Female Dress in the Bible

[This article was taken from Chapter Four of Bible Manners & Customs by Rev. G.M. Mackie, M.A, 1898 (which we have revised and reprinted)].


The under dress and gown coat of women resembled those of men, and their upper robe corresponded to the suits of apparel or festival robes of men. These are referred to in 2 Samuel 13:18; Song of Solomon 5:3; Isaiah 3:22 and 23. There is still this resemblance in costume, the women’s garments being, however, generally longer in proportion to the figure. [1]

(A) Headdress. The turbans are made of deep bands of folded cloth, sometimes of ornamental silk, but usually of white cotton (Isa. 3:23). Until recently the head veil of the women of Mount Lebanon was drooped from a silver horn or upright funnel that was fixed securely on the head, and worn night and day. It was about a foot in height. [2] The most characteristic feature of female attire is the different veils. The Eastern women of the Moslem religion are very particular about screening their face from view. Druze women expose one eye unveiled, and Christian and Jewish women merely veil the head and shoulders, but leave the face uncovered. The face veil is made of flowered gauze muslin (Isa. 3:19-NIV). There is also a larger and more ornamental lace veil for the head and shoulders. The cauls of Isaiah 3:18 may refer to this latter class of veil. Women wear them when making visits, and on their arrival it is the first duty of their entertainer to come forward and remove these veils as quickly as she can.

The same in its stronger original form is the headdress of Bedouin women. It is a shawl of stout, tough muslin wrapped round the head and neck and greater part of the figure (Ruth 3:15; Isa. 3:22). The largest of all is the sheet veil, which envelopes the whole body, and is called in Arabic izar. The simplest form is a white sheet, but they are often made of rich, beautiful silk with native workmanship. A large square is folded in the middle and tied round the waist with a cord. The lower half thus forms a skirt, the upper being lifted over the shoulders and head to form a mantle-veil. Such are the wimples or shawls of Isaiah 3:22. It is worn by Moslem women, and sometimes by others, when walking from place to place in the town. [3]

Eastern Women’s Costumes

(B) Eye paint, consisting of a paste of brown antimony powder, is in common use. Applied to the eyes of children it is supposed to strengthen and protect them. Women use it to give their eye an enlarged appearance and increased brilliancy by means of the gleaming black stain. It is kept in small ornamented vases having a small rod attached to the stopper by which the paint is applied to the eyelashes. One of Job’s daughters was called Kerenhappuch, which means “horn of eye paint” (Job 42:14). The practice is mentioned in 2 Kings 9:30 (NIV) and Jeremiah 4:30 (NIV). [4]


[1] In spite of the resemblance between the dress of men and women, there were distinct differences. The Law commanded: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deut. 22:5).
[2] These horns are modern. Thomson points out that they grew from modest beginnings as a device to keep the veil off the face to silver and gold horns that were so long that servant girls had to place the veil over them. After 1845 the Maronite clergy spoke out against them, and soon they fell out of fashion. They are not used any longer. W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1954), pp. 73 and 74.
[3] Moslem customs about facial veils differ from biblical ones. According to Moslem Law women are required to wear a veil in public, but prostitutes are forbidden to. This fact has confused people who write about biblical customs, because many of them assume that the Moslem customs were also the customs in biblical times, which is not always the case. The evidence from biblical times reveals that women did not generally wear veils in public. However, they were worn sometimes, especially at special occasions such as weddings, and they were used as an article of ornamental dress. The ease with which women were recognized in public is some of the evidence that veils that fully covered the face were not usually worn in public in the biblical culture (Gen. 12:14, 24:16, 29:10; 1 Sam. 1:12; etc.). Also, the archaeological evidence from the ancient monuments, rock cuttings, and tombs, including those from the surrounding cultures such as Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian, show the women without veils. Tamar put on a veil when she pretended to be a prostitute, and although she did it to disguise herself, the fact that her veil was not questioned or challenged shows that prostitutes could legitimately wear veils in biblical times (Gen. 38:14 and 15). Furthermore, the fact that she put on the veil to disguise herself shows she did not normally wear one. Rebekah was traveling without a veil, but put one on when she was about to meet her new husband, a gesture of modesty and respect (Gen. 24:65).
[4] Archaeology has revealed that make-up has always been important to woman. Jewelry, perfume, and make-up are found on the inscriptions and rock carvings and in the tombs and graves of women from every time period.

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  1. God is in control we just have to look to him by faith.

  2. I would like to know what God considers as women’s clothing. As most of the clothing of today wasn’t even invented yet. How do you define clothing that wasn’t around when God said to not wear a women’s garment. Does God differentiate, say underwear. Underwear didn’t exist back then. Would all underwear fall under God’s definition of women’s or men’s clothing, or both. Is a shirt just a shirt, are pants just pants, or does God consider them different? God Bless You and thanks.

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