The parson wears black outdoors

I was reading PeaceBang’s encomium on the trench coat (“Why You Need a Trench“) and she invoked my name. (I’ll confess I thought of World War One when I first saw the title)

There are special fancy capes that clergy can wear, but although Boy in the Bands will disagree with me, I tend to think they suit Roman archbishops and cardinals fairly well but they’re just a bit too High Priestly Drag for the average Protestant clergyperson.

I suppose I should reply. Of course I disagree. But let me confess that I can’t find a picture of what I want and — blast! — Wippell’s catalog still isn’t all online. (Get their print catalog though; a desk reference for good ecclesiastic taste.)
First, we have to visualize two similarly cut garments: the cope commonly worn as an alternative to the chasuble, and the cappa nigra which I would offer for your ecclesiastic sartorial consideration.

Here’s a picture of the Rev. Garrett Hughes, Anglican priest and Wikipedian, wearing a cope (back view) — you’ll recall him from our discussion on the surplice. A lovely vestment and just the thing I’d want to wear, say, for Solemn Evensong (but not the Eucharist) were I an Anglican priest, but not as a substitute for hearty outerware. This is not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about a cloak, about the same size, made of heavy black wool or wool blend. The cloth is not unlike a pea coat’s. While there is a frog closure, it doesn’t hold this garment in place; your shoulders do all the work. (And once the frog is undone, it just takes a flick of the shoulder to remove it.)

You would not wear this indoors (unless the heat was out) but on the porch of the church or outdoors: greeting people after a service, a chilly or drizzly internment, or a Palm Sunday procession perhaps if the winter is late in passing. I would gladly wear it over a Geneva gown or over cassock and surplice. Think layers.

So why don’t I post a picture of me in my cappa? Because I don’t own one. Even when I was in the parish, I never had enough opportunity to wear one. Maybe if you’re the Associate Minister for Funerals for a church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan you could justify the cost.

Yeah, I have a coat, but I don’t like a belt or the typical wide lapels of the standard trench coat. Fine for some, but I think it would read private detective on me, like a peacoat would read longshoreman. I got a black balmaccan — calf-length, small collar, single breasted –  because I think the line suggests angry young cleric from the 60s. I can dig that. It takes a clerical collar perfectly.

But this guy in a London Fog balmaacan looks like a dufus. Or a flasher. Plus my LF cost about $160.

Categorized as Vestments

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. The more High Priestly Drag the better! Sakes, we’re all in jeans; casual suits at best. Let’s elevate things a bit with the vestments. Consider it the sartorial return to reverence in church.

    Of course, I am Episcopalian, so you may wish to factor in the source of the comments. :)

    BTW, as an aside, I had occasion to discuss Robert Toombs the other day.

  2. That guy TOTALLY looks like a doofus with his ridiculously coiffed hair and his WHITE PANTS AND BOOTS! And he’s all awkward and stuff.
    I love the– what did you call it? Baccalaureate?

  3. Well, I’ve a cappa nigra that I’ve had for years, given to my by a dear dear friend. I’ve worn it all over the world; it works perfectly for those of us who loathe umbrellas and/or lose the damn things!; now that I’m ordained, we find ourselves in Panama where a t-shirt and shorts out of tropical weight white wool seems to be the only truly comfortable clothing!

    I am sooo looking forward to a return to the US or Canada or Europe–some place with cold! And one of the best reasons to return–getting my cappa nigra back from Skip and wearing it everywhere when it’s cold!

    I do dream of one in cashmere although that’s not the greatest water-resistant wool.

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