White Tie at the Holy See

The Inauguration Mass For Pope Francis

(Europa Press | Getty)

It’s rare enough for White Tie to be worn to any diplomatic occasion these days but rarer still to see it worn as per Vatican protocol: in broad daylight and with a black waistcoat.  The replacement of the usual white waistcoat may well be related to the proscription of white dresses at papal audiences for any woman other than a Catholic queen.  It would appear that this symbol of purity is otherwise reserved solely for the pontiff.

Tailcoats are only required of certain diplomats and at certain occasions such as a papal inauguration Mass (like the one for Pope Francis seen in the photo above) or the pope’s annual new year’s address to the Holy See diplomatic corps.  In any other circumstances a simple dark suit will suffice for an audience with the Holy Father.

Thanks to reader Don Jon for suggesting this post.

10 Comments

  1. John Van Wyk

    Thank you for this post and for the picture. Who is the lady in the photo?

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Unfortunately Getty Images doesn’t identify the people in this particular photo.

      Reply
      1. Jiohn Van Wyk

        Thank you. They look good, anyway.

        Reply
      2. Dr Kilroy

        Isn’t it the President of Argentina by any chance?

        Best regards, Dr

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          No. she’s the Mexico First Lady

          Reply
          1. John Van Wyk

            Thank you, Anonymous.

  2. Somerset

    Is this not simply an example of court dress rather than of evening dress worn in the day time? Perhaps the difference is one of semantics.

    Reply
    1. Peter Marshall

      Yes, it would appear that Court Dress does not distinguish between day and evening functions.

      Reply
      1. Basil Damukaitis

        Unfortunately the Pauline reforms in 1969 completely overhauled the dress and protocol of priests, prelates, and the Roman Court. This also eliminated entirely entire “fraternities” that existed in the Vatican.

        All clerics are no longer obliged to wear the ferriaolo or “cape of protocol” in the presence of the Holy Father. As a general rule, things are only put in to abeyance, and never eliminated, so for formal occasions, clerics would wear a ferriaolo over their cassock of the color and material prescribed for their rank.

        The individuals who now present guests to the pope if you receive a private or semi-private audience with the pope are now the old Roman Nobles. They are always in white tie with their decorations. This has replaced a very elaborate court attire in red/purple silk. These men now have the privilege of carrying the papal casket to its resting place. The reason for the unusual evening attire is that they only recently assumed the job. It was once done by the Privy Chamberlains Apostolic (the lowest grade of “Monsignor” at the time, now also in abeyance). The most accurate movies to see this dress employed are “Shoes of the FIsherman” and “The Scarlet and the Black” both based on true stories. Their costuming of the film is practically flawless.

        Reply
        1. Peter Marshall (Post author)

          Thanks very much for the information!

          Reply

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