Wednesday, February 21

Dressing to the Standard of the Community...

I've been thinking a lot about the standard of dress we have here in the United States... especially when it comes to dressing for church. In the Orthodox Christian Church, there are women who dress in varying degrees of modest or immodest feminine dress and modest or immodest casual dress. I imagine that it is the same in Roman Catholic churches and Protestant churches.

I have belonged to several different Orthodox Churches in my lifetime and for the most part, the women of these parishes dressed nicely when they came to church. My father is priest to a small mission parish and the women there all wear skirts or dresses and head coverings when in church. My father-in-law has a parish where the majority of women wear skirts or dresses and only a handful wear head coverings.

I searched around on the internet to see if there was a dress code that people could follow and found this from a
Orthodox Church in New Jersey:

Sunday Dress - Remember the time when people put on their “Sunday best” to go to church? In fact, dress clothes were often referred to as Sunday clothes. In some parts of the country, this is not common today. In fact, all too often, dress in church has become too casual. In all areas of our lives, we should offer Christ our best. And the same is true of our dress. We should offer Christ our “Sunday best”, not our everyday or common wear. And we should dress modestly, not in a flashy way that would bring attention to ourselves. Our dress should always be becoming of a Christian - especially at church. Here are some specific guidelines we use in our parishes:

Children: Only young children (under 10) should wear shorts to church — and then only dress shorts. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, and spandex shorts are never appropriate church wear (for children or adults!). Shoes or sandals should be clean and tied. No one should wear T-shirts with any kind of writing on them (“This Bud’s for You!” is definitely out).

Women: Dresses should be modest. No tank tops or dresses with only straps at the shoulders, no short skirts (mini-skirts), and no skin-tight dresses. Dresses should have backs and not be cut low in the front. If women wear pants to church, they should be dress pants (not jeans, leggings, etc.). Shorts of any type are not appropriate for church.

Men: Men should also dress modestly. While coat and tie are not mandatory, shirts should
have collars and be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar button may be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). Slacks should be cleaned and pressed. Jeans (of any color) are usually too casual for church, especially ones with patches or holes. Again, shorts are not appropriate church wear. If you’re going somewhere after church where you need to dress casually, bring a change of clothing with you and change after coffee hour. Remember, use your best judgment and good taste when dressing for church. After all, you don’t go to be seen by everyone else — you go to meet and worship God.

A Final Thought - North American society in the late 20th century is rather casual in its approach to life. Don’t allow this prevailing attitude to enter into your Orthodox Christian piety. There are surely a lot of other areas that could be covered here. Much of church etiquette is based on common sense and showing respect for God and others. Always remember that you are in church to worship God, the Holy Trinity. The priest says, “With the fear of God and faith and love, draw near.” Let this be the way you approach all of worship. If you do, you will probably have good church etiquette. AMEN.

During my internet search, I also found an Episcopalian blog that had an entry on Dressing for Church. I thought that it was sad, yet interesting when the author of this post stated: "Now that I have children of my own, I frequently have to urge the younger one to revisit his bedroom and upgrade his sartorial selection before we set out for church. My concern, I must admit, has less to do with giving honor to God--whom I am not sure cares--than about dressing to the standards of the community. "

How do you dress for church? What are your thoughts on the matter?
Photo courtesy of


Anonymous said...

I would not be so hard on myself if I were you regarding the headcovering issue. In our culture it can actually draw more attention...which certainly goes against modest dressing in the first place.

MamaBirdEmma said...

Thanks, Anonymous:) You are right about head coverings drawing attention... I wish it wasn't so b/c I love head coverings. Just not the attention!

Anonymous said...

Hi Emma -

I know what you mean....sigh!

I love the way headcoverings look - so lovely, feminine, reverent and pure. I am Catholic and there is a similar situation in our church today in America.

Headcoverings (hats, veils, mantillas, scarves, chapel caps, etc) are no longer required and have gone out of 'fashion'. Some brave ladies wear them anyway. I have heard some people criticise these dear ladies and say that they are being 'holier than thou' and somehow feel threatened by it. But I detect no judgemental attitudes by these ladies - just a desire to be holy, respectful and reverent.

I have also heard other people quietly approve of these ladies wearing headcoverings but they are too afraid themselves to join in. They are afraid of being criticised, made fun of, stared at, judged, avoided, etc.

I would love to wear a headcovering but I am afraid that I fall into the latter camp. I don't want people to notice ME and my VEIL.....I want them to focus on the LORD. I am afraid that people will think I'm a wacko. I'm shy and reserved and I really don't want to draw undue attention to myself!

So...what do I do? Do I wear a veil and draw attention to myself and offer up the embarrassment as a sacrifice to Jesus? Or do I abstain from veiling as to not draw undue attention to myself?

Oh dear. This whole issue has been on my mind for years now. I keep it in prayer and hope that I will have the courage to do whatever the Lord tells me to!

Emma said...

Good morning ,and a blessed lent to you !
Sorry about the bad writing,I have a happy littel girl on my lap :)
I struggel with the headcovering too-wanting to use a beautiful wail but know that the reaction will be that I am some strange person trying to be different or,that this a convert thing ,beeing"more holy then the Pope"
And that is so sad ! I also fear that the"not draw attention to my self" eventually will make me dress like "anyone else",and i really do not want to go there ...I think part of the problem is that young girls ,and other ladies also,do not have more role modell to chose from.If there are only t two types,the girl next door using jeans and a string top and some srtang looking lady with a vail and long dress she will chose to be "normale"It is very hard to be differnet when you are young.
So,for the time beeing here is what i do ,since you asked Emma ;)
I wear dress only, always-even now in very cold winter.
I make shore that i look and use very feminin colors,add some lace or flowers to a black coat or hat, and try to find my basic clothing among what they have in the stores so that i stay in contact with what people see as normal ,but maybe a little more dressed.
Same goes for my two little girls,they use dresses onely but from the stores where other little girls get dresses for summertime or a party.And i always get the question "Dear,how to you manage to let them use a dress,they look so pretty ?" and I always,always try to not hear the blame or sarcasm and answer "Thank you,we are so proud of them -don't they look sweet and it is just as easy to wash as a jeans" and it's true.Many of the little girls we know want to wear dress more often now.....
And for the headc.,
i use a little hat or a berret in Church,nothing fancy or strange-but it give me the covering and let peole getting used to the sight of women wearing a hat.And so mayebe one day...

Jamie Carin and Claudio Romano said...

Dear Emily,

An excellent post and a subject close to my heart. I wear skirts/dresses all the a Catholic. I attend a "traditional" parish meaning we celebrate the old rites of Mass and sacraments (all in Latin etc) and by and large the women are dressed in skirts and dresses and the majority cover their head.

During the week I attend my local regular modern parish (English Mass) and there I do not wear a veil. I made the decision because I insist on kneeling for Communion. I have never stood to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and that is one thing I won't compromise I figure I am causing enough "scandal" in the parish as it is...sadly enough.

The Roman Catholic Church actually has papal letters giving the expected standards of modesty for women....and it involves long skirts (past the knee) long sleeves (past the elbow) and neckline no more than two finger widths below the collar bone. I feel our priests need to be more outspoken about the need for modesty.

In addition, overall, society dresses down now all the time. It was only a few decades ago where a women wouldn't leave the house without proper dress, hat, and gloves. Always making her best impression. Now women often go out wearing sweat pants and ripped tshirts. What has happened??

Courtney said...

I'll leave a longer comment later, but I'm nearly positive that the Catholic Church never "dis-required" head coverings at Mass. I read something about that just recently. I'll try to find that and report back. :) I've tossed around the idea of head covering, but have held off for just the reasons your mentioned. We have a very traditional parish and I'd say there are a good number that DO wear hats or veils. It's not just the older ladies, either. Several youngish mothers and young, single girls do as well. Even so, I'm shy about taking the plunge. (Not to mention, the baby would try to yank it off.) You're inspiring me, though!

Terri said...

Hi, Emma! I wear dresses or skirts all the time and have for about a year now. Many women in my church (a very small Southern Baptist church) will wear pants to our mid-week service and even a couple of them wear pants on Sundays. Our pastor hasn't really addressed the issue except once to say that women should cover their "nakedness". I try to dress the best that I can without being flashy - just dress in a feminine way. I have thought about wearing a head covering and even mentioned it to my husband about what Paul says in the Bible but I know everyone would think I'm weird. Like the other ladies who have commented here, I don't want to draw attention to myself (I already did when I first started going to church there because of my dresses-only policy).

Anonymous said...

I have been heart broken for several years concerning the way women dress in our church. You could take a woman from our church and a woman on her way to a night club, and just by looking at them you wouldn't know which woman was on her way to church. I wanted to leave our church for a while, but after praying about it I felt that the Lord wanted me to stay to be an example. And even if I did leave I don't think it would be much different at another church. I think a lot of the problem is that most churches now invite unbelievers into the church in an effort to lead them to Christ. So in our church of 3,000 there are a lot of non Christians and they don't dress like Christians. It is assumed that once they get their heart right they will begin dressing right. But I don't think anyone tells them how to dress because they don't want to offend anyone. Also we have a lot of singles at our church who seem to be using the church as a dating service and come to church dressed to attract a mate not to please the Lord.


Cherish the Home said...

I am not sure if you're intention was for only RC or Orthodox to answer this question, but since Terri answered I guess I will as well. (o:

I attend an Independent, Fundamental, Baptist church where dress standards are taught. We don't believe head coverings are necessary but if I felt the Bible said they were and my husband agreed then I don't think it would be wrong to cover my head, even if it meant drawing attention to myself.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it wouldn't be hard because it would! I'm a person who likes to blend in and not stand out but if I truly felt something was right and honoring to the Lord then I hope I would have the strength to obey regardless of what others think of me.

This happens to me often in day-to-day living, even in my own family. I am of the 'dresses-only' persuasion and often at family gatherings or really any gathering I'm the only lady in a dress/skirt. People sometimes react funny at first but they eventually get over it.

As long as you're not doing it because you think you're better than everyone else but out of obedience to what you feel the Bible teaches and what your husband would prefer, then I would say feel free to cover your head. Also, I would think that as the Pastor's wife others would look to you as an example and perhaps follow your lead.

Again, just my Baptist .02! (o:


Samantha said...

My cousins ALWAYS wear head-coverings during worship. There have been times when one of them didn't wear a covering and one of the elders came and talked to them. This is because in their church they believe that this is what the Lord intended for women to wear during worship. My husband and I believe that a womans covering is her hair, so I would feel strange wearing a head-covering during worship at our church.

If you and your husband feel convicted for you to worship with a head covering, than it may be the right thing to do even if it's out of your comfort zone. This is a tough one, and I do understand what you're saying about not wanted to draw attention to yourself.

Tiffany said...

These comments have been so interesting! I worship with a group of local believers who are neither Catholic or Protestant, but instead are just following after the New Testament pattern. I will only wear dresses/skirts to worship, however, our Wednesday night Bible studies are held in our homes, and there I will wear pants. I would love to go skirts only, but am getting over the practicality issues. I have made great strides in the past year though and wear them much more frequently than before. Friends and family don't even comment anymore about when I wear a skirt during the week.

About the headcovering - I just started to cover about two years ago. While there are other like-minded Christians I know who cover, there are none in our local assembly. I finally decided that the only reason I was not wearing one (because I really felt after deep study of 1 Cor. 11 that I needed to)was because of my pride - not wanting to feel out of place, embarassed, a spectacle, etc. So...I finally took the plunge and now I feel naked without it during worship! I have had a few people ask me about it, and have studied with a couple in depth about it. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it seems like men generally respond to the covering quicker and easier than women do. Perhaps it's that they aren't the ones having to cover! =)

I think it is neat to hear that you have covered in the past. It is such a lost thing, that it is becoming very rare to find someone who still covers. I am finding that more and more young women are beginning to study it out for themselves though and are turning back to covering. My two cents is this (it's not much - but take it for what it's worth). Study the Scripture and decide whether or not God commands it of you. Study it with your husband. If you are free to wear it in your assemblies, and after study you feel that it is the proper thing to do, wear it proudly, but with a humble spirit. Other ladies will be blessed through your modest and feminine example.

Anonymous said...

Hi -

I am the anonymous commentor above.

Another reason why I have been reluctant to wear a headcovering is I don't know *HOW* to do it! LOL

How do you get the mantilla to stay on? How do you tie the scarf? How do you select a hat that looks good on you.....I don't really want to go for the 'mushroom' look, LOL!

Especially as a mother to little wiggly children - how do I keep it on without them pulling it off? An issue of child training, I suppose. But even the times when you pick them up or 'adjust' them as you are holding them...doesn't it tend to slide off/slide off kilter?

Just questions from an inexperienced 'veiler' with no mentors to ask! :)

MamaBirdEmma said...

Thank you so much for all of your comments! I very much enjoyed reading each of them. It was so interesting to read about the different things that each of you do or think! I was pretty nervous after "clicking" the publish button last night because I was afraid that people reading this blog might think that I was kooky or that Orthodoxy is a strange religion. Boy was I pleasantly surprised!

Here are two comments that I'd like to make:
1. My hubby and I decided together that I shouldn't wear a head covering in our present church because we don't think that our parish is ready for it. I'm not going against him by not wearing one.

2. I edited my post to remove anything that might be offensive to any of my husband's parishioners. I don't want to hurt their feelings because they are good people and I love them. As far as I know, none of them have this blog address, but you never know:)

Thanks again!

Xenia Kathryn said...

I choose to wear one, although I am in the ever-shrinking minority at my church... Ours started out as a mission parish, and some women came from Russian parishes where it was more common to wear them. But now that our church has gotten a lot bigger, I think it has become a little more like a standard, largish Greek parish where you don't find headcoverings.

I started wearing one about 6 months or so after I converted. I just wanted to as a personal attempt towards modesty. Because if my head is covered, then why shouldn't my legs and arms be? It keeps me in check.

I'm sure people think I'm weird and are confused by the handful of women who do chose to wear them. But our priest has no preference and neither verbally encourages or discourages.

As for my own daughter, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I'll probably offer her a headcovering of her choice, if she's interested. But I won't push it on her.


MamaBirdEmma said...

Hi Xenia Kathryn!

We were out window shopping on Valentine's Day and saw that our local Gap had the cutest headbands with a little triangle of cloth sewn to it... the most darling little baby headcovering! I'm sure Gap intended it that way, lol! Anyway, not sure that we'll do about our baby girl (esp. since Mama's on the fence).


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