Too Sexy for Church?
By Holly Vicente Robaina
Struggling with the "appropriateness" of my outfits
July 29, 2009 | Today's Christian Woman
Ever have one of those days where you open your closet, and there isn't one appropriate outfit to wear? That's been my experience every Sunday morning for the past month. Suddenly, I can't seem to find anything to wear to church. Skirts that I've worn for months or years now seem too short, too tight, too thin, or too flashy. Every top seems either to show too much skin, or have too much detail around the neckline, or just to fit me a little too nicely. And in my mind, my shoes are either too high, too strappy, or too revealing, what with my heel being exposed and all. I've also eschewed wearing anything with sequins, beading, lace, bows, ruffles, or elaborate stitching - because in my mind, these trims now scream, "Look at me! I'm excessive and flamboyant!"
In short, I'd concluded I didn't have any "appropriate" worship-wear. Just as I planned to run out and buy a whole new wardrobe, a thought hit me: What has happened that's made me now perceive my clothes as too showy and sexy?
For starters, my husband and I recently moved, and I'm now attending a new church. It's tough to be the new gal who's longing to fit in and be accepted. I used to attend a church in Los Angeles, full of 20- and 30-somethings who wore everything from upscale trends to t-shirts and flip-flops. In others words, a gal could blend in whether she came casual or dressy. My new home is in a conservative suburban area, and my new church consists largely of senior citizens. I've been observing other church members, trying to figure out the "rules" for attire here.
And it seems I haven't quite figured out their "dress code" yet. Despite the soaring summer temperatures in Southern California, there have been a couple Sundays where I've been the only gal in the sanctuary who's sporting bare shoulders. Suddenly, my sleeveless tops from Ann Taylor Loft - which I'd once considered ultra conservative - now make me feel like a harlot.
No one at my new church has criticized my appearance. Yet I've felt I've perhaps dressed inappropriately. To get to the bottom of my skewed perception, I asked several of my Christian girlfriends if they ever worry about what to wear to church - and they all answered in the affirmative.
One curvy friend explained that she tends to buy loose shirts to de-emphasize her bust. Another, who is tall, told how she'd been mortified when her knee-length skirt rode up a bit on sitting down, exposing her leg a couple inches above the knee. And another told about the tacit rule of dressing up for church that had been built into her: As a teen, her then youth pastor instructed, "Dress for church like you're going on a date." (Presumably, a date is associated with looking one's best in the teen-age mind.)
My friend's story made me wonder: What's the Scriptural basis for wearing our "Sunday best" to service? Does the Bible anywhere mention that God will be upset if we look too frumpy when we come together for corporate worship? Or too flashy? I've heard some church leaders use the Apostle Paul's words to Timothy to suggest that women shouldn't get their hair done or wear jewelry, lest they sin by drawing the wrong kind of attention to themselves.
But consider Paul's words in context: "Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness" (1 Timothy 2:8-10, NASB).
Is Paul's objective to establish a rule banning hairdos and shiny accessories? Or is he making the point that all believers need to cease being self-focused, and to instead keep our attention on worshiping God? Eugene Petersen offers this paraphrase of the passage in The Message: "Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray - not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it."
This made me realize: I can't focus on God if I'm constantly worrying that others are judging me. Sadly, my outfit anxiety has kept me from worshiping fully during the past several Sundays. Instead of worrying, I need to ask God to provide friends at my new church, to share my fears with him about being rejected, and to let him comfort me when I feel lonely.
But I'm not going to dismiss my concerns about modesty, either. This has been a reminder to pray for discernment about my future clothing purchases. And when in doubt, I'll take a Christian gal pal to the store with me to get a second perspective.
What causes you to fret over your appearance? In what ways does clothing distract you from focusing on God?