What I Wear to Work

There's a great old Dilbert comic strip where the boss threatens to institute a "casual Friday" policy, requiring fashion-challenged engineers to wear something other than a white shirt, tie, and pocket protector to work.



When it comes to traditional "business" or "business casual" attire, I feel much like Dilbert and Wally feel about dressing casually, because I can't match a shirt to a tie to save my life.  Though I am not technically color blind, I do poorly on those color dot tests.  When I worked in fundraising and in sales, I would memorize which ties went with which shirts, and apart from the blue shirt with the red or blue tie – and khakis, of course – I was pretty bad.  When shopping for shirts and ties, I would ask the sales associate to find shirt and tie combos, and I would buy whatever he or she put in front of me.

Productgroup_365h But now as a pastor I wear the "uniform" – a black clergy shirt every day.  On Sundays and on visitations, I usually wear the "all blacks" – black clergy shirt and black pants.  On most other days I'll wear the black clergy shirt and blue jeans.  But either way I go with the black clergy shirt.  It's just so easy for me.  Nothing to match or coordinate.  (The photo at right is not of yours truly, though I hope one day to be as thin as that guy.  I grabbed this image from the Augsburg Fortress website.)

I do accesorize – if you want to call it that.  I wear a beautiful black and silver crucifix given to me by my internship supervisor and friend, Pastor Mike Magwire.  I wear it both as a symbol of my faith and as a reminder of my friendship with Mike and the formation I experienced as I worked with and learned from him.

Yet I'm also a "company man," so to speak.  When I go to Phillies games I wear a Phillies hat and jersey – I wear the "uniform" of a fan.  In high school I suffered from a high rate of school pride, wearing to school my letter jacket and school colors – the uniform – on homecoming, days of big track meets, and other days of school pride. 

So too in my work as a pastor.  I wear the "uniform," even though the whole notion of a uniform for Lutheran pastors is on the decline.  For many valid reasons fewer and fewer pastors wear clerics.  Some associate the clerical collar with authority, a two edged sword for sure, used for good or for ill.  Some feel it is too "traditional," a vestige of a church era that has long since waned, and thus has no place in the contemporary church.  Some just don't like the way it looks, parkticularly women clergy, whose options for comfortable and attractive clerical shirts are few and far between.  And in our culture where non-liturgical forms of Christianity dominate, the collar is something that only a few "brands" of Christianity embrace, anyway.

Recognizing all this, I continue to wear the clerics … and not only because of my stunted fashion sense and the challenge I have with coordinating colors (though this is significant!).  For better or for worse the collar is a sign of the office of ministry.  I wear the collar as a sign of my office, a symbol – however broken – of the work to which I have been called, the ministry with which I have been entrusted.  I wear it for me. 

I've heard some say that we who wear clerics do so for the attention and perks we receive.  Perks?  Really?  More often than not, when I'm wearing my clerics out and around town I get odd looks and awkward glances … and the ocassional lengthy conversation about God, faith, and the meaning of life (which make those odd looks and awkward glances seem worth it).  But no perks.  Sorry.


For the few of you who have made it to the end of this post … what think you?  If you are a pastor, do you wear the collar?  If you are a layperson, what do you think about the collar?

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

17 thoughts on “What I Wear to Work

  1. I usually wear my cleric’s on Sunday and if I know I am doing something where I feel it is important to wear it (ie communion visits, hospital vists etc). I do keep a shirt and tab in my office in case I get a pastoral emergency call. But if I know that I am going to be hanging around the office for most of the day, or I am going to be at meetings with colleagues then I don’t feel like I need to wear the “uniform.”

  2. I’m with you Chris… clerics all the way, although I am not so constant with black pants. Khakis are on as much as not. And occasionally I wear the uberkool look… with jeans. 🙂 and sometimes cargo shorts in the summer with sandals.
    Anyway… while I understand that some folks have misused the cleric, I find it is a reminder for me of my calling. It does set me apart, but also acts as a visible reminder for folks that I am someone they can talk with about God. It is a powerful icon in many good and positive ways.

  3. I, like Brian, tend to avoid the black pants so I am not confused for a Roman priest. I’ll wear jeans if they are appropriate for what I might be doing on a given day. To dress down, I usually wear black polos with the institution’s name on them. I have never understood resistance to the collar and never will.

  4. Stopped wearing clerics 10 or 15 years ago and never looked back. About a year after I did this, I overheard a fragment of a conversation in the narthex as a member said to a visitor (who later joined), “And he wears normal clothes.” It seemed to be affirmative. I do tend to wear black on Sundays and other formal church occasions. Everyone looks good in black, and it is slimming. 😉 And Chris, you might want to consider that for non-clerics occasions, as it avoids the whole color combination conundrum. A plain black sweater, with or without a jacket, can feel casual but look surprisingly “appropriate.”

  5. My first couple of years of ordained ministry I wore the collar every single day. The more time that has passed since ordination, the less I have worn the collar. Now I am much more likely to wear it on Sundays only, and I can’t say I even wear one every Sunday. I don’t have a good theological or social reason for it, I just kind of quit wearing them.

  6. I wear mine everyday – band collar, not the tab. I find that folks don’t seem to associate it with being authoritarian as much as it is seen as a visible sign of my life and ministry. Perhaps that’s because I’m a woman – or a “girl priest” as one young cherub called me! I work in an area where there are a lot of “visible Christians” who wear their crosses, sloganed t-shirts, etc., and tend to harangue anyone they see on whether they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. My own very-visible presence reminds folks (or allows them to learn) that there are different flavors of Christianity. I have had powerful conversations in coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, and on sidewalks. Like you Chris, no perks – in fact, occasionally I get the anger from someone who has been hurt by the church. Finally for me, there is a symbolism in the full collar – affectionately called the dog collar. If I would ever be tempted to forget whose priesthood this is, putting that collar on every morning reminds me Whose hand is on the other end of the leash.

  7. I don’t really wrestle with this …nor am I always consistent. I’m not ordained yet but I am a vicar….as a female I find the shirt very helpful and important. We may be 40 years into female ordination in the ELCA but we still have a long way to go in the perceptions of the church, including laity.
    I find myself in collar when I’m in situations where I wish to be reminded of my role…and where I think the shirt is an assurance of spiritual care.
    I’m also terrible at getting dressed in the morning…so if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t keep up well with laundry… I would wear it every day! It’s so easy to get dressed on Sunday mornings…cuz I save a pair of black pants and a black shirt.

  8. It’s worth noting that there’s also a tremendous amount of regional variation in this, both in practice and expectations. During internship in SE Texas, very few of my Lutheran or mainline colleagues wore clerics. They were seen as “Catholic” if they were recognized at all. After not wearing a collar for 10 years, my internship supervisor started wearing his again on Sundays, as a gesture of unity with me since I was wearing mine. The only feedback he received was silence or “oh, I didn’t realize you had stopped wearing it” remarks.
    All of which is to say that perhaps there is more at stake for us who wear it, and find it shapes our pastoral identity, than for those who see us wearing it.

  9. I wear clerics only occasionally. Stopped wearing them every Sunday in the past year or so. The best thing about them is that they are black (which I could wear every day). I’ll wear a cleric for some pastoral care visits, and to funerals.
    Any talk of being “set apart” (not your words, Chris) does not sit well with me at all. Mostly because I know myself and there is nothing “set apart” about me. And I don’t relate well to colleauges who see themselves as “set apart”, mostly because it seems like they are “set apart” from me (or from reality).
    As for being a “sign of the office” or reminder of a calling, I think there’s a distinction. We’ve got a “job” (or “office”) and a “calling” (or “ministry”). The “job” is unique, the “calling” is not. Seeing it as a uniform for the work of the office makes sense. As a symbol of a calling or ministry that comes from baptism (and not oridination), I humbly decline.
    That being said, in the same way that you identified good reasons to avoid clerics, I agree that there are many good reason to keep wearing them.

  10. As a campus pastor, I am very intentional about wearing my collar every time I will be on campus and out in the public square. (If I’ll be with just students I know out somewhere, I tend to wear regular clothes.) As a woman wearing a collar, I get weird looks and questions like “what are you?” and I appreciate being able to speak about the One in whose name I am marked. It’s also really helpful when I’m meeting a student I’ve never met before so they can identify me!
    I see the collar as a reminder to others that the presence of God is there on campus amidst the stress. Instead of walking around with a cross on my chest, I wear a different symbol. It’s not that I am so holy that I can represent the presence of Christ, but simply that I am called to be a visible presence of the Church and I have the privilege to be so in a way that others are not. We Lutherans tend to stink at talking about our faith and wearing the collar forces me to be ready to talk about it at a moments’ notice. And like a yarmulke that my Jewish campus minister brothers wear, it is a reminder to me of who I am- one called by God to share the gospel. I realize that call comes in my baptism, but perhaps I’m hard headed and need an extra reminder sticking into my neck to remind me to be who God has called me to be. And it seems to give people permission to engage me in religious conversations or seek me out. I realize it may also do just the opposite, but I’m in my jeans and hoodie enough in other places for that, too.

  11. I’m a lay person, and I really like to see the collar worn with non-churchy clothes, and especially outside of church spaces. I think it’s really cool that you wear it with jeans.

  12. As a lay person, I like to see the clergy wearing the collar in situations when people don’t know who the pastor is, but need to know. It helps get past the first step of recognition. But when the pastor is easily recognized because of the local situation, that isn’t necessary. I guess I feel more strongly about a pastor wearing some kind of robe and stole on Sunday because then the people in the pews aren’t looking at the clothing, and they may be more likely to think about the pastor’s role and office then about the particular person.

  13. I’m a lay person in the deep south (Louisiana).
    The only clergy who wear the collar at all in this area are Catholic, Episcopal, or Lutheran. And honestly, in the summer, very few of them ever wear it – even on Sunday. It’s just too hot to wear the high, tight collar. Catholic clergy here even wear non-black clerical shirts, which I never saw before I moved here (in fact, when I lived in Pittsburgh, it’s how you could distinguish Catholic clergy from Protestant clergy), because they are (or seem to be) cooler than the black shirts.
    We are currently pastorless (although our new called pastor arrives in two weeks!), but our last called pastor would wear clerics in Sunday, when he made hospital calls, and sometimes when he was on campus (our pastor also has campus ministry duties at LSU).
    Personally, I’m pretty much with PS. It’s important to me that clergy wear at least an alb and a stole for worship situations (and I appreciate a chasabule, too), but I don’t really care what they have on underneath.

  14. I wear it. Tab-collar, black shirt, black pants, black coat and black shoes. Licensed, ordained and commissioned by my Bishop and board. I’m non-denominational. I experience to many blessings that out numbers the negative and all the above reasons why not to. #ManOfTheCloth #FaithOnMySleeve #Consecration #Sancification

  15. I say wear it. All the time. Your office sets you apart, so dress for it. you never know who migh need your help. It is no different than wearing a badge.

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