Okay, this is going to be a bit of a rant. If that’s not your kind of thing, or your tender view of me does not include a ranting Dan, then perhaps you’d prefer to mouse over to some other web site.
Also, I am directing this to ministers, or those who are studying to be ministers. Others may be interested, or entertained. But my intended target — um, I mean “audience”, is the clergy, especially those who are men, because I can speak intelligibly about mens wear, while speaking about women’s clothing might get me in big trouble.
So here’s the thing, guys: would you please dress like an adult? Would you please give some thought to what you wear when serving in your official role as pastor to a flock?
Honestly, I have grown impatient with the dumb reasons I hear for why it’s okay for a male pastor to dress as a slovenly man-child. Yes, the reasons are truly dumb. I have heard these often enough that I will here take them apart.
“I want to be comfortable”
This has got to be the dumbest reason I’ve heard. “I dress the way I do” (in ratty jeans or goofy print T-shirt or whatever) “because I’m comfortable that way.” Oh, please. By that standard, if comfort is the deciding factor in your choice of wardrobe for ministry, then why not go to work wearing your pjs and slippers? On warm days, why not go naked?
Talk about dumb.
Sure, comfort is important. But it can’t be the only criterion. Really, it’s never the only thing that factors into your wardrobe decision for any occasion, let alone for ministry work.
But let’s take this comfort thing a little further. Many men (not just ministers and seminary students) believe that decent, adult professional clothing is uncomfortable.
They’re wrong. A pair of khaki slacks is much more comfortable than jeans. And a dress shirt with a tie is uncomfortable only if you have believed your pleasing little lie that you are now the same size you were in high school.
Guess what? You’re not.
Basically, if attire appropriate for ministry is uncomfortable for you, then either it doesn’t fit or is poorly made. And nobody looks good in such clothing, either.
“I don’t want to look like a CEO”
I first heard this over twenty years ago from a good friend. Actually, what he said was that he didn’t want to look like a banker. More recently I heard the “CEO” version. Which is actually part of why this is a dumb reason. Do I not want to look like a banker, or a CEO?
Or maybe a lawyer?
Or how about a detective?
Or maybe a politician?
Or a scientist?
Or a journalist?
My point is that the style of men’s dress that is derided by these unreflective male ministers and candidates for ministry is not the uniform of one particular industry of profession. It is simply appropriate menswear in professional settings. In other words, it’s what men wear when they want to look presentable. (See here.)
Now maybe my targets are trying to show some correspondence between their choice of outfit and their theology of ministry. But what sort of theology of ministry does slovenliness reflect? And how does dressing with some care and self-respect indicate a deficient theology?
That leads to another dumb reasons I’ll consider:
“I don’t want to set myself apart from my parishioners”
Well, guess what. You already are. And what’s more, whether you like it or not, they expect you to be. That expectation does not mean that they hold a deficient understanding of the priesthood of all believers, or that somehow their expectations of pastors are messed up. (They might be anyway, but that has little to do with their belief that you should dress differently for pastoral work than you do for flipping burgers on your back porch.)
Ministerial work is special work. Oh, don’t worry: it’s not because you’re special. No, this work is special because God is special, and because the people God has appointed you to pastor are special. What you wear shows them how special you think they are. If you dress as if what you are doing is important, vital, and life-affirming, they will pick up on that. If you dress as if this task is no big deal, well, they’ll get that, too.
“I can’t afford it”
This reason is a lot less dumb. But it still doesn’t pan out. Yes, it costs a bit of money to develop a decent wardrobe. But it’s not all that much, and you do it over time. To look decent doesn’t mean plunking down over $1k for a Brooks Brother’s suit, or $125 for a pair of Bill’s Khakis. Good clothing is readily found at lower prices. And never be too proud for thrift stores!
If you worked in an office, perhaps even for a lower salary (yes, people do make less money than ministers), you could very well be subject to a dress code. You would have to budget some of your income for clothing that was acceptable. It goes with the job. Flaunt the code, and you could be out of a job.
In most places in my tradition, ministry does not have a formal dress code. It must be worked out, perhaps informally, with the congregation. Even so, you should expect to spend some of your income each year on clothing that is appropriate for your work in your ministry context.
There are probably other reasons I could deconstruct. But those biggies will suffice. Let me sum it all up this way:
How you dress signals your respect for yourself and for others. So please show some respect, and dress decently.