Dressing up for mass is outdated!

Thank you for all the feedback on my last article on dressing for service on the altar. By popular demand, here are my thoughts on general congregational dressing…

Several weeks ago my daughter and I were driving through a College campus when we saw a young student dressed in jacket and tie (it wasn’t cold) walking to Sunday service. I commented that he couldn’t be headed to the Catholic Church – I was right! No big Sherlock moment here, just a commentary on the unfortunate lack of dress and decorum at a Sunday Mass.

The following are some reasons and justifications:

  1. We have the freedom and right to dress as we please.
  2. In keeping with fashion trends – everyone dresses this way these days.
  3. In tune with our “feelings”, we need to “feel comfortable”.
  4. The church is outdated and needs to get with the times – we are now a more casual society.
  5. Jesus does not focus on outward appearances; He looks at the heart and He dressed in sandals and an ordinary robe.
  6. Parents can’t expect kids to “dress up” for church – if we try to enforce this, they may not attend.
  7. Having all different kinds of clothing for different occasions gets expensive – especially for larger families. (our kids NEED I-Tunes & I-Pads and I-Cars!)

 Before I tackle the list above, I’d like to present some reasons I believe we should pay greater attention to how we dress for church. Genesis 3:21 tells us “The Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for Adam and his wife and he clothed them”. So obviously the fig leaves Adam and Eve had put together weren’t enough – God had to beef it up a bit! When we dress modestly, we respect our God, our community – and ourselves. By our baptism, we are ambassadors of Christ and are supposed to shine “His light”. We shine brighter when we are intentional in presenting ourselves in our bestlight.

God calls us to be fully invested in Him. He reminds us of this in the very first commandment: I am the Lord your God – you shall have no other Gods before me. I believe He is asking for our commitment to Him in ALL areas. One way we reflect this is in our offering – exemplified in Genesis in the story of Cain and Abel. We offer our tithe, our “first fruits” to God, of our time, money, learning, business, dress and even food (sharing our table with others). If we dress up for other occasions – like a date, meeting, party, work, etc, but not for church, we have given those events greater importance than our special “date” with God – the mass. Of course, ultimately all giving is between the giver and God so only you can decide if you give God your first fruits in ALLareas.

Now – to tackle some of the arguments above… Of course you have the right to dress as you please. Does everyone at mass have the same freedom and rights? Freedom to avoid the occasion of sin by gazing on cleavage or other body parts that are better off covered? A couple of weeks ago, we attended my niece’s First Communion. Two pre-teen boys behind us decided to take off their sneakers during mass – I guess to be “comfortable”. The stink we endured as a result of their “right” caused us to gag from the sermon to the end of mass. Their parents didn’t see fit to educate them on basic manners and curtail the behavior either. While someone has the right to smoke, someone else has the right to inhale clean air – right? What happened to consideration?

Of the many countries I have visited, I’d say that the USA takes the cake for exposing the most skin at mass. As someone who works in the fashion world and loves it, I can assure you fashion and modesty are not mutually exclusive. Think Princess Diana – the world’s most photographed personality. Exposed is not “fashionable” – it’s just tawdry! Yes the summers are hot; but suitable, lightweight clothing options that make life bearable for about an hour or so – mostly in an air-conditioned environment – areeasily available.  For those who believe Jesus didn’t dress well, keep in mind that while Jesus was not dressed in Roman finery, His robe was obviously not too ordinary – or no one would have “cast lots” for it. We claim to be a more “casual” society but really we are just becoming lazier and therefore sloppier – reluctant to differentiate between various occasions and how act or clothe ourselves appropriately for each. We need to be reminded not to chew gum or text during mass and confuse what we wear in the privacy of our home or on the beach with what is suitable for mass! My daughter has passed on her well cared for church clothes and shoes to kids who can use them but is saddened and frustrated when she sees them worn to play in.

I come from a big family – one of six kids – so our clothing budget was almost non-existent. However, we wore all new clothes and shoes to Sunday mass first. If they were more casual, we wore them to daily mass first – learning to give thanks for our clothes and also that there is a time and place for different types of clothing. I find myself practicing this tradition even today. I have heard similar stories from others; in other words – PARENTS, kids remember. Proverbs 22:6 – “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” As parents it is our duty and privilege to teachour children; not necessarily to provide all life’s luxurious I-gadgets and lattes. While we’re tip-toeing around enforcing dress rules, they’re agonizing about what they shouldn’t; make it easier on them – set standards.

Modesty + Fashion Guidelines for mass (applies to men too):

Pages: 1 2

Marisa Pereira


Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. She holds a BA in Fashion Design and a BA in French with a minor in Psychology and has worked in the Fashion Industry for over twenty years. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. Having lived in multiple countries, she is acutely aware of the emphasis cultures place on visual appeal. She analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. Her websites are: www.mpcimage.com and michaela-noel.com.

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  • Judy

    THANK YOU!  I never cease to be disappointed at dress in the pews — and you hit the nail on the head…. we would all comment if someone was not properly dressed for dinner, a date, a wedding….

  • Brother_Pilgrim

    Great article…awesome.
    I teach at a Catholic school and the kids here would argue against the Adam and Eve statement because they are taught in their religion classes that Adam and Eve were not real, they are just a story.

  • At a Catholic School – Adam and Eve a STORY??!! Interesting!

  • Great article Marisa. As always you have reminded us all that common sense and logic are all that is needed to be decent. I am happy to read that I am not the only mother trying to instill not only modesty but appropriate dressing in my family. 

  • Frank

    Absolutely Marisa.. reverence and respect.. we show it in many public events, and we should show it when visiting the ‘King of Kings’ … Great Article- I will put some copies at the back of our church..!

  • Florin S.

    Not only on the altar but in the pews we should dress decently – so many men and women, young and old, come to Mass in short shorts and skimpy tops and, for some reason, Pastors are afraid to say anything. I think it would be good during the winter when people are dressed warmly, to begin a catechesis on the Mass, of the importance of showing reverence for the great miracle we witness in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. People don’t mean to be disrespectful but they haven’t been taught. Starting in winter means no one will be offended or hurt because they will be dressed modestly. The Priest could remind people that if they were to go to see the Bishop or the Pope, they would dress modestly (most would)…and take it from there. Then post a sign at each door with this message…at St. Peter’s in Rome if anyone is dressed immodestly, they are not permitted to enter; they are offered a kind of shawl covering…as for reverence for the Eucharist, some Churches allow girls, not women but very young girls, who are serving the Mass, to go to the Tabernacle and bring out the ciboriums holding consecrated Hosts for distribution…even when a Priest and Deacon are present – one very large woman distributes Holy Communion wearing a dress that goes so low she is hanging out, worse when she bends over to give Holy Communion…but people aren’t taught so perhaps they are not responsible.  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

  • Kansasdad

    St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Mount Calvary, WI, requires its students to wear dress pants, dress shirt, TIE, belt, dress shoes for Mass. I’ve had two sons graduate from this school and a third is still attending. The effect it has had on our family is fantastic. I have for the past five years worn at least sports coat and tie each Sunday and my two youngest sons wear their suits. When visiting other parishes, we are always asked what is the special occasion. When my 9 and 11 year old respond with a smile that this is how we always dress for church, the reactions are amazing. By the way, the 11 year old can tie a terrific double Windsor and his little brother is learning.

  • Julie

    I’m always looking for articles on proper dress for Holy Mass. It has been a constant battle with our daughters in trying to get them not to want to dress as our society would have them dress. If they could at least go to Holy Mass and see a different witness! I know a priest that calls men aside afterward to speak to them if they are wearing shorts. Priests can uphold parents by enforcing a proper dress code. Also, in writing, one way we can elevate the Holy Mass is to not to reference it as “mass” with a small “m”, as in a weight of measure (although it’s weight is of great importance!:). Giving this most important and wonderful gift from Jesus a capital “M” or adding a word like “Holy” raises it up. “Divine Liturgy” (used in Eastern traditions..’transcending time and world’) is another beautiful term as separate from “liturgy” alone which can mean prayer services, etc. If we can use terminology coupled with all of the other means God has given us to bring back the sense of the sacred, dress will follow. We can hope!

  • Lisa Sadler

    Thank you for this post.  I just wish that priests had more gumption to say something about it.  To enforce a dress code, make an announcement, put up a sign.  But I guess “enforcement”  is where things get uncomfortable and undefined.