Newcomers to the Orthodox Church often wonder what to wear when they attend services at an local parish or monastery. Depending on the parish, the dress code varies on the finer details, but as a whole, Orthodox churches share many of the same general guidelines.
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Dressing for God
Every Christian (and non-Christians, too) should use their best judgment before entering an Orthodox church. The church is not just any ordinary place. It is the House of God. When we enter, we do so humbly, with a sense of unworthiness. We dress as modestly and respectfully as we can, because we are in the presence of God Himself. If invited by any earthly king or queen, we would dress in our finest clothes. Therefore, we should dress similarly when accepting an invitation from the Lord of Heaven.
The way Orthodox Christians dress, both in and outside the temple, reflects their way of life and dedication to and fear of God. We dress modestly at all times, not in a flashy or provocative way that brings attention to ourselves. Below are some general guidelines for what to wear in an Orthodox church. Keep in mind these vary slightly from parish to parish, depending on the archdiocese (Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc.).
Dress code for gentlemen
The dress code for men attending an Orthodox church is rather simple:
- Collared, button-up shirts
- Clean dress pants (no shorts, even in the summer, and no jeans)
- Sweaters or vests
- Ties and coats (not required, but always appropriate)
When wearing a button-up shirt, you can either button to the collar or leave the first button undone. Leaving more than one button undone is inappropriate for worship. Moreover, men should not wear excessively tight dress shirts and pants, and instead opt for loose-fitting, modest clothes. (Modesty and humility aren’t just for the ladies; men can distract women, too!) Lastly, avoid wearing clothes with any words or logos on them.
Dress code for ladies
Women may have a more difficult time finding appropriate clothing to wear to an Orthodox church. The main reason for this is the overabundance of immodest clothing sold in stores these days. Ladies, try your best to find:
- Modest dresses and blouses (avoid low-cut necklines or open backs)
- Sleeves (no sleeveless tops, unless you wear a sweater to cover the shoulders)
- Knee-length skirts or longer
- Clean dress pants
As with the gentlemen, ladies should refrain from wearing jeans or shorts to services. Ladies, we must also avoid short skirts, skin-tight clothing, strapless tops, and clothing with writing or logos on it. When it comes to footwear, so long as your dress shoes or sandals are clean and have backs, they are generally acceptable.
Dress and veil required?
Some parishes follow the old custom requiring women to wear skirts or dresses only and cover their heads in the temple. While we do not observe this in our parish, women may wear skirts and head coverings if they wish to do so. Be sure to check with the parish you plan to visit before deciding on what to wear.
We welcome you to bring your children to church with you. The dress code for children is essentially the same as that for ladies and gentlemen. When choosing clothes for your children to wear to church, avoid revealing tops, shorts, tennis shoes, and clothing with wording. As with adults, children should have clean, tied shoes or sandals.
Changing clothes after services
If you must go somewhere after church where you need to dress casually, you can always bring a change of clothes with you and change after the service. In most church halls, you can access a restroom and change there, if necessary. This goes for children as well, if they want to play outside or in the fellowship hall.
What to wear to church in the summer
Depending on where you live, summers can get brutal with the heat. Many people struggle to find clothing that is appropriate to wear to Orthodox churches during these hotter months. However, regardless of the temperature, modesty in the house of God is still important. Therefore, all the other dress code guidelines we stressed above still apply in summer, too. Here are some helpful tips for finding modest clothing in the summer:
- Wear breathable fabrics, like cotton, linen, or rayon
- Choose lighter colors that reflect light instead of absorbing it
- Ladies: wear long flowing skirts to allow your legs to breathe; modest maxi dresses are also a great option
- Gentlemen: opt for khakis and a nice collared, button-up short sleeved shirt
What if I don’t have nice clothes?
We understand that not everyone has the financial means necessary to afford the kind of clothing that we’re describing in this post. And that is okay! The Lord expects our best in our present circumstances. Simply dress the best that you can afford to; no one will judge you for this.
If you would like to attend services at an Orthodox church, but feel you don’t have appropriate clothes to wear, reach out to the priest at that parish. He may know of some organizations that can help you find some nice clothing, either for free or for a great low price. Here at St. John’s, we actually have a clothing ministry that distributes clothing to those who need it, whether it’s for their newborn baby, their next job interview, or for a visit to our church upstairs! Your local Orthodox parish might do something similar, so reach out and ask for help if you need it.
Orthodox Christians must take responsibility for the way we dress both in and out of church, and the way people perceive us because of it. Our goal in asking our parishioners and visitors to follow these guidelines is not to oppress anyone’s individuality. Rather, it is to remain modest in the presence of our God and focus on prayer, worship, repentance, and communion with Him. If anything, freeing yourself from worry of how people perceive you is liberating. You can be your true self and focus on that which is important: worshiping God.
Dressing appropriately for service means giving God your absolute best. You wouldn’t go to a lovely dinner party in jeans and a t-shirt; why would you go to God’s house that way?
Keep Reading: Church Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide