Church Dress Code Still an Issue for Many

Orginally published on Thursday, July 06, 2006 at 9:14 AM
by Todd Rhoades

As evidenced in a recent Dear Abby column, it is obvious that what we wear to church is still a big issue for many people. Just look at the responses Dear Abby received. A personal note: it would appear that the people who have an issue with what people wear to church are... um... well, churched people.

Dear Abby: May I respond to your reply regarding attire in church? As a priest and pastor, I’m appalled at how some people come dressed for Sunday worship.

You said that “Dress codes have been greatly relaxed in recent decades,” which I find to be inaccurate. What has become relaxed is the attitude, the respect and reverence people have for worship and church buildings. From brides walking down the aisle chewing gum to funeral pallbearers wearing tennis shoes, to members wearing flip-flops, shorts and tank tops on Sunday, the lack of respect and reverence to worship is disgusting.

These same people would never allow their children to play in a sporting event out of uniform, or apply for a job interview themselves dressed inappropriately. Sunday worship should be no different!

I also said I was raised to believe people should dress “respectfully” in the house of the Lord - and that means fully shod and covered up enough so it doesn’t distract other worshippers. However, reaction to my reply varied sharply. Read on:
Dear Abby: More important than what people are wearing is the reason for being in church in the first place. Maybe it would be better if we could all enter God’s house blind. If we can’t see what people are wearing, we can leave our judgments and prejudices outside and use the time to learn more about God’s purpose for our lives.

Dear Abby: Satan wants to embarrass the church, so he sends people dressed any kind of disrespectful way. They’d be sent home from their jobs if they dressed like that. Women: Cover up! You are worth more than your skin.

Dear Abby: My pastor says no one would consider dressing casually if they were going to be in the presence of our president or any other dignitary. Why would we consider anything less for our Lord? Makes perfect sense to me.

Dear Abby: I have seen people come to church straight from working in their yard, without changing or washing up. When I was a child living in the country, men came to work wearing overalls, but they were clean and, most of the time, new. Today, there is no excuse for slovenliness in public, much less in God’s house.

Dear Abby: Church is where you go to give praise to the Lord, not check out what others are wearing.

This comes from the STLToday website...

Todd’s Rant: Isn’t it funny that the ‘devil is sending people to your church to embarrass your church’ (because of the clothes they are wearing)?  Never mind the fact that there’s an actual soul who needs Jesus underneath those skantily clad bodies.  Actually, it’d be nice if we could keep all kinds of riff-raff out of the church… you know, all the adulterers, fornicators, liars, cheats and gossips out of the church as well to save the church embarrassment.  Unfortunately, many of the people who are upset about how people dress in church would be gone if we did that.  :(

What do you think?

This post has been viewed 6057 times so far.

 TRACKBACKS: (1) There are 53 Comments:

  • Posted by J L


    This is one of those instances where you have stacked the deck in order to get a particular response.  Anyone with an opinion other than what you have stated is “automatically” wrong.  You have taken one case and superimposed it over the whole.

    If the ones who are coming in are unsaved and they are dressed “inappropriately” that’s one thing.  But when they claim to know Jesus and have come to worship the living God that’s quite another story altogether.

    I draw the line between “casual” and “sloppy”.  Unfortunately that is a rather subjective line.  My casual and your sloppy may collide.

    I don’t think it’s about dress codes as much as it is about attitude.  As some one to observe a minimal “dress code” and see what kind of attitude they portray.  That ought to settle it right there.

  • Posted by Bart

    I would gladly sit next to a dirty, smelly homeless person who doesn’t know Christ.  It is the Christians that I have a problem with.  I do not think we need to wear a suit and tie, but there is such a thing as appropriate dress.  If everything is ok then why don’t I preach in my BVD’s?  When my dress becomes a distraction to those seeking God, I am the problem.  We must be sensative to those seeking and recognise that it is not about what we wear, but it is also not appropriate to wear a bikini to church (unless it is a service at the beach).  BALANCE!!

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Hey Bart and JL,

    I agree with you both… I always cry for ‘balance’.

    Maybe my wording wasn’t right or balanced in the article or in my comments.  Of course, I think some dress is inappropriate.  And I don’t go to church in my yard weed-eating clothes.

    My problem is with churched people who look down on others because of the way they dress.  Then to blame the devil for it.

    I’ve met people like this.  In my experience, they are older folk who are more worried about dress than they are about souls.

    This may be an over-statement, yet my experience.

    What’s yours?


  • Posted by Jamin Rathbun

    You aren’t dressing up for God. You’re dressing up for people. That isn’t to say that some standards aren’t appropriate—it’s just to point out the reason for the standards… Acceptance in the community NOT acceptance by God.
    Dress is a clearly a cultural (or community) standard and not a Biblical one. By the way, I posted on this topic last week at The Fruit of the Spirit Is Closed-Toed Shoes?
    That reminds me of 1 of the life lessons from Hugh McCleod…
    <br>“Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”—Good advice.

  • Posted by

    There are really layers of issues involved in this situation.  One is modesty, another is respect, and yet another is relevance and tolerance.  While I strongly prefer casual dress, I recognize that others struggle with balancing all of the issues involved.  On the one hand, I firmly believe that we “can approach the throne of grace with confidence,” and believe that “the Lord looks on the heart”.  On the other hand, I understand and appreciate that we are approaching the “Holy of Holies” and ought to do so with the utmost reverence and respect.  However, I doubt that those who are in the “respectful attire” crowd put their suits on at home when engaging in their personal prayer time.  Should we as believers dress modestly?  Absolutely, there is definite scriptural support for modesty.  Should we look down on the unbelievers amongst us when they come dressed immodestly?  I would hope that our priority would be their relationship with Jesus; the rest would then come with time.  If the devil’s bringing them to my church, I say, bring them on!

  • Posted by eric

    I am just glad to be in a church where this isn’t even an issue. It does come up, but the answer is automatically, “Come as you are you will be loved!”

    I understand the respect, modesty, blah, blah blah. In certain churches, you should not come as you are. It would be disrespectful to dress casually. Even as a minister, I have avoided going to certain churches while on vacation because I was not going to dress up...so I went to the church where I knew I would be accepted whatever I wore.

    I think you are right, though Todd, to point out that the people who have the most problem with it are the churched people. I can’t tell you how many thousands of people I have come in contact with who say they don’t go to church because they don’t have the “right clothes” to wear. How sad that they feel excluded from the presence of God because of a man-made Dress Code.

  • Posted by

    I think a danger can be in assessing what is casual and what is sloppy is that sloppy clothes may be all some people can afford and it has nothing to do with being saved or unsaved.  Not to say a poor person can’t come to church clean but sometimes that one stained t-shirt which you wouldn’t dream of wearing to church is all they have.  Being judgemental about a person’s dress style I think is abhorrant to the Lord.  Of course modesty is important; I don’t want my husband confronted with a low-cut blouse on the front row as he leads worship, but in my experience as a person grows in Christ conviction over those things happens naturally.  When I first got saved I was a teenager from a working class (unsaved) family and only had one ‘dressy’ outfit.  The Church I was attending however had the fashion parade contingent there every week and was a very disheartening time for me as I couldn’t possibly compete.  After a year I was lead to a church where jeans and t-shirts were welcomed on Sundays if that’s what you were comfortable in.  Nowadays as a stay-at-home Mom I enjoy dressing up for church but don’t condemn anyone for coming in shorts.

  • Posted by Daniel

    I think this is largely related to how we view the purpose of the Sunday gathering.  If the Sunday gathering is a gathering of believers, then I think expecting parishioners to wear clothes is appropriate (although I think we’ve all agreed that no one’s advocating going to church in speedos).  If however, the Sunday gathering is the congregation’s interface with the broader community, then the believers should be careful not to judge the outsiders who are visiting.  From a pastoral perspective, it makes sense to remind the women (and men!) WHO CLAIM TO FOLLOW CHRIST to dress in such a way as to not tempt their brothers and sisters.  As for the scantily clad visitors, the believers who might stumble should know themselves enough to stay away, and the others should make that person feel welcome.
    How do others view the relationship between this question of modesty and the purpose of Sunday mornings?  Does viewing the Church as far more than a Sunday worship service affect how we think about this?

  • Posted by J L

    At the risk of being misunderstood, I’ll take the chance.  Don’t you think that it is ironic that God included a whole list of things in the furnishings of the Tabernacle/Temple including rules for priestly attire?

    I can already here it coming.  That was life under the Law, we’re no longer under the Law!  While the letter of the Law kills the Spirit of the Law brings life.  The Spirit of the Law states that we are to approach God in a particular manner.

    I wish it were true that what you wear doesn’t matter.  My experience, confirmed by many of my colleagues, is that casual attire (I’m talking the short shorts, flip flops and tank tops crowd) often reflects itself in casual worship.

    I don’t wear a suit and tie all the time.  I wear guayaberas and nice slacks all summer and a polo and sport jacket most of the rest of the year.  For weddings, funerals, child dedications etc. I will don a tie but not because it is expected as much as it is because it is appropriate.

    I have been around a while now and I see how the casual approach has resulted in people bringing their starbucks, fruit lunches, bottled waters, flip flops and tank tops down another notch with every passing week.  Where is the limit?

    I don’t advocate stiff dressing up, but there is a big difference between casual and sloppy and a lot of people don’t know that difference.

    I don’t care how an unbeliever dresses, but I am concerned about the attitudes of some believers that anything goes.

    Let me repeat myself again.  Ask the “casual” dresser to kick it up a notch and note their response.  Their attitude will pretty much answer your questions as to what is at issue.  Is it about appropriateness or just doing your own thing and to heck with anybody elses feelings? God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way.

  • Posted by

    I remember back in the late 60’s when a bunch of ‘filthy hippies’ walked into church and the audible gasps that could be heard.  I also remember hearing the comment from a kid ‘at least they are in church’ . Seems like maybe need to be somewhat charitable with new comers and seekers.  Leadership and people on the platform may be a different issue.  I heard Steve Brown say that a dirty kid is easier to hug than a stiff kid.  The attitude is the key.  I think that these issues have been around for a very long time.  Oh well just some ramblings, I trust that we all are dressed properly for the fellowship of the blog

  • Posted by kent

    Okay this is sad. I had to look up “guayaberas”. Which gives you a clue that I don’t wear them. Do I wear a suit? Yup - have for 25 years. Old dog - new clothes thing. But I am not concerned about what people wear to church, unless it is so revealing that that is a distraction. But that almost never happens. Clothes are near the bottom of my concerns on Sunday, there are too many other items which grab my attention and energy.

  • Posted by

    Okay.... Call me whatever you’d like, but I guess that is why I found the article below so refreshing.

    Surely they don’t expect these individuals who are there attending worship as well as a rodeo to be dressed in suits and ties or dresses with flat-heeled closed toe shoes and pantyhose?

  • Posted by

    I have no problem with how people dress… my issue is that this discussion is being had in an open forum… the dear abby column is not where people need to be having this fight.  I know that my sister reads dear abby, and in the past has made a comment about something stupid that a person who identifies themselves as a christian has said.  This has not helped her outlook on christianity, and i see this as being just another thing that is going to affect her view of the church as a bunch of kooks who are pretty unwelcoming and close minded. 

    I am amazed by the ways that we stir up our own problems.

  • Posted by J L


    But what they will be wearing will be appropriate smile

  • Posted by Daniel

    The difference between JL and Layne’s approach has to do with WHAT THE SUNDAY MORNING GATHERING IS.  Pardon the caps, but I think this is really the crux of the issue.  If it’s for believers, and we are entering the presence of the Lord as believers, then how we are approach the Lord is important (the most important, of course, is the heart--but that doesn’t mean that clothes are unimportant) enough to warrant our attention.  If it’s to make non-believers and believers mingle, that is, if it’s sort of the ‘entrance point’ into the Church, then perhaps there should be less of an emphasis on kinds of clothing, and only a minimal hope that people (viz. regular attenders) would refrain from dressing in distracting (/immodest) ways.
    Would anybody else agree that our view of what Sunday morning’s are about informs our views on dress??

  • Posted by

    Hey JL?

    You’re a senior pastor correct? If you’ve got the time - please go provide input in the forum section under Senior Pastors. Make sure to loosen your tie when you do!

    Hey Todd?

    Excuse my being completely off topic with this one.....

  • Posted by J L

    Hey Camey! You may have missed my point above about wearing a tie.  I rarely do.  But I thought your response was really funny smile

    Daniel:  I agree with you about it being the purpose of the Sunday service.  Even though in the most seeker friendly environments the vast majority of people (I’d guess about 95% or more) are believers.  If it is truly an evangelism outreach, usually most effective when done outside the church building anyway, then I certainly would agree that no thought ought to be given about how the target audience dresses. But even under those circumstances does it really not matter what professing believers are wearing (again modest and casual vs. questionable and sloppy)

    Randy: My point exactly.  Did you ever notice that the people dressing down have as much of an attitude as those who complain?  That’s why I tend to try to deal with the real issue as I see it.  It is about the heart.  And the heart that says, “I’ll wear what I want to wear when I want to wear it and it’s nobodies business but God’s” is missing the point altogether. An appropriate response would be, am I creating an unnecessary distraction?

  • Posted by Bruce Gerencser


    You and I were “raised” up in a similar religious background. Long on rules. A corrupted baptist sort of legalism that says “do this and thou shalt live.”

    Here is my take..............God’s word is sufficient and it is our rule and guide. We may only bind a persons conscience when the Word of God gives us the authority to do so. If we do not have scriptural warrant, then we have no right to bind the conscience of anyone. (I speak from the perspective of Church to member)

    As far as unbelievers are concerned.........unbelievers do what unbelievers do. Leave them alone. Be thankful they have come into our assembly. Let the Holy Spirit and the Word do their work.

    It seems we often confuse our convictions with the commands of scripture. Witness the current debate in the SBC over alcohol. The Word is clear........drunkenness is a sin. Drinking alcohol is not. So the Church has every right to expect sobriety among its members. It has no authority over whether or not a person drinks at all.

    Modesty is important. Defining modesty is not so simple. I do think we have sexualized things in the US to the degree that every body part is all about sex.  Some Churches are so afraid a man is going to lust over a woman’s breast that breastfeeding is looked down on..........If a man has such a lust problem that the very sight of a breast causes him to sin.............well what can I say?

    I used to be a dresses only/culottes are OK/pants are evil preacher. I was cured of this at a youth canoeing activity years ago. All the girls had culottes on. (100 or so youth at the outing.) It was time for the proverbial devotional time (whole other subject) and I had all the teens sit on the ground. Imagine dozens of girls all sitting there with their culottes wide open exposing far more than should be exposed. I had to have them sit differently. I decided right then and there that pants were preferred to the culottes and were far more modest. I didn’t need a Holy Spirit vision. I just needed a “too many butts” for me” vision.


  • Posted by

    There is just as much potential for abuse when someone wears a suit and tie as when they wear shorts and flip-flops. 

    God is still with us even when we are not in the sanctuary. Do we need holy underwear, lest He be embarassed?

  • Posted by

    JL: Try this on for size....

    My hubby and my daddy are going shopping to find my hubby a new sports coat. Hubby has been at seminary since early this mornin’ and had just walked in the door. Daddy just insist that he has to help my hubby pick out the right one.

    My mother asked her favorite and only s-i-l if he was “clean enough” to try on sport coats.....

    Sometimes you just got work with what you’re given.... Hubby would rather wear a casual shirt, blue jeans, and boots. He already has those in his wardrode.... Plus a couple of suits and ties too. 

    There’s something about providing others joy that gets him every single time. He’s having to miss his afternoon nap.

  • Posted by

    I am sorry but I have to say this, WE ARE MISSING IT!  How can it matter what people wear?  This discussion is why so many people have turned away from church and therefore from God because we have let religion get in the way of relationship.

    Let’s get out of our own way and show the world that God loves them by us loving each other.  If you wear a tie and I wear flip flops who cares.  The fact is we worship the same God and the world needs to see us accepting each other like Christ accepts us so they know He will accept them no matter what they wear or what they’ve done.  We have sent the message that you have to be a certain way before you can come to Christ and do certain things that is scares people and they don’t come and then they don’t hear and then they die without knowing the God that I know loves me even though I don’t deserve it and even though I was messed up when I came to Him.

    Anyway, let’s get out there and show people (even believers) that God loves them and quit giving them reasons to stay away.

  • Posted by


    Although I now realize you really do want to be balanced, and although I completely agree that there are SOME articles of clothing that should be avoided (anything revealing), I still have to beg the question:

    Who decides what is “appropriate”?

    Not at all trying to be sarcastic...but last I checked, there were no heavenly decrees stating that the sports jacket and tie are now “IN” and robes with ornate sashes are now “OUT.”

    As for attitude...well...I’m not sure there has been a single comment on this article that have rivaled the bitterness of any of yours.  You go where what you think you need to honor God.  I’m sure God will honor you for it as well.  But I don’t think for a second that God would feel dishonored by my t-shirt and sandals.

    Because I’m sure Jesus wore sandals too.

  • Posted by

    *wear, not where*

  • Posted by Daniel

    Shannon, I understand you trying to bring back the focus to where it needs to be, but I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to say “WE ARE MISSING IT"… This blog, to the best of my understanding, exists for the sole purpose of empowering those in ministry to better serve their congregations (Todd, am I way off base here?).  Seeing as some people (as attested to with the ‘Dear Abby’ column this post references) are mulling over the ‘dress-code’ issue, it is perfectly plausible that discussion of this topic could help those of us in various leadership positions to better serve our flock.
    If this were the only thing we talked about, then yes, there would be a problem.  However, I see this as one of the many facets of modern ministry.  The three key questions this post raises (for me) are: 1. How can we be welcoming without being compromised (people should be comfortable but not naked)?  2. Who are we ministering to (are Sunday gatherings Christian or non-Christian--or somewhere in the middle-- gatherings)?  3. How do we deal with disagreements about this very issue within our flocks (tell the dear old offended senior to get a life?)?
    These, I think, are important questions.  Provided they are discussed charitably and honestly, I see nothing wrong (and much right) with this discussion.
    My two cents.

  • Posted by

    Point taken Daniel.  I guess I should have been clear on what I meant by missing it.  I agree this blog is here to help us lead and to think of things in different ways and get different viewpoints.  My point was that what someone wears has nothing to do with their relationship with Christ, so maybe we should focus more on issues that either help someone discover that relationship or grow that relationship. 

    As to your questions, 1) I think we are just welcoming all the time regardless of what they wear or what they say we are welcoming.  2) Sunday’s for us are always about the outsider.  We try to create and environment where outsiders are welcome and insiders feel comfortable inviting their outsider friends.  A place where they are comfortable and open to the Holy Spirit working both in the outsider as well as the insider.  3) And no you don’t tell the senior to get a life.  I give them my answer to question 2.  We are doing are best to create an environment where the Holy Spirit is freed up to do what only He can do.

    I hope that makes sense.  I didn’t mean to come across rude or insensitive in my first post and if I was I apologize.

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