Church duds have changed

The other day I was thinking about what people wear to church nowadays. After a year of online church services, some folks are probably accustomed to worshipping in pajamas… or worse!

I was raised in conservative circles and in later years have been shocked a time or two at the types of clothing I have seen in church.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about clean blue jeans and tennis shoes. The shock came from shorts or jeans with holes, flip-flops, worn out printed t-shirts; that sort of thing.

Things have changed over the years. Back in the ’50s the words “Sunday best” still meant something special. Normal attire for the young Sunday school maiden was a dress and, for her male counterpart, a pair of slacks and a clean shirt.

As a smaller child I wore whatever my mother told me to wear. Then, in the mid-’50s, someone invented those abominable nylon shirts. My two oldest brothers and I had matching stiff, yellow nylon shirts ? the kind with the goose bump texture in the fabric ? which we had to wear to church on hot summer Sundays.

I was too young to know how they were marketed, but I suspect they were sold as being a cool summer shirt. In reality, they were hotter than blazes, itchy as chicken pox and far too transparent for my fat little belly. Some sharp Sunday school teacher could have used them as an object lesson to illustrate the torment of hell.

A few years later I progressed to wearing a sport coat and tie to church. Somewhere in this period I became the heir of a hand-me-down wool suit. I believe it came from my cousin, Arnie, who was three years older but only a size or two larger at that time. It was one of those ultra-itchy wools. If you looked up the word “itch” in a dictionary in 1958, there was probably a photo of this suit adjacent to the definition. Fortunately, Mom didn’t make me wear it often.

I do remember having to wear that itchy garment on the Sunday morning we worshipped with Tante Antje (my Great Aunt Annie) at her country church near Ackley, Iowa. Visiting an unfamiliar church is bad enough in comfortable attire, but it was much worse in that itchy wool suit on a warm spring morning. I don’t recall the sermon topic that day but something on the torment of Job would have been appropriate.

Somewhere along the line we discovered poplins and gabardines and dressing up became a little less miserable.

By the time I was an adult I had no problem wearing a coat and tie to church, though in pre-air conditioning days I gladly shed the coat during the summer months.

One piece of Sunday attire that has nearly disappeared from the scene is the hat. When I was a kid, many of the men and women wore hats to church. The gentlemen, of course, left their hats on a rack in the cloak room, but the ladies kept their heads covered all morning. Feathers, flowers, fake fruit, hat pins, fur ? they were all a part of Sunday fashion.

For the women, there was more to wearing hats to church than fashion. St. Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, advised women to keep their heads covered when they prayed. Apparently, Paul’s edict was valid for only 2000 years. You don’t see many hats in churches these days.

The issue of worship attire remains a puzzle to me. Over the years I have gone from suit or sport coat and tie to a golf shirt and a pair of casual slacks. Heavens, I have even worn jeans to church in recent months.

A friend who always wore a suit and tie to church explained, “If I had an appointment with the President of the United States, I would wear my best apparel. Why, then, shouldn’t I dress up when I worship the Creator of the universe?”

On the other hand, I recall a Sunday school memory verse from many years ago: “…Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” On that basis, someone in hole-filled blue jeans and flip-flops may be as appropriately groomed for worship as someone on the best-dressed list.

I was thinking about that the other day.


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