Sunday, March 11, 2007

General Assembly Attire

This from one of our beautiful readers:

Hi PB,

You’ve probably already done this, but could you talk about professional casual wear (from tops to shoes) for GA? I’ll be standing in the booth for a great bit of time and will also have to “suit up” for a breakfast event. I’m not clergy, but am UU representing a UU organization and for the last two years I’ve felt either overdressed or underdressed—and never comfortable. Any suggestions? UU Momma

Dear UUMomma,

Bless your heart. General Assembly is a very difficult event to pack for, as it's generally scorching hot outside and freezing inside, so what's a guy or gal to do? PeaceBang favors cotton cardigans and shawls and mixing it up with interesting accessories. She loves Charter Club cotton sweaters. They cost about $35 and they are beautifully made and withstand washing well.

As we all know, PeaceBang writes for the clergy crowd, but in this case (and because one of her own congregants owned as to how she was shocked and dismayed by the slovenliness of the other delegates to the GA), she is happy to extend her invitation to Bring On The Beauty to her layfriends and readers.

Unitarian Universalists, arise! Consider! When we descend en masse upon St. Louis or Rochester or Portland or Cleveland, we have the opportunity to make an impression! And that's a wonderful thing! Just one more exclamation point for emphasis! How 'bout it?

PeaceBang honors the sacrifice of time and money that laypeople make to attend GA, but wants to remind us all that when we're doing the work of our association, we're not on vacation. We should consider dressing a step up from tee-shirts and shorts.

Heed the words of my colleague, the Rev. Tom Schade, who wrote,

"A lack of concern for appearance communicates only disregard and disrespect for those we serve [within the context of GA, this means "the greater cause of Unitarian Universalism" for all of us -- PB]. It also graphically demonstrates that religion and the church don't really connect to the real world, but exist only in some parallel universe of our own making, a world where thinking is supreme. It is also self-indulgent and morally smug at the same time."

Who loves you, UUs? PeaceBang loves you! But it's time to honestly acknowledge what we're really communicating about our identity as a faith tradition when so many of us come together for our big annual meeting looking as though we've tumbled out of the back of a VW minibus. Now, if you actually got to GA riding in the back of a VW minibus, more power to you, I say. I shall not look askance at your wrinkled khaki shorts and Darwin fish teeshirts.* But if you didn't -- and most of us don't -- let's think about putting a more neatly-shod foot forward when we pay each other the honor of showing up to do important work. Maybe it doesn't bother you to be known as The Old Hippie Church. I happen to think that's kind of funny, myself. But it does bother me that we are so easily stereotyped. When it's easy to stereotype a group, it's easy to dismiss them. We don't want that.

NOW, UU Momma asked for some ideas on how to pack for GA, and particularly for breakfast events.

First of all, Momma, let's talk about being over-dressed and under-dressed:

> If you find that you're over-dressed for an event, WORK IT. You should never, ever be ashamed at having put extra effort into your appearance for any event. If everyone else showed up in Hawaiian shirts, that isn't your problem. You just wear whatever you've got on and be who you are with pride and confidence. I trust you aren't wearing bugle-beaded evening gowns, so really, relax.

> If you find that you're under-dressed for an event, WORK IT. Sit up straighter, put a big smile on your face, be as gracious as you can be, and make a note to yourself so you don't make the same mistake the next time. This isn't so much about what someone else might say about you, it's about how you feel about you. There is no dress code at these events, so it's up to you to represent yourself and your organization in the most appropriate way possible, relying on your own sense of style and occasion. Believe me, my dove, you don't want to take the average group of Unitarian Universalists as your guide, as we are notoriously, shall we say, elaborately and casual.

PeaceBang's Guide To Packing For GA:

1. Everything has to go together for maximum mixing-and-matching of every garment.
2. Accessories are key: they take up very little space and they can make you feel put-together with no effort at all. Think chunky cascading bead necklaces, distinctive belts, great earrings, a few scarves that array you and don't drown you.
3. Skirts pack well if you roll them. I usually bring one floral and one solid. Unpack and hang them right away.
4. Black pants are great for traveling in. Heck, you can wear them every day if you like.
5. Three or four crisp bright tees for wearing under cardigans or cotton blazers are a godsend.
6. Shoes have to be comfortable for walking miles through convention centers-- a nice sandal is all you need. If you find that you're obsessing over finding the perfect GA sandal, no, it's not just you. You have LOTS of company!
7. Bring a travel size of Febreze.

For a one-week conference, I usually pack two skirts, two pairs of pants, three or so blouses or tees and a cardigan or blazer (it depends if I'm leading any programs). That's a lot, but I roll everything up and get it into one little bag. My cosmetics come in a separate steamer trunk. Really, though: hotels are murder on my complexion! I have to have a full defense arsenal.

* PeaceBang wishes that religious liberals would consider how rude and smarmy they're being when they wear or display the Darwin fish symbol, which takes a symbol common to all Christians and insults millions of them by assuming that all Christians are creationists. We're not, and if UUs want to be seen as a tolerant, dignity-respecting religion, why walk around in something that's the sartorial equivalent of a Bronx cheer to all Christians? I think we can do better than that. Or at least save it for home wear, not for when we're all together making a collective impression.



Blogger Rev. Gidget said...

So glad to have the GA conversation going! (I can always tell when I'm feeling a bit fried in my church year: I start mentally planning GA outfits.)

It took me several GAs to figure out what to wear, which seemed to be about having to look good for DAYS in a row, long days, at that.

The general look I go for is a brushed-up business casual. If I am making a presentation of some kind, I will pack a suit or dress and pumps, which come off immediately afterwards. Otherwise, jackets or nice, light sweaters and slacks are my mainstays. As you've already mentioned, layers are important for GA. (Why DO they have to deep freeze those conference centers - definitely undercuts our message about global warming.) For outdoors, if you don't mind going sleeveless, pack 2 nice black tanks that fit well. You can dress them up with jewelry or scarves.

GA shoes are also something it took me years to be happy with. I have very wimpy feet that are easily exhausted standing or walking, which you're doing lots of at GA. Also, I need my toes to be covered at all times, or they will snap right off in the deep freeze. Danskos are my shoe of choice - lots of support and look good with most pants. (I don't like them with skirts - I feel like Holly Hobbie in them.)

Anyway, thanks for giving me the chance to opine. Glad to see you're back.

Rev. Gidget

4:42 PM  
Blogger revsean said...

I agree that a lack of concern for appearance can communicate a certain smugness and I totally agree about the darwin fish, but I don't think dressing casually (think shorts and sandals) is "a lack of concern for appearance." I have a friend who carefully irons his tshirts and shorts. He cares about how he looks, he just wants to be cool and comfortable as well.

There are so many assumptions going on under this conversation. That people don't care about how they look or are purposefully sloppy and slothful may sometimes be true. But isn't it a stereotype to see someone who truly loves how it feels to wear their hippy skirt and assume it's either cluelessness or selfishness that they'd wear something you think is inappropriate for clergy?

And oh, the regional differences. I minister in the West. Here, showing up in a suit and tie communicates that you are probably an outsider to our culture. An assumption of arrogance may be made as well. People here dress practically. I'm not sure they even think of clothes as a means of communicating how much or little they value something. Clothes are like tools--you wear what's going to be useful and comfortable.

I'm not trying to be argumentative, but ever since you started this blog, I've been slightly troubled by it. (At the same time I love it b/c your wit and humor just right.) I guess I just keep feeling like there is a fine line between judging people's "style" and judging--well--people.

I guess I'll just keep being uncomfortable and keep reading too.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ann said...

Why the Febreze? It's just for smell and not for spot cleaning, right?

And amen in your comments about the Darwin fish. I think it's pretty rude for anyone at all to use one, though I certainly do understand the agnostic/atheist fear of proselytizing Christians.

8:15 PM  
Blogger joseph said...

Portland is a real life garden of eden during the month of June in my experience, having grown up there. Thus the oppressive extreme hot/cold dynamic is not going to be as hard as past years. I'll be a lot of you will find yourself frolicking in our goregous gardens, river walks, nature hikes just 10 minutes from the convention center. Don't miss out on Forest Park, Chinese Classical Gardens, East Bank Esplanade, even the wetlands of Sauvie Island.

10:24 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Sean my dove, no prob. I don't mind your pushing back, and I know you've been slightly uneasy but that you keep having fun here nonetheless.

I do try to be clear, though. When I say "wrinkled khaki shorts and teeshirts" I really do mean that, not hippie skirts.

Hippie skirts are fine, too, when paired with neat and put-together tops. I exaggerate disapproval for certain garments to make a point and to be outrageous. No one pays attention to the gal who writes thoughtful little suggestions about clothing. You gotta grab people, get 'em thinking, get 'em laughing and occasionally ticked off. Then we're getting somewhere.

As you know, I'm against drab and thoughtless and sloppy outfits that project either, "Don't notice me" or "I'm too spiritual to bother with grooming details" -- all of which I still see so much of in the clergy gatherings I attend that I'm going to keep 'Banging away about it.

There's nothing wrong with being clueless: most of us aren't super confident about our appearance in the first place.

But here's the thing: no one has ever suggested to clergy what's appropriate to wear. So I'm making it up as I go along based on pretty serious thought and analysis, and so far a good number of readers have validated that I'm doing an okay job of it. Certainly everyone understands that this is all being offered in good faith.

Some people have critiqued me for setting out "elitist" standards but I'm simply taking my cues from careful observation of other leaders in positions of public trust and respect that are roughly commensurate with that of the clergy. For us to blithely thumb our noses at that in favor of what's most comfortable is not just missing an opportunity, it is actively misrepresenting ourselves.

I know clergypeople to be charismatic, sharp, dynamic, funny, deeply alive people and dammit, our attire too often projects another reality entirely! I deeply believe it will be a GOOD thing (thank you, Martha) if more of us align our exterior with our interior.

I'm tired of clergypeople's charisma, brilliance and contemporary savvy being one of the most well-kept secrets in American society.

That's why I'm putting myself out there publicly to do this work. It's a risk, I know it, and I'm ridiculed by many. But honey, here's where we have to cue up the big showstopper about how I won't quit, because...

"EVERYTHING's comin' up ROSES for YOU and for MEEEEEE!"

Or, if you prefer,

"I... AM... what... I AM.. and what I AM needs no excuses..."

11:25 PM  
Blogger boyinthebands said...

The question of what to wear included what to wear in the exhibit hall.

I would want to know

1. Is the booth carpeted and if so, what color? Is it padded? (Bet on "no" as these are expensive.)

2. What is the color of the draping?

3. Is there a tablecloth or other exhibit piece you're competing with?

I think drape colors run from murky neutral to cheap and garish with little in between.

Would you want to wear a navy suit against a wall of dark blue? Hard shoes on a concrete floor?

The UUA GA office should know. (It isn't in the prospectus.)

12:07 AM  
Blogger revsean said...

Thanks, PB, for your thoughtful response. I think I'm just in a frumpy/grumpy mood tonight. But I did look fabulous in my new black, hard soled shoes today.


12:23 AM  
Anonymous kate setzer kamphausen said...

This isn't always true ... but RIGHT NOW Claire's (the teen jewelry boutique) has wonderful long seed-bead necklaces. Long - like 60". I think they look great to pair or triple, each strand in a different bead size or shape, and wrap around the neck a couple of times.

Most strands are $3.00 each. A steal!

Often Claire's has awful, nearly-but-not-quite jewelry - so now is the time to heed the clarion call!

2:54 PM  

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