All across Boston, suits and ties have been replaced by khakis and chukka boots, while dresses have been swapped out for pants and a blouse. There’s certainly a trend toward comfort above conforming to outdated dress codes. But style still reigns supreme at houses of worship, where many volunteers, clergy and even servicegoers still put on their Sunday—or Friday or Saturday—best. We checked in with a few to get a peek into their personal aesthetics.
Lead guitarist at Cambridge’s Pentecostal Tabernacle
On his go-to wardrobe: It’s a wide range, from suits and bow ties to jeans and T-shirts.
On getting involved with the church: I got to know the pastor and members of the church over 10 years, and I’ve been a part of the praise team for 5 years.
On dressing up for a service: The colors are chosen by the worship leader. … Our goal as a team is to bring people into the transformative presence of God. I don’t dress in a way that draws attention to me, but what supports the worship experience.
Ministry Leaders at Boston International Christian Church
On their go-to wardrobes: During our weekday bible talk, we wear business casual, which includes khakis and a sports jacket for the men and conservative professional attire for the women. For our Sunday service, we wear formal attire that includes shirts, ties and suits for the men and dresses, skirts and blouses for the women.
On the importance of faith: Our faith is the essence and foundation of our spiritual walk. Honestly, without it, it would be difficult only relying on our own strength to persevere through daily trials.
On dressing up for a service: As Christ followers, we were made to do good works and we should dress the part of those who want to do great things for God. We should dress in ways—attractively and functionally—to enable us to reach people in all different walks of life.
Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston
On her go-to wardrobe: I wear a tallit. It is a rectangle garment, worn like a shawl. It has knotted fringes, called tzitzit, on the corners. Its purpose is to remind us of our sacred obligations as Jews to live Judaism and to bring it into our lives and out into the world through justice. When I am wrapped in a tallit, I think of it as a huge embrace from all the generations past, present and future. I am part of a people and history beyond any singular moment in time or place.
On dressing up for a service: When I was growing up, the times I was able to buy nice clothes occurred around the Jewish holidays. It was one of the many ways my parents conveyed the respect and honor we showed toward our practice of Judaism. That was the time we dressed up—definitely not to show off, but rather to regard those moments as a special time.
On the importance of the Sabbath service: In particular, it brings nurturing to our inner life since the Sabbath asks us to pause and to reflect. The practice of prayer in the presence of community, the joyful singing and the moments of contemplation guided by a ritual structure from the foundations of Jewish tradition are beautifully woven together to create opportunities to grow, to learn and to participate in Jewish life.
Senior pastor at Newton’s Myrtle Baptist Church
On getting involved in the church: My grandparents raised me in the black church. They were old-school, and children didn’t have a choice. While attending church, the preachers caught my eye. I was amazed at the respect they received. And I loved and admired how they dressed.
On dressing up for a service: I hope and pray that black churches never drop the tradition of dressing up for worship. In the old days, when black people dressed up to go to church on Sundays it was the only day when the enslaved or segregated black bodies were humanized. Monday through Saturday, they were treated like animals. However, on Sunday, when they dressed up, something changed. When women put on fancy dresses, their posture changed. When marginalized black men put on suits and ties and became deacons and preachers, something in them changed. Their mindset changed. Their self-awareness heightened.
On beginning his ministry: During my early childhood, I spent the majority of my time preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ from the porch of my great-grandparents’ house in Cedartown, Georgia. And I would dress up in a three-piece suit to do it. Even before I was licensed to preach, I began running revivals in an old tool shed where my great-grandfather worked on lawn mowers.
Lead pastor at Medford’s Sanctuary United Church of Christ
On her go-to wardrobe: While I still put on a robe and stole now and then, most of the time I am in the city, leading community worship after a tragedy, helping to establish community social activist groups or being a chaplain in the neighborhood. When serving at events where I want to be identified as a pastor, I typically wear a clergy collar, but more often than not, I wear cool professional street clothes, which allows me to be a part of, rather than apart from. That said, I definitely dress creatively and have a unique and artsy style with flowing, feminine jackets and pants with interesting shapes and lots and lots of color.
On her look in a few words: Artistic, creative, colorful, feminine, flowing and fabulous.
On her style inspiration: I am inspired by beauty, even left breathless at times by the holiness of beauty. It comes from all sorts of beauty: art, nature, music, words, ideas, light. I am convinced that beauty is an antidote to hate, negativity and evil … I dress to be beauty, to add beauty, to celebrate beauty in my personal experiences, in the spaces I inhabit, in the church I serve and out into the world. Of course, the real, lasting, transforming beauty must come from within, from the soul—but layering the loveliness of fabulous fabrics, copious color and dramatic design seems to help make things a little bit lighter.
Usher at Brockton’s Christ the King parish
On her go-to wardrobe: I wear a sash for the parish members to quickly identify me as an usher when they need assistance.
On getting involved with the church: I was looking for a church committee within my culture, and the Christ the King Parish offers regular services in Haitian Creole.
On dressing up for a service: It’s a way to show respect to the church—the same way you dress up for a wedding or a job interview. You want to show your best self.
On her style inspiration: This dates back to my grandparents. I was raised to put your best foot forward. They used to wear hats and gloves.
Volunteer at Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
On her go-to wardrobe: I am a hijabi—a Muslim woman who covers—which I do as an outer indication of obedience and a symbol of my inner submission to God. Because Islam is a global religion, Muslim women express themselves as hijabis in many different ways. I choose to wear a garment that covers my body appropriately, is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.
On the importance of faith: It provides an ethical framework by which to live that includes worshipping God and caring for his creation, to include humanity, animals, the earth and treating them responsibly, with kindness and compassion. In engaging in formal prayer five times a day, I am constantly reminded of his majesty and magnificence, his mercy and compassion, his generosity and love—all of which inspire me to strive to speak and act in a manner that will be pleasing to him.
On the roots of her style: The wives of Prophet Muhammad, and the years I spent in Senegal, where both Senegalese and Mauritanian women wear them with dignity and humility. These garments allow me to fulfill my obligation as a Muslim woman to cover, and meet my aesthetic and comfort criteria.