Shouldn’t my kids dress up for Mass?

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
March, 2013

Q. My kids fight me about getting dressed up for Mass – I think the girls should wear dresses and the boys should wear dress pants. They think clean jeans are fine. Now that they are teens, the battle is getting worse.

A. At our parish, I’ve noticed that younger children are dressed in ways that reflect the style of their parents – and they tend to be dressed alike. Preschool-aged brothers wear sweaters with the same patterns in contrasting colors. Sisters have similar hair styles and dresses. As children approach the teen years, however, there is more variation. Disagreements regarding style and taste are common among parents and adolescents. But it is possible to avoid a weekly battle before Mass.

Explain the reason for wearing your “Sunday Best.” In the past, special clothes were reserved for significant occasions, such as going to church. Clothing choices helped distinguish these experiences from everyday events. Our choices regarding dress continue to reveal our attitudes toward different events. When we attend weddings, we pay particular care to our own clothing, acknowledging the significance of the day to the bride and groom. Mass is a community celebration in which we gather to praise God and eat at the Lord’s Table. Share your perspective about this with your teenagers during a family meal in the middle of the week so there is time to mull over one another’s comments.

Respect and reverence, not status and attention. Double check your own intentions – don’t seek the admiration of others through your family’s attire! Instead, choose clothing that shows respect for the Mass. Talk to your teens about possible clothing choices that would reflect their personal styles while conveying modesty and respect. There are attractive “non-dress” choices for young women that are appropriate. Your sons may compromise by wearing nice slacks rather than jeans. Look through the ads together to brainstorm ideas for alternate clothing choices

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It is said that St. Augustine was surprised when he learned that Christians in Milan did not fast on Saturdays as the Christians in Rome did. He mentioned this to St. Ambrose and received this advice: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” Members of your households should respect local customs. In Italy, your daughters would be expected to cover their shoulders with a cardigan or shawl. In the U.S., sleeveless dresses are considered appropriate on warm summer days. Check to see if your expectations match those of your parish community. Help your teens make choices that reflect their own styles while respecting the sacred nature of a house of worship.


Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor