What do you think? Has the idea of "Sunday best" gone out of fashion? From what I see in the pews, I'm starting to think so (though I am still charmed by the number of ladies I see at Easter wearing hats, though nothing else covers their heads the rest of the year.)He links to this post at Googling God which discusses the matter a little differently. Alas, in this post we see the usual defensiveness of what people wear, the "thank goodness they're here," mentality, and the admonition against becoming liturgical fashion police all jumbled up with a defense of someone wearing shorts and the notion that a tank top and flip flops (beach wear) isn't so bad if this is one's only opportunity for Mass during vacation, etc.
Now, I have some sympathies with both points of view, and if you'll indulge me, I'd like to think out loud about this whole concept of Sunday best. Maybe you'd like to add some thoughts in the comments, too. These thoughts are in no particular order, but are what comes to mind when I consider the issue of dress and Sunday Mass:
There is a difference between "modest" and "appropriate" when we are talking about what to wear to Mass. Often, the debate focuses in on modesty, which is sometimes a good thing given that people have, in many cases, lost that natural sense of modesty which tells them ahead of time which garments are unacceptable; then, too, there is the problem that, for example, the v-neck blouse which is perfectly modest on Patricia Pancake is tight and revealing on Brenda Buxom. Once upon a time women in general had a better notion of such matters, but today we see, in addition to purposeful immodesty, the unfortunate situation of the would-be modest woman dressed in something which on her is too tight, too short, too clingy, or too revealing. One reason I dislike zeroing in too much on the modesty question is that, while I think the secular world is rife with examples of purposeful immodest dressing, I really do think that more of the immodesty at Mass arises from the two categories mentioned above, and that the person in question has either adopted cultural ideas of what is fashionable without considering modesty, or that he/she is honestly unaware that the clothes he/she is wearing are too revealing for his/her body type. None of this is to say that modest dressing is unimportant at Mass, of course. But I think that when we focus on modesty exclusively we forget the question of "appropriateness," which is a different matter entirely.
Discussion of the appropriateness of one's Sunday clothes always seems, to me, to get off on the wrong foot. Too many times, people say things like, "How would you dress if you were going to meet a king, the president, the pope? Shouldn't you dress at least as well, if not better, to be in God's presence?"
The problem with that question is that people point out, with perfect justice, that nobody (or almost nobody) habitually wears a three-piece suit or tuxedo or a chiffon gown to such things as daily Mass, Confession, a 3 a.m. holy hour, and other times when Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. Most people don't even wear tuxedos or gowns to Sunday Mass, even though we have an idea of "Sunday best" which specifically refers to our presence at that particular Mass, not just any time we are in Christ's Presence. So if we are supposed to dress up on Sunday, but not necessarily for daily Mass, Confession, or the 3 a.m. holy hour, it's not just the Real Presence for Whom we're dressing up.
Why should we dress up, then? What are the reasons? And what is "Sunday best" these days, anyway?
I think that dressing up on Sunday is more about the character of Sunday than our assistance at Mass itself. Sunday, after all, is supposed to be a day of rest, of leisure; it made sense in many ages for one's best outfit to be saved for Sunday, and worn on that one day of all days when those clothes wouldn't get stained, ripped, or otherwise damaged. And it made sense to wear that outfit to worship God, too; the Sunday Mass is the chief liturgical celebration of the Christian assembly, the time when we come together and, with one voice, praise God, thank Him, petition Him for our needs, and enter into the sacred mystery of His sacrifice of propitiation.
So dressing up for Sunday Mass seems to me to have three good motives: to prepare for worship, to enter with the community in celebration, and to be reminded of the special character of the Lord's Day, and its designation as a day of rest.
So far so good. But then we come to a different, and perplexing question: what is "Sunday best" in the year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nine, in the United States of America?
Here we get back to the difference between the question of modesty and the question of appropriateness for Sunday Mass. Many clothes are completely modest: loose-fitting jeans or khakis and polo shirts on men, perhaps, or comfortable, casual skirts of denim or twill paired with embellished tees on women. Neither outfit is likely (at least, not of its own) to tempt anybody to sinful thoughts. But is either really the best choice, the most appropriate, fitting attire, to wear to Mass on Sunday?
The answer to that question is going to depend on many different things--so many, in fact, that only each individual person can answer it. Just to illustrate, here are a few of the things that people may have to consider:
1. What clothes do I actually own? If my closet is full of nice clothes and I dress somewhat sloppily at Mass on Sunday, am I doing my best? On the other hand, if I don't own dry-clean only dresses (or good suits) and high heels (or wingtips) because I never need to wear them, must I purchase them in order to be dressed appropriately for Mass, or would that be materialistic and vain?
2. What can I wear? If I've gained a bit of weight and am limited in my choices, I might need to work on my appetite, health, etc.--but whether the garments I fit into right now are someone's idea of "Sunday best" or not is probably the least of my worries. If I'm on call at the hospital, nursing scrubs ought to be fine; in fact, just about anyone in uniform should be able to wear that uniform to Mass without anyone objecting, provided the uniform doesn't involve shorts.
3. What clothes meet my present needs? If I am a woman who ordinarily never wears slacks to Mass, but am a) pregnant, b) wrestling toddlers in and out of the church during Mass, c) maneuvering on crutches while recovering from a broken leg, d) other--you get the picture--then my use of slacks is designed to meet my needs, not to ruffle the feathers of those who think that slacks ought never to be worn to Mass by women (or worn by women at all, for that matter).
4. What is my reality on Sunday? If I have signed up to help set up and clean up the coffee and donuts immediately following Mass (with no time to change beforehand), this might be a good day to leave the silk shantung suit and three-inch heels at home, and opt for one of those sensible twill skirts with equally sensible footwear.
5. How are my clothes helping or hindering my attempt to celebrate Sunday and view Sunday as a day of rest? If my outfit keeps me mindful that Sunday is the Lord's Day, well and good; if my outfit makes me vain and conceited about how nice I look compared to the slobs out there, not so good.
These are just a few of the things to consider. I'll end this post with one of my own frustrations in this area, which is this: it's so hard, especially for a woman, to find or own "Sunday best" clothes anymore.
I mean that literally; sure, I have some pretty skirts, which I pair, mainly, with knit tops (we'll save the rant concerning the women's tailoring industry, blouse construction, and the ubiquity of that dreadful stretch-cotton stuff for another time). I also have one or two "business casual" type outfits purchased to wear on the handful of occasions when I've needed them, as well as a dress or two which, sadly, are too warm for Texas much of the year. But "Sunday best?" What does that even mean, for women's clothing, anymore? I've pondered that question before, and I can't really come up with a good answer. If you visit a few women's clothing stores, in person or online, you see that they have categories for "casual" clothes, "business" clothes, and "special occasion" clothes; but there's no such department as "Sunday best;" one is, apparently, supposed to find one's Sunday outfits emanating from the penumbras of these other areas.
So if you look at women at Mass and see some clothes which seem too casual, and some that seem too businesslike, and a couple, perhaps, that are almost too dressy (anything involving glitter or sequins, for example), it could be because these are our choices today. I know that when I have complimented another woman on what really looks like a Sunday best outfit, I usually hear one of two things: "This? Oh, I've had this for years!" or "This? I made this. I sew all of my Sunday dresses..."