Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dressing Up for Church

Every Easter at church I see small girls dressed in brightly colored dresses with matching Easter bonnets. Sometimes, their moms also have on an equally colorful dress and hat. Not as much as in the past though. Few of us 'dress up' to go to church anymore, unless we are attending a wedding or a funeral.

In the past, dressing up for church wasn't just a way of showing off fashions (although for some it was), it was a way to recognize the 'specialness' of the occasion.

Theologians would tell us God is much more interested in our souls than our dress. In fact, many churches insist on casual dress so worshipers won't feel intimidated by the fancy clothes of others and stay home.

Years ago, in communities where everyone was struggling economically (are we back to that yet?) I suppose this wasn't as big a deal. Men and boys had the one good suit... and women had a few good dresses (sometimes homemade).

For African Americans, Sunday service was a chance to throw off the economic shackles of the workweek. Parishioners, who daily languished in uniforms, or as maids and janitors, were glad to have the opportunity to 'dress up.'

One of my early hats. Circa 1960.
For Black women, at Bethel A.M.E. ,the South Los Angeles church I attended for years, hats were the norm at Sunday services. Everyone could wear a hat, but not every woman could 'don' a hat (takes attitude). I can don a hat, and I miss it... even though it has absolutely nothing to do with serving the Lord. I seldom see hats now at my suburban church.

Still, I have a closet full of church hats. I even named some of them -- there's the 'Queen Latifah'... the 'Pixie'... and the black-straw, wide-brimmed, 'Drop Dead!' I wrapped and stored them carefully, hoping that someday here in America we will be like the Ladies of London who wear hats regularly. (Can't wait to see the hats at the Royal wedding!)

I remember a Sunday morning in Jamaica years ago. In the twenty mile ride from the resort to the airport, I witnessed Jamaicans walking to church. The men had on well-worn suits, the young boys had on white shirts and slacks, the girls had on white blouses with skirts, and most of the women wore white dresses and hats. Along the coastal route, I also saw a mass baptism taking place in the sea. People were lined up on shore awaiting their turn. They were clothed in white sheets. It all seemed very holy and pure.

Dressing up for church seems to have gone the way of family gatherings on Sundays. I admit, many times I wear jeans to church... however, one day I'm going to unpack one of my church hats and don it.

(first appeared in Huffington Post 4/25/11)

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