The Wonderful Relief of Not Having to Dress Cool

I only own one plaid shirt. And I feel silly wearing it. Sort of like a farmer but for some reason farmers can actually pull it off. Oh, and cool people. Sure, I know plaid shirts are “in” but I just can’t do it.

And tight jeans? The jeans that make your legs look like twigs? No way would I ever even try those things on. I can tell you right now I’m not cool enough to wear them.

Last July, when the national worship leader conference was taking place in Kansas City, I remember following what was happening at the conference on Twitter and seeing a slow but steady stream of comments on how many worship leaders were wearing plaid shirts. Someone referred to them as the “staple of the cool worship leader uniform”. That and thick-rimmed glasses.

And for a moment, I found myself thinking, “I don’t dress like a cool worship leader”. And I was right. I don’t. And I felt self conscious about it. For a few minutes.

There is a wonderful relief that comes from not having to dress cool. A pair of khakis and a blue shirt never get old. Nor do jeans and a polo shirt. Hey, I’ve even been known to wear crocs to a Saturday evening service from time to time. They’re comfortable. Horribly ugly, but comfortable.

By the way, I was roundly mocked by members of my worship team for wearing socks with crocs. Apparently that is not cool. I did take their advice on this one.

In the words of my old youth pastor, I say all of that to say this: worship leaders shouldn’t feel the need to dress cool. Once you start down that road, it never ends. There will always be a new fashion trend, a new shirt you have to buy, a new pair of cool shoes, a graphic tee, glasses frames, and maybe even a tie if you’re fancy. And it’s not worth it. Who does it impress? And why does it matter? Why spend all the time and energy on something so fleeting?

(Caveat: being too far on the “un-cool” side of things can be just as great a distraction as being “too cool”. Rocking a Santa Claus sweater at Christmas time, sporting a nice pair of knee-high black socks with flip flops and jean shorts, or showing off your 1970’s era orange bell-bottoms might not be a good idea either.)

I would argue that worship leaders should be comfortably neutral in what they wear. Be yourself, be modest, be mindful of your context, and beware the temptation to “dress to impress”.

If I accomplish “dressing cool”, but in the process cause the man in the third row to be distracted by trying to read what my shirt says, then I’ve failed. I’d rather fail at dressing cool and succeed in not getting in the way of God receiving people’s attention. Khakis and a blue shirt. You can never go wrong.

Communicating Modesty Standards to the Women on Your Worship Team

Every year around this time I send an email to all of the women on the worship team at my church to remind them about the importance of watching what they wear when they’re helping lead worship.

It’s awkward to say many of the things that need to be said since I’m a guy. So I had my amazing wife Catherine write the email for me. We tweak it every year, but it mostly stays the same.

Here’s what Catherine wrote. Feel free to pass this along to your worship team if you think it would be helpful:

“To all the beautiful ladies on the worship team,

Its that time of year again when temperatures no longer dictate modesty.  I’ve sent out emails about this before but was reminded of the challenge this past Sunday when I showed up to church in a dress that seemed not-so-low-cut at home but was, I thought, inappropriately low with a baby tugging on it! Arg. So, here’s a quick reminder about expectations for modesty on the worship team from someone who doesn’t always succeed in following them herself. (I do try!)

A quick reminder of why this is a big deal as worship team members: Mostly because our purpose is to draw attention to the Lord, not ourselves. We all know that most men struggle with purity in the way they look at scantily clad women. Many of them are very successful in meeting this challenge, but the time to test them in their resolve is not in church. (As if we should really be testing them any time!) Yes, it’s their responsibility to guard their hearts and avert their eyes if we are just too beautiful, but we can lovingly assist them in this as their sisters by not tempting them! Our goal is to lead them into seeing Jesus, not distract them.

Some practical guidelines (as “modesty” can be a very vague term): Sorry if these are a little over-explicit, but I know we all come to modesty from different places, so this gets us on the same page.

No cleavage in the front or back
This was my mom’s favorite rule to tell her students when she taught science lab classes. I love it! But, just be careful that your shirt is not showing cleavage and that you can lean over to pick up fallen music without showing those front row people a little more of God’s beautiful creation than they should be seeing. I know this is hard with deep “v”s in, but tank tops underneath are always an option. (Be careful in this too, as I know I’ve been frustrated to discover that some of my tank tops are even a little low cut if I’m being careful.)

Test skirts for length
This is more of a challenge this year than it has been in the past, as short skirts are definitely in. I think a good rule of thumb for when you’re up front is that your skirt should touch your knees when you’re standing up and not show too much thigh when you’re sitting down. Also, remember that when you’re in the informal choir, you are elevated in comparison to much of the congregation. This means your skirts will look shorter since they are looking up to you.

Make sure you can be expressive in worship without showing skin between your shirt and your skirt/pants.
Again, long tanks tucked in or out can be helpful in this. Raise your hands in front of the mirror and see what you see! You don’t want to be inhibited in worship because of a shirt that might ride up. Also, check for underwear (or “cleavage”) sightings when you sit down.

Use discretion in the tightness of your attire

As summer comes use discretion about sleeve lengths
I really don’t think sleeveless shirts or dresses are an issue, but strapless is obviously out (unless you wear a sweater over the top) and I think the same could be said about strappy or tanks.

Oh, and obviously make sure that your underwear isn’t visible through your clothes (ie. no see-thru clothes)!

I know that sometimes modesty can be a touchy issue with women, so I hope I haven’t offended anyone! None of these are hard-and-fast rules. They’re just the things I try to think about as I pick clothes. And the reasons I get mad at my wardrobe so many times as my clothes shrink in the wash or I gain weight. (Ha. There’s only so long after having a baby that you can legitimately wear those nice long maternity tops!)

One more story (that I’ve told before) before I stop: My junior year in college, one guy (you don’t know him) started leading worship in chapel on a semi-regular basis. He seemed nice, Godly, and smart. But he always wore very tight shirts. It was actually kind of uncomfortable to look at. So my roommate and I dubbed him “one who causes us to stumble”. (Although I have to admit that we didn’t think he was very attractive, just dressed in such a way that it seemed he was trying to attract. He was not attractive, but he was distracting.)

Now whenever I hear about that guy, or see people he hung out with, I am reminded of his yucky tight shirts. I guess the point is that we are not the only ones who should be dressed to attract attention to the Lord, not our bodies. But this is only to the girls because its a lot easier for men to dress modestly and undistractingly. (Sheesh. Most of the time, they’re just boring… “-ly dressed”, that is.)