Church is for frumps?

10 Sep

It occurred to me today that maybe part of the problem of getting people to meet and marry within the church is the high incidence of egregious frumpiness.  I’m not saying that this is the reason or even a main reason, but surely it is a not completely insignificant contributing factor.

Seriously, look around the average evangelical McChurch on Sunday morning.  People don’t dress up for church anymore.  In the effort during the past 25 years or so to entice non-churchers into (or back into) the fold, churches ditched just about everything that was traditionally churchy.  Out went the stiff, boring hymns**, and in came “worship choruses” that sound like the worst dreck of soft hits radio and usually feature lyrics addressed to “you” about streams, fountains, skies, and hearts.  This also meant that organs were out, and “praise bands” led by a semi-hip guy (sometimes trendily unshaven) who passionately grimaces while strumming his acoustic guitar were in.  Similarly, pastors stopped wearing suits and ties and started wearing Hawaiian shirts in order to be “accessible,” everyday joes.  Churches started trying to be cutting edge and “not scared of the culture,” injecting movie clips, popular songs, skits, and lots and lots of PowerPoint into sermons.

And, not surprisingly, with churches now acting the part of “cool hangout where, like, you can learn stuff that’s, like, totally important for life – bring your unsaved friends!”, out went the practice of dressing up in Sunday’s best.  Nowadays it’s rare to see a man in a button-down shirt, much less a tie, much much less a suit – and this goes tenfold for younger men.  Women don’t wear dresses, and if they do, they’re not nice dresses but Frump City specials that don’t accentuate anything good about the woman’s body.  In the summer, it’s common to see hideous khaki shorts all over the place, and in the non-summer, jeans galore.

If Christians are representatives of Christ on Earth, shouldn’t we be doing a little better in the looks department?  Yeah, yeah, yeah, God cares more about the work you’re doing for the lost souls of the world than your appearance, and we certainly don’t want to encourage superficiality or materialism, and heaven forbid we even hint at a legalistic dress code, but ugh…when you think about it, most congregations are eyesores.  And yes, some of it is just a widespread cultural thing, with the average American being an eyesore himself, but man, not many people dress with pride for church anymore.  (And part of me wonders if churches would be more effective if their congregations dressed better.)

So, bringing this back around to the mating game – when the majority of young, single people at a church frump it up on Sundays, how are they ever going to catch each other’s eyes?  (It’s not like they’re dressing any better for the young singles group on Wednesdays.)  I guess everyone’s just hoping that this year’s winter retreat is going to be the one where Jimmy finally sees the inner beauty of Sarah’s godly personality.  Or vice versa.

(To find the above photo, all I used was “worship service” as my search term.  This is fairly dressed up by contemporary evangelical standards.)

**Good hymns = Not Boring.  Boring = Most Worship Songs Sung in Churches Today.


46 Responses to “Church is for frumps?”

  1. Blah September 10, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    I was born into and raised in what I would call an average size Presbyterian church in Wyoming (average attendance about 100). Typical under age 30 appearance…frumpy. My mother of course had me sticking out like a sore thumb in a mormon white shirt and tie.

    Now I live in Houston and somehow ended up joining one of the largest megachurches in the country (NOT Joel Osteen). I’ve found quite the opposite here. These people get dressed up. Babes in dresses and guys in button up shirt with nice jeans. You can tell that they put some time into their appearance instead of just showing up. It would be safe to say that I attend this church because singles group has some “depth.”

    Not sure if this is a unique circumstance or just a difference in geography, but I do know that my Houston church doesn’t have a problem with eyecatchers.

  2. Will S. September 10, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    Hear, hear, Haley! Spot on. The better dressed people are, the better they come across to everyone, and surely that impacts the, er, mating dance, so to speak. Evangelicalism’s embrace of informal clothing styles, following the world, has removed opportunities in society for people to get dressed up and look their best, apart from weddings and formal balls, which are exceedingly rare occasions; that makes 52 less times a year one can dress up. (It seems odd, too, that people might be expected to follow a dress code at work, to wear proper business attire, yet not want to look professional when meeting their Lord and Saviour every week. Sad.)

  3. Jennifer September 10, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    You’re quite correct that we should not be frumps. But I see nothing wrong with holy contemporary music (we don’t do “pop”) and tasteful modern dress (our women still wear nice outfits, nobody comes in shorts). My church has both contemporary and traditional services; the men look great.

  4. Julie September 10, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    I think if a person is good looking, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re dressed up, or dressed casually. I think of all the crushes I had at summer camp…

  5. y81 September 10, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    Is the problem the clothing, or the bodies? Most of the people in Haley’s picture are overweight. (The woman second from left maybe not. Black is very slimming.) Most of the women are wearing skirts, and all the men have collared shirts, so I wouldn’t call them excessively casual in their dress, but they could all stand to lose a few pounds.

  6. Will S. September 10, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    @ y81: Good point; it has been remarked that, while evangelical church culture tends to frown upon alcohol consumption, even in moderation, there doesn’t seem to be any conception of practicing moderation in partaking of food; John Hagee doesn’t suffer social stigma amongst Christians for having the girth he does.

    That said, even overweight people carry their weight better in suits and dresses, rather than casual clothes; at least, that’s my impression.

  7. Jenny September 10, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Good post. Don’t take this as a defense for frumpiness, but just an explanation for what might be going on: It takes a lot of extra effort to get all dressed up and everything, regardless of your sex, age, BMI, and income. What I think is happening is that many women notice that church isn’t the best place to spend that effort. There are few eligible men in attendance, and they fall into two categories: “single for a good reason” and “not interested in home church girls.” Eligible visitors are rare unless someone’s doing Mother’s Day duty or there’s just been a death…neither situation one that’s conducive to actually getting asked on a date. So the best alternative? Take it easy on Sunday, and put more effort in the rest of the week. And give those guys who claim church girls are too frumpy a chance to be right again and shun regular worship. Hence, the frumpiness cycle continues.

  8. Brendan September 10, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    I dress business casual for church — jacket, button-down shirt, dress pants and shoes. There are always quite a few others dressed this way as well as more casually dressed people. It doesn’t bother me very much as I have never been a fan of scoping the opposite sex at church really.

  9. Jim September 10, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Actually, I think the exact opposite is true in many evangelical churches, leading to people calling such churches “yuppy” or “preppy.” Certainly my church has somewhat of a “preppy” look to it on Sundays. No, folks don’t wear suits any more, but they still project a certain aura. In fact, our senior pastor has said from the pulpit that some of us are too concerned about how people dress and he is concerned that people not be turned off from coming to our church because we look like a bunch of upper middle class prosperous people, and half the time he intentionally dresses “frumpy” because of that.

    But here’s my thing. I’m not so concerned about how Christian women dress in church. What would catch my eye and be attractive to me is how they dress outside of church. Is there anything in the appearance of Christian women that would make them stand out from worldly women the rest of the week? Yeah, I’m talking about modesty. I’ve known some Christian women like that, and found many of them very attractive, but frankly, many dress just as provocatively as any other woman on Mondays through Saturdays.

    Anyway, this is just “observational” because I’m a long-time married guy.

  10. Richard Cook September 10, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Aunt Haley sezs: If Christians are representatives of Christ on Earth, shouldn’t we be doing a little better in the looks department?

    No, no,no,no! We should be doing better in the obedience department. In so many social statistics Christians parallel the secular world. I really think that if we really acted out our religion who we are would be self evident. And self selection for mating would follow since we would be living our religion rather than just dressing our religion. Right now Christianity is the religion of “this is TOO HARD!” for the majority of practioners.

  11. Sharon September 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Most people at my church come dressed up for Sunday service. Our preacher wears a suit and tie, and most of the men wear nice shirts and khaki pants. For myself, it just seems respectful to come dressed nice to church. That doesn’t mean you have to wear anything extremely formal; it just means putting some care into your appearance. I’m more of a dressy-casual person anyway, so that just might be me. I think the most important thing is that God is your reason for being there, and that you feel comfortable enough to worship him.

    Sadly, there aren’t really any single young guys at my church. Before I was old enough to join the youth group at church, there was a pretty even amount of guys and girls, and lot of them married each other. That was not the case when I was old enough to join. Now, the college and career group that I’m apart of has faded away, and the only people my age are married couples who are starting families. I love my church, but I don’t feel like there is really a place for me there anymore. Actually, reading this blog has encouraged me to try out some of the other local churches in my area.

  12. ASDF September 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Re: clothes, I think you’re projecting a bit. If a girl wears sweats or something (I’ve seen it), that is pretty slovenly. But jeans and a blouse, say, doesn’t scream laziness, and guys look more for being fit and having a cute face anyways. Which isn’t to say that dresses aren’t better. It’s just that girls who wear t-shirts are not what’s keeping guys away from church/striking up a conversation.

    For me, an acoustic guitar band is a deal-breaker. It is just a symptom of churches eschewing tradition in general (and embracing liberalism). I don’t care how hot the girls are; if I have to listen to an acoustic guitar and then listen to news about the latest mission trip to Haiti, I’m not going.

  13. The Man Who Was . . . September 10, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    No, no,no,no! We should be doing better in the obedience department.

    Saying aesthetics doesn’t matter, only “substance” was yet another horrible mistake the church has made. As T.S. Eliot noted splitting things up like that never comes out well:

    Roger Scruton seems relevant too:

  14. Sharon September 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    It seems like all of the really large churches in my area are the ones that have 2 or 3 contemporary services on Sundays, a praise band that leads the worship, and use a lot of technology. Our Preacher brought up the option of having another service on Sunday mornings that was more contemporary, but I don’t think anyone really went for it. I wouldn’t mind a church service that offered a mixture of both. There are some really great praise and worship songs out there, but I also love the hymns. One thing that I enjoy about churches with choirs is that anyone can join the choir at anytime. I think that praise bands kind of take that option away, and I worry that they can sometimes steal the spotlight.

  15. Annie September 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    When reflecting on whether or not the post described me, I decided that just as in my professional life (teacher) I strive to cultivate a look of being generally “put together”; when in doubt, I skew towards “more modest”. I’m fairly certain that this blog has touched on this before, but there are a few things that come to mind for me. While not explicitly taught these things, I somehow grew up with a strong sense of the idea that I shouldn’t think too much about my appearance.
    – As an addition to the first point, if you do happen to consider your appearance, you were to use that energy to make sure your appearance is appropriate for various social situations or to express some degree of personal expression (
    – Despite physical attraction being one major distinction between friends and someone you’d like to date, the consideration for having appropriate dress for certain social situations does not allow for you to stive to make yourself “hott”. Why? Trying to look “hott” is promising things you can’t deliver (false advertising) and (supposedly) likely to attract “the wrong guys”.

    Those points being established, I never seemed to have trouble attracting guys in high school and college. Later experiences indicate that my high school and college communities either had very low bars for attractiveness and/or a cohort of young men who were interested in personality because, now that I am a twenty-something, professional, college graduate, I can’t seem to link my general preference for modesty with the mid-twenties to mid-thirties meat market that exists in my current town. In my church, the women my age are all fairly fit and put-together, but frumpiness is a non-factor anyway: there aren’t any single men our age. At all.

    *Almost unrelated anecdote: my mom didn’t let me wear dress pants to church until high school. Dresses, skirts, and the occaisional jumper were the norm. Growing up, we attended a moderately conservative protestant church. Now she attends a slightly more liberal denomonation than the one I still attend, it’s strange to have her try to encourage me to dress down.*

    Whew, after all that, I’m not sure if this adds a ton to the discussion, but hopefully these points can serve for comparison/contrast with the other readers.

  16. Annie September 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Oh, and about the music:
    – I really like hymns. I mean, REALLY. (Lent and Advent hymns are the bee’s knees.)
    – In fact, I liked them so much during high school that I used to have long discussions where I openly mocked CCM bands/artists. With the bland, positivity directed at some figure called “you” (good point above!), it didn’t seem particularly meaningful and certainly didn’t fill me with a sense of being worshipful–especially if I didn’t know the song. (Anyone else miss getting to see all the notes when singing a “praise song”? Awkward group warbling until it becomes familiar=YIKES.)
    – These days, I feel that there are some bands/songs with merit and no longer feel 100% opposed to having some contemporary music in the service. That being said, I am also fine with listening to them on the radio instead of in church.

  17. grizzledwolf September 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Somebody ought to bring polyphonic Gregorian chant back. Of course, you’ll need a bunch of monks…

  18. jack September 12, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    Christianity is often really messed up overall. Consider TBN.

    Paul Crouch in a white pimp suit, Jan with more makeup than Tammy Baker.

    And their horrible set, which could only come about as the result of a collision between a funeral home and a brothel.

  19. Will S. September 12, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    LOL. But jack, that’s not representative of the planet, just the South. Christians aren’t all as trashy and flashy as that.

  20. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    My parents recently went to a strongly Southern funeral. Poor guys..

  21. y81 September 12, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    “my mom didn’t let me wear dress pants to church until high school. Dresses, skirts, and the occaisional jumper were the norm.”

    I doubt that Haley and those of her generation know what “dressing up” really is. When I was a boy, in the early 1960s:

    1. One of my parents’ friends still wore a morning coat to church. Admittedly, he was a little older than my parents, i.e., born about 1920. My father wore a suit. He also wore a hat, as did all the other adults.

    2. My mother and all my friends’ mothers wore white gloves. Furthermore, my sister, as soon as she got out of the nursery, also wore white gloves. Admittedly, gloves for two year old girls reached only to the wrist, not to the elbow, like the women’s gloves.

    3. I myself wore pastel suits with short pants.

  22. Brendan September 12, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    In my church, the women my age are all fairly fit and put-together, but frumpiness is a non-factor anyway: there aren’t any single men our age. At all.

    Which is the real issue, and which isn’t related to frumpiness in dress, if any, by the women in churches at all.

  23. AnonymousDog September 12, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    I always wear a tie to church, shirt sleeves during hot weather, jacket or suit during the winter, though I did go through a period in my twenties when I didn’t wear a tie in summer.

    Back when I was a twenty-something single guy I attended the small rural congregation I had grown up in. There were a number of single women who attended regularly, but they were all blood relatives of mine. NOBODY dated or married within that church. I would have been overjoyed had any of the women in Haley’s photo shown up at that church.

  24. detinennui32 September 12, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Annie: “In my church, the women my age are all fairly fit and put-together, but frumpiness is a non-factor anyway: there aren’t any single men our age. At all.”

    Brendan: “Which is the real issue, and which isn’t related to frumpiness in dress, if any, by the women in churches at all.”

    Expanding on this, and stating the obvious:

    Most men believe there’s nothing for them in today’s modern Christian church, especially Protestant and the “seeker” congregations. They are overwhelmingly femocentric. Most men learn the hard way that there is no real difference between Christian women and their secular sisters. Christian women today are just as fickle, hypergamous, flaky and self-centered as nonChristians. And most men learn the hard way that the parental and pastoral exhortations to young me to “be nice” simply don’t work when It comes to dating Christian women, who want the superrich alpha, beautiful man (and oh yeah, it’d be nice if he loves Jesus too).

  25. detinennui32 September 12, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Christian women are only slightly less likely to divorce than nonChristian women. What is there for most men at most churches? Not much more than in the world.

    None of this has anything to do with female attire at church.

  26. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    “Most men believe there’s nothing for them in today’s modern Christian church, especially Protestant and the “seeker” congregations. They are overwhelmingly femocentric”

    Actually, many men have felt overburdened or under-appreciated at super-patriarchal churches too; some have said they’re expected to know everything, and so can’t ask questions without feeling silly. Inbalances everywhere; Jewish women of old were forbidden to pray in public because it would “distract men”, yet were also considered holy in a superior manner so they didn’t “have” to pray.

  27. Richard Cook September 12, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Man Who Was……

    Just in my opinion that is backwards. The Church went wrong when all that mattered was aesthetics. They sacrificed standing for something for falling for anything. I am not saying that aesthetics does not matter because it does. Just like a man who compromises his values to get the woman (and is ultimately scorned by her for being weak) the church is making the mistake (in general) of compromising its values to get congregants.

  28. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    LOL AnonDog, have you found someone yet?

  29. y81 September 12, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    There is definitely a shortage of single young men in most churches, but I have a very hard time believing that requiring greater formality in dress would be a good way to get more of them to attend church. That doesn’t sound like the young men I know.

  30. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Well-said, Richard!

  31. Brendan September 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Actually, many men have felt overburdened or under-appreciated at super-patriarchal churches too; some have said they’re expected to know everything, and so can’t ask questions without feeling silly.

    Which would mean that there isn’t anything for any men in any church. Church is now for women, full stop.

    Not that I believe that, but I belong to a Church where men are not feeling overburdened or under-appreciated by the patriarchalism, but it isn’t a protestant church.

  32. The Man Who Was . . . September 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    “The Church went wrong when all that mattered was aesthetics. They sacrificed standing for something for falling for anything.”

    The Catholic Church certainly went too far in that direction at times, but the reaction of many later Protestants, not necessarily the original Reformers, has also gone way too far. The point is though that spiritual and aesthetic values shouldn’t be separated and a neglect of the aesthetic part of life is to a certain extent also a spiritual and moral failing.

  33. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    ”Church is now for women, full stop”

    Actually, those same churches tended to shortchange women too, and they could easily have been any denomination or Catholic; it didn’t say. The bad ones either expect too much or too little of their congregants, either one sex in particular or both.

  34. Jennifer September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I agree with “Man” on the last point; self-keeping is an important part of nurturing our temples.

  35. grizzledwolf September 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    “Not that I believe that, but I belong to a Church where men are not feeling overburdened or under-appreciated by the patriarchalism, but it isn’t a protestant church.”

    Lemme guess… there’s even a group of men who actually dress up in uniforms with capes and plumed hats and carry around swords, and they’re actually considered pillars of the community. :)

  36. Will S. September 13, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    Brendan is Eastern Orthodox, grizzledwolf; not sure if they go in for as much pomp as Roman Catholics.

  37. Jennifer September 13, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Haley, my comments are stuck in moderation, at least in the house-take thread. Please help :S

  38. Richard Cook September 13, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Man Who Was sezs “…aesthetic part of life is to a certain extent also a spiritual and moral failing.”

    Well, to quote a former prez, depends on what your definition of aesthetics is. Strictly speaking aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deal with beauty, art and taste and creation of it. We can certainly appreciate these things in Gods creation and reflect on the Lords creation of things and people that reflect what we believe these things to be. But that can vary considerably from person to person. My point is that, as a whole, the Christian Church has compromised itself by following secular guides of these things to the point that this has crossed over into over appreciation of them at the expense of theology and practice. Since there is no real cost to NOT being Christian there is no real cost to being Christian. Hence (at least I think) the view of the Christian Church as “another interest group”. I am an Episcopalian (or Whiskeypalian as we are alternatively known). We became “all inclusive” without that changing your life part. Again since we stand for nothing except “social justice”, all inclusiveness and non offensiveness, the only thing left is aesthetics. Really standing for something sets your face against society to an extent that really, definitively places you outside of society. This causes the definition of aesthetics to change, at least in my, and only my view. Thank you for your response.

  39. Smooth T September 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    My church definitely typifies “frumpy” – at least for the guys. Many of the ladies dress to the nines, but I am better dressed than the majority of the men simply due to the fact that I tuck my shirt in.

    My argument has always been that you dress a certain way at your job out of respect for your employer (it may be more due to fear of being fired, but it’s still respect) – shouldn’t you show at *least* that level of respect for God? I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from various church folk due to that viewpoint, but I stick by it.

  40. anonymous x September 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I am a Catholic, but I don’t attend for the women, I attend to celebrate the Eucharism. I serve communion at Mass and in old folks outreach as one way of acting out my belief. I’m dressed business casual, short sleeves in the summer, I tuck my shirt in, I wear my dress shoes, etc. There don’t seem to be very many single men in the parish. Older women sometimes approach and make convo. But when I look around, at least at those women within my acceptable age range, I ain’t impressed. Many people including entire families are often dressed more for summer than for Mass. So I say hello and make small talk, but otherwise I keep my distance.

    Attention single/divorced women in their 30’s and 40’s who are looking for men, frump sucks, yes that is harsh but I won’t apologize for being a visual creature. If someone in my parish gets the message then just maybe I will notice her if she does not have too many extra pounds.

  41. grizzledwolf September 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    “not sure if they go in for as much pomp as Roman Catholics.”

    Have you ever seen a Byzantine liturgy? These guys invented liturgical pomp. They’re just really solemn when they do it.

  42. Will S. September 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    No, I admit I haven’t; hence why I said I wasn’t sure. I thought I had understood from some accounts that there was less of that. It appears I am mistaken, then. My bad.

  43. Elisa Diane October 10, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    OMG… the outfits in that photo are ATROCIOUS! lol. Not to be mean or anything :o).

  44. Rodney January 9, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    Haley obviously hasn’t been to my church. Yeah the guys dress sloppy but the women, well lets just say its not unheard of for passing motorist to mistake them for prostitutes (or so I’ve heard). I’m a guy so I don’t complain. Last Sundays sermon given by a women wearing either leotards or very, very tight skinny jeans. A slightly aging 30+ face but from the waist down not sure I have ever, ever seen a more perfect specimen of the female form. Perfectly curvey but skinny, just perfection, sorry I’m getting carried away. She’s married (to a Pastor) so I wasn’t lusting honest (T levels aren’t what they once were I guess).

  45. Rodney January 9, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    With the exception of my church and its like, I think this is so true of many, actually most churches out there. Certainly it was true of my previous Anglican church. The women are all frumps (dressing for inner beauty I guess) and wonder why they can’t get any Christian guys. Except that due to a similar problem the Christian guys aren’t that attractive to them anyway because they’ve all been trained to be beta.

  46. Lovie June 24, 2015 at 2:26 am #

    Great blog post, and so very accurate. There are several other articles and blog posts on this subject. All one has to do is Google “why people don’t dress up for church anymore” and several good articles will appear along with this one. The ones that allow comments are riddled with responses from perturbed readers who take umbrage with the mere thought of getting up a tad bit earlier on Sunday morning to pull themselves together for church. You know, the same way they do when they go to a wedding or a job interview or their company Christmas party. Yet, coming to their place of worship isn’t deemed as important, at least not when it comes to their appearance. Although the people in the photograph don’t look hideous, their attire is a far cry from “Sunday Best”. What they’re wearing is on par with what most people would wear to work. The opened toed, slip-on, flat shoes that the women are wearing take their overly casual outfits down to “frump” level. Yes, their may be people with money issues. But most people somehow find a way to get a car and an smart phone, which costs much, much , much more than a NICE Sunday ensemble from the Goodwill or Salvation Army. (I know this from experience.) The bottom line is that looking nice for church just isn’t that important to people anymore. I still wear my “Sunday Best” to church and will continue to do so regardless of the “frump” culture. Most Baptist pastors still wear suits in the pulpit. So, at least there will be one other person there who’s dressed for the occasion other than myself. :)

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