A Sparkling Vintage Life

Fashionable Friday: What are “church clothes”?

GoodSalt-prcas1279Next week I’ll be attending a conference sponsored by Oregon Christian Writers.ย  As I reviewed the conference information, I noticed that the dress code for an evening event specifies “Dress-up optional and church clothes are appropriate.” That got me to thinking . . . does anyone know what “church clothes” are anymore? Probably not anyone under the age of forty.

At my church, people attending Sunday worship wear anything from shorts, hoodies, and flip-flops to dress khakis on both sexes and dresses on women. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone but the teaching pastor, and the occasional dapper young man, sporting a tie. Sometimes when I wear a skirt or dress, I hear “Why are you so dressed up?” Why, it’s Sunday, of course!

In my youth in the 1970s I clearly remember having “church clothes,” “school clothes,” and “play clothes.” Church clothes meant my best dress, in a summer version and a winter version. School clothes meant sturdy skirts and pants worn with shirts and sweaters, and jeans were finally permitted in my teenage years. Play clothes meant indestructible, feel-free-to-get-paint-on-them garments, often hand-me-downs or “retired” school clothes. School clothes got traded for play clothes as soon as I got home from school, to keep the school clothes in good shape as long as possible. The church dress also got trotted out for other special occasions, like going out to dinner, playing in a recital, or attending the occasional wedding. Note how attending church was ranked up there with other special occasions . . . we were going to visit God at his house! In short, different occasions and circumstances called for different clothes.

Today, nobody seems to change clothes for anything. What you put on in the morning stays on until you take it off at night. While this is simple, practical, and cost-effective, it’s not very much fun if you’re someone who appreciates clothes. But, like it or not, clothing is a powerful form of nonverbal communication. I think that a person’s choice of worship attire says something about him and his attitude toward God.

Now, I can hear some of you muttering about my privileged bourgeois upbringing and the cost of clothes these days, yada yada. Did you know that clothing costs consume a whole lot less, as a percentage of the average family’s budget, than they did forty years ago, thanks to all the Walmarts, Targets, Goodwills, and cheap imports we have access to today? (If you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of the clothing industry, a fascinating book on the topic is Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.) One can wear a skirt from Walmart as easily as sweatpants from Walmart.

Others of you are protesting that God doesn’t care what we wear to church, that he only looks on the heart. I hear what you’re saying, and I’d be the first to agree that the Lord is no respecter of persons and that Jesus dressed simply in his tunic and sandals. On the other hand, in our culture, what we wear can be a sign of respect and honor. If I’m willing to dress nicely during the week to please a boss or client, or to appeal to a potential spouse, but dressing nicely for church is “too much trouble,” have I got my priorities straight?

Of course, it would be a tragedy if someone felt they needed to miss church because they had nothing suitable to wear. Of course, God would rather have you there in your pajamas than not there at all. Of course, we would be very wicked to make someone feel unwelcome at church because of how they’re dressed. At the same time, am I glorifying God when I come to church in my workaday jeans and tee instead of dressing like He’s someone special and worthy of a special effort? I don’t know. Something about that thinking doesn’t sit right with me. What about being holy and set-apart? What about treating the Lord’s Day as something special, not like all the other days of the week?

And thenย  there’s that loaded word “comfortable.” I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told that a tee shirt and jeans has got to be more comfortable than my simple top and skirt and a pair of earrings. Um, no it’s not. Yawn.

It’s a controversial topic, this church-clothes thing.ย  I’d be interested to hear your experiences and argument for/against wearing Sunday best. If you think I’m a stuffed shirt, convince me otherwise! Meanwhile, I’ll continue to pack my suitcase for the conference and puzzle out what is meant by “church clothes.”



61 Responses to Fashionable Friday: What are “church clothes”?

  • Kristi says:

    I have 6 children, 4 of whom are under 6 years old. Really, I’m happy if they match, all have shoes on, and are clean by the time we leave for church in the morning. I can completely see what you’re saying, and I’m not saying I disagree. When I had 2, that’s exactly what I did. Best clothes, best hair, best shoes, every week. It’s a matter or respect. But, I have, unfortunately, been in churches that looked down on those who don’t wear “Sunday best.” Really, I’m grateful to have churches where our family showing up *is* the important thing. Someday, hopefully, we’ll get to our Sunday Best. Not this week, though. If I tried to line it all up, I’d lose my mind, and we’d never get there in one piece, anyway.

    Especially in our current culture of many families, particularly conservative, Christian, homeschooling families who already live “outside of the box” feeling like they’re actually living in a fishbowl, we need to be careful about assigning more and more expectations on parents already doing the best they can, every day. If I was expected to have my kids dressed for church the way I was growing up, I’d never go. Priorities here.

  • Airam N. says:

    I agree with what you said about people who dress up during the week and not on Sunday,at the same I think its hypocrisy for someone who wears jeans and tee’s all week to only dress up on Sunday. God lives in us, I believe we should look decent and presentable whenever possible. We should always be presentable if we believe God resides in us. Just my thoughts. :). Thank you for the article I do believe it is important to speak about in these times.

    • Jenifer says:

      I love your thoughts Airam. I think we always need to look our best, even if that is jeans and tees. I think you can look your best when you are in those jeans and tees. If that is your style, if that is how you are comfortable, go for it. But you can make it your best by making sure it is CLEAN and IRONED. I want to give God my best and I enjoy dressing up for church. But I shouldn’t look ratty the rest of the time. If God is in me, I want Him to shine through all of the time. That means my attitude, my facial expressions and how I present myself to the world.

    • Sandy says:

      I’m curious (and this is not meant to appear disrespectful), do you consider it hypocritical for a woman who wears jeans and a t-shirt all week to wear a beautiful gown on her wedding day? I assume you would say “No, because it’s a special occasion.” I believe that to be the point of the article; yes we are always in the presence of God, but we make the effort to go to the church (rather than worship in our own homes) on Sunday, doesn’t that make it a special occasion?
      I don’t believe your point was that we shouldn’t dress up at all, but some would use your argument to say just that. There are many people whose jobs/hobbies don’t allow for them to dress nicely all of the time without ruining nice clothes. I think it was fitting that you added, whenever possible.

  • Rachel says:

    As a 38 yr old woman of 3 girls 9 and under, I really appreciate this! I have had this exact discussion with my girls. “Why do we dress up for church and no one else does?” Which isn’t true, I see other kids in nice clothing, just not as many as there used to be. It makes me sad. I think it is disrespectful to God. If you “dress down” for church to be “comfortable”, what does that say to our kids about Honoring our Lord and Savior? All the excuses are just that, excuses. Up to this point my kids still love to get dressed in their church clothes. They feel special and like a princess. I think it also helps their attitude as well, they seem calmer. Thankyou for putting to pen a conviction some of still hold!

  • kelly says:

    I have six children. At one point I had five of them she’s six and under. At another point I had 4 children ages 4 and under. We do and have always worn our best clothes to church. This will continue until those children move out of my home and until the day I die. Places of business have dress codes. Schools have dress codes. Restaurants have dress codes. But we shouldn’t give our best to God? We should not honor Him and the place in which His Holy Word is imparted unto us? I just can’t go along with that thinking.

    On the other hand, I do not expect an unsaved, unchurched person to dress the way a saved, mature Christian should dress and behave.

  • Nicole says:

    I agree with you completely! We have six children, and I try to make sure we have our clothes set out for Sunday on Saturday night. This one extra step isn’t too difficult or time consuming, and I feel like it’s the least we can do for He who has done so very much for us.

    • Jenifer says:

      Nicole, I am so with you! I hear people all of the time saying they just can’t do it with kids. They can’t get everyone dressed up nice or can’t make it to church on time. I know having kids can be hard. I know that satan likes to attack God’s people on Sunday morning. But planning ahead is the key! We have, since our oldest was born, laid every single thing out on Saturday. From underwear to jewelry. From Bibles to coats and gloves. Everything is laid out and ready. Showers for kids are done on Saturday night. And we typically try not to plan anything on Saturday evenings/nights that way we can shower, get prepared and get to bed at a decent time. Sundays move much smoother for us this way. This is always my advice to parents!!

  • Erica Kennedy says:

    My kids are all grown now and my husband and I are retired, but for us church clothes always means your best. As you said, we are going to God’s house and He is more worthy than anyone we might choose to please or respect in the world, even the Christian world. Clothes are a sign of respect in many cultures, not just ours. Traditions ought not to be so easily cast off as they are today. Our society is far less respectful of many things and persons than the society of even 20 years ago. My children are all grown now, with kids of their own, but they also dress for church. We take pride in our God and in being His. This doesn’t make us superior, but the Bible does tell us that we are to be a “peculiar” people. (1Pe_2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…) I don’t mind. It isn’t too much trouble. Look what He did for us.

  • Ginger says:

    I grew up wearing my Sunday best and taught that it was important. I see the change in our church culture. The church I go to today has a mixed gathering – some dressed up, others not so much. I think this issue is one of conviction. Like when Paul addressed the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and said that it was permissible as long as it wasn’t worship, but to avoid it if it is a stumbling block to weaker Christians. We too can allow clothing to effect our worship. No we don’t need to dress up to worship, but it is nice to show that honor and respect to God who has given us all. There are arguments for and against it, whatever each family’s choice is just that, their choice and doesn’t change our salvation. My family and I will still wear our Sunday best because I feel wrongly about it if we don’t. But I hold no judgements over others who choose differently.

    • Anne says:

      Ginger, I agree with you. I feel that God wants me to put on my best clothes when I enter the house of the Lord on Sundays. When the High Priest entered the Lord’s presence he wore his best clothes.

      I just have a problem with people who dress sloppily, or women or wear provocative clothes on Sunday. I believe the children of God (according to the Bible) should dress modestly.

      • gail says:

        Anne, I get what you are saying about the High Priest wearing his best clothes and I see where you are going with that thought. One thing to consider is that the High Priest’s clothing were not ‘his best’; not something he picked out of all that he could wear. They were to him from God; holy and set apart according to God’s pattern and not the priest’s. The priest’s special clothing were in EXACT detail what God told him to wear and when and why. The garments’ construction were of divine design and for a specific divine purpose that has nothing to do with what we do in church worship services today. Each piece had/has a significant meaning meant to teach us about Messiah. Isn’t that awesome? It will completely bless your socks off to study this to see what God wants to teach us through the High Priest’s garments. AND the only ones who could wear these garments were Levites, of the family of Aaron. So that means most of us today could be violating God’s Word if we were to try to duplicate for ourselves those garments. ๐Ÿ˜‰ blessings

  • Lori says:

    My feelings on this are as long as they are clean and modest, they are “church clothes”. And also I want to add that what you see some people coming to church in, could very well be their personal BEST! On another note, it is positively none of anyone’s business at church how someone else dresses. That is between them and God (as long as their dress is not immodest and sinful). My husband and I feel that dressing our best is important for us and our children but that is our rule and conviction, it is not necessary for anyone else as far as we are concerned.

  • Andrea says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. We have been struggling with our son – trying to explain to him why it is important to dress nicely for church – especially when he sees so many others wearing their “everyday” clothes. I just read this aloud to our whole family. You made some wonderful points. Thank you for being a blessing to us!

  • Jenifer says:

    Great read!

    I was raised that you dress up in your best for church. {I am in my thirties}. We always dressed our best for Sunday church and just a little more casual for Wednesday service. About seven years ago we moved to a new church, following the leading of God, and this church was far more casual. The pastor was often running around the church barefoot and jeans and sneakers were the norm. After attending here for several months and being literally the only ones in dresses and ties, we decided to go a little more casual to fit with our new church family. Now the church we are in is a good mix of both. We have some dressed up, some casual dress and some regular everyday clothes.

    This is a subject that I think on often. I fully believe that we need to be the church that is accepting of all and if someone comes into your church broken and lost and wearing tattered clothing and the church is dressed up in their best, the visitor may feel unworthy or out of place. However, I also feel very strongly that if we are dressing in our best for work, a date night, or night out on the town, then simply wearing our jeans and tees to church on Sunday, that is wrong. If we can give the world our best why would we not give that to God?

    In our family we have a rule of no tees, no shorts, and no play {torn or stained} clothes to church. We are typically in our best jeans and nice shirts. My youngest daughter and I, however, love to dress up so we do fairly often.

    Great topic!!

  • gail says:

    all this got me to thinking…is it even really about how we dress, or is it about how we approach a Holy God. It seems that in our spirits we have a desire for reverence in approaching God. We should expect that of anyone who belongs to Him. Now, not quite knowing how to approach God because we are scripturally ignorant, we think up ways to show reverence. “Dressing up’ is one of those ways we have chosen. Problem is, this is man made. Though not wrong necessarily, it does mean that we can not then say that our man made way is the way to approach the King. Because, if we look to His Word, we won’t find anything at all about ‘dressing up’ being part of how to approach Him in reverence. But He really does have a LOT to say about how to approach Him if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. One of the best things we can do for our worship, is to study the Tabernacle and Temple service, learn its principles of how to approach the King His way, and go from there. blessings!

    • gail says:

      see my comment above about the High Priest’s garments, which is the only example of God taking about clothing in conjunction with approaching Him. He also says not to worship Him the way the pagans do, so we would want to make sure we aren’t inadvertently doing that. (Deut 12: 29-32)By the way, what if we were to find out that the pagans worshipped their false God by wearing their very best? What would we do with that????

  • Heather says:

    Love this! I’ve been sad from a little girl on that there is no where to wear nice things. My office was business casual, restaurants are jeans and tshirts unless you really have a lot to spend… people just dont dress nicely. Some days its nice because with changing bodies with pregnancy and then breast feeding well sometimes i just dont have anything nice…. im rambling. What i wanted to say was: i love the come as you are mentality but i love having a place to look nice. A place no one seems to look at me askance because i have curled hair, a nice blouse and a tailored skirt with heels. Its so much a part of something our culture has lost, and i miss it… glad to know im not the only one who does ๐Ÿ™‚
    And my kids LOVE getting dressed up because we make a fuss over them and they see that mommy and daddy like it. And we invite them in, my girl with me and the boys with daddy to get dressed up with us with perfume/cologne, hair spray, the curling iron, the works. I hope they always love doing that as a family sunday mornings ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sharing!!!
    I was raised with “Church/go to meeting clothes,” play clothes, and school schools as well. I would never consider jeans to worship on Sunday morning. I am raising my daughter with this old fashioned code as well. My daddy always said, “if you can dress up for the devil Saturday night you can dress good for God Sunday morning.”

  • I fail in this area sometimes, I admit. I don’t wear sweats and a t-shirt but my best, not always.

    I will however interject this: He is special and worthy everyday, not jut Sunday. While we may set aside this time to publicly praise, worship and honor Him we should live every day honoring him in our actions, thoughts, words and our dress. Even if we are in sweats and a t-shirt we can give God the glory he deserves.

    Now, I’m off to find some “church clothes” to wear to church today. ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Yvonne says:

    I remember having cloths that was just for church, or for school and then for play. When I was younger we also always dressed up for church. Then as I got older it changed a little. There was still cloths that I was not a loud to wear to church. Sometime I think we should go back to dressing up for church. I also belevie people should really think about what they wear, teenage girls should not wear skirts that are way way to short.

  • Michelle says:

    When I attended a church where everyone dressed up every Sunday, I’ll admit, there were times that I skipped church because I didn’t feel like I had anything acceptable to wear.

    • Jennifer says:

      See, that makes me sad. Nobody should ever feel they can’t attend church for lack of proper clothes. That’s just wrong.

      Overdressing for church is wrong, too, especially if it’s done to attract attention to oneself. I guess the point of my post is that God is worthy of our best, whatever our “best” happens to be. As someone said earlier, if “best” is jeans and a tee, make them your nicest jeans and tee. God’s worth it.

  • Michelle says:

    I often wonder if God cares about whether or not we wear what our culture deems as “our best”. Fashions and manners of dress were thought up by people after all. I think we should be clean and take care of our bodies and dress modestly. I also think that what we wear to church should not in any way make visitors feel unworthy to be attending or make some (especially kids) feel self-conscious about there adornment.

    • Jennifer says:

      Great discussion! Thanks so much, everyone, for weighing in. I appreciate you stopping by! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Karen says:

    WOW!!! What a response to an article discussing something not even an issue 40 years ago… I’m nostalgic and bemused at the same time. Growing up, much as you did, with 3 categories of clothes. These days I find myself looking at my own children and asking “Are you wearing that to church?”. I look in the mirror and recognize that I’ve become more like them than the other way around. I believe God sees our hearts and there we must always give our best to Him. If our outward appearance is a reflection of our inward state, then we should step up our dress code to meet with Him — especially in His house. Thanks for the reminder. In His honor and thanks to your prompting, today I will wear a dress to church and insist my children also step up their game.

  • kharking says:

    I was also brought up with special dresses that we wore to church. My mom told us that we wore our best for God in order to honor Him and to help us remember that we were visiting His house and there were different standards of behavior there. I think that she was honest but I also have a suspicion that an additional factor was that she loved to see us beautifully dressed and church was the best way to do that because we weren’t likely to mess up the clothes for the short period of time that we were there wearing them. There really isn’t any other setting for most of us to wear especially nice or beautiful things.
    Our urban church has a much more casual feel to it than the one that I attended growing up. As much as I would like to dress my family the way that my mom did us, we would be grotesquely out of place. There are a few women (in particular) who dress with a little more elegance or flair and, whatever their intentions, they do stand out. In order to be modest (in the sense of not drawing attention to oneself) in this context, therefore, we have chosen to wear what I would classify as business casual–not jeans but not ties either. I wear skirts most of the time anyway and, of course, everything for me must be nursing or pregnancy friendly. There are times when I am tempted to have the girls look spectacularly lovely but I then have to check my motives–doing it for the sake of showing them off is neither honoring to God or modest. Maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t have the resources to deck myself in “fine linen and purple” right now or time for hand sewing with Valenciennes and batiste. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jeannine says:

    Great piece and I agree completely. I understand how hard it Can be and for us it has been something to work up to. Sometimes on late morning we still miss the ball but we do our best. Our family has always been on a very tight budget so we are actually goaling for for the old standard of different cloths for different occasions. When we only had play cloths for the boys that were a bit beaten and our own worn that is what we went in but as time progresses we find the investment over time is good and Sunday’s best (which isn’t a suit but is our best) is worn to praise the Lord in. Once again I just want to say your article is wonderful, thanks for the great read I enjoyed is very much.

  • Sandy says:

    I enjoyed, and agree with, this very much. As the mother of four (6 months, 3 years, 4 years, and 6 years) I agree that it can be difficult to get everyone ready on time on Sunday morning, but (and this is meant to be an encouragement) it can be done. It can be helpful to set aside the children’s (and even your own) clothes in advance, it doesn’t have to be Saturday night if you’re too busy on Saturdays, it can be any day you have time. It’s a matter of priorities, if you already own the clothes the only thing stopping you from wearing them (or putting them on your children) is making sure they’re clean. I don’t see too many parents sending their children to their athletic events without their uniforms, and it takes a greater effort to get those clean. It takes the same amount of effort to put on khakis and a polo as it does jeans and a t-shirt.
    I agree that God would rather have you in church in jeans than stay home in a suit but if you believe in Him enough to worship Him, isn’t He worth the extra effort?

  • Brandon says:

    Yet another topic for church people to put between believers and Jesus. You can couch it however you want — oh, but if you’re a REAL believer, if you really LOVE God, then you better show up in a shirt, tie, dress, or whatever. This is as bad as one guy I know who tried to introduce a “theology of the pulpit”. You know, because other denominations didn’t have the preacher (oops, sorry, the Word of God) elevated to a high and lofty enough position in the church. Apparently, this same guy forgot that Jesus preached in a boat and on the side of a hill.

    I wouldn’t recommend trying to make a “theology of church clothes” because like the “theology of the pulpit”, the Bible doesn’t mention it. I don’t think you should either. Learn some more grace and love.

    • Sandy says:

      I must have missed the part where she said, “you better show up in a shirt, tie, dress, or whatever.” I don’t see her prescription for what should be worn, I only see that she asked us to evaluate if we put any effort into our appearance.
      The point is most people who make excuses about God not caring what they wear have nicer clothes at home that they chose not to put on. The question is why, is God not worth the effort?
      I don’t think this article was intended the way you received it. This article isn’t about judging other people, it’s about self evaluation.

  • Jennifer says:

    Some really interesting perspectives here. So glad you all chimed in! Appropriate dress, in church and elsewhere, does seem to be a matter of conviction. God knows the heart.

  • alisa adams says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on “Church” clothes. I totally agree. As a young child it was my experience that God was Holy because His house was so greet:organ music, the stained-glass windows, and the fact that we dressed up. I remember once getting a spanking for going out to play in my Sunday Clothes. I have also wondered why our houses are “decorated” and well-kept, while our churches meet in gyms? Thanks again for your thoughts

  • Jennifer says:

    I think it’s a type of backlash. Since SOME people got carried away with dressing up for church, showing off for each other rather than honoring God (think “Easter Parade”), others reacted by refusing to dress nicely at all. Since SOME churches took too much pride in having a beautiful building, others reacted by meeting in the grimmest of warehouses. IMO it’s sort of reverse snobbery (“See how humble and oblivious to appearance we are!”) and a postmodern repudiation of beauty. I like to think a person can avoid pridefulness and still put his or her best foot forward for God.

  • Sarah says:

    In all honesty, I really don’t think God has any anything specific in mind in regards to what we wear to church on Sundays. Unless I am wrong (and if I am, someone please let me know) there isn’t anything specific in the Bible with regards to a command from God about how he wishes his sons and daughters to dress when they attend worship. The only word that comes to mind is “modestly.” As Christians we are called to clothe ourselves with many attributes, like compassion and love and kindness … and more specifically where women are concerned, we are told to adorn ourselves not with costly jewels (which isn’t a bad thing in itself) but with a “gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.” It does truly seem that God really does look more at the heart then outward attire … to suggest that a believer is being disrespectful by not dressing “up” is really borderlining on legalism. Where God’s word isn’t firm on smaller issues we each need to judge for ourselves and neglect judging our brother ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I believe wearing our “Sunday best” shows a reverence and respect for God. Of course, like you said, we wouldn’t want anyone to be excluded because they had nothing else to wear, but if we have something nice to wear, we ought to wear it to signify the special Lord’s Day, and if not, then purchase something. Also, modesty is key. There are so many Christians I see walking around in the most awful attire that makes you want to look away from them. Every day of the week we should honor the Lord in what we do.

  • Laceagate says:

    Oh dear. It seems the fashion police have arrived. This issue really isn’t that complicated.
    1. Dress in the way your husband finds pleasing, not what other women think you should do.
    2. It is not hypocritical to dress casual during the week but be dressier in the house of God. What “casual” is varies on one’s region in the country and even around the world.
    3. If the way we dress in church is so important, why isn’t there the same concern over covering when we appear before the Lord in church? That seems hypocritical to concern one’s self so much over what others wear during the week and in church when a woman cannot even follow Scriptural teaching on covering.

    At the end of the day, we should be dressing appropriately for church that embodies a modest and chaste attitude and is not offensive. Wearing a sports jersey seems rather too casual and disrespectful, but I won’t be too concerned over the woman who shows up in a figure-flattering dress that conceals leg and cleavage.

  • Alte says:

    We do the traditional play/school/church split in their wardrobes, with most of the clothes designated for play. Play clothes are mostly school clothes that have stains or other flaws, or things we bought/received used. I try to have one or two nice outfits for each child to wear on Sundays or special occasions. We get invited to weddings and dinners out with grandparents, and such, so we need something for those times, too. We change out of the church clothes into play clothes as soon as we get home, or they end up destroyed in no time.

    Cost isn’t an issue. We get nice things from thrift stores or clothing swaps. The nicest clothes are actually the best finds, as they’re the outfits nobody ever wears. You can often get them used with the tags still on. Never been worn! All of my church clothes are hand-me-downs that I had taken in by my tailor. $15 for designer dresses. Not bad, at all.

    • Alte says:

      One of the larger problems I see with not dressing up for church is that it results in people never dressing up ever, anywhere. The eventually stop buying anything nice to wear at all. It bleeds into the workplace, the street, the schools, and the home. We went from tailored suits on Sundays to pajamas at the grocery store, in one generation.

      It’s sort of the way the decline of Sunday dinners has led to a decline in overall table manners, and eventually the decline of weekday dinners. Now, many children are never taught to eat with silverware, or how to use a napkin, or to say grace. And they own four pairs of flip-flops and six daisy duke shorts, but no propers shoes or dresses. I live near an elementary school, and I see children running in flip-flops around the track during PE class. They have no other shoes! Why bother? They can wear flip-flops everywhere — even to church.

      It saddens me to see the religious traditions be tossed aside, when they are things that create the emotional glue of the wider society and keep us from reverting to the lowest common denominator. It’s so easy to say, “These things don’t matter. Let’s all be cool and keep it real,” and we just end up back at mud huts.

    • Alte says:

      It’s as if church clothes formed a sort of right-hand wall to your closet. Those things were your nicest and most modest things, and clothes became more casual and/or skimpier as you moved to the left of your closet. But if you take the church clothes out, the right-hand wall is shifted over a section, and the rest shifts leftward accordingly.

      I wouldn’t think to wear a tank-top to Mass on Sunday, but I might wear one out of the house during the week, and I wear spaghetti straps around the house. If I wore tank-tops to Mass, I’d think less of wearing the spaghetti straps out of the house. And so on. Likewise, if I wear knee-length straight skirts to Mass, I might wear an above-the knee skirt out of the house, and a short shorts around the house. Take away the longer skirts at Mass, and I’d wear the shorter ones around town and pretty soon my behind would be hanging out of some cutoffs.

      This isn’t my conjecture, it’s precisely what we’ve seen happen around us over the years. Eventually, people get so casual and comfy that they can’t even bother to get up and go to church on Sunday morning. Fashion seems superficial, but it does matter on a deeper level.

  • Heather says:

    I was horrified recently (being of a similar age to the author) when I attended a funeral. A number of attendees were wearing brightly coloured casual clothing, jeans, etc. Surely there should still be times when one dresses the part. I love hanging out at home in casual clothes, but I felt really out of place in my black suit, that day.

  • Elspeth says:

    I grew up wearing church clothes, Sunday best and all that. Our family is much less formal, but there are limits (we believe) to how casual one should be when going to church.

    No shorts, not t-shirts, no flip flops. That’s a bit much IMO.

  • Elspeth says:

    I wouldnโ€™t think to wear a tank-top to Mass on Sunday, but I might wear one out of the house during the week, and I wear spaghetti straps around the house. If I wore tank-tops to Mass, Iโ€™d think less of wearing the spaghetti straps out of the house. And so on. Likewise, if I wear knee-length straight skirts to Mass, I might wear an above-the knee skirt out of the house, and a short shorts around the house. Take away the longer skirts at Mass, and Iโ€™d wear the shorter ones around town and pretty soon my behind would be hanging out of some cutoffs.

    This isnโ€™t my conjecture, itโ€™s precisely what weโ€™ve seen happen around us over the years. Eventually, people get so casual and comfy that they canโ€™t even bother to get up and go to church on Sunday morning. Fashion seems superficial, but it does matter on a deeper level.

    Very, very well said Alte. This is absolutely correct. We see it all around us and in the pews on Sunday mornings. One need not be dressed to the nines every Sunday, but there should be some inkling that we understand the seriousness and solemnity of worship.

  • Laura says:

    I agree with you! My husband is Army and since we came to WA I have been in shock at how folks dress for church. Folks you know have better and will dress up for dinner with hubby or friends but not for church. I started doing Modest Mondays on my blog at http://www.raisingsoldiers4christ.com to try in a Christlike manner post about this.

  • Joanne says:

    I think it’s a matter of respect. Dressing up is appropriate for attending Mass or Sunday service at church — you don’t dress up for your religion, you dress up for the attendance at a particular place and time. It’s not God who cares but that’s not why you do it. When you dress and act differently, you show that church is special and important to you, and people around you see that and learn from you. The fact is that dressing differently also makes you act differently. That’s one reason why schools or clubs (e.g. Boy Scouts) use uniforms, or workplaces have dress codes — it’s harder to act sloppy and goof around when you are wearing something special or nicer. I personally don’t think this means it must be your absolute best, I just think it means you need to be respectful. Let’s be honest, the lack of respect for each other is evident EVERYWHERE you look, and it’s definitely different than a generation or two ago. Dressing for church is but one of many examples of a mass attitude change, and I don’t think it’s a change for the better.

  • Rachel says:

    I think in this day of age, many people have lost the “art” of dressing properly and discreet for the public eye period, no matter where that is.
    I believe you should be clean and smell good so you are presentable. Everyone’s best and what they think is best is debatable. I don’t think not having anything to wear should keep you from church but if you see someone in sweat pants, extend your grace and love to them, after all Jesus witnessed to all kinds of people.
    It is not our place to look down on them. It is our place to teach our own children the art of dressing modestly.
    My rule of thumb, I don’t own anything in my street clothes that I wouldn’t be willing to wear to church. Why just pretend the part instead of being the part everyday?

    • Alte says:

      That’s a good rule of thumb, Rachel.

      I don’t actually own anything that I couldn’t wear to church in good conscience, other than some ratty clothes I keep for painting the house or weeding the garden. If you don’t dress like a slob or loose woman the other six days, “church clothes” are just the most stain-free items you own, perhaps in a nicer material or with a more elegant cut. Why would any Christian wear hotpants and tube tops, to begin with? I think “don’t let your junk hang out” is sort of the bare minimum for approaching the altar, but also for leaving the house at all. Good grief.

      I also wear dresses and skirts most of the time now, so “putting on a dress” doesn’t seem like any sort of fashion stretch for me. When people claim that wearing a clean shirt is an unsurmountable burden to attending church, I can only laugh. No, an unsurmountable burden is being seriously ill, stranded on a deserted island, or eaten by lions. Wearing a clean shirt is about as unsurmountable as putting on real shoes. Then again, many of them don’t bother with putting on real shoes, either, so the analogy would fall flat with them.

      Cuz they luv Jesus! Flip flops and sweatpants for the sake of the Kingdom.

      In the end, we should all just arrive stark naked at church. If it’s not really cold in the building, we’re all dressing for the sake of the others there. That is why civilized people wear clothes instead of grass skirts, after all, to cover our nakedness and group adherence.

      Since we’re so indifferent to the other members of our church, and nobody’s being judgmental, let’s all get reeeeaaaallly comfortable and go full nudist. And why bother with shoes, when you can be “keeping it real” barefooting it to communion? Let’s run naked through the trees and then dance around a log fire and sacrifice to the Earth Mother with ritual fornication. (Indeed, some modern church services aren’t much different than that.)

      Why stop at flip flops? Flip flops are so… uncomfortable. Do you think Jesus loves you more just because you wear those flip flops? How pretentious of you! How dare you judge those of us who are more pure and natural and less preoccupied with superficialities like shoes? We need to create seeker-friendly barefoot churches where people can enter without being judged on their lack of footwear. Because Jesus.

  • Magi says:

    Lots of good points for both cases here, but I fall into the dress up for church category. I grew up wearing dresses to church, and although we attend a “come as you are” church, I still don’t feel right wearing casual clothes. (sometimes if I REALLY don’t have my act together I’ll wear my nicest jeans and a sweater) My husband feels ok if he’s in clean/not ruined clothes, but I usually try to get him to dress up. I also try to make sure the kids look nice. Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones who dress up for school concerts, graduations etc. too. We do it to show the kids that we think they’re important. We dress up on Sunday to show that church is important. I also recently read a quote I liked in “Rainbow Valley” by L.M. Montgomery. The little girl (Rilla) said she preferred to dress up because it’s easier to remember to be good when you’re wearing your Sunday Best. I loved that!

  • Naomi says:

    Thank you for the excellent article. This is the point that we try to teach in our church. The change in the approach that people are taking to the things of God is very different than it used to be, and the lack of respect for the holy is downright disturbing – even in “fundamental” circles. A young couple in our church attended the baptismal service for the young man’s sister. He had been praying for the salvation of his family , and this sister had finally been saved. Many different people had witnessed to her, including many from our church, however the people who finally led her to the Lord were from another “fundamental” church. When this young couple attended her baptism at this other church, they went well dressed as they would for our church: him in a basic suit amd tie, and her in a simple black skirt and top – nothing fancy or ostentacious. To their shock, the pastor of this other church proceeded to make fun of people who felt the need to dress up for church while looking very pointedly at them – they were the only people dressed up in the church even the pastor was dressed casually. Needless to say, the only thing that kept them in that service suffering unfair humiliation was their love for that sister and their desire to share this moment with her. That pastor was a fool as is obvious to anyone reading this, but he was just reflecting an extreme case of casualism in church. We do not dress nicely to please men, but rather to show respect to God.

  • rosa says:

    This was a blessing to read. I just want to say, in response to those people trying to defend the ones “who just don’t have anything that nice”…I could be considered that person….my family only shops second hand, and mostly on their biggest sale days. Also we get hand me downs ๐Ÿ™‚
    God has shown me that he will meet my needs, and I can dress nice for church, even if the clothes wouldn’t be my first choice..or second, or third ;). I am NOT trying to be rude, only in a thoughtful way. I think the idea that people just don’t have very nice stuff is a cop out ๐Ÿ™ Sure, it’s not our place yo judge others, but speaking for myself, living g here in America, there is NO where easier to find all manor of clothing…and I’m talking’ everywhere: eBay, local thrift stores, clearance racks, garage sales. The irony of this subject for me is I didn’t grow up dressing up, or going to church, and I had a love of designing clothes…I would sketch them out in my free time. Now, I’m a born-again believer who let’s Jesus choose clothes for me and I couldn’t be happier. Once I submitted to dressing modestly and wanting to give him my best, he took care of the rest :). It does take time to change a wardrobe, especially with varying little, or no income, but I learned it was do-able. That was what it took for me to be able to dress my best for God, everyday, but obviously it differes from day to day depending the activities ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lisa S says:

    I think consideration for the specific church needs to be addressed. If you go to a church with stained glass windows, and hardwood trim then the expectation is more formal. If you attend church in the cafeteria of the local school, then dressing more casual is perfectly acceptable.