What are the Anglican Vestments?

By |2018-08-21T12:39:06+00:00August 21st, 2018|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , , , |22 Comments

This post about Anglican vestments first appeared on June 29, 2016. Updated on August 21, 2018.


Anglican Vestments Can Be Confusing

I knew almost nothing about Anglican vestments when I first visited an Anglican church. My only experience of robes was graduations—and that one time my dad wore a hilarious robe with colorful puffies glued onto it by a friend, as a joke.

(You can read more about my [Greg’s] Anglican journey here.)

You walk into an Anglican church and you see some ministers wearing white robes of some sort, with colorful scarf-like things around their necks, and some are diagonal. A few lay people are wearing robes, and so is the choir.

Sometimes you’ll see brightly colored material over the top of the white robes.

Or you might be likely to see only the priest vested but not the other servers or the musicians. In some places, you might see just the scarf-y thing without the white robes.

And after a few months, you notice that the colors are changing over the course of something called the church year… what’s up with all of this?

So, like many of you, I was not sure why the robes, and I definitely wasn’t sure what they were for, and what to call them.

But now I do know something about Anglican vestments, having worn them myself for almost 10 years. (Not continuously or every day. Mostly just on Sundays! So, I’ll tell you about the vestments. Not all about them—that would be boring and, quite frankly, I’m not an expert—but just the basics that you can visibly see.

Anglican Vestments: The Basic Idea

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Photos from Almy.

The basic idea of Anglican vestments is to symbolize order, office and role or function.

This is true of any uniform that we use in society. They are not supposed to be used for personal expression, but are supposed to be uniform within certain sacred design patterns. (e.g. they aren’t supposed to have personalized messages, political messages/symbols, sports or patriotic related colors/symbols, or iron-on pictures of my children, etc).

White Overgarment: Cassock-Alb or Surplice

White robes have long signified the righteousness of Christ, worn as a garment.

Wearing a white robe means that I’m not serving because I’m a great guy. I’m serving because Jesus loves me and you—and he covers me with his righteousness.

The two principle white vestments are the Cassock-Alb or the Surplice.

The Cassock-Alb is a single garment. The Surplice is always worn over a cassock (see next).

Black Garment: Cassock

Black robes are really/technically not vestments. The black Cassock (the one that looks like Neo’s outfit in the Matrix) was just the priest’s street clothes back in the day. The cassock is worn under a white surplice.

Now, sometimes you’ll see a purple or red cassock. These are used in the same way as the black cassock. Often they are associated with the colors of the cathedral church or the Bishop’s canons (assisting people).

Eucharistic Vesture: Chasuble or Dalmatic

Some of you will see a priest wearing a Chasuble. This is a large piece of material, cut round or diamond shape, with an opening in the middle. This is worn during eucharistic services.

(To learn more about the structure and parts of Holy Communion, AKA the Eucharist, go here.)

The deacon will wear a similar vestment called the Dalmatic. Under this is the white alb.

Generally, a church either really loves these vestments, and uses them all the time, or doesn’t use them at all. Not much of an in-between there.

Scarves: Stole or Tippet

Stoles are signs of order and office. The Priest’s Stole hangs vertically over each shoulder. The Deacon’s Stole hangs diagonally from the left shoulder and then is secured at the right side.

Note that a black Tippet is not a stole. A deacon or priest will wear these for non-eucharistic offices at times, or when not serving at the altar in a particular service.

Lay ministers, readers, or choir members will sometimes wear a Cassock-Alb or Cassock and Surplice with no stole (some customs include a blue reader’s “scarf” which isn’t considered a stole).

Belt: Cinctures

The Cincture is a belt for an Alb or a Cassock. These come in band or rope varieties.

Colors

The colors of the stoles, as well as the Chasuble and Dalmatic, change based on the seasons of the church year. Basically like this:


I hope this brief guide to Anglican Vestments answers your basic questions. If not, please comment below!

Note: I’m using Almy’s photos here, but this post is not sponsored by them and we receive no benefit from the link. 

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.

22 Comments

  1. Lisa McEarl Browning June 29, 2016 at 9:17 am - Reply

    LOVED the official shoe of Anglican clergy everywhere! Thanks for this informative article. I really enjoy this blog.

    • Greg Goebel June 29, 2016 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Lisa, thanks for reading and commenting. Glad this was helpful. Now I need to go out and purchase that priest shoe myself.

  2. Fr. Eliot Handziak June 29, 2016 at 11:37 am - Reply

    The one thing I would add is that white was always traditional color for ordinations and is still so in the Roman Tradition. As Bishop Peter Beckwith ( Assisitng Bishop of the Great Lakes Diocese and former Episcopal Bishop of Springfield, IL) told me as we were preparing for my ordination, Red is the nouveau color for ordinations. It was white because it followed the sense of purity that accompanied baptism, weddings, burial. Just thought I would add that.

    • Greg Goebel June 29, 2016 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Thank you Fr. Eliot. That’s a helpful note.

    • Geoffrey Pickering June 19, 2017 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Re white replaced by red, that has happened to Pentecost too; it was White Sunday (Whitsun) once.

  3. John Lark June 29, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the interesting article. I did learn a lot of this stuff as a catechumen, but having a little refresher article was nice.
    Thanks!

  4. David Craigwell July 21, 2016 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    you mentioned Red for comfirmation but i mostly see an Off White being used .

    • Eliot July 22, 2016 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      I commented earlier on this. Red is the nouveau color for ordinations and confirmations; however, it is not the traditional color. White is the color for baptism, confirmation, ordinations, weddings, funerals. It has to do with purity. People have started to use red because it is associated with the Holy Spirit, but can you imagine using red at a baptism or wedding, or a funeral? No one would do that. We should really be consistent and use white.

  5. Viv Ridpath June 24, 2017 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I am a first year ordinand, brought up in the no vestments type of church. Now I amhaving a fresh look at them and their significance. So it’s helpful to know what they’re called! T
    thank you.

  6. David Kellner September 11, 2017 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    I saw in some Church of England worships, that priests wear cope instead of chasuble or tippet. I would like to ask: when to wear cope and when to wear tippet (not only in CofE)?

    • Wilfred Alero December 21, 2017 at 5:14 am - Reply

      I am a bishop’s chaplain and and this makes me very keen in Anglican liturgy. The only thing that bar the priest from wearing a cope is what is in the mindset that it is the bishop’s vestment. Otherwise it can be used anytime by a priest in place of the chasuble. It is a winter vestment meant to keep the bishop warm during the service. Priests can only keep a way from chameer and crotchet, miter, zucheto, episcopal ring and crozier which are reserved for bishops.

  7. Maura Cook October 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I have a sister being ordained on 12/02/2017; I would like to make the stole she will wear for the ordination (as a surprise) – is there a specific color and design?

    • Joshua Steele October 29, 2017 at 5:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Maura! Ordination stoles are usually red. As for the design, is she getting ordained as a deacon? Or as a priest? Also, this website looks helpful, as far as sewing patterns go: Ecclesiastical Sewing.

      • Maura Cook October 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm - Reply

        Well, it’s the first step, so I believe it must be deacon.. I’ll have to double check on that though. I know it’s her first ordination, and she took all the exams earlier this summer.. Does that help?

        • Michael Daigle January 30, 2018 at 10:20 am - Reply

          Maura – Your sister is what is known as a Transitional Deacon. There are two types of Deacons. A Transitional Deacon is on who in in the process of becoming a Priest. They must be ordained as a Deacon first and serve as a Deacon for 6 months, then they can be ordained as a Priest. The other type of Deacon is a Vocational Deacon. These Deacons are permanent Deacons. In other words, they are not in the process of becoming a Priest. The want to remain Deacons permanently and most often, they have secular jobs outside of their ministry as Deacons.

      • Maura October 30, 2017 at 7:24 pm - Reply

        A priest. She will only be a deacon until June

        • Joshua Steele October 30, 2017 at 9:10 pm - Reply

          OK, I ask because the design for the stole would differ depending on whether the ordination is for becoming a deacon or a priest. The deacon stole is the one worn over one shoulder and — although I don’t know much about sewing — I’m assuming it would be a bit more difficult to make. The priest stole, however, is worn over both shoulders.

      • Wilfred Alero December 21, 2017 at 5:20 am - Reply

        Dear Maura and Joshua,
        Ordination stoles are red but people being made deacons and priests should wear black cassock, surplice and black preaching scarf(stole), This is the Anglican tradition though other diocese may be doing it differently because of autonomy.

  8. Michael Daigle January 30, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Fr. Goebel –

    While I’m sure that it was an unintentional oversight, when you were talking about lay persons vestments, you forgot to mention the vestments worn by Vergers. While the vestments worn by vergers differs greatly from church to church, the basic standard is a black cassock with a Vergers Gown worn over top of the cassock. Additionally, most Vergers wear a Pectoral Cross (either a crucifix or a plain cross). Also, while not a vestment per se, Vergers carry a Virge when leading a procession into the church as a symbol of their office.

    Michael Daigle
    Secretary
    Vergers Guild of the Anglican Church in North America

  9. Sudduth Rea Cummings June 27, 2018 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    You omitted the cope as well as the bishop’s mitre, crozier, as well as rochet and chimere–the latter is getting a bit in the esoteric area that most visitors or even laity for that matter. How about a follow-up article at the various meanings that have been attached to the vestments–such as the traditional spiritual significance of the Eucharistic vestments (e.g., alb representing the baptismal garment of white) and even bands: t
    the two tablets of the law, and/or Law and Gospel, etc.

  10. Rev. Dennis Washburn July 27, 2018 at 5:51 am - Reply

    The basic information presented is good, but practices have varied and still vary a lot. For example, the colors associated with seasons and occasions have a lot to do with nineteenth-century Roman Catholic rules and the development of church supply businesses. Among Anglicans, there has been more variation. Gold was often used for “high” days, and dark blue was often used at more somber times. Off-white course materials were sometimes used in Lent. Black (or violet) was the common color for adult funerals, and white was for the funerals of children. Furthermore, historically from 1552/1559 until after 1850, most Anglican priests just wore black cassock, surplice and black scarf or tippet for all services.

  11. Shawn Bailey August 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Aw, that’s just an “ordinary” shoe.

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