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.
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.
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.