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First it was just for church.
Followed by funerals.
Special family gatherings requiring getting “dressed up.”
Most of the men in my family (and in our small town) could pull something out of their closets that fit, looked great, and got attention when they wore it.
My father’s “Sunday shirt” had French cuffs.
I still have, and wear, his favorite cufflinks. My collection has grown though, and on one recent occasion, I had to borrow a pair from my host. I was traveling and had forgotten to pack some cufflinks. Much to my surprise, my host, who is not well known for his sartorial practices, produced a pair that looked great with my outfit.
Over fifty years ago,
when I was in junior high (now known as middle school), I wrote a theme addressing the issue of dress codes and church attendance. In it, I wrote, “Some people only attend church on Easter Sunday and the one nearest Christmas to show off their newest and finest garments. They’re the best dressed devils in town.”
Many people attend church out of habit and because they grew up with no options for their behavior on Sunday other than to attend church. If they only had one outfit designated as their Sunday best, it would wear out quickly with weekly wear.
Are dress codes, both real and perceived, valid reasons for choosing to stay home on Sunday?
Why do we dress up on Sunday and for other special occasions?
I believe it all boils down to one word. Otis Redding wrote the song and Aretha Franklin made a hit with it: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Respect for the entity we join others in worshipping.
Respect for the other worshippers.
Respect for the betrothed.
Respect for the dead.
Respect for ourselves.
Getting dressed up takes a bit of planning.
Are we unwilling to take the time necessary to show respect with our attire in addition to our attendance?
In the early seventies when I was in pharmacy school, dress codes in church began to be relaxed on college campuses. Pastors of every ilk said, “I’d rather see someone in church, regardless of how they’re dressed, than for them to stay home because of a dress code.”
[There’s probably an entire generation to which the title of this piece means nothing.]
In our small town, the first time a woman wore a pantsuit to church,
it was considered scandalous. Jeans for any sex or age were out of the question.
It’s over forty years later now.
In my opinion, the pendulum has swung too far.
It’s time for it to swing back.
Because of a volunteer activity of mine, I frequently visit churches all around western North Carolina. My organization requires me to wear a suit, which I would do anyway. It’s rare to see other men dressed to the nines. When they do have on a suit and tie, it’s the older guys who wear what I buy on eBay as “vintage” clothing.
Sadly, many pastors have succumbed to “casual Friday, Saturday, and Sunday” dress habits. One church I visited, the pastor wore a short sleeved shirt, no necktie, and a shirt pocket full of pens and notes. Does he dress for his audience, or is there another message he’s sending? I bet if he wore a suit, more members of his congregation would find their Sunday best in their closets.
Some pastors wear robes or other vestments. Wonder what they have on underneath?
I noticed a corporate executive at a funeral wearing a polo shirt. Was he intentionally being disrespectful? If so, why bother attending at all? Surely he was simply ignorant of dress habits designed to show respect.
Is our presence alone sufficient to overcome wardrobe neglect?
It’s still disheartening to see what I consider a lack of respect by the choices people make with their attire. If a retired farmer’s “Sunday best” is a pair of overalls and a flannel shirt, fine. But don’t show up another time wearing a three piece Brioni suit, a Vitaliano necktie and Allen Edmonds Fifth Avenues and expect me to understand. Just as we have different prayer habits, we also have various ways to show respect–it just isn’t always obvious.
In the end,
the logic of the pastors of the seventies is sound. We should be attending to worship God and I doubt He cares how we’re dressed.
NOTE: Third in a series of articles on church attendance which began HERE.
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