How Did America Become a Nation of Slobs?

"What does our own sloppy dress tell us about ourselves? Are we too pressed for time to dress a little up rather than way down? Are we rebelling against the idea of beauty and culture? Or are we just too lazy to pull on a pair of slacks instead of wearing the sweats we slept in?" Intellectual Takeout

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Larry Nelson's picture

TylerR wrote:

Larry:

My church has this on the website - but we actually mean it (honest!):

We don’t enforce a dress code, so don’t worry about “looking right.” Nobody will frown at you if you don’t have a tie, grimace if you don’t wear a jacket, or stare if you aren’t wearing a dress. Honest.

You don't follow your statement up with anything like my "Step #2" (see my post above).

John E.'s picture

I feel almost silly adding the qualifier, but these are serious questions for those who agree with this :

we believe very strongly that God deserves our best in every area and casualness doesn’t promote the Biblical attitude that God’s people should have when they meet to worship.

What's considered "casual" and what's considered "best" are social constructs. So, why do you assume that the clothes that I'm wearing affects my heart's approach to worshipping God? Why not assume that I disagree with you about definitions of things that are social constructs? If you don't assume that what I'm wearing affects my heart's approach to worshipping God, why insist on rules in this area? Why not simply leave it up to the conscience of individuals? 

It doesn't bother me if someone wears a suit. It does mystify me that other people care about other people's clothes so much.

TylerR's picture

Some people do. I don't. I think our idea of a suit and tie = our best is a social construct. Dressy clothes will look very different in a different culture. the other pastor at my church spent 36 years in Bangladesh, and they dress very differently! I'm not sure if people spend much time talking about dress. I don't. I don't care what people wear. But, if they're in front of the congregation in a leadership capacity, I expect a collared shirt for men (e.g. a polo shirt).

That's about it for me!

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that, sad to say, a pastor who truly wants to demonstrate that "Sunday Best", or "attire of 1960s professionals and today's lawyers", is not necessary might have to demonstrate that from the pulpit by deliberately not wearing a tie or coat from time to time, and by encouraging other church leaders to do the same. It doesn't mean you need to wear ripped jeans, or never wear a coat or tie, but I think it was very healthy when a former pastor of mine deliberately did an "English professor" vibe with a turtleneck and tweed coat and the like. 

Along those lines, I would have to guess that the attire of the Apostles would have resembled fisherman's garb more than that of the Roman magistrates, orators, kings, and the like, too.   At the very least, when Paul was collecting funds in Macedonia and Corinth to help make sure the Jerusalem church didn't starve, I would think that any suggestion that he upgrade his robe to a finer wool or linen would have been met with a look meaning "Are you out of your mind?  People are starving!".   I'd guess you'd have gotten about the same response if you'd made the same suggestion to the apostles in Jerusalem, some of whom may have pawned off some of their attire to buy food for brothers and sisters in Christ.  James would likely have asked "you want to look like the rich people who are dragging you into court and impoverishing you?  And make such attire a requirement for fellowship?  Seriously?  Did you listen when my letter was being read at all?".  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Richard Brunt's picture

I thought Lee's observation was excellent.

As far as ties go, I sort of like them.  Men's suits are rather boring without them! Off course at 100 degrees I'd rather be boring.

Richard E Brunt

Ron Bean's picture

Some Sundays I wear a tie and jacket, some times slacks and a collared shirt or polo. No jeans or tee shirt because I'm 70 years old and I'd look stupid. Some Sundays my wife wears a dress or skirt and blouse and sometimes slacks. Every Sunday there's someone else in church who dresses like we do. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

Much is uncertain in this area. A few things are quite clear, though. 

  • Clothing choices do convey/express meaning. 
  • What we wear does affect our attitudes.

If you doubt either of these, wait until the next time someone you love dies and consider wearing a clown suit to the funeral. 

Two more points maybe less clear... 

  • James is talking about we treat people at different social and economic levels, as revealed in part by how they dress. The question of what attire is best for worship and the question of how we treat low-income people are related but distinct questions. 
  • Treating an issue as a matter of conscience isn't the same as treating it as something unimportant. (Most matters of conscience are important and worth trying to explain and defend and encourage others to consider.) 
Ron Bean's picture

I think it's best if we avoid hyperbole, even if the intent is humorous. Some of our brethren don't understand that we're kidding when we talk about clown suits at funerals or bikinis at church.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Aaron wrote:

What we wear does affect our attitudes.

Yes, if I'm wearing a suit and tie I'm incredibly uncomfortable, grumpy, and have a harder time paying attention because of how the suit and tie has affected my attitude. 

Aaron, I'm not sure if your comments referencing James 2 was in response to my PJ Media article or not. Just in case - the history of the necktie's popularity is directly connected to how people viewed and treated those in the "incorrect" socio-economic class. I'm not claiming that wearing a suit a tie today carries with it the same attitude, I'm just pointing out that how we currently define "dressy" and "classy" has been shaped by sinful classism. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I think it's best if we avoid hyperbole, even if the intent is humorous. Some of our brethren don't understand that we're kidding when we talk about clown suits at funerals or bikinis at church.

Sometimes hyperbole is appropriate. There's alot of it in the Gospels. In this case, I use the extreme example of the clown suit at a funeral because an extreme example seems necessary in order to get to recognizing a reality that is often denied, even though it ought to be beyond dispute.

If what we wear expresses meaning and attitude-impact in some situations what evidence is there that it has no meaning or impact in other situations?

So, while I can't make a case for coat and tie, specifically, it's pretty clear that the "it just doesn't matter" view can't hold up, if we think it through. 

John E.'s picture

I'm not sure that anyone is claiming that "it just doesn't matter." I know that I'm not. In this thread, I've written that cleanliness should be taken into account. I've also written that I wouldn't insist on my rights if the Holy Spirit moved my family to a suit-wearing church; by God's grace, I'd prefer others and wear a suit. I'll add that modesty matters (for men and women). I'll add that wearing clothes that bring attention to yourself should be avoided (while I'm sharing unpopular opinions - this last one is why my wife and daughter don't get new dresses and hats for Easter. I believe that doing so runs the risk of being man-centered with the objective of drawing attention to one's self). 

I'm arguing that locking people into definitions created by social constructs and insisting that they adhere to those social constructs is elevating mans' opinion to a position of prominence that is possibly Pharisaical. 

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding the style making a difference, absolutely; James 2:2 notes this explicitly, coming out emphatically on the side of accepting people in "filthy raiment."  Prior to the invention of steam powered cotton gins, looms, spinning machines, and the like, that more or less meant that clothing worn by poor slaves would have holes, patches, fading, obvious wear, and the like. 

In the same way, our brothers in the U.S. prior to about 1850 had about the same thing going, except for the wealthy.  "Sunday best" historically does not mean the kind of clothes you'd wear to the Inaugural Ball or the Queen's Coronation; it simply meant your better set of workingman's clothes that you hadn't worn while mucking out stalls yet.  People would actually rent clothing for wedding pictures and the like if they wanted to have a different look--you can tell because it very often doesn't fit well. (Shorpy's is a great reference for this)

Again, the notion that we ought to dress like white collar professionals in order to go to church would have been largely unthinkable to the apostles and most of our ancestors.  As a result, I'm very reluctant to endorse that notion.  It simply tends to push people out of fellowship out of shame.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

When I was in a secular public school it was sad to watch kids who did not care about God, look down on other kids because of how they dressed.  This was back when the cool kids had Guess jeans.  That was to be expected in that setting, but it breaks my heart that we see some of the same things happening among Christians, but instead of Guess jeans, it is whether or not you have the right kind of suit and tie. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

I'm arguing that locking people into definitions created by social constructs and insisting that they adhere to those social constructs is elevating mans' opinion to a position of prominence that is possibly Pharisaical. 

Isn't anything any of is likely to wear to church -- or anywhere else -- likely to be part of a "social construct"? Whether it's jeans and T's or business casual or the dress shirt and tie, it's all "man's opinion" that determines the fashion, isn't it? None of us is likely to attend church in an ascot and waistcoat, or a robe and sandals, or our pajamas. Why not?

Are there any clothing choices that will not be influenced mostly by man's opinion? If I insist on only wearing what I feel like wearing at all times, without regard for what anyone thinks, isn't it still man's (one man's) opinion? Why would my opinion be better than a bunch of other people's opinions?

Anyway, does Scripture condemn "man's opinion," or does it condemn conformity to the cosmos (or aionos)? Is "the world" the same as "our culture" in whatever place and time we happen to live?

John E.'s picture

Aaron, I'm not arguing that people should wear whatever they want whenever they want wherever they want. I'm arguing that churches should stop binding people's conscience by asserting that a suit and tie is the clothing choice that best honors God.   

Kirk Mellen's picture

It would seem to me, if a church feels it needs to say something about dress on it's website even if what they say is "we don't care how you dress," then dress actually is something that is important to them.  Dress is important enough to them that they will emphasize it.  One would think if dress means nothing then we would never mention it at all. On the other hand, if we feel that a person considering visiting our church is going to be concerned enough with how they would dress while attending that we have to say something about dress on our website, it might indicate that even the non-church attender understands that dress does actually convey something, and that they might be wondering what actually is appropriate dress for church or perhaps even corporate worship.  While I suppose those who visit our church might feel that dress is important to us, (many dress in suits and ties, or skirts and dresses), we feel no need to say anything about dress on our website even though we have a statement on "what to expect."  I sometimes think the "dress-downers" are more consumed with dress than the "dress-uppers."

TylerR's picture

Kirk:

It depends, I guess. My church has a "don't worry about dressing up" mention on a "what to expect" page, because some people have questions. I just had a lady ask me, in ashamed tones, whether she was obligated to cover her tattoos when she comes to church. I told her nobody cared. But, she was very worried. She thought it would be a terrible issue.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Aaron Blumer's picture

John E. wrote:

Aaron, I'm not arguing that people should wear whatever they want whenever they want wherever they want. I'm arguing that churches should stop binding people's conscience by asserting that a suit and tie is the clothing choice that best honors God.   

I understand. There are many that try to dismiss the matter completely, or use self-contradictory arguments. To me, the question is complex ... and interesting, like everything else that intersects with where we are culturally vs. where we used to be (and where we never have been). 

Lee's picture

In both the Old and New Testament the single common denominator in worship, whether corporate or individual, is reverence.  Irreverence in worship is intolerable to God at every level, even being defined as an abomination, a very narrow subset of specifically grievous sin.

While a specific dress for corporate worship (church) is very difficult to define, and possibly shouldn't be attempted, the obvious move among the contemporary church culture, particularly involving dress via website statements, for what may only be described as planned irreverence is unconscionable.

Say "church clothes" to most Americans and their mind will likely conjure up a fairly narrow fashion statement. 

 

Lee

Larry Nelson's picture

Lee wrote:

Say "church clothes" to most Americans and their mind will likely conjure up a fairly narrow fashion statement. 

.....I say (and if necessary define and/or clarify the meaning of) "church clothes" (in their native language, of course) to a contemporary resident of Fiji?  Or Zambia?  Or Costa Rica?  Or Haiti?  Or Nigeria?  Or Finland?  Or Nepal?  Or Ecuador?  Or _____________?

Or what if the question was asked of residents of various historical times (let alone places)?  Would I get the same response in 2018 as in 1818, or 1618, or 1218, or 818, or in 68 AD? 

Will their responses "likely conjure up a [similar] fairly narrow fashion statement"? 

Aaron Blumer's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:
 say (and if necessary define and/or clarify the meaning of) "church clothes" (in their native language, of course) to a contemporary resident of Fiji?  Or Zambia?  Or Costa Rica?  Or Haiti?  Or Nigeria?  Or Finland?  Or Nepal?  Or Ecuador?  Or _____________?

Or what if the question was asked of residents of various historical times (let alone places)?  Would I get the same response in 2018 as in 1818, or 1618, or 1218, or 818, or in 68 AD? 

Will their responses "likely conjure up a [similar] fairly narrow fashion statement"? 

The more relevant questions are what would they say here and now (because we don't live in any of those other places and times), and then for context what would they say here in 1950, 1850 and in England in 1750?

Larry Nelson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The more relevant questions are what would they say here and now (because we don't live in any those other places and times) , and then for context what would they say here in 1950, 1850 and in England in 1750?

As John Ellis has been arguing, "church clothes" / "Sunday best" is a social/societal construct, the product of one's locale, culture, social stratum, era, etc.

Larry Nelson's picture

If one truly believes that wearing a suit & tie shows more reverence to God than, say, wearing business casual (1 Samuel 16:7, et al notwithstanding), then why stop at wearing merely a suit?  A common business suit is actually (at best) third-tier in the strata of men's formal attire:

https://www.realmenrealstyle.com/guide-dress-codes-men/

So if one can afford black tie, or better yet white tie, if it truly is more reverential to wear more formal attire, then aren't we who potentially could afford higher tiers of formal attire dishonoring God by settling for mere business suits?

G. N. Barkman's picture

As I see it, there are two problems in addressing this issue.  1)  The "Sunday Best" crowd who equate proper church attire with shirts and ties, and are trying to maintain that "standard" despite the absence of Biblical support.  That looks a lot like Pharisaism.   2)  The "come as you are" crowd who equate casual attire with true enlightened spirituality, primarily to oppose the first group.  This looks a lot like trying to be cool.  A pox on both your houses.  It would appear that both groups tend to be too focused upon outward appearance.  There are some valid points on both sides, but do we have to have yet another issue to divide the body of Christ?

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

In the context of this discussion (with fundamentalists), the division is pretty much one-sided, I think. Speaking for myself, I do not take issue with men who wear suits and ties to church. And I do not take issue because I equate neither "casual" attire nor "Sunday best" with "true enlightened spirituality."

Larry Nelson's picture

John E. wrote:

In the context of this discussion (with fundamentalists), the division is pretty much one-sided, I think. Speaking for myself, I do not take issue with men who wear suits and ties to church. And I do not take issue because I equate neither "casual" attire nor "Sunday best" with "true enlightened spirituality."

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Lee's comment, we have to define reverence, I think, in light of what James wrote about the man in vile raiment, and in light of the reality that a huge portion of the early church consisted of slaves who really didn't have much opportunity to dress well.  I'm not even quite sure that Scripture supports the notion that those clothes ought necessarily be super-clean--James does after all refer to "shabby" clothes or "vile raiment", after all. 

A given style of clothing?  Well, those same slaves were coming from all the nations surrounding Rome, really, and inasmuch as they would be allowed to make some of their own clothing (in Rome, slaves did all the trades, which would include tailoring and couture), I'd guess you'd see a lot of styles, especially in port cities like Corinth. 

In light of that, all I can say for today is that we ought to cover the critical areas (this will be different in Iowa from how it looks in Papua New Guinea or Riyadh) and avoid clearly offensive messages on our attire; really, things that we ought to do everyday, not just at church, no?  Just can't see how we can square "you ought to be wearing this in church" with the example of the New Testament.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Lee's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

.....I say (and if necessary define and/or clarify the meaning of) "church clothes" (in their native language, of course) to a contemporary resident of Fiji?  Or Zambia?  Or Costa Rica?  Or Haiti?  Or Nigeria?  Or Finland?  Or Nepal?  Or Ecuador?  Or _____________?

Or what if the question was asked of residents of various historical times (let alone places)?  Would I get the same response in 2018 as in 1818, or 1618, or 1218, or 818, or in 68 AD? 

Will their responses "likely conjure up a [similar] fairly narrow fashion statement"? 

Yes, in regards to their practice of corporate worship within their culture, their idea of appropriate attire will very likely be relatively narrow.  

Will it look like American fashion? Likely not, but that makes it no less a "fairly narrow fashion statement."

Lee

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