dress in biblical times

also known as: clothing, garments, and raiment

Also see: Apparel in the Bible

Materials used

The earliest and simplest an apron of fig-leaves sewed together (Genesis 3:7); then skins of animals (3:21).

Elijah’s dress was probably the skin of a sheep (2 Kings 1:8).

The Hebrews were early acquainted with the art of weaving hair into cloth (Exodus 26:7; 35:6), which formed the sackcloth of mourners. This was the material of John the Baptist’s robe (Matthew 3:4). Wool was also woven into garments (Leviticus 13:47; Deuteronomy 22:11; Ezek. 34:3; Job 31:20; Proverbs 27:26).

The Israelites probably learned the art of weaving linen when they were in Egypt (1 Chronicles 4:21). Fine linen was used in the vestments of the high priest (Exodus 28:5), as well as by the rich (Genesis 41:42; Proverbs 31:22; Luke 16:19). The use of mixed material, as wool and flax, was forbidden (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11).


The prevailing color was the natural white of the material used, which was sometimes rendered purer by the fuller’s art (Psalm 104:1-2; Isaiah 63:3; Mark 9:3).

The Hebrews were also acquainted with the art of dyeing (Genesis 37:3, 23). Dyed robes were imported from foreign countries, particularly from Phoenicia (Zeph. 1:8). Purple and scarlet robes were the marks of the wealthy (Luke 16:19; 2 Samuel 1:24).

Various modes of ornamentation were adopted in the process of weaving (Exodus 28:6; 26:1, 31; 35:25), and by needlework (Judges 5:30; Psalm 45:13).


The robes of men and women were not very much different in form from each other.

  1. The “coat” (kethoneth), of wool, cotton, or linen, was worn by both sexes. 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 (1 Samuel 19:24; Isaiah 20:2; 2 Kings 6:30; John 21:7); deprived of it he would be absolutely naked.

  2. A linen cloth or wrapper (sadin) of fine linen, used somewhat as a night-shirt (Mark 14:51). It is mentioned in Judges 14:12-13, and rendered there “sheets.”

  3. An upper tunic (meil), longer than the “coat” (1 Samuel 2:19; 24:4; 28:14). In 1 Samuel 28:14 it is the mantle in which Samuel was enveloped; in 1 Samuel 24:4 it is the “robe” under which Saul slept. The disciples were forbidden to wear two “coats” (Matthew 10:10; Luke 9:3).

  4. The usual outer garment consisted of a piece of woollen cloth like a Scotch plaid, either wrapped round the body or thrown over the shoulders like a shawl, with the ends hanging down in front, or it might be thrown over the head so as to conceal the face (2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12). It was confined to the waist by a girdle, and the fold formed by the overlapping of the robe served as a pocket (2 Kings 4:39; Psalm 79:12; Hag. 2:12; Proverbs 17:23; 21:14).

Female dress

The “coat” was common to both sexes (Song of Songs 5:3). But peculiar to females were…

  1. the “veil” or “wimple,” a kind of shawl (Ruth 3:15; rendered “mantle,” Revised King James Version, Isaiah 3:22)

  2. the “mantle,” also a species of shawl (Isaiah 3:22)

  3. a “veil,” probably a light summer dress (Genesis 24:65)

  4. a “stomacher,” a holiday dress (Isaiah 3:24)

  5. The outer garment terminated in an ample fringe or border, which concealed the feet (Isaiah 47:2; Jeremiah 13:22).

Persian dress

The dress of the Persians is described partially described in the Book of Daniel.

Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps, and their other clothes and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. —Daniel 3:21 LSB


The reference to the art of sewing are few, inasmuch as the garments generally came forth from the loom ready for being worn, and all that was required in the making of clothes often devolved on the women of a family (Proverbs 31:22; Acts 9:39).


Extravagance in dress is referred to in Jeremiah 4:30; Ezek. 16:10; Zeph. 1:8 (Revised King James Version, “foreign apparel”); 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3.

Tearing (rending) clothing

Tearing (rending) the robes was expressive of grief (Genesis 37:29, 34), fear (1 Kings 21:27), indignation (2 Kings 5:7), or despair (Judges 11:35; Esther 4:1).

Shaking the garments

Shaking the garments, or shaking the dust from off them, was a sign of renunciation (Acts 18:6).

Wrapping around head

Wrapping of clothing round the head was done to express awe (1 Kings 19:13) or grief (2 Samuel 15:30.

Casting off clothing

Casting them off due to excitement (Acts 22:23)

Laying hold of clothing

Laying hold of them in supplication

As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. —1 Samuel 15:27 NASB

Traveling or taking action

In the case of traveling, sometimes the outer garments were girded up, or else thrown aside also when they would impede action. To gird means to bind up—making clothing or a sword secure to the body with a cord, sash or belt. (Also see: girdle)

Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel. —1 Kings 18:46 NASB

Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. —Mark 10:50 NASB

got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. —John 13:4 NASB

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. —Acts 7:58 NASB

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Article Version: April 15, 2024