7 Interesting Facts About Clerical Attire and Accessories

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Clerical attire helps to distinguish members of the clergy from the laity, and there are many different types of vestments and clerical accessories that have evolved over the centuries, if not the millennia.

As a result, most if not all of them are steeped in rich history. Did you know these facts?

1.  The colors actually mean something.
The majority of clerical attire like robes and stoles are not colored simply for fashion purposes. The primary colors used in vestments – white, black, purple, red (and others) all mean something, making them suitable for specific liturgical occasions.

For instance, black is a reminder of humility and reflection. White is symbolic of the purity of charity. Purple, often worn around Lent, is a color of penitence and sorrow. Red is often worn on the feast days of martyred saints and represents the blood of martyrdom.

2.  The cassock is not technically a clerical vestment.
Strictly speaking, the cassock is the everyday habiliment of the ordained man or woman – the “daily wear.” Even though it is worn during the administration of the Eucharist, as a part of choir dress, and at other times, it is not technically a vestment.

3.  The Roman-style cassock’s 33 buttons mean something.
Some cassocks are buttoned along the front. Most Roman-style cassocks (common in the Roman Catholic Church) have 33 buttons, which represent the 33 years of the life of Jesus.

4.  Many clerical vestments originated from secular items of clothing.
Many clerical vestments and accessories trace their origins to surprisingly mundane means. For instance, the chimere, often worn by Anglican clergy, likely originated as a riding cloak. The cassock, which may come from the French casaque or the Turkish kazak, was originally a long coat intended to keep the wearer warm. A surprising number of liturgical vestments actually originated in similar ways.

5.  The origin of the word surplice has to do with furs.
The surplice, a white cotton or linen habiliment worn over the cassock or over other clothing as a part of choir dress, is the habit of acolytes, altar servers, and choristers. It is believed the origin of the name comes from the Latin “superpelliceum,” or “over the fur” (or pelt) as these garments are worn over the top of everything else.

6.  There is more than one type of clergy collar.
The clerical collar is the calling card of the priest, distinguishing him (or her) from the lay people of a congregation. It shows white at the throat of the clergy shirt. 

But did you know there is more than one type? Today, there are both banded and tab-collared clergy shirts, as well as special garments called rabats that are sort of like a vest but create the appearance of a clerical collar.

7.  The stole may have originally been a sort of napkin.
It is likely that the stole descended from an item of clothing called an orarium. These may have been strips of linen, silk, or another cloth that was used to wipe clean the Eucharist chalice. It is also believed to symbolize the cloth that Jesus used to wipe clean the feet of his disciples after washing them.

High-Quality Clerical Attire and Accessories
Interested in learning more about the unique history surrounding some of these clerical garments? Looking for a provider of high-quality, distinctive clerical attire and accessories for a wide range of religious institutes, such as surplices, cassocks, clergy robes and stole sets, and more?

Visit Divinity Clergy Wear, either on their website or at their showroom in Hamilton, New Jersey. They carry a wide range of clerical vestments and accessories, including but not limited to clergy robes and stoles, cassocks and surplices, preaching jackets, clergy shirts, clergy collars, and even ladies’ preaching dresses.

Visit their website via the link above for more information or get in touch with them directly at 609-838-7154.

Kevin Peter