In Praise of the Humble Blue Blazer

By Brad Isbell | July 18, 2023

Image Credit: by Frank via Adobe Stock

What equipment does a newly minted Ruling Elder need? I would propose the following: the Bible, the Westminster Standards, the Book of Church Order (BCO), a phone for texting members and fellow elders (there is lots of texting), an email account, and that most presbyterian item of men’s clothing – the essential blue blazer.

Why a blazer? A blazer is a solid-color coat – safe, humble, versatile, and frugal. A blue blazer is not going to impress, alienate, or overawe anyone. Let me put this gently: If you wish to impress with your creative and fashionable sartorial choices, you might not be elder material. If you are to stand out, let it be for your character, not for the cut of your suit; let it be for humility, not for haute couture; let it be for commitment to truth, not for the loudness of your plaids and patterns.

The modern “freedom” of informality and nearly limitless choices of dress and self-expression is, as many have noted, a source of stress. The plethora of choices makes confidence and ease even harder to achieve. What is appropriate for this or that setting? Is this too much? Is that not enough? Guess what works in nearly every setting from worship service to classroom, from funeral to wedding, from a hospital visit to a fellowship dinner, from presbytery committee meeting to General Assembly: the humble blue blazer. Pair it with jeans, khakis, or dress pants. Wear a tie or don’t wear a tie. Pair it with a casual shirt or a dress shirt. The blue blazer is almost infinitely adjustable.

The blue blazer says, “I take this event, job, or situation seriously, but I do not take myself too seriously.” It says, “I am not a dandy; neither I am I a slob.” In my case, it also says, “I possess appropriate levels of Scottish (or Dutch) frugality.” My blue blazer was purchased for $75 from the 50%-off rack at a local department store some 16 or 17 years ago when I was first elected to church office. It still looks good, though it must have been too big when I bought it because it’s a little tight now. I’m quite sure I wore it at my first General Assembly in 2010, and I am absolutely sure I wore it at this year’s Assembly. The secret to longevity is the very biblical fabric: wool of durable weave. One thing an elder ought to do is hold babies. I am happy to report that my blue blazer effectively sheds the spit-up or other messes that often accompany the holding of church babies. A wet paper towel and very occasional dry cleaning will suffice to keep a good wool blazer in service.

Many presbyterians cut their doctrinal teeth on R.C. Sproul teaching videos. The late Dr. Sproul rarely wore anything but a blue blazer in his later years. So ubiquitous was this “uniform” that I came to call it “the R.C.” Wearing the blue blazer today can serve as a tribute to men like Dr. Sproul, but it can also save future embarrassment. The blue blazer with khakis or gray slacks and brown dress shoes look is timeless, like truth. Other looks are not. One suspects Dr. Sproul might have liked a do-over with respect to some of his non-timeless clothing choices from the 1970s (see photo collage below). But sartorial sanctification can (and did) occur, as many later photos of Dr. Sproul prove.

Now, ultimately, clothing choice – even for elders and ministers – shouldn’t be that important. Clothing does not make the man, but clothing can make for distraction if the clothing is extraordinary, calling attention to itself and thus to its wearer. Respectfully boring should be the goal.

Many presbyterians are rediscovering the virtues of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Simple word-and-sacrament ministry makes the Lord’s Day activities of the gathered church the primary focus of the elders’ energy. The ordinary means of grace are meant to be God-centered rather than man-centered. Maybe the humble blue blazer is just the thing for the presbyterian elder. What other clothing choice combines appropriate respect (and respectability) without being distracting, imposing, or fussy? The blue blazer is a manly, wise, and presbyterian choice. Every elder should have at least one. Even better if you find one that fits from the 50%-off rack. And remember to buy it a little big[1] since decades of fellowship meals and one-on-one breakfast meetings can have their expansive effect. Blessed is the elder who serves long and wears out (or maybe even outgrows) more than one blue blazer.

Brad Isbell is a PCA Ruling Elder serving on the session of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN.

[1] *The author realizes that form-fitting suits and jackets that seem to have come from the boys’ department are all the rage just now. This trend will surely die the same death as many previous impractical or ridiculous trends. Help hasten its demise by buying a blazer or suit that fits reasonably and does not strangle. Elders have more important concerns than squeezing into and enduring clothing that make the man (and to be honest, everyone around him) uncomfortable. Wisdom is proved to be right, and it demands that I skip over the subjects of skinny pants, white-soled shoes, pastel shirts, bow ties, and novelty socks.

Editor’s Note: For additional reading on the sartorial standards of the eldership, check out “The Elder’s Attire” by TE Zachary Garris, available here.

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