Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 3: Geneva Gowns & Academic Regalia

Welcome to Part 3 of the Rock That Collar vestment guide! Today, we wander down, down, down the mountain of churchmanship, away from the Summit of Lace, past Chasuble Ridge, through the Meadow of the Alb, until we get to the Geneva gown.

You will find Geneva gowns (also called pulpit robes) on ministers in many churches that trace their heritage to the Reformation. You might need one if you are Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, or any variation on these. How do you figure out which kind to buy? And what’s with all the accessories? Let’s take a look.

geneva-gownGeneva Gown (Pulpit Robe). If you are a recent seminary graduate, this robe will be familiar because it looks a whole lot like an academic doctoral robe, complete with velvet panels down the front. It is available in a bazillion different colors, but if you serve in a historically white mainline Protestant church yours will probably be black. As with an alb, if you’re going to be wearing it every Sunday you should save your pennies and buy your own.

For reasons of quality, it’s better to buy your Geneva gown from a clergy supplier, not an academic supplier. Cokesbury makes infinitely customizable robes and Murphy Robes offers both quick-ship and customizable options.

Doctoral Bars. A Master of Divinity is (technically) a terminal degree (sort of — no offense meant to my Doctor of Ministry-holding friends), and the sleeves of my M.Div. graduation gown were decked out with luxurious velvety stripes normally associated with doctoral degrees. Should you wear velvet stripes (doctoral bars) on your gown if your highest degree is an M.Div? Uh, I guess you can if you want, but if it were me I’d be very cautious about making my congregants wonder why I was pretending to have a Ph.D.

preaching-tabsPreaching Bands (Preaching Tabs). For the super-old-school among us! I couldn’t find any images of women wearing preaching bands, which should tell you something. If you wish to look very old-timey and serious, buy some preaching bands and wear them with your cassock or your Geneva gown. Wippell offers multiple widths and Almy makes the version pictured here, which apparently is only for men.

catherines-phone-summer-2015-211Hood. This is a straight-up academic hood, the same one you wore when you got your master’s or doctoral degree. It is black with a lining in the color of your school and a trim in the color of your field (for divinity, the color is scarlet). Master’s hoods are three and a half feet long, doctoral hoods are four. Here’s a front view of me in my hood at my seminary graduation. I ripped off the gown moments after receiving my diploma because the commencement ceremony took place on a 90-degree day with 95% humidity, as though the behavior of my hair in this picture is not enough to clue you in.

I just rented that hood and gave it back to the campus bookstore when I was done, so I don’t have one of my own. If you do, though, you can wear it with your Geneva gown or with choir dress (cassock, surplice, and tippet). Find a seminary buddy who also wants a hood and you can get the two-or-more discount from Academic Apparel.

The only appropriate hood to wear with clerical vestments is one corresponding to a degree in theology or ministry. If you also have a law degree or whatever, that is so great! Look at you go! But leave the purple hood at home.

Stay tuned for the final posting in this series, Part 4: Chasubles and Other Extras!

5 thoughts on “Vestment Shopping for the Liturgically Challenged, Part 3: Geneva Gowns & Academic Regalia

  1. You made my day!!
    I’m a custom vestment designer for 32 years and just made my first Tippet… ; ). I came across your site while trying to surreptitiously discover which side the Diocesan seal goes on with the other side a seminary seal… your pages were just the laughs I needed after a long day, despite no category for “which side” of the tippet world info. I feel certain that you would probably be the best tippet author EVER!!
    Hoping our paths might cross in our Episcopal church lives!


    1. I’m so delighted that I gave you a good laugh (and it never even occurred to me that there might be rules about which tippet seals go where!). I hope you’ll drop me a line if you ever pass through Chicago!


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