Lockdown Clothing: Anne’s story

Today’s interview for the ‘Lockdown Clothing’ project is with Anne Bennett. Anne entered ministry in the Church of England after a career in logistics and management. She was ordained priest in Durham Cathedral in 2009. A former prison chaplain, she is now Vicar of the Church of the Ascension in Blackheath where she enjoys leading worship and caring for her congregation and community. She has two adult children, a Labrador dog and a Siamese cat. She is interested in creative writing and interior design.

1) What is your daily routine for getting dressed to remain at home? If you don’t have one, why is that?

I shower and put on my clothes, the same things each day. If it’s warm a t-shirt, if it’s cooler a long-sleeved t-shirt. I have black long-sleeved t-shirts that I wear all the time in winter under my clerical shirts. I wear tracksuit bottoms now, which are ultra-comfortable and look awful! When I walk the dog I sometimes change into proper trousers, but usually I don’t bother.

2) Is there anything you feel you can wear now that you couldn’t in ‘normal’ times? Why? And is there anything you miss wearing (and why do you not wear it)?

I don’t feel under an obligation to look ‘like a vicar’. If I’m on a Zoom call that’s a formal meeting, I will put on a clerical shirt and collar, but I don’t change my trousers, I stay in the tracksuit. It’s an odd look, but then who’s looking? I really do not miss formal clothing! My work/home life has merged completely – I no longer have a day off, I just work when I need to. My living room is now set up as a recording studio for services, I often work in my garden, it’s all just muddled together now, and I think my clothes reflect this. In the picture the boots are particularly weird – I’d just walked the dog when I took this!

The only thing perhaps I do miss, though I don’t wear it often at work, is ‘choir dress.’ That’s the formal clothing we wear at non-eucharistic services (services without Holy Communion). That’s a cassock with a white surplice and a preaching scarf and sometimes an academic hood. I’m not sure exactly why I like this, except I like the black and white style and the historical continuity of this dress.

3) How much does the space you are in influence your choice of clothes? Do some clothes feel “wrong” to wear at home because they require, say, a bigger or more formal space, or is this not a consideration at all?

I always dress ‘properly’ when taking worship, even though it is livestreamed from my living room. I wear decent trousers, a clerical shirt, shiny shoes and then a white robe and a stole over the top. Nobody can see what’s under the robe, but I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t formally dressed for worship. I’m leading the people of God in reverence.

I don’t put the full set of robes on though. When I’m taking a service of Holy Communion in church, I wear a chasuble, which is a formal garment that looks a bit like a poncho. It just feels over the top to wear it in the house. I think that’s because I sit down when I’m broadcasting at home, and the chasuble is designed for standing with arms raised, so people at the back of church still get a sense of the beauty of things. This is me, wearing a chasuble in normal times. The second picture is some of our chasubles in the robe cupboard at church. We have them in red, white/gold, green and purple for the different liturgical seasons.

4) Has your self-perception changed in isolation? How so?

I’m much more relaxed these days. The broadcast services are generally well-received and there is a genuine sense of us all being in this together. For the first time I don’t feel I’m on a public stage at the mercy of the critics, I’m just part of this community. Although I’m more distant from my congregation, I think I’m closer to my neighbours in the area, and that’s a good feeling. If I’m absolutely honest, one of the best things is that people can’t see how fat you are on Zoom. That’s a blessing.

5) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?

I hate my body so, by extension, I hate my clothes! I have a beautiful stole I’m going to wear this weekend – not exactly a favourite item of clothing, but it is so nicely made.

If you’d like to take part in the project yourself, you can find all the information you need in the blog post entitled ‘Lockdown Clothing: a project documenting how we dress at home‘ dated 17th May 2020.

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