Grandma wouldn’t have been caught dead in church without a hat. Moreover, sitting in a pew wearing pants would have been a sin akin to blasphemy.
Today, however, strolling in any American city, one can witness jeans at a wedding, spurs in a supper club, ball caps in school, and yes, even shorts and T-shirts at church.
I’ll admit that it’s nice that “proper” clothing is not a condition for worship – or much else for that matter. I imagine that in ancient times, church folks met in homes, and it is reasonable to assume that “everyday” clothes were the order of the day. Still, when a trip to the “big house,“ i.e. the synagogue, was on the day’s agenda, I would bet they “cleaned up real well,” as an old friend used to say.
This clothing question was the subject of one of my favorite episodes of the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains. The Seaver family had Alan Thicke as the psychiatrist father, Jason; Joanna Kern as the TV journalist mom, Maggie; and Kirk Cameron as the ne’er-do-well son, Mike. In this story, Jason had been advocating that clothes really don’t make the man; it what’s inside a person that counts. Maggie agreed to a certain extent but said that there are occasions when you should just dress up – period.
Jason didn’t agree – that is until Maggie rushed down the stairs in old clothes, without makeup, and hair in curlers as she headed out the door for an important interview – the president, I believe.
“Where on earth are you going dressed like that?” he asked.
“I have that important interview today,” she replied.
“But aren’t you going to wear a suit?”
“Oh, I decided not to: As you said, it’s what’s inside a person that counts. It won’t really matter what I’m wearing.”
Touche’, Maggie. Point well taken.
I took Maggie’s idea and decided to see how some young folks I knew would react to seeing a celebrity. I asked a group of teens a few years ago what famous person they would most like to meet. At the time, nearly all said Michael Jordan (lots of athletes in that bunch). So, I asked what they’d do if they learned the Chicago Bulls star would meet fans at their school.
They agreed it was a special occasion and that they’d make a point of being on time. They’d shower and do their hair; they’d put on their best duds, making sure the clothes didn’t come from a hasty trip to the hamper.
Now, I was one who cheered the loudest when, in 1970, my high school dropped its dress code for the first time. Still, it sometimes seems that permission has taken precedence over propriety.
I think the teens soon got the point about the importance of “dressing for the occasion.” Like Grandma used to say, “Make sure you have on clean underwear, just in case you’re in an accident.” Well, we’re not exactly talking accidents here – or underwear either – but the principle is the same: You never know when you might wish you’d “cleaned up” a little better…