The Mother Lode of Frumpy Clothing

Lord have mercy on my poor soul, children.

I received a catalog in the mail from Deva Lifewear, whose slogan is “A way of life since 1978.”

I opened this thing and I had to sit down, it was such a breathtaking discovery. It was the Holy Grail of Frumpy Clothing!! It’s all there! Click on the images to enlarge but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We have the Sisterwife Jumper, favored by Christian Education ministers everywhere:

We have the Tie-Dye Muu-Muu, favored by Boomer clergy women who still live in 1968 in their souls and are devoted to looking like they do:

We have the Creative Vest favored by the earnestly clueless who don’t realize they look like they’re auditioning to play one of the rustics in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Almighty Jehovah, the mint green blouse! Gadzooks!):

We have the “I just ran to the state house from yoga class, sorry I’m late” look favored by Californians who think everywhere is an extension of the health club (ERIKA!! Am I right?):

And finally, we have the Harmless, Sexless Pastors In Cotton Who Just Introduced Themselves To You But Whose Names You Have Already Forgotten (Because You Need an Espresso Shot Just To Stay Awake Around Them):

oh hai. well how ya doing now? we sure would like you to join us for bible study but not if you don’t want to. we’ll be seein’ you around, now.

Dear Deva,
I support your small business and I love natural cotton garments more than anything. I think you seem like swell folks. I feel so badly about writing this post that I might even order something from you, like maybe a long nightgown. Because you never know, I might someday get married and need a long, moss green nighty with a ruffled bottom for the nights that my husband chooses me to bed with him, and not one of the other sisterwives. OK, seriously now, the front vent shell top on page 36 is actually kind of cute and I really, really want to love you and speak well of you, so please design more pieces like that — with a shape and a cut that might conceivably be mistaken for a garment that people in 2011 would choose to wear. Thank you so much and all the best. Love, PeaceBang

29 Replies to “The Mother Lode of Frumpy Clothing”

  1. I purchased a couple pieces from Deva more than 25 years ago when I was in college and used The Next Whole Earth Catalog as my style guide. Deva used to have a great natural fibers kimono and a flattering Ren Faire tunic. Their signature product was their drawstring pants (Deva was yogawear before that existed). It was more “intentional community/French artisan farmer meets Society for Creative Anachronism” than formal garb for your minister gig. Back then, Deva was about natural fibers and providing cottage sewing work for workers. The catalog came with samples of their homespun fabrics. It’s a shame they’ve veered toward Land’s End, but they likely are trying to keep up with markets. I saw variations of this dress at GA:

  2. HILARIOUS! Well, it would hilarious if your characterizations weren’t so tragically true. Preach, PB!

  3. Yuck. If I didn’t trust you with all my heart and soul, I would have thought you made them up as a Merry Prank on us.

  4. Oh, Peacebang, thank you for my funny for the day. I found your blogs by happenstance, and I must say, my life is better for it. I am a non-ordained single, woman, who has earned her M.Div and can preach circles around most of her classmates (not that that’s the most important thing a pastor does). Alas, because I am single and a woman, that disqualifies me in the minds of many in my tradition from ever being a legitimate pastor.

    Anyway, do you have any advice for a girl who is on a very limited budget (I’m the Christian Education director), who wants to upgrade her wardrobe, but still finds herself living in chinos and solid-color T-shirts? I’m starting to annoy myself.

    You, your faith, and your blogs, are such a blessing to me. It just goes to show that many in my tradition need to get over themselves.

  5. Jill,

    Try seeing if any of your contemporaries will do a clothing swap with you! That got me started, plus saving my pennies and doing an after season shopping trip for a few other pieces.

    I’ve never had much luck finding things like jackets (you try fitting an athlete’s body), but skirts and trousers have been great finds at upscale consignment shops.

    UPSCALE shops. Look around for them. You’ll get designer clothes and not tragic castoffs.

  6. I have to tell you, these are the clothes that my recently departed sister-in-law wore. Of course, she was 88, and dressed them up with fabulous jewelry and scarves, artistic make-up and a personality that commanded the room.

  7. ““I just ran to the state house from yoga class, sorry I’m late” look favored by Californians ”

    …which wouldn’t work in California because the capital is in Sacramento and not the San Fernando Valley. 😉 The tule fog would ensure that the “pastorette” (;-) I’m being silly) would be bundled up to avoid the bone chilling cold and the high summer heat would stop any sane person from running. [HA! Touche, darling. – PB]

  8. Jill V. Z., try your local Goodwill/Hope Harbor or similar nonprofit gently-used-stuff store. You amy have to go there several times, but if a big woman like me can find something there, you can too.
    I love the Sisterwife Jumper. I want one. Put it on over my full-sleeved chemise, add a rope belt and a veil to cover my hair, and I’ll be all ready for the Society for Creative Anachronism’s next gathering– a perfect 12th century fashion plate!

  9. Jill,
    I totally second (third) the consignment shop/ thrift shop idea. You have to choose carefully, and don’t bother shopping in the places that just depress you, it’s not good for your soul.

    Many of us live on a very tight budget. My wardrobe is pretty limited, but I’m growing it slowly by shopping consignment shops, buying late in the season on clearance and also by making a friend of an outlet shop near me. Talbots might not be my first choice of designers, but I scoop up deals on basics.

    Find some stores near you. It’s worth the investment of time to make pilgrimages from time to time.

  10. Well, stylistic issues notwithstanding, what I noticed is that the skirts have POCKETS!! Whoa! That is increasingly rare, and enough to make me beg PB to allow one of them….on Sunday with a nice blazer and clergy shirt? Pleeeease?

  11. Jill V.Z., when it comes to clothes that run in predictable sizes, eBay is your friend. I buy half or more of my clothes on eBay, and have gotten Chico’s, Ann Taylor, J Crew, Eileen Fisher and more at a fraction of the cost.

  12. I have to admit that I own pajamas from this company that they are quite cozy. And I wear them at night, to bed. Not to work at the church.

  13. The grey jumper could make a good fall winter maternity outfit although I can’t envision what you could wear with it that would punch it up.

  14. By the way, as the poster of the first post, I just want to clarify that I support Deva and think they deserve no bad Web press. They aren’t in the business of supplying formal garb for ministers. I still find some of their pieces compelling. They’re also fair trade (U.S. made by folks who want to work at home!) and very reasonably priced. They are what they are. How people choose to wear their clothes is another matter not related to Deva, the company.

  15. […]Suddenly, everyone I knew was having a baby,” she says. More important, her pregnant friends complained bitterly about the frumpy maternity clothes on the market. […]

  16. I just found this post, and I wish I hadn’t. It is mean! [I know. It is mean. Sorry. I’m trying to be less mean these days. Of course that also means I’m also a lot less funny. It’s a tough balance to try to keep. – PB]

  17. Coming in late on this, but better late than never, esp when it comes to defending what was a great, and uniquely run and operated, business.

    And do agree with the sentiments of Carol, above.

    I don’t know what the others commenting here wear when relaxing, but I’m sitting in my now-air conditioned house (it’s hot, hot, hot here and the humidity is through the roof), cool and comfortable in my now-vintage Deva (yes, Deva!) short sleeved, navy blue, rounded hem tunic. Fabric a mid-weight, nubby cotton, perfect for super high humidity.

    Why pick some of the frumpiest (your term, not mine) Deva items to mock?

    Deva is now out of business (and am I wishing I’d stocked up on more of their great, hot weather tops!), after a long, happy run of well over 35 years of manufacturing cool, comfy, simple clothing that was handmade by Deva workers/associates–women (for the most part) who sewed for Deva out of their own homes.

    Some Deva clothing was, I do agree, “relaxed” to a point of being potentially comical.

    But MOST Deva clothing was an interesting blend of relaxed fashion and green, USA-sourced, laid back cotton fabric.

    Would you find Deva-like items in high end fashion stores? Of course not. Would you find these items in your standard department store inventories? No way. Will you find Deva-like clothing in some catalog companies? You might, but you’ll have to search.

    Deva clothing was absolutely unique, and filled, for people like me, important niches in my closet.

    Why attack, in this day of the disappearance of small, alternative businesses, a company like Deva? Why go after Deva–an imaginative, small business that never stopped bucking overpriced, ever-changing, often unwearable by all but the impossibly tall, unhealthily slim, super young, fashion trends?

    I guess this is a stab at humor writing, but it really isn’t working for this reader.

    [Thanks for your fond testimonial to the now-defunct Deva. Yes, this blog is meant to be funny and irreverent, but I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I don’t wish the best for independent clothing companies that fill a niche. This site is for a clergy population that has, in recent decades, become alarmingly sloppy and unkempt. I use barbed humor in order to highlight the sartorial sins committed by people of the cloth, including dressing for public leadership in the kinds of comfy, floppy style sold by Deva. I have never cared about what folks wear when they’re relaxing at home. Good lord, you should my own collection of muu-muus! – PB]

  18. Tut-tut. I bought stuff from Deva for years and loved it. Very comfy and different than the usual tightly-fitted, up to your @$$ modern stuff made for young gals and so form-fitting that your average sized banana would have trouble wiggling into it. Got a lot of compliments on the outfits, too, as the fabrics were unique and the styles were basic to the point they attracted good attention, not gawking. They were tasteful.

    There is something to be said for simplicity, in life as well as clothing.

    Try it. You’ll like it.

  19. I discovered your page in a search for DEVA products. I bought a top from them years ago that I love and wear often. It’s lasted all these years due to the high quality of DEVA clothing. Obviously DEVA clothing isn’t for you. It isn’t for everyone. As I understand it, the company was started with good intentions, as a cottage industry employing local seamstresses and using natural fabrics and casual designs. I am certain your intention was to be funny, however, your derisive post and the comments of some of your followers only service to confirm my growing belief that those who wear the cloak of christianity tend to be mean-spirited. You should find your humor somewhere besides at the expense of others.
    [Maybe what you should work on is your misunderstanding of what Christian life is and means. It is not a cloak under which real human beings — some of whom have sarcastic senses of humor — hide. It is not a veneer that bestows a magical personality transplant on the followers of Jesus or requires that they never be mean-spirited or always find nice things to say about hideously ugly clothes. Christianity is a spiritual path of discipleship in devotion to Jesus Christ, not a Girl Scout badge one earns for being smiley and nice about everything. Some things are ugly. Some products deserve to be reviewed derisively, because they’re awful, unncessarily unflattering, and the manufacturers and designers need to do better. Thanks for writing, glad you love your DEVA purchases. As for your desire to only know sweet Christians, I don’t know what to recommend to you. Most of the genuinely sweetest people I know are of no particular theological persuasion. Some are atheists. Some are Christians. Some are Muslim. Some are Jews, and pagans, and Buddhists. Don’t interpret Christianity as a Sweetness Cult and you won’t be so disillusioned. It’s about truth, justice, love (which is not the same as sweetness), compassion and a path of service. I criticize because I love and this is one of the ways that I am of service. – PB]

  20. I’m not a minister. I found this while I was googling on the web. I do happen to own quite a few pieces by Deva although I do not own any of the ones you featured in your article. As the previous poster said, you did pick out the frumpiest items and photos to feature. Deva makes plenty of other stuff that either doesn’t look like that, or can easily be dressed up with accessories or combined with other items to make a flattering outfit. I’m particularly fond of their natural, breathable material and have worn some of their blouse styles (again not the ones pictured, but basic tees and blouses with interesting collars and patterns) with my power suits. They also make a number of other dresses that do not look like a kindergarten teacher’s maternity jumper.

    I appreciate that you were going for a laugh here and I know what you mean about church people sometimes dressing in the way you post – I have seen this type of outfit on many members of religious orders and lay ministers in my time – but you also did a bit of a disservice to a company that tried to be socially conscious. Deva is now out of business, but they sold their patterns to one of their cottage industry makers who is now carrying on and making the items for those of us who enjoy them.

    Deva clothes aren’t for everyone – if you want skin tight, or up to the minute fashion styles, rather than something more classic that you can wear for years, through various weight and body fluctuations, and feel comfortable, then Deva is not for you. But not all Deva is “frumpy”. I’m glad you got the expected laughs out of your post but in fairness I would like to speak up here for the other side.
    [“I’m not a minister” says everything I need to know. Thank you for writing, but my caution against the frumpiness of this clothing line was for clergy and clergy only. Take care. – PB]

  21. What a vicious post. I cannot fathom Christ approving of your superficial values. Making fun of people for the clothes they wear? Really? It’s this kind of mean-spiritedness that gives Christians a bad name. Go do something he would approve of, like feeding the poor, and get out of the business of finding fault with others.
    [Well, I do a lot of things Jesus would approve of, like feeding the poor. I hope you do too, and don’t spend all your time on the internet defending HIDEOUSLY FRUMPY CLOTHING THAT NO MINISTERS SHOULD WEAR. Thanks for writing. – PB]

  22. Here I am in 2017 looking for some comfy clothes. Since I have a few pieces from Deva in my closet I thought I’d see if they were still available. I found these posts and thought they were funny. Just want to say I’ll countinue my search. Who was it bought their patterns? [NO idea, but I’m glad I made you laugh! – PB]

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