(Excerpted from a Sunday bulletin)
A question I received in the question box recently claimed that much ado is made over women’s dress and little over men’s dress at our chapel. I’ve done some reflecting on it, and the point is taken. Prescinding from the particulars of the question, its general theme merits our attention as a Catholic community striving to be a miniature Christendom.
Therefore, I would like to address the subject of dress — this time, for men only (“no girlz allowed”).
I will state a blunt fact: Women’s dress is a concern because transgressions in this area are more often associated with the moral problem of immodesty, and the consequent problem of lust. As the male of the species are all fallen sons of Adam, female immodesty is something that adversely affects male morals quite strongly. (It usually does not work the other way round.) However, while women’s fashion misstatements err on the side of immodesty, men’s tend to err of the side of slovenliness. Therefore, another blunt point is in order: Men (notice I avoid saying gentlemen) — quit being slobs! Queer looking haircuts, T-shirts, jeans, and “the casual look” in general (much more, “the caveman look”) are not appropriate for Sunday Mass.
An anecdote is in order. When I first embraced tradition, I regularly attended the Mass of an Irish Holy Ghost Father, a former African missionary of many years, at St. Agnes Church is Baton Rouge, Louisiana (note: hot, steamy, sticky, sweltering Southern climate). In attendance was a rogues gallery of university students (from humble undergrads to doctoral candidates), LSU faculty, professional men, eccentric pro-life activists, and humble blue-collar workers with their families (the latter being the most normal of the lot). The old parish church was in the middle of what had become over time a poor black neighborhood, with corner Baptist and Pentecostal “churches” of various flavors. With his sharp Dublin accent, Father Maloney once upbraided his Latin-Mass attending congregation for letting the poor heretics dress better than they, who were going to the august Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, we could not avoid seeing these neighborhood folks in their “Sunday best” every Sunday, looking like modernized Numidian Royalty: women of all ages in modest, colorful dresses topped with big floppy hats, and men and boys in suits and ties. It was quite the handsome pageant.
I, for one, was ashamed. We all got Father’s point. Ties and jackets became the norm at St. Agnes.
From the “Art of Manliness” site, I excerpt the following norms concerning men’s dress. This site, by the way, is jam packed with practical information for “reviving the lost art of manliness” — from clothing to shaving to sports to etiquette. Note, this is a “secular” commentary; if your standard is lower, then we do have a problem:
“Whether you are attending as a believer or as a guest, a man who visits a place of worship or religious importance should always show respect, if not for himself, then for others and their beliefs. He does this by following the unstated dress code and never dressing below it. Because no church is the same, and no temple has the exact requirements as another, this varies not only from religion to religion but also from country to country. A safe guide is to always wear clothing that covers the body, is respectful in nature, and that is culturally acceptable. Think business casual to semi-formal wear.” (Emphasis added.)
Earlier in article, the author defined these categories:
“Semi-formal – a dark suit, crisp dress shirt with non-obtrusive pattern, and a conservative tie. No tuxedos are expected, and none should be worn.
“Business Casual – a tie is optional, but a dress shirt and nice trousers are required. A sports jacket or blazer should also be worn (this last one is my opinion, but alas is actually optional).”
The preferred male dress in our chapel is suit-(or jacket)-and-tie, but certainly no less than what he describes as “business casual.” I’m speaking of Sunday Mass. Weekdays are different, especially if you’re on the way to work and you are a manual laborer. Otherwise, “business casual” would be in order for weekdays.
If regular jackets are too hot for you during Summer, I suggest one of seersucker, a thin, all-cotton fabric, commonly striped or checkered. This fabric dissipates heat easily and doesn’t need to be ironed. Seersuckers were worn by British Colonials in India, and, in my experience, by Southern Gentleman.
Part of evangelizing our neighbors is showing them what we think is truly important. When we dress well for Mass, we silently testify that divine worship deserves our best effort. On the other hand, when we drag ourselves out of bed, half-comb our hair, and throw on wrinkled-up dungarees and a shirt with “My Mom Went to Paris and All I Got Was This Crummy T-Shirt” on it, we broadcast loud an clear that our religion is trivial.
One last thing: None of this has anything to do with money, so don’t offer that lame excuse, please. I’ve noticed that men and boys from poorer families in our community are among the most consistently well attired. Thrift stores abound. And if you don’t know how to shop for inexpensive but good-looking clothes, ask a lady to help. They’re good at that.