Three sharply dressed Midnight Freemasons at a Masonic education symposium. Left to right: Greg Knott, Robert Johnson, and Todd Creason.
The topic of dressing for Lodge keeps coming up. I made a comment on a discussion our editor Robert Johnson started the other night on social media. I thought I’d expand on that remark a bit.
When I joined the Fraternity I didn’t own a jacket. I’d been wearing a shirt and tie to work for years, but I’d never worn a jacket. I was in my late thirties, and I didn’t even know my size. I went and bought one days after I was raised. It was the first of many new experiences I had when I became a Master Mason. Part of becoming a Master Mason is learning to see ourselves differently. I’ve become something different over time as a Mason. Something better than I was. I didn’t join the Lodge to stay the same, I joined to change. I didn’t join the Lodge to be accepted as I was—I joined the Lodge out of a desire to learn to be something more.
It was the culture of Masons in my Lodge to dress for degree work and special events, and so that’s what I do. That’s what I’ve done since the beginning. We dress alike to show we’re Brothers. We dress because we’re supposed to be leaders and examples in our community. We dress to show respect for the due solemnity and importance of the work that we are doing. We dress to impress upon our new members that what they are becoming a part of is very different from what they’ve known. We dress so that when others in the community see us coming and going from the Lodge they know we must be doing something important.
I’ve seen a number of young men dress in that jacket and tie for the first time since then. I’ve taught a few of them how to tie a tie. In fact that first jacket I bought somehow shrank over time (probably all the dinners), and I gave it to a new member to wear. I’ve seen other Masons do the same thing. When I joined the York Rite Chapter, I didn’t have a red jacket which is customarily worn in my area—and I didn’t really have the cash to lay out at that time to buy one. My good friend Sean McBride was traveling with the Grand Chapter and found a jacket in his travels for me to wear. That meant a lot to me at the time that he’d thought about me. I was able to go to meetings properly dressed like my Brothers in Chapter.
Now a few people in that first discussion said they can’t dress for Lodge because they go right from work to Lodge. So do I. So do many more of us in my Lodge. You know how many times I’ve changed at work before going to Lodge, or changed at the Lodge when I get there? I wish I had a dollar for every time I’d changed into a suit in the bathroom of a funeral home prior to Masonic Funeral Rites. I often leave my jacket and my apron at the Lodge so I don’t have to run home for them when I’m pressed for time. And I’m not the only one—you know what you see in cars parked outside my Lodge on a Royal Arch Chapter night? Masons walking in carrying their suit bags. There’s a difference between “can’t dress” and “don’t want to dress” for Lodge.
Now whether or not you dress for Lodge should be up to the culture of your Lodge. We don’t dress for regularly stated meetings. Some Lodges do—in fact, I just visited one that wears a full tuxedo and gloves! I had Midnight Freemasons Greg Knott and Darin Lahners with me that night, and we all felt a little under-dressed in our suits. But it was a wonderful evening, and that Lodge had one of the best evenings and festive boards I’ve ever enjoyed in the Lodge. Some Lodges wear blue suits. Some wear black suits. My Lodge just wants our members to wear a jacket and tie. I usually wear the best jacket, vest, and pants I can find in my closet that are free of stains–those pieces usually belonging to about three different suits.
I think a lot of the conflict over dress is about Lodges having a tradition to dress in a certain way, and a few members disregarding it. The members get upset, and those that have disregarded the traditional standard of dress set by the Lodge get in a huff and say they shouldn’t be judged by how they dress, and they don’t have time to dress, and it’s too expensive, and the internal not the external qualifications of a man, etc. At least that’s what I see during these debates almost without exception. I’ve never really understood that. I knew the members of my Lodge dressed up. I’d seen it before I’d joined. I looked forward to doing the same, and knew I’d have to buy some clothes after I was raised. If I had a problem with dressing up, I certainly wouldn’t have joined my Lodge, because I knew full well they dressed up.
Masonry is a tradition. Each Lodge has its own unique identity and culture. By all means, if your Lodge has a custom and a tradition to dress in a certain way either for all their events or certain events . . . respect it! Freemasonry, and your Lodge in particular, shouldn’t have to change to accommodate you—the idea is that you’re going to change as a result of Freemasonry! Isn’t that why we joined?
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog, and an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. Todd started the Midnight Freemason blog in 2006, and in 2012 he opened it up as a contributor blog The Midnight Freemasons (plural). Todd has written more than 1,000 pieces for the blog since it began. He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR). He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org