QUAERITUR: What to wear for my first TLM?

From a reader:

I have recently learned of an EF mass about an hour from my home. I would like to attend. In the past when I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve chickened out.

I have two fears- not know what to do, though I’m sure I can just watch others and follow them. The second is not knowing what to wear.
I always dress up for mass, but is a mantilla or any other garment necessary?

I am glad you are interested in going and very glad that you are concerned to do the right things.


As we have discussed quite a few times on the blog, the mantilla is no longer necessary according to the Church’s law.  When you go to a TLM, however, you will find that most of the women use it.  You would not stand out in that crowd if you wear a mantilla.   I suspect there may be a few women there who don’t use it.  If you don’t have one, don’t let that keep you from going… at least for that reason.

I suppose the old adage of wearing your “Sunday best” doesn’t mean much to younger people today.  But I recommend a nice dress.  Perhaps this isn’t the best occasion for the LBD.

You will probably see some young families with lots of kids and also maybe one or two people who will strike you as… odd.  That’s par for the course.

For your first time there you might sit farther back so you can see what everyone else is doing.  Get there a few minutes early to see what booklets they have available.

Also, it may be a good idea to read the readings and prayers for the Mass at least once before you go.  When you are there and in the thick of it, it may be hard to follow your book and also take in everything going on.

Remember: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Some expectations may be met, some confounded.  Just relax and see what happens!

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  1. bgeorge77 says:

    I used to feel lost, constantly flipping around in my misal. Then after a few times, I didn’t. But I still felt frustrated, “Why won’t the priest just speak up a little!?” But then I just put the missal away and put myself in “Adoration mode” and it seemed to suddenly make sense.

    “…also maybe one or two people who will strike you as… odd.” LOL! One or two?

  2. Gail F says:

    I went to a regular (NO) mass at a different parish Friday and saw a couple of people who struck me as “odd” — ha ha. They are not to be found only at the TLM!

  3. tmjost says:

    A great book for women regarding dress is “Dressing with Dignity”. I would highly recommend it. In the book, Colleen Hammond explains the “why’s” about mantillas. She also explains the importance o f modesty in our dress, especially in our society today. You might find the book helpful and interesting. When you attend a TLM, you will find that most women do dress in this manner. Welcome to TLM. I’m sure you if the parish you attend is like ours, you will soon become part of the family. God bless +

  4. PghCath says:

    The best fashion advice I could give: no jeans. Other than that, I’ve seen women in dresses, skirts, and nice slacks.

    I find it very comforting that people who attend the EF focus much more on the Mass than on what people around them are doing. If you find yourself standing when everyone else is kneeling, no one will mind – we’ve all been there.

    I usually find it helpful to look over the day’s readings and prayers. If you don’t have a missal, check out this site. That said, I also sometimes enjoy going without having read up in advance, instead just enjoying the Latin and the quiet.

    At any rate, go! You won’t regret it!

  5. jfm says:

    Go and enjoy. I started going about 2 years ago, and I go about once a month. For the first few times, just be open to the sensual beauty of the whole experience. Don’t worry about doing the wrong thing. You are surrounded by Christians who love the Mass.

    I agree that sitting in the back and trying to take in the whole scene is the best way to familiarize yourself with the mass.

  6. gloriainexcelsis says:

    At most of the TLM churches I’ve attended there is a little red missalette in the vestibule with the Ordinary of the Mass and a Proper to follow that is static (not changed from day to day). It is helpful, though, for visitors. Sometimes a parish will have a print-out of the Sunday Proper as well. You might find a basket with veils to borrow if you feel the need for one. A dress or skirt with blouse or sweater would be fine – just modest coverage, no tank tops, spaghetti straps, mini-skirts …..

  7. Liz says:

    Oh how I can relate. I was so worried about my first EF mass! Actually, in the early days we once accidently sat up front. I had my young son look back and tell us when to kneel, sit and stand! I remember fretting over the mantilla and my hair etc. and it hit me that if I was so worried about how my hair looked maybe I should go ahead and wear one. I didn’t even really know why exactly I was wearing one for years, but I figured it was a good thing. Now as a person who has attended for a long time I don’t pay much attention to what others are wearing or whether they have a mantilla or not. The nice thing in EF is that it is so focused on God that it’s easy to forget about others. It is nice to wear your nice clothes for God but not for the other people there. Sadly, originally I don’t think I so worried about God, but about what others thought. Aside: once a priest told us about a woman who came to mass with curlers in her hair as if she had some where important to go AFTER mass!

  8. ejcmartin says:

    I attended my first EF Mass a couple of years ago. The first time I found confusing flipping back and forth through the little red book. Then I read in this very blog that perhaps one should just sit back and be prayerful during the Mass and not worry about following along word for word. (That will come with time). It made all the difference. I felt at peace and was able to appreciate the reverence of the Mass.

  9. Choirmaster says:

    I am a regular attendee of a local diocesan EF mass/community.

    When I see people who do not know what they are doing and are dressed like they are going to dinner at their local, over-priced ‘burger joint, I think: “How nice! Visitors!”

    But, if my experience is anything like the norm for an EF community, do not look for help or even for scolding from the other attendees. They will let you be, and mostly just be happy that there are visitors, and, at best, try extra-hard to lead by example and express whatever gestures of piety and devotion are customary.

    I was taken-aback by three things during my first experiences at an EF:

    1. Silence. The silence is so very off-putting to a mainstream Catholic, who is used to the linear, chit-chat way the OF is structured and practiced.

    2. Non-linearity. This signifies that the congregation and the ministers in the sanctuary execute their proper roles in harmony, but not necessarily in sequence, one after the other. For example, don’t be surprised that while the congregation/choir is singing the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, or Agnus Dei, the priest continues on with his part, or sits or stands, or a bell rings. Also, don’t be surprised if the congregation is doing their own thing–all together–where in the NO they would wait for the priest.

    3. Activity. You would think that, coming from the NO, I would be used to constant activity in the church, but no! There were confessions going on right during mass (the horror!), people getting up and down (always with a reverent genuflect and blessing), little children scampering around (quietly, and also genuflecting), and just a general buzz of people doing things. This is fine, and once you have internalized the fact that the connection between and among the priest and congregation is not one of chatter, hand-shakes, and beaming, smiling faces, you will easily ignore it, and even appreciate it for its deeper and more significant character.

  10. AnnM says:

    I really don’t see why there should be a different dress code for the Extraordinary Form Mass . Since both Ordinary Form and EF Masses are equally valid and Christ is equally present, this makes no sense. I understand the question but, if you think about it, the implication is that, if you dress differently for an EF Mass, you are dressing for other people and not for God. If you’ve been going to an OF Mass and always dressing appropriately, then just wear what you’ve always been wearing and don’t worry about it. You certainly don’t need to wear a mantilla – at the church I attend in America, about half the women do. Incidentally, if you are attending a TLM in Britain or France, there will be few mantillas – this is much more an American custom.

  11. APX says:

    I remember thinking about this my first TLM. I really wanted to wear dress pants (it was -40°C with the windchill), but I was too concerned about what others would think about how I was dressed (reading others’ comments on here about women in pants didn’t help either), so I went with a simple skirt and blouse and froze my legs and feet in my cold car. When I got there, I felt over-dressed because most people were in jeans and khakis.

    What’s the moral of the story? Don’t choose your wardrobe out of fear of what others will think. You’re not dressing for them, and church is not a fashion show. Dress up out of respect for where you are, and what you’re doing there.

  12. shin says:

    You want some sort of head covering, and you want a modest dress.

  13. maybe one or two people who will strike you as… odd. LOL

    So true, so true..


  14. lucy says:

    Most of what everyone has said here, I have experienced at one time or other. At first, it’s just so different that maybe you should avoid the book and just let it wash over you. I remember one of our priests saying once that for anyone new, just to look and listen and pray. The traditional Mass is something that takes time to seep into your bones. It’s not something you go to once and say, hey, that’s for me! It takes time.

    Just wear something modest. If you’re a woman, a skirt or dress will be most proper. As someone already commented about – Colleen’s book on Dressing With Dignity – there’s a part in that book that recounts a study at a mall where they watched where men looked at women – you guessed it, the lower half. That alone makes me want to wear a dress/skirt. If a man, nice pants and button down shirt is most often what I see. But many wear polo shirts as well. And there is also those folks who wear jeans and tee shirts, but hey, they’re there ! And we’re mighty glad of it !

    Again, the traditional Mass is lovely – let it wash over you and just pray.

    I’m offended by that comment about some odd folks – LOL I think there are some odd folks at the regular Mass also!

  15. Tina in Ashburn says:

    How wonderful that you get to attend the old Mass!

    Don’t worry about what to wear, don’t worry about the head covering, and sit in the back if you are unsure about how to act [sit, stand, kneel, speak/silence, sing, pray].
    Only worry about uniting your heart with the actions of the priest and disposing yourself properly to receive the abundant graces of the Mass. If you get to attend again, you can learn to follow the missal and begin to understand more.

    and shoot, why does everybody worry about the veil? women used to wear HATS!!

    Our diocese has every ‘style’ of congregation among the Tridentine Masses offered here. Some are dressier than others, some sing along, some congregations are silent. The parish closest to me has a very small following for the old Mass. Folks show up in jeans and bare heads all the time [usually these are folks who don’t know where they are]. One regular, an older woman, shows up in khakis and a button-down shirt. Everyone is very friendly.

    As has been noted already above, we really should dress up for every Mass anyway!

  16. Nordic Breed says:

    I just finished writing “Tips for Participating in the Traditional Latin Mass”. It is a free ebook downloadable from here: http://www.mediafire.com/?no0eifjsxabeii4. The Latin Liturgy Association of Philadelphia has a link to it on their home page. It was written for newcomers to help them get acclimated more quickly to the Extraordinary Form. God bless you and take courage and go!

  17. Shellynna says:

    I hardly ever go to a TLM, so I just wear what I ordinarily do for Sunday Mass: blouse, slacks. The first time I went to the diocesan TLM, I didn’t have headcovering, but the parish (run by the FSSP) had several free mantillas placed in a convenient location. I took one and still keep it for whenever I go back. Keep in mind though that headcovering does not mean mantilla. If you have a nice hat you can wear that too. I suppose there might be a few parishioners at this church who would prefer that every woman wear a dress or skirt, but the priests of this parish have firmly warned the congregation that only the priests have the authority to speak to congregants about their attire.

    As for “what to do”: Well, I have a nice leather-bound TLM hand missal from the 1950s that a kind lady gave me on condition that I take it to the TLM with me (which I have; she didn’t specify how often). But I still don’t get how to use it, and I am so used to the OF that I have a hard time with just “being there” without saying anything. But, if you keep at it, I’m sure it gets better. (I’m lucky to have a great OF parish, so I don’t need to go to the EF on a regular basis for a reverent liturgy.)

  18. APX says:

    As someone already commented about – Colleen’s book on Dressing With Dignity – there’s a part in that book that recounts a study at a mall where they watched where men looked at women – you guessed it, the lower half. That alone makes me want to wear a dress/skirt.

    That alone makes me want to wear pants even more. I go to Church for church, not to be ogled at by men.

  19. Margaret says:

    I’ve been to a local FSSP chapel for Friday evening Mass three times now. Head coverings on women has run 50/50, EXCEPT for the last time I showed up when I was the only bareheaded one. Until another woman showed up the same way at the last minute. That made it ~ 25/75. :) Small chapel.

    Always at least one or two of the men are in jeans and sneakers. Always at least some of the women are in slacks rather than skirt or dress. As we’re talking about a Friday evening, though, it’s possible things run more casual than they do on Sundays…

  20. MargaretC says:

    Most women have a collection of scarves in a dresser drawer. If you don’t own a mantilla, get a scarf out and don’t worry. Hats are fine, too — berets are especially simple and practical, and easy to wear with other outfits.

    Full disclosure: I love hats.

  21. MargaretC says:

    Every parish has a few “odd” people. Some of them, I suspect, are great saints in disguise…

  22. Precentrix says:

    I would say:

    Wear something at least ‘smart casual’ – i.e. preferably not jeans, a white t-shirt and trainers – and modest (i.e. no cleavage, no midriff, preferably not bare shoulders etc.). Beyond that, most women at the EF will be in skirts (at least knee-length) and some sort of headcovering, most men will be in shirt and tie – especially on a Sunday. However, provided you aren’t breaking obvious rules of modesty, noone should really care – except to perhaps ask ‘Oh, is this your first time here?’

  23. Lirioroja says:

    Don’t worry about the headcovering. In my experience at TLM’s, half the women wear one and half the women don’t. And dress slacks are perfectly fine too. Again, my experience is that in warm weather half the women wear pants and in cold weather most of the women wear pants. Wear what you would to Sunday Mass. Or perhaps a dressy casual. Don’t worry about it too much. If you’re not comfortable in the outfit you’re wearing, you’ll be too self-conscious to focus on the Mass.

    I find it best not to try to follow along after the offertory. You’ll never be in the same place in your missal as the priest is. Sit near the back or off to the side in an inconspicuous spot. Do what you see everyone else doing. If you can manage some of the responses, great. If not, don’t sweat it. Absorb the experience. Watch the priest. Read up on it before hand – it helps. And it’s OK to walk out not liking it. Not everyone does the first time. For some it’s an acquired taste. That said I do hope you like it. God bless you for your openness to the TLM!

  24. elaurier says:

    There is a sign posted on the door of the strip mall suite where the EF is held stating that women will have their heads covered and be in at least knee length dresses and men will be in dress shirts. I did not see one woman in anything other than skirts at least mid calf length and 99% of the men wore ties. (my skirt just hit my knee..I was the rebel) I wish there was some leeway….I would love to go to the 6 am Mass before work…the timing would be perfect, but the dress thing doesn’t work for weekdays. I fumbled around like crazy the first few times (they should print instruction sheets for newbies), but fell in love with the solemnity and beauty of this Mass. I try to go once a month.

  25. Alice says:

    I *think* Mrs. Hammond is saying that when women wear pants men look at their lower halves and that they don’t see as much when women wear skirts. If you believe what she says, then you should wear skirts so that men aren’t distracted by you during Mass. Not everyone buys this, of course. I suspect that if the church is not SSPX or Independent, they won’t care if a woman wears nice pants. When we attended an Indult Mass years ago, we’d even see jeans every once in a while, especially when a woman was very, very pregnant or postpartum. People weren’t going to miss Mass just because they didn’t have dressy clothes that fit!

  26. Margaret says:

    elaurier– who runs this strip mall chapel?!?? At the FSSP chapel, I’ve seen signs with generic reminders about dressing modestly and appropriately for Mass, no beachwear, etc. I’ve never seen such a specific dress code spelled out, especially sola skirtura, nor the headcovering mandate… Is this other chapel “off the reservation” in any sense?

  27. APX says:

    I *think* Mrs. Hammond is saying that when women wear pants men look at their lower halves and that they don’t see as much when women wear skirts.”

    That makes no sense. Dresses, skirts and blouses are designed to emphasize/give the illusion of the ideal hourglass figure, which men instinctively associate with fertility. I suspect this is one of the reasons why in the aforementioned study, men were more prone to looking at women’s lower halves.

    Anyway, this has nothing to do with the actual question, so I’ll get off this digression.

  28. Precentrix says:


    (continuing thread drift…)

    Surely it would depend on the skirts in question. I mean, if I wear a long, wide or A-line skirt, no man is going to look at my bottom/hips/legs. However, if I wear one that just barely covers the knees and hugs to my hips, of course a man would be more likely to look there. Trousers, on the other hand, even if they have wide legs, are likely to emphasise the hips and rear end – which is why, frankly, very few women look good in them.

    There is a difference between dressing with suitable modesty and dressing frumpily. Fitted blouses which emphasise the waist are fine and appropriately feminine. HOWEVER there is an issue if they are too tight or, of course, low-cut.

  29. cl00bie says:

    About a year and a half ago, my wife and I began joining the local Franciscan hermitage on first Fridays for the TLM. We were armed with older missals, and we tried to take the opportunity to “set the book” before we went. My wife wears a mantilla. Partially, I’m sure, because most if not all of the other ladies are.

    We found the people around us in the pews very friendly, handing us missals and showing us where to go in them for the prayers. Father’s advice of sitting back a bit is a good one. After a few months, we were following right along. I look forward to our monthly forays to join the Brothers. As Angels always say when you encounter them: “Be not afraid”. :)

  30. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Last TLM I went to, I couldn’t help but notice the demeanor of a teenage boy in sweats a pew ahead of me. He was very reverent and knew the Mass like it was second nature. I was very impressed. Who cares about what clothes one wears? I wish people would relax on that. (Though I do understand a little on the wanting to escape the ordinary and casual in worship).

    This was the first TLM that I could actually follow along with. Who cares if others see that I don’t know what I’m doing? I assume it’s fairly understood that the TLM is unfamiliar to many people. I figured, among kinder souls, those unfamiliar with the Mass would be given credit for desiring to learn it.

  31. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    The young people at this Mass were very friendly. I’ve never had so many people I don’t know wave to me before and after Mass. Beautiful Mass!

    Grrrr on the clothes issue! There are good people who don’t dress up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Grrrr concentrate on the Mass and not on everyone around you!

    Hopeless with and allergic to dress clothes

  32. EMB says:

    So much has already been said on the matter but I would like to add one small thought:

    Please go again.

    The first time (and second and third) can be very intimidating but it doesn’t take long to pick up how to follow along with the priest and participate fully. My husband and I started going about a year ago and have really fallen in love with this form of the Mass. People ask us why we started going to this Mass and the answer is we just wanted to try it and then never stopped.

    So, even if you don’t go exclusively to this Mass I would recommend going enough to become comfortable with it. Its such blessing to be able to worship as so many faithful have done for centuries.

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