On Sundays, I look with admiration as many of the elders in my community leave their Sunday masses whilst wishing my German could magically improve overnight. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to recognize that some were actually in church because of their mode of dress. Things tend to be quite different from Guyana, church-going takes a very practical and utilitarian form when it comes to fashion.
I have never stopped to question why I placed such a high level of importance on church attire. I suppose it’s something I just inherited. Growing up as a little girl I remember my mother buying special dresses for my sisters and me, only to be worn at church. We also had separate socks and shoes. Dressing for church in Guyana attracted a somewhat superficial factor to one’s religious self-worth and you don’t quite realize it until you take a step back. It was difficult to recognize this when I moved to Europe because I had become so accustomed to such a norm. In reflection, I realized that quite a few churchgoers made dressing a certain way seem like some sort of special reverence for the house of the Lord.
Perhaps, this is why some try to dress in what I call modest opulence, as if it somehow creates a psychological benchmark that they are closer to God. It is quite mindboggling when you think of it in retrospect. It creates a stereotype of who the most righteous religious person is. In addition, it even serves as an off-putting factor for those who may not be in the position to afford such garments: they may end up feeling unworthy. While my old local church never imposed any sort of dress code to my knowledge, it was the unspoken way of doing things, and it is the unspoken rule people usually tend to follow.
Sometimes I wonder too, if more biblical knowledge would have stuck with me if I didn’t have the tedious task of creating specific church looks as opposed to focusing on having a clear mind to meditate on the sermon. I remember once getting into dispute with my father over wearing pants to church. He deemed them inappropriate and unsuitable to my gender, but nowhere in his disagreement did he mention that I would be unable to worship in pants.
In fact one of the reasons I had started to wear pants was because of how comfortable and functional they were for all of the walking and getting up involved in an Anglican mass in addition to feeling secure when kneeling to receive communion. If anything, they made me more participative. Over the years, more and more young people have opted out of staying close to religion and while I am in thoroughly in support of independent choices, I still wonder how much of it had to do with the fact that attending church meant reinventing yourself to the point that it could obstruct you from focusing on the real reason for going.
Some will argue that change will create chaos, but I beg to differ. I think it will reveal our misguided value system. Religion for those who choose to accept it, serves as a great source for community bonding, but there is the sense that it creates inclusion only for some. Should there be a time when someone joins wearing jeans, slippers and a t-shirt welcome that person and remember Jesus himself wore slippers. It is time to look past our garments; it’s not that serious.