Breaking News: Trade Court Rules That Snuggies Are NOT Vestments

Alert reader Ellen tipped me off to an important Court of International Trade ruling last week. The question on the table: For tariff purposes, are Snuggies considered apparel or blankets?

The judge rejected the Justice Department’s attempt to compare the Snuggie to priestly vestments or scholastic robes, which also have wide-armed sleeves and flow loosely around the body. Barnett said that unlike robes, the Snuggie opens in the back, and unlike ecclesiastical garments, it does not have closures.

Justice has spoken, friends. No Snuggies at the altar.

Read all about it at Bloomberg BNA.

In other breaking news … follow Rock That Collar on Facebook and Twitter!

Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 2: Choir Dress

During my first year of ordained ministry, my church held a service of Advent Lessons & Carols. My boss told me to wear “choir dress,” which I earnestly hoped meant “the same thing as the choir.” I skulked down to the choir room, donned a spare set of robes that looked like about the right size, and returned upstairs.

My boss nodded and said, “Looks good. Just go get your tippet.”

Ever full of guile, I said, and I quote:

“What’s a tippet?”

Innocent Self of Advent Past, this post is dedicated to you.

But I digress. Let’s take a look at the gear you will need to get suited up in choir dress.

Cassocks. A buddy of mine once complained, “I hate albs. They make me look like a fat ghost.” I have never seen him in an alb, but albs make most everyone look like a fat ghost, so he was probably not wrong.

Enter the cassock.

A cassock is a long button-down robe that is enormously flattering if it fits right. There are two basic types: single-breasted and double-breasted, otherwise known as Roman-style and Anglican-style. People who are very up on their vestment game may make assumptions about your churchwomanship based on your cassock type, but don’t let these haters bring you down. Just get one you like.


In Anglican tradition, bishops wear purple; priests and deacons wear black. At churches where you would otherwise wear an alb, break out the cassock for non-Eucharistic worship (i.e., any service where there is no consecration of Communion). These may include:

  • Weddings and funerals
  • Morning and Evening Prayer
  • Lessons & Carols or Evensong
  • Good Friday
  • Special services like Taizé worship or All Hallows’ Eve

Do you need to buy your own? It depends on how much you’ll wear it. I usually say Morning Prayer while lying in bed, scrolling through on my phone; I would feel stupid wearing a cassock to do this. In the church I serve now, I need a cassock probably five or six times a year, so I would be content to keep pilfering the occasional choir robe. Except the altar guild measured me for a custom-fit cassock as an ordination gift and ohhhhhhhhhh.

Guys, if you are going to spring for a cassock, buy a nice cassock. Mine, in the Roman style pictured above, is from J & M Sewing in England (“Manufacturers of Clerical Robes by Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen”). It is fully lined and made of a beautiful suiting-weight wool. When I wear it I feel like a damn boss. It’s a major step up from borrowing a stanky polyester robe from the choir.

One note about buttons. A traditional cassock has 39 tiny buttons, to symbolize the 39 Tiny Articles of Faith. Do you want a 39-button cassock? Find out with this simple test!

  1. Put on a cardigan, preferably one with fussy fabric-covered buttons.
  2. Imagine that it is 6:58 PM and you are about to preside at a 7:00 Evensong service. Somebody has just spilled candle fuel all over the altar. The music director is tugging at your sleeve to ask if you know where the soprano section leader is. Outside, a winter storm is raging and you are beginning to wonder if anyone will be able to drive home.
  3. Get into this headspace. Inhabit it fully.
  4. Set your watch for two minutes.
  5. Carefully button and unbutton the buttons 39 times.

Some 39-button cassocks have hidden zippers. They’re not the worst idea, is all I’m saying.

Surplices. A surplice is a white garment that you wear over your cassock. Lest you become vain from swanning around in your cassock all the time, adding a surplice will immediately make you look like an angel in a Christmas pageant.


As with all this stuff, there’s a Roman style and an Anglican style and unless your boss has a preference it doesn’t really matter which one you get. Almy makes one billion different kinds. Knock yourself out. Or, as with the cassock, just borrow one from the choir.

Wear the surplice almost every time you wear a cassock. Exceptions may include Good Friday (when you wear all black to honor the solemnity of the occasion) and All Hallows’ Eve (when you wear all black to make it feel extra spooky).

hayes-and-finch-cottaCottas. A cotta is just a short surplice. Cottas are adorable on young children singing in choirs, and that is what you will look like if you wear one. You do not need one of these.

How do you avoid Junior Chorister Syndrome? You buy a nice long surplice and then make sure it fits. A surplice should come at least to your knees, but no lower than mid-calf. While it’s supposed to be loose, the shoulders should still hit you in a recognizably shouldery spot. Even surplices that purport to be “cut” for “women” are often not designed to accommodate a bust. Do not put up with a high-low hem in your surplice; it is meant to hang evenly all the way around your body. If it rides too high in the front, buy the next size up and get the shoulders taken in as needed.

wippell-ruff-2Giant Neck Ruff. These are also the terrain of junior choristers, most often in fancy-pants English-style choirs. You definitely do not need one of these. I just wanted you to enjoy the miserable expression of this young ruff model and share in my hope that he got paid an enormous sum of money for this photo shoot.

If your church has some children in the choir and you hate them, Wippell makes the ruffliest ruffs of them all. Almy’s are a bit less costume-like but still hilarious.

almy-tippetTippets (Preaching Stoles).

What’s a tippet?

Ha! Joke’s on you because I finally know.

A tippet is a black stole that you wear with your cassock and surplice if you are ordained. It is also called a preaching stole (as opposed to a presiding stole) because it is used for services that do not involve presiding over the Eucharist.

Unlike cassocks and surplices, tippets are usually not lying in piles all over your church’s robing room, waiting for you to borrow them in a pinch. Even if you rarely need one, it is a good idea to have your own tippet. The one pictured here is from Almy but there are various widths available from Wippell. Here is a direct quote from the Wippell tippet page:

The narrowest at 6” is popular with ladies, the 7½” for men with the widest 9” usually supplied to dignitaries.

“Women, men, and dignitaries” is a hierarchy of gender I had never considered before.

Tippet Seals. At that first service of Advent Lessons & Carols, I noticed that one of my colleagues had patches sewn onto her tippet. They looked like Girl Scout badges to me.

“What’s with the patches?” I asked.

Patiently, she explained to me that they were not patches but seals. Once you have your tippet, it is permissible to decorate it with some big diocese-oregon-sealol’ embroidered patches seals featuring the crest of your seminary, your denomination, and/or your regional denominational body. If you go this route, pick no more than two seals and put one on each end. Despite my initial impression, the tippet is not actually a Girl Scout sash.

My tippet does not currently have any seals on it, but the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, where I was ordained, has an unusually lovely seal and if someone were to embroider one for me I would not be mad. Look at those rivers and trees!

Meanwhile, I have no seminary tippet seal because I did not attend an Episcopal seminary. It never occurred to me that there might be any yawning gaps in my Anglican formation until my boss mentioned that choir dress was “what Anglicans would wear all the time if the Oxford Movement had never happened.”

Let no one say I learned nothing from the Great Tippet Embarrassment. I gave him a solemn nod, trotted back to my office and discreetly looked up the Oxford Movement on Wikipedia. I now consider myself an expert on the subject, so I encourage you to do the same.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Geneva Gowns & Academic Regalia!

Rock That Collar: Featured on Beauty Tips for Ministers!

I’m a longtime fan of Beauty Tips for Ministers, a blog by PeaceBang, otherwise known as my fellow Massachusetts clergywoman the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein. She writes about clergy image and style, offering plenty of beauty tips but also so much more:

So you can only imagine my pure giddiness at being featured on BTFM.

Read the post here.

And don’t worry … Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged: Part 2 is on its way. I have a LOT of thoughts about how you should look in a cassock.

Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 1: The Basics

Oh hey, Reverend. You’re looking pretty sharp in your new capsule wardrobe. Now it’s time to think about vestments.

In certain Christian traditions, vestments are not a part of the ballgame, and you will be expected to preach and lead worship in your street clothes. If you are a pastor in such a church, good for you! Go ahead and spend your vestment budget on distressed jeans instead.

For the rest of us, the vestment universe can be a dizzyingly complicated, frighteningly arbitrary, and VERY EXPENSIVE place. If you’re just starting out, how much of this stuff do you really need? What do you have to buy for yourself, and what will your church provide for you? And when do you wear it all?

Let’s take a look.


Albs. If you are an Episcopalian (or, in some areas, a Methodist, Lutheran or Disciple), this is your jam. An alb is a long white robe symbolizing baptism and may be worn by any baptized Christian. Clergy usually wear them for Eucharistic services; lay people may bust them out when they are serving as subdeacons, chalice bearers, or acolytes. Don’t worry, my low Protestant friends — academic preaching robes will be covered in a forthcoming post.

Most alb-using churches have a stockpile of albs in various sizes. However, these get a lot of wear and rapidly become dingy from other people’s neck sweat. Gross. Also, if you are petite (I am 5’3″) and dare to rely on the stockpile, you will probably have to fight a tween acolyte every Sunday for custody of the one short alb. Just buy your own.

Where should you purchase this alb? Almy has some nice options (like the lace-trimmed one featured at left, which is the one I own). Like everything made by Almy, your alb will last forever but will fit like a potato sack. With an alb, though, the potato-sack fit is actually fine.

WomenSpirit also makes albs in a range of styles, although I counsel you away from the one with embroidered grapes on it. Wippell’s albs are well-made but pricey. I don’t know what they’re doing with all that money, because they are certainly not investing it in web design.

almy-cinctureCinctures. Any Spanish-speakers out there? A cincture is a cinturón (belt) that goes around your cintura (waist) when you are wearing an alb. Although you can buy them in different colors for every season, in the Episcopal Church I’ve only seen white ones. I recommend the rope style pictured at left; this band style will make your alb look too much like a prom dress. You can choose a cincture finished with tassels or big-ass knots (properly called “monk’s knots”): Either one is fine.

Before I assisted at my very first funeral, I realized I had no cincture. I ran into my church’s robing room and grabbed the first skinny white rope I saw. As I tied it around my waist, I noticed that it seemed awfully long, but I didn’t overthink it.

A few minutes later, a member of the altar guild wandered into my office. “I was going to tie off the first few pews to reserve them for the family of the deceased,” she said, “but I can’t find the pew rope.”

Fidgeting in my vestments, I looked her straight in the eye and said, “That’s so odd. I wonder where it could be.”

Don’t be like me. Better to have your own cincture. They’re cheap.

Stoles. First, let’s take a moment to appreciate this WomenSpirit ad’s resemblance to a promo poster for a horror film.


Their lust for your stole is insatiable. They are coming for it. AND FOR YOU.

These evil women would like you to note the difference between a deacon stole (right), which is shaped like a pageant sash, and a priest/pastor/elder stole, which is shaped like a yoke. Sort of.

Some churches are well-stocked with a complete supply of stoles that match their altar linens. If this is true of your church, you won’t need to buy any at all, although you will probably want to because stoles are cool.

In a liturgical church, there are four basic colors you will need:

  • Red for Holy Week, Pentecost, ordinations, installations, and martyr’s feasts.
  • White for Christmas, Easter, weddings, funerals, secular holidays, and non-martyr saints’ days, plus a few outliers like All Saints’ Day, Epiphany, and Christ the King. Gold and silver stoles both count as white, but slow your roll, Liberace. Get yourself a plain white one first.
  • Purple for Lent and Advent.
  • Green for everything else.

And two bonus colors!

  • Blue if your church prefers to use blue instead of purple for Advent.
  • Pink (Rose) if your church uses rose vestments for the happy Sundays in Advent and Lent.

Now, a word about taste. A stole indicates that you are a laborer in the vineyard, doing your best to live into your call. It is not meant to make you into a human billboard, and it should not have to do all the work of the liturgy by itself. You do not need a stole with an entire appliquéd Bible story on it; that is what the Scripture reading is for. You should not need a stole that says BLACK LIVES MATTER; that is what your sermon is for. If you cannot resist the siren song of Etsy stole shops, at least build a good set of well-made basics first.

If somebody wants to buy you a really nice ordination present, the Holy Rood Guild is expensive but unmatched for quality. And if you are trying to build your pastoral aesthetic, you could do what I do and make Pinterest boards of stoles in each color. I try to remember to pin an image every time I come across a stole I don’t hate.

Stay fabulous, my friends … and stay tuned for Part 2: Choir Dress!

Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe


You get the phone call you’ve been waiting for. You sign the paperwork. You circle the start date on your calendar in bright red ink.

This is it! Your very first clergy job! Congrats, Reverend!

Then, still in the warm afterglow of that glorious call, you look in the mirror.

If you have been a full-time seminary student for the last several years, perhaps you are wearing your one pair of jeans, which are starting to wear through in that spot where your bike seat makes contact with your inner thigh.

Or you might be in your Study Pants. You know exactly which pants are your Study Pants: These are sweatpants, leggings, or yoga tights whose proper sphere is the home. Those Study Pants have helped you meet many a deadline and kept you cozy through many a late night. You know you’re not really supposed to wear them to class, but, uh, all the undergrads are doing it.

What’s that you’re wearing on top? Is it a hoodie from the campus bookstore? A long-sleeved T-shirt from a 5K race you ran last spring? Your favorite sweater, also hooded, which has gotten a little threadbare in the decade since you picked it up at a street market while studying abroad in Peru?

You sigh. You are going to need a serious wardrobe overhaul between now and your start date.

There’s just one problem: You have no money. Your first paycheck still glimmers in the future, and your final tuition payment is due in the uncomfortable here and now.

Enter the clergy capsule wardrobe.

Now, I am not a capsule fiend. My attitude toward minimalism is best summarized by the brilliant Mallory Ortberg. (“Replace your couch with a pile of the least frustrated lentils you can find. No more than seven lentils.”)

But compact wardrobes have their time and place. That time is the moment when you have to craft a whole new clergy ensemble on a budget of zero dollars, and that place is your new church.

If you find yourself in this situation, try starting with the list below. Even if you wear the same tab-collared shirt every day, these nine pieces will give you enough options to keep sniffy church ladies from asking you, “Didn’t I see you in those pants last Sunday?”

A note about shopping on a budget: If you most often wear a size Small, Medium, or Large and/or a very common shoe size (roughly sizes 6 to 9), it’s well worth your time to look for business casual staples at thrift stores — they often have barely-worn dress shoes, skirts, and blazers. If your clothing or shoe size runs smaller or larger, keep an eye on the clearance sections of your favorite stores. You can find some fabulous deals from retailers who are looking to unload that one last XXS sweater or pair of size 11 shoes.

Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe


1. Black clergy shirt. Clergy shirts come in two basic styles: tab collar (also called “Roman collar”) and neckband collar (“Anglican collar”). Before dropping any cash here, check in with your rector or senior pastor to find out whether they care which kind you wear. Having grown up Catholic, I think of tab-collared shirts as the “real” kind and wear them almost exclusively, but some Protestant clergy frown upon them.


(Photo credit: WomenSpirit)

If you choose a neckband collar, be prepared for many laypeople to wonder why you are wearing a shirt with a plastic turtleneck. If you choose a tab collar, be prepared for many laypeople on the street to ask you questions about it: “Are you really a priest?” “Can women be Catholic priests now?” “Are you in a play?”

Clergy shirts are not cheap, so buy one that fits you properly and treat it well. I have three of these dress shirts from Almy and they still look new after countless washings, though I had to get the side seams taken in to make them fit right. If you want a shirt that you don’t have to tuck in, here are some options from Almy, Clergy Image, and WomenSpirit.

2. Clergy shirt in pretty much any color other than black. Again, check with your boss first. Some clergy are black-shirt purists, but most will not mind if you want to double your outfit options by picking up another color. If you’re only going to own two of these shirts, don’t go too wild. Navy, hunter green, or royal blue will serve you better than paisley print or Barbie pink.

DO NOT BUY A PURPLE CLERGY SHIRT. Many Christian traditions reserve purple for bishops. Even if bishops are not a thing in your denomination, a purple shirt will not win you any points at the next ecumenical clergy brunch.

3. Printed skirt. Why shop for this next? Because the colors in a print go together (that’s why somebody printed them all on the same skirt) and will give you a color scheme around which to build the rest of your wardrobe. The more conservative the cut of the skirt, the more bold you can be with the print, although unless you work in a Las Vegas wedding chapel you might want to steer clear of animal prints and sparkles. I love the zipper details on this blue-and-green skirt from M Missoni, but there are plenty of beautiful lower-cost options, like this dark floral pencil skirt or this maroon paisley print (both from LOFT).

While skirt shopping, allow yourself a moment of shoe truth. Do you wear flat shoes almost every day? Unless you are seven feet tall, a knee-length pencil skirt is gonna look weird with those. But ballet flats are beautiful with a straight skirt that hits an inch or two above the knee; clogs look great with a flared or A-line shape; and pretty much every skirt style is destined for success with knee-high leather boots. Do make sure your silhouette is structured enough for the sartorial norms of your church. Undertake the “boho chic pastor” look at your own risk.

If you don’t care for prints, try a bright color or an interesting texture. How about this yellow lace skirt, navy faux suede skirt, or simple pencil skirt in persimmon or bright green?

4. Skirt in a neutral color. Not black — you’re already wearing a black shirt and you are not planning to rob a bank. Pick another neutral light enough that it won’t clash, like camel (love that laser cutout detail!), light gray, or dark blue.

5. Pants. Now, I hate pants shopping (unless it is Study Pants shopping!), so my capsule has two skirts but one lonely pair of pants. Feel free to switch these ratios around to suit your style.

If you’re only going to own one pair of pants, however, make them a workhorse pair. They should be machine-washable and comfortable enough that you can kneel on the floor with the kindergartners in Sunday school, crouch to pick up a hymnal that has fallen behind the altar rail, and slump through an evening board meeting at the end of a long day. You can’t go wrong with khakis, but since you’re going to be wearing so much black, you might also consider a go-with-everything color like olive, burgundy, or hunter green. Find something that works with both of your shirts, the sweater, and the blazer. Gap chinos are a classic; if you want to look a bit more dressed up, try the Editor or Columnist pants from Express and the Marisa or Julie pants from LOFT. Decide which pair of shoes you want to wear them with and get them hemmed to the right length.

6. Sweater. This sweater should go with both your new shirts, as well as your new pants and skirts (we’ll get to that soon). Wear your clericals while trying on sweaters — some necklines that normally suit you will look kinda weird with the high collar of the shirt. Also, keep in mind that pastels and earth tones can look washed out against black. Jewel tones and other saturated colors are a good bet.

You’re going to get a lot of wear out of this sweater: Churches are hard to heat and your office will be cold. Go for a pullover, cardigan, solid color, Fair Isle, whatever makes your heart sing. J. Crew Factory is a nice place to pick up inexpensive, durable sweaters; my favorites are the V-neck (solid or striped) and the Caryn cardigan (solid in a million color options, striped, or polka-dotted).

7. Blazer. Nothing says “I may be only three weeks out of seminary but I sure do know what I’m doing” like a well-cut blazer. Think about what you will most often want to wear it with: Shorter blazers look better with skirts, longer ones with pants. You don’t have to spend a zillion dollars on a blazer, but if you’re buying a cheap one, consider sticking with gray or black — colorful blazers have a way of looking very polyester-y. J. Crew Factory makes a great basic wool blazer (also in petite!) and LOFT has this edgy fringe tweed jacket if you’re feeling adventurous.

Blazers tend to be dry-clean-only and that business is expensive. To maximize wears between trips to the cleaners, always wear sleeves under your blazer, and give the armpits a spritz with white vinegar if they start to get funky.

8. Very comfortable everyday shoes. I do mean VERY comfortable. If you cannot walk a mile in them, they fail the test.

But never fear: You can wear comfortable shoes without succumbing to Frumpy Priest syndrome. I swear by these White Mountain flats — I love the patent cap-toe detail, which dresses them up a bit, and they offer fabulous arch support that is hard to find in a ballet flat.

Other options include ankle boots (there are plenty of flat options, but these low-heeled Style & Co. booties also pass the comfort test), riding boots (I can walk for days in these b.o.c. boots), or wedges (these ultra-comfy Naturalizer wedges are marked down to $21). Dansko clogs are the shoe of choice for many clergy women and come in a variety of colors that are eye-catching but still professional. Just please, don’t wear them with a pencil skirt.

9. Reasonably comfortable dress shoes. Do you want to officiate a black-tie wedding in your Dansko clogs? No, you do not. If you ever wear heels, it’s worth investing in one well-made pair in real leather. I love the Cole Haan Juliana pumps (which come in two different heel heights), and these days you can find plenty of glamorous choices from comfort brands like Ecco and Clarks.

That’s it! These nine pieces are all you need for a full year of business-casual clergy life. Look at just a few of the outfits you can make:


It’s a chilly fall weekday. You’re going to attend some meetings, make a hospital visit, and then return to church, where you will inevitably plunge a toilet or move a bunch of folding chairs.


It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and you are going to tea with the altar guild! Look at that pretty skirt. Also, they will love your shoes.


You’re going to an evening board meeting. Why is it always so cold in this room at night? Good thing you remembered your cardigan.


You’re going to some boring denominational gathering for which you wish to look very serious. You forgot about the opening reception, where you will have to stand for hours on end. You probably should have gone with the flat shoes.

Meanwhile, if you’re getting ordained soon, people are going to want to buy you presents. Here are two bonus items you should put on that list.

10. Cross pendant. The cross itself should be between 1.5″ and 2.5″ long (any smaller will look weird with your collar; any larger says “Halloween costume”). Stay away from gold, which is reserved for bishops. I treasure this silver deacon’s cross, which was a gift from my dad for my diaconal ordination, and still wear it all the time now that I’m a priest. I am also a sucker for all Tree of Life variations, like this silver-finish one and this bronze cutout version.


Sharpest-lookin’ pastor on the block.

11. Grown-up handbag or briefcase. The board members of your congregation may or may not appreciate the fashion statement you are making with your neon pleather hobo bag, so it’s time to start toting your prayer book around in something with a little more panache. This bag needn’t be expensive to get the job done. Here are some options under $30 from Forever 21 and Old Navy, and you can often find good deals at discount retailers like Marshalls and TJ Maxx.

Me? Almost every day, I carry the Lucky Brand April tote in black. It’s under $100, made of real leather, can fit my laptop, and has a zip-top closure to deter subway thieves. I am also a big fan of the pebbled texture and the tassel detail.

That’s it! If you are a seminarian or new minister trying to build a work wardrobe, I hope these suggestions come in handy. No matter what you buy or how you dress, at the end of the day, remember that the only real non-negligible item is your passion for building the kingdom of God. If you are fabulously dressed while doing it, well, that is only the icing on the cake.

… Oh, and hang onto those Study Pants. They will become Sermon Writing Pants soon enough.