Often, newcomers to the Orthodox Church have no idea what “dress code” to follow when they visit a local parish or monastery. Depending on the parish, acceptable attire varies a bit, but as a Faith we do share many of the same guidelines for proper dress when attending services. In this post, we outline some of these basic rules for modest and respectful dress in an Orthodox Church.
Dressing for God
Every Christian (and non-Christian) attending an Orthodox Church should use good judgment when entering the temple. The temple is the House of God. It is not just an ordinary place. 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, wouldn’t we dress in our finest clothes? Therefore, we should follow church etiquette and 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. We go to church to worship God, not to make a fashion statement.
Below are some general guidelines for dress. Keep in mind these vary from parish to parish, depending on the archdiocese (Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc.).
The dress code for men attending an Orthodox church is rather simple. Here is a quick list of acceptable attire for gentlemen:
- Collared, button-up shirts
- Clean dress pants
- Ties and coats (not required, but always appropriate)
Shirts should be buttoned to the collar. (Note: you can leave the collar button itself undone, but generally, leaving two or three buttons undone is inappropriate.) Jeans do not qualify as “dress pants,” as they are too casual, especially when they have patches or holes. Men should never wear shorts, even in the summer months.
Ladies, our dress code is a bit more detailed. The main reason for this is the vast array of clothing we can buy these days. Here are items acceptable for a woman to wear in the House of God:
- Modest dresses and blouses (no low-cut necklines or open backs)
- Sleeves (no tank tops or sleeveless tops – unless you wear a sweater to cover the shoulders)
- Knee-length skirts or longer
- Clean dress pants
*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.
As with the gentlemen, ladies should refrain from wearing jeans or shorts to services. Ladies, we must also avoid short skirts, skin-tight clothing, and strapless or sleeveless tops. When it comes to footwear, so long as your dress shoes or sandals are clean and have backs, they are generally acceptable.
The dress code for children aligns with those for the ladies and gentlemen. The only difference is that young children under ten years of age are permitted to wear dress shorts to services. Athletic shorts, cut-offs, spandex, etc. are not appropriate, nor are T-shirts, especially those with writing on them. As with adults, children should have clean, tied shoes or sandals.
If you must go somewhere after church where you need to dress casually, you can always bring a change of clothing with you and change after the service ends. In our church hall, you can access a restroom and change clothes there, if necessary.
Orthodox Christians must take responsibility for the way we dress and the way people perceive us because of it. Our goal in following 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 our God. 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 your God.
Dressing appropriately for service means giving God your absolute best. You would not go to a lovely dinner party in jeans and a t-shirt; why would you go to God’s house that way?
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