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5 Interesting Facts About Clergy Shirts and Clerical Collars

by Dominic Chandler
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Clergy shirts worn by ministers, priests and pastors have a long and storied history, associated with the collars allowing Christian figures to be identified outside of church. From the different types of clergy shirts to the meanings of the different colours, we’ve put together some interesting facts about clergy shirts to help you learn more about Christian customs.

1. Types of Clergy Shirts

There are two common different types of clergy shirts. The first type is a tab collar clergy shirt and the second is a neckband shirt.

The tab collar shirt is the classic clergy shirts that most people are familiar with involving a shirt with a fold down collar and an opening at the neck where the tab can be placed. The neckband meanwhile is typically a white band placed around the top of the shirt.

Other types of clerical shirt include the tonsure which has a white band underneath a straight collar, as well as members of the clergy having the option to choose between long sleeves and short sleeves for their clerical wear. Shorter sleeves are typically more popular in the summer months.

2. History of Clerical Collars

The Christian clergy first started wearing specific outfits in the 6th century before Roman Catholics started wearing cassocks in the 1100s, allowing priests, pastors and other religious figures to become more identifiable in public. 

Detachable clerical collars, which are still common amongst the clergy today, came into use around the 18th century in Protestant denominations and became popular amongst Catholics in the late 19th century. 

While clerical collars are worn by several Christian movements, they didn’t all rise to popularity at the same time. Anglicans for example, still wore a white necktie with a black coat up until the 1880’s. 

The origin of the clerical attire that has evolved into what is worn today began as part of a reformation to create distance from the classic Roman Catholic look around the time of the 17th century. The turned down collar fashion that arose in the late 19th century has remained the style worn by clergymen today.

3. The Significance of Clerical Collars

Clerical collars are worn by priests all over the world and are a clear symbol of religious belief and also some level of importance within the church. In small rural communities, this can help to represent a pastor’s role in the community and mark them out as a figure of authority.

The clerical collar is also representative of the pastor or priest having given themselves over to God and symbolising the permanence of their religion and its role in their lives. 

For members of the religious community to see the collar is to signal to them that the priest is always available for any religious help they might need, helping to highlight the importance of representing God both in and out of church.

4. The Colours of Clergy Shirts

The colour of your clergy shirt can depend on a number of different factors, including what the person’s religious rank is.

Black is the most common and traditional colour for a clergy shirt and is the colour that is most easily recognised by the wider community. White clergy shirts on the other hand aren’t worn out in public but are instead reserved for private, special ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. 

Maroon shirts and purple shirts are more indicative of someone’s rank within their religion. Purple shirts are commonly seen amongst bishops and senior bishops. Maroon clergy shirts are often worn by cardinals who have more seniority in a church and shouldn’t be confused with red shirts which are also assigned to bishops.

5. Religious Groups That Wear Clergy Shirts

It isn’t just members of the Catholic Church who wear clergy shirts and clerical collars as part of their religion. Several Christian Protestant denominations wear clergy shirts including Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans. 

The classic detachable Roman collar was created by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Donald McLeod. In fact, much of the classic clerical attire that is famously seen amongst Catholic denominations originated in Protestantism such as the clerical collar. 

The clergy shirts are worn by all members of the clergy though throughout history there has been some attempt from groups to distinguish themselves from other religious groups. The Anglicans in particular adopted a necktie look in the mid-1800’s. 

Clergy shirts have a lot of their roots in tradition, providing communities with a strong religious symbol while also helping members of the clergy to have a clear way of symbolising their faith and representing their identity. 

This can help them to build a strong position of trust in their religious communities, as well as being a ceremonial way of showing respect for their religion and to highlight the value and importance of the various religious ceremonies.

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