Dress for [Liturgical] Success


To visit the White House, you wear
a dark blue suit, white shirt, and red tie.

To visit Jesus in the Eucharist, you wear
cut-offs, a t-shirt and sandals.

To go for a job interview, you wear
Your best outfit, hair neatly styled.

To go to Sunday Mass, you wear
a Bud-Light t-shirt, jeans with a small hole in the knee,
and a comfy pair of Reeboks.

To meet your son’s math teacher, you wear
A tailored pair of slacks and a sweater.

To meet the Creator of the Universe
up close and personal, you wear
spaghetti straps and flip flops.


As warm weather approaches, the old “how to dress for church” debate rears its [dare I say: “ugly”?] head.

God loves us just as we are!

First, I realize that Jesus is glad to see you—however you come.

And I realize that some people may come directly from work, or head out directly to work, with no time to change from work clothes into “Sunday best.”

And it’s hot outside, and who feels like dressing up?

And sometimes the baby spits up on your shoulder just as you’re getting into the car; and you haven’t done the laundry; and you’ve gained five pounds and can’t fit into your blue sweater….

To all of God’s people who need to “come as you are” to Mass this weekend, I say: Come on in!

But couldn’t you try a little harder?

But to those of us who really could find the time to clean up a bit, I say: Couldn’t you pick it up a notch?

I mean, I know we live in a casual society, and you’re used to living in jeans. It may have become the norm at your parish to dress more casually. Criminy, shouldn’t we all just be happy you’re there and get over it?!

Well, sorta.

Jesus loves you. I love you.

So I’m pretty sure God isn’t going to throw you out because you look like you’re ready for the beach. And I—sitting behind you and distracted, as I am, by your skimpy sundress—won’t publicly belittle you for your wardrobe choices.

But could you at least think about just how special an event this is?

In maybe 45 minutes, up at that altar, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is going to come down Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and is going to unite Himself with all of us, with YOU personally.

If we really believed that, if we really acted as though we understood this, we’d be in ballgowns and tuxedos on our knees.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence.

–Matthew 22:8-12

  • Joyce Fountaine

    I have many complaints but the number one is from my husband: those women and girls whose black bra straps and thongs (yes we were treated to the top of a thong one day) thighs are exposed are a serious cause of sin for a lot of men. Someone should start teaching what modesty is and why God requires it of women.

  • http://www.netministries.org/see/churches/ch05703 Fr Bill

    Women in modest clothes are actually prettier.

    • Deacon Bill

      Absolutely true Father, absolutely true.

    • WSquared

      Agreed, Father. I think one of the Archbolds over at NCRegister wrote that we don’t value pretty anymore; we value “hot.”

  • Robb

    You nailed it! A pet peeve of mine also. Watching folks approach the altar to take the Eucharist dressed as if going to a kegger is plain disrespectful. Dress code reminders in our parish bulletin seems not to make much difference.

  • MarylandBill

    I am all for modesty at Mass. And for dressing reasonably neatly. But posts like this really, really rub me the wrong way. Beyond exhortations to modesty, this really becomes about expecting people to meet the standards of others. In particular, the notion that we should dress in ball gowns and tuxedos ignores the fact that many ball gowns are in fact not at all modest (particularly those designed for younger women.

    If we really want to be suitable to attend the feast referred to in Matthew 22, our first priority should not be to dress up, but to get to confession.

    • WSquared

      I take your point, MarylandBill; I think the author was doing quite well until we got to the tuxes and ballgowns part. After all, should we not decrease so the Lord may increase so that we can actually see what a miracle the Eucharist is? Treating Mass like a ball wouldn’t be conducive to that, I don’t think.

      But I do agree as well with Ms. Schiffer on “can’t you try a little harder?” I am all for “Sunday best”: modest, understated, becoming, and therefore elegant. One doesn’t need a whole heck of a lot of money for that; just creativity and a good eye, and knowing what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to one’s wardrobe, strive for quality over quantity; buy things that you know flatter you and won’t go out of style so that pretty much everything you throw together works, or that you know exactly what you have that does make certain things work.

      And while I do agree that we could use going to confession more often to prepare for Mass, why should that necessarily be a bit of an either-or thing? It is not necessarily vanity to dress in better attire than jeans and cut-offs for Mass (besides, can’t it also be said that the “come as you are” attitude is its own, dare I say it, holier-than-thou posturing that betrays its own false modesty?), even though I would say also that dressing well for Mass does not mean treating it like a fashion show. “What’s on the inside” does indeed show on the outside, whether one dresses up or down.

  • nic

    i’d have to think that the reference to the “ballgowns and tuxedos” was most likely to make a point. we all know what occasions call for such attire, and yet, judging by sunday’s mass, so few of us realize what “actually” happens during said mass.
    i understand completely how impossible it can be to go from the front door to the pew without having been spitup upon, but there is a major difference between the “marks” of parenthood, and plain disrespect.
    i took the tone of the article to point out what we go to mass for in the first place. we don’t go to impress our friends with our latest fashions, or our incredible new tanlines. we’re there solely to be in the house of the lord. keeping this in mind should dictate our choice of fashions.

  • Beth

    Interesting that I have been in many Protestant churches, and never seen the type of casual wear that typifies the Catholic Mass ( big Evangelical churches may be an exception). I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Catholicism requires its adherents to attend Mass on pain of mortal sin, so perhaps some feel like they’re doing their duty to show up, and don’t really care. On the other hand, it is not a sin to miss Protestant services, so the ones who do go are there because they truly want to be, and try to dress respectfully.

  • Mike

    Baggy pants, T shirts, sandals don’t bother me at Mass. I think it’s a bit lazy to not put on something nicer, but it’s ok. What bothers me are the women that have to put on their tightest pants, with nothing to cover their back side, come to Mass and stand right in front of me during the entire Mass. Now it’s true, I have a lifetime of enjoying the view from the back side of women, but I give it a good effort to try to look away now. I really try to control my eyes and mind, but, come on, look at what you are doing to us. I really do not know how women get into some of the pants they wear. It must be terribly uncomfortable to wear something that tight. Now don’t be coy and say “I’m not wearing it for men to see my butt” when we all know that is exactly why you wear such tight clothing. Before you leave the house you check yourself out in the mirror to see if you are “lookin good”. Well, you are. And you shouldn’t wear that to Mass. Just 1 hour of not trying to entice men and to not get those looks that you pretend you do not invite, is not too much to ask for us poor, weak, impure thinking men. Just know, we are there, we would like to look, we would agree you are “lookin good but give us a break for just 1 hour. Please. And don’t let your daughters dress like that, that is just sick.

  • Rachel

    The real problem is that the people, both women and men, who need to read this – won’t. I realize I am generalizing but the people who take Christ so casually don’t read blogs like this and if they do, they rarely think the comments being made are ever about them!
    I remember seeing a post somewhere about a brave priest who created a poster for outside the Church outlining what would and would not be acceptable attire – using photos from fashion magazines so as to be crystal clear! I wish more priests felt enough support from their parish to do something similar.

  • enness

    What rubs me the wrong way is how the passage above is used: taken only at an absolutely literal level, not accounting for any possible symbolic meaning of a “wedding garment.” Some requirement was not met, but I am not so sure that it is really about clothing.

  • Dom C

    I think that part of the problem is that, with the aging of the population and often times lack of newer generations coming up to fill in for the older generation when they pass on, some priests don’t want to rock the boat or ruffle any feathers by attempting to reign in poor taste and inappropriate wardrobe choices. I could be wrong, but I think that is a factor.

  • Melanie

    Maybe you hit it in the opening of the article…people KNOW what is proper to wear to those events. Education will have to do where common sense fails, teach them young WHY it’s important to be dressed properly, but if they don’t get it, insist they still dress properly. There is a cute youtube video by SheisCatholic, a young lady who has “got” it, that should be shared with schools and youth group.
    Also there is a Catholic group called Girls Gone Mild you can search out. I plan on sharing this article and the above links with someone from the educational committee today!

    • Kathy Schiffer

      You know, in Rome you have no choice: There is a dress code for admission to the great churches, and if you don’t like it, you don’t get in. Women may not, for example, wear sleeveless shirts. I’ve seen street vendors nearby who do a brisk business selling paper shirts and slacks to tourists who came unprepared.

  • math_geek

    Personally, I dress up for a job interview because it increases my chance of getting the job. I dress up for work or for a party because I don’t want to offend my boss or my hosts. I get teased at the ballroom I dance at for not dressing up for events. “Do you even own a suit?” I was asked yesterday (The answer, yes, but it is too big and was a cheap $150 pickup at Kohls 5 years ago). The truth is that I don’t dress up because I want to, I dress up because someone else wants me to. I don’t dress up for Church because it is not my sense that God wants me to, although I’m sure He wouldn’t mind.

    It’s not even like dress clothes are all that uncomfortable. I like my black slacks and button-up shirts just fine. However, wearing clothes is a factor of how we present ourselves, and the clothes I wear are designed to express how I see myself and how I want to be. “Casual,” unpretentious, comfortable, relaxed and at peace. I won’t hold it against anyone who wants to present themselves to God some other way, and I’d ask to be extended the same courtesy.

  • John

    It’s always fun to read the combox anytime an article about dressing appropriately for Mass is written.

    People react live their consciences have been pricked, like they were “preached at” (to use an old Freewill Baptist saying when the preacher was seemingly picking on you in a sermon).

    We all know about 80% of folks dress far too casually to go to church. That’s just the truth. Another truth is that they obviously don’t care what they look like. Whether that’s a lack of self esteem or from growing up in a slob/casual culture I can’t say. What I can say is what I see.

    If you have them to wear, it will not kill anyone to wear something besides flipflops, t shirts and shorts to church. If you don’t care then at least act like you do. Whether you want to admit it or not, how you present yourself to the world says something about how you view yourself and people form impressions about how you present yourself too. We may not like it but it’s true…which is why we dress nicely for interviews, etc.

    But, hey, we’re Americans. If we do it, it must be right.