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.

11 Awesome Professional Development Opportunities for Clergy

Clergy serve in one of the only licensed professions with no requirements for continuing education at all. Does that mean that your professional development should end with your M.Div? No! Going to conferences is an important way to network, skill-build, and keep your passion for ministry fresh.


Are you negotiating for a new job? Try and get your church to give you a line item for continuing ed. Five days and a thousand dollars a year is not an unreasonable ask, and if you arrange your trip so that you’re back in time for Sunday morning, your congregation will hardly know you’re gone.


But how should you spend those treasured professional development dollars? Here are a few ideas, in loose calendar order.


mental-health-first-aid-logoMental Health First Aid. If you only have $40 to spend on continuing ed this year, I can’t recommend this eight-hour course highly enough. Just like standard First Aid helps you distinguish between a minor scrape that you can bandage yourself and a serious gash that calls for a trip to the emergency room, Mental Health First Aid offers practical strategies that will help you discern (1) whether someone is experiencing an acute mental health crisis and (2) how to assist them if they are. Courses are available all over the United States and in several other countries, or you can hire a trainer to come teach a course for your church or clergy group. I’ve taken both the youth and adult modules and found them enormously helpful in pastoral ministry. Find a course here.


progressive-youth-ministry-logoProgressive Youth Ministry Conference. I wish this gathering had been around when I was a full-time youth worker, because every youth ministry conference I went to back then was straight out of the movie Saved! If you minister with youth in a progressive faith tradition, keep this on your radar. The next one is next week: March 8-10, 2017, at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC. I wish I were going just so I could hear from Lauren Winner, an author, theologian, and Episcopal priest best-known (in my circles) for writing Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, and Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.


revolutionary-love-logoRevolutionary Love Conference. For faith leaders who are serious about disrupting and dismantling racism. This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the keynoters are predominantly Christian and/or Unitarian Universalist. Speakers this year will include William Barber and Brian McLaren. The next one is April 28-30, 2017, at Middle Church in New York, NY.


open-network-logoOPEN Network Conference. Where are my progressive evangelical friends? Allow me to introduce you to the OPEN Network, which seeks to combine everything that is beautiful about evangelical Christianity with a vision for a more just and generous world. They have two conferences coming up this spring: She Is Called (for women in church leadership) from May 2-4, 2017, at West End Collegiate Church in New York, NY; and Judaism and the Spiritual Quest (a study course on Judaism for Christian leaders) from May 4-7, 2017, at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.


fte-logoFTE Christian Leadership Forum. This is one of the Forum for Theological Exploration’s many outstanding initiatives for training, supporting, and inspiring Christian faith leaders. I attended an earlier iteration of this conference as a college student, and it played a major role in confirming my call to ordained ministry. There are two tracks: One for young adults in discernment, and one for clergy and religious professionals. The next one is May 31 to June 3, 2017, at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center in Atlanta, GA. Register by March 1 to get the early bird rate!


faith-and-disability-logoSummer Institute on Theology and Disability. Hosted by the Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities, this one looks really cool. It brings together theologians, clergy, religious educators, and other people who want to “explore the inclusive intersections of faith and disabilities.” This gathering is open to people of all faiths, though the speakers are predominantly Christian and Jewish.The next one will be June 5-8, 2017, at Azusa Pacific University in sunny Azusa, CA.


ycwp-logoYoung Clergy Women Project Conference. If you’re a young clergy woman (defined as “in the ordination process before age 35, ordained before age 40”), you should definitely join the free YCW online community, and might want to consider attending their annual conference. The next one is July 10-13, 2017, in Vancouver, BC, with the theme of “Our Stories, God’s Stories.”


why-christian-logoWhy Christian? I went to this conference last year and it was a game-changer. Curated by progressive Christian superstars Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans, it’s organized as a series of talks that all attempt to answer the question: Why are you still a Christian when there are so many reasons not to be? The 2016 speakers included a whole bunch of my Christian celebrity crushes, among them Jeff Chu, Julie Rodgers, and Deborah Jian Lee. There was a strong “recovering evangelical” vibe among the attendees, but as a recovering Catholic I felt quite at home. The 2017 conference will most likely be in the early fall.


festival-of-faith-and-writing-logoFestival of Faith & Writing. Sponsored by Calvin College, this gathering takes place once every two years and brings together Christian writers from every genre: poets, bloggers, novelists, essayists, bloggers, academics, and more. Speakers at the last one included Mallory Ortberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Zadie Smith. The next one is April 12-14, 2018. Note: Calvin is the college of the Christian Reformed Church, and therefore is not exactly a utopia of LGBTQ acceptance. Read the college’s disingenuous policy statement here and decide whether this is a dealbreaker for you.


creating-change-logoCreating Change Conference. This is the annual gathering of the National LGBTQ Task Force, and their Faith Organizing track always has some exciting workshops. In 2017, they included Becoming a Change Maker Inside the Christian Church, Healing Forward: Liberating our Faith, and Digital Strategies For Faithful Action. Of course, there are dozens of other workshops to facilitate organizing, learning, and healing. The next conference is January 24-28, 2018, in Washington, DC.


courage-and-renewal-logoCenter for Courage & Renewal Retreats. The Center for Courage & Renewal runs retreats and conferences based on the work of Parker Palmer. They offer many programs for clergy and faith leaders, including Courage to Lead for Young Clergy (with “young” loosely defined as “primarily ages 40 and under”). Check out the website for a complete listing of programs. Registration and dates for the next young clergy program should be available soon.


Did I leave out your favorite ecumenical professional development experience? Are you planning to attend one of these gatherings in the year to come? Leave a note in the comments!

Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras

Welcome to the final segment of the Rock That Collar vestment guide! Today, we tackle chasubles, amices, and some other extras that you probably don’t need to buy. It’s still nice to know what they’re for.

almy-chasubleChasuble. A chasuble is essentially a great big tablecloth with a hole for the head. In Catholic and Episcopal (and sometimes Lutheran and Methodist) tradition, you wear it over your alb and stole for the consecration of the Eucharist. The moment when you put on the chasuble communicates something about your theology of worship: Do you believe that the entire worship service is consecratory, including the Liturgy of the Word? Don your chasuble before the service begins. Do you believe that only the Liturgy of the Eucharist is consecratory? Throw that bad boy over your head at the offertory. But make sure you have someone appointed to help you because it’s easy to get lost under a chasuble. You do not want your entire congregation watching as you thrash around inside it, trying to find the head hole so that you can claw your way out.

Well-made chasubles are incredible works of art that cost enough to choke a horse. Unless you are independently wealthy, you will not be buying your own anytime soon. Churches that use chasubles usually have a complete set in the various colors of the church year, ideally with stoles to match. When using a chasuble, always wear the stole that comes with it so that your parishioners aren’t distracted by your clashing shades of green.

What if your church is ready to spring for chasubles but can only afford to buy one at a time? No problem! Get them in this order:

  1. White for Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals. If you’re only going to break out the fancy stuff a few times a year, these are the times to do it.
  2. Green next because it is the color you’ll use the most.
  3. Purple after that to get Lent and Advent covered.
  4. Red last. True, red is the color of Holy Week, but most services during Holy Week are non-Eucharistic anyway. The Feast of Pentecost is one lonely day per year, and if you really want a red chasuble for an ordination or installation you can borrow one from the church down the block. If your church observes a lot of martyrs’ feasts, it probably already has chasubles. Just a hunch.

Almy makes nice-looking, (comparatively) affordable polyester chasubles that do not shriek “POLYESTER!!!” If you can really afford to invest, go for some silk brocade chasubles from Holy Rood.

As with your stoles, resist the urge to treat the chasuble as a blank canvas. No matter how much you love the Virgin Mary, any design you would silk-screen onto a T-shirt does not belong on the vestments you wear in church.

almy-dalmaticDalmatic and Tunicle. Now we are in high Anglo-Catholic territory. Tunicles and dalmatics look kind of like chasubles, except they have sleeves. Dalmatics are customarily worn by deacons and tunicles by laypeople (e.g. subdeacons). The only difference between the garments is the person inside them, although some churches use a single stripe on the tunicle and a double stripe on the dalmatic.

If you’re going to outfit everybody in the chancel with their own tablecloth, keep this in mind when shopping for chasubles and make sure you can find dalmatics and tunicles to match. Almy makes a few quick-ship dalmatics that go with their most popular chasuble styles, and Gaspard will let you customize to your heart’s content. As ever, the most beautiful and bank-breaking options come from Holy Rood.

amiceAmice. An amice (pronounced AM-iss) is a fake hood that you can wear with your alb. It’s good for protecting your alb from your neck sweat, but in Protestant traditions it has become pretty rare. There are several different styles of amice, but most of them, as seen here, drape around your shoulders and have long ties that criss-cross around your front. Should you want an amice, you can pick up a cotton-poly one from Wippell or an embroidered cotton-linen one from Catholic Company.

As a general rule but especially when you are putting on an amice, try to vest in the privacy of your office, not in a public place like the sacristy. Even though the amice goes over my street clothes, I never feel more naked than when I am wearing an amice with no alb.

birettaBiretta. A biretta is a comical little hat that is even more rare than the amice. These days, you will only find birettas on Anglican priests whose faces light up when you say the words “personal ordinariate,” or Catholic priests who are nostalgic for the salad days prior to Vatican II.

As with every tradition everywhere, the Episcopal Church picks up certain regional flavors in different parts of the world. In the United States, the Great Lakes and upper Midwest are known for their Anglo-Catholic bent, which has earned this region the nickname of the Biretta Belt.

If you can’t live without a biretta or its non-tasseled cousin, the Canterbury cap, you can find one at Wippell or Almy. That’s not to exclude Domus Birettarum, which makes rad bespoke (and sometimes bejeweled) birettas for your enjoyment.


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Mitre and Cope. Cool gear that you get to wear if you become a bishop. A mitre (or miter) is a large pointy hat and a cope is an enormous cape. Here’s a picture of one of my ecclesiastical heroes, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori, wearing both. She was always the target of a lot of smack-talk about her vestment choices, but I think these are gorgeous.

In this photo, Jefferts Schori is holding a ginormous stick. Why? It is a crozier (rhymes with “closure”; sometimes spelled crosier), a staff that indicates her role as a bishop of the church.

You do not need to buy these things. Yet.

Come back soon for a roundup of awesome things to do with your professional development money!

Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 3: Geneva Gowns & Academic Regalia

Welcome to Part 3 of the Rock That Collar vestment guide! Today, we wander down, down, down the mountain of churchmanship, away from the Summit of Lace, past Chasuble Ridge, through the Meadow of the Alb, until we get to the Geneva gown.

You will find Geneva gowns (also called pulpit robes) on ministers in many churches that trace their heritage to the Reformation. You might need one if you are Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, or any variation on these. How do you figure out which kind to buy? And what’s with all the accessories? Let’s take a look.

geneva-gownGeneva Gown (Pulpit Robe). If you are a recent seminary graduate, this robe will look very familiar because it looks a whole lot like an academic doctoral robe, complete with velvet panels down the front. It is available in a bazillion different colors, but if you serve in a historically white mainline Protestant church yours will probably be black. As with an alb, if you’re going to be wearing it every Sunday you should save your pennies and buy your own.

For reasons of quality, it’s better to buy your Geneva gown from a clergy supplier, not an academic supplier. Cokesbury makes infinitely customizable robes and Murphy Robes offers both quick-ship and customizable options.

Doctoral Bars. A Master of Divinity is (technically) a terminal degree (sort of — no offense meant to my Doctor of Ministry-holding friends), and the sleeves of my M.Div. graduation gown were decked out with luxurious velvety stripes normally associated with doctoral degrees. Should you wear velvet stripes (doctoral bars) on your gown if your highest degree is an M.Div? Uh, I guess you can if you want, but if it were me I’d be very cautious about making my congregants wonder why I was pretending to have a Ph.D.

preaching-tabsPreaching Bands (Preaching Tabs). For the super-old-school among us! I couldn’t find any images of women wearing preaching bands, which should tell you something. If you wish to look very old-timey and serious, buy some preaching bands and wear them with your cassock or your Geneva gown. Wippell offers multiple widths and Almy makes the version pictured here, which apparently is only for men.

catherines-phone-summer-2015-211Hood. This is a straight-up academic hood, the same one you wore when you got your master’s or doctoral degree. It is black with a lining in the color of your school and a trim in the color of your field (for divinity, the color is scarlet). Master’s hoods are three and a half feet long, doctoral hoods are four. Here’s a front view of me in my hood at my seminary graduation. I ripped off the gown moments after receiving my diploma because the commencement ceremony took place on a 90-degree day with 95% humidity, as though the behavior of my hair in this picture is not enough to clue you in.

I just rented that hood and gave it back to the campus bookstore when I was done, so I don’t have one of my own. If you do, though, you can wear it with your Geneva gown or with choir dress (cassock, surplice, and tippet). Find a seminary buddy who also wants a hood and you can get the two-or-more discount from Academic Apparel.

The only appropriate hood to wear with clerical vestments is one corresponding to a degree in theology or ministry. If you also have a law degree or whatever, that is so great! Look at you go! But leave the purple hood at home.

Stay tuned for the final posting in this series, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras!

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.

Cassock. 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.

Surplice. 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-cottaCotta. 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-tippetTippet (Preaching Stole).

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!

Update: Looking for a tippet seal from your Episcopal seminary? Almy has a bunch.

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.