In the August 24 edition of Esquire is an excellent article witten by Tom Chiarella reporting that he purchased 4 uniforms, modified them using the advice of people who wear them for real, and the proceeded to wear each one for 1 full day to test public reaction.
The four uniforms? A priest, a security guard, a mechanic, and a doctor.
Chiarella purchased his cassock (aka, “priest outfit”) at a clergy apparel store. His wanted to look like the Jesuit priests who taught how to write.
Irony #1: The salesclerk was a former Dominican priest! He offered Cicarella this advice:
It used to be considered a little vain [to wear a cassock outside of church]. But you go to the seminary now and young priests insist on the cassock. They're more conservative and they want to be seen as committed. Just look like you're going somewhere on church business.
- People will touch a priest. On the wrist mostly. It happened to Chicarelli 12 times, just a tap in the middle of a conversation. An assertion of connection, an acknowledgment of some commonality he couldn’t fathom.
- The priest's outfit was the most physically demanding uniform to wear. All day with the hugging, and the kneeling to speak to children, and the leaning in for the selfies.
- Sweeping the city with the hem of my cassock hither and yon was more like being a beautiful woman: People lingered in their gaze, without lust. I was a fascination, looked at fondly so many times that fondness itself seemed the currency of the world to me. It made me like the world better.
- No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that's what the uniform made me. People want to believe. Especially people in need.
- I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, "I'm not a priest. But I feel you." And I couldn't do it once without doing it a couple dozen times.
- "Father Tom" walked to a food cart, bought a tamale, and waved to a tour bus that honked at him. They waved back, too. Both decks.
Irony #2: Women can. Chicarella reports:
In Chicago, on the night before I was to walk the streets as a priest, I went to a theater fundraising event at Chicago's Soho House. I'd been invited as Tom Chiarella. I attended as Father Tom, the priest. These were my first hours in the cassock. And there, during the fundraising part of the event, two pretty women exposed me.
"You're not a priest," the younger one said. So right out of the gate I was caught, the only time in the four days it happened.
I told them the truth. Then I asked how they knew. "There are a million things," one said. "You have a tattoo on your wrist. Your hair is a bit too long."
"And look at the way you occupy space," said the other. "You get in too close!"
They stared at me as I shifted on my feet. "There are just ways a man of the cloth will stand when he's in the company of women," said the woman who first spoke. "You are simply not standing in that way. You're too close. And you aren't aware of your hips. You're angled wrong."
They went on. No crucifix. I'd sat on a barstool—that would never happen. The cassock was a problem for them. They had never seen one outside the church.
I knew that was a risk. I told them as much. "Besides, it's a tricky thing to wear in public. There are no pockets," I said. "I have to hitch the whole thing up to get to my wallet." I bent a little and started to demonstrate the issue, how I would have to hike up this giant skirt to retrieve five bucks for the valet. Both of them waved me off. "It looks kind of pervy, right?" I said. I asked them if they knew how a priest would have dealt with it.
Neither of them did. "There are some things only a priest would know," one of them said.
They thought I must be an actor. I told them no. Eventually I asked about their faith, since they seemed to know a priest when they saw one. And when they didn't.
It's easy to put on a cassock. And it's really not easy to wear one at all.
Did you know that priests can spot "plainsclothes" nuns 1 mile away? Nuns have reported being able to do the same with "plainsclothes" priests.
Let the discussion begin...
To read Tom Chicarella's article in Esquire, click on the following link: