Should Seminaries Reinstate Dress Codes?

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bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
The only seminary that I'm aware of that has a dress code is The Master's Seminary in Sun Valley, California, which requires suits and ties for its students when they are on campus. There might be others.

The question is: should there be dress codes?
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I'm surprised dress codes aren't the norm at American seminaries. I think there should definitely be basic requirement to be dressed smartly (smart casual - not necessarily full suit and tie) and of course modestly.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Junior
"Reinstate dress codes" suggests that there used to be such things on a widespread basis. I'd be surprised if Old Princeton had a formal dress code, or Westminster at its founding in the 1920's. The pictures you see that feature men in suits are simply because that's what men generally wore in those days to go out in public - even working men. If you look at pictures of the FA cup final from the 1950's, all the men are wearing suits. I remember my father wearing old suit trousers for gardening since he simply didn't possess any other form of attire (apart from his kilt for hill walking, of course).

For myself, as a seminary student in the 1980's, I was fairly scruffy to be sure. I had just returned from two years as a missionary in Africa and didn't have many clothes, let alone a full wardrobe of formal attire. I had a jacket and a few shirts and ties for preaching, but was glad that I didn't have to dress up for seminary, even though I was as serious about my studies as it was possible to be. Sometimes I came to class in uniform for my blue-collar job that I was going on to that allowed my wife to stay home with our son. Do you really want to put additional burdens on people like me, when the Bible doesn't? Should we ask students from countries where suits are not conventional attire to adapt to our culture? Is that even our culture these days anyway? And I can't think of a single case of immodest attire in my 20 years of seminary teaching; is that a widespread issue in other seminaries?

I'd be curious to hear the rationale in favor of restricting people's consciences on this (I've no objection to individuals who personally wish to dress up for class because it puts them in a better frame of mind doing so). Maybe I'm missing something. Would the same rationale also apply to taking online classes?
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
@bookslover

Richard,

From a quick search, it appears that Master's requires "dress shoes, slacks, and shirt, with a tie." So not suits and not even a jacket (a tie without a jacket is a sartorial faux pas, Congressman Jordan notwithstanding!). That is more, however, than I am aware of elsewhere.

Our seminary does not have an explicit statement of dress like that but rather expects one to be modestly attired and students customarily wear jackets and ties when exhorting in class or chapel. Is this simply curiosity on your part or do you think that some sort of dress code like Master's should be implemented? If so, what is your rationale, particularly in light of what Iain says?

Peace,
Alan
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
As pointed out there was no need for such dress codes in the past and I don't see what "burden" is placed upon men by requiring them today. We all need to have clothes so why not buy some chinos and some shirts? Unless you're actually suggesting men should be taking services in shorts and t-shirts then they'll need them anyway. What man doesn't have these items in his wardrobe?

They're training to be ministers of the Gospel. If they can't be bothered to dress appropriately then I would question what they think they're even doing. The fact that slovenliness has become the cultural norm today is no excuse for Christians to become slovenly. Men who cry foul against such dress codes are often the smartest attired at weddings or other such social functions (often wearing suits which are far too showy). This isn't about lack of money; it's about lack of respect to the training one is receiving and the calling one claims to have.
 
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alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
Personally I'd argue a tie and shirt, no jacket, is preferable to shirt and jacket, no tie. The latter makes a man appear as if he has spent the night in a jazz lounge and has come straight to the office/class. It's the very trendy style of today and therefore should be avoided. Smart trousers, a nice shirt, collar buttoned, and neatly tied tie is a smart look which can be achieved on a small budget.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
As one who was never a fan of suits and ties, but has in time, come to appreciate the need for more formality, my two cents is that I would support a formal dress code. There is so much informality in our society today that it would be nice to press into men the idea that we are dealing with serious business as we study the Holy Scripture, its Thrice Holy God, its Gracious Mediator, its languages, its application, its preaching, its theology, etc.

We expect men to dress seriously to business meetings for lesser matters (and lawyers are expected to dress very seriously), so I wonder if a lot of the fluffy ministry today, is that businessmen and lawyers are expected to be more serious than our ministers. I just offer that for discussion purposes, not as a matter of 'law'.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
The latter makes a man appear as if he has spent the night in a jazz lounge and has come straight to the office/class.
In America, dress shirt and jacket is common executive attire (or at least senior executive). Shirt and tie with no jacket is more common with lower level employees. Coat and tie is appropriate for court appearances.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
We expect men to dress seriously to business meetings for lesser matters (and lawyers are expected to dress very seriously), so I wonder if a lot of the fluffy ministry today, is that businessmen and lawyers are expected to be more serious than our ministers. I just offer that for discussion purposes, not as a matter of 'law'.
This is an important observation. I was preaching at an OPC church yesterday that shares its space with three other churches. After our service was over, the next church immediately came in and began setting up for theirs. The first thing I noticed was that everybody was wearing ultra-hipster clothes—baggy tops with skinny jeans, everything very metrosexual, etc. Sure enough, the church was charismatic—horrible and loud music, screeching singers, terrible doctrine, and worse preaching.

While I think this may be a chicken-and-egg question (i.e., which came first, the bad theology or the bad clothes?), it can hardly be disputed that a church’s attire can in general be a good indicator of its quality as a church. I know there are of course exceptions—for example, very finely-dressed legalists—but the pattern seems to hold true.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Senior
Not that it has direct application, but I recall Ronald Reagan always wore a full suit, or at least a shirt and tie even when he was doing private work in the Oval Office, out of stated respect for the office he held.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
In America, dress shirt and jacket is common executive attire (or at least senior executive). Shirt and tie with no jacket is more common with lower level employees. Coat and tie is appropriate for court appearances.

That is the modern style. They do it to appear more relaxed and "approachable". The extreme of this is the Silicon Valley billionaires who wear jeans and hoodies because they are overgrown children. I mean what do they care they're billionaires but it is not a spirit which the church should be emulating.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I can appreciate what you brothers are saying about the seriousness of ministerial candidacy/pursuit and dress being in some measure concomitant to such.

Wearing a tie and jacket has never been an issue for me (there are those who figure that I wear such to mow the lawn!). BTW, if you're going to dress properly in this fashion, Alexander (@alexandermsmith), it is not indifferent whether one wears a jacket or blazer (or a suit) with a tie, even as it is sad to see someone beguiled by the myth of the "short-sleeved dress shirt" (especially with a jacket!).

All that aside, I am not sure the correct analogies are being made. If you wish to analogize properly, the correct comparison would be seminarians and law school students, not those already practicing in the legal profession (perhaps we could properly compare ministers to lawyers). I am unconvinced that those preparing for ministry must be attired as those already in the ministry or in the profession of law, or in some area of business. I think that modest attire is what's appropriate for a student, including ministerial students (though tie and jacket should be used for practice preaching and chapel).

I do agree that the seriousness of purpose and pursuit tends to be reflected in some measure in attire. @Phil D., Ronald Reagan would not remove his suit jacket when he was in the Oval Office.

Peace,
Alan
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I can appreciate what you brothers are saying about the seriousness of ministerial candidacy/pursuit and dress being in some measure concomitant to such.

Wearing a tie and jacket has never been an issue for me (there are those who figure that I wear such to mow the lawn!). BTW, if you're going to dress properly in this fashion, Alexander (@alexandermsmith), it is not indifferent whether one wears a jacket or blazer (or a suit) with a tie, even as it is sad to see someone beguiled by the myth of the "short-sleeved dress shirt" (especially with a jacket!).

All that aside, I am not sure the correct analogies are being made. If you wish to analogize properly, the correct comparison would be seminarians and law school students, not those already practicing in the legal profession (perhaps we could properly compare ministers to lawyers). I am unconvinced that those preparing for ministry must be attired as those already in the profession of law, or in some area of business. I think that modest attire is what's appropriate for a student, including ministerial students (though tie and jacket should be used for practice preaching and chapel).

I do agree that the seriousness of purpose and pursuit tends to be reflected in some measure in attire. @Phil D., Ronald Reagan would not remove his suit jacket when he was in the Oval Office.

Peace,
Alan

Certainly when preaching one should wear the full suit. Short sleeve shirt and tie worked for the NASA engineers of the 60s. But personally I've never been a fan of short sleeve shirts.

I think the difference between the seminary and law school is the Christian character of the seminary. It's not just what the men are preparing for (though that is a big part of it) but it's a self-consciously Christian environment and therefore a certain decorum whilst on campus is quite appropriate. I'm not talking about recreation but about how one is usually attired, especially in class and social functions.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
I've not been in seminary, but I think Dr. Duguid has a great point with regard to students who have multiple responsibilities during seminary. When I was in college I and many other students would frequently stop in for a class and have work the same day. If that work required a uniform it would introduce unnecessary wardrobe changes I think. Thankfully my college or my job did not have a dress code, so I didn't have to think too much about it.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
When I was at Moody Bible Institute the dress code was “business casual.” Just enough to make sure people didn’t roll out of bed and show up wearing pajamas.

At SBTS (when I attended) there was no dress code for Masters level students, but doctoral students had to wear a jacket and tie. (Mohler even had a men’s clothing store open on campus because he didnt like the slobbishness of how many students dressed.)

When I did DMin work at Erskine the Army required that we wear at least business casual while in class… and we were clearly the most professional and serious-looking people there.

I’ve been around awhile and been in lots of contexts and I will say that it is generally true that the way a person cares for their appearance provides insight into how they manage their time and energies: are they organized and self-disciplined, serious or silly-minded, etc. In our silly culture of “wear pajamas to Walmart” - many have forgotten that how we present ourselves to the world is a projection of what’s going on inside. Appearances matter: they let me know if I should take you seriously or even see you as a threat.

I’ve also seen more than a few times that there are great benefits to having a “uniform” of sorts that helps purge distractions. It helps create an environment of thoughtfulness if people present and carry themselves as composed and somewhat put together.

All that to say, I’m in favor of a basic dress code of business casual…

But then again, I’m a man who the first thing I do when I wake up is make my bed.

 
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Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I think the difference between the seminary and law school is the Christian character of the seminary.
That's right, of course. That itself, of course, does not suggest biblically any particular attire (other than modesty).

Others were making the inapposite comparison between seminarians and lawyers/businessmen, etc. How a seminarian dresses and what's required of an attorney in court are not necessarily the same thing.

That doesn't mean, however, that some basic standards, like business casual (as Ben argues), would be appropriate. The question to me is--does the institution require such or leave it up to the students, having modesty as their guide, to dress appropriately? I've been teaching for 23+ years in seminary and have never found the "less dressy" attire of some students to mark them as less than serious and fully committed to their studies and their sense of the solemnity of the ministerial call.

Peace,
Alan
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Require suits and ties for seminary and later poor pastors overseas will:

1. either feel shame because they cannot afford these things and feel unworthy to pastor,
2. mis-prioritize their money on something as dumb as a suit in tie in a poor rural region when there are greater priorities, or
3. become prideful in their own dress over the dress of others.
And finally, the worse is
4th, they learn that we may easily add extrabiblical requirements for people to jump through before we will grant them power in our church structures.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Require suits and ties for seminary and later poor pastors overseas will:

1. either feel shame because they cannot afford these things and feel unworthy to pastor,
2. mis-prioritize their money on something as dumb as a suit in tie in a poor rural region when there are greater priorities, or
3. become prideful in their own dress over the dress of others.
And finally, the worse is
4th, they learn that we may easily add extrabiblical requirements for people to jump through before we will grant them power in our church structures.
You don’t wear a three-piece suit when hacking through the jungle or paddling down the river going between villages? Do you at least wear a tie?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
You don’t wear a three-piece suit when hacking through the jungle or paddling down the river going between villages? Do you at least wear a tie?
Many pastors here are barefoot. And some preach that way. Others save up for 1 pair of shoes that they ONLY wear on Sundays to church when it would much better serve them to wear those shoes on the trail.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
That's right, of course. That itself, of course, does not suggest biblically any particular attire (other than modesty).

Others were making the inapposite comparison between seminarians and lawyers/businessmen, etc. How a seminarian dresses and what's required of an attorney in court are not necessarily the same thing.

That doesn't mean, however, that some basic standards, like business casual (as Ben argues), would be appropriate. The question to me is--does the institution require such or leave it up to the students, having modesty as their guide, to dress appropriately? I've been teaching for 23+ years in seminary and have never found the "less dressy" attire of some students to mark them as less than serious and fully committed to their studies and their sense of the solemnity of the ministerial call.

Peace,
Alan

I did not intend to make a strict comparison of seminarians to lawyers. I actually compared ministers to lawyers and businessmen. I said that "businessmen and lawyers are expected to be more serious than our ministers". It was part of a musing that said I would support a more formal dress code for seminarians. I probably communicated that very poorly though. Not to detract from any of your points, of course.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Require suits and ties for seminary and later poor pastors overseas will:

1. either feel shame because they cannot afford these things and feel unworthy to pastor,
2. mis-prioritize their money on something as dumb as a suit in tie in a poor rural region when there are greater priorities, or
3. become prideful in their own dress over the dress of others.
And finally, the worse is
4th, they learn that we may easily add extrabiblical requirements for people to jump through before we will grant them power in our church structures.

Should a missionary not learn in Seminary that his cultural context determines his manner of dress and living in the midst of a whole host of missiology training? That seems to be pretty plain in any classes I took at RPTS... I think most of us are strictly thinking about our Western ministry context.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I've not been in seminary, but I think Dr. Duguid has a great point with regard to students who have multiple responsibilities during seminary. When I was in college I and many other students would frequently stop in for a class and have work the same day. If that work required a uniform it would introduce unnecessary wardrobe changes I think. Thankfully my college or my job did not have a dress code, so I didn't have to think too much about it.

I'm sure such situations could be accommodated. That is not what is being spoken of here. We are talking about one's general attire when on campus. But I would say that many students at regular universities have jobs whilst studying but don't wear their uniforms to class.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Many pastors here are barefoot. And some preach that way. Others save up for 1 pair of shoes that they ONLY wear on Sundays to church when it would much better serve them to wear those shoes on the trail.
Thanks, brother. I do hope it was clear I was poking at you. Your ministry context is so difficult, and I give thanks to God he has gifted you for the task. I think your comments are helpful here.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
Require suits and ties for seminary and later poor pastors overseas will:

1. either feel shame because they cannot afford these things and feel unworthy to pastor,
2. mis-prioritize their money on something as dumb as a suit in tie in a poor rural region when there are greater priorities, or
3. become prideful in their own dress over the dress of others.
And finally, the worse is
4th, they learn that we may easily add extrabiblical requirements for people to jump through before we will grant them power in our church structures.

What those in other parts of the world might think is not the standard by which we should conduct ourselves in our own country. As Christians we should present ourselves in a smart, tidy, modest manner. Sobriety should be considered an essential part of the Christian's character. Do any of us believe our societies have improved in recent decades? Everywhere standards are slipping. How we dress is part of that.

I would also add that all over the world we see Christians dressing smartly. Dressing smartly does not necessitate spending lots of money. But in some cultures around the world the "native" attire is a lot more elaborate than trousers and a shirt. At the end of the day the argument against smart dress often comes down just not wanting to do it. As I said above: we all have to buy clothes. There is nothing stopping us building a wardrobe of smart, sober clothing except our personal taste. And unfortunately personal taste today is being shaped by unChristian principles and influences.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Should a missionary not learn in Seminary that his cultural context determines his manner of dress and living in the midst of a whole host of missiology training? That seems to be pretty plain in any classes I took at RPTS... I think most of us are strictly thinking about our Western ministry context.
There is no ONE Western ministry context even. The dress of West Coast upperclass suburbanites should not be made the standard when poor pastors from Appalachia and the Ozarks have been the finest servants of God that I know.

Most seminaries severely lack any training on missions at all and want to produce cookie-cutter churches across the globe regardless of non-sinful cultural variations. I have seen poor pastors overseas struggling to purchase a suit "worthy" enough to be accepted by big city peers. Being neat and tidy and even formal may vary and we should allow such variations region by region and culture by culture.
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
T
What those in other parts of the world might think is not the standard by which we should conduct ourselves in our own country. As Christians we should present ourselves in a smart, tidy, modest manner. Sobriety should be considered an essential part of the Christian's character. Do any of us believe our societies have improved in recent decades? Everywhere standards are slipping. How we dress is part of that.

I would also add that all over the world we see Christians dressing smartly. Dressing smartly does not necessitate spending lots of money. But in some cultures around the world the "native" attire is a lot more elaborate than trousers and a shirt. At the end of the day the argument against smart dress often comes down just not wanting to do it. As I said above: we all have to buy clothes. There is nothing stopping us building a wardrobe of smart, sober clothing except our personal taste. And unfortunately personal taste today is being shaped by unChristian principles and influences.
Then a seminary should require a dress code of "smart tidy clothing" as a general rule and avoid any particular rules of a suit and a tie.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
his cultural context determines his manner of dress and living
Quite right, Rom (and I appreciate your graciousness about the other points; I didn't figure you were being overly strict about the attire question).

Now to the cultural context question: I was hoping that @Pergamum might jump into the conversation and he did. Anyone expecting you and those there to adopt our conventions of dress is just out of line. Carry on, brother!

Back to our western cultural context, many of the Presbyterian churches that I preach in have downgraded worship attire in recent years, both for congregants and those leading worship/preaching. I personally always wear at least a tie and jacket regardless of how others dress. I never lecture in the classroom, in fact, with anything less than that. In a Dutch-heritage church, however, I wear a suit as a matter of course. I do in many other churches as well, but those of the Dutch tradition continue to dress more formally for worship, not only in the pulpit but also in the pew.

Peace,
Alan
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
For the record, when I preach on Sunday mornings... I'd say 90% of the time I wear a suit sans tie, the other 10% of the time I remove my jacket. This despite my Session having given me permission to go as casual as business casual.
 
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