Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe: Masculine Aesthetic Edition

clergy capsule wardrobe masculine

Good morning, Reverend. Perhaps you read my previous post on clergy capsule wardrobes and thought, “Sure, a pencil skirt would look adorable. On my cold dead body.”

Not everyone shares my love of teetering around in pencil skirts and heels. If you prefer a more masculine aesthetic in your style of dress, or have always quietly thought that your butt looks better in men’s pants, this post is for you.

If you are 5’11” with broad shoulders, you can probably shop for menswear wherever you want. If you aren’t, though, let’s take a look at how to help you rock that collar without looking like you borrowed all your clothes from your dad.

Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe: Masculine Edition

1. Black clergy shirt. I have two pieces of bad news for you in this department. The first is that if you ever get called “sir” when you are wearing normal layperson attire, you can expect this to happen 1,000 times more often when you are wearing a clergy shirt. One of these days I’ll write a post about why, which will feature a lot of Kate Bornstein quotes, but right now we need to focus on clothes.

The second piece of bad news is that men’s clergy shirts are ginormous. Scour the far corners of the Internet as I might, I couldn’t find an exception to this rule. The SMALLEST men’s shirt size from Almy assumes a 40-inch chest and a height of up to 6’3″. While Cokesbury is a slightly better bet, since they at least offer men’s shirts with a 14.5″ neck measurement (my collar size!), if you are short the sleeves are still going to be way too long. But never fear. You have several options:

Buy a men’s clergy shirt and tailor it down to fit you. Keep in mind that some alterations are much more costly than others. Getting the sides taken in will be cheap; getting the shoulders taken in will not.

Get a clergy shirt custom-made. Depending on your sizing needs, this may be a more cost-effective route than tailoring an off-the-rack shirt.

Buy a women’s clergy shirt that is cut like a men’s shirt. If you can tolerate wearing clothing designed for women, these are not hard to find. The long-sleeve button-down women’s clergy shirts from Almy are about as androgynous as women’s clothing gets — the website claims that they have darting, but I own several of these shirts and I am here to tell you it must be special secret darting that you can only see if you have a very specific gift of the Holy Spirit. WomenSpirit’s shirts are cut for a curvier body shape, but still fairly androgynous, if you ignore all the typo-laden web copy about the “stylish feminine shaped fit.”

Buy a black men’s dress shirt and sew on two buttons to make it work with a neckband collar. Collar This! offers a simple tutorial for this (more details here). If you are slim-built and/or wear a chest binder, try a slim fit shirt from Express or Banana Republic (both stores offer a variety of other cuts too). If you’re on a budget, pick up a shirt from Target or J. Crew Factory. If you wear this shirt a lot, you’ll want to take it to a tailor and have the original collar removed, but in a pinch you can just fold the original collar inside the shirt and hope for the best.

2. A second clergy shirt, black or in another color of your choosing. Blue and gray are solid choices that will go with everything. Remember, unless you get a lot of mail addressed to “The Right Reverend” you should stay away from purple.

3. Everyday pants. It’s hard to go wrong with khakis, so that’s what gets my vote. If you can afford two pairs of these, you can go for two different shades of khaki (a light sand color and a dark camel color, for example), or pick up a second pair in a medium gray. Old Navy, Dockers, Gap, J. Crew Factory, and Banana Republic all make durable khaki pants in a wide range of sizes. You might need to get them shortened, but hemming pants is cheap.

If you prefer the look of men’s pants but they just don’t fit you right, Dockers and Eddie Bauer both make women’s pants that are reasonably androgynous in style but cut to acccomodate a shape that is not straight-up-and-down. Results may vary — try them on and see what you think.

Unless you serve in a VERY casual setting, best to save the cords and cargo pants for your day off. I haven’t worn corduroys to work since that time when the church treasurer told me I looked like a cowboy.

4. Dress pants. So fancy! You can get away with dress pants made of cotton if you’re on a budget, although the best material for them is a light wool or wool/linen blend. No matter what the fabric, take extra good care of your dress pants. If they’re machine-washable, launder them in cold water and don’t put them in the dryer. Here are some mid-priced dress pants options from Banana Republic, J. Crew Factory and Express.

What if you already own a suit? Can you just wear the pants from that? It depends. Some suit pants look perfectly fine on their own and others will make you look like you have misplaced your suit jacket and are aimlessly wandering the halls of your church trying to find it. Ask a trusted friend if you’re not sure.

5. Sweater. Are you a giraffe? No? Then don’t wear a crew-neck sweater with a clerical collar, lest you appear to have no neck at all. You can get away with one of those baggy grandpa cardigans if you serve in a hip emergent dinner church, but most of us are best off sticking with V-necks.

Just about everyone looks good in a V-neck sweater, even while wearing a clerical collar. Always wear the collar while trying on sweaters so that you can see the overall effect. Good sources for men’s sweaters in small sizes include Express, Banana Republic and J. Crew Factory (you may be detecting a pattern here). Pick any color you like, remembering that solid colors look dressier than prints. No one will mind if you wear the same color sweater several days in a row, but there’s also no rule saying you can’t buy two.

6. Blazer. For when you need to step it up a notch. If you’re only going to own one blazer to wear with khakis and clergy shirts, I recommend a navy blue bright enough that it won’t totally clash with black. Navy will also look good with light blue shirts, gray shirts, and most colors of sweater.

It can take some doing to find a men’s blazer in a small size. J. Crew’s Ludlow blazer comes in a men’s 34 short (here in cotton or wool), plus a wool boys’ version for the shorter among us. Express makes slim-cut men’s blazers in tons of different colors and fabrics. If you like a menswear look but need a women’s cut, the J. Crew Factory women’s schoolboy blazer may get the job done.

A blazer should fit you impeccably, especially with respect to shoulders and sleeves. Take it to a tailor if you must.

7. Very comfortable everyday shoes. Oh, the shoe problem. Finding good men’s shoes is a pain in the neck if you wear anything below a size 40 (roughly a men’s size 7.5 or women’s size 9). Boys’ shoes are not a thrilling option, as they are usually not made to last like men’s shoes are. Let’s see what we can do here.

Boys’ shoes. There are a couple of companies that make quality boys’ casual shoes. The sizing usually goes up to about a boys’ size 6, or between a women’s 7 and 8. Here are some nice Sperry tan suede lace-ups, Dr. Martens black leather lace-ups, and Florsheim brown leather loafers.

Men’s shoes. Rockport makes these black or brown leather chukkas and these black, brown or tan lace-ups in a men’s size 6. Ecco is a bit pricey but known for comfort, and makes lots of shoes in men’s size 6, including this nice gray or brown lace-up.

Women’s shoes. If you just want some shoes that fit you already and men’s shoes aren’t cutting it, look for women’s chukkas, oxfords or brogues that won’t ruin your life with girly details. Born makes the most comfortable shoes on earth, and I like this tan, gray or blue lace-up. At a higher price point, Cole Haan makes these great wingtips in black or brown.

Tip: Your socks should be the same color as either your shoes or your pants. This applies unless you have a flashy sock collection, in which case, go to town. You will get only sock admiration from me.

8. Reasonably comfortable dress shoes. You thought everyday business casual shoes were a hassle? Try finding a small size in men’s dress shoes. But never fear, there are some good options out there. You might be a fan of the Cole Haan women’s wingtips mentioned above, or maybe these Ecco men’s lace-ups (which come in a million slight variations). Probably best to avoid kids’ dress shoes — you are aiming for quality here. If you invest in a good pair and treat them to some cedar shoe trees when they’re not on your feet, they will last you for years.

And, as ever, a couple of bonus suggestions in case somebody wants to buy you an ordination gift:

9. Cross pendant. Clergy of every gender presentation may choose to wear great big crosses if they wish. As mentioned before, I love this silver deacon’s cross, but other good options include this plain cross, this beveled-edge cross and this Celtic cross. And don’t forget about the bronze Tree of Life.

10. Grown-up briefcase or messenger bag. I’m not saying you have to retire your trusty nylon backpack, just that it’s nice to have another option when you want to look extra-good. This leather/canvas combo bag has a cool hipster vibe and is only $44, and this black leather Samsonite bag will last forever and will never go out of style.

If you serve in a more casual setting (oh hey college chaplains and clergy of the Pacific Northwest!), I really love Timbuk2 messenger bags, which come in all kinds of colors and sizes. You can even step up your game a bit with this Timbuk2 black leather briefcase. If you will need to haul your laptop around, make sure your bag’s dimensions are big enough to hold it.

Hey, check you out! You look awesome! Pretty soon all your male clergy colleagues will be asking you where you shop.

4 thoughts on “Clergy Starter Capsule Wardrobe: Masculine Aesthetic Edition

  1. Hey! I’m a butch dyke making the transition from grad student to professor. I really LOVE the concept of this, and the fact that you’re addressing variation in gender presentation. I kind of think you missed the mark on this one, though. The femme version has pattern! color! Interesting shoes! This feels really boring, and doesn’t help people mix and match the same way.

    I’m wondering if you’d be interested in a collab version of this. I don’t really have time to write my own post but we could chat about it?


    1. Sure I would! I’m always happy to meet another Swattie.

      I composed this post by raiding my wife’s closet, and she relies on adding pattern and color to her wardrobe via shirts (not an option with clergy shirts) and sweaters. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts on mixing and matching, and especially on your favorite sources for interesting shoes.


  2. My butch newly-episcopalian-and-discerning-call-to-priesthood self LOVES this. Many thanks!!! I’m short-ish (5’4″) and Uniqlo has been great for affordable dress pants, shirts, & sweaters that fit me well without making it look like I’m drowning in fabric. I have two pairs of their slim-fit chinos that still look brand new even though I wear them while crawling on the floor while teaching Sunday school. They do free in-store alterations if you get to a physical store, which helps a lot. Thought I’d shout it out as another affordable option!


    1. So glad you like it! I’ll have to check out Uniqlo — I’ve never shopped there, but have heard very good things from fellow short people of various gender presentations. And congrats on landing in the Episcopal Church and on your discernment!


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