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?