Wearing A Stole Over Street Clothes

Wuh-oh! I received an e-mail rant from a retired colleague who saw some photos on a Facebook page in conjunction with a conversation about wearing stoles over street clothes and begged me to, as she put it, “ride in on a white horse” and do something about what she considered outrageously inappropriate attire.

I heard the description of the photos and I agree: YIKES! However, I did not view the photos myself, and have asked my esteemed colleague to do the good, if often unappreciated, mentorly thing and contact the offending colleague herself.

But let me make some general observations and suggestions on the topic, ’cause that’s what we do here!

A stole is a liturgical garment. It should technically only be worn in liturgical settings.

HOWEVER, times and usage changes and so PeaceBang must address that. Now that PeaceBang has shifted into third person, you know she’s very serious.

Clergy these days have taken to flinging stoles over all manner of clothing and outerwear to signal to the public that they are religious leaders. They do this particularly in the context of social justice witness, and this has become so common that PeaceBang has to say, “Well, okay! This is a thing! So if it’s a thing, let’s do it right!”
Since we have no other authority to decide the matter, let us proceed.

What might we consider appropriate street clothes to wear with a stole?

You, wonderful minister or rabbi, may feel that throwing a stole over your protest message T-shirt is a fine and dandy way to appear in public. PeaceBang heartily disagrees.

Remember that while people are “reading” your stole and interpreting it to mean that you are some flavor of religious leader, they are also “reading” your Tshirt and making unconscious associations with it that affects their opinion of you: “I am a humble cotton garment worn in extremely informal settings. I have my origins in men’s underwear.” Why would you pair an important act of presence with attire that invokes extreme informality? Don’t allow your attire to undermine and contradict your message.

PeaceBang recommends that stoles be worn over actual clothing that professional adults wear. Interpret as you will.

Clergy who are in the habit of wearing stoles over street clothes should consider owning stoles of a couple different lengths.
The long stole properly belongs in church, where it will not flap around in the breeze or against jeans or casual pants. The chaplain length stole is a very nice option to have on hand. It’s neater and therefore more respectful.

Stoles are not cheerful little personal banners. They are ancient liturgical vestments that represent the yoke of ministry and the sanctity of the priestly office.

One need not don a mitre with a stole in non-liturgical settings, but one should most certainly not don a baseball cap. One or the other, gang. You may feel that your baseball cap and stole are a great combination of Serious Religious Person and Fun, Relatable Guy but PeaceBang feels that the combination signals, rather, Sloppy Minister Who Didn’t Feel Like Washing Their Hair Before the March, Who Has No Sense of The Gravity Of The Justice Issue. Just chillin’ in my baseball cap!

What are some better haberdashery options? Let’s hear them!

Stoles should never, ever, ever, ever be worn with shorts
. PeaceBang is LAYING DOWN THE LAW on this one. If you must disagree, please do it out of her earshot. Remember the minister we heard about who officiated a funeral in the summer wearing madras shorts? That still pierces my soul. No one can ever undo the hurt that that show of clueless disrespect caused to the family of the decease.

Stoles are not a fashion accessory. They should not be worn as scarves to brighten up or formalize a comfy outfit to make it more clergytastic. If you choose to wear a stole over street clothes, please create an outfit that takes the stole into consideration. Consider the neckline of blouse — will it lie nicely with a stole over it? And women, stoles and cleavage are not a good mix. This is not because clergy shouldn’t have breasts or be sexy but because revealing cleavage is an evening wear, glamorous kind of look. Featuring cleavage while doing the work of ministry isn’t a problem because you’re a curvy gal but a problem because it looks like you don’t know how to find clothes that fit appropriately. Festivals of Inappropriate Sharing are a result of poor fit. Take the time to find a blouse or top that fits well, and consider using fashion tape or brooches to assist with fit.

When wearing a stole over a jacket, consider the cut and fabric of the jacket; will it work with the stole? How does the color scheme all go together, head to toe? And speaking of toes, stoles should not reach yours. They should fall no lower than mid-calf. Chaplain length stoles should be around abdomen length, or the top of your thighs as you are walking or wheeling.

Cheers, dears.

10 Replies to “Wearing A Stole Over Street Clothes”

  1. This is very timely, as I have a related question. I’m about to begin a pastorate in a church that does not robe or do liturgical colors, but my own background is a bit more high-church, and the stole is a significant part of how I ground myself in the preaching moment. Over time, I may be able to educate the church about this, but being the first female pastor they’ve had seems like enough change for now! Do you have any ideas about how I might use liturgical colors or something stole-ish? Is that a bad idea?

  2. I would say, no stoles over anything except a clergy collar type professional looking outfit. Or possibly an all black or similarly somber monochrome ensemble where the stole is really the only thing “going on.” Just my $.02.

  3. Ellen, I am not a church leader, and I’m part of a tradition that has no robes or stoles or collars. I have worked for church related orgs (non profit and universities) and in my tradition have led worship, preached, etc. I love, love, love the robes and stoles of other traditions because I think they add sanctity to an occasion of worship. So, when I am leading worship, I wear a blazer and dress (I feel comfortable that way) and a scarf/dress in the liturgical color. It makes me happy and reminds me of the season I am trying to help the congregation live into.

  4. Thanks, PB, for addressing this. I am the duly offended retired minister who first contacted you about this, and I have been a chicken about getting back to the offending (young, new,) minister. I think I might privately PM her and just give her this link. Once I get up my nerve. (How do you do this???)

  5. Judy – may i offer a comment? Sending a link as a PM strikes this Scandanavian midwesterner as a passive aggressive move. I come from people who perfected passive aggressive behavior. If I had a colleague who was troubled by my attired enough to send me an article, I would appreciate being invited out to coffee by said colleague and being asked to share my thoughts about how i present myself in the priestly office and then have said colleague share her thoughts about what she saw/noticed/observed in my attempt to look “relatable” (or some other such word). Maybe your colleague’s never been asked to share her ideas about how her authority is conveyed, or not, by her clothing. I suspect that hearing what her choices signaled to another colleague would at the very least cause her to be thoughtful and intentional in the future. Just a thought.

  6. Amy, thanks for the comment above. I still haven’t done anything about this, so your thoughtful caution is timely. I do not know this woman or where she lives; hers was a comment on a FB page for women ministers in our denomination, and there was actually lots of response from others (much of it totally inappropriate, in this old fuddy-duddy’s opinion). So perhaps a general response to the FB post would be a better way to handle this. Or maybe I’ve gotten lucky and someone else who reads BTFM has already posted the link there…

  7. I know that, as someone who didn’t own clericals, I have sometimes worn a stole at a social justice event. My rule was that I only wore it over black clothing–preferably a pant suit type outfit, though, if it was hot, I would sometimes wear it over a plain black dress. I agree, stoles over message t-shirts aren’t appropriate.

    I think this technique could also work well for folks who don’t wish to robe in their particular context, but wish to wear stoles. What do you think, PB? Stoles okay over simple black clothing?

  8. Ellen, if it feels right to you, I encourage you to wear a stole when you preach. I realize we don’t know each other, so it feels a bit presumptuous of me to respond to you … but in my experience congregants respond well to someone who brings her authentic self into the pulpit. Whatever you decide – best to you in your new ministry setting! I can only imagine how exciting it is as you prepare to be with them. And since you are the first female pastor they’ve had – I hope there is a woman’s clergy group you can get connected with!

    I’m a clergy person who does wear a stole over a black, conservatively-cut dress on Sunday mornings for preaching. It feels right to me in my ministry context. I don’t wear open-toed shoes, though! I wouldn’t wear my stole with jeans, T-shirt, etc.

    Again, best to you, Ellen!

  9. Oh I heartily agree. Our church participated in our local pride parade and wore clericals but no stoles; I did wear a rainbow necklace when offered it, and that was a bit of a stretch for me personally. I saw a couple of clergy with stoles over very casual street clothes or with costumey outfits and it seemed kind of icky and disrespectful.

    Given the number of amazing moments talking to people who were intrigued that a fairly traditional liturgical church would participate, I think we made the right choice.

  10. Amen. Catholics would say the only exception is when a priest has to suddenly give the last rites or hear the confession of a dying person. In those cases, he would throw a stole over whatever he is wearing.

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