What not to wear to church or synagogue

Although I tried very hard to focus on the theme of Yom Kippur in synagogue yesterday — repentance — I found lots of bad outfits a serious distraction. (As were the great outfits!) So with the Big Two (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) just behind us and Christmas just around the corner, I thought I’d share some don’ts with you.

So here are some rules in order of how how frequent and serious the infractions were. (I really want to know what you think the biggest infractions are, so leave your comments.) I think the high holidays are a daytime dressy occasion, and here are some guidelines that make sense in similar dressy occasions (and keep ‘em in mind for next year):

1. Wear a small bag. Synagogue is indoors and serious, and you’re pretty much packed like a sardine in your seat.

Botkier Logan Shoulder Bag

Botkier Logan Shoulder Bag

So leave the big work-appropriate bag at home, if only because you won’t have room for it at your feet and will be stepping on it with all the up-and-down you’ll be doing. Instead, carry a smaller envelope bag on a long shoulder strap.

2. Be mindful that we are in a new season. To put it bluntly, summer is over, folks! At the end of September, only the most chic and transitional sandals look right. — thin, strappy heels just look wrong — too summery and outdoorsy. (Ditto the Birkenstocks.) Darker, dressier fabrics looked great. Almost anything with white did not. (The notable exception here is the wearing of white as traditional Yom Kippur garb — a definite DO.)

3. Give the heavy makeup a rest. On the holiest day of the year, skip the four-inch heels and the troweled on makeup. The look should be dressy, yes, but also appropriate to a place of worship, whatever your religion. (Same with the jangly armful of bangles or noisy shoes — distractions like these are a no-no.)


Rag & Bones dress

4. Know your body. I saw some definite don’ts yesterday, including skirt lengths too short for either the bodies in them or for synagogue (or both). I saw some ankle-length skirts left over from a decade (or two!) ago. In general, the older women seemed to know what was appropriate for synagogue, but the younger women looked as if they’d bought their clothes sometime within the past year or two. So let’s keep all these things in mind: In nearly all instances, clothes from five or 10 years ago aren’t going to make you look your best. (Same with haircuts!) And please, take a critical look in the mirror before you step out. That multitiered mini-skirt I saw yesterday on a very short woman wasn’t doing her any favors, no matter how expensive it might have been.

5. Know the limits of dressy. See #3 above. But don’t be afraid of a few sequins or other shiny stuff. I like that hint of festivity in this situation — again, daytime dressy. A tight, short, scoop-neck black sheath is not what you’re looking for. (And yes, I did see a few tight sheath equivalents — please! you probably aren’t going to a club after services so you probably don’t want to look as if you are!) A dressy suit would be perfect, and so is this long-sleeve dress by Rag & Bones (worn with a good piece of jewelry, tights, and dressy boots.

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14 Responses to “What not to wear to church or synagogue”

  1. [...] Washington image consultant Ketura Persellin has written about appropriate clothing for worship, down to the size of bag, jangly jewelry and skirt length. This is a woman who cares [...]

  2. Reece says:

    I find your post offensive. I believe that women should wear what makes them feel comfortable and that you have no right to say or decide what that may be. Your judgemental attitude is prevalent throughout this post. And your judgemental attitude led you to be distracted during the service, not other people’s attire.

  3. Ketura says:

    I am sorry you found it offensive. I’m trying to be less judgmental, while also doing what people pay me to do, which is to guide them in what is appropriate and what isn’t. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. [...] A woman wrote a list of what a woman should NOT do at church.  Notice they never write lists for men? [...]

  5. Ketura says:

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. The focus is definitely on women and women’s bodies, I agree, and I also agree it is problematic. There ARE also rules for men, though — I think they are just more clear-cut and therefore easier to understand and follow.

  6. Annie Elliott says:

    I fully support Ketura in her views on dressing appropriately for synagogue and church. (She easily could write a similar article about men’s clothing; if she did, would you take back the “sexist” comment?)

    We dress differently for different occasions, it’s as simple as that. You wouldn’t wear a bathing suit to a job interview (unless you’re a lifeguard). You wouldn’t wear flip-flops to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Forget the sexist argument: I believe it’s a sign of respect to wear semi-formal, non-revealing clothing to a place of worship.

    In Italy, they don’t let women INTO a church – as a worshiper or as a tourist – unless their shoulders are covered. If you don’t like it, guess what? You don’t have to go in.

  7. Ketura says:

    Thank you, Annie! I agree, the question of appropriateness goes to context.

  8. Bonnie Opotowsky says:

    What about color? Does it matter?

  9. June Huber says:

    Enjoyed your post Ketura and looking forward to more. I’m all in favor of clean and reasonably modest clothing for church or synagogue. But I’d rather see someone attend than not attend, even if they don’t follow the rules. God knows what’s in our hearts.

  10. Ketura says:

    I agree, June! Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

  11. Ketura says:

    Not that I can think of off the top of my head, no.

  12. Alana says:

    What we really need is someone to design an all-purpose professional garb for women rabbis (something like a collar on priests). I keep waiting…

  13. Ketura says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I don’t quite understand the idea — why is that necessary? (Then again, I don’t really get why priests dress the way they do except as a historical relic.)

  14. June Huber says:

    What do male rabbis wear that female rabbis don’t, Alana?

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