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On Collars and Pants

Recently I participated in a community Thanksgiving Eve service.  Clergy from a number of different liturgical traditions were present and participated.  The dress code for the evening had been established as “clergy semi-formal”- no robes, collars optional.  I had been asked to preach and so adopted my usual Sunday morning garb, suit jacket, collared shirt, pants, which allows freedom of movement, comfort and of considerable importance, a place to anchor the microphone pack.

Now my male clergy friends may be reading this with some confusion but the simple facts are that for women in ministry who preach using a wireless microphone the placement of the mic pack is a cause for stress.  You see the waistbands on skirts are not always stiff enough to guarantee that the pack will stay where it should.  Of equal concern is the possibility that a heavy pack will drag the waistband down, perhaps resulting in an unforeseen wardrobe malfunction.  Dresses tend to lack an appropriate location to fasten the microphone pack.  One can always add a belt over top of the dress in a purely utilitarian solution but this inevitably results in comments from parishioners regarding the lack of fashion sense this demonstrates.  There is the other solution of embedding the microphone pack under the dress, anchored in the waistband of nylons and underwear but this creates logistical complications that require time and privacy to remedy.  The robe atop the street clothes may offer a partial solution if it has an existing microphone pocket, or a belt around the waist but in situations where less formality in dress is preferred this does not resolve the issue.  So pants become the default clothing choice, making a pocket available for the essential pack to occupy.

But the pants cause another series of issues.  An elderly female congregant approached me after the service and noted the following, “I’m glad they asked you to preach tonight but I wish you had worn your nice shoes instead of those.”  This said pointing downward at my comfortable, low heeled, dress boots, chosen specifically because they offered secure footing in an unfamiliar chancel area. ( I live in fear of tripping down steps in high heels.)  She continued, “It doesn’t bother me a whole lot any more when you wear pants but I wish you’d dress them up a little.  There’s a really nice shoe store at the mall that has nice heels.  And maybe a little makeup. You’re awfully pale tonight.”   I wasn’t sure how to respond except to say “Well, thanks for your feedback.  I’m usually more concerned with comfort than with how I look.”

Having escaped from congregant number one, I found my way to the coffee table and grabbed a cup hoping to hide from further well meaning critiques.  No such luck.  Congregant number two, mid sixties and opinionated, headed my way.  “Pastor.  Thanks for your sermon.  Real  nice.  And by the way, I’m glad you don’t have on one of those funny collars like that other  lady.”  The other lady was the Lutheran pastor who was rarely seen in public minus the roman collar.  I said, “Oh, I have one.  I just don’t wear it very often.”  He looked puzzled and then said “I guess I thought they only made those for men.”

In fact I own two collared shirts.  One, a pleasant burgundy color with a tab insert collar and the other a soft grey with collar permanently attached.  The first was clearly sized for someone other than a five foot one woman.  The tails hang down almost to my knees, the back tends to billow out of the waistband of my pants and the collar chafes because it’s just a little too tall.  In case you’re wondering, I purchased it from  distributor who claimed to have clergy shirts sized for women.  Fail.  Epic fail.  But the other is a delight.  It was hand-made out of a soft bamboo woven fabric that breathes in the summer and stays warm and light in the winter.  The collar fits nicely, the length is appropriate and the fit neither disguises the fact that I am a woman, nor advertises it inappropriately.  Thank God for http://www.stitchesofayr.com/.

The logistics of appropriate preaching attire are just one of the places where Junia and I have some trouble fitting into the existing structures of a church tradition that has been largely male.  There are other such minor inconveniences, pulpits too tall, clergy chairs too large and in need of footstools, office desks designed for large, male frames, all of which when taken together can sometimes cause frustration.  But on the whole, I’m grateful for my congregation who don’t seem too concerned with the formality of my dress, and willingly modify furniture as needed.  And occassionaly, someone notices the subtle differences the female clergy bring.

Just as I was heading out from the Thanksgiving Eve service, a little discouraged truth be told, another individual stopped me.  “Pastor, I just wanted to thank you for preaching tonight.”  She was young and her voice trembled with emotion.  “I come from a church where women don’t preach but lately I’ve been thinking that God is calling me.  So hearing you tonight gave me hope.”  And she hugged me and was gone before I could even respond.    And suddenly the question of where to put the microphone pack shrank in importance.  Junia and I are going to be alright.


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2 thoughts on “On Collars and Pants

  1. Great post. I remember when Mindy and I first came to an egalitarian position on gender issues. She was raised in a family that thought her primary position was in the house and if she went on to undergraduate work, it should be in “home economics.” I was raised with a fairly strong complementarian position, but both of us transitioned out of that patriarchal/complementarian background when our presuppositions were destroyed by real-life experience—that and a change in how we understood the Bible.

    What I liked about your post was the real technical considerations of your profession that remind you it is driven by men (clothing, mic, etc.), and that, while these can be daily annoyances for you, there are those that are working through something deeper and more dramatic (the woman you mentioned at the end). Women who dare to break away from the gender worldview that has dominated and directed their lives have an enormous task ahead of them, one that will affect their relationships and bring as much trouble as it does freedom.

    I’m glad your male students have you as an example. Don’t be surprised when their worldviews are so imbedded that they are absolutely clueless when they seem to be trying to shame their peers. They just need a good boot to remind them that the world is much bigger than they think.

  2. Katie Erickson on said:

    I am happy to hear that someone else shares my wardrobe concerns with preaching! Most people just do not understand how difficult it is to use a mic with women’s clothes. Even with pants I have difficulty, since the pockets are apparently made simply for appearance and not for actual use as pockets. Thus, they are often too small (at least on my pants) to even hold a mic, which then means the awkward belt issue, which really doesn’t work with women’s shirts, the majority of which are not meant to be tucked in. My husband finds it amusing how long it can take me to pick out an outfit to preach in, not realizing the hundred things I need to consider in doing so!

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