Masonic Correction

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley

I started wearing tweed jackets when I was sixteen years old. I own and wear three-piece suits, a vintage pocket watch, and a gold watch chain. I tie my own bow ties, and have enough sweater vests that my wife rolls her eyes when I buy another one. I was delighted to be asked to join the Rose Croix line in the Valley of Danville, AASR-NMJ, because I love the 17th and 18th Degrees, and I count the other Rose Croix officers, both past and present, among my closest friends, but my first reaction was the thrill of having an excuse to buy a tuxedo. I usually wear a lodge polo shirt and khakis to my home lodge for stated meetings (we’re fairly informal), but I normally wear a jacket and tie otherwise. And should the powers that be in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite ever lower their standards enough to grace me with the 33rd and Last Degree, I’ll gladly accept it, giddy in the knowledge that I’ll be able to wear white tie and tails before I die. Suffice it to say, I don’t normally underdress for things.

The photo in question.
So you might think I’d be curmudgeonly in my response to the meme that’s floating around the internet that features Fellowcrafts and Master Masons in their aprons and in casual dress down to ripped jeans and t-shirts, with “STANDARDS” in bold letters below them. It’s elicited a bunch of comments on the Freemasons for Dummies blog, some of it cautionary, much of it condemning.  I can sympathize. I like dressing well, and I like being in the company of other well-dressed people. If ever I were to have a “get off my lawn” moment, surely it would be in response to that picture. But I’m not. I’m actually more upset at the tone taken by some of my well-meaning Brethren. Yes, I get it that having high standards matters. Yes, I understand that we’re a fraternity of gentlemen. Yes, I’m delighted that there are lodges that wear tuxedos at all degrees, and I hope to take part in one someday. But I would be grateful if a word of correction would be given by whispering in a Brother’s ear, rather than by making his “transgression” go viral. 

Recently, I participated in two degrees where the candidate expressly dressed as he would for church: in once case, it was in a suit; in the other, it was shorts and a t-shirt. In neither case did it reflect the standards of the man wearing it; it represented how he interpreted our instructions based on his own experience. “But it’s common sense to dress up for church (or lodge)!” people cry. No, it’s not.  When people talk about common sense, they usually mean the way they themselves think based on their understanding of the world, which is in turn based on their experience. When we tell other people to use their common sense, we generally either think they have the same experience we do, and therefore don't need to do any research, or we haven't looked at the problem closely enough to realize that it actually requires research. When we say, in response to some disastrous decision, “but it should have been common sense” to do something different, we’re just holding ourselves out as being superior. Which isn’t common sense at all. 
In this photo, Justin Bieber is not properly 
attired for a stated meeting: 
he's not wearing an apron.

Now, do we want our Brethren to hold themselves to a high standard of behavior, dress, and morality? Yes, we do. Would I whisper council in a Brother’s ear if he showed up for a degree dressed in torn jeans and a t-shirt? Sure. I’d tell a candidate who showed up dressed that way that he should set the standard of his appearance for his next degree by what he observed around the lodge. And, taking an example from a comment by Brother Chris Hodapp, I would ask a Brother who showed up for a funeral dressed in jeans and a t-shirt to please change clothes or not participate. But correction can easily be perceived as coming from a place of assumed moral superiority and self-importance. I am required by my obligation to assume my Brothers’ best intentions, but expressing myself in a condemning tone is a good way to prevent him from assuming mine. Holding up Fellowcrafts to public correction on the Web isn’t assuming their best intentions, and doesn’t attempt to understand the culture of their lodge. 

And culture really matters. There’s a very active and successful lodge in my jurisdiction that had an air conditioning failure during a heat wave. They didn’t cancel their stated meeting, but had a luau lodge, with Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and flip-flops the dress for the evening. I don’t know if they used leis as chains of office, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Had a picture of that night been sent out, I imagine the comments would have gotten heated, but the Brethren who were there still talk about what a wonderful night of Brotherhood it was.  I don’t know the culture of the lodge in the picture, but I’d be happy to visit, and I’ll call ahead to find out what the standard of dress is. I’d rather do a little research than relying on my common sense.

So I’ll keep wearing what I wear, enjoying the many opportunities Masonry offers to dress well. And I love my tuxedo, but it isn’t my first. Years ago, when I was thinner, much younger, and still had hair, my father bought a new tuxedo for his 25th college reunion, and gave me his old one: a 1953 Brooks Brothers beauty. I tried it on, looked in the mirror, and was feeling just a bit special. Much smitten with my appearance, I asked my grandmother, who had been raised in very posh circumstances, how I looked. She flicked the ash off her cigarette, leaned back in her wheelchair, and said, “why, you look like a waiter.” Her experience was different than mine, after all.

A link to the original article from Bro. Chris Hodapp is HERE


R. W. B. Michael H. Shirley is Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master for the Eastern Area for the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. & A.M, as well as a Certified Lodge Instructor and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. A Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332, a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua Wisconsin and he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.


  1. Very nice! I like to dress reasonably well myself, but my lodge is somewhat casual (no shorts, but jeans and collared shirts are commonplace) and I have no problems with that. It is the hearts of my lodge brothers, their internal qualifications, and their actions that matter most.

  2. Paraphrasing the second lecture of the EA degree: Masonry doesn't care for worldly wealth or honors. It is the internal, not the external qualifications that make us worthy.
    I understand how easy it is to slip into the thinking of "this is how my lodge does it, so this is how every lodge should do it." It's much more difficult to act with love, and remember that each lodge has its own culture that must be respected, as we want them to respect ours.

  3. The really interesting thing here is the variety in Freemasonry. As a Pennsylvania Mason, I'm used to the standard that Wardens and Masters wear tails, while other officers wear short coat tux or dark suit. About 4 years ago, Bro. Thomas K. Sturgeon, RWPGM, made a ruling that members (not officers) no longer had to wear ties in Lodge, but could wear a collared shirt instead. Most Lodges were aghast and I don't know of any Lodges in the state where a jacket and tie isn't he required dress for the meeting.

    I'm not saying one way is right or wrong - I just enjoy seeing how Masonry works all over the country!

  4. Yes, I understand that some like to dress. And some do not. Some lodges require more formal dress, and some do not. Neither is right or wrong. It just is. If you are visiting a lodge then it is in your best interest to contact them and find out the proper dress for that lodge.

    Regardless of your reasons for dress, remember that ALL MASONS are taught to regard the internal and not the external qualities of man.

    What I find interesting is that it seems as those that normally dress formally tend to look down on brothers/lodges who do not. But the lodges who dress casually do not care what you wear to your meeting or if you were to wear a suit to their meetings. Funny how that works out.

  5. Great post - all too often I hear that 'it's the internal & not the external' bit ... garbage. Doesn't apply to how how someone dresses ... but rather, to the fact we don't care about a Brother's social/economic status, religion, political views, etc. Dressing in a manner to reflect your sincerity to the Craft MATTERS. Folks dress up for Church, Weddings, Funerals, Parties, etc ... why not dress up to attend a place where all good men are there to learn how to better themselves?

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