The Perfect Preaching Outfit

There are lots of women entering ministry these days, which is a wonderful thing.

Recently there was a spirited discussion over at RevGalBlogPals about what folks wear on Sunday mornings. Since I’ve had to choose “what to wear” to lead worship nearly 1,000 times, I have some pretty specific opinions! It took a lot of trial and error to feel comfortable in my own skin. After all, there’s a lot of baggage about how a woman looks, and what she wears, and some of those things go double for women who are spiritual leaders. These concerns may seem trivial, unless you’re walking down a church aisle wearing a microphone.

Here’s my current thinking on the subject, in case it’s helpful for others who are pondering such mundane but important details . . . .

~ In my tradition, it’s common to wear a pulpit robe, except in the heat of the summer. I’m glad.

~ For me, a good preaching outfit works year-round, since I always opt for short sleeved or sleeveless. Preaching is hard work, I’ve been known to break a sweat. (Even if that isn’t ladylike.)

~ I find dresses to be more comfortable than skirt/blouse combos. Although a black skirt is a great wardrobe-extender. To my mind, the perfect outfit is a dress.

~ I prefer an above-the-knee length, which is modest but not frumpy.

~ The fullness of the skirt is key. If it’s too tight it might ride up. If it’s too full it says party, not preaching. So you want that body-skimming fit.

~ I prefer a dark fabric in a solid color, or a forgettable print. Hopefully a washable fabric.

~ To me, it’s reasonable to have four dresses to rotate each month, a modest working wardrobe. (I don’t know that I’d want to serve a church where that wasn’t sufficient.)

~ I don’t wear suit jackets because they were designed for a man’s triangular torso, not a woman’s curvy one. In the cooler months when I need a layer for after the robe comes off, I opt for a cardigan.

~ I wear very simple jewelry, usually just a pair of gold or silver hoop earrings and a cross necklace. If people compliment my earrings after the worship service, I know they were too noticeable. Earrings are fun but distracting.

~ I wear more eye makeup on Sundays than on weekdays, to help make my facial expressions more “readable” from a distance.

~ Shoes are my hardest item. In the winter I wear knee-high boots with heels. The rest of the time I wear basic pumps, which I hate! (Oh the things we do for Jesus.) Although in  more casual environments I have gone bare-legged in the summer, with a heeled sandal.

I would love to buy a new preaching robe, as the one I have is getting threadbare! I bought it long ago. Now it’s possible to find preaching robes that are fitted to a woman’s shape, and I must admit — this is something I would like to have! I have friends with fabulous robes and I admire how put-together and feminine they look. Hopefully some day I will finish writing these books and take another church. If that happens, I will buy myself a new robe.

How about you? What’s your perfect preaching outfit?

About Ruth Everhart

I'm a Presbyterian minister and my faith has brought me to unexpected places. If you're curious about what it's like to go on pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine, I invite you to read my book "Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land."
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14 Responses to The Perfect Preaching Outfit

  1. Barb Kenley says:

    All good thoughts here, Ruth! I always found microphones challenging until a seamstress in my first congregation made an opening in the top of my robe’s pocket through which the mic’s cord could pass. Mic stayed in the pocket, where I could reach it easily, and the cord didn’t show except where it came up at the back of my neck and went over my ear. Very discreet and out of my way! She is my friend to this day.

    • I like the microphones that wrap over the ear but haven’t used those as often. What’s really apparent with all the comments is how significant the mic problem is. It really affects how we dress. A problem John Calvin never had.

  2. amy says:

    Love this – When I started as an Associate with a serious high church head of staff, suits every Sunday, purchased at the local consignment shop. Now that I’ve been serving on my own for the last 14 years, whew – NO MORE SUITS. For anything. Business casual with an emphasis on “casual.” NO HOSE. Do people even wear those anymore? Two pairs of shoes: Boots in winter, open-toed Dansko sandals in summer. Challenges? Sitting down for children’s sermons in an alb that flaps open and always being conscious of the skirt riding up…..
    One funny story: This Sunday my Sunday School class dared me to wear the Hawaiian shirt they brought me to help me with my winter blahs, so I wore it under my alb, incorporated it into my sermon, disrobed to show it off – But it was an extra-large men’s, and I’m an extra small woman, so in the middle of communion, it occurs to me – Am I flashing everyone my bra through the arm holes? Well, at least it was a liturgical purple……Do men worry about such things? doubtful…..

  3. Jo Ann Staebler says:

    For my rare preaching opportunities, I wear a white alb-style robe that was designed for men, which means it has slits and no pockets, so I need either a waistband or a pocket in my clothes for the battery pack. (I have a WomanFit robe but I gained too much weight to wear it, i.e. my female body no longer looks like the ideal the robe is designed for.) My robe is long so it almost covers a long skirt or pants (at my request). I wear a large Celtic cross but have to be careful that it doesn’t occupy the same space as the microphone. I can’t stand noisy shoes or heels, so I wear rubber-soled flat pumps. Stud earrings that don’t show much, and yes, more make-up when I preach, for the same reason given above. Preaching doesn’t happen often enough for me to have given any thought to what I’m wearing before and after.

    • JoAnn, I know what you mean about interference between a pectoral cross and a microphone. Also, you raise an interesting point about robe length. I think mine is too long (I think I would like to have less fabric around my feet) but the woman-cut robes also tend to be quite long, aren’t they?

  4. Stephanie Anthony says:

    I wear a robe year round, so I basically dress for fellowship and adult ed time, except for a few concessions I have to make for microphone issues. I’m a pants and nice shirt that is designed to NOT be tucked in girl. I hate tucked in shirts. My pants need to have pockets because when the battery pack is attached to or in the pocket of my robe it weights it down. It makes it hang funny. I’ve been meaning to just bring a simple belt from home (since asking for one from the A/V guys hasn’t gotten me anywhere) that I can wear higher than my natural waist for the mic. When it sits on my waistband or a regular belt it pops off every time I sit down. I just haven’t gotten around to it.

    I can’t wear earrings any time because I’m highly allergic to any of the metals, but only when their in my ears. Necklaces aren’t visible during worship so I wear whatever works with my outfit. I don’t own any cross necklaces that I wear any time.

    Shoes for the last several months have been very sensible, but not very fun Dansko-type Mary Janes because of my foot injury. I dream of the day I’ll be back in my fun little kitten heals and strappy sandals in the summer.

    I’ve never had any negative comments about my clothes, but I don’t think that’s because they are a hit with everyone all time. I just have people who wouldn’t say it to my face. :)

    • Stephanie, do you put the microphone cord under your robe and clip it on your belt? That seems really complicated. Oh, I know why I don’t do that. I often have to be switching the dang microphone on and off. But you have a sound panel person, which at least removes that one problem.

      Oh, and I think no one makes negative comments about your clothes for two reasons. #1) they are nice midwesterners. #2) you always look great.

      • Stephanie Anthony says:

        The microphone cords are all inside my robe. My left robe pocket isn’t really a pocket, but a slit that let’s me get into my robe without unzipping. I put the battery pack in my left pants pocket. The lavaliere clips up next to the top of the zipper which I leave unzipped about an inch and a half or so. There are snaps the keep the tippy-top closed. My robe is really an alb, but I don’t wear the rope to cinch it. The collar is kind of like a mandarin collar. We do have folks at the sound board to keep track of it all, but I’m highly paranoid about it and usually switch myself on and off (sometimes not back on at the right time). The sound folks at my last church were REALLY BAD about letting us sing over the hymns, and I try to avoid that.

  5. Deb says:

    I look forward to having a Call where I *can* wear a robe. Srsly. Right now I border between nice-top-and-newish-jeans to a suit. It depends on where I am. I can’t wear heels (abuse of my knees in my 20s and 30s by running on asphalt) so I rely on my Merrell’s pumps which are high enough to look like a heel but don’t make my joints ache. Or my boots which have a low heel and look nice under pants. I rarely wear a dress because there’s no place to clip the wireless mic. One thing that I HAVE learned is to think about my accessories. Big dangly earrings or jangly bracelets – no. As a mentor told me – “let your words and your face express your message.”

  6. Monica says:

    I prefer a skirt/blouse combo for the practical reason of needing a place to clip the microphone pack. Otherwise, I agree. VERY thankful for the robe. I’ve been known to wear nice, heeled sandals in the summer.

    • Monica, yes, in the summer when there’s no robe that microphone pack can be a problem! I should remember to wear skirts on those days. Sometimes I end up wandering around with a battery pack in my hand until I can lay it on the pulpit. Silly.

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