While most people understand the term “Sunday best” for a typical Protestant service, knowing what to wear for other houses of worship of different religious backgrounds can be daunting, especially for ladies! Luckily, this summer I had the fantastic experience to visit so many different sacred sites and I certainly learned some “do’s and don’ts” about dressing right.
Disclaimer: there are some houses of worship that certainly may lax the guidelines I am laying out here but I always prefer to be on the safe side the first time I visit a new place. Also, these guidelines may change drastically in different regional or foreign situations so always check before visiting!
So there is a huge variety of Christian forms of worship and generally many churches aren’t strict about dress code, but a good rule of thumb for ladies is to have shoulders, mid-drift, and cleavage covered and try to find bottoms that go to your knees. I try to “dress up” a bit too; for example I would never wear jeans to church but if you have a nice dark wash pair without holes, you should be in the clear.
Hats and veils aren’t required in MOST Christian churches anymore but it’s always smart to keep a scarf in your purse if you are unsure of traditions (plus it doubles as a great “oops” cover up).
Read more: Visiting Catholic Churches
For ladies, the safest thing is to wear a loose maxi dress with a cardigan that goes down to your wrists and ALWAYS bring a scarf because most mosques will require head covering inside. When we visited the Islamic Cultural Center of New York City, I put my scarf on as I was coming down the street so I could be sure it was secure on my head. The dress code isn’t as strict for men but loose fitting clothings is the best choice since you will be sitting on the floor.
Shoes come off at the entrance; I prefer to wear flip-flops to minimize the fussing at the door. Also men and women will be separated in most mosques, so just follow the flow of the gendered crowd to know where you’re supposed to sit.
Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam
Visiting a synagogue can be a drastically different experience if you visit an Orthodox or a Reform one, so definitely do your research! Most synagogues are on the Christian side of things when it comes to dress: modest outfit with shoulders to knees covered and higher necklines. Some more conservative places have yarmulkes for men and veils for women at the entrance so just take note of what everyone else is doing.
Also the more traditional you go, dresses may be expected of women (you see this in many traditional Christian communities too). You may also see in Conservative and Orthodox synagogues that men and women sit separately (just like in mosques).
Read more: Student Series! The Sabbath
Buddhist & Hindu
I am putting these two together because the dressing traditions are pretty much identical. Different than Jewish, Islamic, or Christian houses of worship, Buddhist and Hindu temples do not follow a congregational worship format so people are coming and going at all times of the day. This means that there is a little more flexibility in dress but here are some things to keep in mind:
- Shoes will be off when inside the sacred space so wear easy to slip on shoes
- Loose, comfortable, modest clothing because you may end up sitting on the floor
- Head coverings not required but keeping a scarf in your bag can do double duty if your outfit is not as modest as you thought
Read more: Puja at the Hindu Temple Society of North America