Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Distinction

I'm re-posting this series I did on Women's Fashion. This post originally was from January 12, 2009.

I've been studying and researching women's dress for a while now. I guess it really started about 2 or 3 years ago, but lately I've really been interested in how we got where we are today.

When I first began reading blogs, the argument of "dresses only" was brought to my attention. I had never heard of such a thing except in thinking of our Pentecostal friends growing up. I was completely unaware that there were many Christian women who considered pants to be sinful. This really was news to me! I studied the scriptures and looked at the arguments they presented. I couldn't come to the same conclusion. Oh, I agree that many, many pants are immodest and some skirts are too. I know for some it is an issue of (believed) Biblical mandate, and for others, modesty is the cited reason for their wardrobe choices. I laid the issue to rest, satisfied that I had studied scriptures about it.

But I haven't been able to completely shake it from my mind.

And it's not because I gained some new insight into scripture and guess what? it really does say we are supposed to wear only dresses! because...I don't believe that.

Still, there was something about it all. What was it?

The first time I heard that pants were sinful I was really thrown for a loop. WHAT? Women have worn pants for as long as I can remember. I was photographed with Santa when I was nearly 2 wearing blue corduroy overalls. (And yes, Santa did think I was a boy.) What exactly is the issue? Women have "women pants" and men have "men pants", right?

Then I heard about distinction and things started making a bit more sense. God created Adam and Even differently. I'm thinking since they were originally wearing no clothes, that distinction was glaringly obvious to them! There was no shame in their nakedness until sin entered the picture. So imagine, if you will, Adam in his birthday suit. He's been working in the Garden for a while now, he's named all the animals and no suitable helper was found for him. He was incomplete. God caused Adam to fall asleep and took one of his ribs and formed the woman. Now when Adam wakes up, there is beautiful, soft, curvy Eve, also in her original birthday suit. How beautiful she must have looked to Adam! God created her to be attractive to him, no doubt. He also made her to be a suitable helper for him--a purpose completely different than Adam's.

Can you agree with me that God made the two sexes distinctly different from each other? Not only were Adam and Eve looking at physical differences between the two of them, but they were created for entirely different purposes! When they were punished and sent out of the Garden, they were given entirely different curses. These two people...representative of all men and women to come...were very, very different from one another. God recognized this, and surely so did Adam and Eve.

Now let's flash forward to today--to 2009. The women's liberation movement has left it's big 'ol footprint on our society in so many ways that honestly, we don't even recognize it sometimes. For women my age and younger, well, we grew up with feminism. "Anything boys can do girls can do better!" is what we sang on the playground. When I was teaching they sang, "Girls rule, boys drool." Heaven knows what they are saying now! Feminism has affected our families, jobs, marriages, country, churches, government, children, the statistics of our population, and yes...our fashion. It's not even possible to discuss women's clothing and not include a study on the history of feminism.

But today I only want to make one point: God created men and women differently. Originally, there was a distinction. Guess what? There still is no matter how badly some would like to erase that fact. No matter what we say goes in marriage and family--only females can have babies--and you still need a male to participate in the making of that baby in some capacity. Physically, we are still different although we try to hide that fact with our clothing.

Do you suppose if women could totally mask the differences seen with the naked eye, then they would be treated as equal? Of course not! Women who join the military must have some things different. No matter how much they would prefer to be treated "just like any other soldier", women have their per*ods while they are in combat. I cannot even imagine that! Women who are soldiers get pregnant. Women who are soldiers are NOT able to do the same physical tasks that men can do.

You can dress like a man, talk like a man, walk like a man, hold a job like a man....but you are still a woman. We have smudged it, but it cannot be erased.

That's my point today. BUT, the crazy, mind-blowing part of all this is....

...people saw this coming!

I borrowed a book called Women Are Wonderful! A History in Cartoons of a Hundred Years With America's Most Controversial Figure. I'm giving full credit for this book, which was published in 1956 and edited by Cole and Robinson. I would like to share a few cartoons from this book with you.
The caption on this first one says, "In some cases it's hard to tell whether they're boys or girls--except by the earrings."
That cartoon above is from the late 1920's and was making fun of "the short skirts and boyish figures" popular during that time. Of course women weren't actually walking around looking that much like men, but the cartoonist saw the road ahead. Perhaps they thought they were only joking!

The woman in this next cartoon, from 1945 says: "I bet you're glad to see an American girl after those horrible savages in the Pacific." And of course, the young man is stricken. I have to say, this cartoon was just a bit convicting. I understand completely how this young sailor would have loved to come home to a lovely feminine girl and just look what he got! How is that different from my husband coming home at the end of the day? Gulp!

Amelia Bloomer popularized the baggy pantaloons worn under skirts that were intended to allow women to participate in more activities. They didn't catch on quite so well at first and were quite shocking to many.

Interesting to me that this cartoonist from the late 1800's saw much further down the road. I would have really thought that women were just fighting for dress reform. But if a cartoonist could see the end result of these changes, did the women (and their husbands) involved in the reform efforts also see the end result? It is entitled "The Bloomer Girl's Wedding."

And the book says, "A picture to put the fear of God into any man in 1896." But really, are you that shocked by it today?
Some think of it as purely a fashion thing. But I think it speaks of so much more.
What do you say about distinction between the sexes?


  1. Those are some excellent points, Brenda! I wear skirts frequently, but not because of a conviction, exactly. Mostly because of the distinction issue, and my DH likes the more feminine look. I wear pants as well, without any guilt - I just make sure DH and I agree they are modest enough. The one thing I have noticed, however, is when I am wearing a skirt (I only wear calf or ankle-length skirts) out in public, I get alot more respectful attention from men - doors being held open, asking if I need help with anything, etc. And not in a "come-on" way. ;-) When I go out in pants, I get ignored! I think men naturally respond more masculine-ly (is that a word?) to a feminine looking woman, it brings out the chivalry that feminism has tried to squash.

  2. So much good info. I'll be back later to comment further, after I think about your question some.

  3. This is something I've thought about a lot over the years. I keep going back & forth. I'm a mom of three boys. I find that they treat me differently when I'm wearing a skirt - they notice! My husband prefers dresses/skirts but doesn't ask me to wear them. He notices when I do as well. I've tried going dresses only to see how I would do - sometimes it's okay but sometimes I just long for a pair of pants! ;-) Great research. More food for thought.

  4. I personally think that women should dress like women and men like men. I wear dresses for the most part but I do own three pair of pants and I do wear them on occassion. And in my home in the evening I wear lounge pants.
    I find that when I wear my dresses/skirts it is a reminder to me that I am different. That God created me to be feminine and to use those gifts according to His will.

  5. Ya know, I'm so annoyed. Why can't I explain things so clearly?! :) Seriously, this is one of the best explanations on women's dress I've ever read!

    Oh - and now you can't tell them apart just because of the ear-rings!

  6. BTW - this was so good, I had to link to it from my blog. Thanks for saving me from writing my own post!:)

  7. Thanks Victoria--you have no idea how long this rolled around in my head before I coudl even decide where to start!!!!

  8. Yes, this is a topic that really bugs me. I knew almost nothing about it until about a year ago.

    After reading all those websites about dresses only, I tried it for a month or so. My husband bought me 6 new dresses, and told me that he didn't think I was going overboard.

    It was summertime, so, it was not so bad. We took a trip back east to visit grandma. While there, she asked me to get her something from the attic. Not wanting to "flash" her when I climbed up the ladder steps, I put on a pair of jeans.

    When I got done helping her, my husband looked at me and said, "You know, I like you in pants. You look relaxed, and I like you to look relaxed."

    My younger son also said he prefers me in pants. So, now I'm back to pants most of the time.

    It is hard to wear dresses in the winter time, because we don't have very full skirts with loads of petticoats underneath them. Pantyhose and tights or long johns are uncomfortable. I might try ankle-length petti-pants (from the Penney's catalog), though.

    Yeah, I can't make up my mind about this one, or very long hair, either. Seems like a great idea and maybe the right thing to do, but actually doing it is another thing. Same thing with wearing a hat to church. I'd be the only one, and draw unwanted attention to myself.

    Plus, I don't want people to think I belong to some cult, as I'm out weeding my garden in a skirt.

    I don't want to feel like I am wearing a "little house on the prairie" costume.

    Yes, I'm out to lunch on this one.

  9. Okay, I've mulled this a bit and here's my take.

    1) The cartoons you found are wonderful, and yes, very telling. That there were people with the forward sight to see this coming should be no surprise, and it also sort of puts to death the notion that the sort of androgyny we see all around us got it's start in the 1960's. The movement simply "gave birth" during the 60's, but had been "in utero" if you will, for a long, long, time. So you enlightened me on that front.

    2) I had a hard time thinking of any distinctions between the sexes that you didn't articulate beautifully in your post, so on that front let me just ditto yur thoughts. This was SO well written.

    3) On the matter of women and their dress: I have, over the past year, been gradually increasing the number of skirts I wear, though I don't know that I will ever be the "dresses only" type. The biggest challenge I am finding is encouraging my teenage daughters to wear dresses. They understand and appreciate the fact that skirts/dresses are uniquely feminine and the need to embrace their femininity. Thing is, they go to school. You were a teacher so I don't think further elaboration is necessary. So it's a struggle for them. They wear jeans 6 days a week, and only wear dresses to church about half the time, which is a recent improvement! Thankfully, since my little girls will, God willing, NEVER step foot through a public school door, they are already in the habit of wearing dresses, though I don't make them wear them every day. Skirts and the monkey bars aren't the best combo, you know. But they, like me, wear them at least half the time.

    This was a good, though provoking post Brenda. Thanks for writing it.

  10. I've heard this argument too...always in a last ditch attempt to convince me that wearing pants was sinful. I know that's not what you are trying to do which is why I can be more open-minded about this. Before I was saved and I was being religious, I was skirts only, and I didn't cut my hair etc. It's wonderful to see a woman like you that can do it and not be judgmental about it.

    However, personally I don't think the "distinction" argument is a very good one for why women ought not to wear pants. People try and tell me that it is because pants started off as mens clothing. Ok, I can accept that. But pantyhose, tights, blouses and t-shirts also all started off as mens clothing, yet somehow we think they are distinct womens clothing now. So why are people so inconsistent to pick on pants and make those the way they choose to make the distinction instead of all the other articles of clothing that used to also be mens clothing that are now womens clothing too?

    I'm strict KJV only, so if you aren't, this argument might not apply so much to you. But, if you look up the word "skirt" in a King James Bible, the person wearing the skirt is ALWAYS a man in every instance. We don't believe in going "back to the Greek or Hebrew" either, so to us, if the Bible says skirt it means just that. But like I say, if you are not KJV only, this argument probably won't apply.

    Your post is well thought out and well presented and the least judgmental presentation I've ever seen of this. It just baffles my why the Christian community picks on pants rather than all those other clothing items. Can you imagine asking the women to give up their t-shirts?

    My husband says skirts are the most feminine and he prefers them, which is why I wear them most of the time. But I also wear pants that he likes and he thinks that certain styles of jeans are very feminine too because they show that I have curves without showing off too much of said curves. He says it is natural and feminine for a woman to have curves.

    I hope I haven't offended you Brenda, there was none intended. Just wanted to share my thoughts also.

  11. Mrs. W--you bring up some really good points. No offense taken! :) I am not nearly through discussing this--it was just the introduction!

    And just to make sure I was clear...I do not believe pants are sinful. I was wearing them when I wrote this!

    And, by the way..on a funny note. Right after I got up from writing this I walked through the room and my 5 year old said, "Mommy, you look like Daddy because you have on jeans and a shirt." Ironic, no?

    But I will be addressing some of the things you brought up!

  12. Great research, Brenda.
    I can tell instead of following an "ideal instinct", you have thought hard about this and searched the Scriptures for your belief. that's what I like.

    YES! Men and women were CREATED differently. Even that "pregnant man". He says he is a man, and dresses like a man, but every cell in HER being screams she is a woman.No matter how many surgeries or fake hormones she takes. Evidenced by her becoming pregnant.

    Personally, I like to celebrate my femininity. Mostly for my husband's sake. Mind you I LOVE pants!!!!!
    I try to stay away from extremes. To only wear dresses and be legalistic about it is just as dangerous as trying to dress "boyish". I strive to achieve a healthy balance, based on the Word of God.

  13. Well thought out, Brenda... I'm even pushing into school time this morning to finish reading all this (:
    Isn't it interesting that this is becoming a topic of thought again- not in a legalistic way, but with the thought of the beautiful distinction between men and women that really does need to be expressed.
    Pants, in my case are sooo much more practical... but I have been also thinking about updating my wardrobe to be more feminine again... I miss it (:

  14. Brenda, thanks for the build-up to this post. Although this has been a creation-long struggle between the sexes fallen, your perspective is brilliant. Skirts and dresses can truly be an outward sign of the throne-ward leaning heart. Distinction is a beautiful thing, and being a woman, even more.

    By the way--TAG--you're it!

  15. I loved this post Brenda. I'm not sure what I really think about the whole pants/skirt thing, but I really appreciate all your work you put into this. It was really interesting.


  16. What a thought-provoking post! I'm stunned at the cartoons from the 1940's and beforehand!!! I never knew that!!!!!! :O

    Thanks for this - I'm gleaning much from your series, Dear.

  17. This is a very timely post for our family! My daughter (12) has been reading this book
    and has decided she wants to wear skits as often as she can. This was a bit shocking to me as I have never pushed the issue and she only owned 1 skirt! So we heade to the thrift store and she now has 5 long skirts. Having never really worn them before it took a bit of getting used to seeing her in them! We live in a cold climate, so we got her some of those footless leggings that are (back) in style now. She likes to wear them because, she seems to get more attention from her friends that are boys(in a good way,opening doors,pulling out chairs for her etc...) which is all very new to her, but has confirmed her commitment to skirts!
    As her mom,and a former feminist/military lady, I tend to be painfuly aware of how boyish I can look. I tend to feel a bit convicted when I see her in them so often because I only own 2 skirts! I am a slacks/jeans person,however I too have noticed that I am treated differently in a skirt.
    I guess, for me it boils down to what my husband perfers me in, his preference is for me to be comfortable in whatever I choose to wear. When My daughter marries,her husband may prefer her to be in skirts, as help meets I feel we can show respect for our husbands that way.
    My 2 cents...Thanks!


I don't get to talk to a lot of actual grown-ups during the day, so your comments make me really happy! :)