Atheists: Be Careful What You Wear to Church June 2, 2008

Atheists: Be Careful What You Wear to Church

Let this be a lesson to any of you atheists who have to go to church for whatever reason.

Don’t dress up.

Unlike what you see on The Simpsons, people don’t do that anymore.

Sunday morning attire now consists of jeans and a t-shirt. Flip-flops are ok. And probably Crocs. I don’t know.

But nice frilly dress with ruffles?

Big no-no.

Monica found this out the hard way:

… Let me just preface this by stating that when I decided to attend this church function I was operating under the ill conceived assumption that women still get dressed up for church. I had a picture in my mind of what bible study women dressed like: frilly dresses, big hats, white gloves, panty hose, and pearls, you know, that sort of thing. So I approached the decision about my attire like, “Hey, I clearly do not fit in with these people but I’ll be damned if I can’t dress the part.” What an ass.

Just close your eyes for a moment and think El Torito Hostess. Remember the way the staff dressed at that restaurant? Those shiteously bright colored peasant dresses with the white ruffles underneath and those big bold patterns that made you feel drunk even before you wrapped your lips around your first margarita. Well suffice to say that the only accessory missing from my brilliant ensemble were four menus and a pitcher of water…

… In hindsight, I should have taken the hint that I had made a tragic fashion error when I got into my sister in laws car and the first thing she said was, “My! Don’t you look fancy!”

It didn’t get much better after that, but Monica made the most of it.

Has anyone else experienced a church fashion faux pas?

The only one I really had was accidentally wearing all black to a service. But no one seem to care. Like Monica, I was one of the more dressed up people around me.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, church[/tags]

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  • Polly

    It’s a mixed bag. Almost all the older people dress up and some of the 30- also dress up. A few young people (20-) dress really down, jeans, T-shirts, sneakers.

    When I go, it’s Dockers and a button down shirt, no tie, and tucking-in is optional for me.
    My wife – pretty much the same, except her pants aren’t Dockers.

    (Happily, we BOTH have resisted the pressure to go to church for months – even on Easter!)

  • Gadren

    Keep in mind, however, that if you attend a Mormon church, they expect you to still be all fancy. They’ll look down on anyone in casual dress.

  • Herb

    Nice suits and dresses are standard at Jewish synagogues too. The various times I’ve gone to Catholic mass, I put on a suit jacket as I would have when I used to go to synagogue, and it was a bit too much.

  • Milena

    I only wore a skirt and a nice white shirt to my sixth-grade confirmation. All the other girls were dressed in big, poofy, white dresses, so they all ended up looking like little brides or flower-girls. No one made any comments though, so it didn’t really bother me. Truth be told, the only reason I agreed to get confirmed was because I was under the false impression that I wouldn’t get to get married if I didn’t.

  • TXatheist

    Wear a suit to the local UU church and you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. Especially in the summer in Texas.

  • nowoo

    The two times I’ve been to church since I became an atheist I wore jeans and my “ATHEIST AND PROUD OF IT” T-shirt that I got at the American Atheist convention last year (where I saw Hemant for the second time). Since it was a Unitarian church and the topic of both services was Richard Dawkins and the God Delusion, there were quite a few other atheists in attendance, including some of the regular members of that church.

  • Garrick

    I went to a catholic church with my grandparents often when I was a little kid. All of the males wore a suit and tie. If you were old enough to walk, you were old enough for a tie.

    Fast forward 30 years and I’m in a catholic church again for a special rememberance mass somethingorother.

    There I am, feeling uncomfortable in my grief, surrounded by woo woo people, feeling uncomfortable with a tie, and feeling uncomfortable because everyone else is in jeans?! Since when did people wear jeans to church?

    Two days later, the funeral is at a catholic chapel. Not wanting to be the fool, I arrive confidently casual. Wtf?! Everyone is in suits again! Not only am I in a real period of grief, but I have to feel really self conscious the whole time.

  • I think it’s a giant shame the people don’t dress up for church. I mean, people don’t seem to dress up for anything (flip flops at work?), but not dressing up for church seems worse; disrespectful to the beliefs they hold dear. I mean, or farming ancestors, who worked hard in their clothes, had their ‘Sundaygotomeeting’ clothes.

    I will probably never set foot in a church again, but if I did, I’d wear a very nice suit. Americans seem to be capable of less and less shame in their dress. I’ve seen people in nice restaurants dressed like they were getting ready to mow the lawn. Is it just us Yankees?

  • Damaris

    My son and DIL were lapsed Catholics, and originally had a civil ceremony. Several years later they became more active churchgoers and decided they would remarry at Easter Midnight Mass. Easter. A wedding. You dress up.
    I was the only one in the church wearing a dress, and that included the several brides lined up for the 5 minute wedding portion of the 3-hour program.
    My son said “That’s my mom. If you can’t join ’em, outclass them.”

  • mikespeir

    Has anyone else experienced a church fashion faux pas?

    I don’t do church.

  • Larry Huffman

    While I am sure this is the trend for all chruches…to be moving towards a more casual church attire standard…I am sure it still depends on the actual sect.

    As someone pointed out already…you are still expected to wear a dress or skirt…or shirt and tie at a mormon service. Not required, mind you…and they tend to be understanding if you cannot. but still, you will look out of place with the mormons if you go casual.

  • When I was a kid my mom was very much into the “we get dressed up for church” thing. So I went in a dress every week. Usually a big dorky, flowery, Little House on the Prairie-type getup. Me and my sisters were the only children in the entire church who ever dressed up.

    The concept of dressing up for church is long dead.

  • Obviously, dress varies tremendously by religion. I live near an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, and even in 100 degree heat you see all these people walking to service in heavy black suits, dresses, and hats. Some even walk a couple of miles, and the discomfort must be ungodly.

  • Karen

    Church dress is very dependent on geography, type of church and social class. I’ve attended churches where everybody wore shorts and flip flops and carried big leather-bound bibles (bonus points if it was monogrammed!) and also attended churches where most people dress up and all the pastors, deacons and ushers are in suits and ties.

    One rule: If you’re in a working class church, where people wear company uniforms or jeans to work, they’ll tend to dress up for Sunday services. If you’re in an upper-class church, where the congregation has a high proportion of professionals who wear ties and suits all week, they will dress down on Sundays.

    The principle is to distinguish the Sunday clothes from the work week attire.

  • Anthony

    One time my parents were helping me with a move, and I had no idea that their church had started doing saturday evening services. They dragged me along and I couldn’t say no with them helping out. So I was there in shorts and a death metal t-shirt.

    It didn’t look particularly blasphemous or anything (or my parents wouldn’t see it anyway), but it was still a bit awkward.

  • Anna N.

    I don’t care how much I stand out, if I’m going to church (or synagogue, which is more likely but also rare), I’m going to wear a skirt or at the very least, dress pants. It’s not my church, I don’t know these people, and I see it as a gesture of respect.

    I’m not talking an evening gown or an icky prairie dress, just whatever nice outfit I have on hand. And the same goes for (most) concerts, live shows, weddings, and various other occasions that many people don’t bother dressing up for anymore. I think it’s sad that that tradition is fading.

  • Richard Wade


    “That’s my mom. If you can’t join ‘em, outclass them.”

    Please thank your son for a great line that I’ll enjoy using in many contexts.


    One rule: If you’re in a working class church, where people wear company uniforms or jeans to work, they’ll tend to dress up for Sunday services. If you’re in an upper-class church, where the congregation has a high proportion of professionals who wear ties and suits all week, they will dress down on Sundays.

    The principle is to distinguish the Sunday clothes from the work week attire.

    So it sounds like the point is to make a distinction between Sunday life and REAL life.

  • Carl

    You have to see the episode of Extras where this happens. It’s the Kate Winslet episode from the first season. Ricky Gervais’ character is an atheists (as is Ricky) and he goes along to a church function because of a girl he likes, and completely misses the mark attire-wise. Hilarious.

  • TheOtherOne

    When I was a kid, we attended a fairly restrictive church. You weren’t supposed to wear make-up or jewelry, and you weren’t supposed to be vain and frivolous and waste money on expensive clothing, etc.

    But if it was *for church*, that was different. After all, going to church is to glorify god, right? Gotta do your best for god!

    So while there was still no make-up and no “jewelry”, there were plenty of women in $300 dresses (in the 80s) and diamond hairclasps or broaches (because somehow those weren’t jewelry). Expensive watches were much in style for both genders, and of course the guys were dressed as expensively as the women. None of which was vanity, you understand, it was all for the glory of GOD! [gag]

    Then I moved to Tennessee and met the woman who dressed herself and her 6-year-old twins in homemade clothes that covered literally from neck to wrist and ankle in the summer heat . . . . Gave me an appreciation for the girls wearing party dresses to church.

  • Thankfully I have not set foot in a church as anything more than a tourist (some churches are really beautiful) or a guest at a wedding since I was about 10. Dress hasn’t been an issue for me.

  • The church I sometimes attend has a “come as you are” policy to try to attract the unchurched. I once basically wore crocks, bathing suite, and beach-shirt to service. When the pastor asked me about it, I proudly said that we are to “come as we are” and this is how I was. 🙂 He couldn’t argue with that!!!

  • That is great Jeff! When I was a kid and was told to dress up out of respect for God, I always had 2 questions:

    1) Wouldn’t it be more important to God that you go to church than what you wear to church?

    2) If God likes dress clothes so much, why are we born naked?

    That 2nd question was never too popular.

  • Jen

    I have a theory. My theory goes like this: these days, there are more women than men who go to church- and they are probably the ones dressing the kids. Women prefer not to dress up, because for women to dress up once a week costs much, much more than for men to do the same.* Perhaps they also don’t want to buy dress shoes for six year olds.

    *And they have to wear pantyhose. Fucking pantyhose.

  • Of course the best thing to wear to church is a Friendly Atheist wrist band. I’ve done that too 🙂

  • Karen

    So it sounds like the point is to make a distinction between Sunday life and REAL life.

    Yeah, pretty much to make Sunday a “special” day and to differentiate church attendance from the work day.

    I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve never seen such fancy Sunday clothes as I did when attending a small black church in a low-income neighborhood as part of a special racial reconciliation program. The women were in feathered hats, white gloves, nylons and pumps with matching bags. A whole group of older women dressed all in identical white suits and hats were seated together as honorees in the front rows. The men wore three-piece suits with pocket handkerchiefs and highly shined shoes. Man, they were great-looking!

    This was much dressier than anything people in my middle- to upper-class white church wore – by far – even though we had a moderately formal church (not a sandals-and-shorts congregation).

  • Karen

    Of course the best thing to wear to church is a Friendly Atheist wrist band. I’ve done that too 🙂

    Ha, ha! Were you undercover? Like, did you keep it under your shirt sleeve, or did anyone see it and ask what it was?

  • I wore it “under-cover”. I didn’t yet want to “blow my cover” for the Christian Small Group I participate in. There is also a “friendly” aspect to me in that I didn’t want to overtly mock their beliefs in their house of worship.

    On other thoughts…

    WWJW (what would Jesus wear?) Remember Jesus was always nicely dressed. Polished shoes, creased dress pants, starched shirt, coat & tie, short cropped hair, clean shaven, and patriotic lapel pin.

    In “rebelling against Jesus” (as the Christians probably think I do) I try to do the opposite: comfortable shoes, loosely fitting casual clothes, and I question the politics of the current administration…

  • I wear jeans everywhere and if I were to go to church for some reason, I would probably wear jeans. I dress up a little for weddings and funerals (usually the only time I enter churches), but I would not wear a dress. I don’t own one and I wouldn’t buy one to wear one time.

  • Josha

    When I go with my family to church we all dress nice. Not too nice but no jeans or t-shirts. My family’s church is a laid-back modern Catholic church where you see people both dressed up and dressed down. I still cannot make myself wear anything that shows the shoulders in church. I have this leftover Catholic feeling that it’s immoral in house a worship.

    I would dress up in any church or temple I go to, just to show respect for the people that are there.

  • Funny story…In college I regularly attended a fairly casual church. The contemporary feel of the building and the predominately 20something crowd made it so. This year I moved to a different city and began looking for a church. One church in my town is a fairly large building, has a huge electronic sign out front, and had advertisements for a Sunday night service. Thinking that Sunday night services (even in Baptist churches) tend to be a younger crowd and more casual, I show up with jeans, a sweater, and my bright orange Crocs.

    I soon found out that the church was not as contemporary as I had assumed, nor was it casual. Most of the women (and I say women because they were all over 40) were in dresses, and men had slacks and a polo at least. Oops.

  • When I was a teenager constantly obsessing about my appearance and usually running late because of it, my mother would say, “God doesn’t care what you look like.” One Sunday, I finally had enough and asked, “Then why can’t I wear jeans?”

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