Fashionable Friday: What are “church clothes”?
Next week I’ll be attending a conference sponsored by Oregon Christian Writers. 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 then 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. 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.”