Be Careful How You Dress—You Are Not Going to the Beach!

Recently, I was speaking to Christian workers and leaders in Manila. Halfway through my message, we were interrupted by a group visiting the organization where the meeting was being held. They were a short-term missions group consisting mainly of Canadian and US college-aged students and adults. Even though this was a meeting in a major city at a Christian organization (with all present dressed neatly for work in the city), the visitors looked as if they were going to the beach! They were wearing cutoffs, tank tops, beach shoes, and carrying backpacks. It was embarrassing.

Since I have not lived in the Philippines for several years, I asked the Filipino leaders if this was the normal dress for visitors. They said "Oh, yes." They said people from some countries were worse than others, but most of them dressed as if they were going on a picnic or to the beach. Even though they were reluctant to say anything about it, they were all very embarrassed to be seen with them. They were especially reluctant to take these people to minister on the streets and into offices. They did take them to these places out of politeness and because they wanted to encourage them in ministry, but they were still uncomfortable to be seen with them.

Recently, a well-known management leadership speaker arrived in the Philippines. Large billboards were posted in several places in Manila showing his picture. On the billboard picture, he wore a suit and tie and looked very dignified. Later, however, there was a picture of him in the newspaper arriving at the Manila airport wearing a flowery Hawaiian shirt and shorts! The official Philippine delegates greeting him were wearing suits and very nice Filipino formal attire. The embarrassment was that he should have known better since he was a Christian leader who had been in the Philippines before.

So, may I give a word of advice and also plead with those of you in churches and groups who are visiting the Philippines and other parts of the world? Please be careful how you dress!

It is very simple for the visiting men to wear a nice short sleeve shirt, slacks, and regular dress shoes. You are not going to Hawaii, the beach, or on a picnic. Ladies, wear a very simple dress or blouse with slacks and nice shoes (not flip-flops). Do not wear tennis shoes. You are not going on a hike.

If you are going to these countries to visit the ministries and to participate in short-term work, go to be a blessing and dress appropriately. Find out what you should wear before you go. Do not be an embarrassment to your hosts by coming out in the morning with "sloppy and grubby" on and asking, "Is this okay?" Of course they will say "yes," not wanting to offend you.

As you will stand out anyway, do not let your dress detract from the message you are trying to portray. Sloppiness and immodesty are marks of our western culture but do not carry this lack of etiquette and social grace to other countries. Dress appropriately for the glory of God. Do not let it distract from the message of life!

Blessings on you.
Doug Nichols


Responses to "Be Careful How You Dress —You Are Not Going to the Beach!"

1. "I just read your e-mail about appropriate dress for the Philippines and you could not be any more right on target! A Filipino pastor (1975) once told me, 'You know for an American you don't dress badly at all!' He intended it to be a compliment. I took it the same way. Several years ago my wife and I were invited to dinner hosted by the President of Silliman University and a Chinese friend who was also a member of the board. They invited two other American couples who were with a new church being planted there. It was a dressy event. I wore a dress Barong and—if you can believe this—the two men showed up with sandals, cut off shorts, and t-shirts. Their wives were in flip-flops and sloppy attire. I was so embarrassed. I've also seen pastors from the states show up for conferences wearing bright red plaid golf slacks (that I wouldn't wear here) and women who didn't have to tell anyone they were "missionaries!" Wow! How they need Jacquie Chevalier's instruction. She did a great thing for some of the gals there. More power to you!" (International Church Leader)

2. "Amen to your piece, 'Be careful how you dress.' I would add that this holds for going to worship God too. "Sloppiness and immodesty are marks of our western culture" is unfortunately true. But aren't Christians called to transform sick cultures, instead of mimicking them?" (Mission Leader)

3. "I could not agree with you more! I think this is indicative of how the western church sees mission trip opportunities. Certainly makes more sense to use that travel money to underwrite the committed national Christian leadership than yet another missions junket to add pictures to the portfolio of 'missions' we are involved in." (India)

A few short replies:

4. "Very well written article and oh so true." "Thanks! I know what you mean." "Right on! What an excellent, necessary piece of advice!" "Very true and well stated."

5. "This one really hits the spot, Doug. The only exception in my view is if they will minister to the youth and are in a youth gathering. Dressing down a bit from your prescribed attire would not only be appropriate but may actually be necessary in order to connect with them young folks. Still, not beach attire even among the youth, I agree." (Philippine Pastor)

6. "It was nice to read your instruction for the visiting short term people to other countries. I am glad that you pointed out such important aspects of dress code." (India)

7. "AMEN! We fight this battle constantly with short-term groups. Thanks for writing this, it is a big help. I hope you can publish it somewhere where short-term group coordinators can read it!" (Mission Leader)

8. "Obviously a lack of good preparation and orientation." (Missionary Short-term Team Leader)

9. "What we do with our short-termers is send them a dress code before they come. We warn them how to dress. It's a simple thing to do but we have a form letter we send to them. We have had little problem except with one retired couple with the Wife dressing like she was going to the beach. We did not think to send a letter to them because of their age. The next time they came we kindly said to them that their dress previously had not been the most suitable. What they wear at the beach is different than what they wear in Manila. Glad you said this because it's very important. You and I know that Filipinos often dress very formally and when they go out they like to look their best." (Philippines)

10. "I especially enjoyed your comments on the dress of short term missionaries. Maybe it's time to have a reprinting of The Ugly American…remember that book of the 50's?" (Children's Worker—Cambodia)

11. "I emailed your article on dress code to our missions pastor and to others. Well said. He needs to pay attention especially in The Philippines. It drives me nuts sometimes in Utah to have short term missionaries show up in cutoffs and half their bellies showing. The Mormons laugh at them. They dress their missionaries respectfully and will not receive from people who are slobs." (Missionary to Mormons)

12. "Amen brother. I completely agree. If you can't dress well in the ministry and in the presence of God the Creator where else?" (African Leader)

13. "We are often embarrassed by long term missionaries as well as others of the white race here in dark Africa. A hearty AMEN." (Africa)

14. "I want to applaud you! So many times I am so surprised that people from other organizations do this disservice to those they send visiting, short-term, or long-term. I am also very embarrassed when I am around the people who are dressed inappropriately. Most always, in the "International News" section of the paper we receive, the only thing they ever print from the West is a photo of someone who is dressed in very little. This impression of Westerners is confirmed when the Westerners actually come to this country dressed the very same way! (Missionary—India)

15. "I agree with you about dress for missionaries. We should be light in this world and that includes our style of clothing. In Latin America, a wrinkled shirt or un-shined shoes is an offense to people. We need to study the host culture well." (Missionary-Colombia)

16. "You really struck a nerve...Then there are the missionaries (not necessarily short-termers) who don't dress in beach attire but still show great disrespect by wearing African clothing to important events that is either tattered and worn and faded, or simply inappropriately underdressed—a casual African shirt worn to a wedding, or a very faded, old dress to an important, formal ceremony. This is so disrespectful even in American culture. They wouldn't wear something fit only for dusting rags to a solemn event in the United States, so why in the host culture? If you're that poor, raise more support or leave the field!" (Missionary to Africa)

17. "Thanks for sharing this. It is a wonderful letter that expresses so well what I so often say to the teams during their training. But it's always good to have something in writing from the people can understand the perspective from the other side. I really emphasize this with teams going to Asia, since we show our respect (or insult our hosts!) there by what we wear." (Networking churches internationally through short-term missions)

18. "Personally, I think the problem begins here at home in North America. From what we have observed, professing Christians have become extremely sloppy in their dress habits in attending services—shorts and tanks tops being acceptable. It appears to have arisen from the sloppy attitudes about worship and who God is. There is a most casual and careless spirit and idea that God is someone who is just like one of guys along the street or in the workplace. Unfortunately, it begins in the pulpit; the near blasphemous way in which reference is made to God, the overly familiar language used and the trivialization of eternal issues. If Christians dress so sloppily when overseas, it is just another example of the exporting of wholly unbiblical conduct in the name of Christianity." (Canadian pastor—former missionary to the Philippines)