How do non-Catholics dress to go to church?

I realize that Catholics dress many different sorts of ways to attend Mass. Some wear dress clothes (jacket, tie, and dress trousers), most wear clothes that are at least somewhat casual, and sadly, some wear clothes that are more suited to the beach or athletic field (shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, and so on).

How do people tend to dress in the various non-Catholic Christian churches? I realize that the “downtown” Protestant churches (the kind that often have “First” in their name) and African-American churches tend to be dressy. But what about the rest, Baptist, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Assembly of God, and so on? And I know that there are contemporary, “high-energy”, “millennial-friendly”, “come as you are” churches, but what would be the limits on these where dress is concerned?

I have never figured out how to explain to people who go to a “First” or an A-A church how we give a free pass to someone who comes to Mass in a thin T-shirt, gym shorts, and sandals. Do any other churches allow this kind of thing?

I wouldn’t say we give them a pass we would hopefully set an example by the way we dress and if it’s a possibility gently correct them. Some other churches people are very casual dressers. Some do dress up for church.

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I think it really depends on each individual church’s culture. Some churches expect “Sunday best” and others are more casual. There are some holiness denominations that expect female members to never wear pants, make-up or short hair ever.

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Why should you explain what other people do?

Because it is such a departure from what they think of when you say the words “dress suitable for church”. I went to one of the downtown “First” churches from time to time when I was a child. Anything less than a jacket, tie, and slacks (for a man) would have been unthinkable. It just wasn’t done. IIRC they even had a hat and coat check room. Classy place. Even today, I notice driving by the same kind of churches, as well as African American churches, when their services are letting out, that people are dressed to the nines.

I will note, and I think this is a very important distinction, that Catholics do not emphasize the “social” aspect of going to church. We go for God and for the welfare of our own souls, not to “see and be seen”. If we see someone we know, of course we’ll talk to them, but many people are “in and out”, and don’t stop for chit-chat. It is really a pretty individualistic atmosphere, and I like that. So perhaps this plays into it — we have no expectations, other than a certain low baseline of propriety and modesty, that there is “one certain way” to dress for Mass.

Full disclosure: I tend to be “old school” in many ways, not just religion. In my working years, I almost always wore a jacket, tie, and dress slacks to Mass, or at least the tie and slacks in warmer weather (and we have a lot of that where I live). After I retired, I found that I began dressing more casually, and I got used to it. I haven’t worn a tie in over a year (and haven’t missed it!). I normally wear a collared shirt and casual trousers on Sundays. I do not wear shorts to Mass.

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We wear clothes. Jesus doesn’t care how u come to him. Be humble before the Lord and come as u are. We will all stand before Jesus in the end and he will see u as u are. Every knee will bow and Tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!!


For all these churches, it depends heavily on the individual pastor and the culture of that church. If the church is a “biker church”, then they expect people to show up looking like bikers and wearing stuff that might not be considered “acceptable” at other churches, and when they say “Come As You Are” they mean it. They would probably have a word with someone who was so undressed as to be a distraction/ stumbling block to others, like if you showed up in a bikini or with private parts hanging out, or in a T-shirt with a giant four-letter dirty word on the front, but it would have to be pretty extreme.

Other churches have a stated dress code and expect people to abide by it.

Fully understood. It is not a question of how you come to God — of course he accepts anyone regardless of dress. It is a matter of propriety. Would someone wear a T-shirt with a pop culture logo and a pair of gym shorts to their mother’s funeral? Would someone go to the State of the Union address in a tank top and ripped jeans? You get the idea. Propriety, perhaps modesty, the rules of civil society — not one’s spiritual standing before Almighty God. Two different things.

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On the flip side, there are people who literally don’t have clothes other than ripped jeans, tank tops, pop culture t’s etc. There are also people who have avoided church and Jesus their whole lives because they don’t want to have to dress a certain way or they were looked down upon for their style of dress when they were younger. Some churches are actively seeking to evangelize “outsiders” and that includes people with idiosyncratic styles of dress. And yes, these people would go to funerals or to the State of the Union dressed in these clothes; it’s how they dress.

Your idea of “the rules of civil society” are not a religious construct, they’re a cultural expectation that equates dressing a certain way with being respectful. Some people have zero interest in conforming to that.


Understood. I do admit that I tend to view much of the world through the goggles of the 60s/70s/80s. There was more conformity then, in spite of the massive social upheavals that took place. I once interviewed someone for a sales position and he came to the interview dressed in Tommy Hilfiger, hip-hop style. I noted this to my district manager (we had pretty strict rules, from on high, about proper dress) and he reminded me that those Tommys probably cost more than my suit. No doubt.

It’s even changing in the business world. Plenty of professional jobs now where interviewing in a suit would mark you as out of touch. I work for the government and half the office wears jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt.


Jimi Hendrix once told a story to an interviewer how as a kid he went into a church, his family were not well of and very dysfunctional so he had on torn jeans and battered sneakers. Jimi said he would have liked to look around at the art and statues but was asked to leave as his attire was not ‘respectful’. From the tone of his story it somewhat soured him on mainstream Churches even though he still obviously believed in God when you listen to his thoughts on the subject.

I’d like anyone who turns up to my funeral to wear whatever they wish, if the ladies wish to wear mini-skirts feel free, if the blokes want to wear jeans again feel free. Have a blast, turn up the amps to ten and play something loud enough to wake the dead.


Well, when we got our son christened we both wore jeans and t-shirts, and that was a progressive Anglican church. That said I didn’t get married in a suit and I’ve never seen my wife in a skirt or a dress, so we’re not dressy people.

Churches here don’t have dress codes that I am aware of, and the general feel is rather casual. But, except for some bigger cities where banking is the main economical sector, this is true for most of Swiss society.

I can only speak for myself. The only other person I pay close enough attention to in order to consciously note how they are dressed is my wife. I’ve identified her fashion sense, even for church, as that of a Pokemon trainer.

I have two pairs of pants: one for work, one for outside work. Both are jeans. I have five shirts (all buttoned, three short and two long-sleaved) for personal wear, and a few uniform shirts. In the Fall through Spring, I like to wear a cardigan that used to fit, but is now too loose. I just wear what I can.

But, because of a stated dress code at the parish, I can’t attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in my town. No other church has had an issue with my garb, so I don’t particularly care enough to spend stressful time and money on clothes when I could use the time for reading and the money on books.


Many EF/TLM churches and chapels do indeed have a dress code, and very often this reflects a 1950s mentality. Some TLM adherents live in a “time bubble” of sorts, and in a nutshell, they are looking back to the last time that society “functioned correctly” in their eyes. This, however, is becoming less common, as newer generations who have no memory of such a time are drawn to the TLM, and dress in the only way they have ever known how to dress. As long as the clothes are clean, modest, and not grossly inappropriate, I for one have no problem with this. Broadly speaking, diocesan-approved TLM venues reflect the dress, customs, and manners of society at large.

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That is good to know. I’m only due to be in my town for a few years more, so I will continue to keep my eyes out for an EF Mass when I move.

Then that’s your answer, isn’t it?

It seems to me from things you have said in other posts that you may be closer to my generation that that of my children. That being said, I believe that the difference you are seeing, and one I notice myself, is due more to the overall culture, which we both know has changed more than somewhat, than specific denominations. It may also be that the “first” churches as you describe them, especially the old downtown variety, currently have congregations from the middle to higher income groups, which can show in that type of dress to an extent. And I also understand that a large portion of the African American community, especially families presided over by strong traditional matriarchs, emphasizes dressing for respect as well. But on the other hand, there seems to be an even larger portion of all communities that sadly doesn’t bother with church or respect or any of it at all.

Possibly in part. I did not want to insinuate that churches where formal dress is the norm are “see and be seen” churches, as though respectability, social acceptability, and prosperity are what is paramount, and that the spiritual aspect is secondary. Not to second-guess the sincerity of “downtown ‘First’” church people (read “WASP” culture), but there could be an undercurrent of “this is what we do, and we dress the way we do, because that is proper to people of our status, and of our station in life, and of our heritage”. In African American culture, there is also the very good tradition of “we may be downtrodden in society the other six days of the week, we have to suffer racist indignities on a daily basis, but Sunday belongs to us, and we are going to reflect the sense of dignity, self-respect, and solidarity among ourselves that nobody can take away from us”. Neither of these are bad things, but in Catholicism, as I said, our concern is primarily for our own spiritual welfare, the worthy reception of the sacraments, and giving glory to Almighty God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (as well as fulfilling the divine obligation that God and the Church have mandated for us). Anything else — fellowship, seeing friends and family, our mode of dress, parish activities — is secondary. In many Protestant churches, the quality of the music and of the sermon are paramount, and good music and good preaching are their “selling points”. In Catholicism, not so much.

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