** Apologies for the sexist title, but as the female wife of a male curate I can only write what I know. However, if any CHAB’s want to give their insight I’ll happily read and share! **
Well, our first week on the other side is well and truly underway. As we approach the weekend, however, I am very aware that the second wave of Curates-to-be will have set off on their stag trips, leaving a second wave of spouses wallowing in silence, or indeed, exploding in chaos. And I am sure amidst the loneliness, busyness, emptiness or messiness… you’ll all have one major, existential question to consider:
What on earth are you supposed to wear for your Other Half’s ordination?!
Well. I have been a Curate’s wife for five days now so, you know, as a seasoned professional, let me offer some advice….
… On what not to wear (naturally)!
See. In my previous post, I hinted at a rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, which I shall describe here in good time. First, however, I wanted to explain that the reason this faux pax was so unfortunate, was that I had actually put an awful lot of thought into what I was going to wear in the first place!
Here were my very real, very strict considerations:
1. I must not look like ‘a Vicar’s wife’!
A few months ago, I came across a trashy article* in which the writer complained that someone was ‘dressed like a Vicar’s wife.’ And I thought… Seriously?! In this day and age, is that really still a valid description to use?! I mean, come on. Some of the Vicar’s wives I know are also amongst the most stylish women I’ve ever met. (Which, I know, doesn’t really hold much ground coming from another Vicar’s wife now, does it?!) But still. Changing times or not; clearly, we still have a stereotype to bust here! So I figured that on my very first day in the role, I should absolutely, definitely avoid wearing anything fitting this dowdy, floral inheritance! So: no flowers. No polka dots. No frills!
*(I can’t trace the article now, but seriously advise that you don’t Google that quotation looking for it!)
2. I must not look like the Vicar’s mistress either!
Personally, my special occasion “style” usually veers towards tight, short or in the very least, sleeveless, with sky high heels and too much make-up… not an appropriate look for such an occasion, and probably one I need to work on henceforth! Obviously, there must be a middle ground between Look #1 and Look #2; but I’m pretty sure it’s not currently in my wardrobe….
3. I will not fund global injustice for the sake of Husband’s initiation into the Church of England!
Ethical shopping is a minefield that I’ve struggled with for quite some time; but on this occasion in particular, I really felt it was important to try and get it right. (Now, I’m nowhere near an expert and shouldn’t be writing on speculation – so if you have any genuine tips please pass them on!) As a lazy starting point, I printed the list provided by the Ethical Consumer website and stuck it in my purse. As usual, however, the shops most highly recommended by all of these lists are well out of my price range; (apart from this little gem- Annie Greenabelle– which was recommended by Tearfund! Unfortunately, however, they seem to specialise in floral tea dresses and playsuits- breaking both rule one and rule two for me!). So, instead, I generally just try to avoid the shops at the bottom of the scale and stick to the less expensive ones near the top. However, it bothers me how quickly these tables change and how hard it is to keep up. I quizzed a more knowledgeable friend about this after her recent research trip to the Far East, and she explained that unfortunately, some companies do inspect the factories they think they are using and genuinely believe they are above board. Those factories, however, then outsource the work to other, less ethical factories, and no one actually knows until it goes wrong. (Told you it was a minefield!)
Anyway. Her main advice, (and the reason many suggest we ought to buy £100 jeans from the likes of People Tree), is not to boycott shopping altogther, (after all, those factory communities have very little access to alternative, legal enployment); but to buy fewer, more expensive items that are made to last longer. Which is a lovely idea, isn’t it?
I have to say, even with the best will in the world (and not to mention a bottomless bank account!); I am growing and raising children. Over the last four years, my body has fluctuated in shape and size more often than a slinky on a staircase. And anything that has gone the distance has also, quite frankly, been covered in various forms of bodily fluid. These are the days in which nothing is bought to last.
So. I’m afraid, after much frustration with the state of the fashion industry, I ignored the advice against boycotting and went back to my old, tried and tested rule…
4. Whenever you can, buy it second hand!
Recycling, to me, is the only sure fire way of making sure that the clothes I’m wearing are ethically sourced. I mean, they might not have been once upon a time, but at least I know that if I wasn’t wearing them, they’d probably end up in landfill! Besides which, if you buy from charity shops, you sort of feel like you’re giving back as well, don’t you?
Have you ever tried charity shopping with a pair of toddlers?!
I did, for this occasion, and it did not go down well. First of all, they were both awake and in the mood to play. Secondly, I gave in to that and still carried on shopping. I saw a woman trying on clothes in the changing rooms, whilst her three children played quite happily in the corner with the toys. I saw it and, once more, I got cocky. If she can do it, I thought, so can I. I settled the kids in the corner with a range of toys and headed to the changing room- which, I hasten to add, had convenient slats in the doors- with a lovely, non-patterned dress that had just caught my eye! Cue my next mistake: it was a “generous” size 8. (What?!!) So I’m watching through the slats as the kids play, and I hurriedly squeeze my apparently-generous-size-10 body into the not-quite-so-generous-size-8 frock. Of course, I take one look and realise this is absolutely, definitely Vicar’s mistress material; a tight, bulging rule break if ever there was! At this point, of course, Tinker starts telling Toddler off for some kind of Thomas-related offence, and I can see from his wobbling lip that the faeces is about to hit the fan. Calling to the kids to calm it down, I quickly rush to remove the dress… and get completely and utterly stuck. I mean the neckline is cutting off the circulation in my shoulder and I have one bra-cladded boob completely on display. I’m fighting with the other arm, when Tinker runs out of eye-line with said Thomas toy; a sticky, snotty, teary Toddler following very loudly behind her.
I’m panicking now; my boob is out, my arm is stuck, my children are out of sight! I’m shouting for them to come back, but their argument is louder than mine and we are in a charity shop with giant windows, backed onto the busy bus station. There’s nothing else for it. Cue one mad mother boob dash out to the front of the shop! I grab the kids and holler like That Parent, as Toddler- who now has one shoe missing and snot all down his T-Shirt- looks every inch That Child. Tinker can’t get over the fact I’m showing off my “booby wrappers” and all I can do is hope to God that Husband doesn’t walk past and see us in all our glorious shame!
10 minutes later, re-dressed and much-stressed, I manage to leave the shop through the back door and vow never to return. For now I’m even further down the rule book, to my very final, failsafe option. My real golden rule, my platinum response…
5. I need to borrow something from my mother!
I am very lucky, in that I have a very stylish mother and sister (two separate people, that is!), who love shopping and also happen to be roughly the same size as me. At least half of my wardrobe consists of their hand-me-downs- and that tends to be the better half! Having exhausted all of the other options, I finally slump down on my Mam’s sofa and ask her what she can do for me?! She promptly disappears upstairs and comes back down with a hideous white body-con dress, covered in giant pieces of fruit, (apparently it’s designer?!) I quickly alert her to rules #1 and #2 and she disappears again. This time, she returns with a beautiful, dark green satin shirt dress, with mid-cut sleeves, a mid-length, tapered hem and a belt around the middle. It’s not dowdy; it’s not floral; it’s not short or tight; and its not breaking my bank or funding child labour. It’s perfect. I’ll take it!
And so, eventually, there I am.
Wearing an elegant, non-Vicar’s wife-y, non-Vicar’s mistress-y, not-too-attention grabbing, borrowed shirt dress, with some mid-height heels- also handed down a few years ago from the same source! And, I’ll be honest, I feel good.
That is, until I sit down.
Because when I sit down, the skirt tightens… and the buttons pop open!
At first it’s only one or two, and I quickly fasten them up.
But, of course, this is a traditional Church of England service. We stand up. Then we sit down. We stand up. We sit down. And each and every time, my buttons pop open and my thighs come out to play, and I have to cover myself with the order of service and re-fasten them like a fly at every discreet opportunity!
And then… well, then it gets worse, because the children come back from the crèche and they insist on sitting on my knee and wiggling; and as they do, more and more buttons pop open, until at one point I’m completely bearing my bright blue lacy knickers! (Didn’t think of carefully selecting those now, did I?!)
Then it’s time for communion and of course, we are near the front. And so I look down the aisle at the people ahead, kneeling at the communion rail in front of two Bishops and an Archdeacon and I think… oh dear, God, no!
Which Vicar invited his mistress?!! Says one Bishop to another…
Thankfully, however, the Lord provides manna from heaven in the form of gluten free wafers; which one can inconspicuously consume standing up by the sides of the chapel, on request! (That, my friend, is providence!)
And so thankfully, the service ends, and we pose for some photos, and we drive home to get ready for the BBQ. I take off the dreaded poppers, throw my rule book out of the window and shove on that lovely, short, sleeveless polka-dot tea dress that I bought from H&M last summer in the £5 sale!
So, Clergy WAGs… wear what you like!
Make sure you can kneel down in front of the Bishop in it first, alright? 😉
2 Comments Add yours
Hillarious!! But it’d be great if you could maybe dispel the other stereotype… that all vicars are MEN!!! And please know that us vicars who do not see the retreat as a clergy “stag” (seriously; it is no where near fun enough) really struggle to work out what to wear without looking like a man!! I’d love to be able to wear a stylish fruity dress for work… in fact my fashion coup this last week has been two joules long sleeve t-shirt tops which have high enough necks to adapt for a slip in dog colour. Fashion aside; whilst I get that the world of Vicars wifeness is a particular struggle, it is only a segment of a world where there are female vicars and female vicars too! And I’ve been the clergy mummy leading the service when the toddler Thomas fiasco starts…!!
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Ever so sorry – I wrote this to introduce this post on Facebook – “Apologies for the sexist title, but as a female wife of a male curate, I can only write about what I know. However, if any CHAB’s want to share their insight, I’ll happily read and share!” Should have thought about including it on the actual blog… no offence meant 😉 Obviously I can’t comment on the issues for female clergy myself – and this blog is very much just my own personal experience of, as you say, a very small segment of the wider c of e experience. I don’t feel qualified to write about anything else – but would love to read it if you do! 🙂 (On another note tho: My friend’s Mum has come into college for the last three years to teach people how to convert normal clothes into clergy collars and some of the women made some fabulous creations! Perhaps I ought to get hold of the instructions…. x