Do Clothes Make the Leader?

I’ve been getting a kick out of Victoria Weinstein’s blog, Beauty Tips for Ministers. She’s been getting a lot of attention lately, including a Nightline segment. The subtitle to her blog is “Because you’re in the Public Eye, and God Knows You Need to Look Good.” It’s worth a look partly for the laughs her quirky writing style elicits in posts such as “Black Sneakers with Suits: Non, Non, Mon Freres.”

But she raises some real issues that leaders need to consider. In one post, she asks, “You must be willing to project not just sweetness and light and healing, but leadership, vision, trustworthiness. I know that you ARE a trustworthy and devoted leader, but does your body know that? Are you projecting it when you step into a room?” Whether you agree or disagree with her prescriptions (yes, they are prescriptions; NO reindeer sweaters or flip-flops, ever), I think she’s addressing an issue that can go deep for clergy leaders. Are we really willing to be leaders and to act like leaders? Sometimes the way clergy dress can express something of our desire to be one of the community, and our unwillingness to step forward with the kind of clear leadership that is required for a congregation to truly move forward. Clothes are not the most important part of leadership, but leadership itself and being willing to take a stand as a leader is (and, by the way, clothing sometimes helps us).

2 replies on “Do Clothes Make the Leader?

  • IGalindo

    Weinstein’s blog is a hoot and a clever way to address an issue of communication. And yes, please, no open-toed shoes or sandals in the pulpit!

    One way to grasp why this is not an insignificant issue is to appreciate that the PRIMARY purpose of clothing is not protection from the elements, or to “cover up,” but rather, identification. Clothing serves a social and cultural function–always has. I’ve read that anthropologists say that all cultures have two things in common universally, and one of them is clothing (the other is religion). But clothing in the sense of its function: to identify one’s place and status in the culture. So, the members of a culture may only wear grass belts around their waists and ankles, but you can alway tell the “chiefs” and leaders: they wear the widest belts. And you can tell the warrior class, they may have feathers on their belts.

    Clothing identifies us. So, the question may be, do your clothes identify you as the leader? I’ve often experienced the uneasy feeling of listening to someone try to tell me something while in my mind I’m thinking “How am I supposed to take you seriously dressed like that?”

    As to the previous comment about a certain choice of attire that “…causes us to fail in our responsibility to convey the relevancy and vitality of the contemporary church,” I say point well made. As I put it, if there’s not difference, then what’s the difference? I think the misguided attempts by churches to accomodate themselves to culture in order to “attract” those in the world by sending the message, “We’re no different than you,” only denies those seeking what the church really has to offer and what they really are looking for: the truth that we ARE qualitatively different from the world.

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  • PeaceBang

    Thanks for giving me a shout-out, Margaret. My PeaceBang persona is over-the-top and intentionally humorous and provocative, but I am happy to have helped this conversation along. One of my litmus tests for how well we are projecting a confident leadership image is to ask clergy, “When a national leader appears in public to explain his or her reasons for supporting a war, don’t you think that those who advocate for peace should look *at least* that put-together?”

    Another of my beefs is that our attire is incredibly dated, which causes us to fail in our responsibility to convey the relevancy and vitality of the contemporary church.

    (this comment box is showing up in a funny way on my browser, so I can’t proofread this comment. I hope it’s not too incoherent!)

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