Church Clothes

October 13, 2013 by Michelle

FL2W disclosure

I grew up Catholic.  I went to church every Sunday, whether I wanted to or not.  As a teenager, I generally didn’t want to.  Getting up early wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t the cool thing to do.  I tried all sorts of tricks and coercion with my mom to try to convince her that I didn’t have to go – and that I could wear whatever I wanted.  I gained a minor concession when she let me teach Sunday School – during church – with a few friends in high school, but church clothes never wavered.

My mom is Donna Reed.  She doesn’t own a pair of jeans, and she would never dream of letting us go to church in anything less than our true Sunday Best.  It wasn’t just that we couldn’t wear jeans and shorts to church but that we had to wear dresses and dress shoes.   I scoffed at that as a child because the clothes weren’t comfortable for me to wear.

As I grew older and started attending church again – of my own volition – something must have sunk in.  I have never once worn jeans to church.  I don’t let the wee ones wear jeans to church, though dress shorts are allowed in the summer as it gets really hot and ugly in Chicago summers.

Jeans or Khaki What is your sunday best?

As the years have gone by, I’ve seen more and more people come dressed in more and more casual clothing to church.   Jeans are now the norm amongst most churchgoers near us.  Many wear jerseys to church to support local sports teams.  Logoed, everyday t-shirts are everywhere.  Our Table & Light ministry had to issue a reminder about what appropriate clothing was for our ministers (altar boys and girls).  And kids come dressed in their sports uniforms constantly.

My family is no longer the norm in what we wear.  We aren’t out of place, but we’re definitely in the minority.  In my mind, dressing nicely is a way to show respect for the church and the celebration of God that you will be participating.  It just doesn’t seem right to not do something special for this one hour a week where we set aside our everyday issues.

The priest at my in-laws’ parish has a different perspective.  In his mind, he would far rather have you in church and dressed in jeans than at home dressed in your Sunday Best.  He has acknowledged that our society has changed and that he needs to change with it to become more accommodating.

And things do change.  The Mass is no longer in Latin.  Growing up, there was no such thing as altar girls in the Catholic church.  All volunteers working in any capacity with or around children have to be VIRTUS trained (recognizing inappropriate contact so it can be reported).  And I wouldn’t dream of wearing a hat to church.

I’m a traditionalist in many ways, however.  I like the songs we sang when I was growing up, not the new-fangled songs that are so much more difficult to sing and don’t have the same memories.  And – for now at least – I hold on to the tradition of wearing our Sunday best as a show of respect when we walk through the sanctuary into the church every Sunday morning.

Where do you fall on the spectrum?

This post was inspired by the book “The Funeral Dress” by Susan Gregg Gilmore as a part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts inspired by books rather than traditional reviews.  You can see my traditional review of “The Funeral Dress” on 5 Minutes for Books.

The Funeral Dress


  • Mimi

    I go back and forth. I try to dress nicely and do wear jeans, but only if I have a nice shirt and shoes on. I tell my boys on Sunday mornings to get church clothes on. That means no pants or shorts with rips in them and a nice shirt and church shoes, but they can wear jeans. We are now going to a church that is extremely relaxed on their clothing stance and I would say 1/3 of the people at church this Sunday were wearing football jerseys! I think that’s pretty ridiculous, but the thing is, that makes me legalistic. The Bible doesn’t tell us there’s an appropriate way to dress for church and there’s nothing laid out for expectations. God wants us to come as we are, and He’s more concerned about our heart’s condition than what we are wearing on our bodies. We’ll continue to dress in a more dressed up way for church, but that’s my expectation. =)

  • Jackie

    I remember having to get dressed up when I was younger. It was uncomfortable!

    Now, I don’t think that Sunday best is required but a nice pair of jeans or khaki’s with a polo type shirt for guys and something similar for girls is acceptable. Tshirts and sports uniforms … No.

  • Pat

    I, too, grew up wearing my Sunday best to church and my family of 6 attended every Sunday (Methodist Church) in the 1950s and ’60s. And I, like you, still would never ever wear jeans to church, though many people do at our church. I rarely even wear slacks to church, usually a skirt and top or a dress. I like singing the hymns I sang in the 50s and ’60s, but I also love lots of contemporary Christian music. We call our vocalists and instrumentalists the “worship team.” I’ve been a part of it for many years, so that is an extra incentive to dress nicely, though the twenty-somethings on the worship team sometimes wear jeans with nice tops.

    There is a Progress House for men near our church…it’s a treatment facility for men trying to overcome substance abuse. Men from the Progress House often come to our church and they usually are wearing jeans and t-shirts, but I’m glad they come, no matter how tatted up and pierced they are and no matter what they are wearing. I try always to greet them and say how glad I am that they came. Many of them have a life-changing experience there as they hear about God’s love for them.

  • Thien-Kim

    I remember the first time my mother allowed me to wear jeans to mass. I was thrilled! We used to fight over my “Sunday best” all the time. After that, she let me wear what I wanted.

  • Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's

    I was raised similarly in regards to church clothes. I married into an Orthodox family, so we are definitely in the majority when wearing our best to mass. When I go home and go to a Christmas or Easter mass and I see lots of people in jeans and jerseys, I cringe. I try hard not to judge, because I am glad they are at church and they may not be able to afford a nice pair of pants and shirt. But I don’t think that is the case for the majority of people.

  • Cate

    I feel like I’m an 80-year-old woman in a young woman’s body most Sundays. My philosophy is that there is a time and place for everything – if I would dress up to meet the CEO of my company, the President or the Queen of England … why wouldn’t I dress up an hour a week to meet with God? I think that the casual attitudes toward dress and conduct at church cheapens the holiness of Who we are there to worship. If jeans are ALL you have, then by all means wear them … but for people who dress up more for work than the do for God – it kind of bothers me.

    My church is fairly casual – jeans, shorts, etc. the pastor even wears jeans so everyone will feel comfortable (I don’t :)) … people bring their Starbucks into the sanctuary and sit in the pews sipping their lattes during the sermon, we have been asked to expand our church so our children have “room to run” – ah … what about no running inside/in God’s house? The worship music includes drum solos and guitar riffs (I’m not kidding) and some Sundays we get a light show too.

    I would love to find a place to worship that is less like a rock concert and more like a church. I LOVE the people at my church … the format is what leaves me frustrated and like I have had a quiet moment to reflect on God.

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