The Church Fashion Police

By June 10, 2016My Thoughts

I’ll never forget the time a male pastor sat me down to have a talk with me.

I had just finished preaching at a church as part of my seminary requirements and, after the service, the pastor (who had graciously allowed me to fill his pulpit) asked me to step into his office. He pulled the door shut behind him. He motioned for me to take a seat, and he sat down in the chair behind his desk. What followed was a very brief conversation, and soon we were both off to go our separate ways, but even now as I think about it, I feel sick inside.

“April, you are a gifted preacher. I know you don’t want to preach, and you’re afraid of preaching, but you are so incredibly gifted. And, that’s why I want to talk to you about your clothing…”

He told me my clothing was inappropriate and unbecoming of a person who was training to be a minister.

He told me that before I could preach there again, I needed to do something about the way I dressed.

He told me that he was distracted during my sermon because of what I was wearing.

“What was she wearing?” you might be asking.

I want to tell you that it’s none of your business (haha!), but since I brought it up, I’ll fill you in.

I was wearing the nicest thing I owned. Keep in mind that I was a full-time seminary student with no full-time income, and had come straight to seminary after 4 1/2 years of not having a full-time income while I pursued my undergraduate degree.

I was wearing an ankle-length denim skirt and a green, pinstripe button up shirt with three-quarters length sleeves.

Basically, I was covered from collarbone to ankle. My clothing wasn’t fancy or elegant. I wasn’t sharply dressed. I’m sure I could have stood some fashion advice.

But, that is not what this felt like. Not at all.

You see, my husband had also preached that morning at this church. We had tag-teamed the sermon. My husband was wearing a button up shirt with short sleeves and khaki-colored carpenter pants. The nicest thing he had in the closet, but not fancy or fashionable at all. He was showing more skin than I was. His clothing was similar in style and fashion to mine (seriously, this is why robes were made…so ministers wouldn’t have this problem). But, no one said anything to him.

No one told him his clothing was unbecoming of a minister.

No one told him he needed to do better next time.

No one called him a distraction.

While I was preaching the Gospel, all this pastor noticed was my clothing. And that he didn’t like it on me. And that he wanted me to look better.

I felt violated.

I recently participated in a vibrant conversation about modesty and about the role of ministers and elders in “helping” young girls embrace modesty. I was told that I was a disobedient Christian if I did not want male church leaders to talk to my daughter about her clothing choices. I was told that I was not following Christ.

I remember what it felt like to sit there in that office – as an adult female with an adult male. I remember what it felt like to realize that the entire time I was up front at church, he was fixated on my clothing – and maybe even how my body looked in my clothing. I remember what it felt like to realize that for this man, he felt like it was his place to police my body and what I put on it.

I was an adultย and I felt violated, helpless, afraid, and objectified.

As a parent, I will do everything in my power to keep my daughter from feeling this way, especially in the church where she should be safe.

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Anna Marion Howell

    “I was an adult and I felt violated, helpless, afraid, and objectified.” That sounds like precisely the opposite of how we want anyone– adult or child– to feel at church. Thank you for being a different kind of pastor, who would never make anyone’s daughter feel like that.

  • Tim

    I wasn’t even there when it happened and I feel sick to my stomach after reading what he put you through, April. You weren’t dressed like a slob, you didn’t preach naked, you didn’t cast come-hither looks. What was his issue again? Oh yeah, it was the way he perceived you and not how you looked at all.

  • So sorry to hear this happened to you, April. It definitely sounds like HE was the one with the problem. I think a sensitive pastor would have done the “Is it true/kind/necessary?” test and realized that talking to you about this failed all three criteria.

    • Thank you <3 Through sharing this post, I've heard stories far worse. So incredibly sad ๐Ÿ™

  • Lorraine Anderson

    Last week, I wore blue jeans to my church (Presbyterian). I’ve seen worse clothing on those people supposedly “dressed” for church. Good grief.

  • “I was an adult and I felt violated, helpless, afraid, and objectified.

    As a parent, I will do everything in my power to keep my daughter from feeling this way, especially in the church where she should be safe.”

    Sometimes I just can’t believe what goes on in the ‘church’, or how willing people are to shame and control others in the name of their god.

    I’m so glad to hear that you want to protect others from the violation you suffered. As far as I can see, that’s the only good and positive thing in this whole story!

    • Thank you <3 The church should be a place where all people are safe. It's heartbreaking that so often, it's just the opposite

  • Scott Donnelly

    For your harrowing experience, I am soo soo sorry. It was completely uncalled for, and this man’s actions have contaminated the holy office you both now share more than your clothing choices ever could. It doesn’t matter what you wore, daggonit! If they’re focusing on your clothing, shame on them! End of story.
    AND, for your gracious testimony, I am so so thankful. Though I hate the circumstances which caused it, I am sure that you’ve discovered how very common your experience is in the world behind the pulpit. Thank you, April, for bringing it to light and for illuminating this misogyny and utter despicable behavior. May the Lord continue to bless and affirm both your calling and your ministry.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I have been overwhelmed today as person after person has told me “me too.” Lord, have mercy. But, I’ve also been overwhelmed (in such a wonderful way) by how many people are willing to say how wrong this kind of behavior is. Thank you for being a voice for change!

  • I am stunned. There are no words sufficient. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey.