Fashion and the church: Trousers for men only?
When in church, wear what the preacher tells you. So says the Synod Executive Committee, a decision-making body of the largest church in the north-eastern Indian state of Mizoram.
All women attending places of worship should refrain from wearing see-through dresses, clothes that expose the breasts or are too tight-fitting — and trousers — according to a dress code prescribed for Presbyterian Church of India members. The guidelines also say men must wear clean shoes and respectable suits.
Church attire has been a subject of discussion for years in the Christian-majority state, whose youth are influenced heavily by western fashion and hip-hop culture, and more recently the ‘Korean Wave’ phenomenon.
While some women still wear conservative dresses and traditional ‘puan’ (cloth wrapped around the waist) to church, many others attend service with short skirts and tight pants, drawing frequent condemnation from church elders and pastors who say they demean the place of worship.
Many others also complain that the poor feel left out as most use the religious service — which also happens to be one of the biggest social gatherings in the community — to flaunt expensive outfits.
But with most of the ire directed at women, is the dress code a simple case of propriety, or does gender come into play?
The directive against trousers for women, for instance, seems like a patriarchal diktat.
Formal trousers are deemed ‘respectable’ in most workplaces, and aren’t considered too revealing. And many women, especially with infants to take care of, find it more practical as opposed to skirts or traditional ‘puan’ which are more prone to ‘wardrobe malfunction’.
The all-male committee which took the decision might do well to include a woman or two among its members before coming out with a dress code for churchgoers.