Is it true that Jews and evangelical Christians are the nattier and more respectable going-to-church/temple dressers in America?

It appears so. As I receive hundreds of letters daily from my thousands of readers, asking for my advice and guidance in matters of fashion and religion, today’s column explores how they sometimes mesh.

This took some detective work on my part and was not easy. I had to sit in my car, close to the various houses of worship, in all kinds of weather, being careful not to be observed, lest the parishioners think that I am a stalker of one or more of the faithful or an agent of the IRS, NSA, CIA or immigration services.

I can tell you that it’s pretty tough trying to go incognito when you’re driving a Scarlett Johansson-lipstick-red Prius and wearing oversized Prada sunglasses, palm beach hat and raincoat. But it’s what I do for journalism.

I’ve been interested in “dress for church” fashions since my early days in the Catholic Church as an altar boy, particularly as one assisting the priest and carrying the paten (the little brass plate) as the Eucharist is offered.

Here I watched the dramatic changes in Sunday dress codes. I should confess that while performing my duties, I noticed that Rosemary De Branco had outgrown her braces and had started wearing Evening Shadow mascara and White Shoulders cologne. Forgive me, Lord.

In those days, dress codes in all things Catholic — dances, fish fries and bingo — were strictly enforced, especially by the mother superior who lurked at the back of the church. Girls and women always dressed well and wore hats.

Maria Garcia, whose father owned a local cigar factory and store, always wore a white lace mantilla, as did her mother and her aunt. You may have noticed that most of my spiritual journeys were made in the company of girls and women. Just the luck of the draw, I think.

But it was on these occasions that I came to observe the various dress codes of the faiths. Joyce Goldman, of Brooklyn, took me to many bar mitzvahs and weddings, where I was stunned by the sartorial elegance of the Jewish faithful.

In Ruston, La., with Betty Jo Jackson, and San Antonio, Texas, with … I forgot her name, I attended twice-weekly Baptist services, several weddings and barbecues. (FYI, Catholic fish fries can’t hold a candle to a Texas barbecue, especially after a rousing revival.)

At all of these occasions, I was amazed to see how well heathens, as Sister John Bosco called the Protestants, dressed. Even the kids were well dressed. Then, as today, they all looked like the neighbors of the Cleaver family.

Now we come to the millennial generation: While attending, on occasion, regular Catholic services and even solemn funeral Masses, I have been shocked, shocked, do you hear, at the decline of style and decorum.

Only with those of the Eisenhower and Walter Cronkite generation do we see lovely hats and the occasional pair of white gloves in church. Men, with the exception of veterans of the Spanish-American War, have stopped wearing jackets and ties altogether. Seersucker in the summer has been replaced by open-necked sport shirts, tweed in the winter by the occasional hunter’s orange or camouflage.

At a recent solemn Mass, the pews were full of teenagers with skinny jeans, knees carefully blown out, and T-shirts that looked as though they had been swiped from a clothesline in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood. Two late teens who were in the last row, texting, looked as though they had just gotten off the plane from Vegas. I can only imagine what went through the pre-pubescent minds of the altar boys as one of the girls in a skin-tight translucent orange number and cleavage that would embarrass Miley Cyrus arrived for Communion. Oh! The horror.

OK, I’m an elderly prude, and I will confess openly here (are the children in bed?) that I was the baddest of handsome bad boys in my younger days. I cavorted with fast girls (sorry, Rosemary), drank, smoked and ran with the early rock-’n’-rollers.

I was in the front row at the first Jim Morrison shows, inhaled illegal smoke on the beach at Malibu with now-deceased movie stars, and — before I met she who has no tattoos — dated all of the above mentioned ladies for reasons other than seeking God. But when I go before the Golden Chair at last call, I will meet God in my finest linen jacket and flamingo-adorned tie … and put my cellphone on vibrate.     

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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