A clerical diversion

A clerical diversion

I must beg the indulgence of the majority of this blog’s readers. This is a clerical post, insofar as it won’t be of much interest to laypeople. That’s something I generally avoid, but I’ve made an exception this time.

A few incoming seminarians have asked me for advice on soutanes. Since more than one person has contacted me about this, I thought I might as well post it on my blog.

The soutane or cassock is the default mode of dress for clergy in the Latin Church. It has never been the custom in Australia to use the soutane as street wear. However, it is the default garb (the alb is a popular alternative) for liturgical celebrations outside Mass, and some priests wear the soutane around their parish and school. Seminarians wear the soutane when they are serving at Mass, and when they attend ordinations and similar events in choir.

Where does one get a soutane?

Buying a soutane is a bit like buying a suit. It isn’t something you do lightly. It’s an expensive business, and you want something that fits, and which will last!

Since it’s so expensive, first year seminarians don’t usually buy a soutane. There’s always a lot of hand-me-downs floating around the seminary. Most guys wait until the end of first year, or even later, to buy their own soutane.

The best soutanes are from Barbiconi and Gamirelli in Rome. The only catch is, they’re expensive. $800 or more. Guys don’t normally buy a Roman soutane until they’re preparing for their diaconate ordination.

Cheaper soutanes are available in Vietnam and the Philippines. I have two replicas of my Barbiconi soutane (one black and one white) which cost only $50 each. The only catch is that I had to order them in person, in Saigon.

A happy medium lies in Poland. Much cheaper than Rome, more accessible than Vietnam — ie: available online. They cost about $300.

A final alternative is to source your own tailor and negotiate a price. In that case, it’s worth providing them with the Barbiconi measurement form, which is the most exhaustive. Just don’t take the measurements yourself. You’ll need another person to record accurate figures.

  • MuMu

    There is also the wonderful apostolate of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master in Camberwell. They will sew clerical gear to your specifications and using the fabric of your choice, Fathers. I can personally vouch for them as have taken several difficult assignments to the sisters and have been thrilled with the results.
    So good to support local industries, especially when they wear the veil, don’t you think?

    • Good point MuMu. They don’t do soutanes, but I asked the sisters in Camberwell to take my measurements. They’re good for custom made albs and surplices.

      (It might be added that seminarians have been known to refer to them as the Sister Disciples of the Divine Ripoff, because their prices are so high. But the sisters themselves are so friendly and supportive, that if they’re able, most guys willingly pay the higher prices!)

      • MuMu

        Well, if I could sew, I’d happily make you a soutane, Fr John. But I’m hopeless at it. It’s a great pity priests can’t get soutanes custom-made in Australia.

      • Anne

        Mu Mu and here was I thinking you could embroider beautifully. You disappoint me. And Fr John between the make up and soutane you really would look cute. 🙂 (lol)

      • I wear the soutane only occasionally Anne, and the occasions I wear make up are happily rarer still!

        I don’t think I’ll EVER wear both at once. In fact, after your comment, I’ll make certain it never happens. Ha ha.

      • Anne

        Darn it Fr John and I was sooooooooo looking forward to seeing both together at the same time., soutane an make up that is. Its a huge disappointment the same size as WCE losing its chance at grandfinal. Its of that dimension
        Now ,how am I ever going to recover?

  • Stephen K

    Father John (I couldn’t pass this one by!), I am surprised there is a dearth of suitable home-grown tailors who can make a decent soutane. I had a tailored gabardine soutane made in 1972, from a tailor shop on an upper floor in Surry Hills, reached by a narrow staircase. But I also had an off-the-rack cotton-polyester soutane from Pelligrini’s on special for something like $20 or 25 which was light and which I much preferred.

    I personally always liked the soutane and don’t mind clergy wearing them, so long as they have a servant, not a superior, attitude to accompany them. (I committed all the sins of mental clericalism in my earlier life, and now thoroughly repent them! These days, of course, I am inclined to think Mao-suits would also be appropriate, and cheaper and more befitting a clerical proletariat.)

    • Mao-suits for a clerical proletariat? Ha ha. You write some great lines Stephen. Not unlike Max Lindenman, who could have been reading my soul when he blogged about soutanes a few weeks before I was ordained. It might resonate with you too!

    • Stephen K

      What a riot! Yes, it resonated. (But I don’t think I can compete with Max!)

  • McCormack

    How about English robemakers, such as Watts & Co, or Wippell’s?

    The JJ Hogan ones from NSW are not too bad either… Basic, but not too bad…

    • I could be wrong, McCormack, but I don’t think soutanes are available from JJ Hogan anymore. Guys in my year level bought them, but that’s six or more years ago now.

      If anyone can prove me wrong, I’m happy to amend that!

      As for Watts, etc., I’ve heard it said that the best clerical shirts are made in England. They’re made to order apparently. I bet it costs a bomb though, which kinda defeats one of the purposes of clerical clothing.

  • “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes..” Jesus Christ (Luke 20:26)

    • JO

      When I go to Rome and see the priests and nuns in their long robes/habits- I smile and say a pray for them. How could I pray for those priests and nuns who I can’t recognize? I say – the soutane is a winner!!!!

  • MuMu

    There is a practice among “our” priests to wear the soutane around the Church and adjacent grounds, but outside of these, they wear their clerical suit and collar. The latter is a penance these days, I would have thought.

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