For many years, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and even the Roman Catholic priests and preachers have worn what is known as the Clerical Collar. The collar, a simple tab collar attached to a clergy shirt, has come to distinguish the clergy from everyone else.
This simple statement has been around so long that most of us don’t think about it. But where did the clerical collar come from, and how did so many sects end up adopting it? To answer these questions here are some interesting facts.
The Clerical Collar First Showed up in the 16th Century
In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation began. Those who thought the Catholic Pope did not have true authority over the purgatory split with the church followed the teachings of Martin Luther instead. However, the Protestants weren’t the only ones to split from the Pope at this time.
Presbyterians, whose reformations were based on the teachings of John Calvin and John Knox, also moved away from Rome. The Presbyterian believers travelled around on horseback, spreading the word of their religion, wearing all black and a cravat around their necks.
This cravat was the beginning of the clerical collar. Although it originated as a simple scarf tied around the neck, the clerical collar has altered over the years to look like the stiff, white tab collar we know today.
Many religions have adopted it as a way to distinguish priests and pastors from the rest of the flock. The Presbyterian collar was not adopted by the Catholic Church until the 18th century.
The Clerical Collar is Symbolic to the Wearer, but Also Practical
The Presbyterian clerics wore solid black outfits for modesty and piety, and the white scarf was their symbol for the yoke of God, but the scarf also had a more practical use; the travelling religious men on horseback would use these white scarves as sweatbands.
The Concept is as Old as Christianity Itself
The origins of the clerical collar and clergy shirts seem to go back further than just the 16th century; the Presbyterians got their dress code from Jesus himself. In the Bible, Jesus is said to wear clerical robes. The clerical robes at the time would have been a modest black ankle-length robe, most likely with a hood.
He was also said to have worn a shawl in white about his neck. The Presbyterians modelled their look after how they imagined Jesus to look in these robes with his white shawl around his neck.
There are Three Styles of the Clerical Collar
The Anglican Collar: This collar is almost a regular shirt collar. The shirt, which is called a tab collar is attached to a clergy shirt with buttons to the top like a normal dress shirt. The collar folds over, also like a regular button-up. But instead of the knot of a tie, the center is filled in with a white tab collar. The effect is a black collar with a white rectangle in the center. The tab is made of a stiff material, usually plastic.
The Roman Collar: The Roman Collar is almost identical to the Anglican Collar. However, the tab collar shirt has a smaller gap between the edges of the collar. Therefore, when the white collar is added, the white center is a much smaller square instead of a rectangle at the throat.
The “Dog Collar”: The Dog Collar is a completely different kind of clerical collar. Instead of the black collar with the white rectangle in the center, the Dog Collar is a solid white ring that goes all the way around. This collar was invented in Scotland in the late 1800s. They are used with a neckband shirt instead of a tab collar clergy shirt.
Catholic Priests Didn’t Adopt the Clerical Tab Collar Until the 18th Century
During the French Revolution, when the Catholic Church was starting to lose power in Europe, a kind of clerical collar came in style for the Vatican. The Pope saw that the upturned collar was popular fashion among men at the time, and he wanted to revamp the image of the church.
So the church added a white collar around the neck, similar to the Presbyterian tab collar, to the list of clothing for priests; this ensured that all Catholic priests dressed more like their flock. The Vatican hoped the introduction of this little bit of style would make the church more popular.
The Idea for the Clerical Collar Might Have Also Been Influenced by the Romans
Although the clerical collar is relatively new to the church, the idea of a neck wrappings is not. The Catholic Church long ago adopted a similar wrap from Rome. In ancient Rome, there was a wrapped cowl worn by soldiers that kept sweat from fall into their eyes and also from soaking into leather armor called an amice.
This wrapped cowl is a large rectangular piece of fabric that is wrapped over the head, around the neck, then tied around the chest. Adopted by Catholic priests in early days of Christianity, they were used as a way to keep sweat from damaging expensive and hard-to-clean vestments.
The spiritual significance of the amice grew in the middle ages. The amice became a symbol of the battle against Satan since it originated as part of a soldier’s uniform. It serves as a reminder to “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The Roman cowl does bear similarities to the clerical collar and may have been part of the influence for 16th century Presbyterians to add a collar to their modest black robes.
Wearing Clerical Collars Is Now the Norm for Many Christian Religions
As you know, the Presbyterians wear the tab clerical collar shirts, and it was later adopted by the Catholics as well. But did you know many other religions also use the clerical collar?
Anglicans wear the clerical collar tab shirts, as do most Methodists and Lutherans. Many different religions require or suggest their clergy wear a clerical collar or something very similar to it as a way to identify the clergy from the rest of the congregation.
Clerical Collars are Ruffs in Some Countries
In some Scandinavian countries, the clergy doesn’t wear clerical collars. They instead opt for the more opulent looking ruff. A ruff is a round collar with a ruffle that wraps around the neck and ties into place. It creates a circle of white around the neck in a stiff fabric.
The Clerical Collar is an Important Symbol for the Church
The Clerical Collar is an interesting piece of both Catholic and Presbyterian history. The collar evolved from a simple wrap into the iconic symbol of clericalism it is today.
The white tab collar clergy shirt is a symbol for many people of the clergy, of trust, and of a connection to their religion. White tab collars make priests and pastors highly visible and easy to seek out. But the clerical collar is also a historically significant religious symbol that also serves as a reminder of the yoke of God.