I do not own a robe

Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate.  I did purchase a clerical robe just before Christmas, a woman’s robe off the rack at Cokesbury that doesn’t fit and has blood red piping that prohibits me from wearing it in my church.  I only bought it because I needed to spend my professional allowance for the year and since I was a newly ordained pastor, I thought buying a robe seemed like the way to go.  Currently it is hanging in my closet in a makeshift garment bag that the salesman fashioned with a garbage sack.  I may let it hang there forever, an expensive and disintegrating token of affection towards the clerical garments I am told to wear.

When I was ordained last year, I showed up to the service in Texas without a robe or any plan for procuring one.  I think I believed that a robe would magically appear for me.  There would be a Fairy God-mother who would use her magic wand to spin me up in a cloud of fairy dust, and out I would emerge, encased in a black, wool evening gown and sequined pastor’s stole.  Or perhaps tiny bluebirds would each grab a corner and fly my new robe in through the window, while small woodland creatures looked on and whistled a happy tune.

Surprisingly, none of these things happened.  Instead, my friend laughed at me and said, “You came to your ordination without a robe?  Isn’t that like going to your wedding without your wedding dress?” 

Funny.

So when I was ordained I was wearing a twenty year-old Geneva-style robe that had been recently cast aside by a pastor who had received her D.Min. and had purchased a new one with doctoral stripes on the sleeves.  It is too short and in the pictures I look like a black marshmallow.  I presided over communion for the first time with my best friend, who is also a pastor and was pregnant.  She has a fitted woman’s robe and although she was pregnant, I look much bigger than her in all the pictures, a stupid injustice I will fully lament after I lose twenty pounds.

Luckily I work at a large church with several pastors on staff, so every Sunday I borrow someone’s robe for the service.  Sometimes I can wear the associate pastor’s robe, which is new and has pockets.  But most of the time I wear the robe of an ordained woman who is a full-time pastoral counselor and rarely leads worship.  The black velvet is fraying all over the collar and down the front of the robe.  Two of the clasps at the top are completely gone, and one is hanging on, literally, by a thread.  It has no pockets and I almost always wear a dress to church, so each week we have to rig the microphone pack at the back of my neck.  It’s uncomfortable and annoying but I have no plans or desire to change anytime soon.

The other pastors are forever asking me to purchase a robe for myself.  But apparently I have some strange and growing abhorrence toward buying one of these things.  I have no problem dumping money on books or facials or black Cole Haan pumps, but I cannot make myself get my own robe. 

It’s the double injustice of the situation that really gets me.  Most Presbyterian ministers wear the Wesley or Geneva robes, giant things with shoulder pads that make a football player look dainty.  They do make these for women, but I swear there is no difference in the style of the robe.  Every time I put it on, I can feel the layers of cloth swimming around my neck, choking my speech and hiding my lack-of an Adam’s apple.  They are built to disguise my curves, to make me appear more like the men on my left and right of the chancel. 

But then there are those “woman” robes that are more fitted and taper at the waist.  These make me feel like a fraction of a pastor, some diluted version who can’t fill daddy’s big shoes.  Plus, is this how we distinguish ourselves from the male pastors, by dressing in something modeled off of the men’s garment and calling attention to our breasts and hips?   

These are illogical arguments, I know.  They probably point to some deep-seated issues of female identity and a growing inferiority complex. 

But I do not feel inferior in worship.  When I am leading or singing or preaching or praying, all these fears and issues about what I am wearing fly out the window on the wings of tiny bluebirds.  I do not fear that my voice is too high for the old men, or that people are looking at my legs rather than my eyes, or that they are wondering when the Rev. Ms. Stacy Smith will graduate to the Rev. Mrs. Stacy Smith.  No, I am focused on God, and on helping the congregation in their worship and praise, and I love every minute of our boring, traditional, Presbyterian worship. 

And afterwards, when I look down at the scratchy black polyester and fraying velvet, I remember that I am wearing someone else’s clothes, and that I cannot or will not purchase my own.

Comments

Stacy,

This is such a powerful (and funny!) piece. Thank you for sharing with us. I think it is pretty courageous that you went to your own ordination without a robe!

Alex

I just think about you coming to your own ordination without a robe.

Can´t help it but *giggle*

I had my robe custom tailored and altough it is a bit long (the hem ends right on my shoes) I have never regretted the money I have spent on it so far.

As the robe is something we are going to wear quite often in a professional setting I think its worth every penny you spend on it and make sure it fits.

But I am happy that you´ve finally decided to wear your robe.

Thanks for this article!

for the other side, a little: I love my robe. My first one was a Christmas gift from my mother and was the typical Geneva style. This year I bought the Anna robe from WomenSpirit and I love it. It fits both me and my personality perfectly.

Stacy, like you, I was late getting the message that we were supposed to bring our own "clothes" to ordination. Luckily, though, I did get the message before the actual service. I wear an alb most of the time and I love it. My mom made it for me before she died. We picked out the fabric together and she tailored it just for me, so I really feel more than just a "good fit" when I put it on.

Thanks for sharing your story!

Jennifer C,

What a good reminder that robes and albs are more than just clothes that fit us well or match our personalities.

Blessings to you.

I, too, had some ambivalence about the robe thing--I still do. I swear my theology about it changes weekly.

Thanks for the great article.

For those of us in the Lutheran church, we wear the white albs as a symbol of baptism and the baptismal priesthood.
I am ok with the symbolism of that and one pastor once said that the alb is there to help put the focus on our role as we lead worship, our function, our order, rather than have people focused on what does her outfit look like today? Which since I'm fashion challenged is a good thing.
Also, I've found that I appreciate my alb since it has pockets for a microphone and sometimes my dresses and skirts would have no place to put the battery pack.
Then, there was the funeral where the flies were biting at graveside and I was so glad I had my large flowing robe as a shield!
It also gave me the freedom while I was expecting to dress as I needed to, knowing that the robe would be what people saw at worship.
One older congregation member did joke: It's good that they make those in one size fits all!

While in training I received a number of comments vis a vis having nice legs following leading acts of worship.

I felt that this was a compelling reason to robe. I have a custom made alb and (almost) always wear it. I have found that it looks best with heeled shoes and the big plus is that it doesn't matter at all what I wear underneath it

I seem to have the opposite problem. I have a robe, I love it, and the church that I am a part of is anti-robe. It seems to bring out some of their memories, and fears, and so I have never once gotten to wear my beautiful white robe. It sits in my closet at home mocking me!

I am still getting used to the strange clothing pastors are expected to wear. I grew up in Missouri, where everyone wears big black preaching robes. When I came to the Northeast, I just found these white albs hideous and sad-looking. And I just couldn't get myself to pay so much money for something so gross. So, for two years of seminary, I ended up wearing an old, stained alb my male pastor gave me. My husband called it "the potato sack".

As I neared the end of seminary, my mom agreed to make me my first preaching robe. We designed it together (using a dress pattern and based on a Cokesbury robe), and it is beautiful--perfectly fitted to my body, black (like they should be!), with a beautiful bright silver brocade that makes me feel myself, and the loving seams that only a mom could sew. She's a bit of a procrastinator, so there was some dramatic overnight mailing that happened just before my commissioning service, but everything worked out. And now I finally feel like myself when I robe. Thanks be to God!

I am still getting used to the strange clothing pastors are expected to wear. I grew up in Missouri, where everyone wears big black preaching robes. When I came to the Northeast, I just found these white albs hideous and sad-looking. And I just couldn't get myself to pay so much money for something so gross. So, for two years of seminary, I ended up wearing an old, stained alb my male pastor gave me. My husband called it "the potato sack".

As I neared the end of seminary, my mom agreed to make me my first preaching robe. We designed it together (using a dress pattern and based on a Cokesbury robe), and it is beautiful--perfectly fitted to my body, black (like they should be!), with a beautiful bright silver brocade that makes me feel myself, and the loving seams that only a mom could sew. She's a bit of a procrastinator, so there was some dramatic overnight mailing that happened just before my commissioning service, but everything worked out. And now I finally feel like myself when I robe. Thanks be to God!

I recently left my summer alb on a shuttle bus heading to the airport and went through much travail to get it back...fortunately the bus company people listened when I said "I'm a preacher and you have the robe I need to wear on Sunday!"

My aunt, who created my first alb for me (which is beautiful but less orthodox and a little warm for summer), said she wanted me to feel God's arms around me every time I put it on (a peaceful thought on a rushed Sunday morning). She also imprinted Isaiah 6:8 on the inside in both English and Hebrew.

Still, a good robe is hard to find!

I wish I had this problem! We don't wear robes in my denomination and that means every Saturday night is a dilemma of what to wear the next morning. I want to maintain my sense of style but be appropriate for worship. Alas. It seems the grass is always greener...

Vicki,
I had to laugh when I read your post. I moved from the mid-west to the south and have had a hard time adjusting to wearing a black robe instead of white. When I was told at my commissioning that I was required to wear a black robe, I borrowed one from the church where I had been an intern. But then in my first appointment, I found that I would indeed need a black robe (to match the other pastors on staff). I am still refusing to wear an academic robe, however. I do think they make me look like a marshmallow. Funny how "styles" can differ by region.

Once a lovely woman from the church I served years ago made new advent stoles for the three of us clergy on staff--two guys and me. She neglected to calculate that I was a good eight inches shorter than either of them. My stole dragged the floor unless I was standing on a step-stool.

I love wearing my robe - and having the freedom to wear anything (or nothing) under it!

Vestments... a theological minefield and a fashion nightmare. May we always feel at home in the pulpit regardless of what we find to wear!

Does anyone know where to purchase a pattern for a robe similar to the picture posted at the beginning of this blog by Stacy? I have searched the fabric store books and cannot find one. Thanks, Karen

I have read and ejoyed the comments left behind on the board. I have been in the clergy for almost a year. My church in attendance is small, at this time I can not afford a robe. If their is one to bless me with one, yes used is fine.My heart shall overflow with gladness. My prayers go to every pastor, everywhere, in the sweet name of Jesus.

I am so delighted I found this webpage. I am a vicar in the lutheran church of Norway. We use custom made alb, having had several nightmares about forgetting it at home...
Most of us order it from a firm using belgian monks for tailors, so you can think of how much they know about a femal body :). I bought a clegy shirt in Rome last year, the shopmanager nearly blushed as he helped med sizing it.
I really look forward to read this page, in Norway female ministry still is a bit lonely, even if we have had female pastor since 1960.

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