JAC Online

Imagine: or, A Woman's Uniform Rant
by Danielle Strickland


Things difficult or next to impossible to do in a women’s Salvation Army formal uniform: worship freely, kneel without looking foolish. Walk any long distances. Play with kids (Velcro is the sworn enemy of nylons). Sit down (especially on the floor or a low seat). Get in or out of a vehicle with dignity. Doing crafts or making food. Preaching freely (at least the kind that involves any movement). And sometimes (depending on the scale situation) even breathing.


Things that I need to do to accomplish the mission - all the above. So basically, everything that the uniform inhibits is my mission. So why do we insist on wearing an outfit that makes our mission more difficult and cumbersome? Good question.


I’ve been staying out of this argument for a long time. But I felt compelled to weigh in. Let’s have the talk. I think it’s gone beyond semantics and differences of opinion. I think the tradition, formal uniform of the Salvation Army and our organizations insistence on it boils down to idolatry. There I’ve said it. Let me explain. I guess the best way to start is to take all the rhetoric as to why we still wear it: Keep in mind that I’m just going to ignore the misogynistic reality of forcing women to wear nylons, skirts and high heels in 2017. It may be against the law for any other business to do this anymore in America[1] but I’m getting sidetracked here by my own personal pain. Let’s get to those traditional arguments.


#1. It identifies us as ‘different’ and that helps us witness. What would you say most people think we are when we are in uniform? I’d say flight attendant ranks in the top 3. Military. Police. Government agent of some kind. Meter maid. Those are all things people have guessed I am in uniform. Now, to be sure, we look different. We stand out. We look official. But there are two fundamentally flawed positions about this argument.


To the people in the most need, we look like ‘them’. The official, government, police etc. We look exactly like they do. Why would we want to identify with ‘them’ when we are supposed to be with the people we serve. You would have thought Booth Tucker nailed this problem with his prophetic Jesus styled approach to the invasion of India. Gone were the military tunics with colonial hints of power and rank and importance. Off came the shoes, ensuring solidarity with the untouchable classes and on went the traditional Indian garb adapted to the salvationist messages, ensuring a gospel that was rooted in a cultural norm rather than any human power. Even down to the ‘dot’ on the forehead. If we took a page out of our own history of adaptation I wonder what a uniform in the urban inner city would look like - Converse and tattoos? What would a uniform in a rural small town consist of - Cowboy boots?


In the best cases the uniform still works as a way to stand out as different than others. But in what way? In my experience the uniform often works as an intimidating barrier for the most part (with some exceptions usually among those who already know what the Salvation Army is). The deeply troubling part of this particular argument is that the difference is on the outside. In other words, it’s what we wear that sets us apart – rather than HOW WE LIVE that makes us different. This is a KEY area that needs addressing. And it might be an easy thing to simply ask who is getting the most people saved these days? What churches, denominations, movements, para-church groups are gaining the most ground? Campus Crusade (the Cru) has distributed 2.5 Billion copies of the Four Spiritual Laws; 6 Billion viewings of The Jesus Film. They’ve had 3.5 million conversations just from their I Found It Campaign according to Wikipedia. The top three churches in the US by net increase (at least 5000 people in a year) were non-denominational and two were Southern Baptist. None of them wear uniforms. Here is a list of the top 100 fastest growing churches in America (notice how none of them require their members to wear a uniform).[2] How arrogant is it of us to suggest that the uniform is the best method of evangelism when in many parts of the world our corps and converts are shrinking?


#2. It unites us. Truly the mission and identity of Salvationists unites us around the globe. There is no question this is one of the most exciting things about being in The Salvation Army – the global community. I’ve been to a few countries and I’ve got to tell you that the Indian Sari uniform did not make me feel disconnected from the SA when I was there. I thought officers wearing Bermuda shorts was awesome and the Hawaiian shirt uniform made me want to move there - immediately. We’ve already make some small cultural tweaks to our uniform but what stops us from adapting our uniform to meet the contemporary standards of our current culture? Dis-unity? Really? We feel like people would feel alienated from each other if we adapted the uniform to suit the cultural specifics of a geographical place? I beg to differ. I think the adaptations would be evidence of our deeper unity in mission. Again, it would get us past the surface of things and straight to the heart of things. The things that really unite Salvationists is our common mission. And anything that helps us do that better and more effectively is the way of unity. True unity is not a false external standard of ‘sameness’ but a celebration of diversity for the sake of the lost.


#3. It gives people a sense of dignity. I’m just going to be as kind as I can here. I understand the uniform is a sacred thing. So, let me just describe to you the way the last four corps I led did their uniform shopping. We found a traditional corps and asked if we could have access to their ‘basement’ or ‘closet’ supplies of old uniforms that didn’t fit their people anymore (or more accurately fit people who weren’t there anymore) so we could find a few things that might fit our people. You see, none of the people I’ve enrolled as soldiers in the last decade could afford a uniform themselves. Dignity might not be the word I would use as I led people to rummage around the middle-class corps closets to see if they might find something that would ‘do’ for them.


Travel with me as I went to a music concert at a famous Salvation Army Corps years ago where an amazing singing company sang a goose bumps rendition of ‘your grace still amazes me’. I had recently made friends with a seven-year old girl who was belting it out from the front row. At lunch, afterwards I told her she was amazing. And she lowered her head and started to cry. I asked her what was wrong and she showed me her nails. She had forgotten to take off her nail-polish and had been scolded for not wearing the uniform with dignity. The irony of the song she sang and the scolding she received was not lost on me. If that’s dignity, then dignity be damned.


Now, travel with me to Zimbabwe and many other African countries. They love their uniforms. I travelled to remote villages and the elders would call the salvationists to come and they would come in their full uniforms with even their hats. Beautiful white hats standing out against the backdrop of the red African earth. It was endearing. Well, that was until I went to the trade and found out how much those hats cost. They were 45 American dollars each. That was more than those villagers made in a month (if they were working). I asked the local officer why they wasted their money on a hat, when they could have fed their children, and she said, ‘because the Bible commands we cover our heads.’ Great. Now we have miss-communicated the gospel message, badly translated scripture, perpetuated patriarchy and robbed widows and children of much needed resources for their own survival. Dignity indeed.


And what of the dignity of those who picked the cotton and stitched the fabric of our formal attire? What’s that? You don’t know who made them? Or where the material came from? Yes. That’s correct. The supposed symbol of our mission and calling is dripping with the same blood as the corporate world it really represents. Buying and selling products with no regard to the people who make them. How can I wear a symbol of missional calling to the poor while refusing to challenge the systems that impoverish them?[3] Oh, Salvation Army, wake up to the incredibly calling that is yours.


Imagine with me:

Skinny jeans with shields on the pocket.

Converse with OTHERS stitched into the fairly-traded fabric.

Sombreros with Salvation Banners on heads that bob to the rhythm of God’s kingdom come.

African robes with colors a plenty and in the wild west cowboy boots with shiny shields painted on the leather hide.

Women and children working to stitch our diverse uniform clothing in factories that pay them a fair wage and provide dignity while they work. Stitching justice and salvation into the fabric before we even consider putting them on.


Oh, I’m sure in many boardrooms, courtrooms and rotary clubs across Western Nations the business attire of the formal salvation army uniform is appropriate. And when it is – please wear it with holy pride (once it’s ethically made).


Instead of relying on an external rule-based requirement why don’t we let the truth of God’s calling be seen with our lives. Why don’t we freely mobilize to get to the business of salvation for every tribe and color and language and culture!!


Let down the hair, release the afros, grow the beards, take off the shoes, and bring on EVERY color! Let the expression of salvation be seen in every possible culture in every possible way. Let the mission OUT of the box. Let the Army mobilize in every imaginable way to get the job done. Let freedom be our uniform, justice be our tunic, and grace be our song.

Now, that’s a march of witness the world is waiting to see.






[1] http://www.natlawreview.com/article/high-heels-workplace-can-employers-still-require-women-to-wear-them

[2] http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html 

[3] The 3 Trade’s I’ve spoken with about fair-trade and the Biblical imperative to challenge the clothing industry are unable or unwilling to ask the companies they contract to ensure a fair-trade policy. Their concerns are rooted in the high costs potentially associated with the changes. Others suggest that many of our products are made in the USA, but still refuse to ensure the cotton they are made from to be fair-trade certified. The global fashion industry remains one of the major offenders of human trafficking and human rights violations. https://www.raconteur.net/business/ethical-issues-remain-in-the-fashion-industry








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