Fascinating dinner conversation last week in which I was asked whether I was planning a post on stylish clergymen. The question was not entirely theoretical. Two of the people with whom I was having dinner were in fact members of the clergy.
Whatever comes to mind when you think about clergymen probably does not apply to these guys. One was in his late twenties and the other had recently celebrated the big 3-O and both would appear to most people to be a couple of regular guys working in IT or business, busy developing their careers.
Which is probably what they would have been doing had they not discovered a ‘higher calling.’ I probably should make it clear that these guys were not a couple (each was married) but colleagues. They observed that their more experienced brethren typically did not exhibit a natural propensity for style, hence the question on stylish clergymen.
Stylish clergymen? Some might consider this an oxymoron. For others it feels mildly inappropriate; surely clergymen should have more weighty matters on their minds than style! Does the Archbishop Canterbury look to be a man who devotes any portion of his enormous brainpower to thinking of style? Perhaps not.
However, I suspect that the Pope, or someone else in the Vatican, does think about style. The Pope is always pretty immaculate in public appearances, which is difficult to pull off considering he is always pictured in medieval vestments. Having said that, the man lives in Italy, his clerical vestments could well be designed by Versace or Gucci, for all we know. We do know that the Pope’s Personal Secretary, Father Georg Gänswein, was cited as the inspiration for Versace’s priestly chic look a few years back.
If we move from Christianity to Judaism, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is someone who wears a suit suspiciously well if he were not at all interested in style. So the stylish clergyman may not be as oxymoronic as it first appears. Certainly most images of Martin Luther King, who was a clergyman first and a civil rights activist second, portray him in sharp ’60s suits, not dissimilar in style to those of that other American ’60s style icon JFK. Fans of Mad Men will recognise the look.
I would argue that an impression of greater professionalism is likely to be created when clergy take a greater interest in their dress. If you walked into a bank and the teller behind the glass were in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, you might just pause for thought. Or if you went to see a dentist, GP, teacher, politician or solicitor who was similarly attired I suspect a similar reaction might be elicited.
Clearly, one’s ability to perform one’s duties is unlikely to be impaired or improved by one’s attire. Nonetheless, how one feels, and how one is perceived when performing those duties is almost certainly affected. For clergymen, often engaging with people at their most vulnerable moments, improving the way they are perceived can be no bad thing.
I contend that there is a big difference between fashion and style. The former suggests a passing fad that will soon be replaced by the next. The latter is more about how well one wears one’s attire. So you can wear a clerical collar shirt with a certain style (if you are inclined to clerical collars). It is similarly possible to wear clerical vestments (cassocks, surplices, chasubles, stoles, etc.,) with a certain style (again assuming that you are into that kind of garb). But let’s leave more formal clergy dress aside for the moment, not least because it is not my particular area of expertise.
So how might one go about building a wardrobe for a stylish clergyman? Clearly some things will be exactly the same as any other gentleman’s wardrobe. Rule number one is make sure that your clothing fits properly. Get yourself measured and properly fitted.
Other things will be more specialised. Long established clerical outfitters like J Wippell & Co in London, Manchester & Exeter provide traditional garb for those ancient professions which retain traditional dress like priests, barristers, or academics.
Wippell’s offer clergy shirts in both an off the peg and a tailored service at very similar prices. These shirts aren’t cheap so if you are going to buy what could well be one of the most expensive shirts in your wardrobe why not make sure that it is tailored to your specific requirements? It will look much better on you. You can also specify what kind of collar you wish, whether full, tonsure or tunnel, and whether the sleeves are single or double cuff, or indeed contrast cuff. You can also select from their stock the fabrics you wish. Bear in mind the more specialised requests you make, the more expensive your shirt will become.
If you wear clerical shirts most days each week then you may want to consider a wider palette of colours beyond traditional black or grey. Try to avoid colours that are too loud or overly patterned; not very stylish. Plus it’s difficult to take a man seriously whose comes to visit me on my deathbed in a yellow paisley clerical shirt… However, if you do not wear clerical shirts especially often, then black, grey and perhaps blue should suffice. Once you’ve got shirts that fit why not try out some of some of my suggestions for smart casual in an earlier post?
If hit UK television series like Father Ted and Rev are to be believed, clerics spend a lot of their time wandering about in woolly jumpers. I can see why; they are comfortable and probably non threatening; not very stylish though. Unfortunately, being seriously lacking in style probably increases the impression that clerics have little worthwhile to contribute to anyone under 55….
In sharp contrast, slick recent film, Priest, however wildly unrealistic, is clearly aimed at a very different demographic; not single woolly jumper in sight. And Very Cool Bikes.
So let’s hear it for stylish clergymen.