We have had a number of observations about clerical dress, not liturgical vestments or choir dress, but what a priest or a bishop wears in the street.
In Catholic countries, priests would wear the cassock, usually with a cope or long coat that is very slightly shorter than the cassock or the same length. The custom of wearing the cassock all the time is fairly recent in Europe, from sometime in the nineteenth century. The most formal dress of the priest is a cassock and the feraiolo, a lightweight cape covering the shoulders or falling on the back and tied by a silk or satin ribbon. Less formally, the priest would go out in cassock, cape or coat and a clerical hat. French priests in the 1950’s tended to replace the hat by a beret – more practical when they had to cycle everywhere (they couldn’t afford cars in those days).
The world has changed, and tendencies are towards priests dressing as in Protestant countries – the modern equivalent of the eighteenth century frock coat and breeches. That means a black or dark grey suit with a “piece of the cassock” visible at the front. This is possible in three ways: the full waistcoat, a bib and a collar or simply the “visiting card” collar inserted into a specially made shirt collar, the third being the most comfortable and practical in modern urban use.
In the middle ages, and even in the eighteenth century, clergy were often in lay dress at court or when about town. There was one difference. They wore a black skull cap to cover their tonsures. The tonsure was the one thing that distinguished a cleric from a layman, and a cleric would be less tempted to do something sinful with his tonsure. The cassock can be taken off, not the tonsure.
How will we clerics dress in the Ordinariates? The answer is – the way we dress now. In some circumstances, I wear a Roman or French cassock. Other Anglican clerics wear the double-breasted so-called “Sarum” cassock. In other circumstances, I am more discreetly dressed in a clerical shirt and trousers. I’m not very keen on suits, and I am rarely in a truly urban environment. I am even more rarely in a courtly environment, where I need to be very “posh”.
I was married wearing a frock coat and full clerical waistcoat with buttons on the front and Roman collar.
The Roman collar itself is a recent invention – about mid nineteenth century. Its predecessor was a white cloth collar, a little like on a modern lay shirt, still worn by Redemptorists and Oratorians. I would like to see that back in use, but that means the cassock collar being completely closed at the front with no gap as for the Roman collar.
Clerical dress has tended to be neglected since the 1960’s, and there is considerable pressure on clerics to wear lay dress, especially when married and in secular employment. It might sometimes be possible for a priest to have a little marker like a lapel cross (as the clerical tonsure is no longer in use), but that means little to most people. In many places of work, especially public services, religious symbols are no longer allowed. The priest has to adapt to circumstances with intelligence and discernment.
I do not judge clerics for exercising this discretion when living their daily lives and doing their ministries in so many different circumstances and practical constraints.
Be sure to follow our Moderator at Eccentric Bliss, his personal blog,
and also his professional web site (he's an IT consultant) Three Fish Consulting, LLC!