Skirts vs. Pants- Majoring on the Minors

Apparently, in several circles there is a great debate raging over whether or not women should wear skirts or pants. Seriously.

This week I’ve read several different posts from different bloggers, Catholics, Protestants, conservative homeschoolers of both traditions, (surprise) and others are of the opinion that modesty and sincere faith in God require that a woman only wear skirts because pants are immodest.

In that vein I’ve also read several posts discussing modesty in general. I’ve already gone on at length about my thoughts regarding modesty in this post. Modesty Protects? But allow me to belabor the point just a little bit more, since everyone else still is.

First can we please just all agree that what is modest and what is not is an entirely arbitrary line that is drawn differently in every culture, subculture and country. To insist any differently, or that your view of what is or isn’t modest is the only correct one, is borderline xenophobic, and definitely ethnocentric. England, France, Australia, these countries have no problem with woman going topless in public. Hill tribe villages in Thailand believe teeth turned black by chewing beetlenut are beautiful and ancient wizened and withered old grandmothers walk around on hot days in nothing but a handwoven skirt. (I suppose they might pass since the clothed half is in a skirt rather than in pants.) They will also gather to watch the American guys in the outdoor shower to see if there really is an anatomical difference in certain areas. (Aaron and Sean experienced this first hand.) In the case of the hill tribes, most of this is really quite innocent, though shocking behavior for North America perhaps.

And yet, here in the United States there is heated debate over whether pants are too revealing, too enticing to men and should a sincere Christian woman be seen in them? WTB! What the Bloggess?

Which brings me to my second point. It is a dangerous trend I see for women to take upon themselves the responsibility for what is in the heart of a man. Yet that is what youth group leaders preach, that is what male pastors preach, that is what Muslim Imams preach. “You women don’t know how enticing your form is to men. You need to help them out by denying the beauty that God gave you and turn yourselves as plain and unattractive as possible. It is your fault that they struggle with unclean thoughts and actions. You as a woman, the way God made you, your very presence can defile a man. So it’s up to you to be careful.”

Personally? I find that line of thinking about as offensive as those who say a woman who is raped was asked for it based on how she was dressed.

Not only that, it’s demeaning and disrespectful of men, our sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers, first to shame them for noticing the female form in any way and appreciating it and second to equate them with little children, no more in control of themselves than a 2 year old, who thinks everything he sees belongs to him.

Alongside this blaming of women for what is in the hearts of men is the effective stripping away of men’s inherent dignity, nobility, and God given instinct to protect and treasure women. Seriously, how insulting, and how typically female of us to take on responsibility for something that is not really ours to be responsible for.

Suppose my son fails or struggles in an area, perhaps sports, he gets angry when he loses and hits someone. How helpful is it for me to pat him on the head and say, “There, there, I know you can’t help getting angry. It’s how your brain is wired. You were made that way and it’s really those other player’s fault that they aren’t being respectful of how you were made and what you struggle with. They should have let you win because now they’ve caused you to stumble again and that’s not biblical.”?

Yet that’s what we effectively say to Christian men when it comes to sexual temptation. “Because of the way God made you, you have no control over your thought life, and if only all women wore burqas, then you wouldn’t struggle so.”


“Because of how God made you, and through his spirit in you redeeming and renewing all parts of you, you can control your thoughts, you can be free of addiction, you can see the women around you as wonderful, precious, real human beings that you care about so much you can’t imagine demeaning them in such ways.”

Here’s a another question. What about the men who wish their wives would dress less modestly? For example, I dress far more “modestly” than Aaron would prefer. He buys me bustiers and corsets and absolutely loves it when I wear them out on a date, or a dress with a plunging neckline, usually borrowed. My usual standard of dressing is entirely detached from any desire to please my husband. Truthfully, it’s a mix of what I feel comfortable in and my concern for how other people perceive me and what they would say about me. Lets take that a step further. I’m dressing “modestly” based on other women’s standards not on mine or my husband’s. Which leads back to my first point about modesty being an entirely arbitrary sets of rules, often made up by women. *

What about the fact that my husband wears skirts, in the form of kilts, lungi and sarongs? How does that factor into this discussion? Modest or immodest? And while we’re discussing the guys for a moment let’s talk about this double standard of expecting our girls to wear skirts while our boys go shirtless. Men’s pants hug and bulge and reveal also. Perhaps they should all wear skirts as well. Why is the conversation always about women’s clothes? I am tired of hearing that men are more visual as an answer by the way. Woman are visual too. Women are tempted too. But the double standard remains. If we’re going to say it for one gender we should say it for both.

Here’s my 3rd point for today, and the most important I think. Do the people so seriously discussing this issue have any idea what they are doing to the gospel by worrying such small details to death? If God had a specific directive about how a woman dresses, I’m pretty sure he would have put into the Bible, “Woman should not wear pants.”

What is in there is a directive to women to not be obsessed with outward adornment, I’ll venture that the pants versus skirts debate is included, and rather let our beauty come from our character, and our heart. In other words, it’s what’s inside the heart of a woman that counts, not what’s on her body.

A wise man, aka my father in law Ken Blue, once said, “Be careful of those people who major on the minors, and minor on the majors. They are dangerous.”

For example, a person in Aaron’s extended family, while pastoring a very large and prominent church, wrote a book about manners, the importance of saying please and thank-you, etc. It was a best seller by the way. However, while he was writing this book, about the importance of manners in today’s society, he was simultaneously, quite politely I’m sure, cheating on his wife with his secretary.

Manners – relatively minor
Adultery – Somewhat major

Skirts vs Pants-relatively minor
Having a heart of compassion and gentleness, and good character – Somewhat major

Dressing “modestly” by the standards of the subculture you are in – relatively minor
Truly loving and caring about people – Somewhat Major

Spending the bulk of your time convincing other people that you are right about skirts vs pants – Relatively minor
Spending your time actively seeking to participate in the kingdom of God – Hugely major

So can we all just please stop with this whole discussion of what it is proper for a woman to wear? Could we maybe even trust the God who draws her to Him to teach her what she should do in that regard, just as he teaches each of us, even if it differs from person to person?

Could we direct all that passion towards something truly major and valuable? Maybe the orphan crisis, world hunger, human trafficking, injustice, clean water, kindness, dignity, love, and gentleness. There is a lot of good to be done, take your pick.

Or am I wrong? Is modesty a major issue? Am I missing something?

*I read that paragraph to Aaron and he very helpfully commented that “Of course it’s arbitrary, it’s made up by women.”

Here are a few reasonable and graceful posts that I enjoyed reading on this subject this week.

Grace for the Scantily Clad

Touching a Nerve

And Rachel Held Evans relevant, though not quite on topic, post

Idols of Paper and Ink

Update. I found this picture. It seemed to fit.

all content © Carrien Blue

26 thoughts on “Skirts vs. Pants- Majoring on the Minors

  1. I just found your blog and I love it!  SO TRUE….if only the passion could be used for something truly worthy!  Ugh!

  2. If, when I put on these pants that I am wearing this morning, it had occurred to me to try and find a pair that would accentuate every curve and be just low enough to hint and flirt – that would be one thing.  

    But, no, when I got dressed this morning, I put on the pants that would best serve me as I go about my day, homeschooling my kids, cooking and cleaning, gardening and mowing the lawn.  

    I know the difference.  Because as a teen, and as a 20 something, I did everything I could to attract attention to my lovely form, and tempt the men.  It was intentional, not subtle, and came from my own deep need to be seen and to feel valuable.  Thankfully, I came to know Jesus and His love for me, and that, over time, has changed my heart.  I now get my value from Him.

    On the other hand, I am also the lady at church who will (on weekly basis, it seems) quietly point out to the teen girl that when she sings up front at church on the raised platform, with that short a skirt on, the men, and my 11-year-old son at the front of the church can see her underwear.  Or the 20 something girl who when she sits at the potluck lunch, exposes the greater portion of her derriere for all to see.  I feel I am a prude sometimes.  But to me it matters that they are exposing their buttocks – in church or elsewhere.  That said, I have no problem with them wearing pants or skirts, so long as they adequately cover their bums.  

    Who am I to say what is adequately covered?  

  3. Wow, I didn't know people other than Mennonites got all excited about this topic!  I'm a "city Mennonite" which includes a lot of freedom while holding on to some things that are close to my heart.  I grapple with what is appropriate for my blossoming 12 year old daughter and I was just thinking the other day that part of what I don't allow comes from the response I see when she wears it.  It's a heart thing.  Having heard that we need to help protect guys all of my life I guess, that's a hard one to throw off.  I still feel responsible.  However, I think THEY are really responsible.  I wear pants all the time.  I try to wear less revealing things to work and I love dressing nicer for dates with my husband.  It's fun to wear "short" skirts in the summer – I feel feminine and cooler in the heat and they are – gasp – just below my knee! 🙂  Thanks for tackling a topic that I want to think about and teach as a mom, and yet keep balanced.

  4. Great post! I was never raised to worry much about modesty (and disclaimer, I live in Montana where it is a high of 56 today so I'm modest by default). I don't really get how skirts are more "modest" anyway. I think they are more "traditional" so if the goal is to get back to traditional gender roles, that's one thing. But don't try to guilt women into doing that by saying they aren't modest.

  5. I thought later, and I'll say it now in response to you Paisley that I
    think God will deal with women differently in this issue, based on
    what's in their heart. I'm sure some of what fuels this debate is that
    some women have been rightly convicted in this area regarding how they
    dress and what their intentions are. From that they infer that God is
    telling others to dress that way as well.

    That's not what you are saying though. 🙂

    And pointing out to a girl that her underwear is showing is just good
    manners. I'd want to know my underwear was sticking out. Especially on
    a a ratty underwear day. 🙂 Hemlines are so ridiculously short this
    season I can't imagine one could do anything without underwear
    showing. Perhaps these girls could discover leggings? 🙂 You could
    snap a phone pic to show them what you're talking about.

  6. Beth, my great grandmother was Mennonite too.

    I appreciate your grace filled grappling based on the holy spirit
    leading you in regards to your daughter without prescribing a one rule
    fits all action. We should all do that. Thanks.

    For my daughters, 7 and 4, I often wonder if I should let them wear
    skirts at all since they aren't that great at not showing me their
    underwear when they are wearing one, in spite of constant reminders
    not to sit like that. 🙂

  7. I have just had a very weird light bulb experience. YOUR father in law is Ken Blue. Sheesh. I just read his book and reviewed it yesterday. As I was reading it I thought…hmmm…the only other people I know of called Blue is Carrien's family. Ha and I don't even really know you! Anyway..what a great book. I'm so glad I read it.
    My brother recommended the book to me..he's in a church in Adelaide Australia and knows some mutual friends of your Dad-in-law. Weird…what a small world.
    (By the way…only indigenous Australian women can get away with walking around topless, and they don't walk around topless in the urban areas or even towns. It would only be those living a traditional lifestyle on tribal lands really. But this doesn't change anything…great post. Again.)

  8. Yeah, Ken goes to Australia a lot. They like him there and keep asking him
    to go back and speak. 🙂 It is a very small world. Cool.

    For some reason I thought Australia had topless beaches, which was what I
    was thinking about when I wrote it. Thanks 🙂

  9. Oh yes. You're right there are topless beaches. Not many, and it's not an every day thing. I forgot about that having never been to one 🙂

  10. I keep wondering why "custody of the eyes" never seems to come into the conversation for men?  It is a wonderful traditional practice….

  11. I had trouble with that too – I used to have her wear a skirt to church (I since decided that was entirely pointless) and it was so difficult to keep her modest.  She wears skirts as a school uniform and always wears short under it – so much more comfortable! 

  12. I am so thankful for women like you, who have the fortitude and mental clarity to flesh out issues like this.  I  have thought similar things, but have never fleshed them out to the extent that you have.  And upon reading this, I think, "Yes, yes.  This is what I think too…"

    So thank you, I appreciate it.  I can't pull out thoughtful posts like this on a regular basis, but I definitely feel thankful for those who can.  It is so good to hash through some of these things with rational-minded thinkers.

  13. I couldn't agree more with you.  I think the pants vs. skirt debate is ridiculous when it concerns modesty and holiness.  Wearing skirts wouldn't make me any holier than carrying a copy of the Torah would make me Jewish or wearing a stethoscope would make me a doctor. 

    Holiness comes from the inside out, not the other way around.  When we're filled with the Spirit and secure in God's love for us, those feelings are mirrored by the way we present ourselves to others.  That doesn't mean we can't look or feel sexy, but women who are secure in Christ know that sexy can be done tastefully.  Those who don't know Him well enough look for that security elsewhere.  Let's face it.  Nobody wears a beaver flashing skirt because it's comfortable.

    This piece was extremely well-written, my dear.  God has blessed you with a gift for writing and you are using it well.     

  14. Nicole, Thank-you. Your last sentence blessed me.

    I also love this, "Wearing skirts wouldn't make me any holier than carrying
    a copy of the Torah would make me Jewish or wearing a stethoscope would make
    me a doctor. "

    So true.

  15. Amen on so many levels–about disrespecting men, about it being a falsity that women are intended to guard the hearts of men everywhere. I probably wouldn't go so far to say it is "typically female" of us to take it on, because after all, it's men putting it upon us as well.  So much of it started with our early church fathers and their women-fearing views, which have found shape and form in debates over whether women should wear pants, or wear their hair down, or, or or. It's an exhausting debate. And you're right. It's minor league status as far as debates go.

  16. I do tend to put all females in the same basket I am in, and I do tend to
    take responsibility for things that aren't my job. You are right about men
    putting it on us too, but I find it interesting that I most often hear it
    from other women, not men. Of course, I talk to women more so that would
    make sense. 🙂

Comments are closed.