On the Pope’s clothes.

Popes_JP2_FrancisI firmly believe that occasions require decorum: the effect or result that we desire conditions the choices we make in outward expression.  We adapt and are “apt” for the situation.  Language and gestures can and should be adjusted according to the circumstances.  So should outward appearance, which generally involves clothing.  We dress for the occasion.

For example, as an invited wedding guest (the Lord has a parable about this), you dress your best… unless you want to offend.  If someone important, honored and beloved is coming to your home, you tidy up and put out the best according to your means.  If you are invited to, say, an Ascot Garden Party, you probably wouldn’t choose to wear mustard yellow corduroys.

Moreover, there is a connected between “habit” (clothing) and “habit” (interior disposition, inclination).  Clothes make the man and vice versa, but so do occasions.  Alas, decorum is a little regarded category.  There seems to be little concern today for the apt, the good, the beautiful.

Today at the dicey and slippery CRUX there is a piece about the differences of style and dress of the last few popes.  You might want to check it out.

One of the premises in this piece we cannot accept.   For example, when talking about Pope Francis’ “simpler” style, to use a word, the tailor remarks:

Mancinelli [A tailor in the Borgo Pio… I’ve never really liked his stuff] admits that having grown up in a different time, he has a preference for things that are well-fitted and precise, but he also recognizes that “if the pope decided to take this position, it means that there is a reason.

“Maybe now we can concentrate more on the will of God instead of men,” he added. [I imagine that he is not trying to be sophisticated here, because that’s simply ridiculous.  There is no reason why a person cannot dress well and appropriately, even elegantly, and not also “concentrate on the will of God”.  He admits that SAINT John Paul II had a more sophisticated style than Francis.  So, was JPII focused more on the will of men?]

The two main things to keep in mind when working for the pope, he said, are discretion and adaptability.

“The first day can be a bit shocking,” Mancinelli said, [Indeed.] since you have to get used to a different taste and aesthetic, but after a few days he says, “you learn the differences.”

Mancinelli had a good relationship with Pope Benedict XVI. He “used vestments that were a bit more beautiful, let’s say, in the sense that they were more beautiful to look at,” he said. [More beautiful to look at … well.. yes… that would be the way in which they were more beautiful, I suppose.]

Now, clergy from around the world ask Mancinelli for Pope Francis-inspired cassocks, ready for the daily wear and tear. [Silly.  There have always been cassocks ready for daily wear and tear.] But this new style has its advantages when it comes to time consumption.

“Once we only used silk, today the fabrics are simpler. [HUH? No.  Clearly not “only used silk”.] I am making clothes for some cardinals,” Mancinelli added pointing to the scarlet scraps that littered the floor. “The fabric is very simple, made of wool and light [material].”  [And that’s how it has been for decades now.]

Silk takes much more time to sow, and the simpler fabrics mean less time to make the clothes, he said.

Pope Francis “is more focused on being a good father, a good shepherd, rather than having a beautiful cassock or pants, or even shoes,” Mancinelli said. “I wish I could live many more years, so I can see what happens next!”  [Again, the suggestion that, for example, wearing a beautiful chasuble for Mass or putting on all the papal gear for a meeting with a head of state somehow is in contrast to being “a good father, a good shepherd” is absurd.  As a matter of fact, one might say that not using those things marginalizes a large portion of one’s spiritual charges.]

This same line of argument, if it can be called such, is used also be liberals and iconoclasts who are trying to break down Catholic identity.    This is notable especially in our liturgical worship.   “Noble” simplicity, is rarely so and, indeed, even when it is, it runs contrary to the occasion.  When we are in the realm of worship, less isn’t always more.  And isn’t it true that libs criticize grand liturgy along the lines of Judas criticism of the woman with the alabaster jar?  Moreover, because they think themselves morally superior, they launch their dopey barbs at beautiful vestments.  Again, because they are so superior, they demand that language of worship be dumbed down, music be reduced to the lowest common denominator… because they, in effect, think people are stupid.  I could go on.

No, don’t accept these bad premises when you encounter them.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Yes, this is another false narrative. St John Paul II often wore brown shoes just like our present Holy Father. Pope Francis was seen blessing the St Agnes day lambs for the pallia without regalia… which had also been done at least once by Ven. Pius XII. So there goes that narrative – and there are many examples. It’s interesting to see untrue cliches (hmm, is that redundant?) unfold before our eyes in the silly media. It parallels and helps us understand how such tiresome images were crafted in the media during the reign of (and about) St John XXIII, etc. I’m just going to ignore it.

  2. FranzJosf says:

    First Things has a well thought out article on the subject. “Dress Up: What We Lost in the Casual Revolution” G. Bruce Boyer makes several of the same points as Fr. Z, and expands the ideas. Good article.


  3. John of Chicago says:

    Along with “dumbed down” language and so much insipid, saccharine and florid church music, could we please also gently usher-out those insipid, saccharine and florid objects hanging on the walls and perching on the pedestals of our churches that in no sense, by any reasonable definition or stretch of the imagination, are art. So much of this stuff, from whatever era it comes, simply is not adequate even to be catagorized as “bad art;” church or otherwise. We can do better, we have done better.

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    I remember a story John Prine told years ago when his friend Jerry Jeff Walker finally “made it” in Nashville. According to the story Jerry Jeff’s wife took his bounty and had a big mansion built for them. John ran into Jerry and they decided to write a country song. Being big shots they were going to do this at Jerry’s house on Monday morning. John had never seen the house that Jerry’s wife had built, and that house was embarrassing for Jerry. Mr Prine’s punch line was “Jerry never even knew what a foyer was, and now he owned one. It had a waterfall and a pond.” He then said they put a frog in the pond “so that they might feel better about that part of the house” and when they wrote their song they “took some folding chairs and went out to the garage with the dogs.” Pope Francis might have the same dilemma. A lot of people do.

  5. Gil Garza says:

    By “lighter material” he means polyester and mass produced items. These things look cheap and wear worse but have higher margins than real fabrics because they can be made in sweat shops in the third world where unskilled workers can be exploited by greedy manufacturers.

    Real fabric takes craftsmanship and time. It costs more than cheap “lighter material” but will wear well and last a lifetime or more. The higher price pays for the time and the craftsmanship necessary to make custom items. Profit margins are much lower by necessity.

    You can immediately see how the feigned populism demonstrated by this tailor is really about preserving higher profit margins for retailers and manufacturers at the expense of workers.

    Just say no to cheapo vestments.

  6. Kukla65th says:

    This is such a common area of expressed division especially among Catholic authors that I feel future popes should make public statements using this very issue as a way to show the absurdity of acting as if all who attire themselves in ways that reflect the Church’s liturgical patrimony are all self-obsessed and don’t care about the poor, etc. Oh that a futre Pius XIII (not from that show) or Leo XIV would use their first speech as pope to upbraid people for making these shallow assumptions. One of the best things that bishops could do would be to show that what is beautiful is not opposed to what is charitable and moral.

  7. ZCGP says:

    On the bright side, Pope Francis has been using his watered silk fascia consistently for the past few months, instead of the more drab cream colored one from his earlier pontificate.

  8. Gail F says:

    This is just silly. Anyone who knows anything about sewing, which the pope’s tailor surely does, knows that there is good and bad silk, good and bad wool, good and bad cotton — so clothes made out of really good wool and cut well look better than clothes made out of bad silk and cut badly. Silk, for that matter, is one of strongest and most durable cloths there is. So there would be no reason not to make a vestment made to be very durable out of silk. Satin, which is a weave many associate with silk, is much less durable than most other weaves but you can make wool satin and cotton satin (many sheets are made out of a cotton satin). The same is true of brocade. The first, most beautiful habits I ever saw up close were wool Dominican habits. As well-made and (I assume) costly as a good wool suit. He’s throwing a lot of silliness out here for people who don’t know anything about tailored clothes, but he’s got to know how silly it actually is, because he DOES know. There is a time and a place for everything, and it may be to a pope or bishop’s advantage to go for a simpler look. But look –not cost, durability, or fit — is probably the point.

  9. anna 6 says:

    I recall seeing a photo comparison of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis in the latter’s first Urbi et Orbi. Benedict’s attire was more traditional and elaborate. My take away was that Benedict’s photo looked like “the pope”, in fact any pope. Francis looked like “Jorge Bergoglio”, the net effect being, that despite the fancier garb, Ratzinger was humbly submitting his own persona to that of the office, while Francis was being himself.

    Gooogle the image…the contrast is striking.

  10. Roy Hobbes says:

    Hmmm… I’m a bit confused. If there’s a tailor at the Vatican who makes clothing for the pontiff, then why is Pope (emeritus?) Benedict XVI still wearing his all-white vestments? I thought his stated reason for keeping them, said several years ago, was because there were no available black cassocks that fit him. Surely this tailor could’ve put together a very nice all-black cassock by now. No?

    On a more serious note, I will be the first to admit that I myself need improvement when it comes to my wardrobe. Over the past several years my wife has done her best in trying to make me look presentable, but alas, she can only do so much.

  11. roma247 says:

    “Maybe now we can concentrate more on the will of God instead of men,” he said.

    Unless it involves commandments. Especially the 6th. That’s just too hard. Then it’s much better to focus on the will of men.

  12. Kathleen10 says:

    Eye roll….”cassocks ready for the daily wear and tear”…yes…as the Cardinals and Bishops and the pope head out to the fields to bale some hay, they’ll be comfortable now, because of the “humble” nature of this pope. Good grief are we still beating that horse? Let it lay down already. These people never give it a rest. It seems as if everyone who talks about the pope these days can’t resist sounding like a mother hen about him, explaining, virtue-signaling, my word, enough already.
    They make innuendos about our former popes who understood the importance of proper gear, as you have pointed out here Fr. Z. Next year they’ll have the pope wearing Hawaiian shirts.

  13. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Do not magnificently and sumptuous adorned spaces, glorious and uplifting music, richly decorated altars and tabernacles, and those offering the services, to be garbed in splendid vestments all speak to the heart and spirit of man, assisting him, indeed, stirring him to turn away momentarily from his daily cares and distractions, and lift up his heart to that which is Sacred?

    When a cleric is so unfortunate as to express the view that the very things that *should* assist him to lift the hearts of men to the One who is on High, are unsuitable for him or for other clerics to use or to wear, that amounts to saying that to take men out of themselves and be raised up to God – and to the things of God – is a trivial endeavor. Or worse, a damaging endeavor, because the souls of men should be taken up *exclusively* with concern for the poor here in this life, and should by no means be occupied with thoughts of Eternity. (Whereas the properly disposed Christian works and prays mightily on behalf of the poor, inspired by grace and by his pure devotion to God on High.)

  14. Charles E Flynn says:

    @John of Chicago,

    In her book “The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church“, Anne Roche Muggeridge refers to “banners and junk” in the sanctuary, and to modern images of the Risen Christ in which His toes are pointing downward as “The Diver Who Dived For Our Sins”.

    My local Lutheran church, of which I have fond childhood memories, because they had good summer trips for children of any persuasion, has an outstanding example of the Divine Diver on their exterior brickwork (I have never seen the interior). The gold finish has been carefully maintained. Misguided to be sure, but proper maintenance shows good intention.

  15. iPadre says:

    I’m disappointed that Mr. Mancinelli would suggest that we who have purchased items from his little shop may not be dressing “simple” enough. I acquired my first lace alb from his shop 25 years ago. I used money that was given me by family and friends who were with me for my ordination and 1st Mass of thanksgiving, and continue to think of them as I wear it today. It is adds a special beauty and noble simplicity to the Most Holy Sacrifice I am so privilege to offer.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    One wonders whether any of the more recent vestments come pre-loaded with “the smell of the sheep”.

  17. Former Altar Boy says:

    Regarding decorum in dress, there are apparel regulations for visitors entering St. Peter’s, regulations that should be applied at most Sunday Masses.

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  19. The Egyptian says:

    in a era of nurses looking like they just crawled out of the laundry hamper, doctors not much better, sloppy looking cops, professors in tee shirts, nuns looking like refugees from the old folks home (with no taste in jewelry either), we get a Pope with no sense of decorum. The uniform says a LOT about the person, why do you suppose that a military man in uniform cuts such a good look, bring back the uniform, It must be the end days

  20. Absit invidia says:

    Presentation matters. The outward presentation displays the inward dedication.

    When I interview for jobs I don’t wear a t-shirt bc I think my job skills should speak for themselves; I dress to show that I care enough about my job skills, the honor of working for a living, the place of employment that I am within, my dedication to do my best, and the individuals in my presence that I dress in the best clothes fitting for the work I want to do. If the Vicar of Christ wants to make a real impression he would present himself like a leader who wants to be there, exudes confidence in his subordinates, and shows the world that he takes the Leadership role of Chief Bishop seriously. Presentation matters. You can still have a spirit of poverty without grandstanding it.

    The spirit of poverty is exactly that – the spirit of. A CEO can have status and wealth without being greedy, and conversely a man can be poor but still be greedy.

    If Pope Francis wanted an austere religious vocation, he should have joined the monastic life and declined leadership positions in the Magisrerium of Roman Catholic Church.

  21. Benedict Joseph says:

    “I wish I could live many more years, so I can see what happens next!”
    The man is a glutton for punishment.
    Give me strength.

  22. Ultrarunner says:

    According to Pope Francis, he stole a crucifix from a dead priest by prying it from a rosary in his hands as he rested in state, and because cassocks do not have pockets, to this day he wears the cross in a fabric pouch underneath his cassock.

    Pope Francis may have access to the worlds finest tailors, but he will always be dressed like a third world thief.

  23. Boniface says:

    Ultrarunner, please show more respect for our Holy Father. By the way, Venerable Cardinal Baronius, the saintly disciple of St. Philip Neri, once “stole” the shoes of St Charles Borromeo, his contemporary, to keep as a relic.

  24. Vincent says:

    Ah. This article has reminded me of the last time I was in Italy. We were with an Italian priest and a French seminarian. Immaculately dressed, erect backs, perfectly tailored cassocks. Then one day some American seminarians rolled up to visit: Baggy, dirty cassocks and noticeably less good posture. Maybe it was a bad day!

    I don’t get any of it – but that goes for all current clothing fashions; in my experience if you dress in clothes that are flattering and better tailored, you will feel significantly more comfortable and much more confident. I don’t really understand how ‘loose and ugly’ is somehow a comfortable style any more than ‘tight and ugly’ is. We should all dress properly – it’s a good example and usually can be done without being particularly extravagant…

  25. Emilio says:

    @ChesterFrank – Jorge Mario Bergoglio had an upper middle class upbringing in the densely populated, highly cultured metropolis which is Buenos Aires, Argentina -known as the Paris of South America. Buenos Aires is highly secularized and liberal today, so in the Pope’s youth it would have been even more cultured, of the right kind of culture, than today- especially Catholic culture. Please let me assure you that he knows what a foyer is, and his Italian-Argentine household would have never placed a frog pond in it, for lack of knowing what to do with the space. He went to private school and at least started at a decent college… we can rightly criticize Pope Francis for many things… but a rube he is not. Jorge Mario Bergoglio doesnt like fancy stuff, he doesn’t do any luxury or wordly comforts… he never has, and has been consistent about it. What further complicates things is that Argentines, like Spaniards, unfortunately associate the hierarchy with being buddy-buddy with fascist dictators in the past, and with being overtly, excessively political and worldly… that’s why in these countries, many in the hierarchies there distance themselves from even liturgical beauty… the hierarchy lost alot of trust from the laity during Franco’s regime, during Peron’s.. so the local churches in those places are by and large desperately trying to earn back that trust.. especially by rejecting opulence, even if it’s not all about opulence. Pope Francis seems to live his day to day as if he were still the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, even if he isn’t obviously. Add to this that the Holy Father probably takes his vow of poverty very very seriously…and in a world of celebrity Jesuits who drive Audis and have all the latest Apple gadgets (and who use Pope Francis to suit their purposes) well…we can disagree with the Pope alot, but let’s cut him a little slack too.

  26. Fr. Reader says:

    Interesting perspective.

  27. DavidR says:

    Dude. Rilly?

    He’s not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  28. Boniface says:

    Emilio, there is a great deal of deeply perceptive insight in your comment! Well done, Sir. I too have thought for a long time that what you wrote explains much about where our present Holy Father is earnestly “coming from” in his personal perspective and his desire to do good, though you add new dimensions to it. Thanks for that. As I don’t need to get into again here, however – as a quick aside about something you said on “much we can criticize” about Pope Francis – I believe Catholics should not criticize sitting popes and that Catholics who do are choosing to walk through a minefield of sin and spiritual harm to themselves and others. And doing it anonymously on the internet makes it no better.

    I did love the way Pope Benedict XVI brought back and widely used so many external visual elements in his papacy. I understood why he did so and what it actually meant, as many of us here well do, and of course that visual opulence, just like that of the temple in the Old Testament, was meant only to glorify God, not the priests. However, I also understand that Pope Francis is not obliged to do these things (though he sometimes does, and really very very little has changed from BXVI actually), and that it is for him alone to make these calls.

    In the final accounting of this matter, though, it seems this whole question of analyzing perceived shifts in papal attire is about the anti-Catholic Left looking to advance and exploit yet another discontinuity narrative to mislead the people, since I think Emilio is right that Francis has toned things down not as a criticism of the past, but because, based on his own origins and experience, he thinks it will gain the trust of certain kinds of people in nations scarred by certain clerical behaviors, and thus lead to the salvation of more souls. Let’s continue to fight attempts to sow division in or wage attacks upon the Church/Holy Father (based on nothing) with those daily water cooler conversations in which I hope we all strive to use these silly media pieces as a way to evangelize others. Even my non-Catholic friends, to my delight, are learning to see through the lies so often repeated about what Pope Francis has done, or said, or thinks, etc., and tell me of their own corrections of others!

  29. Michael_Thoma says:


    While I agree with your stance and applaud you for stating it so clearly — does that mean the baggy, grungy, ill-fitted suit wearing Americans/Aussies/Brits, sweater/tie wearing Germans and Irish, and others should opt into cassocks to avoid being tied to their baggy, grungy, ill-fitted suit wearing predecessor’s scandalous actions?

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