Most meetings may be virtual now but that is no excuse not to dress for the occasion. That was La Verne Wimberly's philosophy in March 2020 when many states put in place stay-at-home orders and her weekly gatherings transitioned to online meetings.
Like many at the start of the pandemic, Wimberly, an 82-year-old retired superintendent from Tulsa, Oklahoma, believed the lockdown and precautionary measures would last a few weeks at most. She figured it was best not to get out of the habit of dressing up for church services, so she continued to do so at home.
Because no one would see her outfits in real life, Wimberly thought it would be fun to post her looks on Facebook, sharing with friends and fellow church members of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Tulsa. To give her posts more meaning, she included scriptures and messages to inspire others. Wimberly says commenters were placing too much attention on her looks at first. “One Sunday early on, I had to say, ‘Thank you for the compliments, but I really want you to focus on the message,' ” she says. “So, then they started saying ‘Your message was very inspiring’ and ‘You're such an inspiration.' "
But it's hard not to be mesmerized by Wimberly's eye-catching fashion, which includes a variety of hats with huge bows and ribbons, various pieces of statement jewelry, and even a black-and-white-studded ensemble complete with matching mask and face shield. Wimberly says she loves the color purple and has particularly enjoyed outfits showcasing purple and white combos. It never occurred to her that virtual church would be the new norm a year later, but Wimberly never missed a beat and has continued to dress up for 52 weeks straight.
In addition to her stylish looks, people have noticed that Wimberly has not repeated an outfit for her entire run. Wimberly says that's thanks to her age. “Being 82 years old, we just have a collection because you've been buying clothes for years,” she says. “I haven't thrown a lot of them out because they are of good quality.” Yes, Wimberly has a big closet and quite a collection of church hats — more than 50, she estimates — all organized in hatboxes that can hold three or four hats each.
As for what she plans to wear for Easter Sunday, Wimberly hadn't decided yet. “When I first started working in Chicago back in 1963, I started keeping a monthly calendar for my rotation system,” she says. “I have not done April's calendar yet, so I'm not sure what I'm going to wear.” She'll pick out her outfit for Easter and the rest of the month's church services as well as for meetings with the boards she sits on.
Wimberly's story has been featured in a number of outlets from the local to the national scale.
"I've been trying to figure it out,” says Wimberly, reflecting on why she's gaining so much attention. “Maybe it's the fact that I'm 82 years old and still dressing. A lot of people don't put that much time in fashion and attire once they get a certain age, but ... I think it helps to keep your mental wellness going because you're being exposed to a lot of people and a lot of opportunities out there, and you just need to look your best."
Church secretary Robin Watkins says, “Dr. Wimberly is a joy to know, with a warm spirit. Her heart is as beautiful as each outfit and hat she has shared with us.”
And with the newfound attention, Wimberly just hopes to be a light and offer positivity to others during what has been a difficult time for many. “Stay positive, stay connected with your family, your friends, your network of support, your colleagues, and if there is any reason to have any mental health people in your life, do that as well because you just want to be the best you can be under any circumstance,” Wimberly says. “Know this too shall pass and you'll be able to overcome if you have a positive attitude first and foremost, and that love, happiness and joy starts within."