The Question of Trousers

Our attention was recently drawn to a Guide to Confession which listed 'wearing pants' (trousers) as a sin for women. Women should wear skirts and cover their heads in church, but is wearing trousers in itself sinful? Would a female surgeon, police officer or firefighter wearing trousers be considered to be committing a sin? According to the strict interpretation in this Guide they would be, because wearing trousers is sinful for women. Unfortunately, life is not this simple. 

Orthodox Christians should try and dress modestly and with humility at all times. Skirts can themselves be immodest and revealing; wearing designer dresses or skirts costing thousands of pounds could not be considered humble. In addition, the skirt itself is not just woman's garment. The traditional Greek military uniform consists of a skirt-like garment called a foustanélla. Scottish regiments of the British Army also wear kilts although no longer in combat. Scottish soldiers were given the nickname 'The Ladies from Hell' by the Germans in WW1 due to their aggression in combat and the fact that their kilts made them look, from a distance, like women.

The same Guide also listed wearing bikinis as being sinful. This is perhaps more understandable, but again we need to consider not just clothing but actual sins. A young woman wearing a bikini on a family holiday is in a very different spiritual situation to a young woman (or man) going on a holiday to one of the many holiday resorts famous for drug taking and sexual immorality. 

These spiritual issues need to be confronted, and not just glossed over by declaring items of clothing sinful, or inventing pious stories to avoid the issue. Recently, we heard of an Orthodox teenager who had been told that she couldn't go swimming at school because swimming with non-Orthodox people would cause her to be 'un-baptized'. The actual reason was that the school was ill-disciplined and that the swimming pools had mixed changing rooms. All Orthodox parents surely would have withdrawn their child from this activity given the circumstances – there is no need to invent a new 'theology' to justify it!

We have touched briefly on modesty and humility. We also confess, by our dress, the difference between genders. In traditional Orthodoxy, men and women stand on different sides of the church even though we have the same faith. We do this because of the difference in gender not because women are inferior to men. Women wear skirts in church, but men do not (unless they happen to be in traditional Greek military uniform)! Women cover their heads in church, but men are not allowed to wear hats (except monks and clergy).

We can see that some aspects of our church dress are relaxed somewhat outside church. Men are not allowed to wear shorts in church, and in some monasteries men are required to wear long-sleeved shirts. Taking this to its logical conclusion, if women need to wear skirts outside church, then men should not wear T-shirts or shorts either!

Nevertheless, we must remember that our Orthodoxy should permeate our everyday life and our dress is part of this. Traditionally, Orthodox men grow beards or moustaches and they do not braid or adorn their hair. They do this out of obedience to Church tradition. As we have seen, the skirt is not a specifically female item of clothing and has no spiritual significance. Men and women should dress modestly and humbly, bearing in mind that we will not be protected from spiritual falls by simply dressing in a certain way. 

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