Common Threads

Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism

SALLY DWYER-MCNULTY
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469614106_dwyer-mcnulty
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  • Book Info
    Common Threads
    Book Description:

    A well-illustrated cultural history of the apparel worn by American Catholics, Sally Dwyer-McNulty'sCommon Threadsreveals the transnational origins and homegrown significance of clothing in developing identity, unity, and a sense of respectability for a major religious group that had long struggled for its footing in a Protestant-dominated society often openly hostile to Catholics. Focusing on those who wore the most visually distinct clothes--priests, women religious, and schoolchildren--the story begins in the 1830s, when most American priests were foreign born and wore a variety of clerical styles. Dwyer-McNulty tracks and analyzes changes in Catholic clothing all the way through the twentieth century and into the present, which finds the new Pope Francis choosing to wear plain black shoes rather than ornate red ones.Drawing on insights from the study of material culture and of lived religion, Dwyer-McNulty demonstrates how the visual lexicon of clothing in Catholicism can indicate gender ideology, age, and class. Indeed, clothing itself has become a kind of Catholic language, whether expressing shared devotional experiences or entwined with debates about education, authority, and the place of religion in American society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1549-3
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION. THE ORIGINS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF CATHOLIC CLOTHING IN AMERICA
    (pp. 1-15)

    America Magazine’s Matt Malone offered a perceptive observation about Catholicism; when it comes to clothing, Catholics take it seriously. Talk of clothing is not “so much irrelevant claptrap” because “Catholicism is rooted in a sacramental worldview. In other words, symbols matter . . . they matter a lot.”¹ I agree with Malone, but I would add that symbols are naturalized by those in power, and while they hold sacramental meaning, they are also freighted with social and political significance. When power is destabilized in Catholicism, or in any other symbol-ladened community, symbolic meanings are likewise altered. In consideration of these...

  5. CHAPTER 1 THE CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN: CLERICAL AND LITURGICAL GARMENTURE, 1830S–1930S
    (pp. 16-54)

    “There are no Roman Catholic priests who show less taste for the minute individual observances, for the extraordinary or peculiar means of salvation, who cling more to the spirit and less to the letter of the law than the Roman Catholic priests of the United States,” penned Alexis de Tocqueville in his oft-cited accountDemocracy in America.¹ De Tocqueville likely considered clerical mufti and perhaps even vestments in his observations. Catholic priests, the secular variety especially, were not particularly distinctive, ornamental, or peculiar in 1831, especially in their everyday attire.² Indeed they were difficult to distinguish from Protestant priests, ministers,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 WOMEN RELIGIOUS ON AMERICAN SOIL: ADAPTATION OR AUTHORITY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA
    (pp. 55-84)

    Not long after the bishops decided that priests must don more distinct ecclesial attire and wear Roman collars, sisters too came to the conclusion that their habited appearance would, for the foreseeable future, be central to their complex religious identity.¹ The sisters did not initially choose to emphasize their dress because the local clergy or bishops wanted them to be more noticeable. On the contrary, the clergy in the United States, both conservative and liberal, seemed to encourage greater flexibility and adaptability regarding the women’s habits.² But, the sisterschoseto fully embrace their distinct and rapidly antiquating dresses. Considering...

  7. CHAPTER 3 SCHOOL UNIFORMS: A NEW LOOK FOR CATHOLIC GIRLS
    (pp. 85-128)

    A reader self-identified as “No Catholic” wrote to theBoston Recorderin 1837 responding to a published charge leveled at Catholics in Boston. The accuser contended that the Catholics were more focused on educating wealthy Protestants than poor children of their own religion. The critic stated, “We hope they will furnish the means and appropriate a building in connection with this establishment, for giving a useful education to the numerous poor children of the Irish in Broad Street and other parts of the city. Whilst they are offering to educate the children of rich Protestants, we should be pleased to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 OUTFITTING THE MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST: APPAREL AND ACTIVISM
    (pp. 129-168)

    As American Catholics approached the middle of the twentieth century, identifiable dress, particularly among students, could be observed more and more frequently. Catholic leaders fully expected priests, sisters, and female students, especially, to dress in church-or school-regulated ways. Nevertheless, society viewed almost all Catholic clothing locally, congregationally, or regionally until the 1930s. For instance, Catholics and other Americans would see distinctive attire such as chasubles, cassocks, habits, and school uniforms in places such as churches and parish processions, on the dais of important dedications, or even perhaps just walking down the street. But a variety of factors converged between the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 TEARING AT THE SEAMS: THE CLOTHES NO LONGER FIT
    (pp. 169-199)

    There was not one single event or influence, but several clustered in the long decade of the 1960s that shifted the discussion of distinctive Catholic clothing to national attention and kept it there for years. By the beginning of the decade, women religious had more than a half-dozen years of experience at promoting “professional reform” aimed at gaining more academic and spiritual training for sisters throughout the United States. A new pontiff, John XXIII, initiated the Second Vatican Council, a churchwide effort to bring Catholicism into the modern age with, among other goals, a renewal of religious life and a...

  10. EPILOGUE. BEYOND THE 1970S
    (pp. 200-204)

    Clothing has remained a symbolic and sacred aspect of the Catholic tradition beyond the 1970s. Catholics of varying stripes continue to intentionally manipulate their appearance to communicate their values, negotiate relations, draw people in, or hold them at a distance. While Vatican II may have unsettled the “triumphant language” of Catholic clothing, the subsequent years have nonetheless invited contentious and even creative expressions of Catholic materiality.

    The sisters who garnered so much attention for the clothing segment of their renewal undertook in many ways what this study attempts to do—they went back to examine the history. That simple act...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 205-232)
  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 233-248)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 249-257)