The cassock, a close-fitting gown buttoning down the front and reaching to the feet, is not a vestment so much as the daily uniform of the Western priest. Today a priest might be seen in regular “street clothing”, or in a shirt or blouse with a Roman collar or solid “unnotched” white band Anglican collar, and in a more formal setting a suit with a clerical shirt or blouse. The color is usually black although it may be ivory or white in tropical climes. This is his/her normal working uniform when he/she is not officiating at a liturgy or performing a sacrament. The cassock derives historically from the tunic that was formerly worn underneath the toga. The cassock to the left is summer weight, Roman collared, and unsashed. A priest will wear a black sash with this, sometimes fringed on the ends.
The word cassock probably comes from the word “casaque” which means cloak; or cassaca, which means white. In older days, it was known in Latin as vestis talaris. Cassocks or soutanes are sometimes worn with an elbow-length shoulder capelet which is closed down the front by means of buttons. This should not be confused with the Roman Catholic clergy garment, the mozzetta . The privilege of wearing the mozzetta belongs properly to no one but the pope, cardinals, exempt abbots, abbots and some canons. The piping and sash and buttons of a bishop is a shade of fuschia-red.
Soutane- French, alteration (influenced by French sous, under) of obsolete sottane, from Italian sottana, from sotto, under, from Latin subtus, from sub. A priest’s soutane is easily identifiable by the double-thick, turned back cuffs which add to the life of the garment as the cuff area is usually the first to show wear due to friction against desktops, prie-dieux and the mensa of the altar. Some vestment houses line the hem of a good-quality cassock with a stiff fringed facing. This is humorously called a “crumb-duster”. Cassocks come in all weights of fabric, depending on the climate or season of the year.
Cassocks are also seen on choristers and worn with a white neck ruff by very young choristers, and are generally red. Although the trebles dislike the neck ruffs, and refer to them as “coffee filters”, the effect is quite charming!
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