Dog Collar Dilemma Part 2: Uniform vs Individual Style

img_20160730_111613-2So continuing in looking at the dilemma of how to wear your dog collar, as a woman, this post is going to look at being you. And I guess the first thing to say is that (as was pointed out to me on Twitter) it isn’t a dilemma for everyone, some people just fall naturally into wearing it and find their own style straight away – which is great, I am so happy for you! But I know lots don’t, hence the posts…

One of the biggest challenges when first putting on a collar, is how to be you whilst still inhabiting and embracing the role. Or as Ally put it: “Balance of individuality and ‘house style’ – how much can our clothing express who we feel we really are?”

Such a good question, and as noted in the previous post, when my first delivery of clerical wear arrived in the post, I put it on and immediately felt sick. I think there is something about the expectation, having prepared through any selection you have been through and then training, usually for years, to the realisation you are at the finishing post and it’s all suddenly rather real. But then there is also the weight of responsibility that the office carries, which is, let’s face it, symbolised in that little piece of white at your neck.

So with all that whirring in your mind you also need to work on what on earth to wear. And I think there is something in that, that we shouldn’t ignore or gloss over. I had said I was just going to wear ‘normal’ clothes with the collar, and largely I do, but I have still wrestled with the balance between what the collar represents and ‘being me’. After all we are representing God and the church in our communities, whether we agree with that theologically or not, that is what people see when we are wearing it.

Of course there is one view that wearing the collar is like a uniform that we should disappear behind, which is much easier when wearing vestments of course, but day to day harder to achieve. You could simply go for wearing black – maybe trousers and shirts as many male clerics do too, or tailored black dresses. I imagine this makes life a lot more simple, and perhaps marks out the ‘uniform’ element in a more obvious way. And anyway black is suppose to be more flattering ;)

But then does choosing a uniform style take away from our own personaity? Some people would feel very restrained by that, hence the wrestle with what to wear. As wendy notes:

It’s been and continues to be a debate within myself as to how I should dress, and I do respect those who feel we should disappear behind the ‘uniform’, but it doesn’t work for me and I keep coming back (through prayer and thought and the opinion of others) to the fact that I was called by God to be the unique person God made me, not to conform to what I think others require of me, or to be like anyone else – God called me to be a non-conformist (Methodist) after all!

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Ridiculously posed, soz, but this is cropped top from Cross Designs and the rest from the High Street – Top Shop/New Look (also did you know New Look has a very good rating for ethical production)

I personally don’t wear my collar every day and having always been interested in clothes and what I wear, I wasn’t going to go down the route of clerical shirts. I wanted to still be me, whilst inhabiting the role. And I, just 4 months in, am still experimenting with it all, as I know many others are too. Several people have mentioned it took them a year, if not years, to work out what their ‘Vicar style’ was. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ notes:

I’d say from my experience what clergy want differs and is individual. You have to find what works for you. Be brave and experiment – but look for what you will feel comfortable wearing and which is still YOU while recognisable as clergy…

Depending on where and when you wear your collar, it’s worth thinking about what you team it with. For example I try not to wear jeans when in collar at church – we are a pretty informal setting but for me it seems one step too far. Equally, is your church the kind of place that expects a male leader to be in a suit – if so, what does this mean for you? It’s worth looking into this before you start Curacy or at a new church to save spending money on things you won’t need.

Susie also makes a very good point:

There came a point when I became even more aware of the need to look ‘professional’. As a naturally casual dresser (jeans and… um, jeans, mostly) if you go with what’s ‘you’ and what you feel comfortable in, you can end up giving off the message that you’re not very competent/serious/worthy of respect/authority… all of which may be true…! In a more senior incumbency with high achieving professionals it was more important to dress to the role in order to be taken seriously in the role.

img_20160920_125148This is a really good point (she types, having just been out in a rather short cut off denim skirt with the collar..) people often say to me ‘you are rocking that collar’ or ‘aren’t you a trendy vicar’ which is nice (if not slightly condescending perhaps) but then as Susie notes, am I doing myself a disservice? The jury is out on that one, but I leave it for you to ponder for yourself. However I did once hear of a Vicar turning up to do a funeral on his Harley wearing incredibly short denim cut offs. That is of course the beauty of a cassock, no one knows what’s under it and there are many clergy who have been known to do the 8am in PJs, and I know half the chaps at our ordinations were wearing shorts as it was so hot. Which is fine if you are robing, but just bear in mind though whether you might be seen in advance as this Biker was – by the family of the deceased…

One thing I would note is that I think female clergy are still a bit of a novelty in many places, there is still more pressure put on us that male counterparts, and in some cases more is expected of us. Not everywhere, but in some places, and certainly from some members of the public. Rev Kate Bottley posted on Facebook last week she had received a ‘gem of a letter’ noting:

You aware that the dog collar is an item Anglican clergy never have to wear?…’Why not opt for something soft and feminine?… Why not stop telling women what they should wear? And quoting this bible passage: ‘I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

There will always be people like that, everyone has an opinion, perhaps more so when you are in a visible role like clergy and to some extent we just have to ignore that and find what is right for us. People’s comments are not always derogatory or rude like this one, or even ignorant but often more about lack of experience. All of which does not help if you are trying to work out your own new style in a very visible way. I think the more you can experiment by yourself, or behind closed doors so you know what you feel confident in, will really help. If we go out feeling confident in what we are wearing, we will be more confident in our actions, whether that’s in jeans or a suit, we all differ.

 

Hoping this is useful for some people and the next post will look at suppliers, so if you’ve got one you want to recommend let me know!

Dog Collar Dilemma: women’s clericals – what on earth to wear?!

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#DogCollarSelfie

As a #NewRev and as a woman, I have been experimenting with how to wear the collar. Before ordination it was, to be honest, a bit of a blur, I mean anyone else try on their first collar and totally freak out?

Of course there were rounds of tatfests and clerical fairs, but they really weren’t really much help because you just don’t know until you do it what you’re going to need, and anyway it’s all so blinking expensive. Then to top it all off, you google ‘dog collar’ in a fit of frustration and find you can get any collar or style, diamante encrusted, rainbow themed… for your pet.

So this is the first in a series of posts, a sort of round-up, based on what I’ve discovered so far and including advice from others, around how to wear your collar, what to wear and how to rock it with style ;) and big thanks to the Clergy Mummies crew for sharing their thoughts on this, some of whom are quoted!

(just to clarify I’m not talking about vestments, simply what to wear with, or how to wear the collar).

So this first post is some starting advice on what you might need to look at, then following posts will be on suppliers, finding your own Vicar-chic style and then a couple of guest posts too. I really hope these are useful especially for those #NewRevs like me who are wrestling with all of this, but feel free to comment or ask questions that you might like to know more about.

Choices choices

Ok so the first thing is, what kind of clerical collar do you want? Officially these are the terms, though of course they get called all sorts and actually everyone uses the term ‘dog collar’ but as a guide:


Anglican collar
(as above in my pic) – slip in tab (the tab collar is usually a white bit of plastic that can be removed easily. And yes any old bit of cardboard will do, or ala Vicar of Dibley, a bit of fairy liquid bottle, though the inserts only cost about £1 each, you might need to know that in an emergency!)

collar1Roman Collar – full collar, slightly set above the shirt, still shows the tab but with white round top (also called tonsure). I couldn’t find a woman in one of these so second best, something from ‘Rev’ ;)

Dog Collar, outer white ring, goes all the way round, so no tab just a white ring, As seen here worn by the fabulous Nadia Bolz-Weber.nadia-bolz-weber

Most of these you can either get as part of the shirt, or as a separate ‘collarette’ which attaches with sort of cufflinks (and frankly looks far too much like hard work for me).

Of course you may like to choose according to your theology or style of churchmanship, although these days it’s far less obvious. I saw a post the other day talking about what coloured clerical shirts represent, well call me shallow but I wear black for fashion reasons not because I’m declaring my doctrinal views. And this could be a reason why… yellow??? (ok, ok if you really like yellow that’s fine…)

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However it is worth just bearing in mind (not yellow of course, just what you might be portraying in your collar choice).

Anyway, I go for the tab collar insert, which is very popular, as it just seems the easiest and most comfortable, but you need to find out what works for you – if you can go somewhere to try things on, do give it a go. I’ll be doing another post on clerical outfitters later on.

 

Shirts, bibs and cropped tops…

Of course the collar needs to be attached to something (Though I did see this from Rev Jo Jepson, so maybe not…)

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So the options are:

Standard clerical shirts, made with the relevant hole for the tab. These days you can get these made in the right shape for a woman, thank goodness, although I have heard they can still be rather hit and miss, so try to get a recommendation from someone you know.

Cropped tops or bib stocks which can be worn under other items of clothing. The cropped tops are usually made of cotton jersey to sit well underneath other clothing, and therefore tend to fit a bit better with a bit of stretch. There is a lot of love for these from clergy women. Though as someone pointed out, the down side can be in the winter when you end up with a cold tummy, so another alternative is to get a sleeveless cotton jersey top with collar insert.

Original design/ made to measure of which there is a vast array, from polo shirts to dresses, from jersey tops to jumpers. Some companies also have the option of sending in your own material which is great if you want something really original.

Do it Yourself

Of course the other option if you are handy with a needle or know someone who is, is to buy high street clothing and adapt it. Anything with a roll neck collar, and some with a high collar, or standard shirt collars can be adapted to take a tab collar insert.

I’ve seen this done with dresses, jumpers and other items too, and in fact current fashion means there are a lot of options out there. Body’s are really in – a kind of a cross between a T-shirt and a swim suit – HM have these with roll necks so could be adapted to go under outer clothing, and apparently the latest Matalan catalogue has some good things with high necks that could be adapted also.

Susie noted on adapting that ‘it’s much cheaper, the fit is ideal for me, and I get to wear the designs and colours, that and pattern that suits me’ and Sarah said ‘I’d much prefer to spend the money on a nice dress that I can wear with or without bib.’ Good points because clerical wear does tend to be quite pricey.

Really what you choose is down to personal choice. My favourite is a cropped top because I choose to wear my regular clothes as much as possible. It means less buying of new clothing as you can use what you have. However they can be pricey, only marginally cheaper that a clerical shirt in fact.

 

What else to watch out for?

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I’m not really sure what to say about this, but it was referred to as ‘sexy’. We may differ on our definitions…

Sizing for women 

One thing to bear in mind is sizing. Some of the clerical outfitter companies have been around for donkeys years and are still in the mindset of menswear, so even when you buy something shaped for a woman, it doesn’t quite work. One outfitter was named for their only concession to womenswear being the way the buttons do up!

You can order things to be made to measure which can be equally problematic but usually gives a better cut/fit. On this I’ve heard various things on sizing. So firstly, check exactly what the company means when they ask for specific measurements, even with their sometimes lengthy instructions there can be room for error, so just call them and clarify. Secondly, if you know someone who knows about dressmaking ask them to measure you – or failing that someone who knows you well. It’s almost impossible to measure yourself well but just think about who you might want to do your bust measurements… #JustSaying

 Paulette also noted, check your collar size too – nothing worse than a tight fitting neck, oxygen is kind of important… ;)

 

Microphones

On this, make sure you think about where to put your microphone if you are in a church (or might visit one) that uses radio mikes with battery packs. The mike needs to clip on to your clothing, either down the centre of the shirt where it buttons up, or on the collar, and the battery pack can go in a pocket or on your waistband. I have already fallen foul of this, turning up in a dress with no waist band and having to clip the battery pack onto my collar, under my hair at the back. I felt like the hunchback of notredame… If you wear vestments this is less of an issue of course – something to be said for not being a raving charismatic I guess.

Candles

My Godfather once set his cassock alight on a candle on the altar – whilst he was wearing it. Not the kind of Holy Fire you want in any service – thankfully he was ok and I got the insurance replacement cassock so that worked out rather well ;) But, if not in vestments, watch out for long sleeves or anything drapey.

Heels

I know I said I wasn’t talking about vestments but this kind of fits – lots of us love to wear heels, and don’t stop – I was so tempted to turn up to my ordination in bright red stilettos – was only the threat that I might not be able to take part that stopped me – I went more subtle, rebellious bright red underwear. Anyway enough about that – steps and heels don’t always mix, especially in a cassock, especially if you have to kneel and then stand again – watch the hem!

So that’s some practical thoughts, and I’m sure that’s more than enough to give an ordinand or a New Rev a headache. More in the next post on how to keep your own style…

 

Reflecting over boxes…


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So, I’m just emerging from the cocoon of life that has been no wifi for over a week. I know, total #FirstWorldProblem but I think we’d all agree that life without the internet is actually quite difficult…

So hence, the blog has been quiet for a few weeks which has frustrated me as so much has gone on that I want to write about, but actually I’ve really needed that time to just focus on family and home, as we have moved house, I’ve finished my training and left my job and as a family left the church we have been part of for the last 6 years.

As part of the series of posts for ‘The Curate’s Journey’ I wanted to write about the emotions of this time and how you might expect to feel but that’s actually really hard as I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. It’s fair to say there have been a lot of tears in the past few weeks but there have also been highs and joys, moments of just sheer exhaustion, and now, well now all the endings are done and it’s just a period of waiting in which I feel a bit numb really, not sure what to feel.

The hardest part is what you’d probably expect – leaving behind close friends. At home this has meant friends we have made over 10 years living in the village we loved, some very good friends in our neighbours who we shall miss dearly, and for the younger kids, leaving behind friends they have known since they were babies and on whose door they could knock for a quick kick about, chat or play without pre-organisation. That village home had a lot of freedom for them as it was a safe bubble in which they knew themselves and were known. For the oldest of course she is at uni, but I think she was yearning for the stability of a home to return to that she knew would be there for her wherever she went, and now that has all changed.

There is much learning to do for all of us.

And at church? well I don’t know where to start really. It is a place that has become home, a family to us, that has embraced us and loved us (as I spoke about in my preach last week) nurtured us, tended to us and prepared us to be sent out. It has been a truly wonderful place to be part of and of course the friends there too are those that I think we’ve found a new level of friendship with, as we have learned to pray and support one another spiritually. Again we are all leaving behind dear friends with whom we have shared huge amounts of our lives.

At college too, I find myself realising that I have grown to love those I’ve spent the last 3 years with. An eclectic bunch as we are, we have bonded over mutual learning, community forming and of course in the bar. I love to learn but I will really miss the company and conversations of fellow learners, as we debate and bounce thoughts and ideas off each other.

But in all that it has been a wonderful season of reflection too as we recognise the amazing things God has done in and through us in the last 6 years, the true friendship we have known and the journey we have been on. The blessings God has given us in that time are too numerous to list and it is with those ringing in our hearts that we step into a new future.

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St John’s Sub Castro, part of Trinity Church where I will shortly be working…

And as we reflect (currently over unpacking boxes – I am sure this could be a spiritual exercise as memories are unearthed, treasures found and in some cases rejected!) we look to the next step. Here too are blessings as we have a gorgeous new home, and an exciting town to explore. The South Downs within 10 mins walk one way and the shops 10 mins the other. The joy of finding a corner shop open all hours within 3 mins walk is an immediate and simple pleasure of town living, and even better a lovely local just down the road (with a menu of 50 craft beers, husband is well pleased with that one). And what’s more whilst new friends are being made the ones we know, and love, and rely on are actually only 20 minutes away.

I know we are meant to be here and whilst the differences remain and the heartache is still there, the boxes stacked up, huge amounts of house admin yet to be done, no gas or wifi, there is a wonderful peace upon us. God has brought us here and he will sustain us. For a short while it feels like we need to huddle as a family, share in the pains and sadness that only we know, and find our new ways together.

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View from one of my daily prayer walks around the area. Love the colour of the garages against the downs!

 

Ember Cards

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If I had £1 for every time someone asked me what an ’ember card’ is in recent weeks, I’d be able to pay for all my clerical wear with the proceeds. And I’ve got to admit, it slightly amuses me that me, a definitely ‘improper Anglican’ to coin a term from a Twitter friend, is doing something quite traditional. So here’s a bit of an explanation…

Firstly, let me admit I only heard about ember cards because fellow ordinands have talked about them, but the short explanation is what it says on the card below, that traditionally those approaching ordination send them out to ask for prayer for them and their parish.  As you know I don’t really do traditional, but I do do prayer and I do love cards and design and nice things like that :) That said, usually they are pretty boring and dull and so I wanted to do something a bit different (no surprise there then) and asked my fab friend Mark at Sublime to design something for me and I love it! Not boring, not traditional, but still what it needs to be.

So ember cards, what? why? who? well it’s interesting that when I decided to get some done I wanted to do a bit of research and find out what they are all about and there seems to be very little info out there, but here’s some basic bits if you want to know…

Ember cards are sent out as part of Ember seasons or weeks, or even days. Ember Days are days set aside by the church for prayer and fasting and have been since the 4th Century AD in ancient Rome. As seasons of prayer and fasting it was considered a good time for ordination of clergy and like many things the Anglican church inherited the idea from Rome.

This Ember Season is between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, i.e: this week. Although the focus on times of prayer for ordination has become more of a focus now, rather than just being seasons of prayer. The CofE says this:

Ember Days should be kept, under the bishop’s directions, in the week before an ordination as days of prayer for those to be made deacon or priest. Ember Days may also be kept even when there is no ordination in the diocese as more general days of prayer for those who serve the Church in its various ministries, both ordained and lay, and for vocations. Traditionally they have been observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays within the weeks before the Third Sunday of Advent, the Second Sunday of Lent and the Sundays nearest to 29 June and 29 September.

(My ordination will be 25th June).

So, at these times of year those being ordained send out cards asking for prayer. I can’t find any information on how the sending of cards started (so if anyone knows more I’d love to know!), but perhaps it was a way of letting people know you were being ordained, at a time when communication was harder and took longer than it does today. Many people went away to train for ministry (many still do) and so would have left behind their original or sending church, friends and often family, so it would have been a nice connection to send back information on the ordination itself and asking for prayer from those who had nurtured them in their faith before training.

Whilst I am naturally a pioneer, looking to do things differently or improve things, I am still part of the Church of England and I embrace that. So in sending the card I feel part of the wider church, whilst also making it a bit different. I chose to put an explanation on the card as most people I send it to won’t have a clue why I’m sending it. Plus traditionally you ask for prayer for the parish you are going to, but I wanted to include the one I am coming from that has seen me through training, nurtured me and loved me in it all. Usually people include a prayer and again, many people I send this to won’t be regular pray-ers, but I wanted to find a way to reach them and I thought the most familiar prayer is The Lord’s Prayer so there is a chance people will have heard of it or may have even prayed it at school. And as I say on the card, it does express so much of what we need daily: to be provided for, to be kept safe from evil and to experience God’s kingdom on earth.

For me also, the realisation of what I am stepping into becomes ever more real each day and I recognise the need for prayer more than ever. This is only something I can with God leading me, so please do pray for me as I approach ordination, and of course beyond…

 

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Limbo // The Curate’s Journey

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I feel like I am in limbo.

It’s a funny old place to be at the moment with one thing ending and a new one not yet begun. I know I wrote about being in transition recently, but this is worse. I had told myself I wouldn’t begin to process it all until after my Easter study week. Unfortunately for me Easter Study Week is now a memory and my own enforced deadline is here, well in fact it has passed. Cue melt down…

But for now there will be an interlude, my kids are still off school and I really need time to think and pray through things. I had a little wobble at the end of Easter School but I felt myself putting the lid firmly back on it all for now. I simply haven’t the time or energy to think through the enormity of what is about to happen.

 

Because it is flippin’ enormous, let’s face it.

 

I know a few others have been feeling the same at this stage, which is in some small part a comfort. At least it’s not just me on the verge of losing it every 5 minutes. And I’m not the only one saying: I can’t get ordained, I won’t get ordained, I don’t believe in ordination – and everything in between.

…o0O0o…

So for now I’m in ostrich mode, head in the sand, deal with what’s in front of me only. My prayer walks, usually my time to engage with God, seem to be rather bland, and whilst frustrating I feel it’s a necessary place. It’s me of course, holding him at arms length but I can’t face the open and honest prayer time that I really need right now.

 

Next week.

 

Next week I can allow myself to process.

 

Maybe…

The Curate’s Journey : The ‘O’ Word

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This CartoonChurch.com cartoon by Dave Walker originally appeared in the Church Times

 

So, let’s just recap:

: 6 months of crazy as I thought I was going insane

: 3 months of finding some peace (well, attempting to)

: a year of the discernment process, followed by ‘a year off’ to get over the remaining crazy

: 2 1/2 years of study (so far)

and, yes ladies and gents, the day is nearly here.

Yes, it’s the ‘O’ word – no not that one – I mean ORDINATION. Yes it may be a few months away but suddenly it’s all a bit real. After a visit to the Bishop’s Palace a few weeks ago I now know all that I need to know and boy is it scary.

My brain has been in overdrive: what do I wear? what do I say? who can come to the service? what happens if I faint? Will it matter if I cross my fingers? (jokes. well, slightly) Where is it? When is it? Am I going to lose it? will it matter if I have snot pouring down my face when the Bishop does his stuff? arghhhhhhh…

Ok, I may have slightly begun to lose it. I think the truth is, it’s the sudden reality that I am actually getting ordained. As much as I may have prayed for God to shut the door he hasn’t. In fact I think he’s probably standing there holding it wide open smirking at me smugly.

This is the culmination of years of prep and planning and of course an absolute mountain of prayer but talking of the thing itself makes me come out in a cold sweat. All those old thoughts: Am I worthy enough (no of course not), Does everyone think that? (probably but if not they should do) Can I do this? (doubt it – only with God’s help), what on earth was God thinking? (well you could ask him), and so on…

I know the service itself is really just a point on the horizon, end of training but beginning of doing it for real, although as I already work for the church it’s more like a job change. As a family we kind of had this ‘thing’ of not really thinking about it all until ‘after Christmas’ (probably just a neat way of sticking our heads in the sand) but the thing is, now it is ‘after Christmas’ and there’s no more putting it off. We have to plan. We need to rent our house out, think about moving to a new one (if they ever find us one…), plan for new school runs (although thankfully the younger two are staying at the same school so that’s one less worry), plan for leaving my job, planning handover, saying goodbyes. Oh yes it is real and time is flying by.

Suddenly there’s stacks of forms to fill in, yet another DBS check to do (seriously I have about 4 already), certificates to find (yup. any qualification needs to be prove, cue one trip to the back of the loft cupboard for the husband), and meetings to be had. Not to mention the 5 essays I still need to hand in.

Then there’s the whole service, to which we get given a grand total of 20 tickets. Yes just 20, in a cathedral that must seat about 1000. This means we basically have to rank our friends in some form to decide who gets the tickets.  As for the other questions, I guess we will find out on the day whether it matters if I totally lose it or faint (but please pray that I don’t!).

So perhaps by worrying about the service itself I am still sticking my head in the sand, but that’s my current focus and I shall enjoy it thank you very much.

But I do now know exactly what I need to wear – which for a charismatic like me was an interesting discussion, I can tell you – but I can now name the items I need to wear. Why thank you, yes I do deserve a medal. I mean really, what is an alb when it’s at home? and why is it such a random word? and whilst we are on this (and I defo don’t need one of these obvs) but biretta? I mean surely that is some kind of Italian mobsters pistol no? and oh my word but have you seen some of the clerical wear out there?

 

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yellow? seriously?

 

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er, just no.

 

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ok so let’s not comment on which environment this shirt might be better suited to…

And, I rest my case…

Anyway thankfully I shall not be wearing it all that much and I’ve gone for simple and minimal. And I really do thank God for that because DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IT ALL COSTS? well, a flippin’ lot basically. I mean this is probably one of the worst paid jobs ever (which is not something that I am bothered about I’m just making a point, just so you know) and yet the ‘uniform’ costs a small mortgage. There is, I am glad to say, a grant to get you started with this, but I tell you I will be wearing my clerical shirts until they are thread bare (funny I just managed to correct an awful but very funny typo in that sentence before going live…).

 

So if you see me in the next few months and I seem, well, a little distracted or I start twitching inanely then perhaps you will understand why…