Church of England & Ministry Curate's Life

Dog Collar Dilemma Pt 3 // guest post by Revd Sandra Sykes

Continuing the theme of dog collars and women in ministry, I’m delighted that Revd. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ is guest posting on her own experiences and why she started ‘Collared’


I remember when I first tried on a collar. A friend who was a year ahead of me on the ordination path rang me. I could hear the fear in her voice. “Sandra, it’s arrived…”

“What has?” I asked.

“The… collar.”

No further explanation was required. I hot-footed it to her side. The sombre black shirt complete with THE collar lay insolently on the table. It looked neat, pressed and capable. It was as if it was issuing a challenge. “C’mon then! Think you’re big enough, eh?”

In the end she was so overcome by what it represented I had to put it on first before my friend could bring herself to. It first needed to be defiled by a half – baked (in the semi-cooked sense of course !) ordinand. A small piece of white plastic held that much power. This of course made it easier for me when the time came to try on my own collar. I took a selfie (obligatory) and sent it to my friends. Then it was tucked away reverently waiting for my ordination.

After ordination it felt very comfortable to wear a collar in church but very strange going out in public. I had one black clerical tunic which I liked to wear. The rest of my attire consisted of impetuously bought clerical shirts, so uncomfortable that I soon admitted defeat and gave up wearing them. I punished them to languish in a dark drawer forever.

I encourage new Revs to experiment with the collar. Be brave! Find out what works for you. It’s a risky business. In an effort to steer away from the starchy male look and also from looking too M&S, I ended up looking like a dubious matron specialising in S&M!

I watched my fellow curates as they too wrestled with what to wear. One, who swore she would always wear black ‘for the authority it gives’, eventually found her style in adapting lots of floral printed blouses. I longed for different colours. I felt insulted that so little attention was paid to us by established manufacturers. I felt we were sidelined or an afterthought. I hated the way the shirts – even those made for women – argued with my curves. Buttons were always on the verge of popping open and I was forced to wear a jumper over them.

“Women Revs are here to stay” I felt like shouting,

“with boobs and everything!”  

Over dinner and a glass or two of wine one evening, I was bemoaning the situation with my daughters and a friend. A few sketches on paper napkins later we decided we should try to produce something better. Collared was born. We nervously launched our first range at CRE London this year and we were delighted with the warm reception we received from women clergy. The media were intrigued and a flurry of TV, radio and newspaper articles followed.

We received so many appreciative messages from women in ministry.

“Hallelujah! Thank you for this ministry to us!”

“Bless you! At last, clothes I actually want to put on.”

But we also received criticism from some quarters and online comments were personal and some vitriolic. I was told I was “sinful, (no surprise there then), an enemy of Jesus and would surely burn in Hell”. I was “empty headed and vain”, “should never have been ordained” and “obviously had no worthwhile ministry to offer”. Another critic warned “this is the sort of thing that happens when you allow women into ministry.”

I actually found this good for me. My ministry is warmly embraced in my parish and I had never been directly confronted by those who did not accept women in ministry. It’s been good to be reminded how difficult it is for many women. So I am pleased that Collared is helping to raise the profile of women in ordained ministry.


Balancing work, family and parish life is not easy. Like many, I am short of time and resources, but I’ve always been attracted to the blurred edges of ministry and so it’s satisfying that my ‘secular’ work bleeds into the arena of ministry.

When you wear a clerical collar people look at you more. They see you. I think it’s HOW we wear the collar that can draw others to us or isolate us from them. How do we inhabit the role with reverence yet still remain us? It is possible to wear clothes that make us identifiable as a ‘vicar’ yet still allow us to be the person we are. God called each of us as we are. We don’t have to become someone else, just more fully the unique person God created, called, and loves to bits.

Revd Sandra Sykes, Collared Women’s Clergywear

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    October 17, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Excellent post. And the thought of Sandra being abused because she dared to produce wearable clothes that allowed a female to feel female while wearing a collar.

    I think that those who are opposed to the ministry of Women, should spend some time with Sandra, Jules and my Vicar Jane, they would meet normal people, doing a very special job, against the odds in some cases. I recall when just after joining the church, I met my first Woman Priest, and she reassured me that it was normal, and I’d be seeing quite a lot of her as she was coming to our benefice.

    And she was right we did see a lot of her and her ministry was highly valued by me and everyone. She is retired now, but I can recall the grace that she displayed when dealing with a relative newbie, who had gawped in amazement when he first saw her. I feel a fool when I look back on it, but I was a lack of my awareness that caused me embarrasment, not opposition to the ministry of Women.

    I remember in my Army Career, when women were allowed into wider employment. A young Corporal took command of a completely Male Section on exercise and showed them how it should be done! Her section won the competition hands down. I realised than, back in the eighties, that there was a lot more to come – and I was proved right.

    A culture that was slow to change, changed virtually within two years to accepting women in all roles, sure that was resentment, but once people realised it was the best person for the job, not any preference involved, they accepted it and got on with it. Perhaps the Church needs to look at this type of selection process, not dithering about gender issues.

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