Something Fitted

Let’s talk about silhouette. Are all of your garments unfitted, poofy, wrinkled? If so, you are presenting an amorphous silhouette and communicating that you’re not really there for yourself. If I see someone whose clothing communicates a kind of boundarilessness, a lack of self-awareness, I hesitate to approach them for anything. I certainly don’t expect them to be a competent leader. That may be an unfair assumption but as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, attire doesn’t work on a rational level: it communicates viscerally and instantly.

Let at least one of your main garments (pants, skirt, top, choose one) be fitted and structured. You should not look like a walking display of floppy fabric. No matter what your size and shape, not fitting any of your garments to you body communicates a disconnection between self and body. Even a belt can do wonders to pull yourself together.

Is your hair floppy and indistinct, flying around in tufts and layers? That’s charming on a 4-year old with bed head but less appealing on an adult. There are thousands of hair products on the market; learn to make a few work for you. The architecture of a good hair cut conveys self-posesssion — it’s not enough to wash and run if the rest of your style is unstructured bordering on unkempt.

Tuck something in, take it to the tailors, put a belt on it, smooth it down, button it up, put a jacket over it, take up the dragging hem, know your form from all angles and fit it with love, pride and self-acceptance.

Frumpy Rainbow Lady Preacher

PeaceBang attended a worship service on the beach this past Sunday.
The weather was perfect, the congregation lovely, the setting perfect.
But then this lady minister was totally upstaged by bright-colored, Wacky Grandma accessories.

Click to enlarge the images

The “bones” of this outfit are fine. Ankle-length pants (no one needs their hem dragging in the sand). Swingy summer jacket. I don’t even mind the bare feet, because she had a nice pedicure and the sand was damp.

But the huge sunhat, the rainbow stole, the big turquoise earrings AND the turquoise readers? — let’s remember Coco Chanel’s dictum: load on all the accessories you want, but take two of them off before you walk out the door.
The hat and the big turquoise earrings would have been fine, and even nice. If a stole seems necessary, and I don’t think it is, keep it very simple. I get the desire to “advertise” that the congregation is LGBTQ welcoming — but I would suggest planting a rainbow flag in the sand and not on the minister’s person.

I’ve seen it done:

I liked the sermon very much. You can listen to it here (audio only). It’s nice to hear the ocean in the background. The sermon talked about the viral “daderina” video, the anguish in our nation right now, the disgrace and cruelty of separating families at the border, and the Father God many people grew up with and rejected. It was a good “visitors” sermon, which is what you want to give when you’re in a public space and have advertised to the entire town. But when those folks show up, the minister needs to communicate more dignity than this.

Sometimes when there are a lot of moving parts to a service and you’re leading it in an unaccustomed place, it’s easy to put together an outfit too fast and not really consider the image you’re projecting. I think this preacher looks friendly, warm and colorful … but so colorful as to verge on the silly and eccentric.

If I were she, AND I AM, BECAUSE THAT’S ME, I would wear a simple dress under the jacket, choose neutral color readers, keep the big hat and earrings, and rock on.

The Current Retail Hideosity

Do you all literally have your heads above water, at least?

Oh my darlings.
I struggle to find beauty and dignity to show you in today’s fashions but I search in vain. I find atrocity after atrocity: cold shoulder tops, crotch skulls, sproingy shiny fabrics that will burst into flames should you get within ten feet of a lit candle, VEST DISASTERS, random straps and zippers, Grommets For No Reason, polyester gauchos (GAUCHOS!), and the continuing tragedy that is leggings.

Try to survive this season of hideousness by freshening up your best classics. Try to sit this horrible era of retail ugliness out. The clothing being offered for sale at our price point right now reflects the hostility and ugliness of the era. Be strong. Save for one or two good pieces that won’t compromise your aesthetic values.

PeaceBang regrets that she never learned to sew.

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Ministerial Formation In The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Internship Politics

Please reinforce your spirits with prayer before reading this Dark Night of The Seminarian Soul that came to PeaceBang some months ago:

SAVE ME! YOGA PANTS! IN CHURCH! ON THE CHANCEL!

On a lay religious professional, in a worship leadership role. I am hyperventilating here.

Sorry, do not have pictures. I was also on the chancel. In a dress. An appropriate dress.

Here’s the thorny part, though. I’m the brand new intern. Our mutual colleague who supervises this person (and me!) apparently doesn’t care what anybody wears. We’ve talked about the subject from time to time and this minister has other priorities. I think she’s wrong, but this is not a hill I’m willing to die on.

Political savvy, I do not have it yet. Is it obnoxious of me to keep wearing professional dress when the people I’m working with might as well be in their pajamas? Do I need to dress down? Or can I try to subtly nudge standards by dressing intentionally?

Sign me,
I put on hose for this? Yes I did.

Yes, you did, intern pigeon. And you will continue to dress appropriately even if others feel it is appropriate to insult the sanctity of the occasion by wearing yoga pants for any aspect of leading worship. Just because a religious professional is not ordained does not give them a “I’m messing around on the floor with the kids later so I can wear yoga pants now” pass.

PASS DENIED.

So what’s an intern to do? One way to broach a conversation with your supervising minister is to play dumb. “Is there any kind of dress code or expectation for Sunday morning worship attire? I was wondering.” Do NOT say, “I noticed that Sloppy Sally was presiding in gym wear, is that okay with you?” or refer to anyone else at all. You are in ministerial formation, so ask for yourself only. The supervising minister may have an interesting and thoughtful response or she may laugh at you for asking the question. The supervisor may not have thought about it, at which point you can say, “Well, I’ve been reading this blog called Beauty Tips For Ministers for awhile and the author has really persuaded me that we live in a visual, media saturated culture and that clergy need to be intentional about our public image if we are going to have the kind of impact we hope to have in the world.”

Conversation launched!

If your supervisor says, “Thank you for asking, I notice that you have tended to dress more formally and I appreciate having an opportunity to explain to you why I dress extremely casually,” you’re lucky, even if you yourself choose to dress more formally. The two of you can discuss your own strategies openly and you may decide to start skipping the pantyhose or sports jacket in deference to the particular ministry context.
If your supervisor says, “Oh my God, who cares?” then you should quietly file that away under “mentoring deficiencies.” Find someone else who does care with whom you can discuss and discern your developing leadership image.

All supervisors have strengths and weaknesses. While under a particular mentor’s tutelage, it behooves interns to play Follow The Leader to a certain extent, unless to do so violates their integrity. If you are dressing more formally than your internship supervisor, that isn’t necessarily a bad or inappropriate choice. You are modeling respect and professionalism, and the wider community may appreciatively note your self-differentiation and polish. Don’t be surprised if they come to you to complain about their pastor’s disappointing garb, as happened to someone I know very well. If that should happen, never triangulate with your supervisor! Tell the parishioner that it would be best to address their pastor directly about their concerns and get out of the conversation as quickly as you can. Never, ever under any circumstances be caught making critical remarks about your supervisor with parishioners or staff. That’s what your friends are for, or in the case of egregious ethical or professional violations, your seminary or denominational support systems are there for. Never, ever be tempted by the fawning admiration of a parched, frustrated or neglected congregation into taking testimonials about how crappy their minister is. Always remember that a congregation is a bizarre, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” carnival of God’s weirdos. You are Brad and Janet at the door in your pristine outfit and part of the initiation process is for you to get crawled all over by — wait, am I really using this metaphor?

Anyway, just stay in your lane and respect professional boundaries, dammit (Janet). You’ll be the one in the lab coat soon enough.

If members of your internship committee or parishioners comment on your attire beyond general feedback (and “We’d like to help you pay for a suit” is not an uncommon way for lay people to supportively steer seminarians toward a more professional look and hey, free suit!), alert your supervisor. It is fair game for lay people to comment on your grooming, attire, social affect and voice, as all of those aspects of your exterior presentation are important factors in your effectiveness. However, that does not mean that you have no right to set boundaries about how much, and when and where, you are willing to hear this feedback. Make sure that it is never in a free-for-all manner, and make sure that you are never subject to anonymous comments. Again, if you feel your internship committee members are commenting too freely and too frequently on your appearance, call in your supervisor.

“The sunlight creates a glare on your glasses in the pulpit, and this makes it impossible to see your eyes,” is helpful feedback. “It’s a shame you have such bad acne, would you like the name of a good dermatologist?” is not. Unfortunately, as I have written before, the minister’s body is in many ways a public body and you will eventually learn to stop being shocked by people’s insensitivity and sense of entitlement to insult you or violate your privacy.

For what it’s worth, I do think that “It’s a shame you have such bad social skills, would you like the name of a good therapist?” is a perfectly appropriate riposte to an invasive and cruel remark. Part of the changing clergy archetype in our time, in PeaceBang’s not-at-all-humble opinion, is reacting honestly to things that hurt. If we respond to obnoxious remarks with saintly patience, that only reinforces the stereotype of clergy as characters who are miraculously spared ordinary human emotions.

Show up for yourself and stand up for yourself, in non-defensive and non-anxious ways. Your clarity about how you want to be seen, how you want to communicate respect for the office of minister and the institution of the church (or wherever you are doing the work of ministry) may rattle clergy supervisors who have not deeply considered the question. You be you and let them work out their own stuff. If they get snippy or petty with you (“I don’t know how you can afford such nice clothes, it must take a lot of time to iron your shirts and do your hair so carefully”), keep cool. “I find a lot of great stuff at the Savers, actually” goes great with a smile. “Yes, I wake up 15 minutes earlier on Sundays so I can spend time on the details of getting ready; I find it really helps me center myself before worship” should shut that insecure senior colleague right up.

If respectful and appropriate attire is not a priority for your ministerial supervisor, that does not mean that you shouldn’t maintain it as your own priority. This time of formation and training is exactly the right time for you to be figuring out how to dress and groom and outfit yourself on your budget and within your time and energy constraints. You do not want to just start thinking about how to dress and comport yourself like a minister later down the road when your responsibilities have increased exponentially.

Good luck, darlings. We have all been there.

Your Top And Your Bottom

Hi kids!

This is just a word about FIT, the plague of the modern person who mistakenly believes that just because a garment buttons around the waist, doesn’t fall off the shoulder, and reaches the right point on their leg or shoe, they’re pretty much done.

Fit is intricate! You wanna know why PeaceBang has like 10 black shirts? Because they all fit differently. Some are tunic length. Some are waist length. Some have higher, more formal necklines, some are scoop-necked. Some fit loose around the waist and others are fitted. They all have their purpose. There is no such thing as “a black shirt.” What kind of black shirt? What fabric? How does it fall? Did you know that some people get their T-shirts tailored for a perfect fit? Did you know that there’s sometimes very good reason to spend $50 on a black T-shirt? Fit is everything, I say!

So this, clergy persons: you are very likely not the same size on top as you are on the bottom. This means that when you buy that suit, you must stand in front of a three-way mirror and MOVE. Squat. Turn around and walk. Raise your arms. The jacket may fit perfectly but the tushie of the pants or skirt be far too tight. If the company won’t let you buy different sizes, I’m afraid you’re going to have to make sure the bottom fits and get the jacket altered. Or go for another style entirely. The pants may fit like a dream, but the jacket pinch or pull in the shoulders. Please find something you love that works for your life, see what the tailoring options are, and make the investment.

I was styling a seminarian once and we found the most darling suit for her presentation at a conference. The jacket was beautiful with a peplum waist, a shawl collar and great buttons. We were so into the jacket that we first didnt’ notice that the skirt was pulling across her thighs and creasing. Sitting down, the problem would have been worse. Because the suit was sold as separates, it was easy enough to go up a size in the skirt and keep the jacket. This is much less common in menswear, but do try to look at separates to expand your fit options.

There are a lot of truly ill-fitting suits out there in Ministry Land. Please, please understand that a badly fitted suit can make you look sad and even foolish if it’s bad enough. Make sure the shoulder seams are where they need to be. Make sure the sleeves hit where they should hit, and don’t droop over your fingers or cut you off at the wrist. Make sure the pants hems don’t pool around your ankles. Know what you’re working toward: a slim-cut look, classic tailored business look, boxy on top and slim on the bottom, know your silhouettes.