This post is a long overdue response to Alice’s following comment:
I wondered how you would respond to the argument that standards of what are masculine and feminine change between cultures. For instance, in China, women traditionally wore pajama-type garments (pants) and men wore robes; also white is the color of mourning, and black for a wedding. Again, in the Middle East, both men and women traditionally wore robes, although of somewhat different style, perhaps.
So how would you answer someone who says, in the 1800s there was definitely a difference between men and women as far as pants, but now the public conception has changed, so the application of this law has changed? I’ve also heard it said that women’s pants are cut differently, etc, so they count as specifically feminine.
So does modest and feminine clothing according to our faith in Jesus have a particular form? How far should culture inform what Christians wear? These are tough questions for me to answer. I’ll try to give my stance on this issue as completely as I can.
Most western Christian women have settled this question in favor of wearing only dresses and skirts as distinctly feminine and modest. In the United States, a woman so clothed is easily recognized as a religious person within the confines of our culture.
A woman who wears a hijab (headscarf) and long cloak-like garment is distinguishable as a Muslim, possibly from different country. If she is from Afghanistan or India, she may wear a salwar kameez outfit consisting a long tunic and loose pants. She is still considered modest and feminine.
From my experiences of other cultures, I believe that dresses and skirts are not the only way to be modest and God-honoring. To impose this standard on a woman who lives in a culture where this is not a norm would be extraneous or burdensome. Most every culture has a code of what is considered “proper” for women to expose and not. The women in a bush tribe in New Guinea may only wear a grass “apron” around their waist, but without it, they would feel as naked as we would with it.
I think women should find the more conservative end of their cultural standard and dress that way. For us in the United States, dresses are the way. If you have no idea of a cultural standard, because there hasn’t been one for a long time, find one that covers you from neck to below the knees. Men are still wired the same to be visually stimulated from the female’s body, no matter the shifting standards. This would include the crotch area, which is why salwar kameezes cover down to the mid-thigh, as well as most other costumes I’ve seen women wear.
A woman visiting a different culture should also be sensitive to what their standards are. I know the Vatican issues paper hospital-like gowns to improperly dressed tourists! How embarrassing to be so tagged as immodest in a religious setting.
Alice also expressed her concern over wearing scrubs pants for her profession. She can still try to choose feminine colors or patterns (if she’s allowed to choose) for her scrub tops. I know its hard to make those choices in one’s workplace, but God understands. She has a modest heart, which is the important thing. One can wear the”right” clothing and be lascivious in behavior.
As always, I’d love to know what you think!