The charming picture above was my Christmas card last year and some may recall the lace-bordered white cottas worn by young altar servers and acolytes over red or black cassocks, worn in churches up until very recently when white servers’ albs became the fashion. The cotta is a short version of a surplice, and most usually seen on young servers of 6-14 years of age and occasionally on young choir members. Black cassocks were once worn under the cotta, and still are in some churches, during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, red being worn the rest of the year. The neckline for servers or the chancel altar party are squared, choir cottas and surplices are rounded at the neck, the choir director and organist having a “split sleeve” for ease of movement while playing or conducting. The English choir schools, especially boy choirs make use of the very full and long-sleeved “angel wing” surplice over a red cassock with rounded neckline. Clergy make use of this style also when in full choir dress with tippet and academic hood over a black cassock.
Ely Choir English-Style surplices
Young servers frequently had attached filet crochet or bobbin lace on the hem of their cottas and sleeve ends, neckline or yoke. The Sisters and altar guilds often produced amazing lace and crochet edgings for this purpose which can still be found, often on Ebay. The average price nowdays for such a garment, depending on the intricacy and condition of the trimmings can be in the $40-$100 range. Some especially fine edging work was produced in the convents of Quebec, Brussels, and England.
Large-sleeved tunic of half-length, made of fine linen or cotton, and worn by all the clergy. The wider sleeves distinguish it from the alb and it differs from the alb inasmuch as it is shorter and is never girded. It is sometimes ornamented at the hem and the sleeves either with embroidery, or with lace-like insertions. It is the choir dress, the vestment for processions, the official priestly dress of the lower clergy, the vestment worn by the priest when giving blessings, at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, etc.; in the last-mentioned cases it is the substitute for the alb, which, according to present custom, is worn only at the celebration of the Eucharist and a few other functions. (Catholic Encyclopedia- New Advent)
Wippell’s is currently having a great clearance sale on surplices and cottas, and they last forever! Wippell albs are also wonderfully made, full, with maniple button and wear like iron without yellowing. http://www.wippell.com/clearance.php?id=26
Sheer Schiffli embroidered surplice available for $169 from http://www.christianexpressionsuperstore.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=4290
Almy’s offers a nice lace insertion surplice with deep pleats which are great for “full-figured” types.