Over time a new description of attire arose in western society called Sunday Best. This literally meant one’s best clothing and it was set aside specifically for worship. If you want to get even more specific, it was set aside for Christian worship. Sunday Best could mean your finest black and white tunic, your sharpest suit, your brightest dress, or an unbelievably uncomfortable suit that you grew out of last year, but your mother still refused to replace. For generations of kids, Sunday Best was a literal synonym for discomfort.
As with all other aspects of 20th century society, a certain casual attitude has managed to intrude even into the confines of that ideological apparatus most resistant to change. Even inside the churches which begat the concept, Sunday Best began to trickle into the historical consciousness of cultural artifacts alongside such quaint things you occasionally hear your grandparents talking about like house calls by doctors, baseball players who don’t cheat, and newscasts about actual news.
While there are still many thousands of churches in which Sunday Best is still required or at least encouraged, there are thousands more churches in which the dress code has been relaxed, sometimes to a shocking degree. And when it comes to far-out churches at a nudist camp, well, discontinue the modifier “sometimes” and admit that most people would be at least still be quite shocked to see a minister with his doodle swinging back and forth while delivering scripture.
The concept lying at the heart of Sunday Best clothing is, of course, metaphorical. Sunday became the day of worship in western Christian society and that day of all days people were expected to be on their best behavior in deference to the sacrifice made for them by Jesus Christ. Church was the place to engage in your worship and respect of Christ; it was the place to be your best in the eyes of Jesus. Wearing one’s best clothing then became a figurative exhibition of this more abstract idea of being at your best. Etiquette in this case requires that men wear suits and ties and nice pants and shoes while woman wear their best dress as a means of showing respect to the Lord.
Church attire etiquette dictates modesty above all . Church was never intended as a place for the congregation to draw attention to themselves; everything that takes place is intended to be done for the glory of God. Modesty has changed over the years, of course, and what passes for modest clothing is often in the eye of the beholder (or found buried in scripture in you really want to get OCD about it ), so that while precious few churchgoers would ever still expect the stark and sterile attire of the Puritans to still be considered required Sunday Best, there are still far more churches were miniskirts and shorts are not considered Sunday Best than there are churches were that just don’t really care that much. Unless you know that the church you are attending is extremely lax regarding dress, modesty should reign when choosing attire. What that means today is no bare midriffs, no ultra-short shorts or skirts, no see-thru shirts on either men or women, and going easy on makeup.
The rule of thumb when attending a church you’ve never visited before is to find out what you can about clothing etiquette before you arrive. If you know someone who already attends that church then go ahead and ask them what is appropriate clothing in which to show up. If you are going cold to a church for some reason such as being out of town, and you can’t get in touch with anyone who has actually been there, it is also recommended to show up in Sunday Best. Just in case.