On Dressing Up at Church

These posts from Marla have weighed heavy on my mind since she posted because it’s something I’ve struggled with during recent years.

I’d highly recommend you reading them for yourself but she basically makes the case for dressing how YOU feel appropriate for church.  For her, that’s jeans.  For many of you reading, that’s your very best dress, skirt, heels.  For some of you, it’s jeans but you wear skirts because that’s just what your church does.  For me, I wear jeans (and some casual dresses) because I’m comfortable AND that’s what most of my church wears.

But I haven’t always been casual at church.  In fact, it’s only the past 3 years attending our new church did I even fathom wearing jeans on a Sunday morning.  I grew up in a Church of God church.  Church of God historically is very strict.  Very.  Women just did not wear pants.  I was in my very best dress every single Sunday.  I can remember my mom making me change when I wore anything not dressy enough, even as a 15 and 16 year old I had a dress, pantyhose and dress shoes on.  But so did everyone else.  It’s just the way church was. 

Then I got engaged and started attending church at Scott’s Southern Baptist church where we stayed for over 10 years.  Same thing.  Everyone dressed up.  It’s just the way church was.  And for the first time, I saw some some ugly things regarding dress.  And I don’t mean ugly dresses.  I mean ugly attitudes toward dress.  Now, before I say this, hear me when I say I’m not putting that church down.  That church is like family.  I’m serious.  In fact, many of them are literally family members.  But I did see some ugly things in regards to dress.  I know of people that were highly judged because they did not have a tie on when they were on stage.  People were looked down on when they wore shorts on a Sunday night.  You were definitely singled out if you weren’t in a dress or skirt Sunday morning.  No one would ever say anything to you directly, but the judgment was still there.  NOT by everyone.  Many could care less what you wore.  But some people did.  A lot. And some people didn’t really care much but dressy was just the acceptable standard.

Our current church accepts any sort of dress.  There are some folks who still wear dresses but not often.  Most people are in jeans or a casual skirt.  All the men wear jeans, even the lead pastor.  Only a few men have jackets.  Kids are mostly in casual wear.  Some girls have casual dresses, but not Sunday dresses.  My girls wear jeans most Sundays unless it’s a holiday and then we’ll dress up.  Scott hasn’t worn a suit, dress pants or dress shoes since we’ve started there.

And FOR ME, I feel so much more free.  Before I was SO CONCERNED with what I was wearing.  Clothes were almost 90% of what I was thinking of on Sunday mornings, more than any other day of the week.  I had to have the just right outfit, the just-right shoes. I had to make sure my makeup and hair were just right.  And then I’d spend all morning pulling at my skirt, tugging at my pantyhose, comparing myself to everyone else dressed up.  Church was like the Super Bowl for fashion every week.  On the other hand, I didn’t care what anyone else wore.  I honestly could have cared less if someone walked in with shorts.  The concern was all inward and how I looked and stacked up.  Was I any better than the folks looking down on people for not wearing a tie?  I doubt it.

Now?  I get dressed like I would every other morning.  Sure, I care about what I look like.  I make sure I’m modest and respectful and am not dressed like a slob but I’m not thinking about what everyone else thinks.  Because no one is dressed up and no one cares. My feet don’t hurt when I’m standing to worship. I’m not worried about tugging a skirt or shirt. And best of all, I don’t spend time seeing how I stack up to everyone else. I still worship the same.  I still concentrate the same.  In fact, at times, I’m less distracted by looking at everyone.  Furthermore, the one time I remember being distracted is by someone wearing a dress.

Hear me, I’m NOT bashing folks that dress up.   I dressed up for 30 years of my life and ALL of the rest of my family and many close friends dress up Sunday morning.  But what I am saying is now that I don’t, I’ve realized that dressing up on Sunday brought some ugly things out of me at times and I think it does for a lot of other people too (but not everyone!).

And here’s my most important observation: I think it can create a false sense of I-have-everything-together and enforces people acting and dressing one way on Sunday and then another during the week.  You are polite and nice and worship in your nice clothes but then you walk out of the door, not only do your clothes change but also your attitude and actions do too.  

I’m not looking down on anyone for dressing up or dressing down.  You have to do what you feel comfortable with.  But what I would ask is, are you TOO preoccupied with what you’re wearing on Sunday morning and furthermore what OTHER people are wearing on Sunday morning (comparing or judging)?  I can honestly say I was and I’m not sure I even saw how much I was until I wasn’t.   Sunday mornings have very little thought to what I wear and NO thought to what anyone else is going wear OR what they’re going to think about what I wear.  I’m wholly concentrated on worship and the sermon and reconnecting with like-minded believers.  And I think that’s just how it ought to be.


  1. Oh, wow. I really don’t know what I could possibly add to this. You said it all, and I loved every single word. It’s an honor to be your friend. Have a great weekend, Amy!

  2. I didn’t start going to church till middle school when I began attending Catholic school. When we went at school, we wore uniforms, so I didn’t know what to do on Sundays. I took the rule my best friend’s family had: “jeans OR sneakers not both”.

    It’s funny: I haven’t talked to her since middle school, but I still think that phrase every single week when I get ready for church.

    I normally end up in jeans, a sweater and heels, and I think that makes me about average for my congregation. Slightly more casual than office wear but not unkempt. My parish includes both pretty poor as well as quite well-off families. I guess the point of church dress to me is that you’re dressed well enough to be respectful but not showing off.

  3. Very well said! When you spoke of taking off the dress clothes and losing the attitude of a Christian, it was a huge visual for me. How easily we can shed the light of Christ!

  4. You know, I hope, that I have SO much respect for you. I love it when you write about things that just turn it all on its head – the real stuff. I read the other two posts – very good stuff.

    I grew up in a church where our pastor lectured on clothes – no coming in sport uniforms, sneakers, etc. He would call people out. Now, I do not remember much else about this man, except he was the driving force to pay off the mortgage on the buildings, so that has to be good, right? BUT I will never forget that attitude of giving God your Sunday best.

    When I got older, I went to another church and always dressed up and looked down on those who didn’t. I did and it was wrong and I admit it – I was such a snot about it! My husband and his parents went to a very eclectic church, in dress and population, not message, and while they always dressed way up, their parishoners did not. At all. My inlaws still dress up, but I don’t think they judge. Big difference.

    Recently I have come to see that I have so many more issues to deal with – like my obvious lack of charity and judgment on my Church community, for one – that what I wear is the least of the issue. I put on what feels comfortable and go from there. My daughter puts on what she likes. My husband puts on what he likes. And I pray to keep my judgment – of myself and others – at bay. I see those kids in sports uniforms now, and I think, they came to church. Teens. Alone. Wow! Or, look at their mom who brought them, that’s an accomplishment to get three kids out of the house! I try to look at everyone with kindness, as it should be. As I hope I am looked at, too.

    • “that what I wear is the least of the issue” yes, exactly.

      ” they came to church. Teens. Alone. Wow! ” Yes. I think with going to church less and less the norm, perhaps attire is becoming less and less important too.

  5. I grew up COG too and you’re right…Sunday best all the way. Pantyhose and all! Oh boy do I remember those days. Very beautiful post!

  6. Very well said everyone I also dress comfortable but respectful. I admit it was hard at first b/c I worried about what other ppl thought of me.( That is another story ) I have never paid any attention to what other ppl wore because I am at church only to worship.

  7. We do jeans/tshirts now b/c we volunteer and all the volunteers wear matching shirts.

    But I do dress my kids up a little–dresses for Lydia, collared shirts for Asa.

    I went to a strict Bible college for 1 year in college and we had to wear dresses all year. DRESSES. And as much as I hated it I have to admit I learned something from it–dressing up makes you feel like you are doing something important. I want my kids to know church is important, so dressing up is an easy way to do that.

    Great post, Amy!


    • Amanda, I do agree there’s something strangely different about kids. I looked back at pictures of my kids going to church and do not regret one bit them being dressed to the nines. I don’t know how that plays into adults and what it means if we’re not dressed up. I don’t think I have an answer. But now that my kids are 7 and 9 they aren’t interested in dresses quite as much so the friction is not there. Of course if they wanted to wear dresses they totally could but they just don’t want to and I have yet to feel a need for them to be at this age. If I had another younger girl, I’d still dress her in cute dresses because little girls are just adorable in them.

  8. I am a Lutheran Pastor’s daughter, so we always dressed up, too. To this day, I still dress up, as it puts me in the mindset that worship is a special time. Of course, I didn’t think anyone can / should analyze one’s heart based on their attire. Thank you for this thought provoking article!

  9. Jake an I started going to a different church last summer, one particular Sunday night, he wore a pair of black/white pinstripe cotton shorts with a purple polo shirt. He was sitting up front with the youth and the Pastor called him out on wearing shorts. He talked about how it was “disrespectful to God and His home”. Jake was very upset and didn’t feel that God judged him that way. A few weeks later, a visiting Pastor spoke of kids wearing skinny jeans and tee-shirts. Want to guess what Jake had on that night, his black skinny jeans (keep in mind Jake is 6ft1 and wears 120lbs, even skinny jeans are loose on him) The Pastor said that “true Christians don’t dress that way” Jake never went back an after, I was told I could get clothes from the clothes closet to wear to church, I stopped going as well.
    Jake an I had a long talk about what was appropriate for church. I asked Jake, if he knew that God was coming for dinner what table cloth would he put on the table. He looked at our everyday, faded table cloth an asked, “What’s wrong with this one?” to which I responded,”You tell me” He said nothing, but he would probably wash it. I asked him, but it’s God, why don’t we go get a new tablecloth, don’t you think we should have a nice new one on the table? With a smile on his face, he simply asked “Why, God already knows what are tablecloth looks like.” And then I smiled an knew he got it.

  10. My husband pastors the Fort Mill Church of God. Even though I grew up in a very strict Church of God in a little upstate town, the church of my youth has little in common with the Church my husband pastors now in regards to dress code.

    People dress in many different ways at FMCOG and are accepted even if they do not “dress up”. I love to dress up on Sundays because it is typically the only day I do and it helps to set the day apart in my heart as something special and unique; outside of the ordinary. Just as I get dressed up for a date when David and I go out for special occasions, I get “dressed up” for the Lover of my soul most Sunday mornings. Sometimes my “date” is a work date (i.e. nursury duty) and those Sundays I wear something more casual as I serve the body of Christ. I truly believe that if I wore capris and a tee shirt this coming Sunday it would not be a big deal, as long as the outfit was modest. (Our choir wears robes so that people will not focus on our clothes, but on the worship of our Lord and Savior.)

    I know that all churches have their own ideas and opinions on this topic, but I did want to make a disclaimer for the church I have called my home church for 16 years now.

    Bottom line, I agree with the apostle Paul: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

    Now those are some styles that are look good no matter which body of believers you belong to. :)

    • Thanks for commenting, Sonja. I have to say, even as a youth, I did not find that I had any issue with dressing up as a teenager at our Church of God. It was just something that was done. I didn’t find the vanity/envy/legalism until I started at the Baptist church. That is not a dig against the Baptist church as our current church is considered Baptist. Just my experience. I just think there CAN BE legalism and vanity when it comes to dress that needs addressed. I totally get what you’re saying though that you dress up for both your husband and church. We will dress up for Easter and maybe in the future, I will dress up more often and be more careful where my heart is when I do. And finally, of course, modesty and respect is key!

  11. Amy I never got the same vives that you did about the way you dressed or did not dress, at the Baptist Church that you are talking about. Maybe it was my age or the fact that I did not feel that people disapproved of the way I dressed. I always wore what I felt was presentable and I felt good in. I came to church to worship and most of the time I could not tell you what a person had on, that was not my reason for going to church. If people had time to look around and approve or disapprove of what you are wearing, they were not there for the right reason, and that is to worship the LORD. Sorry this happened to you and the other younger people at that time.

    • I never felt judged for the way I dressed but I did know of other people judged and at times worried I might be. My personal issue at the time was just that I put too much thought into what I was wearing. I think part of it was just my age/maturity at the time too. Tammy Wallace mentioned on Facebook how she is noticing a general shift in how people are dressing so I think a lot has changed over the years and there is more freedom where before there was not.

  12. Great post!As a child, I recall at that church a guest child being sent home from VBS for wearing shorts and remember thinking then at how backwards that was from what Christ would do. My general philosophy is, regardless of what you choose to wear, if you spend more time/thought in getting the outward appearance ready for church than preparing your heart, you’ve got it backwards. Of course, you know I love a dress but I love the freedom of being able to wear jeans if I want as well. I’ll never forget the first time I wore jeans to church on a Sunday morning – and to sing on the praise team no less. I worshipped in a way I never had before. I also recall the first time Dave wore shorts to church on Sunday morning. He thought he’d gone to heaven for real :).

    • You bring up a good point that was not specifically addressed. I can still have an issue even wearing jeans. Like you said, if I’m more concerned with outward appearance, it’s a problem.