If you’re like me, your workplace allows “Casual Friday,” a day of reprieve from those constricting ties and starchy dress shirts. However, as I sit here contemplating which polo shirt I’ll wear with my khakis today, these passages from Lauren Winner’s book Real Sex give me pause:
Casual Fridays, I think, capture some of our society’s confusion about clothes. Professional workplaces have dress codes in part because managers know that how we dress shapes our behavior. If we dress up, if we dress professionally, we are more likely to behave professionally, to treat others with respect and be treated likewise. A few years ago, when employers all over corporate America said employess could dress down on the last day of the work week, workers were thrilled. No more constricting ties on Fridays, no more annoying pantyhose; trade in those suits for capris and blue jeans.
I have to admit that I find this trend puzzling (which is not to say that when I worked in a newroom I didn’t appreciate the lax Friday dress codes). Maybe I’m a glutton for consistency, but it seems to me that if it is important for people to dress up four days of the week–because formal clothing truly shapes how we comport ourselves, how we understand our work and our duty–then it is important for us to dress up on Fridays too. Conversely, if employers find that people are happier, work better, and are more present when dressed in blue jeans, then we should scotch the silly dress codes the other four days. Either clothing really does some constructive work or it doesn’t. Either we’re fooling ourselves on Fridays, or we’re fooling ourselves the other four days.
Winner doesn’t stop there. She goes on to address the issue of casual attire in church:
The church has been complicit in teaching that there is no propriety to dress. We used to dress to the nines on Sunday morning. In the 1960s, that began to change–students and surfers and Jesus freaks began turning up at church in jeans and sandals. That’s all well and good–I’m not suggesting the church copy five-start restaurants and post a maître ď at the door to hand out jackets and ties to men who show up in T-shirts. Everyone, even those who disdain or can’t afford spiffy suits, should be welcome in church. But perhaps we’ve erred on the side of casual. I’ve noticed that I worship differently when I’m wearing more formal, fancy clothes. I’m inclined toward reverence. I’m ready to meet a king. The prayers I pray when I’m wearing my pj’s are, not surprisingly, often more intimate, and there is a place for pj prayers–but that place may not always be in church. We Christians in our institutional churches so want people to come worship with us on Sunday morning that we hesitate to impose a dress code upon them. And yet what appears welcoming , what seems hospitable, may in fact be a failure. It’s God, after all, that the people are coming for, and helping them dress appropriately may be part of preparing them to meet Him.
Now there’s something you won’t be reading in any “How to Do Emerging Church” manual. Keep in mind that Ms. Winner is 29 years-old–not exactly an old fogey. Is she on to something here? Have we gone so overboard in emphasizing casualness and becoming “seeker friendly” that we now not only “dumb down” our worship but “dress it down” as well?
Food for thought on this, another Casual Friday. If you’ll pardon me now, I’ve got a shirt and tie to go put on.