I trace this particular crisis back to a lunchtime seminar on female clergy and clothes. In fact, I can trace it back to one particular sentence. 'If you want to get into any senior positions in the Church of England then you need to wear black, it is the only colour anyone will take you seriously in.' Pant suits are the order of the day, boxy shirts are your uniform. A conversation ensued about why this might be so and the consensus emerged that this is really about what men wear. It seems it is just easier to be taken seriously in the church right now if you either are a bloke or at least attempt to look as little different from a bloke as you can. You can debate that in your own time!
Now, there is of course much to be said about wearing clothes that are appropriate for the task at hand. I'm not suggesting pink sparkly sandals are suitable funeral attire just as I wouldn't have worn them to a business meeting in my former life. Many women like wearing black and see that as a representation of the kind of minister they are. That, of course, is fine and good. But I immediately found myself reacting strongly to the suggestion that I had to wear black to somehow blend into the boys club and not offend anyone with my femaleness. Being a minster isn't something you do on the weekends or that you pop a uniform on for during the day. It is you life, your every day. I instinctively knew, dressed head to toe in black, I would be compromising who I am and the minister I want to be.
|My moment of high fashion in Paris!|
Being in Paris really helped me think all these things through because the women there look so utterly appropriate, completely unbloke-ish and with a glorious sense of style. Whether we like it or not we all have to wear clothes and our clothes tell a story before we even open our mouths. Being in Paris made me think about what story I am telling. Me in black tells a story about suppressing my femininity and character for position and to appease. That is not a story I want to live, let alone tell.
If I'm going to be here in this big old institution then I have to be here as exactly what I am and that includes the fact that I am young and female. How else will people begin to understand that God isn't only partial to greying white men in black? That he loves us all, multicoloured and wonderful as we are. Rather than being a distinct, unapproachable figure I want to project accessibility. Having a faith doesn't make you some kind of alien being with which normal humans have nothing in common. You can chat to me, make friends with me. We are the same. Personally, that is important to me and that is the kind of minister I want to be.
It also says something about craftsmanship. About valuing artistry and design. For a long time now I have been making up my wardrobe of mainly second hand and vintage clothing. I try to choose clothes that are good news for the people that make and sell them. This sometimes means paying more, sometimes it means picking something up for a couple of pounds in a charity shop. Either way it is intentional and resisting the throw away fashion trend we have fallen so heavily into.
And lastly it says something about honesty. Hiding who I am is the very opposite of what I would encourage anyone to do who came to me pastorally as a minister. I would say shine, let yourself be seen and get out there. I would say choose clothes with compassion and honesty. I would say 'Be you.' So for that reason I am going to embrace my wardrobe, strappy sandals and all. Me and fashion are back on track.
Women with a pink handbag, coming to a Church near you!