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Mass: What to Wear | Catholic Life

Mass: What to Wear

Once in a while, blogging seems absolutely wonderful. I had one of those days recently when I saw Jackie’s post on what to wear for mass.

I want people to feel welcome at Mass, no matter how they are dressed.

Now, I’m not saying that people who dress up for mass think they are superior and judge those who don’t. But I am saying, we shouldn’t have a “policy” about it lest we exclude those who are suffering the most.

Recently, however, my own dress-down policy has shifted. I still don’t believe that God will be offended if I don’t dress up for him. I believe he doesn’t care what I am wearing, but cares what is in my heart.

You really should read the whole thing.

Back in the day I made a big deal (for me) of dressing up for Mass. I wore both skirts and dress pants, but never jeans or even chinos. After completing a six month makeup-free challenge I resumed wearing it on Sundays because I thought that I should make a point of dressing up for Mass.

And then something happened: I started to understand Mass. Once I began making Daily Mass a part of my life, Church wasn’t merely someplace sacred: it was HOME. All that really mattered was spending as much time with Jesus as possible. And you can’t spend as much time with Jesus as possible if you maintain that what you normally wear on a Tuesday morning is inappropriate for Mass. Dress snobbery dropped away. Maybe those who wore jeans did so not because they cared less, but because they cared so much about being with Jesus that they weren’t caught up on spending their Sunday mornings trying to look good.

Of course there was still residual pride about dressing “appropriately” for myself.

One day Josh and I went into Boston on a Sunday dressed casually for a casual afternoon of activities after Church. We arrived early to pray at the basilica and I kicked myself for not thinking ahead about clothing. Then an usher stopped by our pew and asked us to bring up the gifts. Suddenly my prayer was focused on trying to focus on God rather than myself and the hope that no one else would be distracted either. In retrospect, it was perfectly fine as at least half the worshipers were probably in jeans, but it felt positively scandalous.

Then I got the chance to not own nice clothing for Church. When the only pair of jeans that I owned ripped at the knees, I shrugged and kept wearing them. That, combined with worshiping in a tent helped me more fully realize the absurdity of snobby standards for what is “appropriate” to wear for Mass. These days I wear skirts or dress pants to Mass, not torn jeans. And I am aware that these days I don’t spend enough time on my knees to make ripped jeans an issue.

I still appreciate the beauty of the fullest participation in the liturgy possible, and I think that involves everyone wearing what is most fitting. But “most fitting” varies widely. Sometimes it is “hand-me-down jean skirt, tights, boots, and a cardigan” other times it is “jeans, converses, and a flannel shirt.” And this too is beautiful.

I am incredibly thankful for those parts of the Church who are too busy serving the homeless to have time to judge the appropriateness of what others are wearing for Mass.

28 Responses to “Mass: What to Wear”

  1. Trena 16. Feb, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Frank wears jeans to Mass all the time (except when he is a Eucharist Minister.) It drives me nuts but after reading your post, I get it. Thanks.

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Well, you can always pull the wife-preference card if you just don’t prefer him in jeans! 😉

  2. Princess Christy 16. Feb, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    I too used to believe you had to dress up for church. While I no longer require the dressy level, I do try to make sure I look nice – no sweats and tshirts!

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

      I think it is always different for people who work for the Church (even if only indirectly like you). It is a lot easier for me since no one judges me as “an example.”

  3. Jackie 16. Feb, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Well, now I’m blushing.

    I should’ve added my parents weren’t always strict about what to wear. Like the time we all wore snowsuits to mass because we had to walk 1/4 mile in the snow to get to the car to go to mass.
    Or when my dad came to mass in all scrubs. He’s a doctor and usually did his rounds before mass. A patient puked all over him, so that’s all he had to wear. The whole parish got a pretty big kick out of it.

    Long live the ripped jeans!

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

      It sounds like you come from a great family!

  4. That Married Couple 16. Feb, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m currently trying to figure out what to wear to masses myself. I’ve always made a point to wear “church clothes” to church, and intend to still do so on Sundays. But then weekday mass comes into play. When I went this summer, it was easy to wear a skirt all the time, even pregnant. And yet now it’s too cold for skirts and I still have a few postpartum pounds keeping me out of my khakis. So the few times I’ve made it, I’ve worn jeans to daily mass. And felt horrible about it. Even though everyone was looking at the baby and not at me.

    Anyway, like you note, it does come down to a matter of pride sometimes. I pray so hard to not judge other people based on what they’re wearing during the mass, but totally judge myself on it. It would be really convenient if I would just let myself wear workout clothes to daily mass – I would most likely go more often – but I just have a really hard time doing it. Because if Jesus is Jesus in the Eucharist every day (which he is), then what’s the difference between wearing a t-shirt on Monday and wearing a t-shirt on Sunday?

    And now I realize I’m rambling and don’t really have a point to this comment 😛 Except to say I probably overanalyze it way too much! And once again I realize I need to grow in humility.

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      I think this issue is a special challenge because we’re all so different, and it really is a matter of the heart. You have to figure out what is right for you, but one thing I do know is that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus every day, and that Jesus always wants you, regardless of whether you’re wearing a wedding dress or a t-shirt.

      I imagine that your parish is wealthier though, so that probably makes everything more of a challenge!

  5. alison 16. Feb, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve thought about this too…why is it such a big deal to dress up on Sunday but not during the week? When I would go to daily mass (not too much anymore…) I felt bad wearing lab clothes, which can’t be nice otherwise I’ll ruin them and are certainly jeans. But then there were people in gym clothes, so I figured maybe it was OK that we were even there? Is the standard that low?

    The church I got confirmed at is in a nice area of town and I remember after RCIA class one day I actually said the words “Man, I need nicer church clothes” because I felt so sloppy next to all the brand names. Ugh. How bad is it to feel that as you’re being received into the Church? Too bad that didn’t mean I had money for those clothes.

    For me though too, its a matter of comfort and laziness. I hate wearing nice shoes other than sneakers (have my whole life), am always cold without socks, and am usually always uncomfortable in nice clothes. I ended up just trying to make the extra effort to wear skirts (uuugggh I hate skirts…) and my nice shirts even though I would have much rather been in jeans.

    Have you ever read the Poisonwood Bible? This topic reminded me of it.

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

      I think that Sunday is a particular formal celebration of the whole Church, whereas daily mass is a great blessing specifically designed to fit in and around the rest of our lives. If others in your parish wear gym clothes, then it seems that you have no reason to worry about lab clothing.

      I flipped clothing so that I try to wear skirts on Fridays, but don’t do so on Sundays. My reasoning is that Sundays are for celebrating the Resurrection, not for being distracted by how much I hate my clothing. Hopefully you’re better about it than I am!

      And no, I haven’t read it. I’ll add it to the “one of these days” list. :-)

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  6. Margie 19. Feb, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Our Catholic Community Social Services recently sent out a communication asking parishioners how CCS might better serve our community needs and one of the respondents replied: “Teach people how to dress properly for church!” Not exactly what they thought they would hear.

    During a particularly difficult period in my life when my husband was in the hospital for three months, I tried to visit the Catholic church across the street to just get a moment away from the heartache we were going through and pray. A big sign in the vestibule greeted me with the warning that people should “wear clothing appropriate for being in the house of the Lord.” I had on sweatpants and a hoodie with sneakers, so I left, feeling very unwelcome.

    While I do try to wear appropriate clothes to church when I lector, I do also try to ignore what other people are wearing and just concentrate on being completely present. I know from experience that one never truly knows why the person sitting next to them might need to show up in sweats or jeans, but the fact that they are there is all that needs to be known.

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

      The first time I read your comment I wanted to cry: how could we have gotten so far from Christ that we drive out those who need God most?

    • Pravinchandra 30. Jul, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      You codn’lut pay me to ignore these posts!

  7. Kassie Rutherford 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    I’ve really appreciated the discussions on appropriate attire for Mass, and true “modesty”. The church I grew up in took a kind of self-righteous approach to dressing down for church. It was trendy to come to church in jeans and flip-flops, to be on stage ministry in t-shirts and hip accessories, etc. A very much emergent atmosphere, which is really interesting considering the theology was classical fundamentalist Protestant.

    So when I took the first steps towards converting to Catholicism, I had to realize that dressing down was a matter of pride for me – “I have a real RELATIONSHIP with Jesus, not just a religion [yes I was one of those. :/], I don’t NEED to prove anything to Him, unlike those religious-spirited people who wear DRESSES on Sunday morning”. It took consciously dressing up to help me make the connection that there was something different about Mass, even before I fully accepted everything about the theology of the Mass.

    I’m at a place now where I can wear jeans and casual skirts to Mass, and it not be a matter of sin for me. I still prefer dressing up for Sunday Mass, not because it’s a necessity, but because I enjoy the entire Sunday morning pre-church routine I have. 😀 I’m sure this will change as my situation in life changes, but for now, it works for me.

    • Rae 21. Feb, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

      It sounds as if you have balance. And that is a beautiful thing!

  8. Rebecca @ The Road Home 21. Feb, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    I go back and forth ‘jeans are ok’, ‘jeans are not ok’ and the days I end up in jeans, I find I do feel so much more comfortable physically, but in my head I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb, and that makes it hard to focus. (Yikes there are a lot of commas in that sentence!)

    Anyway, The Man almost always wears jeans. He usually wears a nice sweater or button-up though, so he still looks nice.

  9. Mary 22. Feb, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    when i was young, my mother always made us wear dresses to Mass, which was ok, except on cold days and you desperately wanted something a bit warmer. i remember deciding to wear pants to Mass oneday instead of a skirt, and feeling quite rebellious about the whole thing.

    One of our parish churches is on an island, so gets alot of people travelling through, and as its very close to the beach, there has been an occasion when people come straight from the beach in their swim clothes, which can be a little awkward.

    We had a Rwandan family in our parish for a while, and they got really dressed up for Mass. The kids were in little suits and frilly dresses. The priest said we probably should pay attention and realise that the Eucharist is a special event, and its ok to get dressed up for it. Now they save their dressing up for Easter and special events and i try to do the same.

    But i like your point about it being like home and not having the focus on ourselves.

  10. K. Lynch 20. Mar, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    Since Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, I feel that a certain level of sacrifice is in order to look nice for this celebration. Sure…I could roll out of bed right at 10am, throw on whatever is lying around on the floor and flop into a pew in time for 10:30 mass…but I see this sacred union with Christ as a REALLY SPECIAL occasion…something I want to put my best foot forward for.

    How would you feel if you got to church and the altar was haphazardly put together? Would you feel it is a special, sacred occasion if the Priests and altar servers were wearing track-suits and flip-flops? If the altar cloths were red-checkered and stained with BBQ sauce? What about the Homily? How about if the Priest just got up there and said the very basic minimum required to cover just the “gist of their message” for the week?

    This whole trend, which started when I was a teenager myself (a long time ago) has gotten completely out of hand. The rationalization that “hey…it’s all I could do to stumble in here on time to receive communion, etc..God should be glad I even showed up” does NOT excuse the lack of basic effort to look presentable and sacrifice some time in the morning to put together an outfit that meets the basic standards of civility and dignity. As we are made in God’s image, so should we STRIVE to live up to that image each and every day…especially on Sunday! Where do you draw the line? If jeans and flip-flops are ok, why not hoochie shorts and halter tops??? They are comfortable aren’t they?

    I think we all need to make an effort to look as special as possible…as special as the meaning of the Sunday Mass is in our lives. Just for the record, I have noticed how non-Americans dress really well too…I think our society in general has forgotten the gifts we have been given and that we no longer make an effort at anything anymore…call it “taking everything for granted”

    Just my two cents…

    • Rae 20. Mar, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

      Ah yes, but the problem is that putting too much focus on making the celebration special can make it so that the show takes over the point. When that happens people forget God. Then not only does Daily Mass go out the door, so does fulfilling one’s basic Sunday obligation.

      If we make sure to get to God, no matter how we look, then gradually God will make sure that we’re putting the appropriate amount of work into appearance given our state in life. But if we set requirements that keep people, including ourselves, from Mass, then we separate ourselves from God, and that is infinitely worse than showing up for Mass naked.

    • Jackie 20. Mar, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

      I don’t think that anyone is arguing that it’s okay to dress sloppily or inappropriately (in appropriate as in immodest). More that how much we paid for our clothes isn’t what is important. Also, I think it is important to note that what is considered appropriate for mass is very culturally relative. Which shows that it isn’t guidelines God has given us, but ones that we have just made for ourselves.

      • Catherine 14. Jul, 2014 at 10:18 am #


        It is my understanding that God has given us those very guidelines, through His Church.
        The missionaries to uncivilized regions were under obligation to give their hosts three months in which to adapt to wearing appropriate clothing to appear at Mass.
        There is a dress code for every organization. There is a dress code to meet the Pope, and I’m sure to meet the President of the United States.
        At every single Mass, are we not in His presence? Were you to appear at your Best Friend’s wedding in jeans and hoodie, would they not be offended that you placed so little importance on their day and their celebration? Of course they would.
        Skirts and dresses, suits and ties for even the poor abound at thrift shops. I cannot even fathom why anyone would not want to dress up for the Real Presence, unless, perhaps, they are lazy about believing they are in that Real Presence.
        It is not about balance or moderation. It is not about being uppity or snobbish. It is about giving our Very Best to God in a modest/pure/not flamboyant way.

  11. Brian 22. Jun, 2011 at 5:43 am #

    I must be honest … I’m in the process of converting to the Catholic church, but this issue has really upset me. With all the problems in Catholicism, such as poor catechesis, poor homilies, works-righteousness, a complete ignorance of the faith among Catholic lay people, people are actually arguing over this issue concerning Sunday morning clothing. Crazy!!! As long as one is dressed “modestly,” why make something as minor as this such an important issue?

    I understand now why there are so many ex-Catholics that are Protestant. I feel like my eyes have been opened to a certain extent. If one is focused on clothing, how does this not produce judgmental attitudes among parishioners? How does this not lead to legalism? What about the poor? Where is it written in the catechism, Sacred Scripture, or in the deposit of faith that one needs to dress up in order to be in the Lord’s House? Can someone direct me to that passage?

    Do you think Christ would have made the poor dress up if the poor came to visit Him in His house? Do you think He would have had a mentality of … “By the way, in order to show me the proper reverence, please wear business casual to my House.”

    I really don’t understand this. If you have personal convictions concerning dressing up for mass, then by all means follow those convictions, but do not force such a conviction on others if it’s not an essential of the Catholic faith.

    In essentials unity, in non-essentials LIBERTY, and in ALL things, charity!

    My priest just a couple of days ago said that t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops have no place at mass. This really upset my wife and I as my wife was raised in a legalistic house, and I have grown up with the mentality that the most important thing is your daily relationship with Christ, not what you wear! Maybe one of you can help me understand.

  12. Bob 10. Mar, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Matthew, Chapter 22…

  13. Everette 08. May, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    I am now not positive where you are getting your info, but good topic.

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  14. Traci Hamilton 14. Jun, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Would Jesus look unkindly for wearing the “wrong” clothing, or would he warmly welcome you into the congregation to share a message of love? Really going to mass should have nothing to do with “what to wear”, I believe the focus should be on the message of love in an atmosphere the makes all feel welcome.

  15. Brian 27. Aug, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    Meanwhile, getting involved with daily mass (and daily adoration) has actually made me dress up even more for church — I’ve gone from wearing clean jeans with a sport coat on Sundays to wearing jacket, tie, and trousers seven days per week — folks are surprised to find out that I actually work from home because they assume that I’m dressed that way for work when I show up dressed as such to dawn daily mass.

    The way I see it, I lector half the week at daily mass and am an extraordinary minister about every other Sunday (assigned or fill-in) — plus I usher every Sunday — so I need to assume that I’ll be filling in on *something* in lay ministry at any given moment. Plus, my dressing like this has actually inspired a number of other younger members of the parish (I’m 34) to start dressing up more — that I’m in so many public ministries and an officer in our Knights of Columbus council makes me a public face, I imagine, even as that Catholic anathema of “young single guy,” so showing up in something less dressy would be just wrong (I always apologize profusely each year on the day of our Parish Picnic when I DO show up to mass in jeans and a KofC polo, since I spend the day serving roast pork and schlepping trays around…)

  16. dddjhsrh 30. Jun, 2015 at 2:06 am #

    są gorliwe ukazać sumę drak małżeńskich, pospołu z przytulnymi,
    jeżeli biorą iż założenie się na nie przyniesie im określoną zaletę.
    Istnieją szalenie giętkie dodatkowo jeśli owszem wtedy potrafię
    omotać – nieubłagane. W 4 ewenementach na 5 explicite zaabsorbowane utrzymaniem stwierdzaj do zbitego skarbie.

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