With the anniversary of Pants coming up next month, I’ve been thinking, not so much about the hoopla surrounding it and the death threats and all that excitement, but about people pontificating about the importance of wearing your Sunday best for Jesus.
I should perhaps first note that for all its flaws, I supported the Pants event, that I found it surprisingly touching, even. And yet something about the discourse coming from both sides was painful, for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate at the time.
But I have been thinking about it, and this is my reservation about the way things so often got framed. Why was it okay to wear pants? Again and again the advocates of pants-wearing made the case that it was okay because a nice pantsuit looked so classy—arguably classier than many skirts or dresses. Again and again there was an implicit critique of those who wore anything less than classy, be it pants or skirts. The premise that you should be dressing nicely—at least, according to a particular set of standards—seemed to be accepted by both sides.
The issue of whether this was possible for everyone did come up. People occasionally made the observation that there were those who couldn’t afford the sort of “nice” clothing that Jesus apparently wanted to see, and there would be a quick disclaimer that of course cases where people couldn’t afford anything better were exceptions, that Jesus would overlook their substandard appearance—and then everyone would go back to arguing.
But it can be pretty painful to be one of those exceptions. Both from my family situation growing up, and from other times in my life, I know all too well what it’s like to be in a situation where you can’t afford those kind of “nice” church clothes, where you might have to wear the same thing every week, and to feel desperately self-conscious about it. I still cringe at casual comments about people who aren’t making enough of an effort, who don’t care enough to dress properly. One of the most stinging posts I’ve ever read on the bloggernacle (which I’m not going to link because my intention isn’t to embarrass the author) included a free association about how other people in that person’s ward simply had no fashion sense.
This isn’t easy for me to talk about. I’ve posted on personal feminist angst, on bipolar disorder and hospitalizations, and I would actually rather discuss those issues than this. But here’s the thing. I didn’t wear pants on Pants Sunday simply because I don’t have any, and deciding to spend the money to buy some would be a difficult call.
I’m still fond of Pants. But I wonder how we could talk about it differently.