So, every once in a while I give some thought to what is appropriate for a pastor to wear on Sunday mornings for worship. Each choice has their drawbacks, and each choice has something to offer. I have used most of these wardrobe options at one point or another. Let us examine the options:
The suit/tie (and for females perhaps the pantsuit or classy dress)--
Wearing a suit and a tie shows that you, as a pastor, are a serious professional. It is the wardrobe of commerce, business, and politics. The wearing of a suit communicates that you, the pastor, care about your appearance, and thus care about enough about your congregation and the Lord to come to worship looking like you could sell stocks, or at least be a good car salesman.
The tie and no suit (for females the skirt/blouse combo)--
This is for the person who wants to dress like they are going to a semi-formal dance in high school instead of going to a job interview. This is also the choice for you if you want to look classy, but perhaps think the shiny suits should be left for televangelists. With this wardrobe you look at best like a school teacher, or at worst a new employee at Enterprise car rental. Variations on this look include the khaki/white shirt/tie combo, the sweatervest/slacks/tie combo, or the dress shirt/sportcoat/jeans combo.
I spent my first several years in ministry without owning a robe. Then I moved to a high rent downtown congregation who generously bought a robe for me the first week. For the leadership of the congregation, it was a way of placing a giant curtain over the gargantuan human that was behind the robe. The thought went, "Our associate pastor is fat, but if we just throw a big robe on him people wont see his fat nearly as much when he is in the pulpit."
And, it was a less expensive alternative than buying a suit that costs a months wages than more upwardly mobile persons in the congregation insisted I wear on Sundays (I now regret not spending the church's money on those high rent suits they insisted I have in order to effectively minister to our community).
Depending on the robe, a robe either communicates academic accomplishment, ascetic discipline, or legal authority (judges wear black robes). I have a reformation robe, which probably communicates the latter.
There are several advantages of wearing a robe. It does have a certain "leveling" effect, at least in less high rent circles, for the pastor. It allows a certain ease in wardrobe. There is a certain uniformity to it. That is until one decides to "level up" with fancier stoles and such.
I like that the robe communicates a more ministerial uniform--that it is not just borrowing from contemporary professional standards. But, I do think that if you put a pastor on a platform, behind a pulpit, with a robe you erect a number of barriers between the pastor and the congregation that can make intimate, meaningful connection more difficult.
The "collar" (can be accessorized with a large cross)
At first the black shirt with the white collar poking through in the middle, share and stiff like a Hitler mustache around one's neck, I thought was primarily for Episcopalians, Catholics, and a few Lutherans. More and more though, I see this outfit worn by folks of all stripes.
The advantages for you in wearing such a shirt are numerous. The first advantage is that you don't have to think about it or plan your wardrobe too much. It can also easily identify you by your role, much like a doctor wearing a white coat. Black can be a slimming color. The history of the outfit is also inspiring, as the collar was supposed to represent your belonging to Christ as his slave or bondservant.
I have never tried this outfit, though I have to say it is primarily for practical reasons. I don't tuck in my shirts unless I am wearing a suit. I don't like any collar too close to my neck, even turtleneck sweatshirts.
This outfit has variations across generations, cultures, and settings. For instance, for the more youthful crowd, this may include skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. For Rick Warren, it meant wearing Hawaiian shirts for years (I have done this one). Often it is purposefully dressed down, but it dressed down with a purpose; namely to identify with a certain group of people.
When you dress as the "hipster", you are communicating that you want to identify with a generation or crowd you are trying to reach (other young hipsters, or other people who would rather be at the beach). You are often, by "dressing down", trying to connect with folks.
So, those are the primary options I see among pastors I know. I am sure there is more, but they are not coming to mind immediately. So, my question to you is, what do you think is most appropriate for a pastor on worship days, and why?