questions concerning boys clothes: gender specific clothes

Questions Concerning Boys Clothing Styles: Gender Specific Clothes

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I really enjoyed your site on boys' clothing. It has been extremely helpful to me. First of all, let me enlighten you somewhat on my situation and explain why I am researching the subject of clothing. The church that I am a part of believes that women should only wear dresses and skirts because pants are strictly for men. This comes from a portion of scripture in deuronomy that says that " is an abomination for a woman to put on that which pertaineth to a man". I totally agree with this. My question is who sets the standards for what is womens attire and what is mans? The bible is not clear on this. From my understanding mostly long robes were worn by both sexes in biblical days. The reason I am questioning or closely examining this issue is because I am having difficulty wearing a skirt in my profession and will probably have to wear pants. I would appreciate any information or input that you have regarding women and men's clothing. Thank You. Kerrie

HBC Answer

I'm afraid that we do not deal much with ancient history. However you need to refine your question somewhat. "Biblical days" refer to a wide time range. The New and Old Testmaent refers to different times. Also dress varies greatly from culture to culture. Roman dress was different than Jewish dress. Also the Jews were held in captivity by both the Babalonians and Egyptians. Their fashions must have been affected by the fashions of these larger, more powerful societies. For example the hair lock worn by Orthodox Jewish boys probably is derived by the fashions for Egyptian boys' clothes. Pants were not worn by Jewish men, they are a very recent development, Men of any standing did not begin to commonly wear pants/trousers until the early 19th century. In fact the modern word comes from the pantalettes worn by women--the first pants-like garments. Fashions changes sometimes radically. Men in the 16th century wore garments that exposed almost all of their legs while women's legs were well covered. The designation of garments that are mens' and women's changes over time. Pants and trousers are no longer a uniquely male garment, although slirts and dress are still (with a few ethnic/folk costuming exceptions) still considered to be women's clothes.

Also remember that dresses and skirted garments have not always been considerd strictly women's clothes. Roman Legionaires wore knee-length skirted garments. Both men and women in medieval Europe wore dress-like robes. Young boys for several centuries, as recently as the early 20th century, wore dresses. In addition, kilts were worn by the Scotts, Irish, and other Gaelic peoples.

A question of basic logic is at play here. Either biblical styles were set for men's and women's clothes or the biblical passage refers to whatever is deemed appropriate by cointemprary society. Clearly biblical styles were not established as neither men or women at the time wore pants. Thus the passage meant what was deemed appropriate for contemporay society. And our contemporary society sees pants as appropriate for both men and women. The best evidence of this is to simply make a study on any street corner or shopping mall or indeed assess the garments offered in major department or clothing store.


HBC readeers are incouraged to provide their own comments.

Thelogical respmse

One of our readers provided this detailed respmse.

The questions raised on the HISTCLO page concerning "gender specific clothes" are widely discussed on the Web. There are very many crossdressers, transvestites, transexuals and other "gender-variant" people who were raised in the Christian or Jewish religious traditions, and for them Deuteronomy 22:5 is a serious spiritual and moral problem.

The verse SEEMS to mean in the most straightforward way that God considers crossdressing in itself to be an abomination - i.e. a horrible sin. It is a sin for a male, for instance, to wear high heels. It is a sin for a woman to wear pants. That's all there is to it.

Fortunately, that's not all there is to it. Correcly understanding/interpreting Deut 22:5 is not at all simple. Deut. 22:5 does not mean that crossdressing (in our modern sense) is an abomination. It does not mean that crossdressers are sinful. Crossdressing is not a sin or crime or pollution like theft or murder or adultery. It is not "unclean" either.

It is very hard for us to go back in time and understand exactly what Deut 22:5 meant in its own context when it was written. It is important to know this, because if the Bible is inerrant (and it is in the view of many of us), what it meant when it was written down is exactly what it means now. Since at that time both men and women wore very similar skirted garments (as the writer of the HISTCLO page pointed out), and nobody wore pants, the verse cannot mean somthing like "men can't wear high heels and women can't wear pants" - because nobody wore them back then.

Even saying that Deut. 22:5 prohibits crossdressing according to the cultural and contemporary standard of any given time and place (so that Scottish men can wear skirts, for example, without being abominable) is no good. Fashion is always and everywhere in flux, and what is considered male or female garb changes all the time. God's inerrant Word ends up enforcing an ever-changing and essentially unstable (and therefore unenforceable) norm. So, for example, a young man with pierced ears and earrings, and a ponytail is reviled as abominable and sinful-before-God in 1985 in Peoria, say, but when he travels to New York City it's perfectly fine and God doesn't mind a bit - everybody does it in NYC.. Then, by 1987 the style has spread to Peoria, but has become passe in the Big Apple. Talk about a shifting morality! God's Word cannot be bound to the enforcement of such trivialities, can it? Clothing, considered strictly by itself, is not morally significant.

The verse becomes intelligible when we recall that Deuteronomy is often concerned with religious/ritual observance. It is particularly forceful in preventing pagan rituals current in its own day from creeping into Israelite worship. What the Canaanites did in their Pagan idol-worship is almost always looked on as abominable. Many pagan rituals involved sexual activities, which were naturally prohibited to the Israelites. In some of their cults (to addres the current topic specifically), men and women exchanged clothing and adornments and sexual behaviors. Thus, some scholars think that Deut. 22:5 is really simply prohibiting these sorts of pagan sexual practices in Jewish worship. It follows that modern theatrical cross-dressing is not under consideration and is not being prohibited as such (and so RuPaul is in the clear), nor is it prohibited for a woman, say, to dress in men's garb to work in a male profession (e.g. Joan of Arc, Dr. Mary Walker, and Billy Tipton). Thus also, a man is not a Bible-abomination in our year 2000 if he walks down Main Street USA, or the English High Street, dressed to the nines in conventionally female style. We may think he's a pervert, or poofter, or jerk, or one hell of an ugly broad - but God doesn't abominate him on the basis of his dress.

Other scholars think that mere clothing is not what is meant here anyway, but rather very specific religious appurtenances: for example, phylacteries are specifically (Jewish) male religious items, and may not be worn by women.

Scripture as a whole moreover supports family solidarity - i.e. the family is an inviolable and sacred social unit. This is also a special concern in the book of Deuteronomy. So, for instance, adultery is sinful because it threatens family life. Some scholars, rabbis especially, think the force of Deut. 22:5 is therefore to prohibit disguising oneself as a member of the opposite sex as a way of furthering an illicit (anti-family) sexual goal. For instance, it prohibits a man from disguising himself as a woman to sneak into the woman's quarters of another man's home for an assignation with a wife. Note what is being prohibited in this view: not wearing the clothing of the opposite sex as such, but deceiving others (by means of disguise) for nefarious purposes.

Perhaps I'm getting too long-winded here. Anyway, look at for some rabbinical considerations on Deut. 22:5. See for some Christian Bible-believing remarks in a similar vein. Many crossdresser and transvestite support groups and forums on the Internet have lengthy "threads" on this specific issue. "Alternative" fashion forums for men, espousing the freedom for men to wear (as men, without crossdressing per se) such erstwhile female garb as skirts have also addressed theis topic.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 17, 2000
Last updated: April 18, 2000