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I have heard that the argument is beged ish / kli gever, and I have heard people say that even if that was once a real reason for it it doesn't apply today for various reasons.

I understand that the social expectation/norm in many communities today is that woman refrain from wearing pants in public, but in Israel for instance, one can find many women who take halacha very seriously in all areas including tzniut (sleeves, hair covering, knees, neckline, ...) but wear pants.

I would like to know what the halacha actually is and have been having a hard time finding reading material and answers on the matter.

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MEG, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for posting this question, which is likely to be interesting to many people. I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Feb 14 '12 at 23:11
    
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/9125/2 –  Isaac Moses Feb 14 '12 at 23:11
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3 Answers

Here, Rabbi Y.H. Henkin quotes his grandfather (Rabbi Yosef Henkin) as saying there is no prohibition against women wearing loose pants, and in fact they are exemplary ("yesh bo mishum tzenius"):

"See Bnei Banim vol. 2 p. 211 par. 38, and vol. 4 p. 141 (concerning pisuk raglayim)."

Here are the sources:

http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=21434&;st=&pgnum=212 para. 38

In the following piece he refutes the notion that pants involve "pisuk raglayim," as others have argued. He posits that this latter is specifically spreading apart of the legs as when astride an animal, not simple separation as with pants.

http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20023&;st=&pgnum=141

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How does "yesh bo mishum tzenius" translate to "in fact they are exemplary"? I read that as, "this is also satisfactory." –  Seth J Dec 13 '12 at 15:46
    
@SethJ He writes "there is no issur; on the contrary, yesh bo mishum tzenius" - I understood this as a polar contrast: not only is there no issur, but it's actually an example of good tzenius. –  yitznewton Dec 13 '12 at 16:57
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Maybe it's all in the reading. I see it as an acknowledgement that it works and fully effective, which I see as a polar contrast to an Isur. As in, not merely something he would permit as a concession in a technical analysis of Halachah, but something he believes is just as good as a skirt. You seem to be suggesting it is, perhaps, something more. –  Seth J Dec 13 '12 at 18:04
    
Let me see if I can get clarification from him. –  yitznewton Dec 13 '12 at 19:25
    
I did not yet receive a response. –  yitznewton Dec 18 '12 at 17:53
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Taking it for granted that the issue of "male attire" is ultimately not the source for the prohibitions, a stance I believe is justifiable even if not un-debatable, there remains a significant opposition to women wearing slacks on the grounds of modesty.

Although most noted for taking the hard-line position that wearing slacks violates the prohibition of wearing male attire, the Minchas Yitzchak 2:108 rules in very strong language that even if they did not constitute male garments such slacks were forbidden because they are immodest.

Similarly the Tzitz Eliezer 11:62 writes a lengthy teshuvah (which I hope to look at in more detail) in which he rules that pants are male attire, but also that they are clearly immodest.

So too with the Shevet HaLevi 6:118(2) who see's there as being an issue of pritzus in addition to, or at the root of, pants being male attire.

For all of these poskim, even if we were to discount the issue of pants being a male garment we are left with them being immodest garments.

And while the Yaskil Avdi 5 YD20 rules that the prohibition of wearing a male garment doesn't apply, he rules they should be prohibited because they are immodest.

So even if we do not take into account the issue of pants being a "male garment" we see significant objections to women wearing slacks in the poskim because they are not modest.

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+1 for sources. I note that as with all modesty issues, it probably depends on the exact cut and fit of the pants (as well as the cut and fit of the skirt which is the alternative). –  Double AA Feb 15 '12 at 6:24
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I have heard from my Rabbi that that the source R' Henkin cites is in fact a source for women to not wear pants. I also don't think the source from pesachim contradicts his teshuva on the matter, about baggy pants, because baggy pants would not expose the pisuk raglayim.

Here is the source:

http://www.dafyomi.org/index.php?masechta=pesachim&daf=3a&go=Go

I have not seen the meiri, whom R' Henken cites. However, Rabbeinu Chananel seems to agree with R' Henken. In his last piece on 3a in pesachim, seen above he clearly says "...it did not mention riding, that the act of riding is done with spreading of the legs, which is an improper way by a woman..."

In Rashi, however, also towards the bottom, 7th to last piece, the texts reads as follows:"... Because its is not fitting to mention riding AND separation of the legs by a woman..."

I'm no scholar, but notice the difference. R' Chananel identifies the act of riding specifically as a "Pissuk Raglayim". Rashi lists pissuk raglayim alongside riding, which would suggest that they are two different things which are both an issue.

In conclusion there seem to be two sides to interpreting this source. Regardless, baggy pants wouldn't be an issue. Those would really come down to jewish societal norms and customs, I think.

The mishna in Kesubos, seen here:

http://www.dafyomi.org/index.php?masechta=kesuvos&daf=72a&go=Go

mentions consequences for a woman transgressing on "Das Yehudis". Rashi explains this to be "customs of jewish women, even though they aren't written". The exact application of this term would be very hard to nail down in this day and age, but I think in many jewish communities the das yehudis is to wear skirts most of the time.

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You last, parenthetical, paragraph is your own personal observation, which I can contradict with my own examples. I advise an edit to remove it, or we can do that for you if you prefer. In any case, thank you for your answer and insights, and welcome to Mi Yodeya. I hope to see you around! –  Seth J Jun 17 '13 at 18:46
    
How does R Chananel argue with R Henkin? Wearing pants isn't spreading the legs. Spreading the legs is spreading the legs. Wearing pants and standing straight is not spreading the legs. –  Double AA Apr 3 at 3:33
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