Preacher Style

In the comments section of my reader survey, someone asked me to write about this:

“Your evolving style as a preacher AND fashion lover. I’ve always loved clothes but I went through a very conservative ‘modesty’ phase back in the 90’s (think covered up shapeless, long denim dresses) and looked frumpy most of the time. Even my husband didn’t like it. Ugh, what can I say but that I felt convicted at the time. It took many years before I was able to dress myself with freedom. I’m curious about your personal experience :) ”

I love this topic – thanks for asking about something I wouldn’t have thought of writing about on my own!

Let’s start with a story:

One memorable attempt at dressing to preach involved a navy shift dress in something silk-like with half-rolled short sleeves and stripes of color along the bottom – pink, orange, red, green, and white, maybe? – in varying widths.  I felt desperately chic in it, especially since it was a thrift score and thus proved one could dress stylishly secondhand.  I was so enamored of it that I refused to recognize (despite my mom’s warning) that it was too short and wore it to my home church to guest preach.
50761908This gives you the general feel.  Source

My high school French teacher and mentor – Madame, we call her – came to hear me preach, and as folks gathered for worship, I greeted her in the pew before turning around and bending over the next pew to kiss the cheek of one of the elderly church ladies who have loved on me since I was a toddler.  A perilous move, turns out.

Madame shrieked my name (at a moderate volume) and when I turned around, the look on her face was one of complete mortification; though this happened several years ago, I can recall exactly how high her eyebrows shot up.  “Leah, that dress is REALLY short!” she exclaimed. I still wonder exactly how much she saw, but I have never had the guts to inquire.

By then it was too late to do anything about it – the prelude was starting and I was leading most of the service and in any case I didn’t just happen to have a backup dress hanging up in the narthex.  Calling to mind the lesson imparted by another mentor who once chided me for failing to network at an advocacy event because I had felt self-consciously underdressed, wearing flip flops and a billowy summer skirt in a crowd of suits, I took a deep breath and went for it.

But why was this such a problem, you might be thinking, since preaching doesn’t involve turning around and bending over backwards in front of the congregation? (Now THAT’S a visual.)  Well, friends, you have not thought through the logistics of giving a children’s sermon while sitting on the chancel floor in the shortest shift known to humanity and trying to angle your sidesaddled knees such that your confirmation sponsor, jr. high social studies teacher, mother, and the parents of the kids you babysat for years don’t see your underwear, all while wrangling preschoolers who don’t really want to sit still while you tell a story.  Let’s just say I have a lot of sympathy for Lindsay Lohan and anyone else who’s accidentally flashed the paps.

 

Although I have a mad amount of respect for people who dress in a way that expresses their faith, dress has never been a way I’ve expressed my own faith. (This directly correlates to my liberal Christian upbringing and current progressive Christian faith.)   In grad school, when a classmate took on a nine month modesty project – head covered, shoulders covered, knees covered, no makeup, no pants – to see how it affected her sense of self and her relationship with God, I felt no impulse to experiment with the same.

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Me, dressed in shorts to lead worship next to Lauren doing her modesty thing at the time.

Neither has dress ever been a way that spiritual authority figures in my life have tried to moralize or shame me, which does often happen with clothing choices (particularly for girls and women).  For that I am profoundly grateful – in my book shame and religion shouldn’t mix.

That being said, I did grow up with parents who had some ideas about what constituted appropriate church clothes – particularly a mom who was not happy with anything too tight, too short, or too midriff baring.  I chafed against this (literally?) in junior high and high school, but a few years into adulthood I sort of naturally grew out of spaghetti straps and skintight glitter pants, and the memory of my mom’s chastisement softened into helpful parameters: if something pulls, it’s too tight; if something rides up all the time, it’s too short, etc. etc.

As the story above illustrates, though, I didn’t grow out of more “risqué” (my mom’s word) dressing all at once. As I began to dress less casually in my work life, the too-short-shift experience helped redraw the line for me about clothes for leading worship as well.  If it’s cute/trendy/chic but makes me feel distracted from or self-conscious about the task at hand, I’ll save it for the dance floor, not the pulpit.  If it passes the get-on-the-floor-and-play-with-kids test (dress/skirt hems) along with the raise-your-hands-high-to-give-the-benediction test (that one’s for midriffs) and the crouch-down-to-rescue-the-fallen-hymnal test (visible crack for pants), we’re good.

As for level of formality?  I have seen so many people shunned for what they wore (or failed to wear) to worship that I would rather dress down to help people feel welcome than impose rules on what is respectful enough for a house of faith.  I was raised in a wear-your-best-to-church environment, but I’ve also pastored an informal church start and a homeless community, so I learned a long time ago that you can worship God no matter how formal, groomed, or skin-showing you are.

Casual style from my new church plant days:

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I figure God doesn’t really care, but on the flip side, I understand that people do.  A lot of folks were raised to believe that the way you dress for worship shows respect for God. That’s why, practically speaking, I wear a) what makes me feel comfortable and b) what shows general respect for my parishioners’ sensibilities but c) nothing too fancy so as not to make less formally dressed people feel uncomfortable.  (This is also why I breastfed in church but often in the back pew.  I assume not everyone is comfortable with nursing in public.)

Reflecting the surroundings, I started off like this in my current church:

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Until I realized that all the other women in the congregation, save one, wore pants:

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Then we moved to a less formal space:

15590434_678276485677347_6599297226904845813_n+100 points for that mid-sentence facial expression.

On a related tangent, I don’t feel any compulsion to dress a certain way at other events because I am a pastor – if I’m going to work out, or go dancing, or go to the beach, I’ll don what I personally feel comfortable wearing in those situations (which, admittedly, is really not that edgy to begin with).  My spouse once wondered whether we should buy alcohol at a liquor store further from home so we wouldn’t run into our neighbors or seminary classmates – nope.  I’m invested in reminding church members and the world at large that clergy are people, first and foremost – called to a specific ministry, yes, but not necessarily any more pious than anyone else.  And most definitely allowed to express themselves through clothing!

For weddings/ordinations/formal worship services I add the oatmeal-colored robe, cincture (rope around the waist) and a stole:

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Or if I’m marching in the rain, here is the super-chic water-repellent outfit I wear (same stole as above, better view):

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What have been your experiences with spirituality and dress, modest clothing, or shaming around clothes?  If you grew up in a faith tradition or currently participate in one, what are your thoughts on what’s appropriate to wear to worship?  There are such a wide array of opinions and experiences out there – I’d love to hear yours!

 

 

Does Thrifting Contribute to Gentrification? Part 2

Last week I shared the conversation my friend Hannah and I had about whether thrifting contributes to gentrification. I mentioned in the intro to that post that it seemed disingenuous to write about whether my thrift habit negatively affects those with limited resources without including the voices of the people in question.  Hannah grew up using thrift stores as an affordable means of clothing a large family looking to conserve resources, but I also wanted to include other voices.  Plus, I needed to educate myself more on the subject. Hence, Part Deux. Continue reading “Does Thrifting Contribute to Gentrification? Part 2”

Does Shopping at Thrift Stores Contribute to Gentrification? Part 1

A while back, my friend Hannah* and her spouse got to discussing whether thrifting contributes to gentrification and she asked me to do a post addressing this.  Her request seemed especially relevant given my self-proclaimed thriftvangelism.  If thrifting were to become as widespread as my “about me” sidebar says I am working to make it, how does that affect people with minimal resources whose most affordable source of clothing might be thrift shops?

Hannah and I had a great conversation (see below) about some of the issues behind this question.  Although we both enjoy a certain amount of social class privilege now, garage sales and thrift shopping were memorable parts of Hannah’s childhood in a big family that needed to maximize/share/conserve resources, so it’s a topic that she has an intimate familiarity with.  My childhood wasn’t Richie Rich but definitely featured more new clothing purchases, so I knew I had some research and learning to do.

Poverty and clothing is a huge issue intersecting with everything from self image and confidence (the stigma of wearing secondhand, particularly for kids) to cultural/familial attitudes about spending vs. saving to how much you care about style to the context where you live/work/dress.  I can’t pretend to be an expert on all of this, but I did find some relevant observations from self-identified working poor people speaking up about non-poor people going thrift shopping.  I tried splicing these insights into my conversation with Hannah, but basically it turned into a large awkward block of Leah reporting on internet research.

So this is Part 1 – my conversation with Hannah – and next week you’ll get Part 2 – perspectives, via the internet, from other people who’ve experienced poverty. If you identify as poor now or have experienced poverty at some point in your life, please chime in in the comments either here or on Part 2 so we can hear from folks in addition to Hannah (and other than internet strangers commenting on random blog posts from 2011).

Continue reading “Does Shopping at Thrift Stores Contribute to Gentrification? Part 1”

Friday ReBlog: Capsule Closet Tumblr

Lo at Capsule Closet on Tumblr has created a visual diary of her capsule clothing experiments using clean, well-laid-out graphics that will give the visual thinkers among us great capsule wardrobe inspiration.  Her style is self-described “minimalist tomboy” but, as with many capsule blogs, the conceptual thinking behind how she combines pieces to create outfits and build a wardrobe is applicable across any style genre.

Other great features?  She assembles regular Weekend Links to help you get to know new ethical brands and find your next style blog crush.

And – this is so cool – she’ll take a retail item that’s hot in style blogs right now (e.g. Madewell flare jeans) and compile half a dozen or more ethical alternatives at different price points.  Great place to start an ethical clothes journey, one piece at a time.

 

Enjoy!

 

The Power of the Words We Use to Talk about Clothing

Tuesday’s post on şalvar/Hammer pants/jupe-culotte (aka “harem pants”) got me thinking about the power held by the words we use to talk about the way we dress.

Caroline at Un-Fancy blogged last week (in a post featuring a great thrifted sweater!) about how she’s been “hearing murmurs that skinny jeans are on their way out” but that she was in no way ready to give up her skinny jeans “any time soon.”

Good on her for sticking with clothing she loves even if it’s not “cool” or “trendy” anymore.  (That’s basically my entire style strategy—and, I might note, thrift stores make this eminently possible.)

But commenter Lynn brought up a powerful point:

When women start repeating those “murmurs” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn’t it? It’s no secret that the fashion industry – that very one that Caroline is talking about slowing down, making it work for us instead of us working for it – wants trends to change. For when women begin to believe skinny jeans (for example) are going out of style, it’s not just new jeans we’ll be buying. It’s new shoes, new tops, all to find the right new silhouette.

The language we use to talk about what we wear has the power to shape not only our attitudes and behaviors, but to reinforce global realities like the fast fashion industry, which is unquestionably damaging to millions of women (and men, and children) around the world who work in dangerous, vastly undercompensated conditions to make the clothes that fuel the changing trends—“harem” pants, skinny jeans, or otherwise—which we embrace and reject with such regularity.

(If you’re still not sure you think words have power…Google “slave bracelets” and tell me why it’s okay to normalize women’s slavery with trendy jewelry in a world where it’s still all too real.  Thanks, Ginna, for this lead as well!)

 

What do you think about the power of words to describe clothing or to talk about fashion?  Any other instances you can think of (besides rompers and playsuits) where we problematically label clothing, particularly women’s clothing?  Scroll down to comment!

 

 

Can I Wear Harem Pants? Or, Thoughts on Orientalism, Feminist Liberation, and M.C. Hammer

Ask me a question! (6)

Reader Ginna at Feet Chic sent me an email last week. (Head right over to her visually arresting blog chronicling chic street style footwear of all kinds!)

She asked what I thought about “harem” pants.  She had seen them named as a trend in a style blog she reads and immediately felt “sick to [her] stomach.”

No, it wasn’t the baggy crotch or visions of MC Hammer dancing in her head that gave her the heeby-jeebies.  These ladies sporting various street style takes on the pants in question look lovely, yes?

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Source ; source. Even Emanuelle Alt got in on the trend – source

Continue reading “Can I Wear Harem Pants? Or, Thoughts on Orientalism, Feminist Liberation, and M.C. Hammer”

Friday ReBlog: 2 (Well, Really 3) New Blogs

Conscious by Chloé features French blogger Chloé Lepeltier’s adventures in simpler living, including making hip outfits out of secondhand finds and ethically made clothing.  Don’t worry, it’s in English (she’s based in Portland).
Bonus for any of you francophiles out there, though: her friend Alyssa Pacaut blogs on her transformation into a full-blown Frenchie at Modern French.
Conscious by Chloé has great ideas/resources for nontoxic makeup, using less plastic/going zero waste, and other creation/wallet-friendly stuff.  Modern French features great recipes and wine.  Both blogs have a lovely clean look to them and beautiful photographs; get amongst them!

The Ethical Wardrobe by Aussie Sophie O’Shea is a high energy, snarky, millenial take on giving up fast fashion and exploring more ethical alternatives, including secondhand clothing.  Buckle up for lots of incomrephensible slang, ridiculous photo illustrations, and parrot playsuits.  It’s refreshing (not to mention fun) to see someone from the typical target demographic for “shopping haul” vlogs and merry-go-round style blogs take it to another level.  Plus eye-opening if you’re a regular at H&M, Zara, or other fast fashion hotspots.

 

What are your favorite thrifting and thrift-ish blogs of late, Thrifters?  Scroll down to comment!  And happy weekend already.

 

Jewelry with a Purpose

A few weeks ago I wrote about retail companies with a conscience—places where your dollars go to a good cause as well as towards a beautiful bauble.  I mentioned Starfish Project and that I planned on supporting them in the near future.

Well, the future has arrived:

IMG_3201 IMG_3199Please excuse the banana my child wiped on my lower lapel two seconds before this picture was taken.

 

Isn’t it lovely?  It’s their Avery necklace and although it comes in a variety of colors, mine showed up a lovely purple.   I’d been wanting a long necklace to go with my winter capsule that was a little more lively than the thin-skim-milk bluish-white and blue of this necklace. (Seriously, I love the dangles I added on, but the large pendant disc colors are kind of sad in person.)

I perused Starfish Project’s selections, made by women who are rebuilding their lives after being caught up in human/sex trafficking, and this big ol’ hunk of crystalline rock caught my eye.  Equal parts chic and funky, right up my alley.

My friend and consultant in all things natural healing reminded me that amethyst is the stone of self-love, so some kind of meta double points there since that’s what Starfish Project is all about.

 

What do you think of my selection?  Does anything on their site catch your eye?  If you mostly stay away from retail, are you more likely to buy something from a company with a social mission?

Scroll down to comment!

 

 

PS I have yet to take on any kind of partnership, sponsorship, ads, or other $$ deals through this blog, so this necklace was not a gift from the company.  Disclaimer-y language and all that.