quote from Smith's Bible Dictionary in the article at http://www.puritans.net/news/naked070104.htm, " the dress of the women differed from that of the men in regard to the outer garment, the inner garment being worn equally by both sexes. So 5:3 Among their distinctive robes we find a kind of shawl, Ru 3:15; Isa 3:22 light summer dresses of handsome appearance and ample dimensions, and gay holiday dresses. Isa 3:24 The garments of females were terminated by an ample border of fringe (skirts, Authorized Version), which concealed the feet. Isa 47:2; Jer 13:22."

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.") implies that the attire of women should be distinct from that of men. When pants are worn, if they are worn, they are associated with males and not females. The word breeches in the Bible may have reference to pants. The word breeches appears five times in the Bible: Exodus 28:42; 39:28; Leviticus 6:10; 16:4; Ezekiel 44:18 and it is always used in relation to men. When referring to clothing, the phrase gird up the loins is also found five times in the Scriptures and again is always used only in relation to men. For example, in Job. 38:2-3 (40:7) we read: "Then answered the LORD . . ., Gird up now thy loins like a man." A man might wear a long robe or covering, but underneath that he wore breeches so as not to show his nakedness. If he needed to work or fight which required running or climbing or such, he would tuck his coat in a belt and it would be out of his way. Yet his breeches kept him modest. If the breeches which are mentioned only in relation to men in the Bible really are the same type of clothing as the pants worn by the men in our modern society, then women wearing pants today could fall into the category of being an abomination to God as stated in Deuteronomy 22:5.

Considered together, we may rightly conclude that as a general rule women should wear long dresses and apparel that cover the legs and feet and are loose and flowing.