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The clerical collar

7 Nov

Last night, I attended a scotch tasting dinner with a room full of Jesuit priests. I’m not religious but I do drink, and assuming this would be an opportunity that may never present itself again,  I went. Between dinner courses, highland dancing, speeches, and four very different scotches, I noted the clothing of the Jesuit brothers and thought about their collars, why they exist, how they work, and what they’re made of.

Evolution of the clerical collar

The white collar worn by clerics of the Anglican, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, and the Roman Catholic church, speaks a visual language that everyone recognizes. Some say the white band is a symbol of a person’s holy calling, others that the clergy carry on the tradition of differentiating themselves from the laity – non-priests or clergy of a religious faith.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with tabs.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with preaching bands.

According to Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy in A Short History of the Wearing of Clerical Collars in the Presbyterian Tradition, the clergy adopted the dress of academics (i.e. black robes) during the Reformation, and after a while, added a distinctive white neck cloth (the cravat) to differentiate themselves. By the 17th and 18th centuries, clergy tied their cravats into bows or added “preaching bands”. These instantly recognizable pieces are still worn by some priests, pastors, and Canadian lawyers wear the same item with their court robes, but call them “tabs”. 

In Vestments and Clericals Reverend Kenneth W. Collins explains that “the Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands for quite some time; [the clerical collar creator, Rev. Dr. Donald] McLeod combined them with the detachable collar that was in use at the time.”

McLeod was a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian who developed the stiff and narrow clerical collar we know it today. During the middle of the century, most men wore stiff, detachable linen collars, and McLeod used these as the base for the updated clerical collar. However, before the collar took its modern form, there was a Catholic influence to be mixed in.

Catholic cassocks

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

After the Reformation, councils of the Catholic church deemed that priests wear cassocks. Cassocks, or vestis talaris in Latin, are black, ankle length robes with deep skirts. Cassocks derive from early “closed clothing” of ancient Rome and into the Byzantine and early Christian periods; the tunica tolaris was an ankle length garment, tube-like and closed up the sides.

In his very interesting article, Why Priests Wear Black, Father William Saunders explains that the sash, or cincture worn around the waist of the cassock represents chastity, the colour black, poverty, and the square Roman collar, obedience.

Wikipedia says that the white square of on the clergy’s collar is there to mimic the collar of a cassock, but I’m not sure this is true. 

Reverend Collins says the Roman Catholic church adopted the clerical collars after McLeod’s creation, and themselves modified it into the tab-collar style. So there’s that.

Charles Hodge, Presbyterian theologian, in what will later become the clerical collar.

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Presbyterian theologian, wears the upturned shirt collar that will later become the modern clerical collar.

In Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Henry McCloud states 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.”

After the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the Catholic Church adopted a plain black suit and the clerical band collar, as the cassock waned in popularity. For some reason, the clerical collar is commonly (and mistakenly) associated with the Catholic clergy, though the collar is worn by Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and clergy of other faiths.

Modern clerical collars

Slip in collar.

Slip in collar.

Father Alex sat at my table at the scotch tasting, and I asked him about his shirt and collar. The collar was shallow and sturdy with the fronts stitched down in a “tunnel” fashion to hold the strip of white collar that he pulled out of his shirt to show me. Somehow I was disappointed to see that it was a piece of plastic, but the concept was interesting. He said the old collars were made of starched linen.

There are different styles of collars available, as shown here. Below is the tonsure collar that is a full band version of the slip in, and the Vicar’s or dog collar.

For more information about clerical garb, check out sites like this one in the UK that only sells fair trade clothing, and Hammond & Harper of London, a member of a reputable group of companies that has supplied shirts and collars to clergy for over 50 years, complete with a “30 day no quibble” guarantee replacement policy!

Tonsure collar.

Tonsure collar.

Vicar's collar
Vicar’s collar

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April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

11 Apr

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield but comfortable enough for evening wear. The resulting boot was  made of plain soft calf skin (possibly treated with wax to make them waterproof), cut closer to the leg, housing the trim stirrup trousers of the period.

Leather “Wellington” boots.

These Wellington boots became all the rage – civilians and soldiers alike wore this style to emulate their favourite war hero and statesman. It was the boot of 19th century aristocracy, synonymous with fox hunts and country life in Britain.

Rubber Revolution

According to Scientific American, rubber footwear originated with Amazonian Indians who lived amongst rubber trees in South America,  but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that rubber boots appeared. Natural rubber is composed of long polymer chains which, when uncured, move independently, giving an unstable substance that can get sticky when warm and brittle when cold.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Goodyear discovered a process called vulcanization that linked the polymer chains, making rubber strong, elastic, and waterproof. Goodyear used his invention to make tires and Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear, and the waterproof Wellington boot was born. (See pictures of rubber boot making in France.)

Wellingtons, wellies, gummies, gum boots, or  rain boots have been worn all over the world to keep feet dry and protected for mining, farming, fishing, food processing, chemical plants, and for those who live in wet climates.

hunter boot

The Chet by Hunter.

Remember the black rubber boots with red soles from your childhood?  They’re  still readily available at Canadian Tire, but for those who itch for a more stylish rubber boot, Hunter, the Scottish rubber boot company, makes all kinds of styles, long and short – featured here is their Chelsea-style rubber boot.

For casual dress, Sweden’s Tretorn offers cool sporty, waterproof “rain sneakers”, along with other styles and lots of colour options. Further reading. But there’ s a catch to these stylish waterproof numbers.

Environmental Considerations

Rubber decomposes, as anyone who grew up in the pre-Spandex era can tell you. I have a pair of lined, rubber Tretorn rain boots that cracked within two years. I don’t know if the lining had anything to do with it, but I can’t wear them anymore. Tretorn doesn’t have a recycling program. So what do I do with them?

Hunter sells care products with their boots to shine them up, but this doesn’t seem to affect the “long-term” ownership of these boots. I’ve looked at forums and blogs that complain about their wellies “crumbling” and “splitting” since the Scottish company moved their manufacture to China (read this blog for an excellent take on Hunter’s move to cheap labour).

A wonderful alternative to throw-away boots is Kamik‘s vegan footwear. The styles are similar to Hunters, but the boots are eco-friendly, and the Kamik waterproof footwear is vulcanized, unlike the China-made Hunters.  Kamik’s boots are recyclable and made in Canada. Kamik’s products can be found in Canadian Tire and various other locations throughout Canada and the U.S.

Find dealers. Read more about Kamik.

Rubber boots are awesome in wet weather, so feel confident to roam the streets in the rain and splash through puddles, but do be mindful of the environmental impact of your choice in wellies.

Uniform Series: Kevlar, the life-saving textile

23 Aug

During this uniform series, we’ve focused on firefighter and police uniforms. This final post of the series focuses on an amazingly strong and lightweight textile used in both uniforms, Kevlar.

In the mid-60s, Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist working for DuPont, invented Kevlar, opening the doors for polymer chemistry. Kevlar is an extremely strong, flexible, and tremendously flame, heat, and cut-resistant textile with a high tensile strength – five times stronger than steel, and 20 times stronger than steel when underwater. Kevlar’s superior strength lies in its hydrogen bonds that strengthen the monomer (a molecule that chemically binds to other molecules), making it into a strong polymer chain.

Kevlar is used not only in emergency services clothing and equipment, but has uses in industrial, workplace, and military safety, and is present in automotive and sports equipment, rope, and fiber optics. Many people rely on the strength of Kevlar to confidently and effectively do their jobs.

Firefighting and Kevlar

In high temperature situations, Kevlar can withstand temperatures up to 300°C and still retain its strength properties, so it is an ideal material for firefighting uniforms and equipment. Kevlar is virtually indestructible and with the exception of a few powerful acids, solvents are ineffective at damaging Kevlar. Kevlar is slightly susceptible to ultraviolet light.

Toronto firefighters wear heat and flame-resistant Kevlar bunker coats and pants, and carry oxygen tanks wrapped in Kevlar.

Toronto firefighter boots are made of heavy, thick, and waterproof rubber, insulated with felt and heat-resistant Kevlar. Bunker coats and pants of the firefighting uniform are made of Kevlar and Nomex (another DuPont flame-resistant textile) with a water barrier to keep out water and chemicals. The fabric of the outer uniforms are breathable, allowing metabolic heat to escape and reducing heat stress in the body.

“DuPont™ NOMEX® and DuPont™ KEVLAR® brand fibers will not melt, drip, or support combustion, providing a stable barrier that helps minimize burn injuries. The flame resistant properties of NOMEX® and KEVLAR® are permanent; they cannot be washed out or removed in any way. Durable DuPont™ Teflon® HT water-repellent treatments prevent water from compromising valuable air layers that provide the bulk of the garments’ thermal insulation.” (Source.)

Kevlar also in a firefighter’s SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus. The aluminum oxygen tank is wrapped in Kevlar and strapped to the back, protecting the firefighter from the combustible gas from exploding during fire calls.

For more information about DuPont’s firefighting protective gear, please see this page of their site.

Policing and Kevlar

A thick Kevlar plate rests inside of police bullet-proof vests.

Kevlar’s lightweight ballistic and stab-resistant textile technology is used in police gear and military body armor; it is the bullet-stopping material that makes up bullet-proof vests. When I toured 51 Division in Toronto, I had a look inside of the vest to inspect the Kevlar plate within the vest. It was spongy and firm, and felt like dense foam.

The DuPont site explains Kevlar as “bullet-resistant tactical vests work by “catching” a bullet in a multilayer web of woven fabrics… Whether it’s engaging a fast-moving projectile or helping to stop the blunted bullet, body armor made with Kevlar® fiber helps offer law enforcement officers superior protection in multiple situations.”

Kevlar is such an amazing produce that many police officers owe their lives to this DuPont textile. Their website features videos of survivor stories from police officers who owe their lives to their bullet-proof Kevlar vests.

Kevlar is a major component of emergency services uniforms in Toronto and throughout the world. Kevlar marries science and clothing to form the world’s most cutting-edge protective textile, so people in dangerous jobs can feel safe and confident in their work.

Uniform series: Toronto Police Services

9 Aug

Toronto Police uniform, 1900.

Part of my training as a costume designer was studying costume history, including some military history. I found uniforms particularly fascinating because of the beautiful lines and cuts, and the brilliant and logical practicality of military gear.

I was privileged to inspect the military-like uniforms of the Toronto  Police Services (TPS) for this series and was first shown the historical police uniform displays set up on the main floor of 51 Division by Community Relations Officer, Constable Peter Cullingford.

The typical police uniform from the early 20th century consisted of a navy wool tunic with a mandarin collar and metal buttons, navy trousers, and a thick leather belt that housed a baton, offering little protection. Luckily for today’s officers, uniforms are designed with safety and ergonomics in mind. I was delighted hear about health and safety committees and a clothing committee for officers, to keep them protected and in good health.

The modern uniform

The military is about order and precision, with neat identical uniforms. TPS shares the military order and police constables receive cleaning vouchers to keep their uniforms clean. Senior officers however, must  handle the cleanings on their own. 51 Division Supervisor, John  Tanouye, impressed me because he cleans and presses his own shirts, and I must say, he does an impeccable job.

Police cadets, constables, sergeants, and staff sergeants wear stiff, twill, navy  polyester/cotton blend shirts, and senior officers wear thinner white shirts. However, during large police operations, senior officers wear  navy shirts so they blend in and don’t stand out.

Police shirts have epaulets, shoulder pieces used for insignia of rank by armed forces and other organizations. On the shirts themselves, the epaulet is made of “self” fabric (shirt fabric), but when worn on a dress uniform, the shoulder insignia – a.k.a “shoulder flashes” attaches to the jacket shoulder, displaying colour-coded symbols of their rank – silver for staff sergeants and below, gold for inspectors or above.

Navy trousers are a soft, poly-cotton fabric blend that wash-and-wear well. The red stripe down the trouser leg signifies an armed, municipal, sworn constable. Under the dark trousers are dark socks for reasons outside of proper gentleman’s dressing, as PC Cullingford explains. “White socks would look silly and at night, they would stick out like a sore thumb reducing a stealthy approach, if seen,” he says, “Dark socks have been in our rules and regulations for decades.”

Forge hat

The forge hat, worn throughout the year, has a mesh band around the crown, allowing breathability during hot weather. In cooler weather, a band of red poly-cotton braid is worn over the mesh to keep the heat in. Of course on really cold days, officers wear the heavy ear-flapped ushanka hat.

Senior officers work in offices and wear clean black lace-up shoes that they polish themselves, but constables in the community wear Canadian-made, waterproof, black ankle boots with thick soles, lined with Thinsulate and Goretex. As PC Cullingford, formerly of the mounted unit, can tell you, waterproof everything is essential when working outdoors – he explained how awful it is to sit on a horse for hours in the pouring rain during parades and protests.

Side opening reveals the zip-out lining.

The three-season, machine-washable police jacket is a short, bomber style made locally at Outdoor Outfitters in Toronto.  The jacket is lined with warm, waterproof thermoplastic polymer textiles, and the tightly-woven nylon shell keeps moisture out.

This jacket is logical, practical, and well-designed – everything about it has been meticulously planned. To stretch its use throughout the year, the lining zips out and storm cuffs at the end of the sleeve snap out. With safety in mind, reflective tape tabs can be pulled from the outside pockets, side zippers allow easy access to the belt, and expandable pleated armholes offer more movement.

This “action back” style  is reminiscent of early 20th century shooting jackets that allowed free upper body movement.  This bi-swing jacket style became popular during the 1930s, even with Hollywood actors including Clark Gable. See bi-swing jacket photos here.

Uniform safety and ergonomic updates

Police officers wear hatch gloves made of Kevlar, an extremely cut-resistant material also used to stop bullets in their bulletproof vests. The material “catches” bullets in its multilayer web of woven stronger-than-steel fibers. (The next post is dedicated to Kevlar, as it is a life-saving component of emergency uniforms.)

Because some uniform accessories “can be grabbed and yanked,” Supt. Tanouye explained, traditional pieces have been abandoned for safety’s sake. Proper long, knotted ties have been replaced with admittedly unstylish polyester clip-on ties, and the cross strap of the Sam Browne belt, worn to better balance the heavy police belt, was removed altogether.

TPS belts are  made from 3/8″ thick vinyl and carry a 4 lb gun, two magazines, first aid gear including a CPR mask and latex gloves, handcuffs, pepper spray, flashlight, and the very intimidating asp, an expanding baton made of extremely hard carbon steel that PC Cullingford shot out like a fishing rod. To collapse the thing, he had to push it into the floor by leaning his weight into it!

Without the Sam Browne cross strap however, the weight of the 14 lb belt must be taken on entirely by the pelvis and lower spine, leaving officers with sore hips, sore joints, and sometimes painful sciatica. Officers are switching to the two-belt system to balance weight via Velcro strips inside the belt and on the trouser waistband, and some  wear suspenders on their trousers for better weight distribution. Another option is to store smaller bits of belt gear in vest pockets.

Ira Janowitz, PT, CPE, an ergonomics consultant at U.C. San Francisco/Berkeley Ergonomics Program, conducted a study that explained police belt discomfort being due to the belt’s pressure and weight on the hip, pelvis, and lower back, exacerbated by the pressure of the belt’s edges and the grip of their weapon, belt stiffness, and “vertical location of the holster in relation to hip and pelvis and cant of the weapon.” (Read this excellent article about police belt ergonomics.)

Police services are attempting to combat the problems of the belt’s weight with ergonomically designed car seats for officers on the road. Flat car seats are currently used in Toronto squad cars, but Chrysler, GM, and Ford are designing cut-away seats to house the belts and take the weight off of officer’s lower body.

Clothing originally came from the need to protect against the elements and from predators, and the complex police uniform was created for the same reasons. Uniforms must be comfortable, well-designed, and made of cutting-edge textiles to protect officers from weather and from harm. Because the job can be literally life or death, the police uniform holds an enormous responsibility within its threads, but the TPS seem to be well-covered.

Thanks to Toronto Police Services 51 Division, and Constable Peter Cullingford and Superintendent John Tanouye for their help and assistance.

Uniform series: Toronto Fire Services

26 Jul

Adelaide Street Fire Hall – “the show must go on”.

When I was in university, part of my training as a costume designer was studying costume history, including military costume/uniforms. My original plan in life was to be a men’s clothing designer, so naturally I was drawn to the lines, durability, and practicality of military uniforms. Uniforms worn by emergency services like fire and police follow a very logical design for very specific purposes, with safety at top of mind.

Earlier this year, I visited the Adelaide Street Fire Hall, the busiest station in Canada, because I was interested in what pieces  make up the fire fighting uniform, what those pieces are made of, and what their purpose is. I was guided through the fire fighter uniform by Morgan Maschke, a fire fighter who impressed me with his textile knowledge – he seemed to know what materials were in every piece we looked at.

We started off by discussing “station fatigues”, the clothing worn at the fire hall and under any of the safety gear worn on fire calls. Firefighters wear shirts made of  a strong and hard-wearing fabric blend – 65% cotton and 35% polyester, with an embroidered Toronto Fire Services patch on the sleeve, and epaulets on the shoulders (epaulets are ornamental shoulder pieces used in the military for decoration or to display insignia). Navy or white t-shirts are worn under the shirts, emblazoned with a Toronto Fire Services crest.

Station trousers are made of the same poly-cotton blend, but the fabric is a thicker and harder-wearing twill weave for  long-lasting strength. Trousers are a flat front design (i.e. no pleats) and properly fitted to each firefighter. Morgan says “a good fit makes for a safer uniform”.  A webbed nylon belt is worn with the trousers with a plain buckle.

Though Morgan had me going for a minute about firefighters wearing red thongs under their trousers, we got back on track and discussed  under things – undies of the individual’s choice, and socks of an 80% cotton and 20% nylon blend – the addition of nylon strengthens the cotton. It may seem that a sock should be more substantial, given the work these men do, but as I was to find out, there is much more protection to go over this base layer.

Morgan in full firefighting gear.

Bunker pants and coats

When firefighters go out on a call, their protective clothing is already set up, very much like the way backstage quick-changes are pre-set in the theatre – they just have to step into their boots and pull up their pants, then pull on their head gear and jackets on the truck. In emergency situations, time is of the essence and firefighters have their dressing down to a well-timed science.

Once he’s down the pole, the firefighter steps into his steel-toed boots, made of heavy rubber with a nail-proof sole. These boots are insulated with felt and Kevlar, an amazing textile that is extremely strong and heat-resistant (more on Kevlar in a few weeks).

The legs of his fire pants, known as bunker pants, sit around each boot and are pulled up with suspenders. Pants have adjustable waistband buckles, close in the front with Velcro, feature cargo pockets to carry small tools, and have reflective tape stitched on for visibility in fires or at night. Firefighters are often crawling on the floor below the smoke of burning buildings, so their fire pants have thick pads made of 2 – 3 layers of Kevlar at the knees.

Once these are on, he can get on the truck and start driving. Bunker coats, helmets, and other items needed to do their job safely are stored in the cab of the fire truck. Bunker coats and pants are composed a thermal barrier of Kevlar and Nomex (another flame-resistant textile) with a water barrier,  made to measure and available in short, regular, and tall, just like a man’s suit (remember, safety in fit). The Kevlar/Nomex material is woven in a plain basket weave of rough threads with a quilted layer inside.

The sleeves contain a fitted cuff to protect the wrist and the fleshy part of the hand. Presumably, this feature also acts to secure the sleeve to the firefighter. Over these, thick suede gloves with wooly, insulated lining to withstand extreme heat are worn.

Head gear and SCBA

The first piece to go on a firefighter’s head is a rather Medieval-looking hood, made of a flame-resistant and thermally stable fiber called PBI, Polygenzimidarole. The textile is woven in a fine rib that will not burn or melt, staying intact even if it is charred. The hood is designed to cover the head, the entire neck, upper chest, upper back, with a 5″ elasticized hole for the face.

Morgan put his fire helmet on me so I could feel the weight – a firefighter must have a strong neck to hold this 5 lb piece up for long periods of time, and as I discovered, I just don’t have the build for it, but Morgan’s strong, stocky Scottish frame does well to hold up the weight of the whole uniform.

He  explained that after 911, the Toronto Fire Department joined in solidarity with the NYC Fire Department and adopted their helmet style. Each helmet is made of thick leather, completely adjustable for the individual wearer, with “jumbo” ear flaps, and is amazingly hand-made. Instead of a regal bald eagle, Toronto adopted Canada’s national emblem, the beaver, as their bronzed animal of choice affixed to the top of the helmet. A thick leather identification number sits at the front of the helmet, with a pull-down polycarbonate visor attached to the sides. Learn more about the helmets here.

Firefighters sometimes need a supply of oxygen when working in burning buildings, and for this, they wear a SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus. The SCBA consists of an aluminum tank of compressed oxygen wrapped in Kevlar, containing  half an hour of air for normal breathing. The tank is attached to flame resistant shoulder straps and a waist belt with a seat belt-style buckle to secure it. The face piece is edged with synthetic rubber with and a clear polymer shield, and regulator clamps to both secure and fit it into place. To prevent condensation from breathing, nose and mouth caps fit inside of the face piece. Absolutely every inch of firefighter is covered.

It was a pleasure spending time at the Adelaide Fire Hall and learning about their uniforms. While I was there, I witnessed the brotherhood amongst the fire fighters – they had a pizza party that day, and a large group of them left the hall to visit one of their colleagues at a hospital who had been injured on the job. They live and work as a team; cooking, eating, and cleaning together, relying on each other for safety and efficiency in extremely dangerous conditions. Their highly-engineered uniforms help keep them safe and secure so they can confidently do one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. For more information about protective fire uniforms, see this DuPont page.

Thanks to the Toronto Fire Services South Command and special thanks to my guide, Morgan Maschke, of the Adelaide Street Fire hall. Next post will focus on uniforms of the Toronto Police Services.