The Middle Way

Male ministers tend to do two things: they either dress overly casually or they rely too much on a suit and tie.

I’d like to advocate for a middle way that isn’t quite as formal as a suit and not as awfully casual as the old flannel plaid and Dockers route.

First, a sports coat with a sweater underneath is a great look. It works with a casual pair of pants, and even with jeans (but nice jeans, guys!). You throw on some nice soft leather shoes (not sneakers) and you’re good to go.

The other option, much ignored among the liberal religious clergymen of my acquaintance, is the old chamois shirt look:
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Don’t worry if you’re not as gorgeous as this model. No one is. However, I like his shirt: it’s got color, it’s warm and presentable for a day in the office, and it looks put together. I would trade the jeans for a pair of twill pants of some kind; you don’t want to seem too much like you’re going camping.

In general, I think male ministers have a lot more options in casual wear than they’re exercising. There are some really attractive, unstructured jackets out there in cottons and wools that can help you feel well-dressed without a suit. Many of them look nice with a tie, and since we’re speaking of ties, ya’ll need to update the tie collection, okay?
If the only tie you ever wear has either graduate school logos on it or is decorated by UNICEF children’s drawings, go shopping already, or ask for a new tie for Father’s Day.

It is my experience that hetero men are afraid that if they get too interested in fashion — you know, “oh my god, an unstructured jacket!? That’s outside the Accepted Straight Man Uniform category!” — people will think they’re gay.

Fellas, let me tell you something: when it comes to dressing and grooming, you could all use a little gay. Don’t fear the gay. The gay is good. The gay is about beauty and flair and an aesthetic sensibility. Embrace it and let the blessings flow.

Remember, no Hawaiian shirts. Ever.

Dressing For Conferences

PeaceBang has had two fashion inquiries today:

1. What should UU lay people wear to GA?
2. How do we pack for a collegial conference when we would not like to be numbered among the Frumpy Servants of the Lord?

1. ChaliceChick asked me this off-line, saying that her typical weekend wear is
t-shirts, jeans and boots. Apparently a minister friend of hers recommended business casual.

CC, dear, I have two thoughts. The first is that since you’re not a minister or a workshop presenter and therefore not making a professional appearance, you probably don’t need to go as far as business casual. That said, there’s nothing quite so depressing than watching the Jumbotron at the Service of the Living Tradition and seeing one fashion disaster after the next, or arriving at GA to throngs of ill-clad fellow UUs.

My personal heart’s desire?
1. no environmentally or politically themed T-shirts
2. nothing batik
3. death to Birkenstocks!
4. no ungroomed facial hair or scraggly ponytails on the men
5. everyone limited to ONE chalice item

When we gather together as Unitarian Universalists in one city, we do make a group impression. My advice? Dress in such a way as to help us make a good group impression. If that means taking a step up from jeans and a t-shirt (and you know it does), pack accordingly.

And people, hotel rooms do have irons in them. And hair dryers.

2. Conferences are easy if you have a sense of your own style and don’t feel that it’s necessary to pack only practical items (i.e., polyester garments that go sproing when you pull on them). I love practical items. It’s just hard to make an entire outfit, let alone five or six, from that terrific swingy jacket you got from Chico’s. (We all have one of those, right? You couldn’t wrinkle it even if you scrinched it into a tiny ball and sat on it through the entire flight, right?)

PeaceBang is all about planning in advance. Around this time of year she starts to think about packing for GA and carefully strategizing the maximum number of outfits out of the minimum number of garments. She combs through all her accessories and begins to consider which ones to take. She mulls over shoe choices. She does all this while working out or driving. You can do it, too. You can’t always be thinking about your sermons. C’mon.

What persona are you trying to communicate? Sober religious leader? Then pack all solid colors with a few crisp blouses and get out the Barbara Bush pearls. Creative, fun religious leader? Pack one camel suit and wear it with red cowboy boots and huge gold hoops and red lipstick. Change your blouse every day and just wear the hell out of that suit.

My point is, find your look and make a statement in some way. No one expects a fabulous new outfit every day — for heaven’s sake, we’re all traveling — so feel free to repeat. Don’t WORRY what the so-called A-listers are wearing. YOU are on God’s A+ list! The key to confident self-presentation is to find your own look and never, ever feel like you have to compete with anyone else. Be your own fabulous self. I find that if there’s a question of over-dressing or under-dressing, I opt for over-dressing.
In the Black church, the ladies say that they like to dress up for the Lord. I couldn’t agree more. Dressing up shows respect. If I arrive at an event in a skirt and heels and everyone else is in Izods and capris, I figure I’m just showing some propers. Nothing wrong with that.

Hotels and conference centers are over air-conditioned. There are lots of lovely silk/cotton blend cardigans on the shelves right now. They look nice with a shell underneath. PeaceBang understands that it’s hot in the summertime but she is never, ever seen in sleeveless garb unless it’s in the privacy of her own hammock. Despite her deep loyalty to working out with weights, PeaceBang’s upper arms still resemble her great-Baba Billo’s, which is to say that the most appropriate word for them would be Slovak for “jiggly hamhocks.”

The secret to successful conference dressing, my doves, is ALL IN THE DETAILS.

Get thee to a hairdresser and colorist two weeks in advance of the gathering so you have time to learn how to do your hair, and pack your hair products.
PeaceBang usually packs minimal clothing but lots of make-up and products because she finds them comforting to have around. Also necessary, as her hotel roommate can attest.

Visit your manicurist for hands and feet two days before departure. Pack a tiny bottle of Febreze so you can freshen your clothes when needed. Use that iron.
Pack Emergen-C packets for those mornings you feel less than your best, and because hotel rooms are notoriously dry, don’t forget your richest moisturizer!

Lipstick! Mascara! Light make-up if you need it to look polished.

And your mother wasn’t lying when she said that a big smile was the most important accessory you could ever own.

PeaceBang recommends:

Emergenc-C vitamin C packets
Travel size Febreze and Shout stain remover packets
A clothespin to hang up hand-washed dainties
Travel size Aveda hair and skin care products (expensive but worth it)

What To Wear For C.P.E.

Wintry Mix came out of lurking to ask PeaceBang about CPE-appropriate clothing, given their fairly stringent (and appropriately so) dress code.

Wintry, blessed are those who are brave enough to ask for sartorial help, for they shall receive it.

First of all, consider your role: chaplain in a hospital. Someone who needs to be able to get around fast in slippery hospital corridors, to stand for lengths of time around beds, and who needs to look approachable and yet still professional.

Open toed shoes are out. Good. They should be, as they are neither appropriate for the role nor hygenic in a hospital setting. We’ll get to shoes later.

Look to the doctors for your role model: they stay crisp and tailored, and so should you.
I advise you to stay with the basics:

> Twill pants with a nice cut (not Dockers or the like — shop for something with shape). Navy or black, nothing light (you don’t want someone’s last vision to be of your pantylines as you go out the door). Two pairs should be fine. Have them hemmed if necessary. You should *love* them.

> A couple of nicely tailored blouses, and I wouldn’t recommend anything but solid colors. A rosy color is nice, as is a beautiful sea blue/green. Think soothing, not busy. Long sleeves or 3/4 length will do nicely, and nothing that wrinkles too quickly. Yes, it’s the summer but hospitals are CHILLY!
If you want to run out and play right after work, wear a camisole under the shirt and rip off the shirt at the end of the day.

> A beautiful, classic belt buckle. Wear it everyday. Make it your major accessory. Tuck your shirt into the trousers and set it off with the belt. Lovely. Are you of slim or ample shape? It helps me to know that.

> Layer. Wear a cotton/spandex NICE t-shirt that FITS your body under a lovely cardigan. (But be aware of silk blends with an unfortunate odor.). When they specify no t-shirts, they don’t mean nice t-shirts with a satin trim neck, a fitted bodice and cap sleeves, etc. They just don’t anyone showing up in either Hanes or shirts with the latest youth ministry conference logo on it.

> Accessories should be simple. A nice watch, and a simple necklace and earrings. A small cross, if you’re Christian. There’s no need to make the common Beginner Minister mistake and adorn yourself with huge religious symbols. Chaplaincy is as chaplaincy does, my dear.

> The reason I’m not recommending summer jackets for you is that cardigans and blouses are softer and less “professional.” You are going to be comforting people and praying with them. You need utmost mobility in your clothing without being sloppy. Blazers look wonderful but they’re constricting. PeaceBang is too generously-sized to look good in a cardigan, so she does blazers a lot and knows this.

> If you go with skirts, and if you have the figure for it, a nice pencil skirt that hits just below the knee shouldn’t cause anyone to cite you for dress code violation. For heaven’s sake, don’t buy anything long and floral! Again, as in the trousers the fabric should be non-clingy and beautifully tailored. Dark colors with lighter tops.

> SHOES!

Dear heart, I went shoe shopping today and was HORRIFIED by the big rubber messes passing for sandals this season! There seems to be a new trend in Shoes That Resemble Tires, which may allow you to scoot around the ER with utmost confidence, but are far too sporty and give a girl a floppy gait, which is NEVER comforting to the afflicted. This is especially a problem with those ubiquitous backless shoes. Do avoid clogs and the like, unless they have a back piece. Clogs are generally okay (just okay) but they do clop, and you don’t want to sound like My Friend Flicka making your rounds.
L.L. Bean has a nice Kennebunkport clog that I like in the neutral color. They’re over $50 but you can be sure they’ll be made well and offer excellent support. Just don’t clop, and don’t wear them with a short skirt.
(If you get this for your shoe, stay with a lower-calf length skirt. Just make sure you’re not drowning in too much skirt. Keep it streamlined. A matte jersey would be good, but wear a control top tummy slimmer with it if you’re chunky or you’ll jiggle fore and aft.)

It just so happens that flats are wildly in fashion right now, and there are oodles of styles to choose from in every color and in every price range. Get yourself some flats with some good support in them, with a round toe (pointy looks fabulous but is impractical for your job), and a rubber bottom for good grippability. I swear by Dr. Scholl inserts myself, and you may want to purchase some trimmed in your shoe size before you hit the DSW Shoe Warehouse or wherever. It may be that your CPE shoes need to be 1/2 size bigger to accomodate the inserts. At the end of the summer, believe me, you’ll never want to see those shoes again. Have a shoe burial party when it’s all over.

You may be forgiven for wearing a slightly frumpy shoe for your CPE position. Buy yourself some strappy stilettos for when you’re off duty and samba the night away. Promise me you will. And please don’t feel the need to wear navy shoes with navy slacks. A lovely taupe or neutral will get you through any outfit. Just stay away from cutesy ballerina flats or anything with big bows.

P.S. Make sure to stock purse-sized Purell for yourself before you start, and lay in a supply of those fresh white hankies.

Oh, and Wintry? NO PERFUME WHATSOEVER when you’re in the hospital. Not even heavily scented hand creams or hair products. Sick people are very sensitive to odors and their immune systems are compromised, and they may react badly to heavily scented products. Be a love and pass that along to your comrades in the program.

Take care of yourself and your own immune system. Make sure to play every day.
May God bless you in this ministry, and may the Good Fairy of Shopping send you just the right clothes for your CPE. Let us know how it goes.

Ministerial Attire

[This post originally appeared on my regular PeaceBang blog in March, 2006. — P.B.]

I had occasion to talk about dressing for the ministry with a group of seminarians recently, which was a kind of fulfillment of my secret desire to host a show like “What Not To Wear.” You’ve seen it, right? You trust and love Stacy and Clinton, right?

I was a bit nervous about leading this session because I did not want to come across as hopelessly shallow and/or judgmental, because who am I? Just a little fat chick with a penchant for Franco Sarto shoes and liquid black eyeliner.

But they LOVED it, and we had such fun analyzing outfits, talking about the necessity of a good tailor, the comfort in having some classic, timeless pieces in the closet, why not to wear casual sandals while officiating weddings or funerals, and why not to preach in drippy sleeves (you might set yourself on fire during some chalice ritual). We talked about hair and make-up and panty hose and the Norelco nose hair trimmer, which is your friend.

We determined the following truths:

1. If you insist on wearing sandals, have a pedicure. Men, too. Feet are intimate. We do not want your hairy fungus toes near us at a meeting, and we do not want to see them peeking out of the bottom of your vestments. We know Jesus wore sandals. He probably also bathed once a month, and you wouldn’t do that to us, would you? Also, he is Jesus. You are not.
P.S. This does not give you permission to simply add socks to your sandals.

2. Don’t be afraid to accessorize!
P.S. Don’t over-accessorize. And don’t get too matchy-matchy. Your necklace does not need to match your earrings and shoes. Gentlemen, what do I have to do to make you stop wearing bolero ties? Nothing says “Hey, what’s your sign?” like a bolero tie. If you don’t live in the Southwest, we should not be seeing any bolero ties on you, unless you’re wearing them ironically with an otherwise very spiffy outfit from the 21st century. [They’re called bolo ties. Sorry. – P.B.]

3. We are living in an extremely beauty and body-conscious culture. You do not need to dress like a sexless, shapeless being. You can be a human being with a body and not go overboard into “sexy.” Ladies, it’s high time to lose the long, shapeless A-line skirts. They’ve been OUT since 1985. Anything above the knee, however, is too short.

4. Church going is an entirely voluntary option in today’s society. In most parts of the country, no one will look askance at you if you do not attend church. So clergy can no longer slide by assuming their and their congregation’s relevance to today’s world. If clergypeople believe their ministries are hip and relevant to today’s world, they should look hip and relevant. Even if you wear a collar, you should have a hair style of some kind, and there’s no need to persist with those aviator frames you bought in 1972 because they looked so good on Lee Majors or the guy on “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

5. If you wear a chalice necklace, there’s no need to wear chalice earrings. And vice versa.
P.S. Sticking a chalice around your neck does not mean you’re “dressed.” Did you shine your shoes? Are your pants appropriately hemmed? Did you check that your blouse isn’t gaping at the bosom? Are there sweat stains at your armpits? Have you asked anyone you trust if your perfume is too strong? Have you trimmed your beard and if necessary, your eyebrows? (Milo O’Shea can get away with crazy stickin’ out eyebrows. It just makes you look eccentric and distracts from your eyes). Have you cleaned your spectacles and gotten off the smudges? You know you were up ’til 3:00 a.m. working on your sermon. Your congregation shouldn’t be able to tell. That’s why God made ice packs and concealer (which works just as well on male skin as on female).

6. Just because you’re on your feet a lot does not mean you need to move into Cobbie Cuddlers. Women, heels are not just a torture implement designed by the patriarchy. They are also elegant as hell and very much in fashion. A little 1″ heel won’t kill you. I can stand around all day and run for the bus in my 2″ pointy-toed Franco Sarto cowboy boots. They look smokin’ and they’re comfortable. My personal rule is: I don’t get into orthopedic shoes (or the rough facsimile thereof) until I’m eligible for Medicare.

7. Eyebrows! According to my very small sampling, 50% of female ministers over 40 have invisible eyebrows due to gray or just fading. Eyebrows frame the face. Invest in a $1.99 Maybelline eye pencil and experiment. You’ll be glad you did. Men, see my above point about Milo O’Shea.

8. I know we’re feminists who believe everyone is beautiful without make-up and facials. I agree wholeheartedly. However, without make-up, my beauty resembles that of Ernest Borgnine. As Sister of PeaceBang says, “You don’t have to wear your political convictions.” If you look fresh, vibrant and camera-ready from the pulpit with nothing on your face but Ivory soap, God bless you. I require a bit of concealer, a luminizing powder from Revlon on the cheekbones and eyelids, blush, lipstick/gloss, mascara and eyeliner. I also pencil in my brows (see #7). You know why? I am a PUBLIC leader. Which means that PEOPLE need to look at me. If only *I* (or my mother) have to look at me, I’m gorgeous with a freshly scrubbed face.
Wait, scratch that. Even my mother would say, “Sweetie, you need a little lipstick.”

9. T-shirts are OUT. Again, you don’t need to wear your political convictions. If you’re 22 and have a great figure, maybe you can rock that “Free Leonard Peltier” shirt under a fitted blazer with a pair of bootcut black trousers, but if not, then not. Unless you’re meeting with the youth group, in which case they don’t know who Leonard Peltier is. Get with it.

10. If you’re clothes-phobic and you have no idea what looks good on you, or what basics to shop for, take a friend. Take PeaceBang. That’s what she’s here for.

11. So, would it kill you to look at a fashion magazine once in awhile?