There’s an old aphorism that “clothes make the man.” I’m not sure that’s really true, but clothes often make it easier to identify who the man is. That’s certainly true for Catholic clergy, who are often identifiable by their distinctive collars. With some variations, roman collars are of basically three types: the most-popular “tab” collar with it’s white plastic insert, the neck-band white collar, and the dickie-style rabat, which my fashion consultants tell me doesn’t look good on anyone.
For many centuries, Catholic clergy didn’t have distinctive dress apart from their liturgical vestments. In fact, in the year 428, Pope Celestine wrote to the bishops of Gaul, rebuking them for wearing attire that made them conspicuous. But by the sixth century, historical records indicate that Roman clergy were routinely wearing distinctive attire. And in the thirteenth century, the Fourth Lateran Council issued decrees officially regulating clerical dress.
The Roman collar as we know it today probably originated in 1827, and was most likely similar to shirt collars of the time, turned around backward. A detachable form of roman collar was invented by an Anglican cleric named Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod in 1894, and was popularized by the Oxford Movement.
Today’s popular clergy shirts with tab collars are available in multiple colors, with black and white being the most common. In England, they are unflatteringly referred to as “dog collars.” And if you go into clergy clothing stores in Rome– Barbiconi or the famous Gamarelli’s, these shirts are referred to by the English word, “clergyman.”