What’s right about casual clothing at Mass

Every once in a while you might see a bulletin announcement or other form of communication taking folks to task about their clothing at Mass. Messages like this become more prevalent in summer, when warm weather fashions are sometimes immodest, and people might unthinkingly come to Mass dressed in distractingly revealing clothing.

Interestingly, immigrant populations usually do not need to be reminded to dress up for Mass. Sunday congregants attending Mass in foreign languages are often better-dressed than those speaking the native language of the place. Speculating, I’d imagine that one of the reasons for this has to do with work. It is not easy to learn a new language and culture, and to enter into the work force at a high level without specialized skills. Often, newly arrived folks work at jobs that require casual work clothes, or uniforms. Thus, Sunday Mass is one of the few public situations where a person can express freedom in clothing. Dressing up is fun, when you do it once a week.

For people with white-collar jobs, the situation is reverse. Every day, a suit and tie. Every day, stockings, heels, earrings, and a scarf. So on Sunday, dressing up would not be so clearly an expression of freedom; in fact, the reverse is true. A person expresses freedom by wearing relaxing clothes in public wherever that is possible. Khakis and short sleeves represent freedom.

In one way or another, I think, the time spent at Mass ought to be different from time spent at work or shopping or any other activity having to do with our earthly advancement. (Those whose workweek includes Sunday Mass know how difficult keeping the otherworldly focus can be.)  The time-out-of-time of the Liturgy should represent the weekend in a special way, that time free from “unnecessary servile work.” This doesn’t need to mean dressing for the dance club or the beach; there are modest ways to dress for Mass.

I tend to think that the way to go, for women, is prettier than would be strictly appropriate for most work situations. More prints, more dresses, less structure, more flow–and much less black.

15 Replies to “What’s right about casual clothing at Mass”

  1. One should give their best to God. In my childhood, lawyers, doctors, plumbers and the unskilled workers ALL wore suits and ties to Mass. Talk about egalitarianismc and unity – they all gave their best to God. The class warfare folks didn't like it though

  2. I should be clear: I am not advocating the wearing of casual clothing at Mass.

    However, I think there is something good in the impulse to wear different clothing from the workaday.

    Since for some people the workaday is suits and ties, how can Sunday dress be different? Some people have taken the extreme route of dressing down. I think there is an alternative for us women–dressing more prettily and with greater femininity than might be appropriate for work.

    Is there an alternative for men as well?

  3. Sorry, but, I think the premise that casual clothes at Mass is any different than what people wear to work is just inaccurate. First, very few "white collar" men or women who wear suits and ties or dresses to work anymore. Second, I think God, and his son Jesus, who is King of Kings, deserves at least what people would wear to a fancy party or wedding, as well as clothing that reflects chastity and purity. I agree with TJM when I was a child in the 60s & 70s EVERYONE dressed up, definitely more equal than what we see now. Society as a whole has gotten so casual that nothing seems to be important beyond ourselves.

  4. Good grief. If you don't have anything to say, just keep quiet. There's enough clutter on the internet as it is without post-modern vapidity dressed up as liturgical commentary.

  5. My father wears suit and tie every day to work, and still dresses very nicely for Mass – either suit and tie or at least nice button down dress shirt. What is more important? Mass or work?

  6. But Kathy, but Kathy, BUT KATHY!!!! God loves us no matter what we wear!!! God loves us in Bermuda shorts and flip flops! As long as we get to Mass… we could be wearing that "S$XW@X" t-shirt… it does not matter… as long as we are there…. And what if we can't AFFORD clothes other than our skin tight jeans, or sweats with "baby" across the rear… ini-mini skirts and strapless and spaghetti strapped tops which plunge to our navel… what if we are just too poor? Should we just not go to Mass?

    What if THE ONLY DRESS IN THE WEDDING DEPT is strapless, skin-tight and see-through… and we have NO CHOICE if we want to look BEAUTIFUL?

    These are the arguments I hear… really… I'm getting really old… thanks for the post!

  7. Hmmm. I never thought of it that way before. Still, it is annoying when I see older middle age guys like myself dressed like a 10 year olds going out to play. My rationale for "dressing up" is (a) to dress at least as nice for Mass as I do for work (b) to show respect to the Lord and to those around me and (c) to remind ME that I'm not a kid anymore, much as I want to be. But you did make me think about it in a different way.

  8. We actually try to avoid that tone on this blog. But you certainly make a fair point. My concerns about freedom and time are post-modern concerns and probably would not be brought up in an earlier age.

    In our age, the phenomenon of casual clothing at Mass is an observable fact. I prefer to think that trying to understand the reasons for widespread actions is better than simply bemoaning them. If you understand something, you can address it reasonably, and, as I've done, suggest alternative solutions.

  9. I'm surprised to learn that the commenters here wear morning coats to Mass and white tie to vigils.

  10. "I tend to think that the way to go, for women, is prettier than would be strictly appropriate for most work situations. More prints, more dresses, less structure, more flow–and much less black."

    I tend to think that pretty is not limited to nor guaranteed with prints, dresses, and less black. Some of us do not look pretty in prints and dresses because of variables such as size, shape, skin coloring, age, etc. As for black — unless one is all draped funereally in black, this color can be not just pretty but also elegant. A black skirt and/or jacket can be combined with a beautiful colorful blouse, sweater, scarf, etc. that raises pretty to a whole new level. Some of us women look smashing in black — I know because I am one of them.

  11. Fair enough, this is a good point. And in fact I have nothing against wearing suits and structured dresses at Mass. I was just thinking that if some folks wouldn't want to wear work clothes, prints and flowing clothes might be an alternative.

  12. This post was linked to from the site of a local parish.

    Every Catholic discussion forum and blog eventually lectures me on how I should dress for church. These always amuse me because as an unmarried middle aged man, I am all but invisible in the parishes I attend. I don't have kids in the school, nor a wife in the women's club. Except for the greeter whose job is to give me an anonymous hello, I slip in and out of mass totally unnoticed.

    If no one cares that I'm actually there, do you imagine that I care what anyone thinks about how I dress?

  13. Thank you for writing, Larry. May I interest you in the Knights of Columbus? (Only sort of kidding…)

    Having extra-curricular activities really does help the Catholic social life. But it also tends to increase attention to dress code. I recently read an invitation to a Knights of Columbus event that STRICTLY PROHIBITED wing-tip collars on tuxedo shirts.

    Anyways, thanks again for writing and God bless.

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