[Video] How My Family Dresses for Mass


When my friend Eric Coughlin from Two Sense Films emailed me describing his new project, I thought it was a great idea. He wanted to create a short movie on dressing respectfully for Mass. His last film on altar servers was fantastic so I knew this would be another winner.

Then Eric asked if my family wanted to participate. I told him we would be honored. But I quickly added that, with four kids six and under, getting everyone ready for Mass often resembles a hostage negotiation. He said that was fine. Eric came over early one morning, filmed us getting ready, accompanied us to Mass, and the kids had a blast.

This morning he released the finished project. Please watch and share it around!

[vimeo id=”132896968″]

Most people put little thought into dressing for Mass. When I was Protestant, the overarching message I heard was, “Come as you are! God doesn’t care what clothes you wear. He just wants you!” But over time, I discovered this was only a half-truth. Of course God loves you just as you are—that’s the only “you” that exists! And of course God would prefer you in a tank-top and sandals than not at all.

But the more I reflected, the more sure I became that what you wear matters. This is the case in every other meaningful area of life. For example, few bosses say to their employees, “Come as you are! Pajamas, muscle shirts, tube tops—it doesn’t matter!” No bride I know would say to her fiancée, “Come as you are to the wedding! I really don’t care what you wear.”

How you dress matters. There are at least two reasons why. First, because of what it says to others. Dressing nicely communicates respect and honor. When you dress specially for Mass, you’re telling God, “You are worth the effort; you deserve my best.” It tells your fellow worshippers, “I take Mass seriously; it’s not just one casual event among many for me.”

Second, dressing respectfully changes your interior orientation. I’ve found that when I pull on a suit and tie, my thoughts, speech, and general approach to the world all change. I become more gentlemanly. I’m more serious than silly. I’m better able to focus, display reverence, and sink into prayer. That’s why I’m convinced dressing up is a spiritual discipline. (My friend Jen Fulwiler reflected on similar experiences: “How Changing What I Wear Changed My Approach to Mass”.)

We all know that fewer people today are dressing respectfully at Mass. Visit the average service at your average parish and you’ll see the whole spectrum of attire, from prim and proper to scandalous and sulky.

But imagine if even a small percentage of Catholics decided to dress more respectfully each Sunday. Imagine how the atmosphere would instantly change. Imagine what our children would think, how they would see the Mass. Imagine how it would affect the prayer lives of people seeking deeper experiences. The spiritual fruit would be remarkable.

If you want to help bring on this shift, first commit to dressing more reverently yourself. Take the time and effort to dress better next Sunday. Then help your kids do the same. Finally, be sure to share Eric’s excellent video.

What do you typically wear to Mass?

  • Trudy Hackney

    This is a thoughtful article on a topic that gets no consideration. The key is respect, and the remark about the wedding attire is so on point. TY.

  • Marie J.

    I think it must be appropriate first

  • bruceinkansas

    Instead linking clothing to a level of piety, I think the way people dress for Mass continues to be the same standard as it has been: the faithful generally dress for Mass as they would dress to “go into town.” In other parts of the world and in other times in history, this has always varied. Fifty years ago in the eastern USA, it meant a jacket and tie or a dress and heels. Not so in the western US then, nor practically anywhere in the USA today. The community’s emphasis should be on Christ, not what our neighbor is wearing.Loud talking or not paying attention is not the same as dressing up.

  • bruceinkansas

    Instead linking clothing to a level of piety, I think the way people dress for Mass continues to be the same standard as it has been: the faithful generally dress for Mass as they would dress to “go into town.” In other parts of the world and in other times in history, this has always varied. Fifty years ago in the eastern USA, it meant a jacket and tie or a dress and heels. Not so in the western US then, nor practically anywhere in the USA today. The community’s emphasis should be on Christ, not what our neighbor is wearing.Loud talking or not paying attention is not the same as dressing up.

  • Glennfriend67

    Since I was old enough to go to church, my mother always had clothes set aside in my closet specifically for church. They were called my Sunday Best clothes. They generally consisted of a pretty float dress, white stocking and white patent Mary Jane’s in the summer; black patent ones in the winter. My mother would scrape my hair up into a bun, I would pick up a pair of little white lace gloves and I was ready for Church. My sister wore something very similar, and my brother was in a little suit and tie.
    Very little has changed over the years. I don’t wear Mary Jane’s any more but I still wear dress shoes. I still wear dresses, and if they are sleeveless, a cardigan goes right over top so I remain modest. I keep my makeup restrained and natural looking, and although my hair is short now, I still style it. I have been a cantor at my parish for 18 years, so I sit up on the altar. As a cantor, I feel I must maintain a certain image for the Church, which is why I always dress in a semi-formal manner. I wish the other cantor would do the same, but most of them wear…whatever, even so e of the older generation. I just don’t get it. What is wrong with wanting to dress nicely to come see the Lord? I was always taught it was the ultimate sign of respect, and since my mom is a convert, she ought to know. I couldn’t dress casual to come to church, ever. It creeps me out! I especially dislike seeing people come in wearing jeans. I don’t care how dressy everyone says jeans are now; to me, wearing jeans to church is incredibly disrespectful. This video is very timely. Perhaps it should be played in all parishes as a reminder of just how important it is to dress respectfully in God’s house.

  • blkequus

    I dress as nice as I do for the office at work. If I can dress up for work, I can dress up for church. Casual wear is for around the house, jeans for the barn. It doesn’t take much to put on a pair of dress slacks and a nice blouse. I do feel more respectful and now I have my mind directly on Jesus when I dress to meet him. I have a 21 yr old son who feels the same way. He wears a suit on the Holy Days and dress clothes on the regular Sundays. My other son, who really doesn’t want to be involved with church, will occasionally go but will not wear anything but T-shirt and jeans. But I’d rather have him in church dressed like that then not in church at all.

  • Lu

    Why I hate to go to mass on Sunday

    First of all
    let me say that I do not hate going to mass, in fact I love going to holy mass,
    receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and attending mass every day. But Sunday is a different story, dramatically
    different. On Sunday the church is
    turned into a zoo with people acting and dressing inappropriately, causing much
    dismay to their fellow parishioners. It
    has gotten so bad that I need to speak out, so they hear and understand how
    their actions are negatively affecting others during mass.

    1. Do not talk in church. So many people, (especially
    women) see a familiar face and start chatting it up as if they were sitting in
    a conference center. You need to take
    your chatter outside the church, because you are disturbing others in front of
    the Blessed Sacrament. Get up and move
    away to a place where you can talk and freely get caught up. Go to the
    vestibule or outside, or wait until mass is over and go outside to talk.

    There should be silence inside the church
    because people are praying to the Lord.

    Don’t think just because you are a senior citizen that you have the right to
    sit there and talk. In fact because of
    your age, many of you are hard of hearing and the conversation is much louder and
    more disrupting than you realize. Please
    go outside and do not talk in church. There should be a three word whisper rule. That is, only three words should be spoken in
    a whisper at mass, if you need to speak to a friend or family member.

    Turn off your cell phones and stop
    texting during holy mass.
    Leave your cell phones in the car or at home on Sunday, because you
    can live for one hour without them. There should be a rule in every church that
    for each cell phone that goes off during mass, the person must put five dollars
    in the poor box.

    Dress appropriately for Sunday mass.
    There should be a sign outside the church stating there is a dress
    code. What? A dress code? No one tells me how to dress! Well yes they do, and in many places you comply
    and think nothing of it. For example if you go to the Army Navy Club, or Congressional
    Country Club, or any other established country club, there is a strict dress
    code and men must wear jackets, or collared dress shirts, golf shirts, no jeans
    or sandals allowed. If you do not comply
    with these dress rules, then you are often turned away. Many restaurants, especially at beach, post
    signs that shirts and shoes are required to enter. Same goes for night clubs, there
    is a dress code and the youth dress up before going out at night. They know
    they can be turned away for not being in appropriate attire to enter the night club.
    This is a commonly accepted practice.

    Parents keep in mind on Sunday morning that you and your family are not stopping
    by church (for mass) on your way to a soccer game. Your kids should not have their soccer
    clothes on at mass and this is very important for you as a parent, to stop and
    think about what message you are sending to your kids.

    At all Catholic churches around the world there is an unstated dress code
    and we all need to abide by it because dressing in a dignified manner shows
    respect to the Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament.

    This dress code means men should not wear t-shirts that advertise their
    favorite bar, college or football team. You
    know what I mean. All females, including
    little girls, should dress modestly for mass.
    Always remember to cover your shoulders with a shawl when wearing halter
    tops, and don’t wear mini shorts or play clothes to church.

    Again, parents it is okay to review your children’s outfit for mass,
    especially for teenagers. Stop and ask
    yourself, would you want them to wear this outfit to the most important meeting
    of their life? Would you have your kids
    dress this way for an important meeting with a person in a very high
    place? Be honest and take a good look in
    the mirror, before you or your kids step out that door, and think how you are
    presenting yourself to God. If it isn’t
    a modest, respectful appearance, then take five minutes to iron that shirt or
    comb your hair before leaving home.
    After all this is God’s house you are entering and it is a holy place,
    so always dress appropriately on Sundays.

    4. Behavior of children. Most little kids have a difficult time sitting quietly for a
    whole hour and that is understandable, however they can do it, if their
    parents’ guide them.

    Explain to your children where they are going and what is expected of them at
    mass. Kids usually do very well if they
    know what is expected of them. If your
    children have a hard time sitting still then please do not sit in the front
    rows of the church, because their constant movements are a big distraction to
    others who attend Sunday mass and who are trying to focus on what is going on
    at the altar. Kids should never be
    allowed to run around inside the church, this is very disrespectful to our Lord
    and to everyone who is there.

    Parents with babies or small children need to sit in the back of the
    church, so they can get up quickly and leave church to attend to their child,
    when they start crying in the middle of mass.
    Some churches have “cry rooms” but most parents don’t even like going in
    there because of the distractions they experience from multiple babies and
    infants in the same place. Remember there
    is a high probability that your baby will cry sometime during mass, and a crying
    baby inside the church is very loud and distracting for everyone, so you need
    to immediately address this.

    If your baby is fussy don’t pace
    back and forth inside the church during mass, in hope of calming them
    down. Go outside or to the back of the
    church and calm your baby down there.
    Once quieted, bring them back inside the church. We know having babies at mass isn’t easy, and
    we all understand this, but it is your responsibility to do what is best for
    the baby, and to keep them calm and quiet, while being mindful of others around
    you who are trying to pray.

    Mothers, do not breast feed your baby during mass inside the church. If you need to breast feed please go to a
    quiet private room and come back after you are finished. We realize babies are on a schedule so look
    at the schedule of masses and pick the time that best fits you and your baby’s

    Thank you for considering your appearance or your behavior during mass on
    Sunday. And thank you for making those
    small adjustments that will help make mass a better experience for all of us. Showing common courtesy to others and more
    importantly respect for our Lord. It is really greatly appreciated, especially by
    that little old lady (me) who is sitting next to you.

    God bless.

    • Pauline

      Wow! I am impressed that finally some young man care enough to make this awesome video. I remember growing and going to mass was the highlight of the whole week. We lived in the country, so we got up at 4 am and walked to church. We would make it to the 11 AM mass, At the end of mass we prayed to every saint in each chapel. After that we would get our lunch and sit on bench in the square and as soon as we ate we got on our way home. We would get home about 7 pm in time to pray the 15 decades of the rosary and go to bed. Al though we were very poor, we made sure that we would ware the best, modest and clean clothes because whose presence we were going spend for an hour and a half, God. It is very sad to see that nothing is said from the pulpit by our priests, not that they should because little children always attend mass with at list an adult. My question is, “should we not care enough to about our own personal appearance, and should we have to be told and yet expect to be treated with respect as adult persons?” Why should a priest tell us what us the correct way of dressing to attend Holy Mass?. But yet he should, for some of us lack common sense.

    • Glennfriend67

      I have one more item to add to that great list, ma’am : PLEASE don’t come in reeking of perfume. There are many people (I am one) who have allergies, asthma or both, and when women and men come in smelling like they bathed in perfume or cologne we can become very ill or even stop breathing from having a reaction to the scent. You might be used to the scent and unintentionally begin using more so you can smell it, but for those of us with allergies and asthma it is overpowering, so please think twice before taking that extra spritz, or taking one at all.

      God bless.

    • susan34

      Hmm, not sure if I agree with the no soccer outfit thing. We have kids coming in Scout uniforms, soccer uniforms and more. My church is also near two hospitals, so adults often come in scrubs. Also security uniforms, fast food uniforms, etc. Everyone’s life is different and I kind of like the fact that the everyday and the holy can appear to be so integrated as people move from work to Mass and back. Maybe it even helps the kids keep God in mind on the soccer field!

  • Hammer Islam

    Dress like you are going to see GOD!

  • Hammer Islam

    Dress like you are going to see GOD!

    • Gregory Lowe

      You are!

  • Gregory Lowe

    Prior to becoming the MC at my parish I wore a coat, tie and dress pants or a suit. Because I’m required to wear a cassock and surplice I’m always in black dress pants and dress shoes now. During cool months shirt and tie. During hot months short sleeve collared shirt that matches the color for the liturgy. Funerals I always wear black coat and tie before vesting.

    During the summer months many parishioners dress in shorts. I find some are dressing too proactively. Modesty it seems to be gone. Above the knee skirts, exposed cleavage, bare shoulders, tight fitting and dance club attire is the norm.

    I work with a lot of non practicing Catholics and I try to encourage them to start attending mass. One of them who said she was coming started describing a sexy dress she was going to wear. I’m like your going to a wedding feast with the Lord not to pick up men at a club.

    Modesty is key, come as you are if that’s the best you can do. Make the effort to dress as if you’re going to meet Jesus Christ himself. Because at the Mass you ARE! Coming like your heading to go golfing and the beach next when you can change after Mass, I don’t feel is appropriate either.

    Pax vobiscum

    • NR

      Why do you only point out women’s attire in your criticism? Men in muscle shirts and shorts that could be used for swimming is not appropriate either.

      • Gregory Lowe

        Actually I didn’t just. Shorts, beach, and golf attire were both or men. Also I discussed my attire at the beginning. Recently a male parishioner I’m close with wore shorts this summer. I know he has more clothing more appropriate. I did have a talk with him. Sorry if it seemed like I was one sided. That was not my intention. Pax vobiscum

  • jesspinosa

    I wear pressed khaki and long-sleeved shirts (I roll the sleeves up to the elbow when the weather is hot). No problem for me since it is my official daily “uniform” anyway. But I remember when I was growing up. When we buy new clothes, we do not wear them till we have worn them on Sunday to church, sort of having them blessed. I try to maintain that tradition.
    I do have horror stories of people who dress inappropriately. The latest was when a women, who pushes an elderly lady on a wheelchair, came wearing a grey T-shirt and short short gym shorts. She parked the wheelchair right in front of the first pew and in order to secure the wheelchair, she bent over several times, “flashing” those sitting near and behind her. Lord have mercy.

    • Carolyn

      I’ll never get over sitting in Mass, then standing up to realize there were two teenage girls who’d been at Mass wearing spaghetti-strap tank tops and short-shorts. And I mean SHORT. The ones that barely cover their butts short. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, as a poor person, I understand not being able to wear “Sunday best” to Mass, but I believe in at least covering modestly. I mean, maybe these girls didn’t own a fancy church dress, but they could have done better than short-shorts and teeny tank tops!!

  • ME

    We have noticed an improvement in our family’s attitude toward Mass, by improving our attire we wear to Mass. I agree with this video. But I will say, when we go to a weekday Mass, we will dress more casually. That usually stems from this activity being made to fit in with the rest of life’s daily activity.

  • proudmomoffive

    I think the purpose of the video is good because it tries to teach people the importance of our external appearance. I think about my little church and how I see, when there is somebody new to the parish, that shows up in a t-shirt and jeans or some other disrespectful clothing, that very soon, especially if they are ladies, they come back wearing a nice kneelenght skirt and a veil on their heads, without the need for a video. The entire parish teaches them about the importance of the silence, reverence and honor and respect due to God, and the modesty and deference we owe to our fellow brothers as women, helping them to fight the temptation of impure thoughts instead of being part of the problem, THAT’S ONE THING THAT IS LACKING IN THE VIDEO. WOMEN SHOULD DRESS MODESTLY SO THEY DO NOT BECOME A SOURCE OF TEMPTATION FOR MEN IN A HOLY PLACE, OR ANYWHERE.
    There is no nursery in our little church because the young ladies in their early thirties and well into their forth or fifth child know that they should start training them from birth on how to behave in mass properly. They have to step outside the temple every now and then and juggle the toddler and share the committment with the dads, but they step back in and keep insisting in the silence and reverence due to the Holy Sacrifice. The kids learn from the older kids (in our parish, 40% of the population is under 10 years old) and from the overwhelming example of all the other people, that something big that requires our absolute undivided attention is happening in front of us and whatever it is, is worth maintaining us fixated eyes, heart and soul and in our knees for more than an hour.

  • Mom

    Thank you for producing this video! It’s so sad to see such little respect given to our attire at Mass. If we are meeting our president, we wouldn’t show up in cutoff jeans and a tshirt. So why wouldn’t we dress up to worship the King of Kings? It amazes me at how what we wear affects how we behave. Wearing my sloppy clothes allows me to behave sloppily, but wearing my dress clothes reminds me to behave more like a lady.

    Maybe when we learn to properly adorn ourselves for Mass, we’ll finally see the need to properly adorn our churches once again.

  • andia

    Nice to see a video about dressing up for Mass that does not place all responsibility for dressing up on women and does not shove the veil upon women. I’ll admit that I probably don’t pass muster but I dress better for Mass than I do for work. And I “blame” that on the priests who talk about the subject on twitter. 🙂

  • Lorie C Weeden

    My Mother always prepare our clothes for Sunday masses or for other special masses.. she will be starting for my Dad, then the children. We have extra bed, so she has to lay down some of our clothing. We girls always wear long sleeves blouses with modest skirts or dresses, and for men, wear short or long sleeves shirt with long pants. My mother will awake us @ 5 am , attending the 8 am mass. women always wear Mantillias on our heads. We are in the family of eight, 6 children plus Mom and Dad. We are always sitted together in one pew. During communion, we always fold our hands like the Blessed Mother Mary’s hand, and receive the body of Christ with our tongue. My Mother is the great disciplinarian of the family, and we all loved her. I’m really thankful for what my Mother has done with us as a family. After the mass, my Dad will lead the Rosary. We’re all happy going back home, but my Dad will have to pass by the Bakery and have something for breakfast.

  • Lorie C Weeden


  • AnonyMom

    I own four shirts one pair of pants and a skirt. I do the best I can.

    • Jenny

      I think doing the best you can is exactly the point 🙂 Nothing wrong with wearing the same thing every Sunday!

  • Well, I dress with safety in mind first, and I spend virtually the entire Mass chasing my toddler son in the foyer of the church.

    I know of no other occasion that simultaneously requires:

    a) me to dress up;
    b) me to wrangle my toddler(s); AND
    c) mandatory attendance.

    I could go one of two ways:

    1) dress for the location (i.e. church) and either leave about 15 minutes in, or assault my fellow parishoners with my screaming toddler

    2) dress for the activity (i.e. chasing a toddler), stay for the entire Mass, but be dressed “inappropriately” for Mass.

    I choose regular Mass attendance, so secure footwear and comfortable pants it is!

    But you will be pleased to hear that my two school-age girls happily and voluntarily wear nice dresses to church, and they even (usually) manage to stop their normal petty bickering during Mass and for a good half-hour window afterward!

    • Debbie Vina

      Does your church have a nursery or a cry room? When Our children were from about 12 months to maybe 18 months, we put them in the nursery if one was available. If not, we all sat in the FRONT where the kids can see. When the toddler starts acting up, we would take just him to the cry room, where he would be pinned to Poppa’s lap. Not running around. Maybe even screaming, but that’s why he’s in the cry room!
      I would never start in the cry room, or stay there for all of Mass. Too many people are feeding there kids snacks and letting them run wild in there, not trying to teach them proper behavior for Mass. I have had to ask adults in the cry room not to talk during the Eucharistic Prayer. On Christmas, no less.
      And if you have a spouse, you can take turns going to Mass. You’re not together if you’re in two separate rooms, anyway.

      • Thanks for your thoughts!

        – No cry room, just the foyer which fortunately does have speakers so you can hear. My son will sometimes stop running and look up at one of the ceiling speakers to listen to Father (which is adorable!) and then go back to running and then crying when I won’t let him play with the water fountain.
        – Sitting in front worked GREAT with my two girls when they were little, but with this little guy it just gets too disruptive with me up and down, having to LUNGE after him as he darts into the aisle, SCREAM as I pick him up, hold him in front of me away from my center of gravity while he thrashes (thank God for strength training!) and walk past ALL the pews on my way out. I do try to bring him back into the sanctuary if I think he’s ready to be quiet for a bit, which is easier and less disruptive to do if I’m in the back. Yes, Mass is a pretty athletic event for me; it’s not uncommon for me to have tired legs and arms afterward.
        – My husband is agnostic, so I’m doing Mass by myself!
        – I do hear you about people not paying attention. Sometimes the foyer gets a little crowded and the parents get a little too social.
        – One thing that seems to work is to sit him on one of my shoulders when we kneel. Sometimes he pays attention, but most of the time he just messes up my hair. Either way, he’s quiet. So I’m that mom going up for communion with jeans, sneakers, messed up hair, and sweating just a bit.

        Every once in a LONG while I can manage him completely in the pew so I don’t even have to get up, but those Sundays are few and far between. I figure if I keep trying, ONE of these days he’ll get it, right?

        • Merri Jimenez

          I applaud you for being your youngest to mass
          . I have a few friends who haven’t gone to mass for the past couple of years for fear of disrupting. My church has a lot of young children and we don’t have children’s church. There is a lot of talking and squirming, my two children included but they are so welcome by all the parishioners and the father. My very good friend has 6 children her husband is not a believer either but accompanies his family to mass to assist her in wrangling the kiddos. Just a suggestion.

      • Bil Carter

        Cry rooms are horrible, and my opinion, a bad idea from the start. Cry rooms give license to parents to let and encourage their children to scream and run around. There is no way an adult in a cry room can have a prayerful experience at the Mass when that is going on. In my parish, they bring out the vacuum cleaner after every Mass to get the crushed Cheerios out of the carpet. It’s a free-for-all in there.

        A better idea is to move around a bit with a restless child. Stand in the back of the church, or in the narthex. Ask your child to find all the pictures/statues of Jesus, Mary, etc. If you have several kids, it might make sense to have your spouse take half of them to the early Mass, and then you take the rest to a later one, at least until you are through the baby years.

        I have a 7, 4, and 1 year old. The most important thing for me was to reinforce that Mass is not merely an obligation, or something to be endured. It teaches the lesson that all of us need to focus our attentions on something other than ourselves, even if just for 60-75 minutes a week. Before long, kids start asking intelligent questions and become real participants in the Mass.

    • Kristine

      Long skirts are perfect for chasing kids in church. And nice slacks and blouse are fine too. I wouldn’t say pants are inappropriate, unless they are too tight or immodest. Even nice dresses can be inappropriate for Mass. Kudos to you for taking your toddler to church and being thoughtful of others.

      God bless,
      Mother of 9