Why Do you Dress Like That?

OK, I don’t think anyone has ever actually put it that way. But trust me, clerical dress and liturgical dress come up with great frequency. Frankly, though, I don’t see what the big deal is. People underestimate the value and ease that comes from having a closet full of the same color shirts.

I jest.

The truth of the matter is that while there are some traditional and iconic threads (see what I did there) that run through the history of how and why Christian Religious Professionals dress the way they do, the end result is a rich tapestry (wink) of different customs and practices that are easily as diverse as names we use to refer to our ministers. More on that HERE.  For the purposes of today’s discussion, however, I will focus on the black-shirt-white-collar look that is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians) and some Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians.

Perhaps the easiest, and most interesting way to understand the development of clerical dress is to see how little it has changed over the centuries even as larger fashion trends have changed radically.  Though, in most of the world, the long black “dress” or cassock has given way first to black business suits with flat-front vests (called rabat) and later to black dress shirts that can be worn with formal or casual trousers or even a skirt, the basic concept of unadorned black is still present.

What’s interesting about this, though, is how the meaning of the style has changed. Where the original purpose was to make the cleric blend-in in any situation – when everyone s wearing a cassock (as they did in the early middle ages) or everyone is wearing a suit (as they did in more modern times) the cleric’s unadorned, plain black clothing is suitable for any occasion, unremarkable and easily un-noticed. Black clerical dress, for the largest part of Christian history was tantamount to urban camoflage. You could spot a priest if you were looking for one, but otherwise they belnded right in. Even the white collar wasn’t as strange as it may now seem, being the standard starched white collar of men’s fasion reversed so as not to require a fashionable cravat.

Somthing strange happened during the last several centuries, though. As the general population began to own more clothing (i.e. not wear the same thing every day) in a broader range of styles and COLORS, clerical dress became conspicuous for its unchanging monochromatic plain-ness. Thus, when I walk into a room today, I am immediately recognizable. even if people have never met or seen me before, they know something about my job, my faith and, frequently, why I’m there. It is both cool and a little frustrating at the same time.

As I said, above, there is a lot to the discussion of why ministers dress the way they do. This seems like enough for today, though. I need to go an figure out what I’m going to wear tomorrow.

KIDDING!!!

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