Matt Malone, S.J., lives along the Via di Santa Chiara across from Gammarelli, canonical tailor to the papacy since 1798. He has a winsome column over at America on Pope Francis’ wardrobe preferences. Much to the disappointment of Gammarelli, the new Bishop of Rome is exhibiting tastes better suited to catching a bus than strolling in a papal procession.
Excerpt below. You can finish reading “Clothing Optional?” in its entirety here.
Good day from Rome on the second day of the pontificate of Pope Francis. Style is substance in these first hours of Francis’ reign; the talk here is about all things sartorial: What is he wearing? What is he not wearing? As The New York Times reported yesterday, Pope Francis asked the cardinals to wear just a simple black cassock under their albs for yesterday’s Mass in the Sistine chapel. Meanwhile, Gamarelli’s, the official papal tailor (just a stone’s throw from my window) were disappointed to learn that the new pope has declined the use of the ermine mozetta they provided him and that he has ditched the traditional red shoes for the brown loafers he brought from Argentina.
Fr. Malone closes with: “I know; it’s all so silly. And yet… it isn’t.” No, it is not silly at all. While the substance of Francis’ pontificate is yet to be realized, a foreshortening of papal theatre is welcome. And suggestive. Symbols matter. The footwear of the ancient Pontifex Maximus ill fits a servant of the servants of God. We are a Church, not an empire. The Church, no less than the wayfaring world in which we find ourselves, is bent under the sign of the Cross.
As far as the fashion world interprets such things, shelving those episcopal sandals is itself a head-on statement of faith. Red is the wrong color for Francis if we take Bill Blass at his word: “When in doubt, wear red.” Francis is a confident man.
Let us leave the last line to Stendhal: “Only great minds can afford a simple style.”