Many of the newly ordained come to me for answers on what to wear and what not to wear. It is only normal as some of those who just recently started exercising their duties in their communities might find clergy etiquette a bit confusing.
Clothing always conveys a message; you always receive different treatment when you wear a shirt and tie than when you wear a shirt and jeans.
Being a pastor or religious leader means being always aware of the message we send, both with our actions and appearance.
This is something we have seen even in popular culture, books, and movies. For example, notice how Hollywood has portrayed men of the cloth according to their intentions or function within the movie for decades now. If you see a pastor smartly dressed in a spotless business suit, you can be sure he will be portrayed as a manipulative cult leader. Those wearing casual clothing and a loosely tied tab-collar are usually idealists and anti-establishment types. Fortunately, they have tried to picture competent priests in a more positive light, having them wear dignified clericals and vestments, although these have become infrequent and used more for shock value than to add spiritual value to their work.
Since cultural products have had an impact on how others perceive us, it is more important than ever to adapt to them, but not in the way the TV seems to be suggesting. Adopting a relaxed dress code is extremely counterproductive, especially for younger priests. Your attire can make a huge difference when visiting hospitals or prisons as you get stopped less frequently and avoid being targeted by inquisitive nurses and jailors who want to know why you are there.
An example might help understand this better. Imagine you´re boarding the plane, you take your seat and as you’re preparing to recline your seat, you get a glance of the plane’s cockpit, and notice that the person occupying the pilot’s seat is not wearing a uniform. Instead, he looks like he’s about to pour a couple of margaritas and get behind the turntables to finally drop the bass.
I don´t know about you, but I would get off that plane and book a flight with another airline faster than you can say “Hawaii”. In certain situations, we don’t need a buddy wanting to express himself; we want a competent professional who understands his responsibilities and will do his best to carry them out.
The same goes for what we choose to wear while on duty. Those who are in need of sacraments or guidance will trust you more if they see you are a person who takes your role seriously. Moreover, when a member of the clergy wears the full attire, dog collar, and everything, he opens up more opportunities to exercise his pastoral ministry in places outside the church.
One piece of advice, though. While clergy wear has become more relaxed in recent times, there are still certain rules that should be taken into account when choosing your garments. You should know that you can never go wrong with black. It expresses modesty, and many associate the color with sorrow or grief. But black does not have to convey doom and gloom thoughts. Black clergy shirts also convey elegance and propriety, while also helping you stand out and let your congregants know where to ask for advice and spiritual support. Another thing, do not wear purple unless you´re a bishop. Moreover, if you´re visiting places outside of your jurisdiction or are in presence of a member of the presiding board.
I only buy my clothes where I can find finely crafted clergy vestments and garments that help me represent my office with dignity. Divinity Clergy Wear is the online store I recommend due to its dedication to quality and faith. Visit their website today, or stop by their warehouse showroom in Hamilton, NJ.