Saturday night, as Patty and I were getting ready to go out with two other couples to Le Fou Frog, I asked her for some sartorial advice.
I picked up a brand-new pair of Tommy Bahama, sand-colored jeans and asked her if they would be appropriate.
“No,” Patty said without hesitation. “You can wear black jeans or slacks.”
“Ok,” I said and put the Tommy B’s back in the closet and got out a pair of gray slacks.
That wasn’t the end of the conversation, though.
“I don’t know what would have happened to you if you hadn’t gotten married,” Patty observed.
“I would still be wearing brown and hanging out at Harry’s Bar and Tables,” I said, referring to the place where we met (then called The New Stanley) in 1983.
Then, Patty got in the last word…“And they’d be saying, ‘There’s the old guy.’ “
That’s a windy lead-in to my subject today: Why many men, when left to their own devices, cannot seem to make good fashion choices.
Taking it a step further, some of the worst offenders are some of the highest-ranking men in my former church — the Catholic Church.
I have never understood why many bishops find it necessary to wear flamboyant regalia at some liturgical functions. It just doesn’t seem to square with the image of Christ, who made a habit of reaching out to those of the lowest social stations — the poor, people with infirmities and disabilities, even prostitutes.
To show you what I’m talking about, below is a photo of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn wearing his mitre (big hat) and holding his crozier (ornate staff). He loves that hat and staff and, like many bishops, breaks them out frequently.
But think about it…How often do you see images of Jesus carrying an ornate staff and wearing showboat headdress? Never, right? Sometimes he’s pictured holding a walking stick, and the only head gear I’ve ever seen him depicted with is a crown of thorns.
So where did the bishops get the idea that mitres and croziers were appropriate, or in some way helped instill in the laity the importance of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself?
The website of the Catholic Resource Education Center says this about that:
“These different regalia all give a certain distinction to the Order of Bishop. They also inspire respect for the office and its authority. While ‘the clothes do not make the man,’ the man must strive to fulfill what the clothes signify.”
Hmmm. I’m still very suspect about this, and I am glad to see that Pope Francis, while he hasn’t yet issued any new dress codes, is putting an emphasis on humility and leading the way by example. Consider this from a 2013 Huffington Post story:
“Pope Francis arrived at the papal summer home, Castel Gandolfo, in a humble Ford Focus, which was a far cry from the luxury cars of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who travelled around town in vehicles that included a custom-made Renault, a BMW X5, and a Mercedes.”
The story went on to quote Francis as saying: “It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that in recent months, Francis has stripped one of the most ostentatious clerics, Cardinal Raymond Burke, formerly the archbishop of St. Louis, of two key posts. Last December, Burke, a leader of the church’s conservative wing, was removed from a prestigious Vatican congregation that helps the pope select new bishops. And just last week he confirmed in an interview with BuzzFeed that Pope Francis is planning to remove him from as chief justice of the Vatican’s Supreme Court.
I said he was ostentatious, and these photos will illustrate what I mean.
While the mitre and crozier are satisfactory for some high-ranking Catholic officials, Burke’s tastes run to a different level.
Here he is, for example, in something called the “cappa magna,” or great cloak.
And here he is in, well, a hat of a different hue…
Now, back to that Saturday evening conversation with Patty…If I had not married her, yes, I might still be wearing brown and hanging out in the Westport bars, looking like a 1970s relic. But I’ll tell you one thing: I wouldn’t be wearing a big red hat and a cappa covering my assa.