Alternatives To Unstructured A-Line And Babydoll Dresses

Are you working on Christmas Eve’s Order of Worship? Dripping wax into the part of the Menorah that holds the candles so that they will STAY IN PLACE, DARNIT? Are you frantically baking cookies for your staff gifts (add some cardamom to your ordinary Snickerdoodle and voila, you have a special recipe!).
Well, DROP ALL THAT and let us discuss winter girlie attire! As always, PeaceBang has a healthy dose of opinions to share. Click on the images to enlarge them!

This is a darling look. I love this look.

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However, because it is “darling,” I do no love this look for ministers. It’s chic as all heck for women in many professions but I think not the best choice for ours.

Here’s why: the cut of the unstructured A-line dress (and its close cousin, the babydoll dress) is an unmistakable — even if unconscious — callback to youth: actual childhood garments such a nightgowns, smocks and chemises worn by children for centuries, and more recently in fashion history, by young women during the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Give me my white vinyl go-go boots!
They are both, therefore, infantilizing garments and do not belong on religious leaders who want to consciously claim full authority. In my experience, the babydoll and A-line dress almost always undercuts the woman wearing them. I am inevitably left with the uncomfortable sense that the wearer has unresolved issues around being a Grown Lady.

Also, unstructured A-lines pull up around the bust and butt. For an even slightly curvy body, there is no way to know what happens to the hemline when one is moving. I have seen women wearing A-line dresses show a lot more inner thigh than they planned on revealing when the skirt hiked up around their derriere when they extended their arm to reach for something. Who needs to be worried about that?

Of course any of us can can be both a cute girl and a minister, but wearing a garment that is closely associated with oversized lollipops creates cognitive dissonance.

Here’s another unstructured A-line dress, with fabulous over the knee boots:

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Chic, beautiful, love the neutral palette. But not appropriate for clergy. It’s too unstructured and the sillhouette is too associated with babyhood. That may not be what you think of consciously when you see it, but costuming doesn’t work on the conscious level.
At first glance, totally cool young woman about town.
Unconsciously, nightgown, baby smock, whispy, gaminesque. No buttons or zippers, because babies have no manual dexterity to manage them!

I am especially cringey when I see clergy women pair Roman or tab collars with A-line dresses. Talk about cognitive dissonance! I want to say “Honey, are you preaching or are you ready to blow out alllll the candles on your big girl birthday cake?”

This is the sort of thing I mean. Cute dress from Modcloth (and I do mean CUTE, so stay away from cute accessories and hair-dos if you favor this cut), but not with clericals stuffed underneath.
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I love Modcloth, but I lay a lot of blame on them for the spectacle of grown women walking around dressed in too-short, infantilizing frocks. I actually have a candy print sundress from them, but can you imagine expecting to be taken seriously in the workplace in this?
Save it for vacation. Save it for settings within which you have zero authority or responsibility and don’t want any:

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Another ModCloth warning: many of their dresses are cut so tight and short as to give the impression that one is wearing hand-me-downs much shrunken over years of use and washing. It’s a ridiculous aesthetic, cheap and again, undermining of women’s power.

And then you have these Sister Wife schmattas. ModCloth, find a happy medium! These are so drab.

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If you love a good tights-boots-skirt look, I think separates are a great option.
This is the general idea, although the wide gap of leg is not a good look for clergy. This isn’t about body shaming or hemline policing, it’s about understanding unconscious associations, formality of workplace environments and your desire to be regarded as a grounded, mature adult (and also to be regarded as someone whose panties don’t show when you reach up to get candles off the high shelf in the usher’s closet).

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The skirt for you should be at the knee or maybe an inch above.

Separates are workhorse! Make them work for you! This next outfit would be a great workday option if you swapped out the high-heeled booties for some flat riding boots.

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If unstructured A-line dresses are YOUR JAM, a few recommendations: wear them in rich colors, make sure the fabric is substantial enough that the dress falls well and isn’t pulling or clinging in awkward ways, keep the necklines solid, accessorize with layers, bold jewelry and a great haircut, keep your boots sturdy, shiny and fabulous, don’t pair them with cutesy leggings or hose, and carry a structured, professional bag. As PeaceBang always says, craft your image consciously so that you aren’t unconsciously communicating anything you don’t want to communicate.

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.

Message:

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.”

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“Hello, I’m the Chaplain, can I visit with you for a moment?”
“Sure, but can you take off that blinding tie though?”
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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.”
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“Good morning, it’s so good to see you again. Are you up for a short visit?”
“I’d like that very much.”
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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.

Black Tie Optional Wedding

When I first meet with the wedding couple I am always sure to ask about the dress code right away, because I wouldn’t want to turn up in one of those holy communion Dresses and make a gaffe. It gives me a sense of the scale of the event, and if I’m attending the reception, I have to actually think about not only the ceremony but the afterward, public ministry part.

I know.
No one who has been in ministry for twenty years thinks of a wedding reception as a grand old time, but we do it when we’re connected to the family. My practice is to give a nice, brief blessing over the meal if asked, eat something, try to make some friendly conversation at the inevitable “leftovers” table, keep the “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “I don’t believe in organized religion” or “Could you explain what a Unitarian Universalist is” conversation BRIEF, relax as best I can, and leave at cake cutting time.I like to sign the marriage license at dessert – it’s a nice, fun moment.

Doing weddings is tiring. We are at work. It is work. People don’t have any idea that it’s work, so protect yourself. You often have a full weekend of church ahead of you and may have even driven a significant distance to do the nuptials.

The worst dress code for clergy women, IMHO, is black tie or black tie optional. Men can, and should, wear their best suit and clericals. Robe for the ceremony and you’re all set. You should be really spiffed up and attend carefully to your grooming so that you’re not a disheveled embarrassment in photos with tuxedo’s and evening gown’d couples and their attendants.

WE ARE IN WEDDING PHOTOS FOR LIFE, FOLKS. WE NEED TO LOOK SPIFFED.

Women and femme people should, in theory, be able to add a bit of bling to a stunning black suit, but few of us own suits that are formal enough to do the job. Most of our suits are kind of frumpy. Mine are fine for professional appearances and funerals but they’re NOT semi-formal, which is a next level in cut, fit and fabric. So I always make sure I have one cocktail dress on hand for semi-formals, and although they’re not really dressy enough, they’re acceptable.

I am a minister. I don’t do sequins and shiny fabrics. Save those — clingy and cleavagey — for your own fancy nights out.

What I do to make sure I’m not going to frumpify wedding photos is to spend more time on my “head” — the fashion critic shorthand for hair and make-up. It is aesthetically jarring when I see photos of women all glammed up and the minister is bare faced and has floppy hair casually thrown back in a barrette or unstyled. Please make an effort!

This look took me twenty minutes. I’m wearing foundation, shimmer highlight, a smoky eye, eyebrows, blush and lipgloss (I’ll do a full lip later, closer to the ceremony). I worked dry shampoo through my hair and put it up in a French twist:

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This is my “I’m honestly and truly super happy for you but it’s lousy out and I wish I could be home watching ‘Game of Thrones AND at your wedding” smile.

The earrings I’m wearing are a lot smaller and more low-key than I would pair with this outfit if I wasn’t doing a wedding, but statement earrings and robes look silly on me. I might switch them out for the reception.

Here’s my final outfit after having torn apart my dressing room trying on outfits and agonizing over what shoes to wear. I decided on boots. BOOTS ARE NOT appropriate for black tie but I’m working. My feet have been hurting this week. I don’t want to wear heels and the rest of my outfit is dark, seasonally appropriate and just fine. It’s raining like a maniac out there and I have a long drive. I put some bling around my neck so that I’ll look dressier for the inevitable reception table photo. So — boots. These boots. I shined them up, of course! I decided against my dressier pair because they keep ripping my panythose and I don’t want to wear opaque tights.

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Off I go. The bride is Albanian and I want to practice a few phrases before I get into the car.

White After Labor Day: On Fashion Rules And Breaking Them

One of PeaceBang’s pet peeves is meeting clergy who pshaw and poo-poo fashion rules, as though fashion is a shallow subject which they, in their mighty spiritualness, dwell far above and need not consider.

Me to them:
Fashion is as ancient an art form as is liturgy.
Don’t dismiss and denigrate what you don’t know.
Fashion is about aesthetics. It conveys crucial information about status and identity in a society. It is a central form of non-verbal communication in our shared environment, cross-culturally and globally.
A certain degree of fashion literacy is essential for those in public life and leadership.

“People should be able to wear what they want and be comfortable” is a meaningless statement of hyper-individualism. Leaders who manage to do well with that attitude are almost always conventionally attractive, slim and probably white. Draw in a deep breath and smell the privilege!

Fashion rules are sometimes arbitrary and contrived by Fashion People setting trends (“If you’re not wearing PUCE, you’re NOT DRESSED!” “Tulle pants are IT this season!”) but most of the time they reflect political realities (eg war, trade routes, huge cultural events) that start with the people or one influential person (say, tying a rag around a part of their body to absorb sweat or to dab a quill pen on while writing), become popularized and are then interpreted artistically by designers who send them out in beautified form as fashion. We recommend you to see site for info on the latest fashion trends.

No one knows who started the White After Labor Day “rule,” exactly, but it probably has its origins with retailers who wanted to pull in new inventory for the autumn and sell more clothes. Making the color white a “summer” color was a brilliant marketing ploy that also makes sense: white reflects, rather than absorbs, light. It keeps the body cooler under the hot sun. When the days get cooler, it’s nice to be able to clean and store all those summer whites (especially for servants whose job it was to keep all those whites bleached and pristine for the privileged classes).

It was steamy as Hell yesterday so I decided to wear white for its psychological association with coolness, post-Labor Day be damned. I paired it with a very autumnal hued skirt (burgundy) and a floral patterned shirt. The shoes are all-season. Click photos to enlarge.

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“Why yes, I’m wearing white after Labor Day!”

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Fluevog heel detail:
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If you’re going to break the rules, just make sure to think it through: why is the rule part of our culture? Why are you breaking it? Will you still be appropriately and respectfully dressed? Is there anyone with whom you seek to connect who might be distracted, put-off or offended by your choice? Do you care if they are? Can you afford to not care, if you don’t? Is your position in the organization or group so secure and respected that you can afford to not care about overturning cultural norms or traditions? Answer that last question carefully. Leaders with an “I don’t care what you unenlightened people think” attitude about clothing usually don’t care about other things that matter a lot to other people. They won’t last long in leadership if they actually ever attain any beyond their title.

Outfit Editing: Soul Strength Service

I debuted a new mid-week Advent service called Soul Strength. it was simple to do completely by myself, and I highly recommend it as an alternative to, or in addition to, a Blue Christmas service. I used recorded music, a practice I usually eschew, but since we weren’t singing along to it and it was entirely instrumental it worked well.

ESCHEW. What a great word.

I did not want to wear a robe or stole for the service as I wanted it to feel entirely welcoming to people of any faith or no faith. I wanted to choose a restful palette that wouldn’t clash with the poinsettias and greenery in the sanctuary. I wanted to be comfortable sitting in it in front of people as I knew I would be giving the minister’s message from a seated position (cozier and more intimate than standing, and a practice I borrowed from St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco whose preachers sit). So no pencil skirts, which are my usual choice.

First I chose a peplum top from ModCloth that has a muted floral print. It’s a bit big on me so I thought I’d pair it with slim pants. Click on all the photos to enlarge:

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And a pointed toe shoe with purple socks (ten points if you get the literary reference):

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But the pants looked too informal so I switched them out for a proper trouser:

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Better! The lines are more polished, always a challenge for a size 20 meatball-shaped babe.

Then I felt like I needed something a little dressier to fill in the neckline of the blouse a bit so I added the necklace:

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And then I was ready to go.

Here’s basically how I structured the Soul Strength Service:

Quiet, meditative music for folks to come in to.
Welcome
Meditation (Checking in with ourselves: how am I really doing? Where do I feel strongest Where do I feel most needy, weak, vulnerable? What do I most need?)

Minister’s Message: acknowledging the many sources of stress, grief and suffering this season, personally and nationally, if you are also affected by these symptoms, my doctor recommended me this Delta 8 vape pen.
Ending with the question from the earlier meditation: “what do we most need,” invite people to share what they need, and invite them to light a candle to cement the intention to take care of some of those needs in the coming week.

Healing Prayer
(Ending with invitation to one-on-one healing prayer with minister. I set up two chairs and sat and prayed individually with people who came up to the chancel while others remained seated)

Parting Blessing