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Independent Fundamentalist Baptist “Shorts” — Culottes

polly gerencser late 1990s
Polly Gerencser, late 1990s, carrying water from the creek to flush the toilets. An ice storm had knocked out the power. Oh, the clothing! But she was and remains one beautiful woman.

Many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers spend an inordinate amount of time instructing congregants about what clothing is acceptable to God. This is especially true when it comes to the clothing of girls and women. Several years ago, Gerald Collingsworth, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Mogadore, Ohio, stated in no uncertain terms that girls wearing “immodest” clothing can and do cause male family members to sexually assault (commit incest with) them:

The entire eighteenth chapter of Leviticus is on nakedness. Although most Christians still consider bestiality as being wrong, they no longer consider homosexuality or dressing improperly as being wrong. Many see nothing wrong with dressing scantily. Many see nothing wrong with mixed bathing, yet God calls it an abomination. How many cases of incest have taken place in homes where passions have been inflamed by immodesty among family members? How many boys and girls have been raised in homes that practiced immodest dress and now live lives of promiscuity?

Consider the following graphics from an article written by IFB zealot Daphne Kirkland titled, A Return to Biblical Modesty.

modesty check
dressing modestly

Girls and women are not permitted to wear anything that draws attention to their feminine shape. The goal is to keep weak, pathetic church boys and men from getting boners while in their presence. Girls and women are viewed as gatekeepers, and it is up to them to dress and act in ways that extinguish sinful unmarried sexual want, need, or desire. The goal is no sticky underwear before marriage.

One universally banned item of clothing is shorts. Usually, attention is only paid to what girls and women wear, but I remember a spring day when I was playing outdoor pick-up basketball after working at Arthur Treacher’s. I came to pick up Polly from the Newark Baptist Temple after I was finished. She was a third- grade school teacher that year. I was wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, tube socks, and Converse basketball shoes. I went into the church building to let Polly know I had arrived. As I neared her classroom, I ran into her uncle, the late James “Jim” Dennis. (The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) As soon as he saw me, he laid into me about my “inappropriate” dress. He sternly and angrily lectured me about wearing shorts, informing me that I was to never, ever again enter the Baptist Temple wearing such sinful clothing. A year later, I witnessed Jim go ballistic at Polly’s parent’s home over her sister wearing slacks to work. She was a nurse’s aide at a nearby nursing home. Her dress was quite typical for people who worked at the home. Keep in mind, Polly’s sister was an adult. It mattered not. As Jim had done with me, he took my sister-in-law to task IFB- preacher-style, telling her that wearing slacks was a sin. Sound almost beyond belief? Yep, but it’s the truth, nonetheless.

polly pontiac michigan 1977
Polly, 1977, Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan. Notice the shirt under the sundress?

As temperatures warm in Ohio, it’s natural to see girls and women wearing shorts. Many women find shorts cooler and more comfortable than pants. IFB congregants sweat just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, so it stands to reason that Fundamentalist girls and women want to wear cooler, more comfortable clothing too. However, shorts are verboten. Some girls and women will wear sundresses. Polly wears sundresses to this day. Never one to wear shorts, she spends most summers wearing colorful sundresses. Because sundresses tend to show side boob and cleavage, IFB girls and women — Polly included, at the time — wear sleeved T-shirts underneath their dresses. I often find myself smiling when I see Polly wearing a sundress today — sans a tee shirt. Damn girl, that’s some mighty fine cleavage. I know, I am so w-o-r-l-d-l-y. 🙂 All praise be to Loki for breasts!

Many IFB preachers encouraged church girls and women to wear what is commonly called in the movement, Baptist shorts. Baptist shorts are culottes. Almost every IFB girl and woman has several pairs of these pastor-approved “shorts.” Usually, culottes are loose-fitting, especially around the legs. Reaching to the knees, culottes are meant to be comfortable, “modest” clothing. That said, many IFB girls and women HATE wearing culottes. When worn in public, culottes are a blaring, flashing sign that says to the world, I’m a member of the IFB cult! The same goes for shoe-top length skirts or maxi dresses. Polly and I can spot IFB families (and homeschoolers) from a mile away. The “uniforms” and the hairstyles give away their religious identity. Of course, their preachers think this is wonderful. Christians are SUPPOSED to look different from the world, IFB preachers say, but why is it that it is only women who look different; that IFB boys and men tend to look just like their counterparts in the world? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

As an IFB pastor, I held to the party line on Baptist shorts for many years — that is, until two events forced me to change my mind.

One late spring day, I drove up from Somerset, Ohio to the Newark Baptist Temple to talk to Pastor Dennis. Our oldest two children were attending the church school — Licking County Christian Academy — at the time. As I drove into the church’s main parking lot, I noticed four teen girls bent over pulling weeds out of the flower beds. These girls were cheerleaders. Typical of IFB schools at the time, the cheerleaders were not permitted to wear short skirts. Instead, the girls wore red culottes. What set them apart was the fact that their culottes were quite tight, so much so that I could have bounced a quarter off their backsides when they were bent over. I thought at the time, I thought culottes were supposed to be modest. These are NOT modest!

Several years later, we gathered up the teens from several churches and took them to Loudonville, Ohio for a canoe trip. The girls from my church begged me to let them wear pants, but being the stern pastor I was at the time, I said no. The trip was a blast. Most of the teenagers spent more time in the water than out. By the time teens debarked, they all looked like drowned rats. As was our custom, I gathered all the teens up and had them sit on the ground so I could preach at them. IFB Rule #6 — Thou shalt not have fun without spending time listening to a boring sermon. As the teens settled into their seats on the ground, I turned to speak to them and was astounded by what I saw. On the front row were a dozen or so Baptist-shorts-wearing girls. Legs splayed wide, I could see their underwear. Worse yet, an afternoon in the water made their T-shirts see-through. I quickly asked the girls to put their legs down and then I preached my sermon. I later told Polly that I no longer believed that Baptist shorts were appropriate for outdoor events. From that moment forward, church teens and women were permitted to wear pants to such events. I know, I know, no big deal, right? Remember the context, and where I was at that point in my life. Deciding to let girls and women wear pants in some circumstances was a monumental decision. As time went along, my views on clothing liberalized, so much so that I stopped preaching about the matter.

In the Gerencser home, change came slowly. Polly was in her mid-40s before she wore her first pair of pants. It had taken me months to convince her that she was not going to go to Hell if she wore them. Today, Polly is a confirmed member of the sisterhood of the traveling pants. Her Baptist shorts? She continued to wear them when working in the garden or painting. Once they wore out, they were pitched into the trash, never to be seen again.

Did you wear Baptist shorts? Did your church permit members to wear shorts? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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  1. Avatar

    I would never be caught in “Baptist shorts”, ever.

    Full disclosure… I have broken every single one of the modesty rules above. Multiple times, but I do admit to adhering to the no underwear lines rule, although perhaps not in the way the rule intended. 😁😉😈

    But, the good news is, since I am a non-binary person, these rules do not apply. And, since I am already a full fledged abomination, I am not sure these rules are the worst thing a Christian will feel compelled to judge about me.

    Certainly evangelical pastors should not be giving fashion advice, I have seen what they wear and, well, I should not criticize, but…WTF. Are there classes in church to teach men to dress in the worst style possible?

    When I was a 17/18 year old preachers kid, our youth group went to an amusement park and I, with my fathers approval, wore shorts. Apparently that caused a hole to open up and suck me, my father, and the entire church directly into the deepest part of hell. It’s amazing that such a small amount of cloth can create a gigantic explosion of condemnation from a crowd of hypocrites. They should be more careful..the preachers kids know a lot of things about a lot of people.

    Ok, fine, I admit the shorts were short shorts, but it was the style then. Everyone wore them and no one batted an eye.

    Now, does anyone want to talk about the interesting, suggestive comments I have received from nice upstanding Christian men when minding my own business while wearing shorts, or leggings, or skirts, or almost anything?

  2. Avatar

    I know this story is supposed to be humorous, but I get a sick feeling when IFB leaders claim immodest clothing causes incest in families. My sister was a social worker. She told a story of a six month old baby who had been orally penetrated so many times it refused to be fed with a bottle when it was removed from the home. Six months old! Are these preachers so sick they blame clothing for the abuse of an infant? That was only one of my sister’s horror stories. Child abuse has nothing to do with clothes, but the sexual predator priests and preachers must protect themselves from those evil, sinful babies, right? Sorry this is so gruesome, but it shows how silly church rules can cause victim blaming to cover for bad clergy members.

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    Karuna Gal

    Daphne Kirkland’s inclusion of an x-ray of a knee joint in her article is puzzling. They didn’t have x-ray machines in Biblical times. How does the x-ray prove that this is truly where the lower thigh begins? Or did she throw it in to give “scientific” authority to her arbitrary definition of where the lower part of the thigh begins? I went to’s English/Hebrew dictionary and looked up the Hebrew definition of “thigh.” According to this dictionary, the anatomical meaning of “thigh” in Hebrew is “The upper leg, between the hip and the knee.” So Kirkland got that wrong, for sure. 😉

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    Neil Rickert

    As a teenager, I already came to the conclusion that the Biblical dress codes and dietary codes were cultural standards rather than God’s standards. So I never took them seriously.

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    I do despise religious based dress and dietary codes. I had so many discussions with my mom about the ridiculous dress code at the fundamentalist Christian school I was sent to. The info graphic you included above covered much of the dress-code instructions communicated to us at the beginning of each school year. The 1st day of school included a meeting of all the middle school and high school kids separated by gender. We girls were told much of this info (not the thigh thing, that’s new) with instructions on how to do a mirror check before leaving home. I am not sure what the boys talk covered, but their dress code was simpler than ours: jeans or pants with shirt tucked in and belt, a haircut info graphic (no facial hair allowed), and no American flag or vulgar message clothing. Girls were allowed to wear pants to extracurricular sports events, but never jeans because denim apparently becomes evil on women unless it’s a dress, skirt, jacket, or jumper.

    It was the 80s, so the boys’ soccer and basketball uniforms included shorty split shorts. Girls’ basketball and volleyball teams wore Bermuda shorts. Cheerleaders wore long culottes. Our school gained notoriety because our founder forfeited a game because the visitors’ Cheerleaders wore short skirts. The story made the newspaper!

    I despise gender based religious clothing rules. I am happy to see women in Iran with the courage to face arrest for not wearing a headscarf as part of #womanlifefreedom in defiance of Iran’s theocratic oppressive regime. I fear that the US is headed toward theocratic oppressive regime itself.

    The lawsuit of E. Jean Carroll against Trump reminded me of all those tropes female victims of sexual assault face regarding what were you wearing, eating, drinking, saying, laughing about, where were you, etc, all ideas baked into society blaming women at least partially for sexual assault. Rape culture is still alive and well, and saying “that was 30 years ago” doesn’t negate the wrong that was done.

    Fundamentalist religions have in common demonizing and trying to control women’s bodies. It’s disgusting. We aren’t the problem. And sexual assault isn’t about our clothes, location, beverage choices, or talking/laughter. It’s not about us, we are just often the targets.

  6. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Orthodox (with or without the capital “O”) belief systems have such an obsession with women’s bodies and clothing. The ostensible reason is, whether or not they say it, that men and boys are completely ruled by their sexual impulses. (That, of course, assumes that all of the men and boys are hetero.)

    Neither of these stories has anything to do with IFB or Baptist churches in general. But they relate to the topic at hand.

    First: My friendly neighborhood Jehovah’s Witness pamphleteer. The first time he tried to hand me a tract, he was staring at my legs. Yes, I was wearing a skirt. And heels. I think the skirt and whatever else I was wearing–even the heels–would have passed muster with any IFB preacher, my old Evangelical church or even the Hasidic rabbis in nearby Brooklyn. (I was coming from, or going to, something work-related.) But, as I walked away, the man said, “You know, God gave you very nice legs.” I have seen him a number of times since, and his head somehow turns toward my lower extremities.

    Second: Visitors to the Angkor Wat are asked not to touch the stone carvings, as some have been worn by tourists–especially the carvings of divine nymphs and celestial dancing girls in the Banetay Srei temple (“the temple of women”). A woman at the information desk confirmed that I was seeing what I thought I saw: more erosion on a certain part (guess which one) of each female figure. I guess that is proof that those poor, weak Christian, Muslim, Hindu and whatever-else men and boys simply couldn’t help themselves. (Snark)

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Ah, culottes !! Those 70’s fashions, hadn’t thought of those in so long. I bought a pair or two because they were popular. But I always felt if you are wearing skirts and heels, men would actually see MORE of your body or form, than pants show. Legs for sure. But for floor length dresses and skirts this was the case anyway. Pentacostal sects still require you wear long dress or skirts. Never did hear of Baptist shorts though- that’s a first ! Sounds pretty silly.🤣

  8. Avatar
    W.W. Jacobs

    Hmm. Yeah, I wasn’t … “forbidden” is too strong a word, but I was definitely discouraged from wearing shorts to church in the summer, lest young eyes pull on their mother’s sleeve and ask, “Mommy, what’s wrong with that boy’s leg?”

    A few years back I was shown a picture from a weekend youth retreat I had attended when I was probably 16 or 17. I was dumbfounded to see me wearing shorts in the picture, which may well speak to how “safe” I considered that group to be, because I know of exactly four pictures taken of me past the age of seven where I am wearing shorts. That was one, one was taken in the safety of my childhood home, a third was when I traveled to the Grand Canyon in July with a friend who is also an amputee, and the fourth was pretty much the only time I deliberately wanted my leg on display – waiting outside a major-league clubhouse and hoping a guy named Jim Abbott would autograph my baseball when he came out – which he did, and also posed for a picture with me.

  9. Avatar

    Saying “immodest” clothing causes incest is a neat way to get an abuser off the hook. “I couldn’t help it, she was wearing X.” This violates boundaries by making one person responsible for controlling the actions of another when the other made the choice to do what they did. And from the standpoint of pure logic, it’s an example of spurious cause and effect.

  10. Avatar
    Brocken However those shorts ( whether culottes or not) are too short to withstand the Judgement Seat of Christ and they won’t protect you from the fire of Hell. The shorts are too short to protect a fair lady from the lustful eyes of men. This I got from the Baptist Examiner of July 8 1961. Also, those in heaven will be wearing longer garments of white.

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