The Precarious Validity of ‘Pastor Fashion’

The Precarious Validity of ‘Pastor Fashion’ September 9, 2013

The Master of Divinity is one of the most work-intensive master’s-level degrees out there. Aspiring ministers need to acquaint themselves with formidable amounts of theology, philosophy, and church history; develop competencies in the original languages of Scripture; and exercise their muscles in exegesis, homiletics, management, and counseling—all in preparation for shepherding a future flock. With all this emphasis on substance, is there any time left over for style?

Enter Rev. Ed Young, a megachurch pastor who intends to fill this gap in ministerial training with a blog devoted to fashion for pastors. Fittingly, it’s called Pastor Fashion. Through videos, pictures, and lists of pointers, Young means to guide men (and women) of the cloth toward finer, better-cut, and more sophisticated everyday vestments.

I’m thankful to Young for lending his colleagues a manicured hand, and many pieces of his advice are spot-on. Here, you will find the classic rules of suit-buttoning; here, he demonstrates a way of tying dress shoes that helps the laces to fall better; here, he offers tips for choosing the right collar to suit your face. He consistently emphasizes the foundational importance of fit when shopping for clothes and reminds his readers and viewers that you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to dress well. I’m also pleased that he condemns square-toed shoes, which are an abomination.

At the same time, Young’s sartorial sense veers from classic style into grown-up bro territory in a few places. He seems fond of loud shirts and accessories, which sometimes conspire with his beefier build to make him look like an NFL player on signing day. I suspect that he would regard a cardigan as an unfortunate affectation. He is wary of skinny jeans, V-necks, and T-shirts generally that aren’t black or white, and he categorically rejects graphic tees—all points of contention between us and places where a pastor with a nerdier mien would probably do well to part ways with Young. If only Paul Tripp maintained a fashion blog. Perhaps in the eschaton.

Beyond debatable points of taste, though, I find that there’s a weirdness that hangs over Pastor Fashion, and for the life of me I can’t figure out exactly what it comes from. It’s partly Young’s personality: the good reverend comes on strong, which coheres nicely with his bolder choices (including accessorizing with an ascot, which you can learn how to tie and wear here in preparation for your next Scooby-Doo theme party) but leaves many of those who appear in videos alongside him visibly uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know what to do if Young were to assess an outfit of mine, as he does with a student pastor at his church in this video. For instance, if he leaned in to retie my tie on a stage in front of an audience of indeterminate size, I too would likely don a rictus and gaze over Young’s shoulder as though there were a doughnut hanging on a string behind him. I can’t say how thankful I am that this sort of transaction usually occurs only in front of my girlfriend and a triptych of mirrors in a small store.

Young also seems to feel a need to spiritually qualify his interest. A page titled “More Than Fashion” includes a textbook Jesus-juke: “Our fascination with fashion is really just a microcosm of our desire to be clothed in the ultimate designer—Jesus Christ.” (I won’t touch on his posts directed at “Pastor Fashionistas,” which predictably emphasize modesty in ways the posts for men do not.) Here I want to ask Rev. Young: can’t a person’s interest in fashion be allowed to stand for itself, without an explicit evangelistic function? Evangelicals can be a bit quick to judge one another’s recreational interests if those interests aren’t couched in sufficiently spiritual or moral terms; either that, or evangelicals are keenly sensitive to the possibility of other evangelicals judging their interests if not so couched. Provided we remain sensitive to conviction over idolatry, greed, and vanity, I don’t see why Christians ought to feel guilt for valuing created things, including the things we use to clothe ourselves.

Perhaps Young feels an added pressure to spiritualize on account of being a prominent pastor. I can appreciate that, and not being a pastor, I admit to lacking any insight into the sensitivities that attend to the vocation. However, I do wish that Young could free himself from the spiritualizing urge and offer his advice to other pastors straightforwardly, which could help his audience tone down their own anxieties over the morality of fashion-consciousness. The approach of a blog like Pinstripe Pulpit is a good model for producing the sort of casual criticism and advice I’m talking about: There you’ll find a hobbyist simply writing about his interests, to the benefit of those who share them.

I’m glad that Rev. Young is online trying to help pastors better discern their sartorial vocation. While an approach that emphasizes function and comfort works just fine for many wonderful men and women of God, there are also those who feel ill at ease in their clothes but are anxious about wading into the waters of personal style by themselves. They are the ones who will value the sort of guidance that people like Young have to offer them.

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