Women’s History Month: When did dresses become feminine?

This is a tunic. And a tunic is a dress.

During my latter primary school years and on into junior high, I lived up the street and around the corner from a “saved and sanctified” family.  (This is how my mother referred to that special brand of Christian folk whose women and girls never wore pants, trousers, shorts or any type of apparel that was neither dress nor skirt.) The family consisted of a mom, dad, four sons and one daughter.

Before I made the bold move to introduce myself and become her friend, I’d watch the girl (we’ll call her Jane) play with her brothers from afar. She climbed the White adler in their front yard right along with them. Rode bicycles up and down the street right along with them. Played stickball and tag right along with them. Raced  on foot to the stop sign  right along with them. Jane’s skirt never seemed to be a hindrance—which made me quite proud of her.

But the skirt also made me wonder…

The church Jane and her family attended believed very much in the Holy Trinity with Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior and all the other yadda that goes along with the Christian faith. But dresses were for women and pants were for men. This seemed rather odd to me since Jesus and the disciples and everyone else in Biblical times also wore dresses.

Okay, so their garb wasn’t called a “dress” then but rather a tunic, ketonet, chiton or tunica. Still, it was basically a dress which is defined as a “one-piece garment that covers the body and extends down over the legs.” So again, Jesus wore a dress. But Jesus was not a woman; He was a man and God’s only begotten son and all of that. That alone was proof enough for me as to why dresses weren’t just women’s garb. The “saved and sanctified” women-in-dresses-only rule was bull.

After I became friends with Jane, I asked her about it. She said that her parents told her that if Jesus had been born in modern times that He would have worn pants.  But I always felt like the sole child of a supreme deity should probably be able to wear whatever the hell He wanted. I mean…He changed water to wine and resurrected the dead. Why not show out like Billy Porter?

More importantly why would Sweet Jesus—who loved the world enough to die for it—care if a woman decided to wear a really nice pair of bell bottoms? When did clothing become gender-specific anyway? And exactly why are dresses now “only” for women? This article, A History of Trousers and Pants in Western Article reveals that both men and women of ancient eras both wore pants:

The Greek historian Herodotus mentions the Scythians wearing pants. Herodotus also mentions the Amazons (female warriors of Greek mythology as clad in trousers. An Amazon depicted on a vessel in 470 BC is obviously wearing pants.

Furthermore, this article The History of Men & Skirts reveals that Billy Porter’s sartorial choices are rather old-fashioned:

Skirts were the matter-of-fact wear of many of humanity’s most ancient civilizations, on both sides of the gender divide. Gauzy wraps and loincloths for Egyptians, togas denoting class and status for Greeks and Romans, ornate military costumes for Aztecs: many ancient costumes were based around the idea of the skirt, purely because they were easy to construct and created huge freedom of movement. Whether you were fighting, building, farming or engaging in some kind of religious ritual, skirts provided cheap and efficient use. Short skirts among soldiers from the height of the Roman Empire, noted an exhibition at the Met called “Braveheart: Men In Skirts,” were considered proof of virility, and allowed for swiftness while in combat.

The same article goes on to discuss how men once wore hosiery. LOL. Men in tights. The article suggests that the pants/dress gender line was first drawn among societies who rode horses. Since horse riding warranted pants, and most horse riders were warriors who were men, pants became associated with masculinity.

You know what though? If humanity lasts for another thousand years then these gender-based fashion norms will likely be something totally different. Heavens knows how wardrobe rules, especially those pertaining to women, have been around for like…ever. Because men have been deciding what women should wear for like..ever according to this article. Sigh.

As I’m writing this, I’m about to lose an hour of sleep because of the outdated idea of daylight savings time. The notion that dresses are only to be worn by women or that pants represent masculinity is equally, if not more, outdated. Folks should be able to wear whatever the hell they want because historically folks have pretty much worn whatever the hell they want….so Y’all wear whatever the hell you want.






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