What to Wear to the Youth Retreat

Hello, Reverend. I’ve been offline for a couple of weeks. Why? Because we are in the thick of Youth Retreat Season and I’ve been busy.

If you have anything to do with youth ministry, and especially if you serve a big church, you know all about Youth Retreat Season. Here’s my six-weekend consecutive lineup:

  1. Sixth- and seventh-grade lock-in
  2. Eighth-grade pre-Confirmation retreat in the woods
  3. High school youth group lock-in
  4. Church school baking party (Saturday) and bake sale (Sunday), plus Scout Sunday, but I did get to sleep in my own bed so that was pretty great
  5. ANOTHER eighth-grade pre-Confirmation retreat in the woods (we have a giant class this year and half the class goes on each)
  6. Wait, why don’t I have to go on a retreat this weekend?! … Oh, it’s the Triduum.

I got off the hook for the (grown-up) parish women’s retreat this year, which is probably for the best. I am all retreated out.

However, while I’ve been busy pining for my bed and not blogging, I’ve also had abundant time to reflect on the perfect outfit for leading a winter/spring youth retreat. Have at it.

Graphic T-shirt. Crazy! No clergy collar in sight! Here’s your chance to show what a hip youth pastor you are. I usually waste the opportunity by wearing a youth group T-shirt from my church, though I have to say our youth group T-shirts are pretty cool. (We order from Ministry Gear, which has great customer service and will let you combine short- and long-sleeved shirts in your order. This year the kids voted for this design, though this one is my favorite.)

But if you are cooler than me, look at just a few of your thousands of options!

collage graphic tees

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

I have to give a special shout-out to Out of Print Clothing (all T-shirts on the bottom row) because I love their literary shirts, socks, and baby onesies. They’re not sponsoring this post, I just think they’re cool.

A T-shirt is not a stole and it is perfectly acceptable to treat it as a blank canvas. Just remember to keep it church-appropriate, unless you enjoy unpacking sexual puns for middle-schoolers while you are struggling through a challenge course in the rain.

Flannel shirt. Because it gets cold on these things. Sometimes you’re at your own church, where you never realized that the heat automatically shuts off at 9:00 PM. Sometimes you’re in a “heated” cabin at a summer camp. Just trust me and bring your flannel. If it’s warmish you can wear it open over your rad graphic tee. Because you are cool like that.

Not all the shirts pictured below are technically flannel. If you live in a warmer climate or your retreat is in late May, options two, three, and five will keep you covered, but still nice and cool.

collage flannel shirt

one | two | three
four | five | six

Fleece jacket or puffer vest. I hate carrying a bag during these things. I always leave it in the kitchen or set it down for a rousing game of “The Great Wind Blows” and forget to pick it up again. So I always wear a sturdy layer with substantial pockets. What is in those pockets, you ask?

  • Driver’s license and phone
  • Janitor-sized bundle of keys
  • Some kid’s inhaler
  • Crumpled receipts that I plan to turn in someday
  • Grubby wad of paper that inevitably turns out to be my personal retreat medical information form (the kids’ forms are always in a neatly labeled folder)
  • Miniature Altoids tin containing one lonely Xanax, given to me by a parent with the ominous instruction, “You’ll know if he needs it”

Don’t take your chances on leaving this stuff in the kitchen. Pockets it is.

Here, we have a row of puffer vests, always my favorite; a row of utility jackets, on trend right now and a solid staple; and a row of athletic/performance-style options, including my not-so-stylish but can’t-live-without-it rain jacket, the Marmot PreCip. That thing is twelve years old and still waterproof after dozens of camping trips and hundreds of bike rides in the rain.

Why buy such a warm layer in April? I’ll tell you why: Number one, it is still cold as all get-out here in New England, and number two, a lot of this stuff is on sale right now.

collage jackets and vests

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

Skinny jeans or cords. Not flares, which will drag on the ground and get muddy. Not chinos, which make it hard to sit on the floor. And definitely not leggings. Even if you have the glutes of a professional ballet dancer, your kids do not need to see them in full view while you lead evening prayer. Instead, wear your comfiest jeans or cords and enjoy the day.

Below, in the first row, we have some standard blue jeans; in the second row, a reminder that jeans don’t have to be blue (I know white jeans are in style right now, but remember what I said about sitting on the floor); and in the third row, a few choices for my fellow corduroy enthusiasts. Take it from me: Once you start wearing burgundy cords, you will never want to stop.

collage jeans and cords

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

Comfortable shoes. Of course, your particular shoe needs will depend on the weather and terrain. Low-key overnighter in your church youth room? Wear light slip-on sneakers — you can run around in them while playing flashlight tag, then easily kick them off to watch a movie on the disgusting youth room couch. Spring adventure in the New Hampshire woods? You might need rain boots, snow boots, or hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry. I swear by my knee-high Hunter boots in most muddy situations, but I don’t like them for youth retreats because I find they make it hard to sit comfortably on the floor. Hunter really has the rain-boot thing nailed, though. I’m currently trying to decide whether I can justify the heart-stopping cost of their new waterproof loafers, featured in the bottom row below.

collage retreat shoes

one | two | three
four | five | six
seven | eight | nine

I recognize that it is weird to want purple rubber penny loafers, but approved workers are never ashamed.

If it is Youth Retreat Season in your part of the world, my prayers are with you and all your kids. May they come to know the love of Jesus Christ, grow closer to each other and God, and not Snapchat any doubtful selfies from your church bathrooms.

2 thoughts on “What to Wear to the Youth Retreat

  1. I just wanted to thank you for explaining some clothes to bring to a youth retreat. I hadn’t considered that it could be good to have a lot of puffer vests, especially since it can still be cold. It definitely sounds like, at the very least, it can be good to have at least one of those just in case it does get colder than you expect.


    1. Yes! I am absolutely devoted to my puffer vest and hardly ever leave the house without it between September and May … and it’s especially good for those late nights around a campfire, when the temperature is dropping but no one is quite ready for the fun to end.


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