Fluffy Cassock People: A Cry For Help

Dear busy Advent bees!

I got this request lo awhile back and wondered if you all had advice, as I do not, although I have SO MUCH SYMPATHY. There is nothing that shocks a meatball-shaped person who wishes to serve the Lord in a formal churchy way more than the sight of ourselves in body-swallowing vestments that make our fluffy figures look Extra Super Fluffy.

I feel your pain, sister.

I am a lay adult woman who serves as an acolyte, eucharistic minister, lector, and occasional preacher in an Episcopal church.

My rector has decided that I should be vested in a cassock and surplice (not cotta, which is shorter). I ordered a surplice from Almy, using my actual chest measurement and pretending I am still 5 feet tall. I ordered the American style surplice.

I am appalled. There is so much fabric that if I hold my arms straight out I look like Sponge Bob, or perhaps a Christmas pageant angel in a robe that is too large. (Sponge Bob may be an exaggeration, but I am still in shock.) The arm holes are so large I’m pretty sure I could tuck my elbows in without wiggling. I am hesitant to attempt any tailoring. The deacon told me that is just how surplices are built.

I am wondering if anyone has any experience with the Roman style surplices (square collar, pleats). In particular, are they a better fit for someone whose body can charitably described not as a pear or an apple but an ice cream cone? I am hoping for less billowing fabric and perhaps a more flattering fit (cue the hysterical laughter). Also arm holes that my cat could not stroll through.

I plan to visit a local church supply company and see if they have any suggestions. But I trust the BTFM community, so I value any suggestions.

I know, I know. It is not about me. It is about serving. I get that. But I’d appreciate your input.

Darling, have you considered stilts?

UPDATE: Allison reports that she ordered the Roman style cassock and that it is a huge improvement over the American style! Sound of angel choir.

Showing Up For Reproductive Rights: Halo Of Praise

Good God, these are important times to show up looking sharp, polished and ready to speak truth to power. Here is the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh speaking at a #StopTheBans rally in San Diego last Saturday, sponsored by people connected to the Women’s March. Rev. Sarah was one of about twelve speakers and she was one of two faith leaders.

Please click to enlarge the photos and we’ll see what works here.

My first impression is one of strength. Sarah’s architectural glasses make a strong statement: they are mature and stylish. Every one of us who wears specs should have a no-nonsense pair that we can bring out for occasions like this when our fun-wacky-I’m-a-colorful-personality cat eyes and sparkly purple don’t lend enough gravitas. With specs available now for less than $100 I am going to stick to my gubs* on this. It is too easy to be dismissed as a Crazy Cat Lady by our ideological enemies (and even plenty of friends who have immediate associations of cat eye glasses with archetypes of eccentric ladies). Don’t give anyone easy ways to discount your presence and message.

Sarah has smoothed her very curly hair back from her face (THANK YOU) and her passionate facial expressions, strong stance and emphatic gesticulation all undergird her spoken word.
USE YOUR WHOLE SELF in delivering your message!!! From your podium, from your wheelchair, from your seat behind a table or standing at a pulpit, never ever ever think that your work of preparation is complete when you print out the paper or upload your doc to your iPad. Imagine yourself delivering your statement. REHEARSE it. Bring your body into it. You are not just a talking head!

Sarah has naturally bold brows but many of us don’t, and I want you to notice how much they do to frame her face and convey her expressions. Fill in your brows! They’re so helpful in communicating your emotions to the back of the house.

Hands: Sarah is using hers, and she has a clean manicure. It matters. Make sure you get rid of the chipped polish or the Hello Kitty or Wonder Woman Band-Aid.

Now: attire. This is the simple, tailored, really great black suit I have urged all of you to make sure you have in . your closet ready to go for occasions like this. This is why: when legislators succeed in stripping women of their reproductive rights and we know exactly what kind of horrible consequences that will have, and we know that some of those consequences involve death, WE ARE AT A FUNERAL. We must communicate with our attire that we understand where these right wing machinations are leading (and have already led). This is not an occasion for floral skirts or cute dresses or (shudder) slogan Tshirts. This is a time of utmost formality and severity. Sarah has dark hair and so I love her choice of the royal blue clericals. Black would have gotten lost, and the rich blue looks beautiful andworks with her coloring. I often see clergy wearing colorful clerics that seem to be chosen strictly because that person likes that shade of Crayola, and their face is entirely washed out or upstaged by the hue. The color of your clericals should be strategic and work for the occasion, for your clerical status (don’t wear purple clericals in an ecumenical setting if you’re not a bishop), and with your hair and complexion.

Although I go back and forth about her wearing all of those buttons and badges, one thing I did like a lot was the way Sarah has arranged them in a manner that echoes military decorations, which I am sure wasn’t intentional but was immediately effective. I thought, “Oooh, she’s addressing the troops for battle!” I was ready to fight.

Now: image management. If someone takes a bunch of photos of you at a rally and you have the opportunity to choose one or two to share publicly or use on the website or whatnot, choose the strong images. This is the only one of the terrific batch Sarah’s husband took where she looks pulled back and tentative:

You manage your own public image. Scrutinize what goes out whenever possible and only approve the best!

I do not comment on content but I thought some of you might wonder what Sarah said. Here is the full text. We may all be called upon to craft statements like this in coming days. Be prepared.

*I knew if I said “stick to my guns,” some tiresome scold would tell me they were offended that I used militaristic imagery so I did an end run around you, Tiresome Scold! Are football references okay or would you like to further strip language of interesting metaphors?”

Good morning. I’m Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh and I’m here as a minister, a woman, a mother, a feminist, and an advocate for justice.

Why am I up here? Because I represent a religious denomination that is unequivocally pro-woman, pro-transgender people, pro-sexuality education, pro-contraception and pro-choice. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, and we have been advocating for safe, legal abortion since long before Roe vs. Wade.

Here’s something that may surprise you: most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. I’ll say that again. Most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. And you know something? We are pro-choice because our morality compels us so.

Mine starts here: Life is sacred. Your life is sacred. Adrian’s life is sacred. The lives of the children and families waiting to cross that border [point south] are sacred. The lives of the people in Iran and Venezuela, Israel/Palestine, and Yemen are sacred.

The lives of the person, or the couple, facing a difficult reproductive decision: their lives are sacred. And because their lives are sacred, we are called to do all we can to protect their life and their well-being. The lives of the born. The lives of the living. They matter profoundly! The lives of people who have a conscience, who are struggling with their conscience to figure out what to do with a pregnancy. They are sacred! We owe it to them to offer honest, scientifically-accurate information about the choices they can make. We owe it to them to offer excellent pre-natal care, paid family leave, and affordable child care should they choose to carry a pregnancy, and we owe it to them to offer safe, legal abortion services should they choose not to carry a pregnancy. We owe it to them to uphold their rights, their dignity, and their own responsibility to guide their lives.

Abortion is a moral choice because, as clergy of many faiths said together in a 2005 open letter, we best uphold the sanctity of human life by assuring that life is not created carelessly. “It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman [person with a uterus] should be coerced to carry a pregnancy….”

And it’s about so much more than abortion. It’s ultimately about justice.

The reproductive justice I support “envisions the liberation of people of all genders, sexual orientations, abilities, gender identities, ages, classes, and cultural and racial identities.” Reproductive justice is rooted in the experience of women of color, who recognize that “liberation requires not only accurate information about sexuality and reproduction and control of personal reproductive decisions, but also living wages, safe and supported housing, high quality and comprehensive medical and reproductive health care, access to voting and the political process, affordable legal representation, fair immigration policies, paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and the absence of individual and institutional violence.” (Unitarian Universalist Association Statement of Conscience, 2015) That’s morality!

I want to lead you in a chant. I say, “What’s Really Moral?” You say, “Reproductive JUSTICE!”

What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!

Rooted in my religious commitment to love my neighbor, work for justice, and care for those in need, I, and the many, many faith leaders who are with us, commit to fighting these harmful bans. May love and justice win!

A Halo of Praise and a deep thanks to my dear colleague, the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspraugh for her work, her witness and her fabulosity.

Consider Mustard: A Beautiful Seasonal Neutral

Mustard is a really terrific neutral if it doesn’t make your skin look jaundiced. Click on the images to enlarge.

Great look. Chunky, textured mustard scarf is bold and warm. I love her A-line dress, too. Modest but not frumpy because the proportions are right for her and she’s got great boots on. Great boots are such a frump-buster!

I love how she tucks this dragonfly pin into the knit. Wonderful and very pretty. Dragonflies are such a spiritual symbol.

Mustard with a brilliant blue fedora. This is a LOOK. So much texture, detail, elegance. *sigh* Look at his cufflinks.

Try a mustard jacket to counterbalance all that black and navy. Shake it up a bit.

This pencil skirt is really striking. I love how she’s styled it with the darker colors. A very professional but comfortable outfit. Mustard looks great with camel – note her shoes.

Evoking Clericals But Not Actually Wearing Them: In Praise Of The Mock Neck

Some of us wear the dog collar on the daily, some of us don’t. For those who don’t but who want to evoke the sense of a collar (with the associated historical resonance, evocation of religious authority), the mock-neck is a great option.

I have been looking for a decent mockneck (nice fabric, tunic length, sleeveless) for ages and found one yesterday on WAY sale at JJill and ordered one in black:

It’s a rayon woven fabric so has a more of a formal drape than a cotton blend, which is important. FAWTY PERSENT OFF, KIDS!

Also a perfect neckline if you want to wear a religious symbol (flaming chalice pendant, for example).
A lovely person just bequeathed unto me an amazing hamsa necklace from Morocco. It’s about 6″ long and this neckline will be a wonderful backdrop for it.

Men can do the same thing: a mockneck is less sporty than a turtleneck and is a nice, tailored option for a sports jacket if you don’t want to wear a tie.

Darker colors are always more elegant. Fabric blends are important, too — look for something with some richness to it and dry clean rather than throw in the wash.

Funnel Neck Coats And Winter Commitals

Darlings, what we have here in Massachusetts is a good old-fashioned blizZARD, emphasis on the last syllable. The weather people are calling it a BOMB CYCLONE, which is such an overdramatic touch I can’t help but laugh.
Lord Jesus, what will they think of next.

We’ve had to close the church but our roof is new and I have confidence in it, although of course I’m worried about all our folks and their kids and their chickens — parishioners down the street are bringing theirs in to wait it out in the basement. This seems like it would be pretty challenging so I’ll probably head over tomorrow to take a peek and offer some libations or cabbage soup.

Ministry does go on even in the worst of weather conditions, which reminds me of a friend who had a commital to do today in New York state, where the weather is just as bad as it is here in eastern MA. I wondered if perhaps there was a would be a way for her to remain in a car and say the appropriate prayers over a loudspeaker while all the bereaved cracked their windows to hear her, but of course that was just wishful thinking trying to spare her a mouthful of snow and the mourners a mighty bleak farewell with possible pneumonia after the fact. What a sorry time to lose a loved one, and my heart is with them.
God bless the gravediggers, too, which is a grim job indeed, and how do they even get through the frozen ground? Truly a job that “someone’s gotta do,” for which I hope they are very well-compensated.

My colleague wondered about wearing a stole over her coat and I didn’t think that was necessary at all, given that it would take all her attention just to read the rites in wet squalling winds and she didn’t need a stole flying all over the place and potentially wacking her about the head. A mutual friend recommended putting her readings in plastic covers. Those of you who have done the priestly honors in such dire conditions, would you comment about how you handled the elements and your prayerbooks or folios? I am not sure what I would do — does a Kindle work in the wet snow? I hope I never have to find out.

But let’s talk outerwear. I know that some of you serve in traditions that include the cloak, a mighty fancy garment about which I admit some degree of envy.


I will have to make do with my funnel neck style overcoat which did prove exceptionally warm and protective during a recent very cold commital.

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It looks similar to the Cole Haan number above, which I saw on sale at Zulily today right here. (I buy a lot of things from Zulily and I recommend them for deals. Always let Google be your friend and double check the price other sites because sometimes Zulily isn’t the bargain it claims to be. You can’t return things and they take awhile to arrive but overall I have been very happy with my purchases and customer service. I’ve made out with some excellent deals over the years and very few disappointments)

A funnel neck is elegant and classic and professional. It renders a big bulky scarf unnecessary and one could, if one wanted, drape a stole nicely around it.

Next up: hats!