The Demise Of Sunday Clothes
Getty Images: Black Family in their Sunday best.

The Demise Of Sunday Clothes

Sunday clothes stood for elegance—garb that was worn at the most special occasions including church. Now comfort is king and I miss the days when getting dressed was an occasion.

The amount of fear and trepidation I experienced wearing my Sunday Clothes cannot be easily measured.

Let me remind you that I am the first generation of my family not to believe in spankings. I have never spanked my daughter. My parents were not so enlightened. Many offenses could trigger a spanking. One, in particular, was playing in your Sunday Clothes. Grass stains, tears, rips, missing buttons, or anything that diminished, destroyed, or devalued your Sunday Clothes was a spankable offense.

Sunday Clothes were the best clothes you owned. They were clothes reserved for church, funerals, weddings, and other special occasions that required one to dress up. My household's highest form of Sunday Clothes was your Easter Sunday outfit. My mother would purchase these prized possessions from Wards, Penny’s, Sears, or another anchor store at our local shopping mall. She would start formulating an idea of this year’s Easter aesthetic by lustily paging through one of the department store catalogs.

On Easter morning, my brother and I would be garbed in white or pastel. My mother would sync our families’ outfits so that we looked like a coordinated family unit. This was the bane of my father’s existence, but he relented and did his part to maintain peace.

My mother would begin the end-of-summer ritual two weeks before school started. She would load my brother and me into our K-Car and zip us off to the mall to purchase our school clothes. This was when we would get the clothes we wanted, especially the shoes. The only caveat was that we could only wear them on the first day of school. Violating this solemn rule would result in a spanking.

It has been almost three decades since my mother last purchased Sunday Clothes for me. The threats of spankings still loom on my mind. The rules were clear, and the consequences were immutable.

I am reflecting on this because my daughter does not have Sunday Clothes.

She is familiar with the concept from when she was a small toddler through second grade. This is more of when a child is in a doll stage. Their parents or grandparents dress them how they feel to show them off to friends and strangers.

My mother would source my daughter’s clothes online now that the big paper catalogs have gone the way of the dinosaurs. These clothes were too precious and of great importance to my mother that they had to remain vaulted at her home. I was not allowed to remove them from the house. My mother would rather allow her granddaughter to outgrow the clothes, with her only wearing them two times or less, than allow for the possibility of these sacred garments to be destroyed at my home.

My daughter learned that she would put the clothes on shortly before church, and they would be promptly removed after church. It did not matter if she was hungry; eating in your Sunday Clothes was frowned upon and might even be considered a spankable offense.

My mother and father attended a White Church. My father had always been annoyed by the unpredictability of Black Church sermon times. He loved football and hated sitting in a stiff wooden pew as six or seven offerings were taken up. He hated not knowing when the service might end. Too many false stops and starts had shot his nerves. He needed the predictability of the White Church. Its dryness and tacit embracing of white supremacy could be overlooked if it got him back home in 90 minutes.

Then the pandemic hit, and my mother and father started to notice more and more of their church friends espousing views that were antithetical to the professed tenets of their Christian faith. At first, they chose to ignore the reverence their white church friends had for Donald J Trump. Some even uplifted him as the holiest example of a Christian President we had ever had. This made them question if they had been receiving the same teachings of Christ. They pondered if they had been reading the same Bible.

My parents have never suffered fools; now, they are surrounded by fools.

Then Trump mismanaged the pandemic, and friends died. Conspiracies abounded from these people. It became vogue for some white Christians to disagree with science despite not having the academic background to do so.

My parents have faith, but they also had a son on the frontline battling the pandemic. They would get calls and texts from a man in the trenches. A son who watched too many people die because they chose to believe the misinformation and lies rather than trust their doctors.

My parents stopped going to White Church because Trump had become affixed as White Jesus. The once-consecrated ground that their church rested upon became fouled. The body of Christ they were a part of had become something grotesque. This was not the body of Christ they had learned about or believed in. So they amputated themselves from this body. They found the Word on television and in their Bibles by cleaving themselves.

They stopped attending White Church even after the pandemic restrictions had lifted. They stopped wearing Sunday Clothes, and so did their granddaughter.

I am the by-product of Sunday Clothes. My white wife, not so much. She is familiar with the concept of Sunday Clothes, but the punishments for breaking the rules were not as oppressive and omnipresent. I guess that is why she does not mind when we go clothes shopping for our daughter, and as soon as we get back from the store, my daughter puts on her new school clothes just to lounge around the house. She wears her new white t-shirt with The Little Mermaid on the chest to risk splattering tomato sauce all over before she wears it to school — stain-free.

Related: What to Do When You Don't Like Your Partner's Style Choices

The concept of Sunday Clothes was created by envy and jealousy.

When Americans used to live and belong to communities, the church was the epicenter. Despite toiling in this world Monday through Saturday — taking crap from anyone and everyone; Sunday at church was the one opportunity to show up with a bright face and put on airs that you were successful. It was the one opportunity before the grind began to be envied by everyone important to you. Your Sunday Clothes conveyed your status in the world. It might be the only decent thing you had to wear. It was the one opportunity to escape the banality of your work uniform, work clothes, and house clothes.

I have heard about some people who despised attending church. They could not be bothered by the preacher’s sermon. They could care less about the afterlife. They had no desire to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They only cared about being better dressed than everyone else and making an oversized display of dropping money into the offering. Once the offering had been collected, they mentally checked out until it was time to leave.

Sunday Clothes was your opportunity to show the world that you were someone.

As White Churches became more and more non-denominational, the dress code started to fade. I remember my parents reeling in revulsion when they saw people start to wear jeans to church.

My wife and I attended a large White Mega Church. I, too, would wear jeans. However, when I attended church with my parents, I wore a suit despite most of the congregation wearing shorts and t-shirts.

My wife and I stopped attending White Church before the pandemic. It was Trump. The white supremacy politics of the White Church became too entitled to ignore. Using the divine gift of discernment, we found that Jesus did not exist in this place. So we left.

We have had fits and starts of attending Black Churches. We wanted something with the predictability of the White Church, with the radical message of Jesus’s love that you can only find in the Black Church.

Yet, that does not change the idea that my daughter will be the first generation of McFaddens not to have a durable lasting memory of Sunday Clothes. For her, Sunday Clothes will be a vague memory — a historical, cultural footnote in the story of America.

In some ways, we are more isolated than ever. The bonds of community have been stressed to the point they have broken. The White Church has squandered its moral authority and now is a haven for those embracing fascism.

We no longer need to flex on people we do not know when we can carefully curate a digital image of ourselves and project it to the world via the internet.

Every time my daughter runs to her room to throw on the new piece of clothing we bought her ten minutes earlier, and she proceeds to wear it the rest of the day, I feel the phantom lash of the belt on my behind.

I slowly understand that clothes are used to serve a basic function and not to be paraded out to make others feel like they are less than you because their clothing is older, not as expensive, or more worn.

Did you ever have Sunday Clothes? Does the tradition of Sunday Clothes exist in your family? I am curious.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Garrick McFadden's work on Medium.