Brief History of Women’s Dress in America

As Christians, we should detest any clothing intended to muddle the lines between the genders.

“And others save with fear pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 1:23)

Muddled lines are a symbol of rebellion against God’s distinct creation order. And that problem occurs when the minds of women become tainted by the bitter waters of feminist ideology.

   In most of our country today, the predicament of muddled genders is very present.

“Paul Harvey, in a coast-to-coast newscast, made this comment: ‘Looking down the corridors of a high school or college when classes are changing, it is virtually impossible to tell which are male and which are female, apart from the way they carry their books.’”[1]

How has female clothing come to be altered so much from what it used to look like?   Why do men and women appear to be so similar to each other today more than ever before? It appears to be in part a removing and masculinizing of female clothing, which God has said is detestable. The Feminist Movement has contributed greatly to this nationwide condition, and not unintentionally. Unisex clothing was designed to “equalize” the genders and fuel the Woman’s Liberation agenda. Even they realized that the language of clothing is one of the most powerful of all.

After the first wave of feminism swept across America in the early 1850s, the first attempts to adopt male clothing were started by Elizabeth Smith Miller with the wearing of the bloomer, a pair of Turkish trousers with elastic ankles worn under a knee-length dress – at a time when women always wore long dresses that extended to the feet. A woman named Amelia Bloomer (after whom the Turkish trousers were called) and some of her followers decided to wear this costume as a symbol of their affiliation with the feminist movement. They were denied access at Church doors, but their actions marked the beginning of a nationwide revolution in dress that would change the face of the country forever.

Feminists recognized that wearing clothing that resembled a man’s indeed affiliated one with the opposite sex, but argued that such an affiliation was a positive thing.

“There are many good reasons for adopting male costume… A concealment of sex would protect our young girls from these terrible outrages from brutal men, reported in our daily papers… When we have a voice in legislation, we shall dress as we please, and if, by concealing our sex, we find that we too, can roam up and down the earth in safety (not seeking whom we may devour), we shall keep our womanhood a profound secret.”[2]

Today, Ms. Stanton’s vision of indistinguishable genders has come to pass. She predicted that it would once women had usurped the authority of men in the political and social structure of the country. Sadly, it is now difficult – if not impossible, to tell who is what gender apart from their physique. But our women are not safer – rather, their safety is jeopardized and they are preyed upon more than ever before. Our daily papers report far more terrible outrages done to women, girls, and even young children than was ever done in her day, despite how unfeminine their attire. The wickedness of our nation as a whole has only augmented. The atrocities and crimes have only worsened in frequency and intensity because dressing like the other sex does not arouse the protection of noble men, but their withdrawal and de-masculinizing, exposing them to the ignoble predators of the outside world. It’s the devil who wants women to roam up and down the earth like he does, pursuing his own anti-God agendas and living to please only himself.   Then they can’t be at home helping their families and building up the next generation. Fathers will be stuck changing the diapers and doing the dishes, if they don’t hire someone to do those tasks for them, if they even decide to have kids. With mamma out globe-trotting while daddy tries to earn a paycheck with one hand and juggle household affairs with the other, who will nurture and train up the children how they should go? The government will gladly intervene and take them off of their hands. One thing leads to another, and it starts with overturning God’s chain of command by overturning His ordained roles for each sex.

“…Neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; which would betray effeminacy and softness unbecoming men, and would lead the way to many impurities, by giving an opportunity of mixing with women, and so to commit fornication and adultery with them; to prevent which and to preserve chastity this law seems to be made; and since in nature a difference of sexes is made, it is proper and necessary that this should be known by difference of dress, or otherwise many evils might follow; and this precept is agreeably to the law and light of nature… for all that do so are an abomination to the Lord thy God; which is a reason sufficient why such a practice should not be used….”[3]

When something seems like a good idea to us, we must always first ask God what He thinks. In the end, His wisdom trumps our feeble reasoning every time. Especially when it comes to something as theologically significant as clothing.

So, where has the dress, the traditional woman’s garment for thousands of years, gone? About 160 years ago, when feminism crept into Christendom, women decided that they would no longer be content with their place in the home and would aspire to join the world of men – daily worn dresses were a thing of the past. To them, dresses symbolized a life of pure slavery, a life where women were doomed to the burdens of bearing children and keeping house for their spouses as prisoners.

“Your dress movement involves the whole woman’s rights cause,”

proclaimed Gerrit Smith, a feminist sympathizer.

The women who lobbied for their “rights” in the mid-1800s encouraged cross-dressing for many reasons, one of them being as a means of safety. We still hear the famous “safety” pretense being perpetuated today to excuse all manner of heinous actions, from abortion to divorce. Such excuses serve only to mask the true cause of the movement. To the public, feminists insisted that skirts were cumbersome, uncomfortable and dangerous to their health while the alternative, pants, symbolized the lifestyle of men, equality in roles, and a position of authority. What better uniform could the feminist don than that of the opposite gender? What better way could she cast off her yoke of femininity than to tear up her dresses that she had worn for thousands of years? They set their minds to the destruction of all gender roles. Anything that pertained to godly womanhood, as stipulated in the Bible, was attacked. They turned upon clothing that symbolized femininity. They turned upon husbands and their own roles as wives, insisting that they be freed from “hearth and home” and that marriage should be obsolete.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Who wears the pants?” Feminists embraced the wearing of pants because the icon of a woman in pants represented their entire ideology. Such a picture says a thousand words: usurp authority, reject femininity, you can do it yourself, don’t depend on a man, don’t submit, protect yourself, get out there and fight and be your own person. The women who first started wearing pants were feminists and many times atheists. Those origins of the practice should tell us something. But the wearing of pants as a woman in a world that had for thousands of years never done so did not catch on immediately. Indeed, it took about 90 years before the practice would become widespread.

When the 1920s came, even secular historians recognized the dramatic split that occurred between the Victorian generation and the era of “flapper girls.” Morality was in steep decline nationwide, and women were acting more and more independent of men. But even in the depraved 20s,

“Wearing slacks to the office or to a park was still out of the question, and any female who appeared on a formal occasion in a trouser’s suit was assumed to be a Bohemian eccentric and probably a lesbian.”[4]

Here we see that in a culture becoming ever-increasingly friendly to tenants feminism and its counterpart, communism, it was still socially unacceptable for woman to wear pants. How far we have drifted even from those days!

Listen to how the dress underwent massive change in the words of this secular historian:

“The 1920s…encouraged a massive unveiling of the female body, which meant that certain body parts were bared and displayed in ways they had never been before. This new freedom to display the body was accompanied, however, by demanding beauty and dietary regimens that involved money as well as self-discipline… In marked contrast to the ideal Victorian woman, who was expected to be more concerned with her morality and development of character than her outward appearance, all of these new fads focused on the presentation of the physical self… The body itself became the fashion in the 1920s”[5]

This isn’t a Christian preacher commentating on the moral decline of the nation at this time – it’s just someone from the world! When the morality of the nation shrinks, so do the clothes of the women. It is retrogression towards the barbarian thinking and customs of uncivilized pagans. A culture that sees women as treasures to protect and uphold at all costs is in stark contrast to a culture that treats them no differently than men and strips them of their proper clothes. It is the contrast between the moral and the immoral, the Christian and the heathen. When the Christians drift away from civility towards women because women are drifting away from Christianity, the country is in deep trouble.

Dress length continued to shorten throughout the 20s until it finally stopped at the knees – temporarily. Though dress hems did lengthen during the 30s, (a time of God’s judgment upon America for its apostasy) the fashion industry would continue to decline with regard to modesty and femininity until all such notions would be banished completely.

Though pants were not adopted as common wear for women in the 20s, something else was. The movement which was out to destroy God’s line between the genders and promote body-worship would not leave fashion untouched during this period of time which marked a huge trend towards communism, atheism and materialism and away from traditional Christian morality. It became popular for women to bind up their chests, crop their hair short, and alter the appearance of their torso from that of a woman to that of a man in an effort to imitate their daughters who were imitating boys. The bare-legged sack-look of the 1920s marked a dramatic split between traditional morality and the “new” wave of modernism out to liberalize the nation. Is it any coincidence that this confounding of the genders to modify the feminine to the masculine occurred at such a time? No, it pointed to a great shaking of our country’s heritage and values that would touch the course of history for decades to come.

Women in pants would become commonplace by World War II, but the start of women exchanging their dresses for male clothing marked more than just a simple change in styles of fashion. It pointed to something much greater and deeper, which is why it took so long to be culturally acceptable. Radical change doesn’t happen instantaneously – it takes place in increments. As Dr. S. Franklin Logsdon argued,

“If pants for women are legitimate now, why weren’t they acceptable earlier? It can’t be pleaded that it is a change of styles. Styles are modifications within a general pattern or context; a symbol is a complete change of concept.”[6]

   The concept of women staying at home as faithful daughters and helping wives had been viciously attacked by feminists – the secret agents of communism – and exchanged for one of the “career girl” out making her own way and doing her own thing. When the fashion industry was usurped by proponents of feminism, they began to establish clothing that represented their ideology. Pants on women represent this ideology. What better way for a woman to throw off the authority of her male protector than by assuming his clothing? Even the women as theologically backwards as the feminists understood that clothing is more than a matter of personal taste – it ultimately conveys theological meaning. A woman in pants makes a theological statement with her clothing. She is saying that she is usurping the authority and position of a man. She is saying that she is her own woman and will have her own way right up there with the men. She is her own protector and has no need of her counterpart.

The following is an intriguing lament from a concerned group of college girls, a manifesto copied along the way:

“Please give us back our girls. We’ve had it! Take away the pants and other male garments which have become a blighting scourge in blacking out as a thick cloud the loveliness with which the divine Creator endowed womanhood. Give us back the silk and satin and lace, even the gingham and calico in the former modest apparel, that once again the beauty of the fairer sex may elicit our fond appreciation and our profound respect. Our plea is not alone a selfish one. It isn’t merely a desire to regain what we now know is our great loss of feminine charm. Our concern is also for the coming generations. We fear, as things now are going, our babies will not have mothers of the dainty, attractive, commanding sort, but the fearful monstrosity of unisex.”[7]

   Because of the destructive influence of the feminists on social ideology, men supporting and promoting the sodomite agenda would do a similar thing to these feminists in the near future – they would begin to take up the article of the opposite sex’s clothing and wear it publicly themselves in their rejection of their own sex. Men in long skirts are now a symbol of sodomy, just like women in pants are a symbol of the feminist and lesbian movement. Both movements emphasize trying to be like the other sex rather than be distinctive from it. The feminists realized that they were in the process of overturning man’s position of authority when they insisted on destroying symbols of distinctive gender roles. They delighted in it, because it meant a reversal of roles. Women would be “liberated” from man’s God-appointed position over her and manhood itself would be turned on its head. The devil today is – and for a long time has been – out to create one indistinguishable, androgynous, “equal” species out of men and women. To destroy the genders is to destroy the earthly depiction of Christ and His bride in the man/woman relationship. He wants to permanently overturn God’s chain of command by convincing women and men to disrespect the boundaries that God has set between them.

Betsy Bliss wrote in the Chicago Daily News, as late as February 3, 1968:

“Perhaps those look-alike fashions simply show that we’re all puppets of designers who want us to look like their roommates.  But it may be that, in fact, the sexes are switching roles, the women getting too aggressive and the men becoming milque-toast weaklings.”

So, is there an inconsistency in our thinking? You ladies who are horrified at the thought of a man in a long skirt, ask yourself this question: do you hold him to a standard which you yourself do not profess in your own dress? If it is wrong and disgusting for a man to wear a long skirt, doesn’t that automatically tell you that a long skirt is woman’s clothing and he has no right to be wearing it? If so, why aren’t you wearing it? Are you instead wearing pants, which are men’s clothing in every sense of the word?   The same verse in the Bible that forbids a man putting on a woman’s garment also forbids you from wearing that which pertains to his gender. We may look like almost every woman in the country if we wear our britches, but do we not also look like men? Are we pleasing God in this, or is the unisex agenda of the devil being furthered?

“But pants aren’t ever found in the Bible. That means God obviously doesn’t think they pertain to a man, right?”

While it is true that a word search for “pants” will not turn up anything in the Bible, one must remember that the word is a shortened form of the 1600s term “pantaloons,” a phrase coined in 1812 as a term for men’s trousers that extended from the hips to the ankles. Interestingly enough, “pantaloons” originated from the name of the Christian doctor Saint Pantaleon, who was a hero in the eyes of the 3rd century church for thwarting the six attempts of the Romans to take his life. They had given him the title of Pantaleon, which means “fully lion” to denote his courage and strength. Numerous boys were christened with his name by those who admired such masculine traits. Trousers were initially created for men, and even the roots of the word “pants” began with masculinity.

While the word “pants” does not appear in the Bible, the word “breeches” does in Exodus 28:42 and Leviticus 6:10. Breeches are “trousers that extend to the knee, below the knee, or to the ankles –” in other words, pants. The only times that breeches appear in the Bible are in context of men, never once women…and it isn’t just in the passages of the high priestly clothes that such a garment appears. Have you ever heard of the expression, “gird up your loins?” The phrase comes from the Bible.

To “gird up the loins” meant to pull up the

“knee-length tunic so the length in front stopped at [his] upper thigh, and collect[ed] the excess material in [his] front. ([He would] pull the material forward so the back of [his] tunic [was] snug against [his] backside.) Next, [he would] tuck the extra front material down between [his] legs and gather it behind [him]. At this point, [he would] collect half of the material behind [him] evenly on each side of [his] back (left and right). The final step involve[d] wrapping each side of the material around [his] waist and tying it together in front.”[8]

So, “girding up the loins” basically means to create a makeshift pair of pants. Every time the phrase appears in the Bible, it is speaking to men. For example:

“Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.” (Job 40:7)

A man would gird up his loins when he had to enter a situation of conflict or hard labor. Should women be observing such a practice in their dress?

Nowhere are women told to gird up their loins – in fact, nowhere in the Bible are women ever found wearing anything like pants! The Proverbs 31 woman only “girdeth her loins with strength.” Not with clothing, as a man would. Such was obviously a figure of speech was for her faithfulness in her realm of work. As Wesley explained,

“She uses great diligence and expedition in her employment; for which end, men in those times used to gird up their long and loose garments about their loins.”[9]

That is a very interesting point. Women were not involved in the kinds of activities where it would be necessary to wear pants. Their place was at the home, where their activities consisted of caring for the children and keeping the house. Oh, they had work to do alright, but their work never required them to put on men’s clothing in order to get it done. The closest they got to wearing pants was only analogical in regards to the strength they exercised in being an efficient homemaker. Pants aren’t ever found in the Bible…with respect to women.

We’ve hopefully covered how the dress, the large outer garment of the woman has come to be commonly forsaken and exchanged for masculine attire and why it is so important for women to keep off what men have put on. Now let’s look at how God says we should cover our nakedness.

[1] Logdon, S. Frank: “God Drew the Line” (http://www.tbaptistpillar.com/aab/goddrewtheline.htm)

[2] Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Sybil,” 1869

[3] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

[4] Nicholson, p. 44

[5] Joan Jacobs Brumberg, “The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls,” 1st ed. (New York, NY: Random House , 1997) 98.

[6] Logsdon, S. Franklin. “God Drew The Line.” (http://www.tbaptist.com/aab/goddrewtheline.htm)

[7] Logsdon, S Frank “God Drew the Linehttp://www.baptistpillar.com

[8] John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

[9] Ibid.

Continue on to What is a Woman’s Nakedness?…

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