Due to our changing society, the church has been forced in recent years to reconsider its dress code. Of course, this reconsideration has produced much controversy and division. One of the most controversial issues surrounding the dress code involves the woman and pants. Is God pleased with a woman wearing pants? The answer to this question has been greatly abused and misunderstood. However, the answer can be found through a careful analysis of the Holy Scriptures and the facts of history.
In I Corinthians 11 :3, an important doctrine emerges that is essential to this discussion. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, writes, “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 (1 Cor. 11:3).” Within this verse, God reveals His divine order of authority for the entire universe. The provisions of this order are quite simple. The Supreme Being of the universe is “Jehovah” or God the Father. Next, Christ because of His role as our mediator, becomes the head of the man. Finally, the man is placed as the head of the woman.
This Biblical doctrine is vital to this discussion because it involves the man and the woman and their respective positions in life. As noted above, the Scriptures are emphatic that the woman is placed in a subordinate position to the man (see also I Timothy 2:11-12). While the Apostle Paul does address the relationship between the man and the woman more extensively in other passages, such understanding is not relevant to this discussion. However, it should be noted that this subordination applies only in earthly realms, for in Christ, “there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28).” Without question, understanding this principle concerning the woman’s subordination to the man is essential to answering the initial question of this discussion.
So, with this understanding, one must next consult the pages of history, for history will reveal when and why that women first began wearing pants. During the 1840’s, the United States experienced an era of reform. From the schoolroom to the prison cell, reforms took place. This spirit of reform finally reached the home. Women, who had been active in the Abolitionist movement to abolish slavery, soon found that they had much in common with the slaves. Just as the slaves, women had few rights. Angelina Grimke, a leader in the Abolitionist movement, said “The investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to a better understanding of my own.”1 It was this understanding that led to the beginning of the struggle for the emancipation of women.
Initially, this struggle produced some needed change. For example, women were gradually able to secure admission to public high schools and colleges. However, it was not long before this struggle took on a more militant view. Up to this point, the woman’s place was recognized as the home. Her responsibilities included her husband and her children. Of course, these responsibilities were Scriptural. (See I Timothy 5:14) But, as women began obtaining more rights, they engaged in activities that took them farther and farther from the home. As they drifted from the home, they tended to lose sight of their Scriptural duties and position.
Eventually, many of these women came to view themselves as slaves to their taskmaster husbands. As these early feminists began crying for emancipation, the teachings of the Apostle Paul were brought to their attention. Amelia Bloomer, a leader in the struggle for women’s emancipation, “regarded St. Paul as a distortion of the true spirit of the Bible.”2 In general, this attitude was predominant throughout the entire movement. As a result, the doctrines of the Bible were rejected.
As the emancipation movement gained momentum, women found themselves hindered by a peculiar obstacle. Interestingly enough, this obstacle was their dress. The dress of that day was fashioned in such a manner that it posed a health risk to the wearer. Thus, the movement for dress reform began. However, this movement also gained a more radical note. “They (women) speculated that women’s clothes were the result of a male conspiracy to make women subservient by cultivating in them a slave mentality.”3 The dress was also seen as a threat to the women seeking positions outside of the home. Susan B. Anthony said; “I can see no business avocation, in which woman in her present dress, can possibly earn equal wages with man.”4 As a result, the women’s movement for dress reform soon became the focus of women’s emancipation.
The first attempt by the feminists to put their ideals into the practice was through the bloomer. This outfit, introduced by Elizabeth Smith Miller, included a skirt reaching half way between the knee and the ankle. Beneath the skirt, Turkish trousers coming down to the ankle were gathered with an elastic band. Although introduced by Elizabeth Smith Miller, this outfit was popularized by Amelia Bloomer from whom its named was derived. However, the bloomer’s existence was short lived. These “unsexed” women as they were referred to provoked a great controversy. It was so great that the feminists finally abandoned the bloomer. Also, the War Between the States focused all attention on the plight of the nation. As a result, the move for dress reform and women’s emancipation soon faded away.
Nevertheless, during the last quarter of the century, these issues reappeared, but the arguments were still the same. “Traditional dress, they said, was that of the female slave who served and pampered her male master. Only with rational dress could pure womanhood free herself from thralldom, attain health and vigor, and compete equally with men in all activities.”5 And gradually, this is what they did. Initially, the wearing of men’s clothes was restricted to the homes. But, it was not long before women wearing men’s clothes appeared on the streets.
One of the first women to openly wear pants was Mary E. Walker. After the War Between the States, she practiced medicine in Washington D. C. Her normal attire was a frock coat and striped pants during the day and full male attire during the evening. She never married, and in 1897 she established a women’s colony called “Adamless Eve.” She believed that since the anatomy of the sexes was so similar they should dress identical. Before long, a multitude of women seemed to feel the same way.
Finally, by the turn of the century, the wearing of pants by women became an accepted thing. Nevertheless, it was to be several years before it really became common among women. With the coming of World War II, large numbers of women went to work in various factories as the men were called into the armed forces. And, the common factory outfit included pants. As a result, many women who held reservations about pants now accepted them. Thus, pants became an established part of women’s wardrobes. It has become so established that now a woman in a dress is indeed a rare sight.
However, the initial question still remains. Is God pleased with a woman wearing pants? At this point, one may definitely say that the garment itself is not the real issue. The Apostle Paul said, “I know. ..that there is nothing unclean of itself (Rom. 14:14).” There is no sin in the garment, for it is but a piece of material. The real issue is what it represents on the woman. Pants on the woman have become the symbol for the feminist movement. Gerritt Smith, an early feminist, said, “Your dress movement involves the whole woman’s rights cause.”6 Therefore, the woman who wears pants, be it men’s or ladies’, is identifying herself with the feminist movement. It is ironic that many women refuse to openly associate themselves with the radical feminist movement of our day, yet lend their support through the manner in which they dress. More importantly, however, is that this symbol represents a complete rebellion against the principles revealed in I Corinthians 11 :3. Thus, any woman who sincerely believes in the doctrines of the Holy Bible should seek to “abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).” Without question, God is not pleased with that which rebels against His revealed Word.
Rev. Tim & Sis Donna Hudson
Bro Tim is Pastor of the Pocalla Holiness Church
in Sumter, SC. He is also the treasurer
for African Holiness Missions