No samfoos allowed in church

From ‘One Catholic church says: Dressing like this is NOT OK’, 11 Feb 2012, article by Amanda Tan, ST

…The issue of church-appropriate attire was raised earlier this week in the media, after a parishioner, Ms Lisa Chew, from the Church of St Anthony in Woodlands, was approached on Jan 29 by a church warden who took issue with her outfit.

Ms Chew, a housewife in her 50s, said: ‘She tapped me on my shoulder, looked at my pants and said politely if I wore the same thing again, I won’t be allowed into the church.’

She was wearing a pink Chinese-style suit, or samfoo, which ended about 5cm above her ankles.

Mr Eric Alagan, her husband, 56, told The Straits Times: ‘If she wore a mini skirt, that’s a completely different matter. But this is traditional dress and it’s definitely appropriate for any function.’

After the incident, Mr Alagan, a Singaporean business consultant, wrote to Father Terence Pereira, the parish priest. He replied: ‘There is no mention of modesty or immodesty. We say appropriate for pants to be full-length.’

Still, Mr Alagan said: ‘I think that there must be guidelines in churches but they should be reasonable.’

According to the Church of St Anthony’s weekly bulletin, you may wear skirts or dresses that end ‘1 to 2 inches’ above the knees, but pants must end 1 to 2 inches above the ankles. Perhaps it’s not so much exposure of naked flesh but a matter of taste. I would probably get kicked out of the same church if I rolled up my jeans, even if I wore a pair of long socks to conceal my provocative ankles. Whether a samfoo is classy wear or not is open to interpretation, though traditionally you would expect to see more samfoo-wearers at a temple than a Catholic church. Or a Chinese restaurant. Ethnic dresses that are too hot to handle aside, some churches also ban spandex, and I’ve written enough on how attending service covered from head to toe doesn’t necessarily make you a good believer.

Here’s a quick history of the samfoo as a dress other than something worn by amahs and chambermaids: In the 1930’s samfoos were worn as SCHOOL UNIFORMS, deemed to be ‘neat and smart’ attire. Anyone looking at the picture below today would assume these were underpaid child-workers in a sweatshop.

School of Samfoo:Any wonder nobody’s smiling?

In 1954, hem-line obsessed fashionistas referred to it as the ‘pyjama suit’, with these ‘above-the-ankle slacks’ becoming a popular day wear  for Chinese girls. In 1958, a ‘rock-n-roll’ samfoo-wearing Patricia Yong Thai Thai won the ‘Charity Princess’ pageant. Even Western models were taken by it; wearing the samfoo would make you the Lady Gaga of the era in an instant.

1950’s blonde bombshell Martine in samfoo chic

There was even a whole pageant dedicated to the samfoo, the Malaysian ‘Miss Samfoo contest’ in the early sixties.  In 1967, it was introduced as the official uniform of China Airlines stewardesses , and in the 1970’s, some samfoos were so highly sought after that they were stripped right off the wearer by robbers. More recently, Sharon Au celebrated her comeback in the 2011 NDP clad in samfoo. Unlike the sexier cheongsam, a samfoo-wearer is thrust with the aura of long-suffering humility, motherliness and domestication, and trying to make the classic blouse and slacks combination hip again is like turning up at a cosplay event as a nun.

Although no purveyor of ladies’ fashion myself, I don’t see the samfoo making a comeback in the glamour circuit anytime soon. Even the aunties and ah-mas aren’t buying it anymore. And I can’t even look at one without thinking of the SBC classic ‘Samsui Women’.   Still, I don’t see anything wrong with wearing one to church. Just don’t be surprised if someone hands you a pile of laundry, or asks if you are a Chingay parade participant who came directly after a full dress rehearsal.


One Response

  1. i am catholic and i think the church is totally out of whack… wear anything you want. what matters is the heart… the individual is only answerable to GOD and no one else… my 2 cents..

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