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Clerical Clothing Symbolism: Things you need to know

15th September 2021

Clothing is one of the most important aspects for the figureheads of religious communities. In the church, the attire symbolises the roles and denominations of key individuals within the organisation. The clothes that people wear inside their ministry could convey a great deal to the meaning and history behind them.

You’ll often see priests and other clergy members wearing unique shirts and robes which make them easily recognizable to members of the community. You may hold the opinion that their clothing is a part of who they are and how they want to appear – and you would not be too far wrong about that. However, this is often for the purpose of providing a focal point and clearly displaying their position to churchgoers for immediate identification for communities.

The clothing worn by priests may appear over-the-top simply by the look and presentation of all those layers and flowy garments. However, they are surprisingly comfortable enough to be worn for daily use, regardless of weather conditions. The fabric used in making them is often lightweight but durable enough for them to be suitable for year-round use.

Clerical clothing is usually made from low-maintenance textiles like linen, polyester, or cotton. So, if you’re out shopping for one, better consider any of those materials. Also, it’s best to know how to care for your clerical garments in order to make them long lasting and maintain original appearance.

More often than not, you can buy many articles of clerical clothing directly from ministries or religious institutions. However, they are also available from a number of retail businesses that specialize in designing and manufacturing clerical attire. Hammond and Harper of London have been creating clerical clothing options for the clergy for over 20 years.

The advantage of buying them from retail stores is that you have a wider range of options available, such as colour, sizes and styles. While at it, you can also shop for other accessories that you may need, such as collar studs, bib stocks, and a variety of clergy collars that will complete your clerical ensemble. Just be sure to know what kind of accessories to look for so you won’t mistakenly buy something you won’t be able to use!


Catholic priests predominantly wear black during non-liturgical and formal service. Black is the most recognisable colour of clerical clothing, with most denominations wearing black shirts as their primary attire. Traditional black shirts and cassocks are worn for everyday attire, as well as in public. Black is considered the primary colour for shirts and cassocks, as worn by members of the clergy.

In some denominations, priests and church leaders often avoid donning black vestments during funerals or any event or holiday that’s related to death like the Feast of All Souls. However, younger clergy members have become more comfortable in wearing black regardless of the occasion. After all, there’s no strict rule about the appropriateness of black vestments for individual occasions.

White shirts are common for clergy to wear during formal ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, or religious holidays. The white shirt is generally worn under a cloak or robe during a ceremony, but not worn out in public. A clergy shirt of this colour is less commonly worn with different colour collars that relate to either a season or a specific type of event.

Purple (or Roman Purple) is used to designate a specific position in the church, such as a Bishop or senior Bishop. At times, one Bishop may wear a purple clergy shirt in the presence of a senior Bishop, so that there can be the distinction between the two. Roman Purple is also used for services of repentance. Whilst a red or maroon shirt can also denote a Bishop, it is usually Cardinals who wear  maroon to convey their higher position within the church.

For liturgical occasions and ceremonies such as weddings, masses, or funerals, priests usually wear a ceremonial vestment as a sign of respect to the importance of the service. The ceremonial vestment is highly regarded as an essential article of clerical clothing that a priest must wear when the occasion requires it.

Among the most typical liturgical vestments are:

Liturgical vestments also come in a variety of colours depending on the corresponding time of the year and event. Here are some of the colours and their symbolism:

The clerical attire is more than just a layer of garments and fabrics. It holds a deeper and more spiritual meaning that you should know of if you plan on being a member of any religious organization in the future. The colours are also very specific to their symbolism and being aware of these things shows a great amount of respect and belief in your chosen clergy and faith.