It’s Sunday morning, you’re at church, and your mind begins to wander a little bit during the Litany of Supplication. You begin to look around to see whom you might try chatting with during coffee hour. If you’re a single girl, your gaze might go to the young man in the dark suit and tie who stands by himself. He looks pretty sharp, and yet a little stiff, like maybe he’s on his way to apply for a mortgage. You put him on the list of possibilities, and then you spot…
The tall handsome firefighter who has come in to church in a tight navy T-shirt that says “Battalion 6” and shows off every one of his muscles. Running your eyes along the contours of his shoulders, you can identify his deltoids, biceps, triceps and pectorals, and before you know it, you’re wondering what his adductor longus looks like. This fellow has all of your attention now, whether you want to think about him or not. He’s the human equivalent of a cheesecake during Lent.
If you’re a single guy, your gaze might go to the young woman in the brown headscarf, brown blouse with long sleeves, and brown long skirt. You’ve seen her around a few times before, and she has a nice smile. Maybe you’d like to know a little more about her, you think, but you’re also wondering if she’s actually a novice in a women’s monastery. Then you spot…
A young woman who’s “topless” — both in the sense of not having a headscarf and in the fact that the top she’s wearing on her upper body looks like a balcony with no railings. If your hormones carry the same sort of messages that mine do, this isn’t just a distraction of your attention, it’s a domination, like a news bulletin during your favorite TV show:
“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you the following important announcement. A shapely young lady who doesn’t waste fabric in her apparel choices is nearby at approximately 70 degrees to your right, 25 feet down range. All thoughts taking place in this brain are hereby suspended for the purpose of coming up with a lame opening line for a conversation with the owner of the figure of your fixation. If you would like to have the use of your brain again soon, put your head in a bucket of ice.”
My guess is that the two “hotter” hypothetical church-goers — Mr. Muscles and Miss Sternum — are likely to score more phone numbers during coffee hour. But, we need to think more about whether that’s our goal in meeting people. The clothes we wear don’t have a lot to do with who we really are, but they do have an effect on the people whom we meet. They can serve the purpose of showing respect for what’s going on, or welcoming others to come near us. They can also stir up passions in others, as the main character of the romantic comedy Clueless explains:
“Sometimes you have to show a little skin. This reminds boys of being naked, and then they think of sex.”
If a girl tries this on Orthodox single boys who have an active spiritual life, it will work in stirring them up, but it’s also likely to remember the last time they followed that line of thinking, which landed them in Confession, which wasn’t fun at all.
The question of how to dress is an important one for Christian singles because we’re called to be humble people, both in our behavior and our appearance. But, we are not required to put up a wall of total exclusion with our clothes. Humility doesn’t mean that we have to dress like frumps or nerds, for example:
I don’t know a whole lot about fashionable clothing, but with this chapter, I’d like to offer some suggestions for things that we can wear to be inviting and engaging in our appearance, which we need to be when we’re looking for someone special. We can look eye-pleasing without crossing the line to becoming eye-candy. We ought to think about this because as Christians, we want to be a part of the worship that brings joy into each others’ lives. If there’s one thing that regular church-goers hold in common, it’s that the gentle sights, sounds and smells (provided the altar boy doesn’t overload the censer) of our worship draws them in and helps them pray, and through prayer, we return to who we really are. Anything we do for those we love ought to help draw out their true selves, and that’s unlikely to happen if we dazzle them with our appearance.
Most women’s fashion these days seems to be oriented towards helping women take control of situations by controlling the male attention. Or, at least that’s how it seems whenever I get bored enough to open up a women’s magazine at the grocery store. Ashley Tisdale here on the cover of the most recent Cosmo is pretty typical of magazine beauty these days. Wearing something to be noticed, or something that helps you engage with people of the opposite sex is great, but Ashley and most every Cosmo girl I’ve ever seen seems to be trying to overwhelm men.
Try thinking of it in terms of music: The high-energy electronic dance song with a heavy beat sure does get your attention while it’s playing, but can you remember a thing about it after it’s over? What about the folk song that tells a story of some love or tragedy, both through its words and its melody? You might actually remember something about the culture that the folk song came from.
This is not to say anything bad about Ashley Tisdale. In fact, I don’t know anything about her. Her Wikipedia article says that she stars in a lot of chick flicks. I’m going to try to be careful not get preachy in this chapter because I’m sure you’ve gotten the “appropriate dress” lecture from your priest or school principal at one time or another, and hearing it again from a goofball like me isn’t going to help matters much. “Appropriate” is different for different people. While most girls wouldn’t want to seem overly flaunty at church, at the same time, I doubt they want to have an appearance that says “My future involves having lots of babies and hand-stitching curtains.”
I think most men would like to look appropriate at church, too, but I doubt that means they want to look like they’re on their way to a funeral, either.
Be humble; don’t get hung up on rules
I have been to more than a few churches that had signs at the front dictating that women should not wear trousers in church, and that, according to St. Paul, they should have their heads covered in church. At other churches, no women wear a head scarf. One of the fastest ways to empty a party is to bring up this divisive issue and start challenging each other’s faith over this issue.
Before invoking St. Paul in this debate, we need to remember a few things about what he was writing:
- This was in the Letter to the Corinthians, and he was really ticked off when he wrote it.
- Judging from the letter, some kind of strange cult involving loud and chaotic worship had taken hold in the Church of Corinth. He was trying to calm them down.
- The letter is, in general, an exhortation to humility, and covered heads were a practical step in that direction.
I think we should avoid setting rules on this subject as much as possible, because then piety becomes about following rules rather than actually trying to have a better spiritual life. If a head scarf makes you more humble, by all means, wear one, but this does not mean that tying a tablecloth around your daughter’s head is going to keep her from fooling around with boys.
Similarly, a skirt is not going to make you more pious, but it can be a beautiful way of showing humility. Or, as my mother-in-law (a priest’s wife) puts it, “Any time my husband has to wear a dress, so do I.”
There is this group on Facebook that I think many of you would enjoy. It’s called the M.M. Club, or “Matushka Material” club. Matushka Anna Lardas writes about the opportunities presented by the headscarf:
Hey, the platok is a statement.
Under the chin for humility (or obscuring your looks if you don’t like the seminarian chasing you), behind the ponytail if you are a free-thinking brazen hussy, and wrapped all around the head like you have a bad toothache if you have a flair for the dramatic. Now that we are married more than 20 years and esconced in a parish that tolerates such things, I wear my hair down with a hat stuck on it at the last minute (often after my sons have spent the drive to church knocking dents out of it). But in Houston the starosta’s mother insisted that a matushka could ONLY wear her hair in a bun. But I thought the girls who wore really cute hats to the monastery for syezd were just making things way too easy. The seminarians should have to work out for themselves who is available, who is interested, and who is not. If you make it too easy, they won’t understand that they have to work to get you. And you want them to have to work at it, so they will value you…
So many things you men don’t have to think about. You put on a nice suit, or, even better, a clean podrasnik, and you’re ready to roll. While we…..
I just love Matushka Anna. She lives in Connecticut, so I haven’t actually met her in person, but she’s given me so many good ideas for humor articles.
And it’s not just scarves that present an opportunity to look good, but skirts, too. The large area of uninterrupted fabric of a skirt presents an unparalleled opportunity to have a beautiful pattern or print visible. For example…
Doesn’t this look nice? And, long skirts make you look taller, too. Also, a skirt emphasizes the gracefulness of your movements rather than your figure. Okay, I guess I should admit that I don’t really know that much about women’s clothing. This particular skirt would also make you look like a fruit salad. My wife says that no woman in her right mind would wear it. But I hope you get the point.
Miri and I like to go contra dancing, which we used to do in Berkeley, Calif., and almost all of the women who attended wore skirts and dresses. This wasn’t because of a sudden outbreak of conservatism in Berkeley, but because the whole swish-swish motion of a skirt while making a turn is fun. And, I noticed that the skirts did an especially good job of emphasizing the gracefulness of the women’s movements rather than the shape of their figures.
Spring dresses offer greater freedom of movement, like this one from Old Navy…
But, it needs to be worn with a shirt underneath and tights. I saw a 15-year-old girl wearing an outfit like that this week at church, and it worked well for her. She also likes playing touch football after church with the boys in the field behind the parish house, and she can outrun the boys in a skirt. Church football is fun to watch, especially when they give 5-yard penalties for swearing.
My friend Stephanie also offered some thoughts on how aiming for good fit in clothing is just as important as selecting the clothes themselves.
I honestly think that wearing clothes that fit right is the key to dressing well. I find that tailored shirts and jackets with skirts that are about knee length, or fitted knee length dresses work really well on me. So often I see lovely girls wearing baggy shirts with long square skirts. I absolutely understand the need for modesty in church, but we donїa1Їt have to dress in clothes that give us the shape of a refrigerator box. Women come in all shapes and sizes and it is important to accentuate your God-given assets, even in church, and especially if you are looking to meet someone. When you feel that you look good you exude confidence, and confidence it the most attractive thing you can have. A friendly smile doesnїa1Їt hurt either!
So that’s my list of suggestions for nice outfits for women. I did promise not to lecture about the “thou-shalt-nots” of fashion, but one thing I need to add is…
Cleavage: Show a man your heart without exposing its immediate neighbors
When I was driving the Raphael House school van a couple of years ago, a 7-year-old girl saw a woman on the sidewalk in a low-cut top, and she asked me why she was wearing a shirt that showed half of her breasts. And I said, “She’s afraid her breasts will jump off and run away without her. With that shirt, she can look down and check.”
“Breasts don’t jump off and run away, Thomas,” she said.
“Yes, dear, you know that, but not everybody’s as smart as you. It’s a good thing that you pay attention in school,” I said. Tina looked at me like I was pulling her leg.
There’s no doubt that a girl can get lots of attention by emphasizing or revealing a lot of cleavage. But, at the same time, she needs to think about the quality of attention that she might get. One has to keep the Boob Paradox in mind, which states that whatever additional attention a woman gets by showing cleavage causes the stupidity of the man looking at her to double. If she gets 20 percent more attention from a man, that man is 40 percent more of a boob as a result. The following cartoon by David Horsey of the recently defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer (I used to work there, its departure is sad) explains this better:
If you do wear something that shows a lot of chest, remember that we stand up during the liturgy and don’t stand near a tall boy. Your privacy will be invaded.
Neathage: Absolutely not. And, minus one point if you actually know what that word means.
My goodness, I have written an awful lot about what women ought to be wearing. I’m not one myself. Maybe I should actually write about men’s clothing.
Men, pay attention
From the brief survey of women I did in researching this article, a podrasnik (or cassock) is really attractive. But, generally you need some kind of rank (reader, choir director, etc.) to be wearing one of those, so manly black dresses are not for everyone.
Suits and ties also got high marks even though I was poking fun at them earlier. They do make you look sharp, although I would avoid light gray as a color for suits since they make you look like a funeral home director.
One outfit that’s not as formal that I’ve been able to make work goes like this: Collared dress shirt with no tie, top button open. On top of that should be a corduroy jacket with lapels, or a leather jacket. Wear dark slacks with a dark pair of dress shoes and dark socks. (And yes, the shoes actually are important. I know one bishop who shall remain nameless who wears white tennis shoes while serving hierarchical services and it just doesn’t look that good.)
This outfit is pretty versatile in that it’s the sort of thing you could wear to most workplaces (on the west coast, anyway) but, you also might be a poet on your way to a reading of your work. This shows a little bit of mystery to you. And, a little searching through thrift stores can find you a nice corduroy jacket that isn’t too pricey. Another look that got high marks from one of my readers was wearing a sweater under a tweed jacket.
One other benefit with sweaters and fleeces is that if you have some aspect of your body that looks a little “scary,” like being taller than Arnold Schwarzeneggar, or a particularly strong brow line that looks like a grimace even when you’re happy, a sweater or a fleece with a soft visual texture can make you seem a little more teddy-bearish.
You also should come up with an outfit for Pascha, and make it pretty bright. In 2006, I bought a pair of bright white slacks and wore them with black dress shoes, a bright red shirt and a bright red tie and a white boutinier. The girl I was trying to impress told it was kind of nice, and then ran off to Canada with a guy she met at a dance club two months later. In 2007, I put on the same outfit shortly before Paschal Hours started, and my fiance (now wife) exclaimed, “You look like a sunburned smurf!”
So, I’m still working on my Pascha outfit. When I get the money to try again, I think I’ll try a brand-new superwhite shirt and a red pullover sweater vest with a little button of the Resurrection and a white boutinier.
Oh, the boutinier. You ought to think about one of those from time to time, too. They cost less than $10 from most florists, and they add a certain festiveness to your appearance that most guys don’t think about. (And, girls like flowers! Maybe when a girl compliments you on your flower, you could sneak in a pick-up line like, “You like flowers? Want me to bring you some tomorrow night?”)
We all know that beards have been an “in” thing for Christian guys for at least 2,000 years, but if you’re scouting for a handmaiden, you need to follow some limits about trimming. One, make sure your lips are visible. If she’s into you at all, she’s thinking about a first kiss, and not with a carpet. My friend Elena adds that a beard should also not be allowed to fan out in all directions like tropical tree fungus.
A little attention to detail goes a long ways. Beards are good, but make sure your lips are at least visible.
Know your parish
I tend to shy away from wearing a suit in church because it seems to scare people with that much formality, especially in my home parish in Washington state. Maybe it has to do with my height, being 6 foot 9. Imagine talking to a man in a suit who’s a foot and a half taller than you, and doesn’t that put you in the mindset of being in the principal’s office when you’re 10? People call me “sir” and “mister” a lot when I’m in a suit, and it didn’t help me finding girls back when I was single.
Other parishes I’ve attended have been more formal in attire — in city parishes in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, I saw more suits on the men, and more business-like dresses on the women. There, the applying-for-a-mortgage look might actually be the right thing.
Photos of people in nice “come-say-hi” church clothes
I hope that I haven’t made anybody self-conscious about their appearance with this chapter. Finding good clothes has been a challenge for me all of my life because I’ve been both tall and large, and big & tall stores carry clothes for men who are tall, or who are large, but not both. (Actually, I think they should be called “big OR tall stores.”) And, whenever I did find a piece of clothing that fit, it was always a senior-citizen kind of style, which is, I guess, better than nudity. Some day, when I have oodles of cash (something one won’t get writing a blog) I would like to get a tailored outfit made for me just so I can feel what it’s like to have clothes that fit just right. And, so, I can make all the other girls jealous of my wife.
I don’t actually remember what Miri was wearing the day we met, and she doesn’t remember what I was wearing. I remember what her father was wearing, a riasa, a pectoral cross and a gold epitrachelion. But, then, he was one of the two priests, serving vigil.
One of the things I liked early on about Miri was the fact that she wasn’t high-maintenance in the fashion department. She had several nice skirts she wore to church, and a pleasant triangle-on-a-string kind of white headscarf that allowed her face to be seen. She rarely wore makeup, either. I was a little biased towards this way of thinking about women’s fashion because my older sister rarely wears makeup or “girlie” outfits. She’s been an avid windsurfer since she was 12, so her favorite outfit is a wetsuit. She asked if she could wear one to my baptism since it involved a dunking in a creek, and I demurred. Then, she wanted to know if a drysuit would be more appropriate.
So, none of what I’ve said should be taken to mean that you have to run off to buy a new wardrobe. It’s not the most important part of finding someone, by any means. My friend Stephanie, whom I quoted above, got engaged a few months ago, and has this to add about the boys she was meeting before her fiance came along:
Fashion wise what someone is wearing was never really all that important to me. I do appreciate it when a guy looks clean and wears clothes that demonstrate he has respect for the church. That generally means clothes one might wear to work. Church is a holy place that we treat with respect, and I think it is showing respect to dress nicely-something as simple as a pressed pair of pants and button down shirt.
For me finding a guy who was actively involved in the church, but also had interests outside of the church was very important. A number of the young men I had met seemedїa1well, how do I say this without being sacrilegiousїa1hyper-focused on church doctrine, theology, history, etc. For me living the faith is more important than constantly discussing all the particulars of it. My fiancЁ¦ is a man who is as devoted to living the Orthodox life as I am, but we share similar interests outside of the church as well.
Ahh… finding someone at church. Here, we worship and we love. And, it’s so delightful when we can share that.