Dear Mr. Waddey: Why do clergy persons wear reversed collars? Can you give me a reason or background for this apparel? – Norman
Dear Norman: The clergy collar is identified as the “Roman collar”. It is said to be a stylized version of the neck cloth worn by cultured men of the 18th century. Interestingly, prior to the 6th century, Church leaders wore no special garments. They dressed as did all other church members.
During the 17th century, churches began to insist on their clerics dressing in black, likely to emphasize the seriousness and solemnity of their profession. In 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore issued a decree that all Catholic clergymen must wear their collar when outside of their homes. Today, one will see the collar worn by ministers of the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Some Methodist and Presbyterians and others of lesser bodies also choose this adornment.
The reversed collar is an integral part of the clergy dress worn by those ministers. The purpose for the special attire is
(1) to separate them from the lay people, i.e., the common folks of their churches. Along with their special clothing goes the special religious titles of honor such as “Reverend, Right Reverend, Most Reverend, The Very Right Reverend, etc.”
(2) The collar identifies them as clergy men, or “holy men,” and is designed to remind people to show proper reverence, respect, and deference to the wearer.
The idea of a separate clergy for the church is totally foreign to the New Testament of Christ. Every Christian is a member of the royal priesthood of Christ (I Pet. 2:5-9) and is fully qualified to offer up his own prayers and worship to God. Christians are referred to by the inspired writers as the “laos” or laity of God (I Pet. 2:9, “a people for God’s own possession”), and as the “kleros” or clergy of God (Eph. 1:11, rendered heritage in the English).