Clergy Dress Codes *


December 18. 2016

From my first week of life, I’ve been connected to the Church

In the decades following, plenty have been the remarks about the expected “uniform” worn by pastors and other church leaders across the land. Suit and tie were the standard for years. (Keep in mind I am from an evangelical tradition.) Recalcitrants would mock the practice, but most followed suit. Heh.

At least they could be glad this wasn’t expected of them.


The “uniform” observation rang of truth. Come Sunday morning, you could count on a sea of suits up front. Platform people wore suit, coat, tie, and dress shoes. It was expected. By common practice (and sometimes for formal gatherings by edict), it was ubiquitous enough to be considered uniform.

In scattered quarters, this is still true, but it’s a shrinking minority. (I confess that many Sundays in my life I can be seen wearing such clothes. It just feels good sometimes.)

Several years ago, when I was still immersed in youth ministry, a teenager walked up to me with an unexpected question: “Why don’t you wear normal clothes?” Downward I peered: leather shoes, a pair of slacks, and a long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar. That wasn’t normal? I think she wondered why I wasn’t wearing running shoes, jeans, and a T-shirt. Or maybe cutoffs and sandals.

Cutoffs? Sandals? Who, me? I have too much respect for my fellow man.

For a couple of years recently, I spent hours of time online surveying the church culture landscape. You do that as you actively seek your next assignment.

I learned something. The old uniform has pretty much been tossed away. But don’t get your hopes up.

There is still a pulpit “uniform”.

Human nature  dictates, at varying degrees of intensity, the herd mentality.

Herd of Zebras

Also, with the vanity that seems to still reside in most of us, a felt need to be hip and up with the latest style pesters people. (The following observations are of the evangelical side of the church. Some quarters remain quite traditional.)

Frequent Elements of the New Uniform:

  • Casual
  • Hipster
  • Shirt untucked
  • Jeans or Khakis
  • Ties verboten
  • Polo shirt
  • Open collar
  • Unbuttoned sport jacket worn over T-shirt, or untucked shirt and jeans
  • Sit on a stool
  • Shaved head
  • Soul patch or goatee

The shirt may be a T-shirt, an open collar shirt, or maybe even a button-down. But there is an incontrovertible rule: It Shalt Be Untucked. This is even if you wear a jacket.

What used to be a style faux pas now is a mandate.

The three or 4 inches of shirttail, which is by design meant to be tucked in, must be seen underneath the lower edges of your jacket.

There must be no tie. There must be a white T-shirt prominently showing under whatever top shirt you have chosen. Another faux pas is now blessed by the latest in style dictums.

Dress shoes generally are out, unless in some cases, they are combined with denim. No matter how nicely styled the top, denim is a popular choice for pants. If shirts have large off-center complicated designs on them, the better. Much more often than dress shoes, you will see one of the latest hipster style of shoes, or running shoes with brightly colored accents. For a dash of flash, neon shoelaces help complete the look.

Spiky hair and goatees or soul patches are necessary to help complete the new pastoral image. There are other options, however. Shaved heads are prominent – close, but maybe not not numerous enough to count as uniform. It does seem to add style points and authority to the pastoral image.

Casual is the word of the hour. This cannot be strictly considered part of a uniform, but it could be considered an accessory. That is, sitting casually on a barstool, preferably with one leg up on a rung.

For those presenters of the Word who have to wear glasses, they must be of large frame and bold, thick ear pieces. The more starkly they stand out, the better. Think goggles.

Yes Virginia, there is still a preacher’s uniform. It’s far different from what existed for decades, but in our quest to be up-to-minute, we ironically still manifest our need for conformity.

Photos: TorchLeader, Wikimedia, Tapio Kaisla

*Disclaimer: “Clergy” is a word I can hardly stand. It implies some kind of enlightened, special class of people, closer to God. It smacks of a hierarchical separation God never intended. Personal opinion.

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