Posted on 14 Comments

Creating a dress code for your youth ministry

Summer is on its way and it always brings up the inevitable issue of clothes. Or rather, lack thereof. Appropriate clothing can be a bit of an issue in youth ministry. But is it wise to enforce a dress code in youth ministry and if so, how do you go about creating a dress code for your youth ministry?

The 4B rule

Let me start with describing my own experiences. Yes, we did have a dress code in my former youth ministry, but only for those students who were up on stage. We simply enforced the 4B’s rule: no breasts, butts, boxers and bellies visible. Easy to remember, works like a charm. Every now and then the worship leader had to remind someone of the rules, but all in all it functioned pretty well.

In other youth activities, it became an issue now and then. I can’t count the times I asked guys to pull up their pants because I really wasn’t all that interested in seeing their boxers…I mean, really? And of course the girls didn’t always hide their qualities so to speak.

And let’s not forget that it’s not just about modesty. Certain brands or types of clothing are associated with lifestyles, political or religious convictions etc and can also become a problem. So yes, it has been an issue every now and then, one that we have talked about with the leaders and that we have talked about with the students.

Does your youth ministry needs a dress code and if so, what should that look like?

Rules are okay

It is perfectly okay to create a dress code or youth group rules in general by the way. Teens and students have to learn to live by rules and not just in youth ministry. And even if you don’t create a formal dress code, it’s good practice to talk with students that dress inappropriately on a incident-by-incident basis.

Differentiate between churched and unchurched

Your regular kids should know the ‘rules’ and you can certainly talk to them if they don’t. But do realize that unchurched kids have no idea of what is proper and may have never considered such a thing as modesty. Don’t offend them or scare them away by enforcing the rules. Accept that they can’t obey rules they’ve never heard of. If someone is dressing really offensive, you can take them aside and lovingly address the issue…with the emphasis on lovingly. That same loving approach is crucial for your talks with churched kids by the way. While I have no problem with rules, I do want to stress the importance of a non-judgmental attitude.

What to put in a dress code

Some things you could put in your dress code, beside the 4 B’s:

  • no tank tops
  • no spaghetti straps (no bra straps showing)
  • for guys: t-shirt stays on
  • girls: one piece bathing suits instead of bikini’s (although personally, I’m not a fan of this one)
  • no hot pants or really short shorts
  • no mini skirts
  • no tight clothes

Remember however that a dress code has to fir your youth ministry and culture…and the weather. You can’t enforce the same ‘rules’ everywhere, regardless of the type of youth ministry (urban or rural, all girls/boys or mixed, California or Maine, all churched or very missionary, etc.)

Explain the why

Students don’t automatically understand the reason behind certain rules, so make sure to explain it to them. If they know the ‘why’ of rules, they’re far more likely to keep them. You may think that it’s perfectly clear why modesty is good, but they don’t necessarily do. But please, let’s not overreact…or totally creep the girls out, by suggesting their ‘improper’ clothing may lead male leaders to ‘have fantasies about them’ (yup, I’ve heard than more than once – and it did gross the girls out!). It may be true, but that’s not a conversation you can have without a much, much bigger context. Especially not with unchurched students.

The ‘how’ matters

Don’t just unilaterally decide on a dress code and enforce it. Talk about it with the students and give them an opportunity to weigh in. It’ll help acceptance of the dress code and give you an important opportunity for relationship building. Believe me, students often care more about the ‘how’ of the rules than about the rules themselves.

If you want to know more about youth group rules, check out the ebook I wrote on this topic. It’s free if you sign up for my weekly newsletter, which brings the best youth ministry posts and resources into you inbox. If you are a subscriber already and didn’t get the ebook, just comment with a legit email address and I’ll send you the ebook for free!

Does your ministry have a dress code? What do you think of creating one? Share your thoughts and experiences!

Posted on 14 Comments

14 thoughts on “Creating a dress code for your youth ministry

  1. […] We dress modestly (for more ideas on this, read ‘Does your youth ministry need a dress code?’) […]

  2. Just found this blog–great stuff, from what I’ve seen so far! Thanks for offering it.

    Three things:

    1. A ban on skinny jeans?
    2. I didn’t know when I started reading this post if the author was male or female, then when I got to the part about the girl in the small group and the thong, I kept hoping it was a woman writing… and see from the “About” section that is (phew!). I have heard of too many cross-sex interactions along those lines in youth ministry. E.g., a male youth leader has *that same conversation* with a female in his youth group (“you are causing guys to lust”)… well-intentioned, but actually icky to the girl, and inappropriate as far as I’m concerned.
    3. In a previous youth group where I had a “no bikini” rule, the pushback I got (from my female adult leaders!) was that one-pieces are just too hard to find anymore… your thoughts on how to handle that?

    1. Thanks for your response! Let me reassure you, yes I’m a woman 🙂 And you’re absolutely right, that kind of conversation should always, always be done by a woman and not by a man! As far as the ban on skinny jeans goes, why do you have a problem with these if I may ask? Personally, I take more issue with the really low cut jeans that with skinny jeans, but that may be my female point of view? And with regards to the one-pieces, I think that’s nonsense. Every decent store with sports wear will sell them because swimmers still wear one pieces (and decent ones too usually!). Since I don’t live in the Us (and I’m guessing that’s where you’re from), I wouldn’t know where else to buy them, but here in Europe there’s still plenty of choice in one pieces. Granted, not all of them are equally hip, but hey, it’s not a fashion show is it?

      1. Hi, Rachel!

        Please forgive the delayed reply–something got hung up in my subscription to this comment thread, and I just now realized it.

        I am from the US, indeed. Your points are all well taken! “It’s not a fashion show” is well said.

        Skinny jeans may just be a personal preference issue, really. I more had in mind to ban them for youth leaders. 🙂

  3. I love the 4 B’s rule! I will have to use it! Thank you! 🙂

    In response to Abram K-J, whose female youth leader said that she couldn’t find a one-[iece bathing suit, that’s ridiculous. I live in the US and can find plenty of one-piece bathing suits. I work with Title I kids, so I often have to buy them bathing suits myself, and I never buy two-pieces. From very cheap to very expensive, there are many different one-pieces out there to find! I would say that there is another issue there. Is this female adult leader wanting to wear a two-piece herself? [She could have image issues herself and the need for (inappropriate) attention that needs addressing.] Or is she not wanting to buy her female daughter a one-piece? (She may have problems saying no to her daughter? Or she may want to show off her daughter? Either way, but hopefully neither, these would need to be counseled. …Just a few thoughts.)

    Also, I agree with Abram K-J about the skinny jeans. I had not thought of it before, either, but then overheard some conversations from the kids. The guys commented on the butts* of girls who wore them, and the girls were commenting on the physiques* of the guys wearing them. It was disturbing to me. I now have a whole new reason not to like them!

    * My words, not actually used bt the kids. I felt the need to clean it up! 😉

  4. The 4Bs just made my day. THAT IS HILARIOUS!

    …and great article too. Thanks.

    1. You’re very welcome, glad to be of service 🙂

  5. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a problem among the youth. Sometimes the example set by the adults in the church isn’t very helpful. That might be something to keep in mind when addressing various incidents.

    1. Rachelle-

      We actually put it in our volunteer handbook on a dress code for our adults as well. Sometimes, they say it’s the “style.” However, when we explain we are trying to teach our students how to walk out their lives living in the world-but not looking like it- it makes sense to them.

      1. Good addition Leneita, thanks for sharing!

  6. Rachel,
    I love the 4B’s dress code. In your opinion, is there any variation when speaking of everyday dress vs. water activities? What has been your experience related to water activities? Do you have any additional advise? Do they differ or does the same set of rules apply to both?

  7. […] and rules for our youth programming.  Rachel Blom did a great job of spelling this out in her blog here.  This is less about a set of “do’s and don’ts”  and about creating an environment of […]

  8. I would like the ebook please!

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