A call for beauty tips for male ministers

Mr. Crankypants loooves Ms. Peacebang, who writes the blog Beauty Tips for Ministers — she is smart, snarky, funny, and calls people out for wearing those clunky hippy Birkenstock sandals in the pulpit. Anyone who can rid the world of even a few public displays of Birkenstocks gets Mr. Crankypants’ undying devotion.

However, Mr. Crankypants notes with sorrow that Beauty Tips for Ministers is basically a femme-blog. Those of us on the more masculine end of the gender spectrum worry about things like Windsor vs. four-in-hand, wingtips and Oxfords, three vs. two buttons, trouser breaks and cuffs, etc. Search Beauty Tips for Minister for any reference to “Windsor” and you will come up blank. Yet even slobs like Dan, Mr. C.’s stupid alter-ego, are forced to think about such matters when they go to get a new suit (which has happened twice in Dan’s whole life) and the tailor asks, “Cuffs or no cuffs?” Alas: there is no blog to which slobs like Dan can turn for answers to such questions.

The well-dressed gentleman actually does spend quite a bit of time thinking about such things, and he will make judgements about other men based on things like whether they have French cuffs or not. And the well-dressed gentleman sitting in the pews (a rare bird indeed in these dark days when so few men bother to dress well on Sunday morning) will look up at a male minister and say to himself, “Humph, a Windsor knot with a button-down collar. Good grief, cuffs on plain-front trousers! What’s up with this guy?!” By the end of the service, this well-dressed gentleman in the pews will have been so distracted by by the sad state of the minister’s attire, he will have heard not a word of the sermon.

Mr. Crankypants wishes that Peacebang would find a male collaborator to address such knotty problems as the perfectly-tied bow tie (and yes, the pun was deliberate, deal with it). The world desperately needs a blogger who can help those male ministers who grew up in the sad days of “business casual,” teach them whether the tie should touch the bottom or the top of the belt buckle, and let them know what to answer when the tailor asks, “Dress right or left?”

17 thoughts on “A call for beauty tips for male ministers

  1. Philocrites

    Sounds like you need Esquire’s How To Style Guide. Here’s the section on tying ties, for example: http://www.esquire.com/style/tips/how-to-tie-a-necktie

    My general preferences skew on the younger side: no cuffs, flat-front trousers, no button down collars. Pleats seem to be popular as a way of disguising a certain amount of flab, but I once overheard several high-powered businessmen in a Newton, Mass., Starbucks talking about business dress codes, and they definitely regarded pleats as di rigueur.

  2. Adrian Kent

    Mr. Cp, I’ll not argue with you that people in the pulpit or otherwise serving as the public face of a congregation need to be presentable. But I will argue with you example:

    “Humph, a Windsor knot with a button-down collar. Good grief, cuffs on plain-front trousers! What’s up with this guy?!” By the end of the service, this well-dressed gentleman in the pews will have been so distracted by by the sad state of the minister’s attire, he will have heard not a word of the sermon.

    If this kind of superficial fashion issue (what kind of knot is used or whether there are cuffs on trousers) prevents a person from hearing what is said, then it’s fine with me that they didn’t hear it. They’re clearly not ready. The breath would be wasted. Any minister who does not neglect reasonable grooming and who wears clean, unwrinkled clothing in a reasonably modest style, jacket where socially required, should feel no shame in the pulpit or elsewhere.

  3. Steve Caldwell

    I wonder how the hypothetical well-dressed gentleman example would handle the megachurches where casual clothing is the norm.

    For example, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church shows the male church staff in open-collar business casual attire (dress shirt with no tie, polo shirt, etc) on their web site.

    Their web site says “We’re more concerned with meeting your real-life needs than with what you wear. So, dress casually and you’ll fit right in.”

    And other megachurches like Mars Hill show the same casual attitude towards clothing.

    Given this very successful ministry examples in terms of membership numbers and outreach, should we really be that concerned about “business casual” clothing for ministers and other church staff?

  4. Paul Oakley

    Dress slacks and a nice polo are more than sufficiently dressed up for a minister to preach in. Pleats/no pleats, tie/ no tie, cuff/no cuff – good God, man! Who cares? You require something more, then give me vestments. No academic robes/ Geneva gown, my qualification to be a minister is not my degree nor am I a Calvinist. I mean real-ass vestments.


  5. Stephen

    “Anyone who can rid the world of even a few public displays of Birkenstocks gets Mr. Crankypants’ undying devotion.”

    Even outside the pulpit?!? Sheesh! I guess beauty is in the eye… My feet LOVE my birks! And the feet have transformed what the brain sees as beauty.

  6. Mr. Crankypants

    Philocrites @ 1 — Flat front trousers may be acceptable with a blue blazer, but the suit trousers of the well-dressed gentleman will always have pleats.

    Adrain @ 2 — You sound like you’ve been spoiled by that ill-dressed philosopher Henry Thoreau, who said he wouldn’t do anything that required a new suit of clothes. But even Henry was careful to wear grey-green, and he took great care in finding a hat that was tall enough to allow him to store botanical samples in the crown. Details matter — more to the point, members of the congregation notice details, and they will judge the minister on how they dress. You can either accept that, or be like stupid alter ego Dan who always screws up details and accept the fact that many people (like Peacebang) consider him a sloven.

    Steve @ 3 — When your congregation has over 2,000 average attendance, Mr. C. gives you permission to dress however you like. In the mean time, it is far more difficult to pull off attractive business casual than it is to adhere to the norms of regular business wear. Rick Warren probably pays a fashion consultant; in any case, Mr. C. fully approves of what he wears, but also recognizes how much thought and care have gone into his wardrobe choices.

    Paul @ 5 — See the above response to Steve. Vestments do make it much easier, both for men and women.

    Kelly KH @ 5 — Mr. C. is not brave enough to get involved in that kind of husband-wife debate….

    Stephen @ 6 — Birks are fine for times when you’re not on the job, but let’s face it, the reality is that ministers are really always on the job. The question the male minister has to ask himself is simple: “Do I want to be perceived as a hippy-freak minister, or not?” Birks are a limiting statement of class location, ethnic identification, and political orientation. By wearing business dress or business casual, people are more likely to see you for who you are, and not make possibly incorrect judgments about you based on your clothing choices.

  7. VB

    For me, it’s dress slacks (no pleats) and an Indian kurta with a chalice pendant. I think (I hope) that this successfully straddles the casual/formal line by introducing clearly tailored but non-traditional elements.

    No Birks, but I do wear those slip-ons with the hiking soles. My feet have gotten too big for the wingtips I used to wear, and they can’t be let out like trousers.

    If you’re going to dress “business casual”, I think the details you need to attend to are expensive trousers and a polo/oxford shirt that is carefully color-coordinated. Again, calling PeaceBang!

    What do you think – is a “Standing On The Side Of Love” t-shirt always appropriate, or only on special occasions?

  8. Philocrites

    @Dan – Nonsense and poppycock. True story: I’ve been wearing flat-front suit pants for more than ten years, and yet my career assessment evaluation (required of would-be ministers) observed that I might be too well-dressed for the average UU congregation. Throw some pleats in, and I might as well have bolted to Southern Presbyterianism!

  9. Philocrites

    Or, since we’re really chatting with Mr. Crankypants, let’s put in a good word not just for pleated trousers, but suspenders, bow ties, and a pocket handkerchief, just in case a lady should begin to perspire in the front pew and chivalry from the pulpit becomes necessary! You never know what might happen!


  10. Mr. Crankypants

    VB @ 8 — Mr. C. would beg to point out that in certain areas in the United States, dress slacks with an Indian kurta would make a strong statement. They would not be noticed as unusual here in the Bay area, but in the depths of Indiana they would be noticeable indeed.

    As for the chalice emblem, men’s jewelry becomes more acceptable the further West one goes in the United States, and the further down one goes away from business dress. In the Northeast, where business dress is the baseline standard, men’s jewelry is typically limited to tie clip, small lapel pin, perhaps cuff links — for younger gentlemen, very small and tasteful earrings or ear studs are acceptable (best if in only one ear, however). When wearing business casual anywhere in the United States, some additional jewelry is allowable.

    The basic rule is that the well-dressed minister does not wish to look like a rapper or rock star covered with bling as they climb into their 100-foot limos on the one hand, nor on the other hand like those over-dressed televangelists whose big golden crosses flash in the sunlight as they climb into their 100-foot limos.

    Philocrites @ 9 — You are assuming the people doing the career assessment evaluation have a good eye for men’s wear. Even stupid alter ego Dan noticed how badly dressed those career assessment people were. Best not to place much value in their sartorial judgments.

    Having said that, Mr. Crankypants would most certainly hold you up as an example of a well-dressed gentleman. You even do business casual well, which is saying a lot. Exquisite taste, such as you have, allows one to bend or even break the rules. The rest of us, the great unwashed masses with less-than-exquisite taste, are better off if we follow the rules. And this is one time when Mr. C. is not being sarcastic — gentlemen, if you want an example of what a well-dressed gentleman wears in UU circles, you could hardly do better than to use Philocrites as an example.

    Philocrites @ 10 — Mr. Crankypants admires a perfectly-tied bow tie, but admits that his fumble fingers are completely unable to master the knot. And a well-folded handkerchief in the left breast pocket adds a very nice touch to a dark suit, but alas again Mr. Crankypants has been unable to master the proper fold (Mr. C’s handkerchiefs always come out asymmetrical). Note that it is also acceptable to keep a handkerchief tucked in the left-hand sleeve of one’s suit jacket, especially if one is an Anglophile.

    Tasteful suspenders can be a very nice touch, but they should be worn with trousers that have suspender buttons. Suspender clips are simply Not Done, except in work clothing.

    And can we also talk about the possibilities for attractive socks? The well-dressed gentleman will dress conservatively in most areas, but will express his personality in his socks, his ties, and in touches like suspenders or handkerchief.

  11. Amy

    Mr. Cp @11: I would think that the rule for expressing one’s personality via socks, ties, and the like is even broader when it comes to ministers whose primary work is with children. I’ve observed that while doctors as a class dress conservatively, it is almost a requirement for pediatricians to wear ties that will amuse their patients. So you can tell Dan that, given his specialization, wildly-patterned socks are not only acceptable but encouraged.

  12. Kenneth

    “Birks are a limiting statement of class location, ethnic identification, and political orientation.”

    And you suggest wearing business dress? Talk about class location, ethnic identification, and political orientation!

  13. Mr. Crankypants

    Kenneth @ 13 — You’re right! Business dress at church does reveal class location. Mr. Crankypants has noticed that middle class and lower middle class men are more likely to wear a suit to church than upper middle class men. And you’ll see more men in suits in a Black church than in the typical predominantly white liberal church. Mr. Crankypants stands corrected: Unitarian Universalist ministers should definitely wear Birkenstock sandals in the pulpit.

  14. Kenneth

    Mr. CP, I’m curious about what age these men in suits are. Not having ever been a church-goer, and having been a long-time meeting-goer, I have absolutely *no idea* about the demographics of who goes to church or wears what. Although a somewhat tongue-in-cheek conversation, one really does have to wonder: If the minister of a UU church were to dress in order to have the greatest appeal to potential new members, what would he (and in the context of this post, I do mean *he*) wear? (Not that there’s only one set of cultural markers for the potential new members UUs want to attract!)

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