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Is it a Sin for Women to Wear Pants?

Polly wearing her first pair of pants, Yuma, Arizona, 2004

God says:

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. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

Jack Hyles, the late pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, said in a  December 2, 1973 sermon:

Some of you pants-wearing ladies, I hope God will get you so under conviction tonight that you’ll hit the mourner’s bench before you go home!  Let me tell you something.  You ladies who wear your “britches,” don’t you laugh at me while I’m preaching the Bible to you.  The Bible says a woman should not wear that pertains to a man.  In this heathen generation, you ladies who wear pants have fallen prey to the unisex philosophy.  You are a part of the unisex movement!  I’m going to prove it to you.  You won’t believe it because you want to go ahead and be a part of it.  You don’t want to be different.  You’re not willing to buck the trend, but you’re hearing one preacher tonight who is happy to buck the trends even if he loses his job because of it.  I started 27 or 28 years ago what I believe, and I am preaching the same thing tonight.  If you get my sermons and listen to them, I preach the same things tonight I preached 28 years ago.  I preached against ladies wearing britches 28 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it just because you can’t find a skirt in a department store any more.

It’s time for some of you deacon’s wives to look like ladies instead of men.  It’s time for some of you deacons to yank them up and say, “Put a skirt on and take those ‘britches’ off!” It’s time for some of you who teach Sunday school classes in our church, to look like ladies and not like men.  The Devil is trying to break down the barrier between the sexes.  When you do anything to aid it, you’re a part of his work.

You say, “Brother Hyles, I heard you on the radio. I didn’t expect this!  You come on saying the radio saying, ‘A happy hello to all of our friends in radio land.  It’s a great joy to meet you this morning.  Maybe the burden is heavy and load is light.  We come on the broadcast not with a kick in the pants but with a pat on the back’” That the broadcast, honey.  In the pulpit, it’s a kick in the pants and not a pat on the back!  The back-pattin’ is on Monday morning, but the pants-kickin’ is on Sunday night!  The Devil is using clothing.  Whether you believe it or not, the book of Deuteronomy is in the Bible and Deuteronomy 22:5 says it is wrong for a woman to wear that which pertaineth to a man.  “Well,” you say, “in those days, the men wore long, flowing garments.” I don’t care what they wore, there was a difference between men and women.  I mean it’s up to the man to decide what he wears.  You say, “My husband is not going to do that!”  Well, you Jezebel, I am!


I’ll just say it again. It’s time some of you Christians dress like fundamentalists.  In fashion, men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s mini-skirts- can you feature it?  Can you feature Jim Vineyard in a miniskirt?  That would set burlesque back two generations!  Get this now.  There are harem lounging pajamas.  Did you know that there are lingerie shops for men, where men can buy silk, satin, and lace gowns and pajamas?  You’re horrified, aren’t you?  Yet you wear your “britches” to the store tomorrow!  Men’s magazines and clothing trade journals herald men’s miniskirts, harem lounging pajamas, earrings and necklaces.  One manufacturer is showing men’s shifts- a rather straight-line dress worn by women.  Their colors, psychedelic prints, are soft pinks.  (Can you imagine Sully in a pink shift?)  Fashion designers admit they are using ladies wearing men’s clothing and men wearing ladies’ clothing as a part of the trend to make America one sex.  You haven’t got enough sense to know it! “Now,” you say, “Preacher, what are you saying?”  I’m saying that God wants there to be a difference between the sexes.  I’m saying, in our generation, ladies ought not to wear whatever men have worn, and men ought not to wear whatever ladies have worn.

In 2002, Catholic Marian T. Horvat  wrote:

The three ladies [from a 2002 photo] are wearing pants, which are inappropriate for women for reasons of both immodesty and egalitarianism. As for modesty, according to the sound Catholic teaching of the past, trousers are immodest apparel for a woman because by their nature they emphasize a woman’s form and invite immodest regard. As for egalitarianism, Cardinal Guiseppe Siri made a superb warning in 1960. He noted that the wearing of men’s dress by women is “the visible aid to bring about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man’” since the clothing a person wears “modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior.

Millions of Americans attend churches that believe it is a sin for women to wear pants (britches, slacks, jeans, trousers, shorts, capris).  Many of these churches refuse to let non-dress wearing women attend their services. The late Jack Hyles, the one-time pastor of the largest church in America, required pants-wearing women to put paper dresses over their clothing before entering the sanctuary. I grew up in churches where pants wearing was grudgingly allowed, but women who did so were considered rebellious hussies. Evangelist John R. Rice speaks for countless Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers when he says:

Oh, women, what have you lost when you lost your femininity! When you bobbed your hair, you bobbed your character, too. Your rebellion against God’s authority as exercised by husband and father, has a tendency, at least, to lose you all the things that women value most. If you want reverence and respect from good men, if you want protection and a good home and love and steadfast devotion, then I beg you to take a woman’s place! Dress like a woman, not like a man. Have habits like a woman. And if you want God to especially bless you when you pray, then have on your head a symbol [long hair/head covering] of the meek and quiet spirit which in the sight of God is of such great price.

The message to women was clear: want to be right with God? Stop wearing pants.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern prided itself in being a character-building factory; an institution that turned out soulwinning, hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and missionaries. While women were permitted to take classes, most of them were there to snag a preacher boy, hoping to graduate with an MRS degree. My wife, Polly, was no exception. She came to Midwestern hoping to find a preacher to marry. She found one. However, I think I can safely say that she sure got more than she bargained for when she married me! I am certain, to this day, that Polly’s mom wishes her daughter had married one of those other preachers. Why, she would still be a preacher’s wife, if she had!

Women were not permitted to wear pants at Midwestern. Dresses had to be knee-length. One weekend, Polly and I went on a double-date with another dorm couple. Dorm students were not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the college campus. Wanting to go to the mall, we decided to break the ten-mile rule. Such daredevils, right? Not long after we arrived at the mall, we noticed the wife of Midwestern’s president walking with her youngest daughter. Imagine our surprise to see Mrs. Malone and her daughter wearing pants!  This was an early example of the hypocrisy that permeated the IFB church movement.

Polly was forty-six years old before she wore a pair of pants for the first time. In 2004, we lived in Yuma, Arizona. We thought of ourselves then as far more progressive and liberal than we were when we married in 1978. And we were, but deep-seated Fundamentalism dies hard. I had concluded that many of the church standards and rules we lived with for forty-plus years were legalistic and unnecessary. Polly, fearing that she would burn in Hell if she broke the rules, was not, at the time, as liberal, especially when it came to clothing. One day, we were shopping at Target, and I noticed that women’s capris were on sale. I picked up a pair, turned to Polly, and said, “why don’t you try on a pair of these.” You would have thought I had asked her to strip naked and run through the store. She had that look on her face, the same one she had when I brought home a Christian rock CD (Petra) and played it in our home. She was certain that God was going to send lightning from Heaven and kills us all. I assured her that God didn’t care about what she wore. Now, I didn’t really know that for sure. I just thought that Polly would look nice in capris. After what seemed like forever, I finally convinced Polly that God was not going to get her if she wore pants.

We returned to Ohio in 2005. By then, Polly was a pants convert. Well, except when her mother was around. Polly’s mom is in her eighties and has never worn a pair of pants. Polly was afraid of what her mom would say or think if she saw her wearing pants. Eventually, Polly decided to show her rebellious streak and donned a pair of pants in her mom’s presence. Polly’s uber-rebellious sister had been wearing pants for years. Not Polly. She was a true-blue believer. I still remember the look on Mom’s face when she saw Polly was wearing pants; a look of sadness and disappointment; a look that has been repeated numerous times over the past decade and a half as we continue to shed the bondage of our Fundamentalist Christian past.

Bruce, this sounds crazy! Sure, from the outside, it does. However, when you are in the Evangelical bubble, believing it is a sin for women to wear pants makes perfect sense. Let me outline for you how my thinking went back in the day.

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible says in Deuteronomy 22:5 that it is an abomination for women to wear men’s clothing
  • The Bible teaches that there is to be a visible difference between the sexes  — hair and clothing
  • Women are to wear modest apparel, clothing that does not expose their flesh or accentuate their shape
  • Men are visually attracted to women
  • Women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them
  • Refusing to dress properly reveals a rebellious spirit
  • Christians are to dress differently from the “world”

These “truths” governed my thinking, preaching, and conduct until I was in my early forties. Perhaps my deconversion actually began then, as I started to question the rules, standards, and regulations that had governed my life. These days, I tell Polly, “hey, it sure would be nice to see you in a dress once in a while. You know, show a bit of cleavage.” My, oh my! How far we have come . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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      LOL You nailed it. Either that pastor was a freak or a freaking liar or perhaps both.

      Bruce, the female students at HAC couldn’t wear pajama pants either. You mention the President of Midwestern’s wife and daughter were wearing pants, no wonder you had the 10 mile rule. Have to keep the hypocrisy hidden in them cult members.

      At HAC women students were not permitted to leave campus except when taken by bus to the Mall once a week. Us work scholarship kids didn’t get to do that. We had to work 20+ hours a week on the bus ministry and work 20 hours a weeks for room and board in addition to the class load. Oh don’t forget the many hours a week of church, daily chapel and nightly devotions. That place is wacked!

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    I rolled my eyes so much at those ridiculous ranting gs that I have given myself a headache! Don’t get me started on gender based clothing rules. I have been arguing against those for nearly 40 years. As I kid I made a list of all the clothing items that men and women wear in common, including but not limited to socks, shirts, sweaters, beanies, scarves, gloves, vests, coats…so fundies are going to quibble over pants when there are a plethora of clothing items that they could condemn? (My poor mom heard me ranting about the ridiculousness of the fundamentalist Christian school’s dress code for 8 years, so I had a lot of time to think about it). Personally, I thought girls and women were forced into dresses in order to restrict their ability to move around freely, unencumbered by their clothing. I have noticed over the past decade Orthodox Jewish women wearing leggings or pants under skirts so they can go running or to the gym.

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    I find it interesting that the same “preachers” who whined about women wearing pants had problems wearing pants themselves.

    Things that make you go “Hmmm.”

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    Howard Grant

    This is very personal for me because I grew up in that entire environment. To this day, I’ve never seen my mother wear a pair of pants. The messages that we heard were always about modesty, decency and preventing sexual desires.

    It angers me to think of the beatings my sister took for wearing pants to school. She would leave home in a skirt but change her clothes once at school. My brother would wear shorts, which were strictly forbidden, in gym class and those also resulted in beatings. When I use the term beating, I’m not referring to a whipping. I’m referring to being brutalized by a belt. It was immoral behavior.

    It’s interesting how I found that the way a woman moved in a skirt was more appealing to me sexually than how she moved in a pair of pants. In time, I realized that all of the indoctrination I had, created a mindset in me that allowed me to objectify women and see them as objects of desire instead of individual people with hopes, dreams and ambitions. It took awhile to get straightened out but I’m glad I’m good to go now.

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    Melissa A Montana

    Rules about clothes, like most religious rules, are about one thing: keeping women and girls under control and restricted. Dresses, high heels, and even girls dress shoes prevent running, climbing, jumping, and anything athletic that could make women stronger and more independent. Add to that the pressure to keep clean, not mess up your hair, not break a nail, and not smear makeup, and you have a recipe for passive, helpless females who offer no threat to a male dominated establishment. Even in my secular grade school (in the 70’s) teacher complained about girls in pants. The real threat was, of course, girls out of their rightful place, i.e. playing baseball, football, climbing trees, running, screaming, “acting like boys.” Some of the old-fashioned teachers were horrified at the changes. Religion is just helping keep an unjust system in place. Fortunately, from my experience, fashion always wins in the end. That’s why we have bikinis, crop tops, and leggings.

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    John Arthur

    Why wasn’t this crackpot called Jack Hales preaching about the ‘sins’ (evils) committed, or commanded, by the God of the bible? Heavens no! He’d lose his whole congregation, so he makes up imaginary ‘sins’ like women wearing pants.

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    Bruce, thank you for the biggest chuckle I’ve had in years. ???
    More so if any British as myself read this, because here in the UK the word “pants” means either men’s underpants or ladies knickers. Every time I read your pants word the tears began streaming down my face.???
    Thank you so much for so much laughter.

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      Daughter at a UK university was designated a buddy to one of a group of american students there on an exchange. Their college was in Georgia and very fundy. They arrived Saturday and my daughter went to pick up her student for church the next morning. The girl opened her door and apparently gasped audibly ‘Surely your church doesn’t allow you to attend in jeans.’ DD was equally gob-smacked, dress codes don’t exist for UK churches. Needless to say, these american students had a great term, discovering sex, drugs and probably rock’n’roll too. DD was shocked by overhearing their phone calls with parents assuring them they were on the straight and narrow…and then they went home and got betrothed to the good x-tian partner approved by those parents. Where I live, any number of dying churches would be delighted to have new folk show up however they choose to dress and never want to suggest they change their style.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    I have a vague memory of the first time my very Catholic mother wore pants to Mass. Most Catholic women were doing it by then, at least some of the time, and my Catholic grandmother back in Minnesota was reveling in the ability to wear pants to the service in the cold, snowy winter. (I grew up in the deceptively mild San Francisco Bay Area.) Mama had this notion in her head that a dress required a panty-girdle, and wearing one made her ache in her back and legs. (She was growing a benign but enthusiastic tumor on her backbone that had started to press on her sciatic nerve, but nobody knew that at the time.) She was very, very anxious that day, and I probably got scolded more than usual. But we went to church, there were no lightning bolts or (worse) fellow parishioners looking askance at her, She was a very happy camper that night.

    I attended Catholic schools from first through 12th grades, and back during the Pleistocene (okay, the 1960s and 1970s) girls wore skirts. I was delighted to discover my high school offered culottes as well as a skirt, though after my honeymoon with the culottes, I discovered I preferred the looser, pleated skirt. Then, in sophomore year of high school, I spilled a bottle of black ink on my skirt in art class. Wasn’t removable. After that, I sort of wore the skirt as a badge of honor.

    I still get an alumni newsletter from my high school, which is a pretty liberal organization and demands the well-rounded best of its students (all girls). The uniform has expanded, to my delight. Colors haven’t changed: navy, dark red (but not as dark as wine), white. One of the less offensive plaids I’ve ever been exposed to. But the modern student need not ever wear plaid if she chooses. All those colors as solids are welcome in shirts, navy trousers look very appropriate for any office working environment, polo shirts with the school logo are apparently very popular, and a navy hooded sweatshirt has been added to the ghastly traditional navy cardigan. ( As a student, I preferred to face 60 degrees Farenheit in short sleeved, lightweight cotton shirts rather than be seen in that thing.)

    I get that some clothing rules are appropriate. Don’t wear torn jeans and a t-shirt that’s obviously been through the wash too many times for a job interview, or even on Casual Friday at your job if you’re working with the public. Don’t wear obnoxiously revealing outfits to show off your secondary sexual characteristics (a gender-neutral demand, though it often isn’t enforced that way). (Or, if you’re a male engineer, just be legal. Your male colleagues won’t notice, and nobody will pay attention to your female colleagues’ complaints.) My point is, beyond a certain basic, gender-neutral standard, wear what you want in public, carry yourself without doubt, and nobody but your local IFB preacher will give the proverbial rat’s patootie. Ignore him.

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    Jasmine Gold

    Idiot. When reading the Bible, you must always view it in a historical context. What is considered female clothing and male clothing these days is different from in the Bible times. These days, pants are neither considered men’s or women’s clothing. Plus, that verse means that women should women and men should be men. It means that no gender should feel the need to be the other gender. Have you actually read the Bible? Your interpretation of that verse goes against what Christ stood for. He stood for not judging people based off of appearances.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      The Bible can be used to prove anything, as you so ably prove. Why should anyone accept your interpretation of the Bible? Further, what does the Bible say about calling someone names, specifically an “idiot”?

      How do you know what Christ stood for? Let’s start there. I suspect you have grossly misunderstood or ignored who/what I am and the purpose of this post. Regardless, I would love to have a discussion with you on the question I just asked (and others).

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        Jesus told us not to look at others and judge others based on what they wear or do, for it is law that they become ensnared (like the Pharisees)… The old covenant is a law through men who were sinners, but when Jesus died for Us, those who accepted Him into their lives became “whole”.

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          I’m not cool with letting someone die in my place, Yoke, which is why I’m not interested in becoming a Christian.

          I do agree that it’s just plain rude to judge people to judge people on their outward appearance, but it’s perfectly reasonable to call out people who behave badly and cause harm to others.

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      Jasmine, why should we use the Bible as a model for anything in our lives? Morality, including the Golden Rule, existed long before New Testament days. The people who wrote the Bible had extremely primitive science and got lots of things wrong – the taxonomy of bats, the circumference of a circle, the cause of infectious diseases, the size of stars.

      There isn’t anything of value in the Bible that we can’t get elsewhere, and the rest is unadulterated pig crap fit only to be tossed in the trash.

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      Jasmine, your post is rather contradictory, and slightly hard to follow.

      Firstly, your knowledge of fashion is lacking. Gender specific clothing is doesn’t really have a historical contexts, it has a societal context. This is sociology 101. Societies define gender norms, and you can see this in the world today if you take any time to notice the world outside of western, Euro-centric societies.

      Now let’s discuss contradiction. You seem to indicate that gender is binary, and one must either be male or female. You say “that no gender should feel the need to be the other gender.” To me, that seems a tad preachy, and quite a bit judgmental. But then you say Christ “stood for not judging people based off of appearances.” This seems contradictory to your earlier judgement of people who do not fit your gender binary. So which is it?

      I admit that it is possible you are saying that you believe gender is not binary, and that while the Old Testament may make this statement, Christ, in freeing the world from the law, tosses aside this old law and tells his followers not to judge others on appearance, and therefor agrees that gender is not binary, but a more fluid definition.

      The only thing clear in your post is your anger. Maybe you can clarify a little.

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Bruce Gerencser