Piskie Cry For Help

Doves, I got this a few days ago,

Dear PeaceBang,

Kindly provide advice regarding cassocks & surplice for a size 8, 5′ 5″ deacon-in-training in the Episcopal Church.

Re: cassocks – anglican or roman?

Re: surplices – old english or american?

After viewing pics at www.almy.com I think that the anglican cassock will be as dreadful as a cinctured alb and that the American surplice will make me look short and squat. So far my only advice is from a male priest (who clearly understands nothing of the trauma of nipping in excess fabric at the waist) and a female priest (who has voted for comfort and fewer buttons over femininity).

Oh, PeaceBang, please help. These are too pricey to make a mistake.

Dearest K,
What are the other deacons-in-training around you wearing? I would definitely consult with them first. Welcome to the world of “Oh my LORD, vestments make my butt/waist look huge!” It’s part of our work, I’m afraid, and I wouldn’t fret overly about it. As I’ve written you privately, do take a look at the extensive archives on the subject, with special attention to the “Piskie” entries and comments. And I know that my readers are going to jump in here with loads of helpful ideas as they always do, because they’re the bestest!!

Kiss of peace, PB

27 Replies to “Piskie Cry For Help”

  1. I think the problem here is less the style of cassock and surplice than the tailoring. If you start with Almy, you’ll get Almy. I’ve never been able to convince myself to buy anything from them, and I’m a 6’4″ hwp man. I’d find an ecclesiastic tailor: Wippell is good, but there are some in Ontario that seem to know what they’re doing at less cost.

    In any case, a bad fit is not a bargain and a well-made piece will last.

  2. Whippell’s does indeed do better tailoring, but in the UK at least, they still don’t really understand women. (when I went for my fitting, he couldn’t figure out why it drooped in the front. He finally got it when I lifted the darts at the front out several inches till it hung straight I said ‘do you see the problem now?’

    I would say that no woman should consider a cinctured cassock unless they have very ‘straight’ measurements from high hip to bra-strap The English surplice is much more elegant. The American cut is more practical if you’ll be working a lot with children and props while wearing it.

  3. One very busty woman priest I know will ONLY wear the Roman cassock, because the Anglican is double breasted and makes her look like a lumpy wall.

    As far as surplice–I have to disagree about the English one being more elegant, unless you are VERY tall and long-limbed. And are very well coordinated, as those wide angel-wing sleeves are an accident waiting to happen.

    If it helps, the two women clergy at Canterbury Cathedral do NOT wear the English style surplice. They are both smaller in stature; one is more athletically built and one a little more rounded.

    They DO, however, have gorgeously cut albs.

  4. Womenspirit has a beautiful fine wool cassock type robe that zips up the front and has darts. It’s neither fish nor foul in terms of anglican vs roman, but is is really flattering. Depending on where you work, it might be worth looking into. Mine is unlined and it has been fine year round so far. NOT cheap.

    As far as the surplice, I think the old english version is more flattering and less choppy but I think this is a matter of taste and preference. As far as I’m concerned the surplice is your friend, and covers a multitude of problems. The fit of the neckline is more important than the length of the sleeves and body of the garment in my opinion.

  5. If you want it to not look like a bag, stay away from Almy. RUN away from Almy. They sell cheap, untailored vestments honestly meant to be bought in bulk.

    Invest in Whippell. Yes they are expensive, but they will last you forever and their tailoring is far and away better. I have a Whippell alb (they measure EVERYTHING) that looks lovely, not like a bag at all. I get compliments when wearing it!

    Since a cassock and surplice are not belted I actually find them far more flattering. You can go with the Anglican cut and leave off the little anglican belt thing (I’ve forgotten the name). I prefer the English surplice myself, or the cathedral surplice. Again, contact Whippell, get their catalog.

  6. Roman cassock … no question. I’ve never seen a woman who looked good in the Anglican style, no matter the manufacturer of the cassock or the size of the woman. When I’m wearing the cassock only, I wear a black rope cincture — the rope works much better than a band cincture for someone with hips or a short waist. I leave the cincture off if I’m wearing a surplice.

    As to the surplice, I’m 5’5″ and prefer the American surplice. It just looks more proportional than the long, flowing Anglican surplice (the sleeves of which are an unmitigated pain in the butt).

  7. IF you go w/ Wippell, expect to have to send it back for alterations at least once. No one I know has had them get it right immediately, at least not on their lower-end stuff. I started out w/ an Anglican cassock, but they’d made a major boo-boo in constructing it, such that they just replaced it rather than trying to fix it, and at that point I switched over to Roman b/c it is closer to flattering. But at least they attempt to fit stuff to your measurements, while Almy is much more off-the-rack.

  8. I used Harcourts, which is in Toronto, because their tailored cassock was cheaper than Whippell’s. They are very nice, their stuff came highly recommended, and both their double-breasted and roman cassocks are tailored to look good without needed either cincture or band.

    No advice for surplices, I’m debating the question myself!

  9. I have had a lovely wool blend (perfect, even in Calif.) Anglican style cassock from Wippell’s for 25 years; for the last ten as a school chaplain, I have worn it for 4-5 services a week, and I am only just now replacing it. One of the best clothing investments I ever made, though it was a stretch when I was a seminarian. They measured carefully, and it was perfect when it arrived. I prefer the Anglican style; I like the cleaner lines without all those buttons, and mine has some vertical darts that give it shape. I made my own surplice from an Almy kit 25 years ago and it also has held up well. It’s an American/slightly shorter with rounded sleeves style. I like the sleeve style, but I wouldn’t mind if it were 2-3 ” longer.

    That said, my new cassock is being made as we speak by a local seamstress. It will keep the $$ in my community, is out of the fabric I want (roughly 80% wool, lightweight), and will be exactly what I want. For example, I hate the pockets that also go all the way through; I want two closed pockets. So you might consider seeing if you can find a style you like and looking for someone to make it for you.

    I feel great when I put on my cassock, a feeling not duplicated when I need to borrow one; take the time and pay the money to get one that gives you that boost!

  10. Adding to say: it looks like we are of little help, since our advice is all over the place! The one bit of consensus, and I hope it is useful, is that you get what you pay for.

    See if you can try on the cassocks of some women around, both styles, various makers. I don’t think the height of the woman matters as much as her shape being roughly similar to yours. Good luck!

  11. Whomever you buy from, be prepared to invest in some custom tailoring. No cassock fits properly ‘off the rack’ and you’ll be using it for years. That being said, I’d echo Peacebang’s comments about checking out what your peers are wearing. Generally speaking, Anglican cassocks look good only on tall skinny women with long waists – the rest of us tend to look a bit lumpy. If the Roman cassock seems like too many buttons, consider a Semi-Jesuit style as a compromise. Things to consider: the weight of the fabric and how much lining is used – different climates have different requirements and you won’t always be indoors; width and cut of the sleeve – some are heavier than others; width of the collar aperture – Roman cassocks can be tailored with a wider Anglican aperture if needed.
    With surplices, again, you need to consult what is being worn by your peers, but you will want more than one eventually, so it’s not such a dire commitment. Find a neck and sleeve cut that suits you and get it long enough to hem to what you consider an appropriate length. The Cathedral sleeve is very elegant, and the mid-low calf hem is most flattering, but the cut across the front is usually very full. Pleated surplices lack the flow of gathered ones and tend to make one look boxy. By all means, borrow different style vestments from friends and if possible travel to a city with a clerical outfitter or catch one of the travelling shows so you can try before you buy. Best of luck!

  12. With the cassock, the tailoring makes all the difference, regardless of which style you choose. If you have the money to spare, Wippell’s is worth it for that reason. And ditto about trying things on, especially surplices, so you can get a feel for the sleeves before you buy. And don’t forget to ask about seminarian discounts! FWIW mine’s a Roman-style Almy which actually fits really well from the waist up, though it could probably be taken in a little right where the pleats start in the back (I’m 5’8″ and need to lose a few pounds).

  13. Well, like others have said, the tailoring makes all the difference. Cost wise, drop some hints to your field ed parishes or your family. My fam actually decided to spring for my first cassock and surplice, and my first alb was a gift from a classmate who had ordered one too many. And take advantage of those Seminarian discounts!

    Anyway, I have both an Anglican and a Roman. (Unlined, and lined, or summer and winter). With a cinture, the Anglican is more flattering to my figure, but honestly, after you drape yourself in a surplice, they’ll be hard pressed to tell there’s not triplets under there. For cassock and surplice, the proper length is really more important. You look like a giant marshmallow regardless. 🙂

    The place to really worry is in albs, esp if you wear those sans chasuble or tunicle. Get your alb tailored well.

  14. BTW, super trick with the ROman… I only unbutton the top 1/3 to 1/2 of the buttons, and step in. One friend was able to have a false zipper installed (it looks like it buttons, but lo, it zips!) and one very petite friend was able to buy an off the rack black dress with a mandarin collar that works perfectly as a cassock.

  15. WomenSpirit is the best although I have had nice vestments from Adam Kochlin, too. Run run run away from Almy – their shirttails are so short they will pull out every time you raise your arms. Most vestments with a cincture make women look like a sausage unless you are quite thin.

  16. Have you looked att J & M Sewing Service in Newcastle?
    Very fair prizes, and I don’t think they have any problems with making cassocks for women. All their cassocks are made to measure..

  17. Dear Friends,

    Thank you for ALL of this fine advice.

    Sad to say most of my peers do not provide good role models. At 43, I’m the youngest deacon candidate in our diocese. Most others are women with wonderful hearts, high-waisted jeans, and wash-and-wear hairdos. The men are in their 60s and primarily concerned with midriff bulge.

    I put in an inquiry at J&M since it appears they will work internationally. A bit of a pain if it needs further alterations, but I did work as a seamstress for a time, so can handle minor issues myself. I just don’t want the work of trying to do a major overhaul on a poorly conceived sack of a cassock.

    Thank you especially for the advice on Almy. I bought my alb there, and feel fat every time I wear it. (Though with a cinctured alb, that may be unavoidable.) Luckily I will most likely be ordained in the fall and then can hide it under a dalmatic (which I plan to taper through the waist at to restore some gentle sense of clean lines).

    I’ll let you know (with pics) what the outcome is! Then the next challenge will be clergy shirts–probably by October.

    Kisses to you all! You’ve been a great help!

  18. Do check out womenspirit. Having pinch-hit in vestments really designed for men for many years, I have worn theirs for over ten years. They are designed and cut for women. They will also work with you about fitting.

  19. I’d second (third?) the recommendation of J and M. They do clergy shirts too, and I have several from there. They even contacted me after I sent my measurements in to say they thought I’d got something wrong, because the proportions didn’t make sense… they were right, and the shirts they have made me are great.

  20. I must chime in to recommend the monastic alb from Almy…for a deacon, it most resembles a dalmatic, and its flowing silhouette makes your figure pretty much a non-issue. My parish cannot afford to buy a set of dalmatics to match our rector’s chasables. The monastic alb is quite nice as an alternative for Eucharistic settings. Slabbinck from Belgium has the nicest ones (I believe that is what our PB Katherine wears) but they are pricier. I prefer a roman cassock and an American surplice for the offices…I am 60, plump, and only 5’1″ tall. Stay AWAY from boxy pleated surplices.

  21. I’m a 5’5″ size 8 deacon. My Almy Roman cassock is just fine. If you want to break the bank you can go to Wippell but there’s really no need. Personally I own the English style surplice but this is a matter of taste only. I find little occasion to wear either as I mostly wear alb and stole.

  22. I have an Anglican style cassock, which I inherited (don’t yell!), but am glad to have it. It is easy to get on and off, and I like that it is “Anglican.” And, since it is always covered with a surplice, I’m not that worried about the cut.
    I also have the Old English style surplice (not from Almy, but the same style). In my experience, that is what Anglican clergy wear–not cottas, short surplices, etc. I know there is some variation, but to me, a short surplice says “altar server,” not cleric! I do find the sleeves VERY large, but since I wear it infrequently, and never to preside or assist at the altar, I’ve never found them to be a problem.
    Hope that helps!
    [Jen, we on BTFM LOVE inherited vestments! They’re a wonderful form of spiritual recycling! And thrifty, too! – PB]

  23. PB–they were definitely thrifty when I was a poor seminarian. And now the donator recently died, so I remember him when I wear it.

  24. As a 5-6ish overweight 63 y/o deacon*– albs I suspect are hopeless. Especially as we don’t use dalmatics or tunicles around here. But clerical shirts? womenspirit, they’re comfortable, wash well, look good. Sometimes they’re on sale. They’re very nice over the phone, too.
    Sometimes I even wear a clerical shirt(civilian, gov’t job) work without collar, add collar for evening services, and no one notices.

    *my haircut may be wash and wear, but it’s a very good haircut

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