ASK FATHER: Tactical Clerics

Speaking of clerical garb, I am, oddly enough, fairly often asked about my black clerical shirts.

I have adapted some 5.11 Tactical shirts, both ripstop and cotton, and both short and long sleeved, into 5.11 Tactical clerical shirts.

Here’s the deal.

Years ago I tired of paying ridiculous amounts of money for poorly made but expensive clerical shirts, the white ones with button hole in the back of the collar and with doubled cuffs.  So, I go a place like TJ Max and get factory seconds, remove the collar from the collar band, put in my own button hole and, badda bing, a far better quality shirt for a fraction of the price.



If for the white shirt, why not for the black shirt?

Okay, but what about good black shirts?  Shirts for law enforcement uniforms!

But, quoth I, what to do about the Roman collar?

Then it occurred to me that the detachable collar that many of the seminarians in Rome use would be ideal.  Just swap out the nasty plastic white collar for a nice, comfortable linen collar and, badda bing, I’d be in business.


Thus, the 5.11 Tactical Clerical Shirt was born.

Remove the collar, put in the button hole, attach the Roman collar.

Mind you, these photos make the shirt look a little grey.  It ain’t.  I assure you, it is very black, blacker than most clerical shirts.






The trick to making this work is that the shirt’s top button, at the neck, must be sewn in such a way that it has a bit of extra “give”.  That is, as I sow it on, I leave it a bit loose and then, as I pass the needle up through the cloth, before threading it through a button hole, wrap it around a couple times, if you get my drift.  This is because the button must button not only the neck of the shirt, but must also button into the inside of the linen collar.


The shirt has some great features.  Remember, it really is black.  I lightened it so you could see details.

Behind the breast pockets there are deep pockets with vertical openings that close with hook and eye.  The pockets extend down under your arm.


Across the back there is a vent, which helps when it is warm.


There is reinforcement under the arms and grommets to allow for some air movement.


Just above the elbow there is a loop.  Inside the sleeve there is a strip with a button and hole, so you can roll your sleeves up and strap them into position above the elbow.  Handy.


The shirts are also treated so that they are stain/liquid resistant.  Very handy.

Team up your tactical clerical shirt with some 5.11 pants (I keep a stole and oil stock in the mag pocket when I don’t have an extra… you know… in the mag pocket), and you are ready to hit that long To Do List.

BTW… thanks again to the reader who made a leather stole “envelope” for me.  It’s great.

So, there you have it: the 5.11 Tactical Clerical.


I just found – I am not making this up – a black tactical Christmas stocking! $7.50


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ghp95134 says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf, Tactical Padre
    A Quin Martin Production
    …. ta-da-ta-DAAAAAAAAAAAAA


    Do you have velcro? You can get subdued chaplain’s insignia here:
    Otherwise, you can obtain just the sew-on patch.


    [I think that there is a velcro option that can be sown on. I left that, and the epaulets off. BTW… I really like the way that the Italian military chaplains do it. They put silver military stars on the collar of their cassock on either side of the opening of the Roman collar. I think the ordinary has gold stars. And, once upon a time at least, they used the ferraiuolo with some sort of epaulet and the Roman hat.]

  2. pseudomodo says:

    Might we also suggest a kevlar ballistic grade armoured chausible and matching ballistic grade biretta (or mitre)

    You never know… Archbishop Romero could still be around today….

  3. FXR2 says:

    Do you think we could get 5-11 to make cassocks? They already make a ‘Tactical Duty Kilt’

    You never know what you might need for TEOTWAWKI!


    [LOL! I’ll take some of their gear, but you can have the kilt. But that cassock idea… I think it would have to have some MOLLE options.]

  4. JSII says:

    Over at the F.D. Standard issue is, 5.11 company cargo with 6 pockets and the slide waist, they might be the most comfortable pants for work.

    [Once you start with the 5.11 you don’t want to give them up!]

  5. Woody79 says:

    Father Z, you are “da man.” I’d go into battle with you any time, any where.

    [Let’s make that spiritual battle and make it right away!]

  6. ManyMacarons says:

    Clever! I love it… It’s always great to read your posts especially when pregnant & sick. My Husband and I always say to each other ” have you read Father Z today?!”
    I used to work at a Church Goods shop and know exactly what you mean by expensive and thin. Wish I could have referred a few to this idea! I know many a Priest would have loved it & Perhaps given the tip to the Boss’ to keep in stock for the crafty Fathers out there. Lol.

    Wishing you all the best & praying for you Father.

  7. ManyMacarons says: I know many a Priest would have loved it

    That’s it. Thus, today I wrote to 5.11 telling them what I did and asking if we can work something out.

    You never know!

  8. mike cliffson says:

    in readiness for TEOTWAWKI
    Father’s be- and bi- rettas best stored in breast to underarm pockets of tactical shirt(high summer) thigh pockets swishing cassock (365/365) or standardard gents tailed inners holsters and headgear holding pocket ?

  9. Muv says:

    Fr. Z, after fabric shopping in Rome, this is probably one of your most exciting posts ever. [The thrills!]

    When you say you remove the collar, do you unpick the stitching, surgically remove the entire collar and then restitch the collar band? – in which case you are truly fearless – or do you get the scissors and cut the collar away a hairsbreadth above the top of the collar band? – in which case, great fudge, because the raw edge is hidden by the detachable collar. [I just open up the top of the collar band without removing it, and then pulling out the unwanted part for the standard pointed shirt collar. It stiches up easily.]

    The technical term for the wrapping round of the button thread is making a shank. You can put a matchstick (or toothpick, bodkin or fine knitting needle) between the button and the fabric when sewing it on so that you keep the threads even, then remove the matchstick before wrapping round the threads to make the shank. [Thanks for the tip!]

    As for the buttonhole, now we know that you have the use of a sewing machine, you can’t just keep us hanging. We need more facts – make, model, year, photos… [No machine. I have done a few shirts by hand in the past. This time, however, I dropped two shirts off and a nice Vietnamese tailoress did them based on my model and explanation. No sewing machine. Heck, I don’t even have a stove.]

  10. acardnal says:

    Fr. Z, the way things are going, you may need to get a flak jacket, too….sadly.

  11. acardnal: That’s for sure.

  12. mamajen says:

    Very clever!

    And I enjoy when you mention specific brands/products because I am always on the lookout for the best quality I can buy. For frugal types, investing in quality that lasts is the way to go. I learn a lot from other people. I don’t think I have a need for tactical wear anytime soon, but hey.

    I bet the company will get a kick out of this!

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    How about a Holy Water Gun? A Holy Utility Belt? A Holy Hand Grenade?? [apologies to the Monty Python fans].

    The Chicken

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    Shoes? [I am about to get some 5.11. Right now I have a pair of Bates that are about done. I also have some 8″ side zip boots, which I like to use in Rome for extra support for my left ankle.]

  15. Uxixu says:

    Tactical cassock would rock!

    I would love to see the clerical MOLLE plate carrier.

    [I wonder if the better option would be simply to put a black plate carrier over the cassock. Of course, above the cross-draw holster there would also have to be a cross-draw water-proof sheath for an aspergilum! And since Viridian now makes a laser and tactical light which switch on when you draw, HERE, someone needs to develop an aspergilum which seals up when sheathed and opens for tactical sprinking when drawn.]

  16. Uxixu says:

    You know, better than MOLLE, which adds a bunch of weight due to the nylon would be use something like First Spear’s 6/9 or 6/12…

  17. Mojoron says:

    Are you going to pack one in the confessional? [Yes. I, as other priests, generally wear a shirt when hearing confessions. Sometimes I use my cassock, too.]

  18. Charles E Flynn says:


    Years ago, before Google decided that it knows better than we do what we want to search for, it was possible to find an inexpensive plastic jig called a “button elevator”, which allowed the sewer to determine the spacing between the top surface of the fabric and the underside of the button. A company called Nancy’s Notions sold these items. The product was #6733. Google assumes we are interested in “elevator buttons”. Nancy has no idea now. Sigh.

  19. dominic1955 says:

    I once found one of those Italian military chaplain saturnos simply labeled as “Italian Military Hat” for less than $30. I should have bought it.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Charles E. Flynn – The magic search terms seems to be:

    button elevator sewing
    “button elevator” sewing

    Possibly other search terms would narrow it down further.

  21. Elizabeth D says:

    “Yes. I, as other priests, generally wear a shirt when hearing confessions.”

    This reply brought to mind when St John of the Cross, one of the original Discalced Carmelite friars, was hearing confessions at the Ancient Observance Carmelite nuns’ Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. Discalced means “unshod”, if anyone didn’t know that; it was a term associated with zealous, spiritually oriented asceticism and barefootnedness (or sandals, as a concession to practicality) was emblematic of that. Some “Calced” Carmelite nuns were deeply wary of the “Discalced” Carmelites and this unknown nun came into the confessional and before she would confess she wanted to know of the Saint on the other side of the screen: “Are you Calced or Discalced?” He glanced down at his bare feet and arranged the bottom of his habit to cover them, then replied “Estoy calzado.” Relieved, she proceeded to make her confession. In Spanish “soy” means “I am” in the permanent sense, but “estoy” means “I am” in the present; right now.

  22. Muv says:

    Charles E Flynn – how is that as soon as I see mention of a company called Nancy’s Notions and gadgets called button elevators I know that we are on opposite sides of the Atlantic?

    There is a low tech answer to every sewing conundrum. You can lay the button over the actual buttonhole it is going to fit through to get the right height for the shank, and sew the first few stitches when attaching the button through the buttonhole. If you are into trapeze artist high risk sewing, you can carry on sewing until it is time to pass the button through the hole and do the wrapping around of the thread to form the shank. Alternatively, if you are worried about catching the edge of the buttonhole and sewing the whole thing firmly shut, just do a couple of threads before passing the button through, and use a wedge of folded paper on either side of the button to maintain the right height.

    Fr Z, next time you visit your Vietnamese seamstress, please take her a little bunch of flowers and ask if she wouldn’t mind having her photo posted here – even a back view of her busy at her machine would be lovely. It would be a good way to introduce an article about St. Boniface, patron saint of brewers and tailors.

  23. Andrew says:

    Solent militantes habere lineas, quas camisias vocant, sic aptas membris et adstrictas corporibus, ut expediti sint vel ad cursum, vel ad praelia, dirigendo jaculo, tenendo clypeo, ense vibrando, et quocumque necessitas traxerit. Ergo et sacerdotes parati in ministerium Dei, utuntur hac tunica; ut habentes pulchritudinem vestimentorum, nudorum celeritate discurrant. (S. Hieronymus Epistola LXIV ad Fabiolam)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  24. FXR2 says:

    I love the tactical stocking. I always tell my children that using tactical to describe equipment is a license to double the price. I did not see any MOLLE options on this cassock, but it seems to have been modified in some manner.


  25. JBS says:

    I would certainly be interested in shirts and trousers with greater utility, but the biggest complaint I have about the shirt options available now is that the buttons seem to start coming off within days of purchase. Velcro or snap-closures would be helpful.

    For now, I wear the Toomey shirts and Wrangler cargo pants, but I would happily consider buying one of these shirts if the collar is ready and the price is right.

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