Lady Leader Problems- Wardrobe Edition

A couple weeks ago I was officiating a wedding. It was blast! But it was such a conundrum figuring out what to wear. And in talking with other women preachers there are a series of wardrobe issues that men don’t have to think about, but are a part of every women’s speaking experience.  So here are a series of issues that women preachers must consider.

 The Preaching Bra– Though I am ardently committed to spreading the word on the importance of a well fitting bra, this is not about that. This is about the fact that no woman preacher wants to “smuggle grapes” when she is preaching. This is my friend Ana’s way of describing nipples showing through a shirt. There are already so many gender issues to consider when preaching and in Christian circles anything that reminds people that you have breasts is a crime. Nipple shadow while preaching is to the Christian context what Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction was to secular world. So step one is making sure you are wearing a hefty bra that will not let anything peak through.


Women who have recently smuggled grapes.  

No dude is pondering nipple issues when picking his preaching outfit. Because there are essentially two things that men preach in. ( I’m not going to get into different cultural takes on this issue in this post.)

Casual Preacher Guy  and  Formal Preacher Guy

images-148 images-147

I’m amusing myself by using Mark Driscoll and Joel Olsteen  as my examples. 


Next up- Pants suit or dress?  This is for more traditional preaching context such as churches and conferences. I don’t feel this ponderous when preaching at the average InterVarsity Large Group meeting.

Pants suit. The problem with this is that it’s easy to look a bit maculine. And looking butch is almost as great a crime as nipple shadow in traditional contexts. You want to be authoritative, but not masculine. Feminine, but not girly. Dressing for preaching requires threading a LOT of needles. And especially as a younger woman, a pants suit can feel like being David in Saul’s armor. ( Love how I just made an OT reference in the midst of a post on lady fashion.) Plus I’m scarred by how much flack Hillary got  for all her pants suits. But  pants with a blouse can be an option.


The skirt suit is also a possibility. But that makes me feel way over 40 and  like a Republican candidates wife. And I’m not rich, I’m in ministry, so I don’t have a budget for a beautifully tailored outfit.



And you want to be age appropriate. Not too old and not too young.


Sorry Joyce Meyer- you went too casual and too young.


So lets say you pick a dress. But when wearing a dress there are a variety of factors. It can’t be too frilly or dressy- it needs to be professional. How short is too short? Will you be on a raised stage? Will people in the front row be able to see up your dress? Should you wear panty hose? Is this pump too dressy, too flashy, too “I’m superficial and into the flesh?”

And a final consideration- to show arms or not to show arms. If people can be scandalized by Michelle Obama showing arms, you know people in the church can too. I felt like it was important to cover my shoulders when officiating ( no gripe there, I’m down with dressing conservatively for that context.) But finding a dress that covers your arms and doesn’t make you look like a nun is… difficult.

Now of course a skirt and blouse are also an option and it’s a good option for the following reason.

Mysoginistic microphones.

Lets say you have chosen a professional, conservative, but still stylish dress of some sort. You have made the decision about how much arm to show and put on your preaching bra. And then the sound guy hands you the microphone and tells you to clip the battery pack to your waist. Sorry hombre, I’m not wearing pants. I have no place to clip this thing. You gaze into each others eyes trying to make it clear that you think this is the other persons problem to solve.

If you have gone with a blouse and skirt  or blouse and pants option there is always the awkward decision of where to place the microphone. If you rock anything larger than a C cup it can feel like a lapel mic is a device created to draw attention to your bosom.  If you’re wearing a silk blouse, the mic will flop around and there will be lots of awkward swishing noises. You will look down at the mic, and then you and the congregation will all be gazing at your bosom- a beautiful analogy for resting on the bosom of the Lord.

And even if you pick the perfect outfit. What about sitting down?

Recently I attended a conference where all the men preached- standing up. But then when two women speakers came out they brought out two comfy living room type chairs and the women sat. I have a lot of problems with this approach to speakers. Men stand and preach truth. Women sit and have little Jesus chats. But that’s beside this particular point.

Lets say that you have been chosen to be on a panel. A dress that is great when you are standing becomes a suggestive, leg revealing, skank festival when you sit down.

Suddenly this


Looks like this.


Sitting on a stool is tricky. You have to cross your legs if you are wearing a skirt just to make sure that you don’t pull a Britney Spears panty flash. But when you cross your legs, suddenly that tasteful dress is up on your mid thigh. HARLOT!

And if you’ve got any upper thigh cottage cheese issue, you will spend the rest of the time trying to tuck your thigh and ass fat back under your leg- in the name of Jesus.

There are a lot of other issues on this topic; ethnicity, jewelry, hair, shoes, and modesty.  But this is my first pass. Do you have any lady leader wardrobe issues? Tell me about them!


24 thoughts on “Lady Leader Problems- Wardrobe Edition

  1. I am familiar with the mysoginistic microphone which has nowhere to attach when you’re in a dress! A woman I know who is a pastor gave me counsel on dressing feminine so as not to seem too threatening to men; have my hair pulled back and out of my face (don’t want to be tossing your hair around in sexy fashion while communicating the virtues of modesty); try not to tell any messages that will make you cry (since people think it’s courageous and endearing when male pastors cry but will accuse you of being being emotional due to your menstrual cycle if you’re a female preacher); and to tell the sound guy to add lots of bass to my microphone (which apparently helps both women and men receive the message better as it deceives their ears).

    • Hair and accessories deserve its own post. And I have lots of thoughts on the emotion thing. I agree- a crying man is vulnerable and courageous. A crying woman is fulfilling a million stereotypes and throwing away credibility. I’ve never heard the bass in the microphone thing. But I know multiple women preachers, including myself, that have had vocal problems because of lowering our voices while preaching.

      • Another lady leadership problem: someone should write a post on women holding other women back from ministry leadership because I’ve encountered that more often than I’ve seen men hold women back. If I hear one more woman say that strong, competent women leaders are responsible for the lack of male leadership (as if there’s a shortage of leadership positions), I’m going to slap her with a pant suit.

        And by the way, even if it doesn’t go over well, I strive to be authentic–if a message is emotional and makes me cry, then I’ll cry. But I have no solution for attaching the sexist microphone to a dress…

  2. One solution is the dress-with-belt option! Mic clips on to back of belt (if it is girthy enough). Love the humor yet totally applicable discussion in this post!

    • Thanks Kristen! I like the belt idea. Also I’ve seen people clip it way up at their neck. But that seems so uncomfortable.

  3. Oh, my gosh, yes. To everything in this post. I have SO felt the presidential-candidate’s wife issue, especially when I wear pearls. I think I’m coming to hate pearls.

    Plus, it was fun hanging with you at sc14 😉

    • Especially as a young woman- you want to be professional but not age yourself unnecessarily.
      And agree- great to hang at SC14!

    • I think these issues are a good argument for clergy robes. My denomination doesn’t typically use them. But I like how robes eliminate the need for these types of discussion and create a uniform that all speakers share in common.

  4. Thank you for this, Erna! Through Calvin Chen I’ve posted this at The Well FB site. The issue definitely applies to academic woman as well. I think Calvin is right, “I imagine it’s actually even harder for women in the academy because too much worldliness / polish might even be frowned upon due to expectations to appear intelligent, anti-materialistic, and too busy to bother with appearance. What’s the female equivalent to a tweed jacket?”

  5. Loved this article! I just wish I came from a tradition where I could throw a robe on and be done with it. But alas, I favor the pantsuit (because I once had a man come up after I spoke at church and complement my nice legs!!!). Anyways…I am writing a paper to present at a conference and I’d love to site this article. If you could email me your full name that would be great. I’d also be curious about how many hits this article had to show how large an issue this is for women. Thanks for all the pics…they were hilarious!

  6. Oh em gee!!! This was great!

    I never have the smuggled grapes issue. I tend to have the young, fashionably hip speaker issue. I can’t stand looking like the old lady. My outfits still tend to be in style. But my personal issue is, no matter what I wear my face still says I am and extremely young Asian woman. which pretty much screams, “what the heck are you doing on stage?” or the “you must be new to ministry” face. It’s unfortunate. Makes me feel like my authority or legitimacy in ministry is taken away just based on the youth of my face. ………. -__-

    • I think that this is a very real issue for Asian American woman. I have a friend that is a ministry planter, and she is a 5’1″ Asian American woman. She is a beast of a planter- but when she walks into a room of other ministers-they literally look over her head. And even at 30 years old she looks so young- she is frequently dismissed. In my twenties I would rarely dress in the way I really wanted to, because I didn’t want stylishness to distract people from taking me seriously. Its a catch 22 on this one.

  7. LOL grapes. So good. The other one women need to consider: the button up shirt. Cuz um, I’ve had SO MANY teachers and professors not where undershirts, and never realize that button up shirts are inherently misogynist and not built for breasts. Thus, you get little bra peaks every time you have the side stance.

  8. Hey Erna! Just so you know, you were one of the highlights of the CCDA conference for me (seriously, rocked it every time you took the stage) so imagine my excitement at seeing you on the speakers list! And now I found your blog. Ok, creepy stalker part over. I’ve done some weddings, and let me just say…dresses with pockets. Amen and hallelujah! I unintentionally stumbled upon this at one of my first weddings when I wore a knee-ish length dress with pockets (cardigan, too, cause you know, bare shoulders)…the sound tech was thrilled. Since then, I’ve made sure I have a couple dresses with pockets in lieu of clipping it onto a waistband. There’s usually a decent selection, too, since pockets are still “in”. Great post and so very true! Can’t wait for Memphis.

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I appreciate some friendly internet stalking! I like the dress with pockets idea. I’ll keep that suggestion in mind on future shopping trips.

  9. Wow…I don’t even know how I got to this blog. Oh yea…I was searching, “women preachers in robes.” I have just received certification as lay minister and am beginning at my first church. I have spoken several times, but always struggle with what to wear. Trying to look plain without looking bland…what an issue. I finally settled on something called an alb. It’s lightweight, but definitely professional looking. It will cover me without making me look like I’m trying to look like a man. I think I’m going to like it.

    LOL…still can’t believe that other women preachers are discussing this issue. I was beginning to think I was just too self conscious. Thanks so much for this post!!!

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