Monday, September 27, 2021

Origins of the Clerical Collar and the use in the Anglican Patriarchate

By Jean DuBois

FIRENZE-NUOVA ROMA 27 September 2021 (NRom)

You have seen it in Hollywood movies, in the news, and at the local church. The little white plastic tab in the front of a black shirt or the full white plastic “ring” known as a band collar. The symbols of a clergyman. But how traditional are they?

As it turns out, the modern clerical collar is a recent invention in the late 19th century by a Protestant Anglican clergyman. He took a detachable shirt collar (collars tended to attach with little studs to shirts at that time) and turned it around backwards, dropping the tie. It gradually caught on and eventually spread to the Roman clergy.

If the clerical collar is relatively recent and maybe not-so-uniquely-clerical at all, what was worn in the preceding centuries? It’s a very simple answer. Usually it was a tie. A white tie, often known as a cravat, worn over a regular dress shirt. The cravat differs from the modern necktie. It would typically wrap around the neck and tie in the front. Sometimes it would be tied in a bow (and white bow ties were common among clergy). Sometimes it would be tied in a simple knot. Underneath the clerical cassock, it provided a look that is now being mimicked by the modern clerical collar. This was common among Roman clergy for quite some time. It was also the standard to be worn with the “short habit” that was the period version of the clergy suit commonly worn out in public outside of liturgical and ceremonial settings.

A cardinal wearing the period version
of the clergy suit, with a white cravat

That was not the only option. For much of the church’s history, a white shirt collar was worn underneath the clerical cassock, and sometimes it was brought up and turned down over the outside of the cassock. You can see these two looks in countless paintings of priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes. In fact, Cardinal Newman regularly dressed that way, even often having the top button of his cassock and the collar unbuttoned. Only in his old age did he appear to adopt the modern version of the clerical collar.
Cardinal Newman wearing an open cassock with
open white collar

Pope Innocent XI with regular
collar turned over the habit

Cardinal de Richelieu wearing a large regular
collar over the habit

This ancient and consistent custom is kept as a trade with tradition in the Anglican Patriarchate. A regular white shirt collar is known as the “regular collar” in the canons and ceremonial and is commonly worn underneath the cassock. This actually makes it easier for clergy wearing the cassock to open both the top of the cassock and collar (like Cardinal Newman) when needed for work or other purposes. With the civic habit (clergy suit), the white silk cravat is a traditional item added (and a white bow tie or a white or black necktie may be also used). Also, there is the patriarchate's "collarino," which is essentially the front part of a long cravat wrapped around the front of the neck, but instead of being brought around and tied in the front, it is designed to be tied with little ties in the back under the collar. This is the closest look to the modern band or tab collar. Many find these styles much more comfortable. These are not modernist or liberal affectations, but traditions deeply rooted in the heritage, history, and common practices of the Holy Catholic Church.

Pope Clement XIV wearing a regular
collar under the habit.

The clergy of the Anglican Patriarchate are also free to use the tab collar or band collar according to their preference, though. Neckwear was never the defining symbol of the clergy. The clerical cassock or habit of a religious order has always been a key symbol, as is the zucchetto (skullcap), which represents symbolically the clerical tonsure.