POLL: pompoms

There has been discussion of the biretta lately, around this blog…. real birettas and photoshopped.

Also, the other day when I was tidying up an older foldable biretta I can put in a travel bag, I decided to remove the pompom.  It had started to look a little desperate and the Roman style is nothing to cross your eyes at.

That choice and all this discussion of the superbly useful clerical cover raises a burning issue for our time.

Do you prefer the biretta with or without the pompom?

Without a pom pom is the more Roman style.  You see that Cardinals have a biretta without.  They are clergy of Rome, so to speak, no matter where in the world they are lent out.

The pom pom is more a French use, as I understand it.

There is also the eccentric tassel, a variation of the pompom which I choose to keep separate now, because it is a little strange.

The biretta developed from softer hats which eventually developed these "points" as they were pinched for uncovering and covering.  They have a historic connection with academic and magisterial head gear, mortar boards and the like.

Birettas, which were obligatory for Mass, are also used outside liturgical occasions.  For example, a priest’s academic headwear is the biretta trimmed with the color appropriate to his field, red for philosophy, blue for theology, green for law, etc.

They can have three or four points, depending on circumstances not entirely relevant here.

They keep your head warm too.

So, what will it be?  Pompom?  None? Cheer on your choice and give your reasons below.


Which style of priest’s biretta do you prefer?

  • Without pompom, in the Roman manner (52%, 838 Votes)
  • With pompom, in the French manner (41%, 662 Votes)
  • Tassel … and, yes, I am ecentric. (6%, 97 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,597

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in POLLS, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Most Excellent Sledgehammer says:

    Without pompom is winning!?!?!? Heretics…

  2. Nathan says:

    As a native Southerner and one who has been near Greenville, SC, in July, I would venture to guess (excuse me, I reckon) that Fr. Longenecker has a biretta with a small, yet tasteful, electric fan on top for the summer months….

    In Christ,

  3. Aelric says:

    Are the academic biretta colors different from those used in the US as the felt trim of academic hoods? For the latter, dark blue is for philosophy and red (scarlet) for theology; medicine is green and law purple.

    Just curious as to the proper standard for a cleric wearing an academic biretta whose degree was earned at a US institution.

    Another question. What about an installed acolyte (who can stand as a subdeacon in the Extraordinary Form) who holds an academic advanced degree. Are the same entitled to wear an academic biretta at convocations/commencements?

  4. J. Bennett says:

    I rather like the biretta tuft.

  5. Josiah Ross. says:

    There’s a Jesuit priest that sometimes celebrates mass at my parish. he always wears a biretta which has no pompom.
    The other priests at my parish wear birettas also, but with pompom. I like the popomless biretta more. None of your French corruptions for me!
    Cool, biretta is in my spell check.

  6. J. Bennett says:

    I should also note that birettas used to be much taller. Look at this 15th century Norbertine- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Praemonstratenser_Hollar_1661.JPG

  7. Aelric says:

    To answer part of my own, earlier question, there seems to be a distinction made that the right to wear an academic biretta attains only if the degree has been awarded by a Pontifical University.

  8. LeonG says:

    If priests would only wear this they would get better and biretta at saying the Holy Mass.

  9. MargaretMN says:

    Whenever I think of the biretta, I think of the pompom, especially the scarlet or magenta one on Monsignor Malloy’s hat. The good Monsignor was semi retired but the pastor of my elemetary school’s church and long since passed to his reward. As I understand it, he was made a Monsignor for his service to the Archdiocese of Detroit as a civil lawyer. He was a very dignified man and I am sure all the church lawsuits today would have grieved him tremendously if he had had to take part. He celebrated the school masses and came to visit on the dreaded report card day. The biretta came off indoors of course but it still seemed like some kind of symbol of power and authority to us kids. Might as well have been a crozier.

  10. Both are great, but for the sake of the fact that I’m part french, I chose the pom pom one.

  11. Jonathan says:

    I laughed when I saw the picture of Fernandel and the quote from Don Camillo.

    With pompom!

  12. Kevin L says:

    “When in Rome”, “If it’s good enough for Cardinals” and last but not least, never miss an opportunity to snub le French and the poodle pompom!
    I jest, kind of….

  13. Wm.Christopher Hoag says:

    Vive la mode française!

  14. Matthew Hazell says:

    I went for no pompom.

    Not for any deep theological or historical reason, just because I think it’s prettier and shinier. (Man, I can be such a girl sometimes…) :-)

    By the way, Father Z, if you’re going sans-pompom, surely you ought to remove the pompom from your emoticon so that it looks like this: {]:¬) ?

    Or do you still go for the pompom whenever the mood takes you?

  15. I don’t see any strong reason to eschew the one for the other at this moment.

    I don’t believe Pope Benedict plans to name me cardinal.


    Thus my signature icon will remain the same.


    Unless I am made a monsignor


  16. Prof. Basto says:

    But, Father!

    What if you were made a Bishop, or a Canon?

  17. TJ Murphy says:

    I’m voting for the pompom.
    That is what I grew up seeing. Although I’ve never seen any priest in any parish i’ve belonged to in at least the past 20 years wearing one.

  18. Romulus says:

    The pom pom is more a French use, as I understand it.

    Except that’s it’s spelled pompoN. The final N is an augmentative. [Oh?]

    If I have a preference, it’s that the wearer use the style traditional in the place where he was ordained, or where the academic degree was conferred.

  19. jo says:

    Real men wear pompoms. It builds character, I would think.

  20. Prof B: Canon, ok. Bishop, never.

  21. BakerStreetRider says:

    Perhaps a group of tassel-wearing priests could start the “ecentric” order…but that might be a bit too eccentric.

  22. Maestus says:

    As I understand it from my study of the matter, the doctoral biretta derives it colours based on the tradition of the pontifical university from which it was received. Traditionally, the doctoral biretta from the Roman pontifical universities were all black (in line with the usual Roman austerity) and only distinguished from the normal biretta by the fourth horn. The most tradional colour usage employed, as far as I can tell, was scarlet for sacred theology, blue for moral theolgy, and green for Canon Law. However it is the use of the doctoral ring, and not the biretta, that is the true emblem of the pontifical right to teach.

  23. Never left, always right….Eccentrists.

  24. Dan says:

    I’ve heard it said that only priests are allowed to wear a biretta with tuft, whereas seminarians must wear a biretta without. Is there any truth to this? I’ve not been able to find it anywhere.

  25. Tridentinum says:

    I don’t see an option for a red, yellow and purple mini propeller.

  26. Dan: priests are allowed to wear a biretta with tuft, whereas seminarians must wear a biretta without

    Urban legend.

  27. Coletta says:

    I don’t have a strong preference for the one over the other but choose WITHOUT the pompoms because it might better balance with lots and lots of manly lace? I love the lace.

  28. Matthew Hazell says:

    Never say never, Father.

    (Not that I’m privy to any such lists the Holy Father may or may not have stuffed in the back of his Missale Romanum. God forbid!)

    In any case, I like the emoticon as it is. Good decision! :-)

    It’s slightly off topic, but I hope you (and everyone else reading) are having a pleasant evening. Deus tibi benedicat!

  29. Margaret says:

    My personal preference would be Deely Boppers!!! http://www.sillyjokes.co.uk/images/dress-up/acc/hats/boppers/24421sb-silver-balls-100.jpg

    And they come in all the different liturgical colors, too…

  30. Paul Haley says:

    We are after all Roman Catholics, are we not? So, the option to me is clear – Roman!

  31. Matthew Hazell says:

    Or morning, or afternoon, or whatever time of day. I forget not everyone is working on GMT!

  32. Former Altar Boy says:

    The poll should have offered an “EITHER” option. Priests should just wear them – I don’t care what style.

  33. joe says:

    I’m just happy there’s such a thing as a “travel biretta.”

  34. Jayna says:

    I went for the Roman style. I’m a simple gal.

    I once had a conversation with my priest about birettas. He complained that priests who wear them out and about just look ridiculous and are only trying to make a statement. I wisely did not bring up the fact that him not wearing clerics of any kind might be seen as making a statement as well. (And this coming from a man who wore his cassock to introduce himself to a notoriously progressive parish when he started his pastorate.)

  35. Sieber says:

    Growing up my experience was:

    Jebbies wore no pompom; C.S.C. wore tassel & seculars wore the pompom.

  36. Miseno says:

    Once you said that the pompom was French, I think that influenced the vote. Thanks for this info. I hear so many old wives tales about clerical dress, that I don’t know what to believe. Is there a book which has rules when it is appropriate to wear different types of clerical dress?

  37. Emilio Rubí Villa says:

    Father you forgot us from Latin America! (not that you see a biretta hardly anywhere there anymore!) Traditionally the Spanish-syle four-horned biretta was used in much Latin-America, and was prevalent there until the liturgical disarray which followed the Council, and still now sadly. I just enjoyed devouring the old photographs and artwork preserved in the Diocesan Archives of the 500 year old Diocese of León de Nicaragua during my recent visit there. A kind nun showed me the four-horned biretta that belonged to a saintly old priest who offered the usus antiquior everyday on one of the many side altars of León’s baroque cathedral, until three days before his death in the mid-90’s [he suffered a white martyrdom for doing so, ridiculed by his brother priests in this former hotbed of the now dead “liberation theology”] – to my knowledge, the usus antiquior has not been celebrated in Nicaragua since his death. May it please God for it to return there soon! Sorry for the tangent.

  38. Maureen says:

    When worn by French speakers, it is a ‘pompon’. When worn by English speakers, it is a pompom. If you truly believe that it is still a ‘pompon’, you will have to set it off with quotation marks or italics when writing in English, because you are clearly using it as an inserted foreign word and not an English one.

    Once English mugs another language for vocabulary, it will spell and pronounce that word however it darned well pleases. By the rules of English phonology, it was inevitable that the final ‘n’ would turn into an ‘m’. It is not a sign of ignorance or indifference but rather of naturalization.

    If your jeans need to be a skosh bigger and not sukosii, you can let people wear and wield pompoms.

  39. dominic1962 says:

    With the pompon, just looks “right”. Also, the pompon should be between the size of a baseball and that of a softball (depending on the size of the hat) and made of silk. They look silly when they look like they are made of yarn or are barely bigger than a golf ball.

  40. Caeremoniarius says:

    “pompon” is the preferred spelling in the American Heritage Dictionary.

    I wouldn’t mind some sort of proof of the French origins of the tuft (to use a word whose Englishness no one will challenge). The “rule” I always remember from McCloud’s
    “Clerical Dress and Insignia” was that clerics regular (and Cardinals) had no
    tuft but everyone else did. I suppose the tuft will just become another victim
    of shifting tastes…

  41. Bill says:

    Pompom/pompon/whatever — In Texas, I can\’t recall ever seeing a priest who did not have one on his biretta, so that\’s what I grew up thinking was correct.

  42. TJM says:

    I know that the Congregation of Holy Cross Priests, Notre Dame, Indiana, used to wear for ordinary occasions a biretta with black tassels, but on formal, academic occasions, many of them switched to a biretta with a pom. So one style was informal, another more formal. Has anyone else experienced this? Tom

  43. Jimbo says:

    No pompon. I’m not in the least a francophile, being of sturdy German stock. More Roma! Birettas are versatile, and should be returned to regular use by clerics. Not only do they keep the head warm, and give the wearer a distinct profile, they can also keep the flies off your burger at the summer picnics.

  44. Thomas says:

    “Dan: priests are allowed to wear a biretta with tuft, whereas seminarians must wear a biretta without

    Urban legend.”

    Haha! I just had the absurd image pop into my head of street hoodlums loitering on the corner at midnight discussing the falsehood of seminarians and their pompoms.

  45. jenny says:

    The Jesuit priest who instructed me in 1963-64 for conversion, Fr. Healey, Diocese of Scranton, was never without his biretta with pom-pom. He was gruff-tough, cigar-smoking, no-nonsense WONDERFUL! I want this tradition back!!

  46. Charles says:

    Pom-poms are on the birettas at my church, and they are great! I like them, something looks like it’s missing without them…

  47. Paul S. says:

    My ancestry is German; no pom-pom.

  48. Elizabeth says:

    Fr. L’s pompom is well, perhaps a little overstated? Perhaps not… :-) I’ll leave that up to the fashion savvy commentary of Fr. Z. But then I’m a huge fan of the lovely blue pompoms on the Canons (speaking of Canons…) of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest….they know their pompoms! Lovely blue for our BVM, and the perfect fit for the top of the biretta. And at least one of their Canons has an absolutely amazing cape with quite the dramatic hood.

  49. SMJ says:

    My parish priest is a “Chaplain of His Holiness”, so, he uses his black biretta with red pompom. The children loves it because “it makes Father look like Woody Woodpecker”! :-D

  50. JohnW says:

    When I was altar boy we had a priest from Poland that wore a biretta. His had a pompom. The other priest of the parish started to wear theirs by his example. They all had pompoms. If those days could only come back.

  51. Richard says:

    So which is better for outdoor use – a biretta or a saturno?

  52. LarryD says:

    I prefer a 9mm Beretta…

  53. Denise says:

    I think with the pompon. No logic here–it just looks right to me. And I like the whole different colors idea. And, despite my Anglo-Pictish Celtic heritage, I do rather like the French.

  54. Mark G. says:

    Father, the tuft on your email signature remains on the top line of my computer screen, whilst your biretta’d mug falls to the second. So you’re always without pompom/n here.

  55. J. Bennett says:

    Is Father being clever with his blue-tuft biretta? A monsignor wears a red tuft on his. The only blue tufts I know of are used in the Institute of Christ the King ;)

    Though the Superior General wears an all-blue biretta.

  56. PreacherPvegs says:

    While normally anything French would catch my fancy, being of proud French descent, I must say that the pom-pom is a bit overkill for my taste. I will grant exception to the Monsignori and Bishops of course. I am a huge fan of the birettas worn by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, piped in blue with a blue pom-pom; very classy. Also academic birettas are pretty awesome. Its a shame they aren’t worn more often, they really add a bit of class and dignity to the wearer.

  57. Fr. BJ says:

    Has anyone succeeded in ordering a Spanish-style biretta from the US (i.e. overseas)? I emailed one of the companies that was listed in a previous blog post about this topic — in Spanish even — and received no reply.

  58. Johnny Domer says:

    The Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order that founded Notre Dame, has a biretta with a tassle as a distinct part of their habit/choir dress/whatever.

  59. Old Bob says:

    My great-grandfather having been Jules-Etienne-Napoleon Gosselin of Montmagny, Québec, I prefer with pompon (properly nasalized and not to rhyme with “bonbon”). Actually, whatever Fr. Z. likes is kosher by me. Is it true that biretta and zuchetto are only Catholic yarmulkas? Is that in Lewis and Short?

  60. Dominic says:

    Yeah, saying the pompom is French was an immediate turn off for me! Still, my biretta has a pompom because that’s just the way it is.

    Strange, isn’t it, that the biretta was very ingrained in the French traditional customs, but in the FSSPX in spite of its French roots it’s the Anglo-Saxon parts of that fraternity who wear the biretta and not the French parts. – Any guesses as to why?

  61. sacerdos in germania says:

    There are I believe two things involved here. One is that Mons. Lefebvre was a missionary with the Holy Ghost fathers, being a religious and working in Africa,the H.G. fathers and many missionaries did not wear the biretta because it was too impractical. I think he carried this spirit( religious and missionary) on with the SSPX and what is more,to him the wearing of the biretta, I believe, was not important or essential. One can see this as regards other things in the SSPX, for example, buttonless cassocks, no lace on surplices(at least for semiarians), and no birettas at least in Europe) and a kind of cafeteria mentality when it came to rubrics, that is,to kind of blow off the things that they see as not important and this latter is somewhat a French thing but not across the board( having worked as a priest in France, I’ve seen this) The other reason was that in France, at least for the clergy, the use of the biretta started to fall into desuetude in some places even before the council. So there you go, my take on it and please note this is not a criticism of SSPX, while I don’t agree with everything they do, I am rooting for them…

  62. Bob says:

    Father said, “The pom pom is more a French use, as I understand it.”

    LOL: yes, I’d believe that Father.

  63. Fr. A says:

    “I’m not in the least a francophile…”

    It really has nothing at all to do with being French or a francophile. The fact is, most priests wear a pompom on their biretta (those who still wear a biretta). I have rarely seen a priest without one (a pompom) in the United States, if ever.

    So, this is not about nationality or if someone is a “francophile.” I certainly am not and I have worn the biretta my entire priesthood. I think this is more about taste… not about being more French or Roman.

  64. Fr. Aidan Logan, OCso says:

    Though monks do not use the berretta I instinctively tend toward the classical look in all matters of taste, clerical, liturgical or otherwise. To my mind the typical tall and “pompomed” berretta sported by American priests in the 40’s and 50’s and now in fashon among some Trads is of a piece with organdy surpluses and albs, narrow and short so-called Roman style vestments, outlandishly large altar cards, the St. Gregory Hymnal and the twenty minute Low Mass. Just as cassocks made in Rome fit and look like real clothing, so the Roman (and other European styles for that matter) berretta looks like a real hat made for a real head. The American look gives the impression of a costume (fancy dress, for our cousins across the pond) for special occasions, even when worn habitually. One could make a similar observation regarding American verses British academic dress or American verses European male religious habits.

  65. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Strange, isn’t it, that the biretta was very ingrained in the French traditional customs, but in the FSSPX in spite of its French roots it’s the Anglo-Saxon parts of that fraternity who wear the biretta and not the French parts. – Any guesses as to why?

    I has never heard a straight answer on this, but here is my experience from Ridgefield/Winona…

    Birettas were used by the priests and seminarians in choro at Mass and at the Divine Office until Fr. Schmidberger’s visitation in 1988/89. From then on birettas were used only by celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon at Mass. Birettas were never used for common wear.

    Going back earlier, word was that when the American priests who would come to form the SSPV were seminarians at Econe in 1970s, they wore birettas as a sign of solidarity in the rigourist position, i.e., their attachment to the Pius X missal and breviary as opposed to the John XIII or Paul VI reforms that some priests and professors used. There was no liturgical uniformity at Econe in the 1970s. Ultimately, the biretta came to be an outward symbol of rigourist rebellion in a trajectory of sedevacantism where nearly all those Americans have ended up thirty years later.

  66. Pete says:

    I had no opinion until I found out that the pom pom is the french style. I vote for the Roman style – without pom pom.

  67. sacerdos in germania says:

    Don Camillo…
    “Les mains sont faites pour benir; Seigneur, mais les pieds?”

    mais n’oubliez pas les pompons, Seigneur, les pompons?!

  68. Jason Keener says:

    I’ve noticed that several priests of the SSPX do not wear the biretta. That is unfortunate because the rubrics of the 1962 Missal explicitly call for the use of the biretta in processions to and from the altar, etc. I am surprised that the SSPX does not “Say the Black” and “Do the Red,” especially when the SSPX harshly criticizes liturgical abuses that take place in the Novus Ordo, for example.

    In any event, I had a conversation about the biretta awhile back with a leader in the SSPX. This is what he wrote:

    “Some SSPX priests do not wear the biretta simply because they are unaccustomed to from their seminary days. The reason for this is because many years ago, there was a problem with seminarians who more concerned with externals (birettas, lacy surplices, etc.) than internals (one’s spiritual life), hence, the wearing of birettas (and lacy surplices except by the ministers at Mass) was forbidden in our seminaries to ensure a correct focus. However, outside of the seminary, the priests are certainly allowed to wear the biretta if they wish, and some choose to do so, while others do not except for special occasions.”

  69. Charivari Rob says:

    I brought this up in a conversation with one our neighbors who has lived around here longer than I. We’re pretty sure there are one or two nearby priests more likely to own a beretta than a biretta.

  70. Father Totton says:

    my preferred biretta is of smaller, practical proportions, collapsible and made in Poland. I paid the ewuivalent of about 20 USD for it. I have another, larger, more expensive biretta which I purchased from an atelier in Rome – and it just looks ridiculous. I don’t wear it. Incidentally BOTH are with pompon though I would just as soon not use the pompon.

  71. cuaguy says:

    Fr. Z, when watching you say mass yesterday, I thought that I detected a pompom on your biretta. If so, that is very “un-roman” of you then.

  72. cuaguy: I have birettas with and birettas without. This is not a hill anyone need to die on. Also, I rather like the pompom, provided it is decent looking, neither too ratty or too droopy.

    It is easy to maintain the pompom on birettas which don’t have to travel.

  73. Father Totton: You might remove the pompom from the Roman biretta and see how it goes. It might seem less imposing. It is easy to put the pompom back on again. When I have repairs birettas, I have used a coat button on the inside, through which eyes I passed the cord to hold it on. Then you can tighten it down easily.

  74. Prester says:

    Having seen far too many old birettas, the tufts of which have gone all to pieces, I prefer a biretta sans pompon. I am waiting for one to arrive. I will wear it in the confessional as well as the pulpit.

    It would be nice to have an antique-style soft biretta: it would suit my paramenta ampliora!

  75. Fr. Gary says:

    As several have noted, the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross (C.S.C.) wear a biretta with a tassel as part of their habit. TJM was right, however, that for academic processions and events, some would wear an academic biretta which was four horned and with a pom (usually trimmed in some color, i.e., red for theology). It represented their academic degree and was only worn for academic events. Thus, if the were in choir for the baccalaureate Mass, they would have worn the Holy Cross biretta, while the next day at the graduation ceremony itself, they would have worn the appropriate academic biretta. This was not distinctive to Holy Cross but was true across the academy.

    However, the tasseled biretta – eccentric or not – is quite distinctive. I have been under the impression that it was generally forbidden except for CSCs since it was an approved part of the habit. I may be wrong.

  76. Mertonian says:

    Nainfa (for it is he) says quite categorically that a biretta has “a tuft (“pompon” [sic]) of silk (not a tassel)”
    – Costume of Prelates, p109

    Whether he is right or not is another matter. As is, I suppose, what he means by “tuft” and “tassel”.

  77. This was informative. I was under the impression that secular priests wore a biretta with a pompon and religious, because of the vow of poverty, did not. Perhaps this is another urban legend.

  78. AnAmericanMother says:

    Don Camillo, iirc, said that just before he delivered a thundering kick to Peppone, who said, “Thanks, I’ve been expecting that for the last five minutes.”

Comments are closed.