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        Christian Clothing                                                                    (PDF version here)


Scripture Standards for Dress and Conduct



4. Men’s Clothing

Since the role and physical structure of men is by God’s ordination different from that of women, men’s clothing should be distinctively adapted for manly physique and activity. In Scripture the man’s dress was more suited to outdoor life, travelling and hard physical work than that of women, as evidenced by the practice of girding up the loins:

And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel (I Kings 18:46); Then answered the LORD unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me (Job 40:6, 7, cf. Exod. 12:11; II Kings 4:29, 9:1; Jer. 1:17; Luke 12:35-37; I Peter 1:13).

The latter statement is repeated in Job 38:3, which Matthew Poole explains as follows: “Gird up now thy loins; as warriors then did for the battle. Prepare thyself for the combat with me.”[1] As indicated in God’s words to Job on this occasion, girding up the loins was invariably a custom pertaining to men alone, by which they would have “their long garments tucked up (which otherwise would hang about them, and hinder them)”;[2] whilst on the other hand we infer from Isaiah 47:2, 3 that for women, any raising of the skirts was a disgrace. The word used in Job 38:3, 40:7 and Deuteronomy 22:5 for “man” is rbg (geber), which tends to denote a “valiant man or warrior”,[3] whereas the word used in Deuteronomy 22:5 for “woman” is hva (ishshah), which is the feminine of vya (iysh), the ordinary word for any man. Hence, the Hebrew grammar in the phrase, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man”, shows us that especially forbidden to women is the costume of an active man: the “long garments which they tucked up when they went about earnest business”,[4] the shorter robe, and the trousers worn as an outer covering by workmen, soldiers, sailors, horsemen, etc., in many ancient and modern cultures.

Men’s robes being of such a style, and being worn in such a manner, as was conducive to their being girt up to free the wearer for action is one of the most frequently cited distinctives of men’s apparel in Scripture, and it contradicts the common argument for “women’s trousers”, which is as follows: “As men and women of Bible times all wore robe-like garments, so modern women may wear trousers as men do, so long as the trousers are different in style from men’s.” It should firstly be noted that the current “differences” in apparel are so minor as to be generally unobservable, except that women’s outfits tend to be closer-fitting and altogether less concealing. But secondly, until after the entrenchment of Higher Criticism and other heresies in the churches, and the loss of faith in God’s Word, the distinctive clothing of women was never merely a modified imitation of whatever men might be wearing, but a full-length robe, so styled as to conceal the body and provide proper covering down to the ankles or feet, as we shall see.

Conversely, very long robes worn by men were an addition to the essential garments (Luke 20:46) and were, along with other flowing, outer garments worn in those Eastern lands, considered an encumbrance to a man on a serious errand. This is seen in the actions of blind Bartimæus, the son of Timæus, who, “casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:50, cf. Acts 7:58). Matthew Henry explains: “The poor man, hereupon, made the best of his way to Christ; He cast away his loose upper garment, and came to Jesus (v. 50); he cast away every thing that might be in danger of throwing him down, or might in any way hinder him in coming to Christ, or retard his motion. Those who would come to Jesus, must cast away the garment of their own sufficiency . . .”[5] Mr Henry then proceeds to speak of “the sin that, like long garments, doth most easily beset them, Heb. 12:1”.

By the same token John Calvin says, “We know that orientals use flowing tunics and long robes, so that they cannot execute any business without putting off their garments.”[6] Although the nobler sort of men often wore long robes (Mark 16:5), these were not essential as a covering and were different from the woman’s outer robe. Even in our day, the long ceremonial robes worn by a prince, and the gown of a judge, are quite distinguishable from a woman’s dress or long skirt and blouse. Our Lord warned the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces” (Mark 12:38, cf. Luke 20:46). Matthew Henry says of such men:

They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.[7]

Long garments, as well as the rest of the wardrobe, are misused by men who indulge in excessive elegance, luxury and softness. Such vices are to be shunned – in men they are breakages of the rule of Deuteronomy 22:5. James Durham (1622-1658) elaborates:

There is in clothes a base effeminateness amongst men (which some way emasculateth or unmanneth them) who delight in those things which women dote upon, as dressing of hair, powderings, washings, (when exceeded in), rings, jewels &c. which are spoken of, and reproved in the daughters of Zion, Isa. 3. and so must be much more unsuitable to men. Also interchanging of apparel is condemned; men putting on women’s, and women men’s clothes, which is unsuitable to that distinction of sexes which the Lord hath made, and is condemned in the word, as a confusion, an absurd, unnatural thing, and an inlet to much wickedness. Whereof the Dutch annotators, as several fathers did long before them, on I Cor. 11:14. make men’s nourishing and wearing of long hair to be some degree [i.e., crime], it being given to women, not only for an ornament and covering, but also in part for distinction of the female sex from the male.[8]

Though men are cautioned against pride in the wearing of dignified long garments, such are the standards of modesty required in the Sacred Records that a man wearing only an inner garment is said to be naked. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes this inner tunic:

It was a closely-fitting garment, resembling in use and form our shirt (John 19:23). It was kept close to the body by a girdle (John 21:7). A person wearing this ‘coat’ alone was described as naked (I Samuel 19:24; Isaiah 20:2; II Kings 6:30; John 21:7).[9]

According to the same dictionary, a Hebrew man would also wear another, longer tunic over the inner “coat” (I Samuel 2:19, 24:4, 28:14; Matthew 10:10; Luke 9:3), and over that an outer garment consisting of a “piece of woollen cloth like a Scotch plaid . . . confined to the waist by a girdle, and the fold formed by the overlapping of the robe served as a pocket (II Kings 4:39; Psalm 79:12; Hag. 2:12; Proverbs 17:23, 21:14)”.[10] Thus biblical truth teaches us that, while taking account of the climate and customs of each land, men must be decently dressed in clothing that covers the body and is not tight-fitting. Although God’s Word emphasises the virtue of modesty in women, there is also, without doubt, great shame in the uncovering of a man (Gen. 9:23; II Sam. 10:4, 5; I Chron. 19:4, 5; II Cor. 5:3; Rev. 16:15). For this reason the Lord commanded Moses to make linen breeches for Aaron and his sons, which were a form of trousers worn under the robe, to cover the body “from the waist to a little above the knee”.[11] The Lord appointed the priests’ trousers in these words:

And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him (Exod. 28:42, 43).

“They are particularly ordered, in their ministration,” notes Matthew Henry of these priests of the Lord,

to wear linen breeches, v. 42. This teaches us modesty and decency of garb and gesture at all times, especially in public worship, in which a veil [for women] is becoming, I Cor. 11:5, 6, 10. It also intimates what need our souls have of a covering, when we come before God, that the shame of their nakedness may not appear.[12]

While the various robes and turbans of the priests were made “for glory and for beauty” (Exod. 28:40), the breeches were necessary for decency, being given “to cover their nakedness” (v. 42). John Gill says that these breeches “were to reach above the navel near the heart, and to the end of the thigh, which is the knee, as Maimonides says; who also observes, that they had strings, but had no opening before or behind, but were drawn up round like a purse; they were a sort of drawers, and somewhat like our sailors' trousers.”[13]  

Ezekiel, too, was told that the priests “shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins” (Ezek. 44:18, cf. Exod. 39:28; Lev. 6:10, 16:4). The bonnet mentioned here “denotes properly a turban worn by priests”,[14] turbans being the typical headgear or hat of Hebrew men. So, in compliance with the divine order, the priests of the Lord wore linen turbans, and trousers made of the same material. Also, in common with all men not under vows, the priests were commanded neither to shave their heads nor to grow long hair: “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads” (v. 20). Matthew Henry observes that “they must be grave and modest, must poll their heads and keep their hair short. If a man, especially a minister, wear long hair, it is not becoming (I Cor. 11:14); it is effeminate.”[15] 

Therefore the priests’ costume was to be in the form of men’s garb; different from ordinary wear, and hallowed, but still of a manly style. By God’s ordination the priests wore short hair, turbans and robes in common with other Israelite men (cf. I Cor. 11:14; Ezek. 24:17; Luke 15:22), and although ordinary Jews were apparently not compelled to wear breeches, it is probable that those consecrated for the priests had their equivalents in the garments worn by common men. Such appears to have been the view of John Calvin, who remarks in his comments on Jeremiah 13:1-5, that the Hebrew word rwza, asur, or girdle in the Authorised (King James) Version,means not only the breeches which they then wore, but also a girdle or belt, according to what Isaiah says, when, speaking figuratively of Christ’s kingdom, that faithfulness would be the girdle of his loins (Isaiah 11:5). It may here, however, be taken for breeches as well as for a girdle.”[16] Knee breeches well accommodated the custom of girding up the loins and the practice of horse-riding, ensuring that the wearer would remain covered above the knee.  

Further, it appears from the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in Daniel 3:21, “Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace”, that Jewish men were not averse to wearing trousers as an outer garment after the manner of the Persians. “Hosen” is an old word for trousers or breeches; Matthew Henry says, “They were bound in their coats or mantles, their hosen or breeches, and their hats or turbans, as if, in detestation of their crime, they would have their clothes to be burnt with them.”[17] Again, it is apparent that men outside of the priestly order also wore trousers, whether under robes or as outer garments with their cloaks. Such styles are still in use in the Middle East, and have also been a tradition for millennia in much of Europe and Asia – men’s trousers playing a more prominent role in the costumes of those who relied on the horse for transport – while full-length dresses remained the garment of women.

Also exclusive to men was the cloak, an outer garment, which was different from the woman’s shawl and head covering. The apostle Paul told Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee” (II Tim. 4:13, cf. Exod. 22:26, 27; Matt. 5:40; Luke 6:29). In an age when men wore robes, John Chrysostom (AD c. 347–407), the Church Father born in Antioch, Syria, used the cloak as an example of a man’s article of clothing: 

For if exchange of garments be not lawful, so that neither she should be clad with a cloak, nor he with a mantle or a veil: (‘for the woman,’ saith He, ‘shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments:’) [Deut. 22:5] much more is it unseemly for these things to be interchanged.[18]      

Finally, the Lord reveals through Scripture and by nature itself that grown men are usually given a sign of their status in the form of a beard. While bearing in mind the obligation to neatness and common civility, it is worth considering that the men of the Old Testament church knew to appreciate the beard and understood its marring or removal to be shameful (Lev. 19:27, 21:5; I Sam. 21:13, 14; II Sam. 10:4, 5, 19:24, 20:9; I Chron. 19:4, 5; Ezra 9:3; Isa. 15:2; Jer. 41:5, 48:37). Note the pleasant and solemn references to Aaron’s beard in Psalm 133, a song that extols unity and brotherly love in Christ: “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments” (Psalm 133:2, cf. Psalm 45:7; Heb. 1:9; John 3:34). Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) – the Church Father renowned for his defence of the doctrines of grace – wrote a commentary on the Psalms, and on this passage he says:

What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution; but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered.[19]

Aaron was a type of our Messiah who was in all things made like unto his brethren (Heb. 2:17), and of whose words Isaiah prophesied, saying, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6). It was a part of the open shame suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ that His face was spat upon, and His beard torn out.

As nature itself teaches us (cf. I Cor. 11:14), this manly, paternal or patriarchal[20] bearing is not confined to the Levitical priesthood or the Old Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace. C. H. Spurgeon once gave his theological students a lecture “On the Voice”, and touching on the necessity of taking care of the throat he advised the young men against wrapping their necks in scarves, adding, “If you feel that you want something else, why, then grow your beards! A habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial.”[21]


[1] Matthew Poole on Job 38:3, Commentary, vol. 1, p1018.

[2] Matthew Henry on Luke 12:36, Commentary, vol. 5, p412. Note: “to gird” can mean simply “to clothe” oneself (Prov. 31:17; John 21:18 ).

[3] James Strong, ‘Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary’, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (Baker Book House, 1982), p25.

[4] Note on II Kings 9:1, Geneva Bible (1599).

[5] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 5, p302.

[6] John Calvin on Ezek. 4:7, Commentaries on Ezekiel, vol. 1 (Baker Books, 2003), p181.

[7] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 5, p309.

[8] James Durham, ‘The Seventh Commandment’, The Law Unsealed (Edinburgh, 1676), p308.

[9] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, 1897).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 1, p231.

[13] John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible. Maimonides, or Moses ben Maimon (AD 1135–1204), was a Jewish scholar and physician.

[14] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary.

[15] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 4, p1226.

[16] John Calvin, Commentaries on Jeremiah, vol. 2 (Baker Books, 2003), p160.

[17] Matthew Henry, Commentary, vol. 4, p1250. In the AV the Aramaic lbrs (sarbal) of Dan. 3:21 is translated as “coats”, and vyFp (pattiysh) becomes “hosen” or “trousers”. However, as this description of Persian costume has no equivalent in Scripture with which it may be compared, scholars have varied in their translations, some understanding sarbal to be “trousers”. Cf. Persian sherwal and Arabic sarwal, “trousers” – a traditional, commodious men’s outer garment worn in the Middle East.

[18] John Chrysostom, Homily 26, On the Veiling of Women.

[19] Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms.

[20] The Hebrew word for ‘beard’, ˆqz (zaqan), is derived from ˆqz (zaqen), an ‘elder’ or ‘old man’ (see ‘Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary’, no. 2206, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, p36).  

[21] C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, First Series, Lecture 8 (Baker Book House, 1981), p134.

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