At the YCW conference we had many engaging discussions, some that provoked heated responses within our group of fabulous clergy women. Among my favorite new phrases are these: “princess parts” and “negotiate for the sisterhood” and “preacher paparazzi.”
One of these engaging discussions involved clothing, makeup, and hair choices. Now, as one with amazing and beautiful hair (yes, I’m vain and high maintenance about this one thing—just let me have it, okay?), I understand the need for a good haircut and good hair products. As one who has been told in the past that no preacher with curly hair can be taken seriously because “curly haired girls are very sexual” I also tend to bristle when the topic comes up. Luckily, none of that was heard in this discussion—just the usual things like “if you can’t stop touching your hair in the pulpit, pull it up!”
In the midst of this discussion we talked much about dressing as your congregation dresses, or perhaps a little bit better. In an area like mine, and I suspect in many areas, this is not a financially responsible thing to attempt—as was pointed out by a lovely young woman who lives near my area. Even at the outlet mall or on sale. Also, in my context, it’s relatively unnecessary. RCLPC is a pretty laid-back place for the most part, people are relaxed…I’ve only seen one woman wear a hat and only a handful of families wear what I would call “traditional church clothes.” I do tend to dress well, not just on Sundays but everyday because I do have preacher paparazzi. There’s a lot going on in our congregation, much of it noteworthy, and so we are often in the newspaper which means photographs designed to “put a face on” the ministry, program, or event. It’s exciting that this is a vibrant enough place to warrant the paparazzi. I feel good about that and I dress accordingly…which is a good thing because I often run into people who say “I saw you in the paper!” At a wedding I did a few months ago one of the groomsmen looked at me and said “I see you in the paper every week!” and I said, “yes, yes you do. There’s a lot going on at RCLPC!”
Back to the point. In this discussion I felt that we were told (this may not have been what was said or what others heard, so it’s my hearing here) that we needed to have a variety of outfits at varied levels of fancy-ness. That we should have good-looking casual clothes, tailored and pulled together every-day wear, and high-quality Sunday-wear. That if people in our churches wear a different outfit every day of the month, so should we. That if people in our churches wear designer clothes, so should we.
Well….I really am going to have to disagree. Perhaps this comes from my experience as a YAV when we talked incessantly about living simply. the cliché “live simply so others may simply live” seems to apply here…as does the whole conversation we are constantly having about boundaries and modeling healthy behavior for our congregations. I mean, think about it. We supposedly model good time boundaries, setting aside Sabbath time and play time and family time and friend time and work time, keeping a good balance. Why do we not also model good boundaries with materialism? Why do we have to have 30 designer outfits? Can I be just as effective a pastor if I have 8 outfits? If I buy my clothes on sale at Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft? Can I wear the same exact outfits every week (or maybe mix and match from the same 16 pieces)? If someone comments on it, can I say that I am trying not to be a slave to materialism, that it’s important to me to live simply and part of that is not having a closet full of clothes?
Since living simply is part of my life now (it has been for a while since I was so ridiculously unable to manage money in college), and since I’ve lived with people for whom living lavishly is not an option, I’m going to choose to answer yes to all of these questions. I’ve been here almost a year and no one has commented on my clothes besides to say “that’s a cute skirt” or some such thing…I’ve not had anyone say “didn’t you wear that last week?” or “hmm, I don’t think that’s the color for you” or anything negative at all about my clothes. I mix up my pieces but all told I seriously have about 8-10 options…a few pairs of pants in various colors, a pair of jeans, a few skirts (three summer and three winter), and about 10 tops of various styles (not counting the ubiquitous free t-shirt that comes with doing youth ministry or missionary work). And you know what? I’m okay with that. And I’m even in the paper every week.