Monday, April 28, 2014

Does Dress Matter?

Just before Easter, CNN's Belief Blog featured a piece entitled Stop dressing so tacky for church. The premise is that people need to dress up better for Sunday because Sunday church should be set apart.

There's something to be said for setting an intentional time of worship aside and making it different from the rest of the week. But I'm not convinced how we dress is necessarily a part of that, especially not in the way argued in the article.

First of all, we have to remember that there is nothing inherently meaningful about any style of dress. It's all about meaning we ascribe to it culturally, for better or for worse. So wearing a suit and tie does not necessarily translate to be something important and sacred to everyone. The analogy the author uses that I think is initially compelling is that we all would dress up nicely if we were to meet the President of the United States. That's likely true (although there are plenty of exceptions in history based on appropriate context). But is that because there is something meaningful about the dress or because there is simply an expectation that we dress a certain way in the White House (there is, in fact, a dress code in many areas).

I, for one, usually find nicer dress like this rather superficial and annoying. Maybe I've just had too many experiences with borderline narcissists who dress up to show off. For me, often times fancy dress is far more distracting than casual attire. Casual clothing often shows much more personality and uniqueness to an individual. I feel like my personality is sucked out of me every time I dress up. It is not a form of self-expression in my case (I know there are some examples of this, but they're usually the cases at the front of this paragraph). Should we display self-expression during times of worship? There's another theological debate. Some would argue yes, some would argue no... But if putting on nice clothes makes some of us feel like we're putting on a front and not being our authentic selves, is that how we should enter worship?

Additionally, the article argued that our dress should be nice so it sets the time apart from the rest of the week. I now have to wear a tie to work daily and semi-regularly wear a suit coat. So if I do the same on Sundays, how is it any different from the rest of the week? In actuality, casual dress sets the time aside much more so than nice clothes. I actually sometimes look forward to which of my t-shirts I can wear that I don't get to wear during the week. Yesterday when I was deciding what to wear to church, I was sad because I felt the need to dress up a little nicer that day (for a few reasons), making my dress feel much more boring and conforming.

Several years ago, I was part of a church where it was almost taboo to wear a suit to the evening service (the opposite was true in the morning). On Easter, I intentionally wore a suit because it was meaningful to me. (This was also a time I never had to dress up.)

So this is what I would propose: Dress in a way that's meaningful to you. Just like so many other behaviors, stop worrying about what other people do or how they dress. If we can get ourselves, individually, into a worshipful posture, that will do far more for both ourselves and our community than putting all of our energy into what other people do.

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