Dress Codes and Christ

If you want to get a lot of bemused stares, walk into L&G Ranch Supply wearing shorts, a Hawaiian t-shirt and flip-flops (slippers).  I did that this afternoon.  All the guys standing around in Jeans held up with big buckle belts and wearing boots and sweaty hats or caps know well what the dress code is for that place, and you are in really humorous violation.  On the other hand, when we are in Hawaii we can’t help but notice their vacationing cousins wearing the same outfits as at home and looking humorously out of place.

When I worked in NYC I owned  a half dozen suits and wore one every day.  Just to be a bit loose, I ‘d sometimes wear a sport coat, but mostly those were for weekends in Greenwich. Out here in the rural Intermountain West I’ve still got a couple of suits and actually wear one for things like funerals, but only if I’m the officiant.   College and town men wear kakis on work days and jeans otherwise.  Ranchers and farmers wear working jeans and Carharts on work days, and kakis otherwise.  Women do whatever they want.  

I’m over simplifying, but the point is that men, who are reputed to have no sense of fashion, have these unwritten dress codes that send subtle, and not so subtle, messages about the place of each person in society and imply the level of respect they should receive depending on the context of time and place.  I’m not too keen on that but suspect that it’s been true for thousands of years, and probably longer than that.  The problem is that it can present an obstacle to the effective proclamation of the gospel because we are too easily tempted to judge either the messenger or the intended audience by unwritten codes of inappropriate discrimination.  I am very pleased that my former parish continues to be a place that is open and welcoming of anyone in any form of dress, but that doesn’t mean that inappropriate judgments aren’t being made all the time.  

Consider the words of James:  My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  (James 2:1-4, NRSV)

I’d like to hear your reflections.

10 thoughts on “Dress Codes and Christ”

  1. At the cathedral, I was so worried about dressing correctly. Because I still refuse to wear a suit to church (because of my experiences as a Mormon), I would wear a nice cardigan, a tie and khakis. It felt sufficiently \”pious\” to wear those things. When I would be assigned to be a Eucharistic Minister and would have to wear a cassock, I would wear my black pants to make sure that I was fashionable. During Holy Week, I wore jeans under my cassock on a couple different occasions. I wear khakis under it, too, even though the brown clashes with the black a little. It\’s more important for me to be ready to serve than to wear what\’s going to look perfectly fashionable. Cassocks and albs cover up your clothes for a good reason- you\’re there to serve, not to look pretty. Besides, once I get back to Idaho I\’m not going to have to wear a cassock for a good long time. Albs are the name of the game, and khaki works with albs.

  2. One correction, CP, I don\’t think women just wear what they want to – the dress code is there and so complicated you\’re correct to just ignore trying to flush out those rules!

  3. Ah, yes, well Karl, some people go into the priesthood because they look good in black. Others are relieved that whatever they yank out of the closet, it will be black and they don\’t have to worry about it. And, SS, I always suspected there was something of a dress code among women but have long since given up trying to even guess at what it might be.CP

  4. \”What do you do?\”is an other form of \”dress code\” too. How I hate this question. My beloved dresses very nicely, I on the other hand am happy to have no holes in my clothes and that they are clean. Our \”church uniform\” has become a Hawaiian shirt and jeans, slacks, whatever (Hilo Hattie runs some great sales!) On the day of our \”blessing ceremony\” We thought about greeting our guests wearing our usual sunday attire, then changing before the ceremony into suits, beloved eventually nixed the idea. The great thing was, one parishioner showed up wearing a Hawaiian shirt! He told how he and his new bride (one week married) had an argument as they were getting dressed for our ceremony. She dressed nicely for a wedding, uh er, blessing. saw him putting on jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and said \”what are you doing? your not going to church like that!\” you see he always wears a suit and tie to church. He replied \”I have to, Bruno and Jerry always wear this uniform, it is who they are in church, and it just won\’t be (name of church here) if this uniform is not in church today!\” Oh and by the way, women dress for other women, men dress for other men. It is only the truly brave who dress for themselves.

  5. What do you do? What a miserable question. So full of anticipatory judgment. As for me, saying I\’m a priest is about the quickest way I know to shut down any form of genuine conversation with a stranger. CP

  6. I just can\’t believe that your \”significent other\”s don\’t influence your choice of clothes.Confess!oldGianni

  7. Old G,When I began to date Dianna, after moving to NYC, she dragged me off to get re-outfitted to change my image from Minnesota whatever to NYC business success. Now that we are out of NYC my old habits have returned in force.CP

  8. Sundays I will wear slacks and a jacket. Other times, generally my jeans. Summertime I wear shorts (yes, shorts and clericals — someone once told me I was the coolest priest they had ever seen).But out where I\’m at, \”dressing up\” generally means wearing your new jeans.

Leave a Reply