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Note: I'm little surprised that this question had not been asked before.

I've noticed that some churches place more emphasis on the issue of modesty than others. In more exaggerated cases, some churches go to the extremes of highly discouraging or straight up prohibiting women from wearing pants (and even makeup and jewelry), favoring instead more modest types of dresses, such as skirts.

Two questions:

  1. What is the historical origin of these modesty-related prohibitions?
  2. What is the biblical basis?
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  • You seem to be conflating 2 issues here. One is the issue of women wearing pants. The other is modesty. Perhaps rephrase the question to pick one or the other? Apr 3 at 17:03
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    @AnthonyBurg It's the same issue : visible shape and modesty. Males traditionally wear jackets over the trouser area. Ladies in India often wear a short type of coat over very loose trousers so there, there is no issue with regard to modesty. They are modestly dressed. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 3 at 18:24
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    @NigelJ "It's the same issue : visible shape and modesty." Just doesn't seem correct. I've heard lots of people talk about how certain kinds of skirts are immodest, never re pants. In some cases, they might run together. Question should rephrase topline to bring into accord with two questions in body. Apr 3 at 18:47
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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; [1 Timothy 2:9 KJV]

Shortly before being martyred, executed by the Emperor Nero, Paul the apostle gives instructions to Timothy regarding order in the church and the conduct of congregations.

With regard to clothing, Paul enjoins that women should adorn themselves 'modestly' which has two meanings, firstly that of not drawing attention by 'costly array' and complicated hair arrangements, but also of modesty in regard to the fit of clothing.

The prophet Isaiah goes into considerable detail when he comments upon the 'daughters of Zion' and their conduct in regard to these matters (Isaiah 3:16 to 26) and comments, also, on the judgments that are about fall upon Jerusalem because of that contribution to a wider spectrum of behaviour, throughout Judah.

It is difficult to convey to those who are a lot younger than myself what a dramatic change has happened in the general arena of those professing the name of Christ over the past half dozen decades : the jettisoning of conduct that was, at one time, not questioned, but rather adhered to without complaint.

As a young boy brought up in the Highlands of Scotland where the influence of Presbyterian Christianity was considerable, I saw the visible effect of many generations of the preaching and teaching of the gospel and of the adherence to Paul's words.

Men and women attending a place of Christian worship would - all - dress modestly. Makeup of any kind was just not used. Men wore jacket and trousers with shirt and tie. Women wore long skirts and their top clothing was buttoned up to the neck.

Every woman had long hair and every man had short hair. Women also wore a hat or a headscarf, in accordance with the apostle's words in 1 Corinthians 11:5.

Still, today, I know of many congregations in my own country, the United Kingdom, where such practice still prevails. It is considered essential conduct among those congregations.

I well remember a preacher in my youth, perhaps it was in the 1970s, encouraging modest Christian women to take no notice of one who had criticised a certain lady for wearing clothing which the onlooker called 'frumpy'.

The preacher's retort was to say, 'Leave her alone and let her 'frump' her way to glory'.

As a young, single male, growing up in a congregation, in my twenties (forty years ago) I can only say how much I appreciated ladies wearing modest attire. I always deemed it to be considerate and charitable of women not to put temptation in the way of young (and not so young) men.

The corollary would (I can only suppose) be true of men who also dress in such a way as not to draw undue attention to themselves.

If we 'believe in the Lord Jesus Christ' and 'love one another' (as Jesus enjoins us to do) then it should not be a difficult thing for us to consider others in regard to the way in which we dress ourselves.

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    I appreciate your comments as I am the wrong side of 70 and continue to be shocked at the immodesty of some females wearing shape-revealing clothing when coming to worship. From teenagers to mature women, they follow fashion trends when most of them ought to be ashamed of showing off their shapes, let alone for ignoring clear biblical instruction. The trend now is to wear tight leggings and low-neck tops. Some even try to look like men and some men try to look like women, such is the degenerate, worldly influence regarding clothing seen in most congregations. It's shocking.
    – Anne
    Apr 4 at 8:40
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What are the historical and scriptural reasons why women are prohibited and/or discouraged from wearing pants in some churches?

This is one of those questions that are multifaceted and needs to be addressed!

Let us simply start with the Scriptures in regards to clothing and modesty:

A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. - Deuteronomy 22:5

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. - 1 Timothy 2:9-10

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. - 1 Timothy 2:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. - Matthew 5:27-28

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

7 A man ought not to cover his head,[a] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[b] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. - 1 Corinthians 11:5-15

Growing up in Canada, as a young boy, I recall everyone putting on their Sunday best for church on Sundays. Women and girls wore dresses, men and wore suit and tie and boy often wore nice pants and jackets.

Not anymore! Things have changed. I can even remember a time when our stores here in Canada were closed on Sundays; a stark difference to our neighbours across the line in the USA back in the day.

As times move forward, the immodesty seems to be also growing worse.

Many Christians (What percentage I do not know!) do consider pants a clothing apparel associated with men. We have all heard the expression in reference to the women of a family as ”wearing the pants in this household!”

Pants have been worn by women over the centuries but the main thrust for it really developed in the 19th century.

In the 1900s, women’s pants appear on high-fashion runways and made their way into casual settings.

Around the same time and into the 1930s, actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn began wearing pants on a more regular basis. Thanks to women like Dietrich and Hepburn, new types of women were “entering into the social conversation and some of them wore pants, [which] helped to normalize the idea.”

But even though pants were becoming more acceptable as casual attire, it still wasn’t acceptable for the average woman to wear them as an everyday wardrobe staple, Zachary said.

Then we come to the 1950s, the era of Dior’s New Look, and pants lose some ground.

While the New Look was quite popular, not everyone hopped on board. Some people protested the trend, believing it represented a return back to restrictive dressing for women, Zachary said.

In the 1960s and ’70s, women’s pants finally seemed to stick.

Up until this time period, there were so many women who had defied norms by wearing pants. Pants had become “a symbol of freedom that women hadn’t had before,” Santandrea said, and they were finally becoming more acceptable for women to wear.

But it wasn’t until the ’60s that fashion really helped solidify pants for women, Zachary said. “For the first time, in the 1960s you have rebellious youth wearing clothing that is influencing fashion,” she added. “You have a new generation of British designers such as Mary Quant, who is presenting both mini skirts and pants on the runway, and that rebellious new spirit influences high fashion.” - But it wasn’t until the ’60s that fashion really helped solidify pants for women, Zachary said. “For the first time, in the 1960s you have rebellious youth wearing clothing that is influencing fashion,” she added. “You have a new generation of British designers such as Mary Quant, who is presenting both mini skirts and pants on the runway, and that rebellious new spirit influences high fashion.”

We just how much immodesty is in churches these days is scary. Being a traditional Catholic, I can not fathom how some can receive the Eucharist the way they are dressed. That goes for the guys as well as the gals also.

The monastic community near my residence will not allow anyone (male or female) into their monastic church wearing shorts of any kind or short sleeved shirt. Woman may wear pants, but they must be full length pants at that.

I wonder where we would now, if all (Catholics) would have had followed the directives of Pope Pius XI (January 12, 1930) on modesty.

The Mary-Like Standards for Modesty in Dress

“A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.” (The Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XI).

  1. Marylike is modest without compromise, “like Mary,” Christ’s mother.

  2. Marylike dresses have sleeves extending at least to the elbows; and skirts reaching below the knees.

[N.B. Because of impossible market conditions quarter-length sleeves are temporarily tolerated with Ecclesiastical Approval, until Christian womanhood again turns to Mary as the model of modesty in dress.]

  1. Marylike dress requires full coverage for the bodice, chest, shoulders and back; except for a cut-out about the neck not exceeding two inches below the neckline in front and in back and a corresponding two inches on the shoulders.

  2. Marylike dresses do not admit as modest coverage transparent fabrics — laces, nets, organdy, nylons, etc. — unless sufficient backing is added. However, their moderate use as trimmings is acceptable.

  3. Marylike dresses do not admit the use improper of flesh-colored fabrics.

  4. Marylike dresses conceal rather than reveal the figure of the wearer; they do not unduly emphasize the parts of the body.

  5. Mary-like dresses provide full coverage — even after the jacket, the cape or the stole are removed.

  6. Slacks or ‘jeans’ are not to be worn to church. Marylike fashions are designed to conceal as much of the body as possible rather than reveal it. This would automatically eliminate such fashions as tight fitting slacks or ‘jeans’, sweaters, shorts; shorts which do not reach down at least to the knees; sheer blouses and sleeveless dresses, etc. These Marylike standards are a guide to instill a sense of modesty. Women and girls who follow these standards and who look to Mary as their ideal and model will have no problem of modesty in dress. She who follows these standards will not be the occasion of sin nor a source of embarrassment or shame to others.

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