Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dressing for the occasion

When I was teaching I almost never dressed up. I could usually be found in front of a class in Levis and an Oxford shirt. I sometimes did when it was important to make a good first impression — the first few days of class, for instance. Also when I presided over meetings, served as parliamentarian, attended ceremonial occasions, etc. Since retirement I do so even less often, but I maintain part of my wardrobe so that I can when I should.

My brother worked in a corporate environment where a suit and tie were the normal daily attire. It remains true that many businesspeople, lawyers, politicians — people who need to make a good impression — dress more formally than has become common in our increasingly informal society. In other words, dressing up isn't about your own taste in clothing. It is about other people — people who probably won't care about your appearance once they know you, but who might be put off by a bad first impression. It is also about the occasion, about showing respect.

At his blog Donald S. Whitney offers "Clothing Tips for Ministers," a group that appears frequently in front of strangers on formal occasions.
This not about when and where ministers should dress up; it speaks only to those occasions when they do.

For even those who serve in the most casually dressed churches and who never wear a coat and tie in the office or pulpit, will perform and attend weddings and funerals and will participate in other events where they will wear a suit, if not a sport coat and tie. ....

I'm writing these clothing tips specifically to help the minister (and anyone else) who sometimes must dress up, but who feels some need for guidance on the matter and cannot afford to spend a great deal on clothes. ....

And lest anyone misunderstand, I also want to make this abundantly plain to any minister who may be reading: to know how to dress tastefully in more formal ministerial settings is nowhere near as important as it is to "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Tim. 4:16, NIV). Without strong piety and theology, a well-dressed minister is—to borrow King Solomon's phrase—"like a gold ring in a pig's snout" (Prov. 11:22, NIV).
He then suggests ways to buy clothes economically and offers good advice about what to buy. Some examples of the latter:
  • Your first and best suit should always be navy blue or black and relatively—if not completely—solid, that is, without pinstripes, checks, etc. Ministers used to refer to this as their "Marryin' and buryin'" suit, as it was the most appropriate one for the most formal of occasions in which they most frequently found themselves. Such a suit is versatile, too, as it is fitting not only for weddings and funerals, but for any other suit-wearing occasion. The same is not true for a lighter-colored suit which, while appropriate in many other situations, would be out of place in a funeral, because tradition dictates dark colors. .... Two-button, three-button, and double-breasted suits are always in style. Lapel width on the two and three-button suits may change with the fickle winds of fashion, but lapels that are approximately 3.5 inches wide are almost always acceptable. .... Except when seated, keep your coat buttoned as much as possible....[T]he bottom button on two and three-buttoned suits should normally remain unbuttoned.
  • If there is a middle ground between the formality of a suit and the less formal sport coat, it is the navy blue blazer. While blazers come in a variety of colors, the classic is navy blue. This should be your first sport coat and the workhorse of your wardrobe. Other than a white dress shirt, it may be the single item of dress clothing you wear most often. With gray slacks it is almost as dressy as a suit (especially if the blazer is double-breasted), and yet it accommodates any situation where a sport coat is appropriate. You can "dress down" a two-buttoned blazer somewhat with tan or khaki slacks.
  • While shirts in a wide variety of colors are available today, a white dress shirt is the most traditional, formal, acceptable, and versatile. There is no dress-up occasion when a white shirt would be inappropriate. .... After white, then a light blue, a thin blue stripe, and perhaps a very pale yellow (or ecru) or other pastel (such as a pale green) would be your next investments. Wear pink at your own risk. Dark or very bright colors work well as dress shirts only occasionally.
  • Buy classic ties, not trendy ones. Classic patterns—such as British regimental stripes—will always be in style. Never wear humorous or themed...ties with a suit. .... At the outset of building your wardrobe, look for ties that accommodate the greatest number of clothing combinations. A maroon tie with a very simple pattern, for example, has the versatility to coordinate with almost any color suit and the simple pattern works with either a plain or busy sport coat. ....
  • ...[D]ress shoes should reflect classic styles, not current trends. .... Color choice is simple with dress footwear, for virtually all traditional dress clothes go with black or cordovan shoes. You may never need brown dress shoes. And your belt should coordinate with your shoes. .... [more]
Trying to be stylish is usually unwise. One consequence is that you will almost immediately [within a few years] be out of style. Someone who dresses like President Obama, though, would have been as acceptable in 1960 as he probably would be in 2020.

Clothing Tips for Ministers

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