Just imagine for a moment what youth ministry in the Garden of Eden would have been like. For one thing, there wouldn’t have been any dress codes for the teens.
Enter the serpent, sin, the fall. Can you imagine the difficulty youth ministers would have had then? There would have been stipulations on the size of the fig leaves and how many one would had to have sewn together to constitute modest or not (see Genesis 3:7). It makes me think that dealing with teens’ clothing issues now is simple in comparison.
There is no universal youth ministry teen dress code, but at some point each leader realizes some sort of standard must be set. Different circumstances call for different clothes (see Matthew 22:12), but regardless a standard regarding modest dress, especially on special events or trips, is needed. As we go forth representing our families, our parishes, the Church, and Christ we need to be good representatives. Although life is not about clothing (see Matthew 6:28), nor is youth ministry about dress codes, what we wear sends a message.
Enforcing a dress code often (ok, always) means that we become the bad-guy for a short time. That certainly isn’t fun, especially because the teens will often play the Emperor as we cry out that they don’t have (enough) clothes on. Yet, don’t we owe it to the teens to talk to them about this issue?
To make these difficult conversations with the teens easier, be sure to have told the youth, their parents, and all the adults chaperones what the dress code is beforehand. Use your judgment with what events need dress codes and what events don’t. Although all the chaperones should be involved in making sure the dress code is adhered to, make sure that you have a specific man and woman that can be called on to talk to a guy or girl if that conversation needs to happen. If you can, pull that teen aside; don’t chastise him or her in front of everyone else.
Another helpful hint is to pack extra t-shirts (or sack cloth) that the teen will be able to put on when the say that they “didn’t bring any other clothes.” Usually, they can find something when you pull out what you packed in case of these situations.
Sometimes the wardrobe war can become the most difficult part of a youth ministry trip. It can be difficult when what I set as the “length-that-shorts-must-reach” is about two feet longer than another youth minister’s standard. Or, when it is clear at an event that even though we all signed the same agreement, some leaders don’t enforce the standards. My teens certainly notice.
Ideally, we want our teens to dress appropriately all the time, not just during youth ministry events. A major part of being a teen is fitting in and that means dressing right. But, we need to encourage them not to leave their faith or brains at the door when clothes shopping. It might take some searching, but it is possible to buy fashionable clothes and not lose your dignity in the process.
If we’re wise, we, as youth ministers and Core, can also see that what the teens wear sends us (and everyone else) a message about what they are interested in and maybe even what they think about themselves. Thus, talking about dress codes for certain youth ministry events can result in a much deeper conversation about where their hearts are and what attention they are seeking. It can open up discussion about modesty and encouraging one another to heaven.
Overall, keep in mind that the dress code shouldn’t be the main issue or only conversation you have with these particular teens during the event. Don’t let frustration keep you focused on their clothing infraction; ultimately, we need to call them to put on Christ (Romans 13:14).