Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Promoting Intergenerational Sartorial Understanding

Good morning, glorious ones!!

We are expecting a Nor'easter tomorrow here in the land of PeaceBang, so she wants to get out and about today and make some visits that the snow may prevent later in the week. First, though, some java and this inquiry from a West Coast reader:

"Dear Peacebang:
I am a ministry candidate and a big fan of your fashion blog. I have a question that I am sure you can answer. I do campus ministry with college students. We are talking about funky and casual west coast college kids,not preppy ones. I am middle aged and have a college age kid myself. When Igo on campus, or to a local coffee shop, to meet with college kids I am not sure what I should wear. I would feel out of place with this crowd of ratty jeans and second hand sweatshirts in my "minister clothes", but I don't want to be one of those middle age people who pretends they are 19 in order to look approachable. What do you advise when ministering to the very casual young adult community?
Faithfully yours, [Lovely and Earnest Candidate For the Unitarian Universalist Ministry]


Dear Lovely and Earnest Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry,

What a wonderful question. Most of us, even if we do not spend all of our ministry with younger folks, spend some of it with them (or should, if we don't!). It is my experience that we all agonize to some extent about how to look ministerially appropriate yet approachable to the youth or young adults. Sometimes we err on the side of "hipper than thou" and try to out-grunge the kids. This is a big mistake, and those clever fish ain't bitin'. They know that you're not an age peer, and all the ratty sherpa hats and concert t-shirts in the world can't change that.

This is not to say, however, that you shouldn't dress for your community. You should, but in an age-appropriate way. Don't try to look like them, but do consider what values they are expressing in their own clothing and weave some of those ideas into your own look.

On most college campuses where Unitarian Universalists have a campus ministry (and it ain't Bob Jones University, duckies), I am guessing that many students express creativity, global consciousness, a dose of non-conformist rebellion, and insouciant, youthful poverty in their outfits. While you can skip the non-conformist rebellion and insouciant, youthful poverty elements in your own clothing, Lovely and Earnest, see how you might incorporate creativity, individuality and global consciousness into your look.

For instance, where your backpacking-across-Asia students might walk around in ankle-length print cotton skirts purchased in Bali, you can keep an eye out for inexpensive accessories that communicate a similar vibrancy and adventuresome spirit.
Learn to peek into stores you've never peeked in before, like those hippie stores on campus. Therein you'll find loads of inexpensive options that zoom your look without requiring that you empty your closet and fill it with an entirely new wardrobe.

In fact, cupcakes, none of us should EVER feel that we have to acquire an entirely new wardrobe for a new position. If (and this is a big IF) your clothing choices are professionally appropriate, expressive of your sense of self and look good on you in the first place (remember, I said IF!), you can adjust to new positions with subtle jzujzing of your look, not a whole make-over.

So, Lovely and Earnest Campus Minister, a few examples to give you an idea: get a pair of huge silver Indian earrings and wear them with a fitted, nice denim jacket. Wear a pair of nice jeans tucked into knee-high fleece boots (I hear that UGGS are fantastically comfortable, but tres cher!), but top the jeans off with a classic merino turtleneck and big pendant (which should hit you at the top of your rib cage). Be a grown-up, but a grown-up who signals by what she wears that she's inspired by the youthful energy around her.

Keep your fabrics interesting, colorful, international, creative. Stay away from florals and pastels. Get your hair cut somewhere edgy. Remember: you're not trying to look like them, you're trying to express affiliation and admiration through your own appearance.

PeaceBang's Rule of Intergenerational Sartorial Understanding:

When ministering to another generation, dress to express admiration, not emulation.

Let's take it in another direction. Say you're a 20-something pastor and preparing to address the Ladies League, all of whose members are 50+ years older than you. To show admiration for their generation, dress up. Iron your blouse, boys and girls. Fellas, shave. Ladies, wear a slip. Wear pantyhose. Gents, consider wearing a tie. Gals, get out the pearls if you've got them. Everyone, shine your shoes. Don't flaunt your tattoos or your piercings: in this setting, they'll just be distracting, not evidence of your individuality.

You attend to these details not because these wise elders will judge or condemn you for not doing so, but to show your respect for the values of this generation, and to show your respect for these particular people.

So, Lovely and Earnest, thanks for writing and let us know how it goes. And remember as you build your professional wardrobe that you may not be a campus chaplain for the rest of your ministerial life, so lay in some pearls, too.

Kiss of peace! *smooch*

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20 Comments:

Anonymous jinnis said...

Excellent advice!

And as someone who lived down the street from Bob Jones University - that campus stresses modesty and neatness. The young men were all smart in button down shirts and khakis - and they mobbed the flower shops on Thursday afternoons to pick up something lovely for their dates. The young women - well, in most cases I could pick them out from the crowd, even across town at Barnes and Noble. The young women wore ankle-length denim skirts for a casual outing - not too loose, but not hip hugging, either.

The usual professional minister look would fit right in, truth be told, you just can't go sleeveless. Ever.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Did you really just recommend UGGS????

Say it ain't so!

10:37 AM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

I know, Jess, I know. But they're incredibly popular and incredibly comfortable and although I don't like the way they look, I can't condemn them as being inherently inappropriate.

Jen, thanks for reminding us that sleevelessness is never okay, unless you're in 100 degree weather and you might otherwise die on the spot.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous MizDarwin said...

Brilliant advice, PeaceBang. I am a huge fan of your blog. Incidentally, have you been influenced by the work of Erving Goffman, the sociologist who wrote "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"? If not, you should read him.

HOWEVER--are you really saying that a denim jacket is appropriate *with jeans*?? I thought this was an extreme fashion no-no. Please clarify!

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the youngish ones going to a meeting with the Ladies' League of 50 plusers. I'm 60 and never wear a slip. Yes, look presentable (and please don't show your thong) but unless you are wearing a see through outfit (which you shouldn't be doing around church or church type outings) there is no need for a slip.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Berrysmom said...

I disagree with Mizdarwin on the slip. It's not just about seeing through your outfit. It's also about sittng down and having a teensy bit of lace showing along the inside of your skirt when you discreetly cross your legs. It's just one more pretty thing, and a way to show that you are paying attention to detail.

For my very first-ever memorial service, during my internship, I carried my navy blue linen dress to a morning workshop at the church, planning to change into my dressy clothes later. Unfortunately I forgot to bring a slip, and I realized that at the afternoon, outdoor memorial service, everyone was going to be painfully aware that--gasp!--I have LEGS! I poured out my dilemma to a church member who was at the morning workshop, who promptly took off her slip and gave it to me for the rest of the day.

Greater love hath no woman than this.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous MizDarwin said...

Pardone, berrysmom, but I did not malign the slip. I was the one who questioned the jean jacket/jeans combo.

8:42 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

On slips: I wear them rarely, but I wear them when things might cling or when the fabric will reveal too much if the light hits it.
Berrsymom, love the story! PB thinks that showing legs through skirt isn't a sin because it's sexual, but because it's jes' tacky!

If I seemed to be promoting jeans with a jeans jacket, I promise I did not mean it, unless you live in Nashville and are a music promoter. Then you can do it with a ten gallon hat and big hair. In general, let's not over-do God's gift of denim.

Thanks for the recommendation of the book! I will get it!

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Madgebaby said...

I have only two basic fashion rules (and I'm assuming basic grooming, clothes that fit, etc.):

NEVER WEAR A DENIM SUIT. period.

Only wear one religious symbol (ie cross) at a time

Before I go out, I think: Do I look like a Johnnie Cash groupie (too much black)? Do I look like a member of a fringe religious group? (the denim skirt is VERY dangerous in this regard.) Do I look like a cartoon of a "churchy" person? Do I look like I'm wearing a costume?

Your categories may differ. . . .

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Love the new pic.

On UGGS - you who malign Crocs in any circumstance don't get a pass, sorry! People say Crocs are ultimately comfy and popular, too. UGGS are uglier, I think.

*kisses*

12:13 AM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Jessie Louise, you rebellious little pigeon! UGGS are real shoes. As awful as we find them, we must accept that. Crocs are not real shoes. We must not stop crusading against them.

Now stop making me snarf my coffee, you little sass factory!

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Kit said...

No fighting about crocs and uggs now. It's easy really. Crocs are gardening shoes, for wearing in mud. Very casual, not professional wear. Fine if you are doing yard work around the church in jeans, t-shirt and gloves. Uggs are boots. Not fashion boots. The sort of boots you wear when there is snow or ice and you need to walk in that. Outside, dressed for the weather, fine. When you come inside, you take them off along with the scarf and coat and put on shoes that go with your outfit. Bring the shoes in your bag, or keep them at the office all winter.

Kit

10:27 AM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

But if you're a campus minister, which was the original context of this post, remember -- you can keep the UGGS on!!

10:32 AM  
Anonymous erica said...

Here's a twist on the campus pastor--what about when you are the pastor for children and youth? And, you're on the younger end?

It's a wierd position with dressing. At various times, I have to be on a bus for 18 hours with the youth group; in the pool with the youth group; in front of church, but able to get down on my hands and knees during a children's time; sledding; etc. How does one mamnage to look professional when the profession calls you to jump in the pool? (And, to make it even better, when the pool party happens when you're about 7 months pregnant?!)

I think this applies to non-children/youth pastors, too--as you rightly point out, all pastors should have some involvement across the generations!

The fashion patterns for teens here is suburbia are not always something I want to encourage or compliment. Often, it seems to be about excess, conformity, and low-riders. (In fact, I'm appalled when I see sometimes what a mom-of-teens is wearing.)

Any thoughts?

11:13 AM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Erica, mazel tov on the impending baby! This post addresses my conviction that ministers should not be in the pool with their congregants:
http://beautytipsforministers.blogspot.com/2006/12/shout-out-to-my-polity-homeys-on.html

On one hand, I don't see any big crime in your being in the pool with the youth, but I'm not sure it's a great idea, either. What is there for you to do in the pool but to play and be dunked and generally violate your own privacy? Think about it. Your job description doesn't involve doing everything that the kids do. And being seen in a bathing suit while 7 months pregnant certainly seems to me a recipe for guaranteed physical scrutiny of your undressed person. I wouldn't sign up for that for any reason, myself -- even if I wasn't a serious chunkster.

As I've said before, I think the minister's role at a pool party is to relax in a chair and wave to the kids in the water. No rubbing suntan oil on anyone, and no getting in your skivvies for a dip. You can do that on your own time.

As far as general apparel goes, I agree wholeheartedly that you should not get anywhere near the disastrous teen trends that have the older generations hyperventilating. Dress comfortably, dress young, have fun. Wear things that give you energy and express your creative spirit. But keep it modest. Remember, admiration not emulation.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous jess said...

PB, darling, my sass is about all I've got these days until that man of mine gets a job and we get the heck out of Chicago. Snarf away! ;-)

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Liz Schwartz said...

What is there for you to do in the pool but to play and be dunked and generally violate your own privacy? Think about it. Your job description doesn't involve doing everything that the kids do.

You're kidding, right? Sorry, this is my first time reading your blog, and this is shocking to me. First off, I am baffled by how one can violate one's own privacy. I'm not a minister, but I'd think it'd be up to me to decide where to put my privacy boundaries, and it would not be tumbling into the pool with the kids.

And ministers aren't supposed to play with kids? How do you propose to set a good example of living a joy-filled life? Granted it's important to teach that not every moment is for joy, but certainly time at the pool isn't one of those.

And being seen in a bathing suit while 7 months pregnant certainly seems to me a recipe for guaranteed physical scrutiny of your undressed person. I wouldn't sign up for that for any reason, myself -- even if I wasn't a serious chunkster.

Wow. This must be a generation gap or something. Would you be as seriously concerned about "physical scrutiny" if you were talking to a male minister? Is your whole blog is like this, pointing out what's proper for a lady minister to do, and what's not a proper example for a lady minister to set? Sounds like the 19th century instead of 21st!

Sorry to get steamed like that, but why on earth should any woman, even a minister, assume that the lack of a head-covering or shoulder-covering, or thigh-covering always = sexual promiscuity or pandering?

Have you ever seen the "Vagina Monologues"? There's a great song called "My Short Skirt" about how it is a product of rape culture to place the blame on the woman for being "too inviting" when a man takes advantage of her -- and that goes for any inappropriate behavior, be it rape or hitting on a minister who isn't interested in dating her congregants. Either way, it is NOT the fault of the woman for dressing "improperly."

I won't even get started on the shame you seem to think woman should have if they are overweight, to the extent of calling it indecent to join in for pool time with the kids. Just... wow.

12:51 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Liz, you say you're not a minister.
I can tell. Ministers have boundary issues that other people don't have, and yes, it's possible to inadvertently violate one's own privacy. We at PeaceBang call this "a festival of inappropriate sharing."

I would find your naivetee around "it's not the woman's fault for dressing inappropriately" very sweet if it wasn't so insulting of women's intelligence. When men or women clergy dress inappropriately, it is certainly their fault. We all know better, for heaven's sake. There's a world of difference between a kid on a college campus in a short skirt getting raped and a minister wearing too-tight pants or flaunting cleavage. Let's not get over-dramatic here.

One can play with children without being in a state of almost total undress, can one not? Clerical dignity is not served by frolicking around soaking wet and half naked. In this era of shocking revelations of rampant clergy sexual misconduct, I'm amazed that you find that stuffy advice.

And as far as scrutiny of one's person goes, it isn't always sexualized scrutiny. In a lengthy previous post on the subject, I advised both men *and* women clergy to remain beachy and fun and dressed poolside while others swim and romp. Your assumptions that I'm being sexist are erroneous. And since I'm one of the biggest advocates for female clergy to STOP swathing themselves in head-to-toe fabric, you're way off base in assuming that I'm some kind of Victorian (not that I don't love the Victorians!).

Come to think of it, I have sunbathed with parishioners while on vacation, but never at church events. When we're at a church event, we are the minister. Which is to say: everyone else may be at a pool party,but babycakes, but you're at work!! We all know this. It's okay if you don't: you're not a minister.

As far as my fatness goes -- if you actually think that people don't have health concerns about their seriously overweight minister, and if you don't think that appearing in a bathing suit generates high anxiety about those concerns, and if you insist that this is all about sex... wow. Just wow, right back atcha.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Erin said...

i find your post incredibly interesting, PB. i've come across it before, most often linked from the FUUSE website.

i actually find what you have to say about the way a minister dresses fascinating. since i'm not a minister, i've never much thought about it before....but working with high school youth as an advisor and RE teacher, i can say i often thought twice about what i chose to wear.

and usually, i ended up in jeans and a nice shirt (usually free of logos unless it was a chalice or the thundercats, my favorite cartoon growing up!)....but i definitely thought twice.

and i have to say, it's incredibly true that ministers are constantly scrutinized by their congregants, whether or not that's fair. i think you all ARE under some pressure to have a 'ministerly' look *whatever that is*, and i can't imagine it's easy.

anyway, thanks for posting. and down with UGGS! i can live with the crocs because another young adult i work with on the YA planning committee wears them at every one of our meetings. ;)

2:16 PM  
Anonymous FunkyEthan said...

On a note mostly unrelated to dress: I also work with a number of campus ministry groups, and want to stress that campuses at which you might find many UU students are not necessarily the campuses at which you might find a UU campus group.

Sometimes at an isolated liberal arts college, where progressive views and hippie attire are the norm, UUs are able to get the sense of intentional community they need from the entire campus, or other groups on campus... and so are not strongly moved to create a campus group. On the flip side, UUs at a stuffy urban engineering school might need each other more, and feel more compelled to seek each other out for a respite. I know plenty of square-looking, button-down UU college students. It's really difficult to generalize.

In the end, the campus groups that seem to have the most staying power are the ones that are supported by a chaplain or ally outside the group... so whatever you wear, thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of you clergy out there who do support campus ministry! It really makes a difference. :)

2:59 PM  

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