Bible Customs – How People Dressed

The following is from a lesson presented at Middletown Bible Church, which I came upon while seeking information about dress customs during Bible times. I found it informative, so here it is:

How did people dress in the land of Palestine during Bible times? Did the men wear ties and jackets? Did the women wear dresses and skirts? Did they wear the same kind of shoes that we wear?

Inner Garment

The men and women would wear an inner garment or shirt next to their skin called a tunic. Usually this was without sleeves and reached down to the knees or sometimes all the way to the ankles. Wealthy people would wear tunics which had sleeves and which reached to the ankles.

When Jesus died on the cross, the soldiers cast lots for His tunic (John 19:24). This was the Lord’s inner garment (not a “ROBE” as many think).

Usually the Jews of Christ’s day had at least one change of clothing. A man would be considered poor to have only one garment (see what John the Baptist said in Luke 3:11). In Matthew 10:10 Jesus told His disciples not to take an extra undergarment with them.

Among the poorer people, the tunic was often the only clothing worn in warm weather. Wealthier people might wear the tunic alone inside the house, but they would not wear it without the outer garment outside the house. In the Bible the term “naked” is sometimes used of men who only have their tunic on (see John 21:7). To be dressed in such a scanty manner was thought of as “nakedness.”

The Girdle

The girdle was like a wide belt (about four to six inches wide) which went around the waist. Without this girdle, the tunic would be loose and it would interfere with a person’s ability to walk freely (this is why bathrobes have a strap that must be tied). Sometimes money was kept in a girdle (in a pouch) and sometimes the girdle was used to fasten a man’s sword to his body.

In Bible language, “to be girded” means “to be ready for action.” It means “let nothing keep you back or interfere with your progress as you run the race which is before you” (see Luke 12:35). What do you think the first part of 1 Peter 1:13 means?

The Outer Garment

The outer garment was called a mantle. It was like a large robe. The closest thing we have to it would be an overcoat. This mantle would shelter the person from the wind and the rain and it would also serve as a blanket at night. This is the outer garment or mantle which Elijah had and which became the property of Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:8-13).


Most people in Bible times wore something that resembled sandals. They consisted of a sole made either of wood or leather which was fastened to the foot by leather thongs or straps. Peter was told to put his sandals on in Acts 12:8. See also what John the Baptist said in Mark 1:7 (latchet = thongs; shoes = sandals). Because the people wore sandals, their feet got dirty and this is why we read in the Bible about people getting their feet washed (see John 13).

The Difference Between Men and Women

Men and women wore the same kind of clothing, but it differed in detail. They both would wear an inner garment and a girdle and an outer garment, but the dress of the woman was more elaborate and ornamented. However, the women wore longer tunics and larger mantles than the men. Also the women would often wear a veil covering their face.

Even though men and women wore the same kind of clothes, there were differences which made it easy to tell the sexes apart. Even today men and women both wear shirts, but usually the blouse that a woman would wear is quite different than the shirt that a man would wear. In Bible times the garments of a woman were different than the garments of a man. In God’s law we read, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” (Deut.22:5). It was a shameful thing for a man to dress like a woman or for a woman to dress like a man.

The same ought to be true today. Men should dress like men; women should dress like women; boys should dress like boys; girls should dress like girls. If God has made you a boy (male), then act like one, look like one and BE ONE! If God has made you a girl (female), then act like one, look like one and BE ONE!

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