This Week’s Discussion Question: Should People Dress Up for Church?

Remember when people dressed up for church on Sunday?

Nowadays, not so much.

Does it matter what people wear to church? Is the move to casual Sunday dress an important – or problematic – cultural shift?

The question involves many issues – how liturgy relates to culture, how liturgy relates to daily life, how the church views contemporary culture, how the church is hospitable, how the church’s liturgy prefigures the heavenly liturgy, how church authority constructively changes members’ behavior, and so forth.

In my less hopeful moments, I fear that the liturgy itself will go the way Sunday dress goes. That is to say, people’s increasing inability to feel right wearing formal, perhaps less comfortable clothing just because it’s the accepted norm pretty much overlaps with their inability to relate to the liturgy itself, which is by nature traditional and formal and structured.

Fr. Romano Guardini’s famous question, raised already in 1964, comes to mind:

Is not the liturgical act, and with it all that goes under the name ‘liturgy,’ so bound up with the historical background-antique or medieval or baroque-that it would be more honest to give it up altogether? Would it not be better to admit that man in this industrial and scientific age, with its new sociological structure, is no longer capable of the liturgical act?

Christopher Dawson also comes to mind, and his grand vision that liturgy would once again shape culture, as it had done in the Middle Ages.

What do you think? Should people dress up for church?





109 responses to “This Week’s Discussion Question: Should People Dress Up for Church?”

  1. Michelle Francl-Donnay Avatar

    Well, yes, though I might frame it as “should you dress with thought” rather than “should you dress up”. My dressed up may not be yours, and I’m not particularly interested in the fashion police joining forces with the liturgical police.

    So why do I think we ought to dress with care for the Sunday liturgy? The argument I don’t buy is “because it’s God’s house and we dress up for God.” But I wear what I wear to work (jeans and barn shoes if I’m teaching lab, pumps and tweed skirt if I’m in the classroom) to daily Mass and to the Liturgy of the Hours, and don’t think God is less there than at a Sunday liturgy.

    Sunday liturgies are Easters, and Easter has a distinct baptismal character (among other things). We prepare for baptism, we put on “new garments” real and spiritual, we bathe in the waters of salvation. So for me, the getting dressed with care and thought for Sunday Mass has a whiff of Easter and baptism about it.

  2. Dunstan Harding Avatar
    Dunstan Harding

    I’m thinking of the commendable practice of many southern black Protestant churches where white and festive colors, and broad-brimmed hats are worn for Sundays.

    Why not a white baptismal gown for everyone, or maybe a white suit/dress for Sundays and feasts? With the celebrant dressed in a white alb and unsheared lamb skin chasuable, the same material for the stole, but decorated with red crosses and a red fringe. He could wear a pectoral cross/crucifix hanging from a red cord. The bishop with his shepherds staff and while zuchetto. For feasts lively colors and gold or gold and other colors for the linings or orphreys.

    I favor a measure of decorum and dignified dress for the liturgy, but for clergy to vest in a 2nd century Roman attire while the rest of us are in jeans and sweat shirts,Bermuda shorts, or 21century suits and dresses strikes me as very discordant. A uniform for all achieves a measure of harmony and balance. Nobody should feel out of place, not even the celebrant.

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      @Dunstan Harding – comment #2:

      I really dislike bulletins and homilies that lecture people about what to wear in church. If that bothers you and you would like to get even, wear a poncho!

      These are really beautiful. I have a small collection of them. They look so much like a chasuble that I would not wear one to church (unless some priest is dumb enough to say too many stupid things about dressing in church then he is going to have to put up with my poncho collection). I wear them at home for the Divine Office on a few major feasts. (my great room is dominated by a tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe).

      The poncho is a contemporary form of the chasuble. If we are going to dress up for church why not wear poncho’s? We could have a simple rule like the Orthodox: brightly colored poncho’s for festive days; dark colored poncho’s for penitential days.

      Merton stated in his journal when he became a US citizen that he was an American of both continents and that our future lies in blending the two. Why not make the poncho our way to dress for church and keep these native artisans in business?

  3. claire bangasser Avatar

    Frankly I see a difference in dress depending on the mass. Where I go, sometimes, Saturday night, Sunday at 8 and 10 are casual, but Sunday mass at 11:30, women in particular dress up. During the week, people come in their office dress, which is rarely casual.
    In the church of my small village, parishioners come in all sorts of dress. From nicely dressed (but never dressed up) to being real casual.
    On the Camino, it’s always fun to see the pilgrims in their road garb along with Spanish people in their regular clothes.
    I like Michelle’s comment on ‘being dressed with thought’, which does not seem to always go with how dressed up one is 🙂 Being ready for the encounter with the Eucharist seems the most important to me.

  4. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    Back during the “indult days” in the northeast US, it was very common for men to dress as for a funeral: black or dark blue suit, white shirt, conservative tie. Women quite often wore dresses and chapel veils (strangely for me, few wore hats). It’s simply astonishing to see how “liberal” attire has become in EF parishes just five years after Summorum Pontificum. Now the dress code at many EF Sunday Masses looks little different than a typical OF Mass. I would also say that veiling has fallen quite by the wayside at many EF Masses even in this short period of “legalization”. Undoubtedly, this likely is due to the fact that most Catholic women no longer wear a hat or veil to Mass. All the better, as a woman’s decision to cover her head or not at Mass is always her choice alone. I am heartened that the former rather somber and defiant EF “dress code” has loosened up and resembles more mainstream attire choices and attitudes. Perhaps an even greater charitable and ideological openness to the mainstream Roman Rite will follow.

    I left jacket, tie, and not sensible shoes behind when I graduated high school. I’ve never had to wear anything remotely like this in my working life. The sociocultural “blue/white collar” cliche/meme has collapsed: many professionals show up for work in a print shirt, jeans, and sneakers. A pastor’s insistence on a dress code which requires anything more than wearing pants or slacks rather than shorts would probably strike many as reactionary at best.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #4:
      I agree – SP has done much to break down the ghetto mentality in EF circles and has caused a surprising degree of “liberalization.” I’ll note that even though some women have provided a box of chapel viels that anyone may use at Mass, those who cover their heads are still a minority. Many women wear pants too (women new to the EF, or who haven’t been in 40 years don’t have the anti-pants baggage the women who attended under the indult do), and I’ve seen shorts and t-shirts on men. I would say the proportion of dressed-up people is still higher at the EF than at the OF, but not as much as some people would like to think.

      Truth be told, I’ve never really given much thought to how anyone dresses at Mass – I don’t know thier circumstances, after all. For all I know, they might not have better clothes, or could not get home to change. I don’t care to wear shorts of sandals at Mass, but it has ended up that way because I just didn’t have time.

    2. Charles Day Avatar

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #4:
      Veiling falling by the wayside isn’t much of a mystery to me. In my school in the late fifties and early sixties girls who hadn’t brought a hat or chapel veil for the weekly school Mass had a tissue pinned to their head. It’s pretty hard to take that seriously.

      And while I understand that customs which inspire reverence can be good, the sexist way this came about is odd to me: men were expected to remove their hats; women were expected to keep them on. At least orthodox Jews expect the men to be covered as well.

  5. Adam Wood Avatar

    Sunday clothing, like many other things, should be guided by the software world’s “robustness principle” of interface design.

    To quote:
    “Be conservative in what you send, and liberal in what you accept.”

    From Advent 1 until Corpus Christi, I wear a suit and tie.
    During Ordinary Time I wear dress pants and an open-collared dress shirt (it is HOT here), and even that is only a recent development.

    I don’t think that what I wear is important, but I do think that Liturgy is important- so I dress as if I am doing something important.

    On the other hand, I will not stand in judgment of other people’s decision about what to wear at Church. No matter how many caveats you append, that route always ends up criticizing people who do not have the resources to dress better than they do.

    If you want people to dress like liturgy is important, it needs to look, smell, sound, and feel important. If it sounds like a Jimmy Buffet concert, people will dress like it is a Jimmy Buffet concert.

    And if you want kids to learn how to dress better at Mass, draft them into the choir or the acolytes.

  6. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    I have always liked plain sweaters of various colors; and so very naturally I have often coordinated them with the liturgical colors, but not very precisely. However I would resent any encouragement for people to do this. When they announce in the parish bulletin to wear “red” for Pentecost, I am likely to wear gold, silver, white (for Whitsunday) or green (Orthodox for Pentecost).

    Since childhood I have had a dictionary that has illustrations of various crosses (Latin, Greek, etc.) and so over the years I had collected various crosses which sat in a drawer (with a vague promise of someday making some mounted exhibit of them). When my mother died, and we were going through her jewelry collection, I kept the “cross” she had often worn to Mass. It was a jewelry store not a religious design. But that was why mom wore it to church; Mom was very religious but she was against displaying it too much.

    I began wearing mom’s cross at Christmas, Easter and Mother’s day. Then finally said to myself why are you keeping all of the crosses in drawer, why not wear them to Mass, and pair them up with the various liturgical colored sweaters.

    I take the cross to Church in my pocket, and put it on at the beginning of Mass, and take it off at the end of Mass. I think of the cross as a vestment, as “putting on Christ.”

    Now that I use a walking stick; I have a collection of various colors of walking sticks that get coordinated in complex ways with everything.

    Since retirement, cargo pants are pretty much what I wear all the time, except for jeans when gardening. On Sunday they get color coordinated with the sweaters.

    So in a way, I really do “vest” for Mass.

    When I was a pastoral staff member and was present at Mass as one, I wore a sports coat with my pastoral staff name tag. I think that’s a nice way to help identity parish staff and ministers. Actually I wish everybody had very nice permanent name tags. I have a nice collection of them from conventions. I wear them to religious events but not to Mass.

    I have never had a problem with what other people wear in church whether they dress up or dress down. People are not a distraction in church.

  7. Bryon Gordon Avatar
    Bryon Gordon

    Putting on one’s “Sunday best” is part of how we vest our houses of worship. In Advent and Lent, I usually wear some article of clothing in purple. The presbyter doesn’t have to be the only one wearing the liturgical color, and it expresses more the universal priesthood.

  8. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    I had a liturgy committee member who used to say “God doesn’t care what we wear to church” to which I finally replied “God probably wouldn’t care if we came to church naked, but we don’t.”
    Part of what has happened in the world of church dress reflects, I’d think, what has happened in the surrounding culture. A number of men’s clothing stores have gone out of business due to the increased informality of the workplace; when I started at WLP 21 years ago, every day was dress shirt and tie – no more!
    It’s very hard to establish a “dress like it’s an important event” or “dress with decorum [usually reserved for females]” when those standards outside of the sanctuary don’t necessarily set a common reference point.

  9. Dismas Bede Avatar
    Dismas Bede

    While I’m not of the mind, “Be happy they come at all,” I think there is a definite sense of propriety, even with casual clothes. They can be very neat and presentable, and they can fail to be either. I haven’t said it in a while (but I think it on numerous occasions), “If you wear it TO or ON or FROM the beach, or when you play basketball (or anything else), then it isn’t “church appropriate.” There is no place anywhere for young (and older) women to be in shorts that barely reach the tops of their legs; athletic shirts -underwear- on men are appropriate on athletic venues. Casual is not the problem; sloppy, careless is.
    Interesting, at weekday Mass this is rarely an issue/concern. Come, the weekend, though, it is another story. More people need to stop at the door of the church and ask themselves – or someone they’re with – “Can I go in there dressed like this?”
    I wonder what the reaction in the pews would be one Sunday if those who inhabit the sanctuary at any point in the gathering were to do so in beach/barbeque/sports venue attire.
    They showed up to do their job… but is it simply a matter of “showing up?”

  10. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    How one dresses is powerful statement about the importance to one of what one has dressed (or failed to dress) for. There are those, of course, who say ‘it’s only for God’, or ‘God doesn’t care’. They say this about many things, such as music, that they themselves couldn’t care less about. If all one has is something rather shabby, then that is ones best and is acceptable. But if one has a suit and wears wrinkled shorts and flip flops or tennis shoes, that is an affront to God and everyone else. God may or may not care (how do these people know that), but the telling factor is how much WE care… or don’t.
    When I was young the only people I knew about who wore casual clothing to church were Baptists and Pentecostals, etc., and I thought they were strange. When I observed that Catholics, too, did not dress for church, I was astounded.
    Formal attire would perhaps be overdressing (but not unthinkable, actually). Informal attire (suit and tie) would certainly be an acceptable norm. Casual, nice trousers and a shirt is getting by. Less than casual is just plain shabby and inconsiderate.
    The ‘God loves me just as I am’ attitude translates into ‘I really couldn’t care less’.

  11. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    I will just note that what was formerly casual attire (not shorts and flip-flops, but open collared shirts without ties for men, eg) is now commonplace even in things like high-finance corporate board meetings. I can recall even less than a decade ago that it was more common for new client/prospect meetings to be casual (at specific client/prospect direction) rather than tie affairs, shall we say. Suits and ties are not extinct, but they often are reserved for sales situations where clients/prospects would be impressed, which is a much smaller universe than it used to be: it can message that “I am here to impress you, and I think you are impressionable” more than old-fashioned respect.

    Formal attire (here I don’t mean suit and tie but formal morning dress and evening dress) long ago ceased to be the daily attire of a significant segment of society; now it is the rare costume of people pretending to be formal at weddings, proms, and fundraising galas – and classical or choral concerts (even sacred ones, odd to say; the sight of choristers dressing in tuxedos to sing sacred music in churches strikes me as very odd…). (For example, it long used to be that a bride’s wedding dress was merely her very best dress, one that she would wear on select festive occasions after her marriage, at least until repeated childbirth made doing so difficult….) It’s no longer what it was: it used to be ordinary attire, now it’s a make-believe costume. And this has trickled down to the middling category of dressy casual attire.

    Stepping back, it’s rather unusual that men’s attire conventions kinda halted development from the 1920s until the 1980s: that stasis was historically abnormal. A lot of that was probably due to era of World Wars and Depression, which dampened the velocity of fashion change for men.

  12. crystal watson Avatar

    One of the things I especially remember from church was overhearing people discuss how others were dressed. I found that depressing – it was like I’d joined the local country club. I don’t see how what one wears has anything to do with relating to God. I disagree with the idea that dressing up means you think an event is really important. People usually want to dress ‘appropriately’ for something that’s important, and that doesn’t always mean dressing up.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      Point 1: @crystal watson – comment #13:
      I don’t see how what one wears has anything to do with relating to God.

      Why wouldn’t what one wears have something to do with relating to God? What excludes our choices in attire from the list of things that have to do with our relating to God?

      Point 2: My wife says, every now and then, that Americans (specifically younger Americans) have lost the sense of appropriate dress. They lack a sense of “formal” and “informal”. I think it’s because expectations are so low or aren’t made clear, and instead of challenging them to meet expectations, we adapt the expectations to what they give. What’s absurd to me is how expensive these designer informal looks are, compared to reasonable and modest formal attire.

      Point 3: When I’m at Mass, I sometimes find myself having to avert my eyes because of the provocative attire of some young women. Bra straps showing, tight-fitting skinny-jeans, see-through shirts. Sadly, their mothers are sometimes not setting any better of an example.

      Point 4: I try always to wear slacks and a buttoned, collared shirt. On more festive occasions, I wear a tie or a suit. During some liturgical seasons, I endeavor to match the liturgical color.

      1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
        Brigid Rauch

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #31:
        With regards to Point3 – Not to put you on the spot, because many men could have written what you wrote, but do you avert your eyes when you and the women are not in Church?

      2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Brigid Rauch – comment #47:
        I try to, yes. Varying levels of success.

        @Paul Inwood – comment #50:
        Fashions have changed, yes, but not necessarily for the better. I’ve seen some pretty awful underwear designed for young girls; sexual innuendo (more and more overt) is becoming mainstream. Sweatpants and shorts with brand names, college names, or innuendo blazoned across the rear…

      3. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #51:
        But my point is that rears can be beautiful, not just sexual. Perhaps the problem lies in the eye of the beholder.

      4. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Paul Inwood – comment #56:
        Yes, rears can be beautiful. Fronts too. But there’s a time and place where it’s appropriate, and where it’s not. There are audiences for whom it is appropriate and for whom it is not. Is Mass really the time to put our derrieres on display, or to show cleavage for Christ?

        I think our over-sexed culture — where pornography is so easily acquired, teens (and pre-teens!) are sexting one another, and you can’t watch a sitcom without a sexually-charged conversation or commercial showing up — makes it very difficult (for some, at least) to regard parts of the human body as beautiful apart from their sexuality. Simply increasing the exposure cannot be the solution; if anything, that will lead to further desensitization, not to appreciation of beauty.

      5. Brigid Rauch Avatar
        Brigid Rauch

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #60: How do I say this? We all place various meanings to the display of the human body, but in our society today sometimes the viewer apprehends a meaning the person being viewed never meant. What some males see as sexy clothing some females might see as mere fashion. All of us (male and female) have a responsibility to dress ourselves with self respect, but we also have a responsibility to see others as persons, not objects. To suggest that women must dress modestly lest they tempt males is the path to the burka.

      6. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Brigid Rauch – comment #61:
        What some males see as sexy clothing some females might see as mere fashion.

        But “perception is reality”, or so I’ve heard.

        Perhaps the fact that what is presented as fashionable to women nowadays is rot. It’s possible to be sexy and modest; that is, to be attractive physically without inciting lust, to be attractive without being too revealing.

        I’m not advocating burkas, but men and women have a responsibility to dress appropriately. The more immodestly you dress, the more you are displaying yourself — or a part of yourself — as an object.

      7. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #65:
        With all due respect, I don’t want to wander too far off topic Jeffrey, but I have a thought I cannot shake without bringing it up. Yes there is a relationship between modesty and apparel, however, what “incites lust” might have nothing to do with that.

        And your words seem to indicate that it is the responsibility of the woman alone to be mindful. Or do I misread you?

      8. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #67:
        You misread me: “but men and women have a responsibility to dress appropriately.”

        And yes, people can lust after that which is modest too.

        If I’ve been speaking more about women and how they dress, perhaps it’s because I don’t regularly encounter immodestly dressed men in churches, or maybe I’m not fully aware of what is considered immodest attire for men.

      9. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #69:
        I have sat here for a long time trying to respond respectfully to this comment, but in a rare moment, you words have rendered me virtually speechless.

      10. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #79:
        Then you know what, respond disrespectfully. I have no idea what I’ve said to offend you.

        Edit: when you said “your words seem to indicate that it is the responsibility of the woman alone to be mindful”, did you mean “mindful of how they dress” or “mindful of what other people are wearing”? Did I miss your point there? I think both men and women have a responsibility to be mindful… in whatever sense you meant it…

      11. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #80:
        I have no need or desire to be disrespectful Jeffrey, so let me try to be clear and charitable at once.

        In comment #69 you said:”If I’ve been speaking more about women and how they dress, perhaps it’s because I don’t regularly encounter immodestly dressed men in churches, or maybe I’m not fully aware of what is considered immodest attire for men.”

        Perhaps it was not your intent, perhaps it is me being overly sensitive, but when I read that earlier, as well as reading it again now (I thought it might hit me differently, but no it did not) I hear something upsetting. What is upsetting is the standards applied to men and women in regard to what makes for “immodest dress.”

        This could go into a post of its own and I don’t want to go there, but there are so many issues, cultural standards, gender expectations and more loaded into that topic from where I sit.

        As I said, perhaps it is my own bias and potential over-reaction, but reading your comment seems to point to all those wicked women. The men in their appropriate clothes, no matter how inappropriate their thoughts might be as they look at the women, are just fine.

        Allow me to add that one might describe my own dress as “frumpy chic.” I say that tongue in cheek and I fear that the first descriptor far outweighs the second!

        Oh for Michelle’s first comment about dressing with thought… I should have stuck to that line of thought. I feel some regret about how this conversation has gone and I am sorry.

      12. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

        @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #82:
        I think you misunderstood me. By saying “maybe I’m not fully aware of what is considered immodest attire for men”, I didn’t mean “I have a different standard of modesty when it comes to men vs. women,” but rather, “perhaps there is a different standard that I don’t know of.”

        I do not know if the standard for “modest attire” is the same for men and for women. What I do know is that I have no recent memory seeing a man in church wearing pants so tight that I can see the outline of his underwear, for example. Nor have I seen a similar display of the chest; I don’t think I see any men wearing low-cut tank-tops or keeping the top few buttons of their shirts undone. I’m not saying men don’t dress that way — maybe they do at my parish, but I don’t see them — nor that only women do, owing to their wickedness, or something like that.

        Nor have I said that men appropriately-dressed are in the clear as their minds have inappropriate thoughts as they look at women. I’ve implied the opposite, and now I’ll come right out and say it: I’ve had inappropriate thoughts when looking at some women in (and out of) church, and — gasp! — sometimes without respect to the modesty of their attire. But I certainly won’t say that, given my personal weakness in the matter, modest vs. immodest attire is an unnecessary discussion.

        Edit: a remark from a woman whose opinion I requested on this matter: “Most of the time, discussions of ‘modesty’ are really targeting women. Men can dress inappropriately and get by because they’re covered up in a way that’s socially acceptable. A woman in a short skirt will generate more talk than a guy in dirty jeans and a football jersey.” (Note that she’s talking about modesty and appropriateness.)

      13. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #84:
        Thank you for the clarification Jeffrey.

  13. Father Allan J. McDonald Avatar
    Father Allan J. McDonald

    Appropriate dress is the concern. In the south dressy Bermuda shorts and pull over shirt are quite common for men and boys and similar dressy casual summer wear for girls and women. What is unfortunate is short shorts, gym shorts and tee shirts with crass slogans. I’ve also seen tank tops, bare midriffs and halter tops. I’ve gotten use to flip flops a long long tradition in the south except for church. My previous parish which I’ve visited these past two weekends and for a funeral today is a heavily mixed race parish and the African Americans and now native Africans would not be caught dead in some of the attire they see the whites wearing and are shocked by it. Apart from respect due to God one would think our modest and appropriate attire would respect our fellow pilgrims who are The Body of Christ, the Church.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Father Allan J. McDonald – comment #14:

      Fr. Allan: Appropriate dress is the concern. In the south dressy Bermuda shorts and pull over shirt are quite common for men and boys and similar dressy casual summer wear for girls and women.

      I was not aware that in some parts of the United States, “dressier” shorts are considered appropriate attire for Mass. Thank you for mentioning this. I’ve projected the prejudices of my upbringing into this discussion of “appropriate” or “inappropriate” attire. Now I know a bit better to not project these prejudices despite my personal choice to not wear shorts to church.

      I agree with the other participants in this thread that, regardless of what the worshiper or communicant is wearing, he or she should not be singled out on the spot or refused the sacrament for what some or many would consider inappropriate dress. Particularly problematic in my view are churches which post “recommendations” for “proper” church attire in an attempt to control attire before liturgies. A local ROTR/EF parish has signs at each entrance with guidelines. The majority of the recommendations pertain to women’s attire. This strikes me as a unhealthy, prurient, and daresay even misogynist focus on the imagined sexuality of an assembly. Does “custody of the eyes” pertain only to men’s sexual attraction towards women? What about women’s sexual attractions to men? What about the minority of persons who are not attuned to heterosexual attractions? Why the heck should any of this matter? Something tells me that when clergy and laity move towards legislating dress within a parish, the legislation quickly accelerates away from imagined social mores towards sexual obsessions. ick. Better then to let everyone “come as they are” and sort out inter-community conflicts later.

    2. Charles Day Avatar

      @Father Allan J. McDonald – comment #14:
      “Flip flops”. True story: I have a cousin who lives in Florida who got married when he was a little over 40. He had to buy a pair of shoes for his wedding because all he owned was flip flops and one pair of lightly used running shoes. But he also attends Mass faithfully and every year he spends a week on retreat at the monastery in Conyers.

      Then there are those darn Franciscans who celebrate Mass in sandals, and if we believe the Gospels, sandals were popular with Jesus and the Apostles.

      I never wear flip flops or sandals, but it’s because I have really ugly feet and suffer from the sin of pride.

  14. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    I sense a contrarian or even rebellious element in a number of the responses thus far. Americans just don’t like to be told what to do or what to wear. The inference from the topic is that some authority might wish to impose a dress code on Sunday Eucharist, and how would we welcome that. Well, it all depends on how it’s framed, don’t you think? We all know that the Mass involves a meal. So is it a potluck, picnic, or banquet? Is it being held in a backyard, at the beach, or in a Cathedral or parish church? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I dress for specific venues and occasions. When I participate in Mass other than as a con-celebrant, I wear slacks and a shirt with a collar. Sometimes I wear dress shoes and other times black tennis shoes (sometimes I go for a walk after Mass). How is it that many people of all ages seem to know how to dress up for occasions like job interviews, funerals, weddings, proms, and dinners at a nice restaurant but seem put upon at the suggestion that going to Mass is more of a dress up occasion than a dress down one?
    I ask my CM’s and readers to wear what they might consider “Sunday best”. There’s a range of responses, but they all look dressed up to me. I seldom say anything to the people at large, because those who dress down for Mass still seem to constitute a distinct minority. Only rarely am I approached by someone seeking communion who looks like they might benefit from a discussion about appropriate dress.
    Jesus did say something about dress when he referred to someone showing up in rags and being sent to sit on the sidelines. To suggest from that the principle that how one dresses when offering the Church’s sacrifice of praise is of no moment is over the top. Just saying.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #15:
      I was told once that the host provided the garments for a wedding. Thus the guests in the parable who showed up in rags had rejected the clothing offered to them. I have no idea if this interpretation is correct.

  15. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I wear a tie with dress shirt most Sundays. Add a coat or vest for weddings and funerals. I’ve been in the minority since I began parish ministry in the late 80’s.

    I get squeamish when I hear men opine about improper dress for women. Inevitably I hear complaints about revealing clothing. I know I’m in the minority, but I think shorts on men and shirts not tucked in look crass every day.

    I suggest to liturgical ministers to dress one level of formality higher than the assembly. And to use good judgment. And nearly everyone does.

  16. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    Something like 15% of all people, and almost a quarter of all children in the US live below the poverty level. We need to take care than in emphasizing respect for the occasion, we don’t exclude people. I live in a failing factory town. We have examples of both urban and rural poverty within 1 mile of where I sit. It always bothered me that belonging to the parish seemed to be something for “respectable” middle class people rather than those down on their luck.
    I’m old enough that I would feel uncomfortable showing up in t shirt and jeans, but how do we make other people comfortable at church if that’s all they have?

  17. Jill Maria Murdy Avatar

    In Montana or North Dakota, a cowboy putting on crisp new ironed jeans WAS dressing up for church for many. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago at a funeral while visiting my home town.

    I think the issue of “what are you wearing” is part of the larger question/sense of frustration/ about a declining sense of reverence in church, and that is the larger question.

  18. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    Cultural and the local context of what one wears to Church has to be taken into account, such as what Jill says about a cowboy/girl putting on crisp ironed jeans, etc. The same with nice shorts and shirt in the south. But where culture is disintegrating is the overly casual and tasteless choices people are making even now for funerals and this is across the board. I have a good friend a funeral director and he is constantly amazed at how people now come dressed for funerals. In the south in the past, coat and tie for men, and Sunday dress for women was the norm and everyone knew the norm and the cultural pressure to conform. I’ve also seen casual dress at formal Catholic weddings, another thing that would have been unheard of even 20 years ago in the south. In terms of poor people and someone has already written about African American Protestant Churches, poor or rich, the dress expectation and the need to conform to it for church is still very strong. I drive to Augusta on Sunday through rural Georgia and pass many Black Protestant Churches as some of getting out late in the afternoon and they are all dressed to the nines. They know they need to have at least one set of “going to Church ” clothes and they will shop second hand shops for them and pay what they can afford. They don’t use being poor as an excuse for they know that they can get a good set of clothes somewhere and they are ingenious about it.

  19. Scott Knitter Avatar
    Scott Knitter

    I tend to think what is appropriate for church is what the individual feels is appropriate, but one can’t always count on that. I didn’t blame the priest I once heard tell of a young person who approached to receive Communion and was wearing a T-shirt that said “Do It in the Dells!” (referring to the Wisconsin Dells, a popular recreation region in that state). The priest said he silently prayed that the back of the shirt was not an illustration of the saying on the front, and sadly his prayer was not granted. Cartoon characters “doing it” in the Dells. He used that as an example of something inappropriate for Mass, along with T-shirts advertising stuff, especially alcohol; and the usual garments that are less appropriate because they don’t cover enough or are a bit too revealing of what’s underneath them. And baseball caps off.

    I think what’s generally appropriate is clothing that demonstrates at least a thought for the holiness of the place and occasion. That could mean clean, neat T-shirt and jeans, or just something nondescript and modest (not calling attention), or the business-casual or business-dress mode.

  20. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    I think we should go back to the practice of the middle ages. I have no idea what that was. How many people had lots of clothes? Would everyone know one another? Were class differences important?

  21. charles rohrbacher Avatar
    charles rohrbacher

    This discussion on this topic calls to mind my experience on a Sunday out on St.George Island in the Pribilof Islands. At the time in 1993 the village had a population of 143– all Orthodox Christians. I was there doing a residency as an artist in January (not a month ever featured in the tourist brochures advertising the scenic beauty and other charms of the Bering Sea) and the priest (scheduled to fly over from nearby St. Paul Island) couldn’t make it in because of the weather. However, at 10:00am the bells started ringing and the church slowly filled up with pretty much all the residents (plus one visitor) for the reader’s service (during which the assembly sang their parts of the service from memory in Slavonic, Aleutic and English).

    During the week village residents wore what you would expect in rural Alaska in the winter: knit hats, parkas, snow boots, quilted coveralls, etc… But I noticed that everyone who had trudged over in their winter clothes were wearing their Sunday best underneath– the men and boys had on suits and ties, the women and girls dresses or skirts. The boots came off at the door and the dress shoes were put on. St.George was not a particularly affluent community either — I was met at the airstrip by a village elder driving a vehicle featuring a replacement door panel on driver’s side made of plywood and visquine duct-taped over a couple of broken windows.

    After church I asked if this particular Sunday was a special occasion (they were only able to celebrate Divine Liturgy about two times a month because they did not have a resident priest) and I was told, no, this is how they dressed for church every Sunday. Later in the week, when the priest finally made it over from St. Paul everybody turned up midweek in their Sunday best for an evening celebration of the liturgy.

    So I guess my answer, based on my experience with the people of the village of St. George (where on a clear day, while you can’t exactly see Russia, it’s the next stop headed due west), yes, I think its both possible and desirable to dress up for church.

  22. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

    I really like what Michelle Francl said in the first comment about dressing with thought.

    As I typically have some role in liturgical ministry, I do tend to wear a pants suit in the winter and a dress or skirt in the summer. However, if I am visiting somewhere, I will still try to dress appropriately.

    For me it is not about people who are wearing fancier clothes or not – but once again, I point to the thoughtful. I am in a suburban parish, and one that is more well off than not in general. Sometimes people show up looking like coming to church was an afterthought.

    For me it is also a boundary issue of sorts – is where we are important or not? Recently I visited an Episcopal church. People were dressed casually, but neatly. I imagined all the people in shorts, especially those that did not belong in them and realized that I probably would not see that look in that place.

  23. Bill Kish Avatar
    Bill Kish

    I usually wear Dockers and a shirt with a collar with casual shoes. Infrequently I will wear jeans. I do not see many at our church who dress inappropriately. It is more important for people to be there.

  24. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    Flip the question around, and ask when are the clothes too elaborate for Church. I am thinking of the frequent criticism of families seen to be spending too much on a First Communion or wedding dress. We could also apply the question to certain cardinals.

  25. Peter Rehwaldt Avatar
    Peter Rehwaldt

    As I read this post, my mind went immediately to an experience I had as a guest presider at a parish where the pastor was away at a conference and asked me to preside in his stead.

    The usher in the narthex was dressed in coat and tie — a bit more formal than most of the folks in the pews that day, but not unduly so — and as we sang the opening hymn, I could hear a rattling commotion behind me. As I turned to face the assembly for the greeting, I could see (but not hear) the usher speaking to a shabbily-dressed homeless man who had dragged a large trashbag of empty cans up the cement stairs and into the narthex. The man was clearly concerned about his bag of cans, which he had no doubt spent a lot of time collecting. The usher pointed to an empty seat in the last pew, and then to the cans, a spot in the narthex, and himself. The man looked at the usher for a moment, then handed him the bag and took a place in the last pew.

    The words of the greeting “. . . be with you all” never sounded quite so powerful to me as they did that day.

    The good news is a gift to those in coats and ties, and those in torn slacks and stained shirts. We do not earn our place in God’s family by our choice of attire.

  26. crystal watson Avatar

    When I did go to church I usually wore nice jeans and a nice shirt – I can’t drive so mostly walked to church.

    The question that occurs to me is for whom are church goers dressing up? I honestly don’t think God cares – most people don’t dress up at home before praying – so it’s other people we’re dressing up for?

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @crystal watson – comment #28:
      Ah, but why did you wear “nice” jeans and a “nice” shirt? Why did the niceness matter?

      It may be that God does not care (I’m not sure I agree with that claim), but it’s clear that other people do. St. Paul recommends that, when we have the choice, we avoid offending our weaker brothers and sisters, but also that neither should judge the other:

      “Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats. … Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. … It is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.” (Rom. 14:3, 13, 21)

      If I may use this web site as an analogy… does God care if I use my full name here or not? Does He care if I stay on topic? (I suspect He cares whether I am charitable and respectful or not!) Does He care if my contributions are particularly intelligent and constructive? And does He care if I exceed the character limit and post too much?

      Nevertheless, the comments policy of this blog expects this of me. Am I right in disregarding this policy — perhaps because my conscience permits it — because I don’t think God is particularly concerned with my adherence to it? Regardless of what God thinks, the owners of this blog do care. And as a fellow Christian (and fellow human), my respect for them and for their authority over this web site of theirs should govern my actions.

  27. Charles Jordan Avatar
    Charles Jordan

    – This is a good follow up to the thread on multicultural liturgies.

    – Whereas a multicultural liturgy is a macro snapshot of the often culturally mixed celebrating community, this discussion on sartorial choices is a micro snapshot of the celebrating community.

    – Sartorial discussions by their nature baseline several cultural markers. That is, overt observations reveal the observer’s expectations about: expected economic priorities in the family; perceived social status; cultural origins and history of a family (or individual).

    – For Salubong, Philipino men wear formal Filipino shirts. That is, an highly starch square hemmed, collared , and often embroidered shirt made from a very thin “see through” cotton cloth. Obviously, the undershirt is usually a muscle shirt — at least in this country. Clearly the formal shirt has its origins in an hot and humid climate.

    – Meanwhile, on the feast of Guadalupe it is expected that many, especially those of Mexican descent, come dressed in festive attire that does not include suit and ties for men. Sometimes men will sport a bolo tie but never four-in-hand knotted ties. For men, trousers often will be jeans. The women, weather depending, will wear sandals, and collarless blouses with a wide neckline.

    – Elsewhere, for instance, in a region that experienced Jim Crow, church goers will dress very fashionably and formally (hats for women and young women, suits and ties for youths and men). These church-goers could very well be from families who were never allowed property ownership (at least after the passage of Jim Crow laws) and to whom the most menial of work was consigned. Thus, because the ownership was not constrained by law, clothes (and latter cars) became the personal possessions of choice, and ‘dressing-up’ signified that those who worked as maids, laborers, or share croppers had a strong sense of personal worth which belied the experience of the other six days of the week.

    – The domestic church to the parochial church celebrants come as they are.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      @Charles Jordan – comment #30:
      Your comment about Jim Crow also applies to the urban immigrants of the 1920’s. I recall a photo from that era of the men of the parish Communion society, all lined up in their best suits and ties. They were all steel workers. Their wives and sisters had all been house maids. Many had been raised in stone sheds in the old country. They appreciated being able to dress well to their dying day.

  28. Padre Dave Poedel, STS Avatar

    In 2 of the 3 pictures, at least the priest was vested traditionally. As a traditional, evangelical catholic Lutheran, I vest for each service in the same traditional Eucharistic vestments shown here. Many of my ëmergent/emerging” brothers can be seen “vested” in Dockers and a Hawaiian shirt for the Eucharist. Christie eleison.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Padre Dave Poedel, STS – comment #31:
      Padre Dave, the question remains, why is Dockers-and-a-Hawaiian-shirt inappropriate attire for one presiding at the Eucharist, and why is traditional attire (still) appropriate?

  29. M. Jackson Osborn Avatar
    M. Jackson Osborn

    Someone above related the gospel account of the wedding guest who was cast into the outer darkness because he had dared to come to the wedding without a wedding garment, and the servants were told to go and gather persons from the streets.
    I rather feel this way about those who it seems could very well wear the appropriate ‘wedding garments’ to mass but instead show up bare legged and in tennis shoes and flip flops and who-knows-what-excuse-for-a -shrit. And women who dress any and everwhere (including church) as provocatively as the law will allow. We should not be asked to tolerate this attire, neither we nor God should be the beneficiaries of such callous insouciance on the part of people who obviously think very little of themselves, very little of their brethren, and very liitle of their Godly Host. I believe that one or two things are evident here: God DOES care, WE do care, and the tackily attired person doesn’t care about anything. If a street person comes in smelly rags that are all he or she has, then he should be shown to the choicest seat on the front pew. But if the bank president’s or the professor’s son and daughter appear in flip flops, wrinkled shorts and groin and bosom enhancing attire, they should be denied entrance.
    Several above have averred that God doesn’t care…
    um, how do they know this? Did he tell them?

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #38:

      MJO: If a street person comes in smelly rags that are all he or she has, then he should be shown to the choicest seat on the front pew. But if the bank president’s or the professor’s son and daughter appear in flip flops, wrinkled shorts and groin and bosom enhancing attire, they should be denied entrance.

      I was brought up in the privileged circumstances to which you allude, and I couldn’t disagree with you more. I find your assessment of the intersection between personal background, dress, and participation in an Christian assembly troubling. Expectations of behavior based on “class” gravely wound charity within an assembly.

      Certainly, I was rash to reflexively impute a sexual motive to a pastor who posted attire regulations in his parish vestibules (c.f. #35.) I still maintain that such standards can discriminate by placing uncharitable emphasis on the behavior of women over men. This previous example underscores the reality that there is no male or female when the baptized are gathered as an assembly. There is also no ethnicity, differences in income, and professional titles in the assembly. When Christians are gathered for worship, they are only brother and sister.

      The only expectation that each person should hold of any brother or sister at the eucharist is his or her desire to worship in goodwill. This goodwill should be presumed despite a brother or sister’s attire, decorum, or mannerisms. The presumption that a person’s material wealth or poverty should influence their attire or behavior in general undercuts the radical egalitarianism inherent in the Pauline Body and at every liturgy.

  30. Joshua Vas Avatar
    Joshua Vas

    Dunstan Harding : Why not a white baptismal gown for everyone, or maybe a white suit/dress for Sundays and feasts?

    This is actually what the Ethiopian Orthodox observe for most of the year – as was explained to me, the stricter people will wear white for every Eucharist and the less strict will do so when they are going to receive Holy Communion.

  31. crystal watson Avatar


    Of course, I don’t really know if God cares about what we wear or not, but 🙂 ….

    “Why worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t labor or spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was robed as one of these.”

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @crystal watson – comment #40:
      I think that’s close to “proof-texting”…

      In Matthew 6:23-33, Jesus is talking about anxiety about worldly things getting in the way of striving for the kingdom: “do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.”

      Yet isn’t it wise to eat healthful foods, to exercise and stay in shape, and to avoid drinking alcohol in excess? Jesus isn’t telling us to disregard our bodies in those ways, is He, despite saying that “life is more than food”? So can’t we apply the same logic to what He says about clothing?

      I don’t know the circumstances of His day, but the message I get from these verses is to avoid envy and the obsession for being fashionable. These verses come right after “you cannot serve to masters, God and mammon”, as if Jesus is saying that obsessing about food and drink and clothing is service to mammon instead of to God.

  32. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
    Fr. Jim Blue

    I don’t think it’s a matter of church attire changing over the years, but about attire in general. It wasn’t long ago that men would wear suits and ties to a picnic and women a dress. I’ve seen pictures of amusement parks with everyone dressed up. I think people wear to church whatever they are going to be wearing for the day.

    For my part, I am happy if people just wear something comfortable, and that self-appointed church fashion police would spend less time judging and more time praying.

  33. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    The nearby parish does not have a beautiful sung Eucharist Prayer, nor as fine a choir, nor as many hymns that I know how to sing, nor as attractive sermons as the one that is twenty miles away that I prefer to attend.

    But, I am thankful that the local parish has many beautiful women. Perhaps I notice them because otherwise it is a rather boring place.

  34. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

    For all the talk of what is nice or not, for all the talk of what God cares about our finery and so forth… OK, imagine preparing for dinner with someone that you truly love. Sure, sometimes casual works, but sometimes we want to be thoughtful in how we look and present ourselves.

    A number of years ago I worked in NYC, but the company had a large office in Florida as well. Over the years, casual dress had turned into shorts and t-shirts, flip flops and so forth. As it grew closer to the time when we were moving into a new state of the art tech center and world class showcase for our business, it was decided that the dress code should change.


    Apparently (and I concur, as I managed folks in the FL office) a more relaxed dress code descended into a far more casual attitude about work.

    We don’t need to sport the finest outfits and wear suits and so forth, but what does our clothing communicate? Not to other people, or even to God, but in our own hearts? That is where the connection to God and to God’s people comes in.

    Does this make any sense or am I just ranting now?

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #44:

      For whom do we dress? God? Ourselves? Others?

      As a child of God, I don’t dress for God anymore than I dressed for my parents, who conceived me, diapered me, and raised me, whose love for me and mine for them has never been in any serious doubt. My clothing around them was determined more by the occasion and who else was present. Since we should “pray always” the same applies to God.

      Much of formal clothing is about social communication, our ethnicity, social status, roles, etc. That communication is for us as well as others. The cassock and Roman collar creates expectations for the wearer as much as for others.

      Above we have two examples #30 Charles Jordan, and #23 charles rohrbacher in which dressing up for church likely affirmed both personal worth and ethic esteem for two minorities that otherwise had few chances to dress up. The observations of Jordan Zarembo #4 and Jack Wayne #9 suggest that prior to SP a concern to affirm both the EF and themselves may had led people to dress up. So even in environments of high formality, that symbolic language still communicates something about oneself, and could be used as self expression to affirm one’s dignity and worth.

      With the advent of the information age and postindustrial consumerism, formal clothes with their limited symbolic meanings have not so much been abandoned but vastly overshadowed and lost in all the many possible fashion expressions that are available. My post #6 shows how traditional symbolic meanings and postindustrial consumerism and have come together in how I express myself in “vesting” for Mass.

      While how I vest for Mass has great meaning for myself, others might see it as too liturgical, or even too clerical. All the abundant self-expression at Mass is subject to misinterpretation. Others may be wearing their favorite shorts, T-shirt, or clogs, etc. They are doing this mainly for themselves, perhaps for some (family and friends ) who understand, and maybe even for God.

      This comment should be read in light of the original post’s questions as well as Fran’s comment.

      1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

        @Jack Rakosky – comment #59:
        Thank you for your thoughts. I was posing some rhetorical questions as part of my reflecting on this matter and I can appreciate what you say here.

  35. Bruce Ludwick, Jr. Avatar
    Bruce Ludwick, Jr.

    I don’t like to be over the top with this: people have mentioned correctly that there are many cultural and regional distinctions on dress. (I would argue by the same token that many of those distinctions are vanishing, for better or worse, now that globalization and the internet culture reaches more deeply into society.) When I’ve been asked by choir members, kids, etc., I like to focus on Sunday Mass, as weekdays depend greatly on a person’s occupation, etc., and their professional clothes. But for Sunday Mass, I always like the descriptor “wedding feast of the Lamb”. At times I don’t feel like dressing up, I remind myself that Mass is truly a wedding feast, and that I should dress as if I was going to “normal” wedding, within reason.

    One hot weather alternative for men that is respectful and dignified looking (although not super formal) is the guyabera (aka Mexican wedding shirt). Anyone in South Florida is familiar with the guyabera, and the more subdued ones are a great and very light linen substitute for a dress shirt and tie!

  36. Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh Avatar

    Our bishop, +GJHartmayer, OFMConv, has been known to wear sandals at mass, even in Fr. McDonald’s church, resulting in clerical consternation and comment.

    1. Father Allan J. McDonald Avatar
      Father Allan J. McDonald

      @Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh – comment #46:
      Sandals on cleric such as Franciscans, but others also are part of our religeous culture for certain orders , but His Excellency did not wear flip flops which does have a different cultural context until rather recently. But cultural and religeous context is important although I wouldn’t join an order that wears sandals because I’ve always despised them on men– just a personal great dislike I have and for all my life.

  37. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    There’s a difference between looking at someone (same or opposite gender, depending on your orientation) with carnal lust in your heart, and an honest appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation in the body and movements of another. Both lust and appreciation can be accentuated by the clothing worn by the body in question, and this is particularly true in the realm of liturgical dance. I think that many people are confused by this difference in perception.

    Like JP, I used to look askance at bra straps, décolletages, etc, not for the sexual references but because it just looked messy, but these days it’s such a common sight that I rarely notice any more unless it’s a case of blatant flaunting. Fashions have changed, and I am hesitant to pass judgement on a man or woman who may simply be intent on enhancing the beauty that God gave them, rather than trying to attract someone.

  38. Paul R. Schwankl Avatar
    Paul R. Schwankl

    Recounted by a former pastor of mine: Once in a sermon he criticized people who came to Mass in clothing he deemed too casual. Some time later he ran into a parishioner and remarked that he hadn’t seen her in a while. She told him that she’d been staying away from church because she feared her clothes weren’t good enough. The priest resolved then and there that he would never again say anything about how participants in the Eucharist dressed.

  39. Jeanne M arie Miles Avatar
    Jeanne M arie Miles

    I give a dress code to ministers when I train them. I always preface the dress code by admitting that the question of “appropriate dress” for church changes depending on your region, ethnicity, socio-economic status and age. I point out the 90-year-old who wears elegant pantsuits and pumps for “Sunday Mass” as well as the 30-year-old lawyer who wears cargo shorts and a flowered shirt for “Sunday Mass family gathering.” We talk about interior disposition mattering more than exterior garments. Then, I tell them that as ministers, they have a specific role – that of being transparent to Christ. My dress code is pretty mild, but I also always charge them to consider whether or not their clothing will distract someone from the presence of Christ.

  40. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Thanks, Ms. Miles – like many of the comments above, a common sense approach that respects folks and yet carefully raises the point.

    Allan – your latest blog mentions Augusta, GA and Rev. Abram Ryan. Note that Ryan was educated at St. Mary-of-the-Barrens, Perryville, MO; ordained a Vincentian; and was student director at Perryville and later Cape Girardeau, MO – CM minor seminary but a diocesan seminary at that time. Unfortunately, the CM community in the 1860’s was largely northern German, Italian, and Irish first or second generation and Ryan’s southern roots and sympathies drove him from the community.

  41. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    I can’t imagine Jesus wearing very expensive garments, but he did have a seamless tunic. It sounds like a vote for well made, well wearing clothing more than high fashion.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      @crystal watson – comment #57:
      I like this quote from your link:

      “If it’s important to people to dress up, they should do that, but they should not feel that because it’s important to them, it must be important to everyone else. When people complain about how others dress, there’s something amiss in their faith, worship and what church is about.” “

  42. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    All this has brought back to me our southern casualness of the 1960’s when our family moved to Augusta, GA. My father would absolutely go ballistic seeing so many children with their parents in public places who went barefooted, and even some of their parents. This would be at casual shopping centers and corner stores and the like. It was a stereotype that my father couldn’t get over was actually true in the 1960’s. And yes many of my little southern friends boys and girls went barefooted in the summer and for most of the summer and could even walk on 200 degrees hot asphalt and it would seem that it never even phased them. I think that over time they had acquired genetically thicker leather-like feet bottoms compared to the rest of us. I could never go barefooted for long without resorting to the next best thing, flip flops in the summer. Of course there were many cut feet, punctured feet and tetanus shots, all a part of the great gift of going barefooted and having it culturally acceptable, although my father thought it was far from cultural. Of course some establishments had signs saying shoes required, spoil sports that they were. But of course even the most red neck southerners put on their Sunday best and shoes and socks for Church up until recently, although the barefoot tradition has subsided greatly.

  43. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Did Jesus wear shoes? socks? sandals? go barefoot?

    Question never occurred to me before.

    How much evidence do we have of what people at his time and place in various roles wore?

    How is Jesus depicted in art? Never recall noticing.

    Are there any relics of his footwear?

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #63:
      The Church of Quo Vadis displays an impression made by bare feet; most, if not all, Ascension artwork that I can recall displays Jesus in bare feet. He told His disciples to shake the dust from their feet. He sent them out without (with, says Mark) sandals.

      Then again, John the Baptist did not consider himself worthy to loosen the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Maybe Jesus loosened them Himself and took them off once and for all at the beginning of His ministry? 😉

  44. Brendan Kelleher svd Avatar
    Brendan Kelleher svd

    It was already 30 degrees Celsius (86+F) when I headed to 7:00 o’clock Mass this morning, with humidity around 80%. Looking across the congregation most were trying to keep cool, but struggling. Hoping not to disturb the sensitivities of some commenters, I was wearing a short sleeved polo shirt, and sandals with socks, but they came off soon after. By the middle of the day temperatures will rise by at least five to six degrees, and with two typhoons in the vicinity no let up in the humidity rating. The generation gap in sartorial options is most evident at the main Sunday Eucharist, and compared to when I came to Japan nearly forty years ago, the tolerance level has changed. One or two youger Japanese confreres have commented that rather than worry about how the young dress we should be grateful for those who still come to Church.
    At our recent General Chapter, held in the relatively cooler climate of our renewal and on-going formation center – Ad Gentes Center, Nemi, all Chapter members were given a white short sleeved polo shirt with the Chapter logo and slogan printed on it; it’s a Filipino custom to make commemorative T-shirts/polo shirts. When the Chapter was honored with a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, while members of the Generalate, in the main, wore black suits and roman collars, a couple wore the traditional dress of their home and/or mission countries, similarly with respect to representative members of the Chapter who were presented to the Pope. Among the rest there were quite a few proudly wearing their Chapter polo shirts, and just as many demonstrating we are a “rainbow” congregation who take pride in our internationality, our commitment to mission in a cross-cultural context. Any SVD gathering, including our liturgies has always been so, and the passing of time has shown that it hasn’t had a negative effect on our work or witness.
    “Sunday Best” – where did the idea come from? It seems to be culturally conditioned, and to have seen change in many cultures across time.

  45. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    #31, #47, #50, #51, #56, #60, #61,#65,#67

    Most womens’ choice of dress are likely determined by our consumer economy, much as my choice to wear a pectoral cross was determined by my mother’s jewelry store cross, and my collecting crosses as I visited museum stores around the country.

    There are probably people for whom my pectoral crosses are an occasion of rash judgment, e.g. “who does he think he is.” The people who often complaint of irreverence at Mass have not thanked me “for being a model of reverence” nor imitated my example.

    I encouraged other people to the wear crosses at Mass by promoting the wearing of “Jerusalem Crosses” by people in Bible study. The bible study people accepted the idea; again no congratulations from the “irreverence police.”

    I have often heard it said that women dress for women. From a year I spent in which my lunch companions were fellow women professionals but I had to listen to a lot of ‘girl talk’, I can certainly believe that.

    When I taught college a couple of decades ago, I read a list that covered the multitude of different things that are considered sexually attractive by different cultures. It is mostly in the eye of the beholder. Some people have said the brain is the primary sexual organ.

    With regard to distractions at prayer (including sexual distractions) the desert solitaries (who had no one to look at) had much to say. Their primary advice was to stay focused on prayer no matter how dry, or boring or how many the distractions. They viewed distractions, especially sexual ones, at an opportunity for humility as an antidote to spiritual pride. Revered fathers would tell how many years they had been distracted by sexual thoughts and that those distractions had not yet ended. Finally it was important not to focus on the distractions and make them rather than prayer and humility as the issues.

    Good advice for the clothing distractions at the dry, boring Masses at some of our parishes.

  46. Tony Ball Avatar
    Tony Ball

    I prefer to wear a suit and tie. It’s a personal preference, and was common at the church I grew up in. However, I often feel silly or out-of-place if the church I’m at is much more casual.

    I think one should dress up more than the everyday. Not for God, He doesn’t care what you wear, but for the other people. I consider dressing up my way to honor those at church with me, to present my best appearance to them. Not to mention, there is STILL a large cultural perception that church is a formal place, despite what the reality may be. I see no reason to disappoint this.

    At the same time, I’m disgusted by dress codes and shaming words. Despite my usual suit and tie, there have been many occasions (vacation) where all I have is a t-shirt and shorts. And I’ve been tempted to stay home on Sunday, out of shame that I might be perceived as irreverent based on my appearance. What is a real shame is that anyone might be caused to think like that!

    Best appearance, and acceptance for those who don’t. I don’t think this is too much to ask.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      @Tony Ball – comment #71:
      Well said!

  47. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    I pay so little attention to clothes that it took me over a year after joining the choir before I realized that I was the only member wearing jeans at Mass. One day it suddenly hit me: the other choir members dressed up for Mass! Whenever I saw them wearing jeans, T-shirts or sweat shirts, it was for rehearsal, not for Mass! I had never noticed the difference before, and no one had said anything to me.

    On the other hand I wear my leather sandals from Holy Land for Mass whenever the weather allows it. (But no one else know that they’re from there.)

  48. crystal watson Avatar

    I think I understand what Fran means about burqas and about men wanting women to dress ‘modestly’ in church. Sometimes underlying the call for modesty is the belief that people aren’t responsible for their own feelings, but that these feelings are elicited from them against their will – that the object of their feelings is responsible. This is wrongheaded, I think, on so many levels.

    A comparative trip through history would probably show that our society is not really over-sexed.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @crystal watson – comment #74:
      I didn’t say I don’t consider myself responsible for my feelings. And the woman is at least responsible for her attire.

      But don’t deflect the issue: whether a man’s reaction to a scantily-clad woman in a church is the fault of the man or the woman, the issue is the appropriateness of being scantily-clad at Mass. (Switch “man” and “woman” there if need be.)

      And it’s not just men who want women to dress modestly in church; some women want it too. And I want men to dress modestly, even though I’m not sexually attracted to them.

      A comparative trip through history would probably show that our society is not really over-sexed.

      Compared to what society and when? And “probably”?

      Here are some game-changers: the printing press, radio, television, the internet… and the sexual revolution of the past century.

  49. crystal watson Avatar

    Do you believe being scantily clad is not appropriate at mass? Could you say why?

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @crystal watson – comment #76:
      Yes, I believe being scantily clad is inappropriate in church. (Of course, different cultures will have different standards… but in the US, I would be shocked if I saw a man without a shirt on at Mass, or in a speedo, or a woman in little more than the average beach volleyball attire.)

      Why do I think it’s inappropriate? Because I consider it to be immodest, and immodesty is inappropriate in a house of Christian worship. I consider it disrespectful to the human person and the dignity thereof, because I think modest and decency show the proper respect for human persons and their dignity.

  50. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Jeffrey Pinyan : perhaps it’s because I don’t regularly encounter immodestly dressed men in churches, or maybe I’m not fully aware of what is considered immodest attire for men.

    You clearly haven’t been around much, Jeffrey. I am not homosexual either, but I can certainly recognize when men are dressing to attract rather than to be beautiful.

  51. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    Jeffrey Pinyan : Of course, different cultures will have different standards…

    I take you to mean that you would not be offended by this, which causes many pursed lips and much tut-tuting among the crazy-trad set on the internet machine.

  52. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    I suspect men know what’s in men’s minds and it isn’t always good. I’ve had many men say to me that they are easily enticed by how women dress and they know it is wrong and they try to repent of it, but that is how they are wired. They don’t like be tempted in church or at Mass but many are and this causes them a great deal of guilt. They are working on their sin, but are being placed in an occasion of sin by those who dress in what these men, who are easily enticed, believe to be a seductive or tantalizing type of outerwear. I think men are more aroused by visual images then women are although that is changing in our society too. Common sense needs to prevail in these things and modesty is not a four letter word, especially when it comes to dress for church and for men or women.

  53. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    What is objectionable is the attitude that men are hardwired, and therefore not responsible for their sexuality, that it is women who are the problem. That has justified everything from excluding women from going outside the home, to excluding them from “male” jobs, to catcalls to rape. Gosh, are there still men who don’t understand the problem with this attitude!!!

    If men find their own sexuality to be such a big problem when they encounter women at church, they can begin a movement of men dressing up with sports coat and tie, etc. Maybe that would help men to be more formal, controlled and reverent, or maybe just focus on their own uncomfortable clothes. Maybe the women will decide to get dressed up too.

    And the priests could help the men by having better more involving liturgies and better homilies, and the choir could choose hymns that men know and like, etc. In other words if we just all concentrate at doing our best at worship, we will be doing what God wants. When we focus on distractions and blame those distractions on others, we not likely doing what God wants.

    1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #85:
      What is objectionable is the attitude that men are hardwired, and therefore not responsible for their sexuality, that it is women who are the problem.

      That would indeed be objectionable. But it’s also not at all what Jeffrey wrote. Also offensive (to women as well as men) is an attitude which suggests that women don’t have a duty of care towards other men and women of their community.

      We’re not all isolated within ourselves. I’m responsible for some of the effects of my actions on other people.

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Samuel J. Howard – comment #88:

        “I’m responsible for some of the effects of my actions on other people.”

        Very well said. I totally agree.

        But, we each need to take responsibility for our own actions, not legislate for others how they should take responsibility for their actions.

        From Merton’s collection of desert solitary sayings Wisdom of the Desert

        Here is a monk’s life work…
        not judging others, not reviling, not complaining. IX.

        Despise no one, condemn no one, rebuke no one
        and God will give you peace. XLII.

        Never despise anyone, Never condemn anyone.
        Never speak evil of anyone. LIX.

        If you want to have rest in this life and the next,
        in every conflict say who am I?
        Judge no one. CV

        Also I agree that I am responsible for only some of my actions because their impact on others is very unpredictable, such as in my own use of a pectoral cross at Mass. Am I being a model of reverence, of self righteousness, or liturgical incorrectness?

        The underlying point to the original post is that we now live in a very postindustrial world where most things are not hardwired, biologically or culturally, so that we cannot predict what other people’s responses will be.

    2. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #85
      and @Samuel J. Howard – comment #88:

      Thank you, Sam.

      Jack, I certainly hope I did not come across as saying anything like “men are hardwired, and therefore not responsible for their sexuality, that it is women who are the problem”. Your suggestion to dress more formally may be a good one.

      That said, distractions are caused by something or someone, and although I can recognize my own culpability in being distracted by the distraction, the thing or person causing the distraction also has some responsibility in the matter.

  54. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    To return for a moment to the original post, I think it is a stretch to link this discussion with Romano Guardini’s famous observation about “the liturgical act.”

    First of all, he was commenting at a time when it was far more common than today to see people “dress for church” and yet he still doubted that these very same people were capable of the liturgical act, as he put it: “recovering a forgotten way of doing things.”

    Second, the force of his observation, it seems to me, was directed at the overpowering effects of an individualistic attitude toward salvation itself and thus of the liturgical celebration of salvation.

    What we see in the rise of casual attire at Mass, however, is not so much the inability to see one’s self as a member of a collective, for even the most raunchy attire is generally a group affair, as the brands and youth fads show us. But, rather, the question is whether the decision to conform one’s clothing to leisure / sports / home standards contrasts with the nature of liturgy as a public, non-sports, and non-leisure event. These are the questions about clothes that are upon us today, and ones that I very much doubt are in synch with the issues that prompted Guardini’s concern.

    What I think is more to the point is the eclipse of “Sunday” by “Weekend” as the meaningful unit of time in which church-going principally takes place. This shift may have been nascent when Guardini was reflecting on the liturgy; I am not sure about that. But it is certainly rampant now. Again, I think the subject of our discussion here is simply different.

  55. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    To pursue this line of thinking a little further…

    If liturgy concerns matters of life and death, subjects of public concern, and events which are decisive even beyond the present needs and aspirations we may bring to them, how do we dress for that?

    Annie Dillard suggested crash helmets. A permissible hyperbolic suggestion for a writer of literature.

    It may be that the person whose professional life comes with a certain dress code, but also with certain moral compromises or dilemmas, might feel it more evangelical NOT to “dress for success,” as it were, at church. If Henri Nouwen was correct, all genuine Christian vocation comes with a “downward pull.” (He discusses this in his book Compassion.)

    It has already been mentioned that the poor and disenfranchised traditionally are the most inclined to dress up for church: a statement of their inalienable dignity, and of the value they place on the ecclesial assembly and event.

    What interests me is that each of these examples involves a paradox, and a gospel paradox at that. The last are first, the first are last, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

    One can be well or poorly dressed and be smug, however, so the intention and attitude of the person does matter.

    1. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Avatar

      @Rita Ferrone – comment #87:
      I love everything that you have said in this comment Rita, thank you. So much to think about.

      And the Annie Dillard line – perfect!

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #98:
        Thank you, Fran!

  56. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    I don’t know where that particular quote came from or how one goes from that to not being responsible. If I was the one misquoted when what I actually wrote, ” I’ve had many men say to me that they are easily enticed by how women dress and they know it is wrong and they try to repent of it, but that is how they are wired.” Of course I was speaking of men who are taking responsibility for their voyeuristic actions and trying to repent of it.
    I have never said anything from the ambo about appropriate dress, but we do place in the bulletin especially during the hot, hot, sultry summer months the following: “We know its hot, but please be considerate about your dress and be modest so no one is offended. Please do not wear short shorts, gym shorts, Daisy Duke shorts (everyone here laughs at that) halter tops, tank tops, bare midriffs and no bare feet. They laugh at that too. “No shoes, no shirt, no service!” What we place in the bulletin is directed to men, women, teenagers and boys and girls. We don’t discriminate.

  57. crystal watson Avatar

    Wow, I wondered when VPL (visable panty line) would makes the discussion 😉 It seems like the talk of appropriate clothing is really a talk about sex – some people think it’s inappropriate to have sexual thoughts at church. Why?

    Rita: “If liturgy concerns matters of life and death, subjects of public concern, and events which are decisive even beyond the present needs and aspirations we may bring to them, how do we dress for that?”

    I don’t think dressing up is the answer. It’s as though people try to influence through formal dress what can only be affected by interior integrity. It seems like a ploy or even a kind of magic to believe one can dress for spiritual sucess, but maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @crystal watson – comment #92:
      Crystal, as a married man, I would say it is inappropriate for me to have sexual thoughts about any woman other than my wife, especially during prayer. And from a practical standpoint, I really do not need to know what color or sort of underwear the person in front of me is wearing; I would rather not know.

      I think environment (including attire) does have an impact on our interior life, although it is not magical, as you say. So while it may help to dress formally, it is probably not enough to do so.

    2. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      @crystal watson – comment #92:

      I never said anything about dressing for spiritual success. Are you kidding?

      Speaking for the people who do take care to dress in their best clothes for Sunday Mass (and I do that myself), I don’t think it’s a ploy or magical thinking, and I’m sorry you think that’s my motivation. Why such a negative read?

      1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
        Brigid Rauch

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #99:
        I could understand getting dressed for Church to be part of an individual’s preparation rather than a requirement by the community. For some, wearing special clothes or objects is a sign to themselves that something special is happening. In the secular world, one can look at football fans who paint themselves in the team colors.
        I would put this in the category of something that may be done, not should be or must be.

      2. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        @Brigid Rauch – comment #3:

        Now that we are up to Comment 103, I noticed that clicking on Rita’s comment #99 at comment 103 did not bring me back to comment #99. Perhaps others will notice this problem, too.

  58. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    Has anyone spotted people wearing pajamas in church yet? That seems to be the next step in the current trends towards dressing down.

    1. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar

      @Claire Mathieu – comment #94:
      I think I have seen college students in their sleepwear at a local campus Mass, although I don’t think they were strictly pajamas. And the Mass was around noon. But if students are wearing their sleepwear to class…

  59. crystal watson Avatar

    Hmmm, perhaps the wealthy shouldn’y dress up so much at church – they may be the cause of the poorer members experiencing the sin of envy while at prayer 🙂

  60. crystal watson Avatar


    Sorry – I was responding to thism but I didn’y read it carefully enough …

    “If liturgy concerns matters of life and death, subjects of public concern, and events which are decisive even beyond the present needs and aspirations we may bring to them, how do we dress for that? Annie Dillard suggested crash helmets. A permissible hyperbolic suggestion for a writer of literature.”

    I thought you were asking how we could dress in church for what was beyond our daily concerns – to optimize our spirituality – and I couldn’t see how clothing could affect that. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend.

  61. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    Perhaps a way to solve the dress up problem is to encourage but of course not mandate the development of Christian forms of the Jewish prayer shawl (for women as well as men). They are easily folded and carried in a purse like bag.

    The bag could also keep all the things one might need for Sunday Mass, and could even be cushioned so as to serve as a seat for those places with uncomfortable pews. You take your bag with you and put on your prayer shawl when you get in church. One of our local parishes has neat self service coat rooms. It encourages people to arrive early, and not to bolt for the door afterwards.

    A white or black prayer shawl would always be acceptable; reversible ones could be kept in the parish coat room so that anyone could borrow one if needed.

    Of course the liturgical colors would be encouraged but not necessary.

    Parish organizations and programs could have their own prayer shawls and people would be encouraged to use these anytime they wanted. Nice conversational starters: “Oh you are in the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, and you are in the Bible Study Group”

    Each parish could have its distinctive prayer shawl so you can always take your home parish shawl with you when visiting or vacationing or at diocesan gatherings.

    Of course Catholic Colleges and Universities will want to have prayer shawls for alumni. The academic garb color codes could be adapted for these.

    National organizations, summer programs, conventions and retreat houses could all have their prayer shawls.

    And then of course all those artists who are now doing elaborate stoles for clergy can have a field day doing prayer shawls for laity.

    Finally, of course the fashion industry will provide an extra large and very cooling prayer shawl that you can wear over your bikini or speedo on those really hot summer days.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      @Jack Rakosky – comment #2:
      Silk, cotton, linen or rayon? Brocade or applique? Hand knit, crocheted? What would be the length of the phylacteries? 😉

  62. Paul R. Schwankl Avatar
    Paul R. Schwankl

    I believe Jerry Rubin (1938-1994), may God grant him rest, said sometime around 1970, “The basic issue in America today is clothes.” Jerry, wherever you are, see how you’re vindicated.

  63. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    Of the three photos at the top of this piece, the one with folk in casual, every day clothing brings to mind the phrase “People of God”.

  64. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    In honor of this thread, today for Mass I wore shorts and sneakers, along with a T-shirt that said “Shalom” in English, Hebrew and Arabic (I do not own any less appropriate T-shirt). I observed that out of the 15 people present, I was the only one wearing sneakers, the only one wearing shorts, and, I think, the only one wearing a T-shirt. But no one made any remark about my clothing.

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