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Clerical Clothing around the World

Posted by Jordan Reiss on

The words “clerical clothing” describe the non-liturgical clothing worn by clergy around the world. While vestments and liturgical clothing are worn during services and “official” ceremonies and are typically quite ornate and noticeable, clerical clothing is sort of like “clergy streetwear.” While it subtly announces the wearer’s status, it is more practical and adapted to daily life.

Different places in the world set different standards for their priestly garb, with the results varying fairly substantially between regions. We’ve laid out a few of the differences you can expect to see in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and a few other groups.

Eastern Orthodox

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, vestments worn for official ceremonies must be blessed by clergy before being worn. Clerical clothing worn casually, on the other hand, can be donned without any blessings – though it might be very similar to that which is worn on special occasions.

Some terminology regarding Eastern Orthodox clerical clothing:

  • Inner/Outer Cassock: Both the “cassocks” refer to floor-length garments. All clergy members, monks and seminarians will wear an inner cassock, whereas an outer cassock, or “Ryasa”, will only be worn over an inner cassock by bishops, priests, deacons and monastics.
  • Skufia: A mark of honor, this soft cap can either be worn by monastics or clergy.
  • Kamilavka: Much like a skufia, this hat is awarded to clergy as a mark of honor.
  • Apostolnik: A veil worn by nuns.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, married priests are allowed to wear slightly different clothing than non-married priests, and are also allowed to wear a type of vest during cold weather.

Catholic

Catholicism has mandated wearing recognizable dress since the early 1200s. Catholics also wear a cassock, although in Catholic tradition the term refers to a long-sleeved and hoodless article of clothing, made of varying material depending on the climate where the clergy member lives. As in our last blog entry, color is of some significance when it comes to Catholic cassocks, with black being worn by priests, black with rose piping for monsignors, back with red piping for bishops, and black with rich purple for cardinals.

Other Catholic garments include: ferraiolos, a full-length cape worn for formal occasions; grecas, overcoats that cover the cassock; and clerical collars and shirts, which include the typical white-collar variety you can find on our website.

Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist

Anglican and Lutheran clerical clothing started off resembling that of the Catholic clergy, but diverged in many localities during different periods of time. There was even a point where Anglican priests wore bow ties with a waistcoat and top hat! Now, however, the styles have mostly grown less ostentatious and are often more subdued, with some reformed churches rejecting the idea of clerical apparel entirely.

Lutheran churches also tend to resemble Catholic clergy, though Danish clergy wear a very distinctive “ruff.” Methodist churches meanwhile, are heavily subdued in comparison; in the U.S., the clothing worn by clergy tends to vary by region, without any official rules dictating what must be worn for either ceremonies or casualwear.