QUAERITUR: ideal measurements for vestments

From a transitional deacon:

I am wondering if there is such a thing as an ideal measure for sacred vestments, both in Gothic and Roman cuts. I am planning to buy some chasubles, but I am not sure what I should be looking for, or how long they should be. Can you give me some advice? I don’t know if this will make any difference in your answer, but I am 6′ 1″ tall.

I need to get the readers involved.

The classic Roman vestment, planeta, is to have specific proportions.  That I do know. I am guessing it is one-size-fits-all, as well.

As far as the fuller, “gothic” style is concerned… dunno.

Readers?  Can you help this fellow?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. br.david says:

    This is only a thought… i have NO expertise on vesture dimensions…. However, it would seem to be that the principle of aesthetics and common sense should be the prevailing anthem in measurements of vestments…..

    IMHO: Gothic vestments and their relatives should fall no less than below the knee, and no longer than shins; Roman Vestments should be that when WORN properly (this is another pet peeve of mine), that the front panel falls just above the knee, and the back panel even with it….

  2. Father Totton says:

    I am not an expert, but I wear vestments every day at Mass! I use both “Roman” and “gothic” cuts. Being short of stature (about 5’6″) I have never found any vestments to be “too short” though at time, I have donned vestments which, as Br. David describes above, are too long – the hem could mop the floor!. In terms of Gothic vestments though, I prefer “semi-gothic” which are cut so that the “arms” of the vestment meet the arm at or just below the elbow (Talleres del Arte Granda make a NICE semi-gothic cut!). This is NOT an objective stance, but a personal preference. I have worn conical vestments when saying Mass in certain monasteries and they really take some getting used to – especially if they are made for a taller priest! In the end, I don’t know that you are going to find size/proportions “rubricized” anywhere, given the wide variety of cuts and styles which have been legitimately accepted in the Church down through the ages. Just avoid the infamous “overlay” stole and any misplaced attempt to put tassels or bells on chasubles.

  3. CarpeNoctem says:

    Bells?! Oh, do tell, Fr. Totton!

  4. Centristian says:

    In the case of most makers of sacred vestments, chasubles are offered in a standard, one-size-fits-all (usually about 53″ backlength), although for an additional charge, some makers will offer a longer backlength for the taller celebrant or a shorter backlength for the slighter celebrant.

    My own pastor is of the latter description, standing about 5’6″ and so his standard size gothic cut chasubles invariably reach nearly to his ankles, but that actually offers a rather nice, full effect, I think. I would rather see a chasuble that is a bit too long on one than one that is too short.

    With respect to Roman-style (fiddleback) chasubles, there seems to be such a variety of different cuts and fashions that it would seem difficult to define the correct length. It would seem that it would depend on the specific look you desire. Nevertheless, most makers, again, have standard sizes for vestments, and it would be difficult to be too choosy without spending alot of money on something custom made.

    As things stand, Roman vestments, through most makers that I am aware of, are outrageously expensive in comparison to gothic cut vestments. I don’t know why that should be, considering there is alot less fabric involved in a Roman vestment, but such is the case.

  5. Centristian,

    As to prices. Remember that prices are established by supply and demand, not by the “intrinsic value” of the materials, although its cost will play a role in the asking price. I suspect fiddlebacks are more expensive because people who want them are willing to pay more for what they want. Thus price goes up to reflect higher demand for a smaller supply. People who buy Gothic vestments (which are the standard issue used by most churches and so mass produced) often look for whatever is cheapest. This means there are a lot of inexpensive Gothic vestments on the market. So if you produce a Gothic vestment out of expensive materials you may find that the general buyers will simply refuse to pay the price you ask and go get something cheaper, say a moderately priced vestment..

    Result: greater supply of and lower demand for (fancy) Gothic vestments drives down the price of all Gothic vestments, even if they are made with expensive materials. Of course there might be people who (like those who buy fiddlebacks) are willing to pay top-dollar for expensive material Gothic vestments. But trying to find that market is probably not all that cost effective. For income purposes, it is better to sell lots of moderate price Gothic vestments than a handful of expensive ones.

    This is the nature of free markets.

  6. Fr. Oddvar says:

    I bought several Roman chasubles at Gammarelli’s in Rome two weeks ago, and found that their ‘cut’ for Roman vestments is a bit different from the Spanish or French ‘Roman’ vestments (I have some old ones of that kind) – the front of the chasuble is bigger, stole and maniple wider, there is no cross on the back of the chasuble etc.

    But I was happy to see that the Gammarelli vestments were exactly the same as I had seen in the Lateran museum the day before. This picture shows an old of vestments from the museum: http://aomoi.net/blogg/bilder/lateran3.jpg

  7. Daniel Latinus says:

    I know this about chasubles, but I think something needs to be said about copes. I remember the case of an exceptionally tall priest who wore an average sized cope. The vestment I don’t think even reached his knees. A most unfortunate look.

    Another priest once complained about a chasuble that tended to bunch up in front of him; often at the worst possible moments.

  8. Fr. Oddvar,

    Yes, there are actually at least three different cuts of “Roman” chasubles, something that might interest other readers. The [Old] Catholic Encyclopedia article on chasubles has diagrams (not found in the on-line version). The three most common cuts are:

    “French” the back of the vestment is a narrow vertical rectangle. Example here: http://catholicliturgicals.com/view_romanvestments.php?catid=89

    “Roman” (or “Italian”): a wider vertical rectangular back. Example here: http://catholicliturgicals.com/admin/uploads/C_48da0591f27b0.jpg

    “Spanish”: the back is wider on the bottom than at the top and actually curves in on the sides. Example here: http://catholicliturgicals.com/admin/uploads/SC_D0_i01.jpg

    More can be found in a paper copy of the Catholic Encyclopedia. I don’t think the actual decorations of the vestments play a role in these ethnic distinctions.

  9. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    Saint Charles Borromeo, whose preferred shape of full roman vestment has had a recent revival in some of the vestments of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, laid down that the back of the chasuble should come JUST ABOVE THE ANKLES.

    This is the usual length for the modern “gothic” chasuble (which is nothing of the kind of course).

    Gradually roman vestments cut away the sides and shorted the shape of St Charles’s vestment to the one we know today.

    The present-day “roman” chasuble, based upon dimension from 18th and 19th century vestments, is always far too small, as men in those days, and specially in the latin countries where people are smaller, were often less than 5 feet tall. These vestments worn on modern men 6 feet plus, look ridiculous, but we have become accustomed to them. Make roman vestments 20% larger, so the back hangs half-way down the calf, and you will see how good they look. Full and dignified.

  10. Please disregard the above post – an unfortunate side-effect of trying to multi-task!

    @ Carpe Noctem – Bells?!?! “You will see greater things than these!”

  11. Random Friar says:

    Height alone is not enough of a measurement. Girth has made many a large vestment small.

  12. Padre Steve says:

    Here is a nice sample of Roman style vestments from 1951 (from Joseph Ratzinger’s ordination to the deaconate) via Gloria TV:

  13. Animadversor says:

    Conical chasubles, besides being very agreeably (to me) Romanesquish, also, because of the amount of material that accumulates in folds when the arms are lifted, tend to inhibit the celebrant from wild gesticulation. If further inhibition is thought advisable, Father Totton’s bells may be attached.

  14. Fr Martin Fox says:

    When I was ordained to the priesthood, I purchased several vestments, all Gothic. I got one from Almy that is lovely, but I didn’t realize how heavy a silk vestment, lined with silk, would be. But it’s lovely when the church is cold, and would probably serve me well if al Qaeda terrorists rake the sanctuary with gunfire while I’m offering Mass.

    One problem is how far down the chasuble comes on my arms, which are of normal length for one who is 6’1″. Several vestments I use are simply too long and I have to fold them up or bunch them up out of the way. This is not helpful when I am trying to reach for things on the altar, and I don’t wish to knock anything over, particularly the Sacred Species.

    I purchased two vestments from Slabbinck, in wool, which turned out beautifully and have held up well these eight years. I had them cut to fall well below my knees and that makes more sense to me every year. But without asking for it, the arms were cut so that they fall about the elbow, which I love, and wish all my vestments were the same.

    Finally, I did purchase a vestment in the Philip Neri style (akin to the Borromean style mentioned above), and this one hangs down below my knees, but it comes down only to about mid-upper arm. It looks good and doesn’t cause me any problems when I’m at the altar.

    Too-short vestments look ridiculous in my opinion.

  15. MOP says:

    When my son (6’4″) was a transitional deacon, we started our vestment search. Best, most informative site is http://www.gaspardinc.com . They make beautiful traditional vestments and have standard measurements. http://www.gaspardinc.com/pdfs/gaspard_orderingvestments.pdf
    Call and order their catalog. Check out St. Benet’s Guild in Dayton, Ohio – http://stbenetsguild.tripod.com/index.htm . Take your time – good vestments can last a lifetime.

  16. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    Seamstress here. With some (the gothic styles), there is a seam at the very top. when the garment is folded in half, as it is worn. Even if there is no seam, it is VERY EASY to put in a pleat (temporary) or a new seam that will shorten the length so that the padre is not tripping, nor is it dragging. For width, it is better (because of the decorative fabrics used) to “take in” on either side (in equal amounts) the center panel if the “fullness” is too full.

    The Choir Robes, the old style ones that the acolytes/altar-boys wore, add more bands of lace to lengthen, or pleat up to shorten.

  17. I am a vestment-maker and do not make “one-size-fits-all” vestments. Rather, I make the vestments according to the height and build of the wearer.

    The measurements laid down by S. Charles Borromeo reflected his desire to preserve Tradition.

    Sometimes, I write articles about such matters on my Blog:


  18. Fr. Oddvar says:

    Fr. Thompson

    The vestments at Gammarelli (and at the Lateran museum) are actually quite different from your examples: “Roman” (or “Italian”): a wider vertical rectangular back. Example here: http://catholicliturgicals.com/admin/uploads/C_48da0591f27b0.jpg Both front and back are much wider etc. See my picture from the Lateran museum here: http://aomoi.net/blogg/bilder/lateran3.jpg – So there seems to be more than three kinds of Roman vestments. (?)

    As for the size of the vestments; I don’t find them to be small at all, and I am 5’11” – but I did understand from Gammarelli that they had adjusted the size of these old style vestments a bit.

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