Pope Francis’s cheap and simple clothes have started a new trend for Catholic clergy

Get the look.
Get the look.
Image: Reuters/Tony Gentile
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Pope Francis has his own way of doing things. Four years into his papacy, the Catholic Church’s outspoken leader has at times taken unconventional stances on issues such as homosexuality and divorce. As pontiffs go, even his clothing style is fairly unique.

The pope’s preferred look is much plainer and more practical than that of his predecessors, according to Catholic news outlet Crux, dispensing with any excess adornment and tending toward simple, lightweight fabrics. ”Papal athleisure,” Crux calls it. The laid-back, less-formal style has actually set a trend among Catholic clergy.

While lustrous silks were once the fabric of choice for many, Francis has more often opted for materials such as wool. His sash, for instance, is not made of silk, and in a break from tradition, it doesn’t bear his emblem. He has also stuck to simple black footwear. Pope Benedict XVI had a well-known penchant for red loafers.

Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XIV, and Pope Francis
Contrasting styles from Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XIV, and Pope Francis.
Image: AP Photo/Plinio Lepri; AP Photo/Alik Keplicz; AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Crux spoke with a few of the exclusive group of Italian tailors and cobblers who have provided clothing to Francis and other popes. One explained that Francis views style in a “very humble way,” while tailor Raniero Mancinelli, who has outfitted clergy for decades, noted that people coming to him from around the world are taking style cues directly from the pontiff. “Now with Pope Francis’s direction, people want things that are much lighter, simpler and more sober,” he said.

The clothes are also much cheaper than those Mancinelli has made in the past, and he noted that, like the pope, bishops and cardinals are now choosing simple crosses of wood or metal, skipping the gold-plated, gem-encrusted versions that were once popular.

The clothing worn by the clergy has over the years generally shed some of the pomp that once characterized it. Paul VI did away with the elaborate triple tiara popes used to wear, as well as the long ermine trains worn by cardinals. Benedict XVI drew notice for bucking the trend, bringing some elaborate headwear and brightly colored garments back to the papacy. But his successor has gone further in the direction of a humble, undecorated image.

Some may even find Pope Francis’s choice of a simple white vestment for most occasions a bit too plain, particularly as it can be so easily dirtied. “I don’t exclude the possibility that in the evening he just puts it to wash, and wears it again the next morning,” Mancinelli told Crux.