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Trends in Clergy and Choir Apparel
By: Vickie Hammersmith

In the early days of the church apparel industry, choirs wore a traditional one color robe, and the pastor would give his sermon in a traditional black clergy robe. Today, churches draw inspiration from their colorful sanctuaries to select modern-day attire.

Although robe styles have not changed drastically, fabrics, colors, and vibrant trims have revived apparel.

Five years ago, there were literally hundreds of colors to choose from, as well as a multitude of easy-care, lightweight fabrics. However, recent economic conditions have forced suppliers to close businesses or to streamline inventory.

It has become increasingly difficult to locate many fabrics and colors previously offered. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer. Don’t be afraid to inquire into fabrics and colors of interest. Since these are constantly changing, it is difficult to know from month to month what will be available.

Current economic conditions have also taken a toll on the finances of churches. Many choirs and pastors are wearing attire longer. Clergy robes with worn velvet can be revived by replacing velvet panels. Typically, the main part of the robe, once dry-cleaned, will retain its original color and integrity.

Choirs can change their look simply by adding a separate stole in a new color with new embroidery. Choirs and pastors usually get tired of robes before they wear out.

Other changes are pastors who don a “dressed up cassock.” This type of garment has been worn for years with a surplice on top. The new pastor cassock has various trims and is typically made in a combination of two different colors.

This type of garment has become popular among younger pastors coming out of the seminary, as they feel this garment is lighter in weight and less constricting in comparison with the traditional robe with velvet panels and double bell sleeves. Many long-standing pastors still prefer their traditional attire.

It is worthy to note that actual fabric samples should be requested once color choices have been narrowed down. When printing color cards, it is difficult to get proper color registration. This would hold true when ordering for the choir or pastor.

The last few years have also given way to “casual” church services. In place of “structured” choirs, members are gathering for fellowship while playing personal instruments, such as guitars, and wearing casual clothing.

Though there is certainly a place for this type of service, once choirs start to grow in numbers, it can be very distracting to see street clothes that conflict in color and style. The traditional attire will cycle back to the church as members feel the need for structure.

Another change is the effect of “imported” garments, which have given way to USA-manufactured apparel. At a recent convention, when displaying garments tailored in the USA, many exhibitors had similar garment imports, which were selling at a fraction of the cost.

Although cost of goods has continued to rise every year here in America, the choral robe industry as a whole has frozen prices on their goods. This has affected the bottom line and kept the industry from growing, which is similar to what has taken place in most of the manufacturing areas in the USA in recent years.

Many robe manufacturers are slow, which allows them to give special attention to individual customer requests. In most cases, delivery times have also been improved. Customers will receive the same attention to detail and quality they have come to expect.

When considering a purchase of choral robes or related apparel, keep in mind that these are custom tailored with regards to fabric, style, color, embroidery, and sizes.

Another consideration is the addition of customized embroidery, which can be sewn to almost any part of the robe. Whether using standard embroidery options or using a special logo, the addition of embroidery helps to turn a simple robe into a personalized garment.

The process has been simplified as much as possible to take the burden off the consumer. Robe specialists are eager and ready to assist you with any questions or concerns you have regarding purchasing choral robes. 

It is recommended that you appoint a small committee to work out all the details associated with the designing of the garment. This will help the process go much smoother and avoid the confusion associated with the entire choir getting involved.

Most manufacturers invite you to request sample garments so you can see firsthand the quality of their garments. Inspecting garments from various manufacturers will help direct you to a company who will stand behind their workmanship.

Some companies offer “lifetime zipper guarantees” and other benefits, which will help in the long run. Be sure to compile a list of all items you are looking for, and be prepared to spend time on the phone talking to all companies and test drive their willingness to work with you.

Customer service can be one of the most important assets in the process of your robe purchase. This will be an indicator of how well a company will be to work with and how willing they are to make sure your needs are met.

Rest assured, once you have made your robe purchase and unveil them during a performance or service, there is no denying the audience will be more focused on the words and message being sung if you have a uniform appearance, as street clothing tends to distract from the message of the choir. At any rate, whatever is worn, hopefully the music will live on.

Vickie Hammersmith is president of Thomas Creative Apparel, Inc., www.thomasrobes.com.

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