On dressing up for Mass or for Church in general

One of my close female relatives was turned away years ago from an Orthodox Church service in the United States because she was wearing slacks.   These were dress slacks under a long dressy coat, but nonetheless she was not allowed to enter.  She was not then and is not now a practicing member of any church so she would not understand such things as the complementarity of the sexes.  This is perhaps one reason for her not to ever go to church again.

I, however, do try to wear identifiable feminine attire to church.  Not as a legalistic thing; we have no requirements to do so in our church. No one is turned away even if they are wearing sweat pants and upon sitting the plumber’s smile is revealed. (Sad to say, we have seen such examples of what my friend Mary calls anatomical displays from time to time) But I agree with the doctrine of sexual complementarity and I try to do my bit to reflect it when I attend Mass.  I also like to wear a hat, though I do not always.  I like the veiled head for women—or hats in Anglican tradition—but I would not like it to become a requirement or for anyone to get a dirty look because they are bare-headed.

With this preface, I found this post in the Catholic Herald thought-provoking.  (Go on over to see the picture.)  An excerpt:

Living in Valladolid, just north of Madrid, this last year has been an eye-opener for me with regard to fashion. One aspect that struck me most particularly was the way that locals dress more formally on a Sunday. There was a kind of Sunday revolution. That is, a change of habit and a change of dress, that made Sunday distinctive. Sunday simply had a different feel to the other days of the week and this was largely marked by the locals’ choice of dress. Sundays stood out there and the wearing of more formal clothing did not, like in other areas of society, relate to status or jobs, but rather carried a visible sense of dignity and respect for their religious practice. Sunday looked different and in dressing more formally these people were telling society that Sunday mattered. This was an attractive and appealing aspect of their culture.

In our own nations the concept of “Sunday best” is a part of cultural memory. Few practise it today. Seeing those streets on a Sunday afternoon in Valladolid seemed rather nostalgic. It was there that I recognised a particular loss in our culture. For a moment it was as though I was looking at a Sunday with the eyes of my grandparents. Today, if you are wearing smarter clothes on a Sunday people innocently assume that you are spending yet another day in the office rather than preparing to greet Our Lord in the Eucharist. So much for those well-polished Sunday shoes that fail to make an impact and could now be worn any day of the week. The days of the week are, therefore, largely indistinguishable and I think it is our mission to “win back Sundays”. While I am not advocating coattails at Sunday Mass there is a lot to be said for making Sunday our best, not “because you’re worth it” – in the famous words of the L’Oréal advertisement – but because Sunday is worth it.

I am a recent convert to the idea of Sunday dress. I vaguely remember making more effort in terms of dress and appearance on a Sunday while growing up in having to choose a newly ironed shirt and tie, especially at Christmas and Easter. There was never any pressure, but there was a sure sense that Sunday required physical as well as spiritual preparation. From ironing to polishing there was work to be done and we prepared as a family.

An incident at a local theatre company, however, marked a turning point in my understanding of Sunday wear. During a weekend rehearsal for a show I was involved in, some of the production team arrived in remarkably smart and dazzling suits. Walking through make-shift scenery and skirting around props lying on the stage floor their shimmering black-and-grey suits stood out of place in this theatrical setting. Someone asked where the couple had been dressed so smartly and I was shocked at their answer.

“We’ve been to Sunday service,” they said, “where we make an effort in what we wear unlike those Catholics who wear whatever they like.”

I was stunned. Although I had not experienced that kind of social prejudice before, there was something in their message that has remained with me.

There has never been a dress code or refusal of entry in my experience of the Church.

I want people to feel welcome in our church no matter how they are dressed.  I would hate the idea of a dress code.  It is better people come rather than feel they have to clean themselves up, both spiritually and physically, before they darken our door.    Gosh, the the spiritual front, how many times do people disfellowship themselves because they are not living as Christian a life as they would like?  Come to worship! Come be with us!  Even if you do not receive Holy Communion, come!

When I go to Costco I often notice how unisex the dress is.  This time of year, shorts and casual t-shirts or tops for both men and women.  In the winter, jeans and sweatshirts or sweaters on men, women and children.

Though maybe the look of leggings and blouse/dresses is one way women differentiate themselves in summer, or with the low cut tops with their breasts exploding out.

I have often thought that if I had a craft-bone in my body and any ability to thread a sewing machine, never mind sew, I would design a line of modest but beautifully feminine and comfortable clothing for women and girls that was fashionable but did not reveal cleavage, that showed off the curvy lines without also showing where bras or panties were digging into the flesh etc.   This clothing would be no iron, as comfortable as pajamas, and look good on women whether they are skinny, medium weight or heavy.  They could be dressed up with accessories such as scarves and belts and hats, or used for casual every-day wear.

The skirts would be mid-calf length, since that is my favorite length—ballerina-length.   Because a girl can climb up stairs, sit or bend over without having to worry about someone singing “I see London, I see France” or tripping herself on a too-long skirt that would drag in the slush in Canadian winters.

I do not want to go back to the rigid fashion codes of my childhood where wearing white after Labor Day was a faux pas, or where you had to wear gloves to church.  My poor mother, trying to find our matching gloves on Sunday mornings!


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2 Responses to On dressing up for Mass or for Church in general

  1. Pingback: On dressing up for Mass or for Church in general | Catholic Canada

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