Fashion is an odd thing; there are some of us that it entirely passes by.
A colleague posted on the internet a photograph taken at his parents’ wedding in 1946. His mother has mid-length hair and is dressed in a plain bridal gown and veil, ostentation excluded by the frugality of the post-war years; his clergyman father has short hair and wears a black clerical suit and shiny black shoes. Were the wedding taking place seven decades later, in 2016 instead of 1946, it is difficult to imagine his appearance would have much differed. Dark suit, polished shoes, short hair – what other way might a clergyman appear at a wedding? What other wear would be considered acceptable?
It would take little effort to look like the colleague’s father, and it’s not just at weddings that clerical fashion is unchanged. There are jackets in the wardrobe bought in the 1980s, still perfectly serviceable, unrecognizable as something from another generation because what is worn now is unchanged from then. The only difference in jackets from the last century is they lack an inside pocket to hold one’s mobile phone, a lack which has sometimes resulted in my phone landing on the floor instead of finding a safe recess in the lining.
Never being fashionable, perhaps it was easy to slip into a fashion free world. It’s safer to inhabit a fashion free world as well; wearing a white linen jacket, open necked shirt and jeans to lunch one Sunday in Dublin city centre brought a rebuke from a teenage daughter, “Dad, why are you dressed like an ageing rock star?” The linen jacket and jeans had been chosen instead of a checked jacket and corduroy trousers after the latter had brought an accusation from the good lady of the house of looking like farmer up from the country for the day. Since the “rock star” accusation, it has been safer to go with the rustic appearance.
Being honest, a sense of the faintly ridiculous attaches itself to clergy who attempt to dress à la mode. One of the characters created by the late Dermot Morgan was “Fr Trendy”, a priest whose attempts to be one of the young generation constantly made him look ridiculous. It is difficult to be taken seriously when looking like something out of a television comedy.
Parish ministry is about being accessible to all the people, which means wearing attire that is timeless, that belongs to no decade or era. The clerical life is, by definition, unfashionable. Being photographed in 2015 should make one’s pictures being recognizable in 2085.