Beachwear is not appropriate

Lately, I’ve been thinking rather more than usual about what I should wear and when. It’s partly because, with the arrival of a new job and a new life as a student, I’m meeting a lot of new people; and partly because I have a new status as ‘ordinand’ or church leader, which means I have to think a little bit more carefully about how I’m perceived.

I think I’ve always liked a bit of structure to my apparel. Growing up, there was school uniform and then there was non-uniform – the boundaries between the two were pretty clear. (And I was the kind of geek who never customised their uniform with anything more daring than a Prefect badge…) Over the last few years I’d developed a pretty good working wardrobe, with ‘presentation’ dresses (for important occasions), regular working dresses, skirts and the odd indulgence in a denim Friday. All of a sudden, that structure’s gone…

In America, the pressure of first day of school outfits is well documented – with this Hairpin article from a week or so ago showing that even with the passing of the years, people can remember how they tried to make a good impression upon their peers. It’s a good job that I had a uniform at school, because quite frankly, there’s no way I could have stood the pressure! But last week, I had my own first day of school and the pressure was on. What does one wear to their first day at vicar school? [One can safely assume that a dog collar would be too much, as would a nun’s habit…]

The welcome day was easily sorted – it was a Saturday and I had a social engagement to head to after the day ended, thus the outfit needed to be both respectable and socialising friendly. The induction day was trickier – a smaller group of people and, if other people’s memories work the way mine does, a potential to remembered in the first outfit I was seen in for eternity. [The second week of class is going to be interesting as presumably everyone will have changed their clothes and I will no longer be able to connect a yellow t-shirt with a church plant in Kentish Town. Curse my visual memory…] Jeans were the logical answer, but I don’t really like wearing them much; the denim shorts/tights combo would probably be a tad risque; a dress, though comfortable, might look a little over the top – what’s a girl to do? Ultimately, jeans won, I fitted in and looked perfectly normal. They will be fooled for now…

A more complicated question was what to wear while being introduced to my new church community. Last year, I discovered an interesting difference in church styles – I say ‘interesting’, it’s merely the effect of having worshipped in an uber trendy church for nearly 7 years. I’ve been conditioned into dressing for church, it being a good (and usually safe) place to try out new outfits and get affirmed. It’s also nice to have a place that you know you can dress up for, because dressing up’s fun and sometimes life doesn’t provide enough opportunities for it. What I realised last year is that not all churches are St Mary’s, in fact, only St Mary’s is St Mary’s. In most churches, young adults wear jeans and hoodies. All of a sudden, I’m ‘most churches’.

S’ok though, I no longer need to seek clothes boundaries for work – I’ve been given a sheet with them on. At my second staff meeting, we were issued with a church dress code. [There are so many new staff/interns that our office manager decided we needed a policy – fair enough – and so she took one from another big church whose initials may include B, T & H as a template.] I read through the document confident that I hadn’t fallen foul of it that morning, then reached its third paragraph and sniggered. The sniggers soon became near infectious laughter as the curate and worship leader reached the same point and joined in with my giggles…

“In other words, beach wear is not allowed – strappy tops, vest tops, shorts, crop tops, and flip-flops, bikinis, burkinis etc.”

Yes, that word before ‘etc’ is ‘burkini’. I am banned from wearing a burkini to work, gutted. Turns out our American colleague hadn’t understood the word and assumed it was slang for Birkenstocks [we’ll leave aside why anyone would want to ban Birkenstocks from a church – half the congregation would have to leave]. She was floored when we explained it was an islamic swimming costume. It also makes me wonder two things:
(i) Had anyone ever tried to go to work at our sister church in a burkini, thus meaning that they felt the need to specifically mention them?
(ii) Did anyone ever go in wearing a bikini? Surely even the most empty-headed church worker would realise that such clothing is unacceptable in any workplace other than (potentially) a surf club?

Perfect office wear…

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll figure it all out in due course. Who knows, maybe I’ll delight in the ability to hide in hoodies for a few years before the horrors of clerical clothing manifest themselves?


  1. And sadly, clerical clothing was not designed with buxom ladies in mind was it?…

  2. LOVING this! Please God let someone have gone to work in a burkini. That is just too good! Hey if you’re lucky you might get a nice clerical swimming costume, right up to the neck with built in waterproof dog collar?! No?!

  3. Had a feeling that TBH churches didn’t do clerical dress much?

    Our beancounting dress-down guidance from 2000 banned us from wearing tutus and rollerblades in the office.

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