Toning It Down For CPE

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day, mah friends.* I got this interesting letter the other day. Let’s take a look and have a talk.


Hi Peacebang,
I am currently getting ready for my first CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] interview. I am trying to decide what to wear and what pieces to add to my wardrobe down the road when I get closer to actually doing CPE.
I loooove a suit and I have a fair collection of professional appropriate clothes. Except: they are a bit on the loud and bright side. I love bold patterns and super saturated bright colors and jewel tones.
I’m in the south applying for CPE in the south. I’m southern enough to know that my professional wardrobe is too eye catching for CPE generally and it is for sure too eye catching for CPE here.

I’m pretty sure that CPE is not the place for my bright red blazer or my blue monochrome suit outfit. Or my white blazer with black faux leather collar. Or my hounds-tooth blazer. Or ….many things.
I can do a few all black outfits but every time I put one of my SUPER COLOR shells underneath my black jackets I think I look like I’m headed to a political convention.
Do you have any suggestions for toning down a pop-y wardrobe without resorting to all the earth tones I hate? (they look fine on other people and forests)
Thank you for your awesome ministry!
May your day be bright and your sleep deep,

Dear Thoughtful Chaplain-To-Be,

Preparing to do CPE is a great time to consider your developing clergy image. You’re asking all the right questions: how well does my personal preference in attire work in my ministry context?
You have wisely assessed your geographical context (the South) and your professional context (chaplaincy work) and considered the typical choices for that context (earth tones) and are putting it all together, showing a willingness to edit and adapt your own style to suit your ministry. Brava! That non-defensive wisdom will serve you well in your work, so you’re already ahead of the game!

So, I’m thinking about what you said and about what you’ll be doing.
My first thought is that much of CPE happens as we minister to those in beds and wheelchairs and it’s considerate not to want to strain their eyes. On the other hand, maybe a dose of hot pink is just what the doctor ordered!

Busy patterns are not restful to the eye, I agree. Houndstooth is a classic neutral pattern but I’d save it for days you’re not visiting patients. Bright red is a wonderful power color but very hard on the eyes in close proximity, so yes, retire that blazer for patient days.

“Shall we pray?”
“Can I keep my eyes closed? I’m already getting eye strain.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.23 PM

“Hello, I’m the Chaplain, can I visit with you for a moment?”
“Sure, but can you take off that blinding tie though?”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.45 PM
The houndstooth pattern of his jacket is nice and small but the lines in the tie are eye-straining.

“Hi, how are you this morning?”
“I’m doing well, chaplain. I like your jacket. Very fashionable but it’s making me squint.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.37.58 PM

“Good morning, it’s so good to see you again. Are you up for a short visit?”
“I’d like that very much.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.38.30 PM
Save the houndstooth pattern for the lower half of your bod.

You mentioned black as the kind of default option for toning down your cherished eye-poppin’ looks. But how about eggplant purple? How about navy? How about charcoal grey? Those can be non-blah-earth-tones that could be paired with brighter tops. They’re rich and restful enough on the eye and won’t upstage your face and eyes, which will be the focus of most interactions.

* I wrote this weeks ago!
I learned this year that it’s not Indigenous People’s Day but Indigenous Peoples Day — no apostrophe needed because the day honors the entire diversity of indigenous peoples.

“Festive” In Clericals

Generic Italian greeting! Bacci!

I got this call for help on Facebook today. Gillian writes,

Trying to come up w/ a variation on clericals to wear to tonight’s pasta dinner that simultaneously says “festive” and “I’m the priest” and is also something that allows me to move freely for set-up and take down and that I don’t care if a plate of spaghetti sauce gets spilled on. A sartorial challenge! Oh PeaceBang, where art thou? 🙂

I am RIGHT HERE, using a Bruno Tonioli accent to answer this question!
(Can I just say that I love him? And that all of the judges on “Dancing With The Stars” are wonderful, as are the pros? And that the costume and hair and production people rock my world every week, even when they put together a super cheesy couples dance to “My Heart Will Go On?” I love that show. I love the “journey” of the stars being all stiff and insecure and resistant and defensive and then immersing themselves in the discipline of rehearsing and trusting their pro, and getting back out there and feeling themselves and having Len Goodman imperiously critique them and then crying and then getting all determined to do better, and then working their butts off and then knocking it out of the park their next dance? Len Goodman is my world. But I love them all).


So, dear Gillian. A friend of yours recommended that you wear a Hawaiian shirt to this event.
You live in Rhode Island! This is a spaghetti dinner, not a luau. It is not summer. You are not on a beach or near one. You are not wasting away in Margaritaville. There are other options for festive gatherings.

I’ve written plenty on why we should not re-design clericals to express our individuality or conform to an occasion. They’re a symbol and an identifier. So no, Gillian, you can’t paint meatballs on yours for the evening.

Seriously, though, how about this? Sleeveless clericals with a bright cardigan over it (maybe even a bold autumnal floral?), pencil skirt and flats, and bright lipstick and a white waiter’s apron for when you’re helping out?

A spaghetti supper seems informal enough that a cardigan is appropriate. What do you think? If you were hosting a reception for, for example, Haitian relief, you could upgrade to a blazer for the welcome and any presentation, eat in that, and then pull a Mr. Rogers and throw on a cardigan for clearing and washing up.

I’ve done that switcheroo a lot: at community Passover seders, Stewardship Campaign Kick-off suppers, and other times when I knew I wouldn’t need to be visiting through the whole event. You can literally roll up your sleeves in a cardigan, it doesn’t flap around when you wash dishes or pick up messy plates, and it’s still polished enough to go with clericals.

And ultimately, what’s festive is YOU, your attitude, your smile, your presence and attention to folks, your praising of the sketti, your laughter and love for the ministry and your people. You could wear charcoal grey and black top to bottom and still convey festivity. But you won’t, right? It’s too early for black and bling season, that reliable combo.

Have a smashing time!

—- Update—

HEY! Gillian done good! Click the photo to enlarge:


This seems 100% terrific to me. The jacket has a tiny bit of wildness factor, red is a great color for a Sketti Dinner (sauce will blend right in), she’s a skotch more formal than others are likely to be, which I always think is a fine choice to make. It says, “This is fun and social but I’m still at work.” I really appreciate that message, myself. if I see a minister in a T shirt and shorts whooping it up with the crowd, I hesitate to approach him about anything church-related. And if I have come to a church for the first time through a social event, I appreciate the non-verbal signal that yes, this may be a non-Sunday event but I am still on-duty.

In an era where lots of folks are entering our doors for the first time through non-worship programming, this bears some consideration. If I saw a pastor in a Hawaiian shirt, I’d be like, “Oh, he’s in party mode. Better not bother him.”

MESSAGING! It’s a real thing!

P.S. I totally want some spaghetti now.

Skype Interviews

Hello, Halloween Pumpkins!

Have you put away the candy yet? PeaceBang had precious few trick-or-treaters and wound up with an enormous bowl of Twix, Starburst and Rollo caramels that she is trying to unload on everyone she knows.

Anyway, I’ve been kind of bombarded with life being interesting and busy so I haven’t had much time to thoroughly answer some of your “PeaceBang, HELP” letters. A couple of you have asked about Skype interviews recently, and I directed you to do a keyword search and find old posts like this one that I wrote way back in 2011.

I’ll add to my original thoughts that it seems important to keep patterns and accessories to a reasonable scale and proportion that does not distract from your face. You can make a handy dress rehearsal video of your own using the camera in your computer, and you should. Take a few minutes’ worth of footage of you talking. Are earrings swinging around, is there a funny thing that you do with your lips when you get nervous? Are you looking down into the camera lens like a cow?

Why do so many people still DO THAT? I really like cows but I don’t want to Skype with them! Find a good angle!

Wear something that doesn’t squish your neck (including clericals unless you feel wrong without them), make sure your shoulders aren’t bunched up with fabric, don’t sit on a swivel chair if you can’t stop squirming around, and make sure that when you clear your throat and shift in your chair during the interview you don’t move forward toward the camera lens and SUDDENLY BOMBARD THE SCREEN LIKE A COW.

I suppose I’ll have to make you a cow video so you understand what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

Here. I made you a little video.

Fancy Event Panic

Oh no! This is a true Pastoral Fashion Emergency coming from A. From Far Away. Now, it’s important to note that this is from a lay woman, and as I have said many times before, PeaceBang is not at all concerned with how lay members of the Church dress. She is grateful to share the ministry with them and would usually respond to this sort of letter by saying, “Don’t worry, you’re fabulous whatever you wear,” but in this case A. is representing her church at a big ecclesiastical event and seeks advice. That seems like a bit of cross-over: she’s not clergy, but she wants to spiff up to represent her congregation and to respect the formality of the occasion. Thus, I will take this question and see if I can help.

Hi PeaceBang – I appreciate you are one very busy woman, so if you don’t have time to answer don’t
worry. I’m attending the _________ Church in [Big Super Fancy Event] this week, as a lay representative of my church. I am not the smartest of women, living mostly in tidy jeans, long sleeved t-shirts, jumpers etc. Which is fine for my day job, but not, I think, appropriate for a Convention. For the day wear at this event I am reasonably happy with what I have – a pair of slightly ill-fitting black trousers (bought in haste, repenting at leisure – but there’s nothing I can do about that now!), a black jacket and various long sleeved T-shirts/thin sweaters with a jaunty scarf. But to my horror, I discover that on Friday night we have “the Bishop’s Banquet and Bishop’s Awards (Dress:elegant)”
I have neither the time nor money to go out to buy something “elegant” (I wouldn’t even know what that means!) so could you give some advice as to what might be considered elegant that I might possibly be able to cobble together from my wardrobe! (which I appreciate is tricky as you don’t know my wardrobe!!)
I don’t have heels (I can’t wear them) and the dress/skirt situation is fairly thin on the ground. But if you could send me some links to things you think might be suitable I could see what I could do.
As I say, if you don’t have time, don’t worry. And I guess in the end, it is only clothes…but I don’t want to look enormously out of place!
Thank you so much for your ministry, your wisdom, and your wit.

Dear A.,
Thank you for your lovely note.
As you know if you are a regular reader of this column, you are not the person I am worried about at these shindigs. The people I am worried about are the clergy, many of whom would see “dress:elegant” on an invitation and immediately presume that the holiness of their bearing and being is elegance enough for all worldly occasions, and show up looking like hell warmed over.

A few suggestions:

A good black pencil skirt and a silk(y) blouse with a nice pair of earrings, sheer black hose, and sturdy black flats or boots would be an option that you can put together without too much agony. Pencil skirts can easily be faked with stretchy material — I have one or two that are just pull-on and as comfy as a slip. They are a chic line – much more so than an A-line skirt or pants that don’t fit well.

Another option would be to take the black trousers to a tailor and beg some fast alterations so that you feel good in them. At least one garment on your body for this occasion should fit impeccably. If you have a smart blazer, you can get away with the pants or skirt not being fabulous and vice versa.

Check my posts on Black and Bling here and here for how to avoid the color and print dilemma.

What’s important for Elegance is fit, structure, posture, undergarments that do their job, unmussed, rich-looking fabrics, and hair and make-up. It is all about attention to grooming details.

Here are some looks I pulled together in my dressing room:

Black and bling. Black blazer, big pin, black skirt. Shoe options that aren’t heels. Wear with a solid, silky-poly shell or blouse.

Black dress. Always a good idea to have the iconic LBD in your closet for such occasions. I added a statement necklace for oomph (they’re everywhere and not expensive), a shawl collar shrug for modesty (not dressy enough for, say, a wedding, but fine for a bishop’s dinner), and a bit of patent leather at the waist for dressiness.


A blouse like this is easy to find at a discount store or charity shop. I love the vibrant color, the touch of satin that makes it look richer, and the fantastic neckline that dresses everything up with no effort. You wouldn’t wear a necklace with this kind of drop neckline but I’ve shown some snazzy earrings and a cocktail ring that would work perfectly with it. But remember, you MUST do your hair and make-up with any kind of elegance. An undone face and rhinestones is so wrong.



When I say do your make-up, this is a helpful review of what I mean. You should be non-blotchy, have some blush and a bit of lipstick for brightening, mascara, and eyebrow pencil to fill in your brows. Undereye concealer if needed. Hair styled and lifted for volume, lightly sprayed for hold.

Control top pantyhose a size too big is a great trick for an inexpensive body smoother to manage jigglies, and make sure your bra is doing its job. Good Lord have mercy, I attended a formal fundraiser recently and a minister was there in a raw silk jacket and NO BRA (or one that had given up the ghost). The line of her clothing was therefore sloppy and the jiggle under her jacket terribly distracting and frankly, unprofessional. I was aghast. She may as well have shown up in a knit poncho, so clearly did her appearance and demeanor crow, “I’M COMFORTABLE AND SELF-SATISFIED.”

Shudder. If one wants to be comfortable, one stays home in one’s Pajamajeans with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix. One does not attend public occasions.

Having haughtily delivered myself of my own gospel, dear A., I do wish you the best of times at your Convention and a world of luck finding an outfit that you deem worthy of the special bishop’s event. Do report back and tell us all how it worked out. Cheers, dear.

Streets To Hospital: What To Wear?

My days involve needing to be able to move pretty quickly, walk and minister in one of the rougher SF neighborhoods, and then be in the ER / hospital bedsides for urgent and end of life care. On-call days can last up to 36 hours and could land me in any of these settings. The in-hospital dress sense seems to be business casual to professional (depending on the role), and my fellow chaplains follow that line. However, my supervisor suggested I “blend” while I work with the homelessness groups, which are very, very casual. There’s not a locker room available to us, which adds an element of challenge.

So how does one dress for times such as these? And, in particular, shoe related advice would be massively appreciated as I’ve got massive blisters in spite of heal cushions and band-aids. Thanks for your time and advice!

Dear L!
What an exciting ministry, but a sartorial challenge, indeed.
My first thought is that you MUST be able to wear comfortable shoes and not concern yourself with the fashionablity or frumpiness factor thereof. I am thinking all black sneaker-type shoes like this Saucony style below.

You can’t minister with blisters. If you’re walking as much as you are, this kind of shoe may be your only option.

Of course, you can always test-drive the comfort brands of clogs such as Ariat, Dansko, Jambu, Alegria. You’re slim and in good shape without any knee or ankle problems, so a clog may work for you. They do not work for me and many others, but you might find some luck here.




So the task then becomes how to build a professional-enough uniform around the sneakers. When we do sneakers or comfy footwear, the rest of us MUST be polished and classic, and the lines simple and tailored. Slim trousers with a bit of stretch in them worn hemmed so they hit the top of the laces on the shoes, no shorter. I think black, brown or plum. Navy seems too Salvation Army to me.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up on fantastic black trousers with a hint of stretch in them and make all-black your bottom half uniform.

Now – could you collect a small supply of nice cotton T’s with a bit of stretch to them to wear with the trousers and top the Ts with a denim jacket or hoodie while working with the street community, then swap out that jacket for a blazer at the hospital? Can you have a locker there where you can stash a blazer and scarf? A pair of nice earrings and a lipstick? You said no, but I am hoping that a conversation with a supervisor might yield some kind of help as you’re on public transportation and can’t be expected to keep a change of togs in your car.

When you’re sitting at bedside doing hospital chaplaincy, it is very important that your top half be professional, so you might find some miracle fabric jackets that you can fold in a knapsack for your hospital switcheroo. I get a catalog called TravelSmith that has a ton of packable options, and I see that there are some swell pieces on sale right now for $69.

Ottoman knit jacket, interesting cut.
ottoman jacket

Ponte blazer, not going to make you feel super glam or anything, but it will do the job:
ponte blazer

It’s a pain to have to carry around multiple changes of clothes but I agree with your Faithful Fools mentor who advises wearing clothing that won’t immediately identify you as “not of” the people with whom you are ministering in the Tenderloin.

Make sure you take a damp paper towel to your shoes before you start your chaplaincy rounds. Powder your nose, brush your hair, swipe on a bit of brown mascara (you’re too fair for black mascara), and don your wristwatch, which you will probably need.

What an exciting time for you.
With much love and a faithfully foolish kiss of peace,