New York Times on Dressing for Success

Only science has the authority to tell us to dress differently than we want:

For anyone who sees people as part of the job or wants to influence the behavior of others, the way we dress does matter. So let’s not kid ourselves. First, people judge us, at least in part, by how we dress. Second, what we wear affects how we feel about ourselves.

Might this have any bearing on how we dress in church?

When we’re getting ready to perform a task, a good deal of the work starts with putting ourselves in the right place mentally. For instance, when I dress up to give a talk, it reminds me that I’m there to perform an important function. People have paid money to see me in person, and I need to “show up,” both physically and mentally, to show respect. Dressing nicely matches their expectations and it makes me feel good. Both things help me perform better as a speaker.

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As my wife and I move into a new culture, we’ve been asking ourselves this question: what is the culturally appropriate way of showing respect—the kind of respect we want to show at church in particular—by our dress at church? We’re prepared for the answer to be different on the West Coast, just as it would be different in Kazakhstan or Botswana.

Lest I fail to mention the Bible, I often think of Malachi:

When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

There is a degree, then, to which “what other people think” is a relevant metric for judging our outward actions. I’m not saying that you necessarily dress for church the way you’d dress to meet the governor, nor that you poll people in your church to see what you should wear—I am saying that various American subcultures still draws distinctions between respectful dress and loungewear. What does your church outfit mean in your cultural setting? Does it communicate that you’ve “shown up” physically and mentally to show respect? We’ve just moved from subculture (educated urban South) to subculture (rural/military/middle-class Pacific Northwest). We’re asking ourselves these questions.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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