A clerical collar is an item of Christian clerical clothing. It is a detachable collar that buttons onto a clergy shirt or rabbat (vest), being fastened by two metal studs, one attached at the front and one at the back to hold the collar to the shirt. The collar closes at the back of the neck, presenting a seamless front. It is almost always white and was originally made of cotton or linen but is now frequently made of plastic. Sometimes (especially in Roman Catholic practice) it is attached with a "collaret" or "collarino" that covers the white collar almost completely, except for the top edge and a small white square at the base of the throat, to mimic the collar of a cassock. Sometimes the collar is black (or whatever color is appropriate to the rank of the clergy person), with only a detachable tab of white in the front.
According to the Church of England's Enquiry Centre (citing the Glasgow Herald of December 6, 1894), the detachable clerical collar was invented by the Rev Donald Mcleod, a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister in Glasgow.
By 1840, Anglican clergy developed a sense of separation between themselves and the secular world. One outward symbol of this was the adoption of distinctive clerical dress. This had started with the black coat and white necktie which had been worn for some decades. By the 1880s this had been transmuted into the clerical collar, which was worn almost constantly by the majority of clergy for the rest of the period.
The Reverend Henry McCloud stated that the collar "was nothing else than the shirt collar turned down over the cleric's everyday common dress in compliance with a fashion that began toward the end of the sixteenth century. For when the laity began to turn down their collars, the clergy also took up the mode."
In the Reformed tradition, which stresses preaching as a central concern, pastors often donned preaching tabs, which projected from their clerical collar. Preaching bands (an alternative name for tabs) are also in fact correct dress for Anglican clergy, particularly on occasions such as inductions when choir dress of cassock, surplice, preaching scarf and the academic hood pertaining to degree is worn, as well as at Matins and Evensong.
Invented in the Presbyterian Church, the clerical collar was adopted by other Christian denominations, including Anglican Church, Methodist churches, Eastern Orthodox Church, Baptist churches, Lutheran churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1967, the Roman Catholic Church adopted the clerical collar after the cassock became less popular among priests following the Second Vatican Council.
Use by denomination
In the Roman Catholic Church, the clerical collar is worn by all ranks of clergy, thus, bishops, priests, and deacons—normally transitional but occasionally permanent—often by seminarians who have been admitted to candidacy for the priesthood, as is the case in the Diocese of Rome; and by college and graduate level seminarians with their cassock during liturgical celebrations.
Among the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics a band collarette with no "notch" in front may be worn by seminarians, although the norm is still a standard clerical collar. However, as the cassock is more commonly, if not mandatorily, worn to classes, often a plain white shirt will suffice, or a band collar with no collarette. Slavic cassocks button to the side, and thus a collar is often pointless, whereas a Greek cassock buttons to the front and has a higher collar, so the collar prevents chafing—as was its original function under a cassock. Eastern deacons and sometimes subdeacons, but rarely readers or clerics, also wear a clerical collar, with subdeacons and readers often having a style with no notch, or a tab shirt with no tab. It is important to note that most Orthodox clerics do not wear a clerical collar anyway. Some do, but this is usually restricted to Western Europe and the Americas.
Collars are typically worn by clergy of other groups such as those of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran traditions. Also many Methodist, Pentecostal, non-denominational Christian, and others wear collars. In the Roman Catholic tradition, major seminarians, after receiving admission to candidacy (and thus becoming "candidates" for ordination), are often expected or allowed to wear clerics in the seminary and/or in their dioceses.
In the United Kingdom (and other British-influenced countries, such as Canada), clerical collars have been informally referred to as "dog collars" since the mid-nineteenth century. The term Roman collar is equivalent to "clerical collar" and does not necessarily mean that the wearer is Roman Catholic.
During the 1950s the Reverend Alec Vidler began to advocate the abolition of the clerical collar in favour of a black shirt and white tie, but whilst some clergy adopted this mode of dress it did not become widespread. 
Members of religious orders will often wear a "Brother's Collar" or "Brothers Collarette" which is very similar to a typical clerical collar, but revealing a noticeably smaller amount of the white band.
- Article from The Times, 14 March 2002, reproduced online at SaltForSermons.Org.UK
- Article on Donald McLeod from Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909, reproduced online at Glasgow Digital Library
- Rev. Kenneth W. Collins (19 October 2009). Vestments and Clericals. Hemera Technologies, Inc.
The Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) invented the neck-band shirt style. Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands for quite some time; McLeod combined them with the detachable collar that was in use at the time. The Roman Catholic Church did not adopt them as streetwear for clergy until later. They modified Rev. McLeod’s design into the tab-collar style.
- Theo Clemens, Wim Janse (19 October 2009). The Pastor Bonus: Papers Read at the British-Dutch Colloquiumat Utrecht, 18–21 September 2002 (Nederlands Archief Voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History, 83). Brill Academic Publishers.
Although in England at least, less so in Wales, he belonged by education and birth to the middle or higher echelons of society, by about 1840 he was developing an increasing sense of separation between himself and the secular world. One outward symbol of this was the adoption of distinctive clerical dress. This had started with the black coat and white necktie which had been worn for some decades. By the 1880s it had been transmuted into the clerical collar, which was worn almost constantly by the majority of clergy for the rest of the period.
- Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church
- Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. 'dog-collar'.
- Webster's Dictionary definition of "Roman collar"
- Vidler, A.R. 1977, Scenes from a Clerical Life, London, Collins.
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