I just saw a pastor-type walk into the coffee shop. It’s Sunday morning so he’s probably on his way to leading a service. Now here’s the question – what is he? Black suit (looks like separates), purple shirt, round collar. He has a beard and very shiny shoes, but something in his look is not-quite-put-together. I’d say Catholic priest because he’s alone except for the purple, which makes me think Episcopal. My husband has a purple clerical shirt, but he doesn’t always wear them. I guess there are plenty of Lutherans who still do, but since there aren’t tons of Lutheran churches immediately around this coffee shop and my husband is preaching at one, I’m going to rule that one out.
When I was little, living in Tennessee, my dad made a point of wearing the colored clerical shirts (tab collar). He wanted to distinguish himself. The Catholic priests wore black, and the Baptists and non-denominational wore ties. He was known as the Lutheran precisely because he wore the colors. Now he alternates between black clerical shirts and dress shirts with ties, depending on the occasion. Clericals always when preaching, but ties to the office.
Truthfully, the type of collar or color is less a clue than it used to be. Among LCMS Lutherans the round collar is often a sign of the self-proclaimed “orthodox” types (never mind that there is no such thing as an orthodox Lutheran), but that’s not a 100% rule. The more “liberal” ones wear shirt and tie. Again, not always a hard and fast rule.
My husband has a basic rule for wearing his collar, for the most part – the choice is based on whether it will help or harm opportunities to minister. In general, he finds it better to not wear it in order to avoid the Wall. But in airports and other settings like that, he prefers to wear it because it gives him the opportunity to minister to people who just walk up to him. The collar becomes an invitation (especially to members of the military who are in need of prayers).
The thing that annoys me most about the clerical shirts is how expensive they are – the cheaper ones run $40 a shirt, and are extremely poorly made (the stitching is always the first clue). Granted, I realize that many people spend much more on clothing, but at least other types of clothing are available at just about any price point. But because there is such a small pool of clergy purchasing these shirts, the supply/demand rules end up working against those of us who need to budget for them.
On a side note, whatever you may think about female clergy (LCMS and Catholics, among a few other churches, do not allow for this), they certainly have an easier time with the clerical wear. I learned this watching a recent episode of What Not to Wear in which a young female Episcopal priest shopped for a new wardrobe. She only needed a special dickey-type collar to wear under nearly any top she chose. That would only work for a man wearing a sweater.