Thongs at church


Yesterday at 10 a.m. Mass, we were sitting together as a family, an uncommon occurence because my wife Paige is often the cantor. When we sat down for the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed that the woman in the pew in front of me was wearing a cropped shirt that exposed about three fingers' worth of belly, as well as a skimpy thong.

"You should have been concentrating on the liturgy or praying," you might say. I agree, but I had my squirmy 3-year-old daughter in my arms, so my concentration was not as acute as it might have been. I happened to glance past my daughter and saw more than I wanted to see: when the woman sat down, her low-cut pants didn't conceal the top part of her underwear.

Is it really too much to ask for someone to refrain from dressing provocatively at church? The guy next to me was wearing an untucked shirt and jeans; there were many overly casual people there. I've learned to filter that out. There could be a charitable explanation for dressing sloppy -- maybe she's sick and could only put on sweatclothes; maybe he's poor and that "Brew Thru" t-shirt is all he owns. There's no excuse for dressing like a tart, though.

If being disrespectful to God isn't enough to get people to reconsider their clothes, there are a couple of other good reasons. First, it's a terrible example to kids. We've already got our hands full -- quite literally -- when we take the kids to Mass, and we're trying to convince them that church is a special place where we're on our best behavior. When other people look like they're going to a picnic, that's hard.

Bad examples don't just influence the pre-school set. Last summer when we were in Maine, I noticed some girls who must have been 11 or 12 wearing low-riding jeans with thong straps sticking out. It made me mildly ill. Where did they get the idea that they should present themselves as sex objects? From older females like their favorite singers (thanks, Britney!) and other people they see around them.

The last, weakest, and perhaps the most convincing reason to dress up for church is that these clothes render you unattractive. Men, most women are turned off by slobs, and other men won't respect you much. Women, those super-keen fashions probably don't work on you. Spaghetti straps on a thin, tall woman can make a woman look more graceful and elegant, but on 97% of the female population it makes you appear thicker.

Low-cut tight pants make your butt look bulbous and your hips wider than they are (again, unless you're skinny and tall, but all clothes look better on skinny, tall people.) If you have the least bit of fat on your hips -- in other words, you're a normal woman -- your pants will show that fat to the world, making your abdomen look like sausage meat that's trying to escape its casing.

Like women priests and gay marriage, I find discussions about inappropriate attire to be tedious not because there aren't important issues involved, but because there aren't that many interesting aspects to the debate. I bring it up in the hope that someone, somewhere, will read this and think about wearing nice clothes to meet the King of the Universe.


I have two questions regarding this issue:
1) If underage, where were these girls' parents? No parent who attends church and is in their right mind would allow that.
2) If adult, where is their common sense?

There was quite a discussion about dress codes at Mass on St. Blog's during the time you were in Iraq, and it was a popular opinion that reasonable guidelines (no bare shoulders or shorts for anyone over the age of reason, no bare midriffs period) should prevail at Mass. I'd add my own opinion that if someone is participating in the Mass in some kind of ministry, they should dress up somewhat. Lectors in Gap T-Shirts don't seem appropriate to me.

The woman in question was probably in her mid-to-late twenties, and was alone. The girls I was referring to were on a street in a tourist area, not in church. I think the they were in some kind of camp, as they were wearing the same t-shirts.

Lots of parents have abdicated their responsibility to enforce any kind of dress standards in church. Often I see teenage boys with ratty jeans, and teenage girls with tight clothes, sometimes with cleavage showing.

I should also point out that I go to a wealthy church where parishioners can afford decent clothes. Funny, though -- within a dozen blocks there are several black churches that have lots of working-class members, and they all dress in church clothes. Come to think of it, they did the same thing when I was in rural Nicaragua. Hmm.

I'd agree with the consensus you described, and your additional stipulation about ministries. At our church, if they're near the altar, men wear suits and ties, and the women wear modest skirts or dresses. Same deal for ushers.

"no bare shoulders or shorts for anyone over the age of reason,"

Hey! The pastoral nuns who work in my parish dress that way! No kidding, either. It's hard enough to get your teenaged kids to understand that dressing for Mass is different than dressing for the Mass and these nuns make it harder.

Duh! s/b - hard enough... Mass is different than dressing for the MALL.

I have long wanted to write this post but feared it would degenerate into a rant and rave. People who dress like slobs at Mass wouldn't dream of dressing like that for work, a job interview, or an important family gathering. It really is a case of not thinking about the gravity of what is going on at Mass.

I'm about to get carried away again.


Eric, I'm going to have to start going to your church. :) heh...

On the other hand, you can be distracted by any number of things. There's a woman in my parish who wears a veil to mass every Sunday, and she's neither Filipina nor Latin American. Therefore, I found her veil an oddity and it distracted me during mass the first time I saw her there...

On the other hand, there are plenty of women and girls who dress badly when they come to mass at churches I attend, but because I am accustomed to that, I don't even notice (I'm originally from Albany, NY, where crass T-shirts etc. are commonplace at masses).

I guess it depends on what you're used to...

but because I am accustomed to that, I don't even notice (I'm originally from Albany, NY, where crass T-shirts etc. are commonplace at masses).

Ugh. Here in Albany I have seen attire on the altar such as you described, let alone in the congregation. I never get used to it...

We've seen someone in one of those "co-ed naked" sports T-shirts at Mass at an otherwise very impressive parish in Northern Virginia.

I have the worst wardrobe and a disproportionate, flabby figure since having my son (18 months ago, so it's not as "understandable,") so it's really, really hard to find something that's nice, fits well, _and_ is up to church standards of modesty (I'll be just a little more lenient about the last outside of church, since I'm not very tempting anyway.) All the money I have spent trying recently has been wasted. I hope no one is ever offended when I wear everyday clothes to Mass or if I wear a skirt that is a little worn out in places.

Davey's mommy,

I found that some of the skirts I bought during pregnancy still fit (though they are a lot looser), give a nice put-together effect, and are quite modest. I usually wear them with sweaters. Target's plus-size section is affordable, nice looking, and avoids the Omar-the-tentmaker look. (I'm one of those bridge sizes that has to shop at several stores to fit a 20W bottom and 16P top). Keep in mind that there is a difference between modesty and elegance. As long as we show the Lord appropriate respect with the clothing we have and are not distracting, we are within the bounds of modesty.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

You write, we post
unless you state otherwise.


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on September 8, 2003 9:32 PM.

"Jesus for One" was the previous entry in this blog.

A Treasure Trove is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.