More Real Sex on Casual Friday

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.

  1. Nancy

    Amen, sister! I am totally with her. I have been attending churches lately where the men wear bowties, and the ladies dress up == and it’s a breath of fresh air. I recently went to a chuch outside Philly, and even the pastor had on shorts. David and I barely made it through the sermon without cracking up. The ushers, everyone looked unkempt and awful. And it should be said that these were not poor folks. These were people who dress up for work — because it’s important — and down for church.

    It was awful.

  2. Hal

    Excellent. I noticed several years ago that nobody cared when I occassionally came to work without a tie. So, I started coming with an opened collared shirt more and more frequently. Now it’s a rare occassion at work for me to come with a tie. I don’t think that I take my work any less seriously when I dress down. But, of course it is the government after all.

    I do like to dress up for church, and I certainly agree with Lauren Winner on that topic.

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Nancy said: “These were people who dress up for work — because it’s important — and down for church.”

    Exactly (and it should be pointed out to those who don’t know you, you’re no old fogey either).

    The point is not that people who cannot afford good clothes shouldn’t come to church, it’s what do the clothes we wear say about our attitude?

    Recently Dr. Robert Jennings, the president of Alabama A&M University, spoke on a Wednesday night at our church. Dr. Jennings is African American, highly educated, and a wonderful orater in the tradition of a Martin Luther King, Jr. . His mesmerizing, lyrical, “Powerpointless” exposition of Jeremiah held me spellbound and motionless for 50 minutes (and I still remember his main point, which is unusual for me).

    Not only was Dr. Jennings dressed to the nines, but so were the many A&M staffers and professors who came that night to hear him speak (incidently, it was wonderful seeing so much color in our traditionally “white bread” congregation). I watched these visitors who thought enough of their president, the occasion, and their God that they gave their very best. I then looked at my own t-shirt, shorts and sandals and cringed–and felt very much ashamed.

    BTW we have a very active Hispanic ministry (I just wish they would meet with us more rather than in a separate service–but I understand that language is a barrier). I’ve always been impressed with the way these working class, migrant workers for the most part, dress themselves and their children for church. Dressing to meet a king, indeed.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy


    I’ve gone back and forth on work dress, but I have for the most part ditched the clinic jacket.

    Eyegal recently took me shopping (dragging me, kicking and screaming of course). A few new shirts, ties and slacks later, I was getting many comments from coworkers and patients on how nice I looked.

    And you know what? It felt good. In fact, I felt like I had a little extra zip in my step and a little sharper brain to boot.

  5. Brady

    Years ago, after a furlough in the USA, we asked our children why folks go to church. They answered: To show off their new clothes. (Maybe not so much the case today.)

    I wore a tie on Sunday. I was speaking. Several folks told me I didn’t need to. But I thought it was important. Not as important as stuff in the inside, but important to me. Important to God? I have my doubts.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    And thank you for yours. I’m curious–did they tell you not to worry about a tie because they wanted you to feel more comfortable or because they wanted other people to be more comfortable? Perhaps it was some of both, in which case generosity of spirit and concern for another’s comfort can never be far off base.

    The Wednesday night scene I described above made quite an impact on me. Had it been an ordinary Wednesday night–with its usually perfunctory and very average air–perhaps I wouldn’t have felt quite so underdressed. But it was an extraordinary night, and the visitors, who obviously knew better than I just how extraordinary, ironically made me feel like the one out of place. I’m glad, though, because it has made me think more carefully about such matters.

    I’m finding that as I age, the aesthetic side of things has grown in importance for me. Perhaps this is one reason that the candles, smells, and art of beautiful, old churches speak to me of the presence of God in ways that “worship centers” that look like Amway convention halls do not.

    To be sure, God sees the heart. But sometimes we wear out hearts on our sleeves.

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