The History of Choir Robes,
Gowns & Church Vestments
History of Choir Robes
Everyone at school and the workplace probably has worn a uniform at least once in their lives. Most uniforms or formal robes, gowns, and vestments have rich, deep histories that shape their current look.
The church choir has its own set of clothing standards as well. Take a look at the gorgeous choir in their matching gowns and the priests and pastors in their flowing white robes. The choir robes give the church a lively and happy touch; thus, it’s essential.
Have you wondered where the choir robe comes from? Here we explain the basics of its origin.
Origin of The Choir Robe
Although the origin of choir members wearing robes that coincide with the color of the occasion could sometimes cross our minds, we usually take it as a given that this is how it has always been done. The church choir has been donning robes since the day we were born.
Interested in hearing how church choirs have evolved through the years? Do you wish to view the alterations made to the robes over the years? Keep in mind that robes can take on a wide variety of looks (they do care about fashion, after all). Let's take a trip through history and see how robes have changed throughout the ages.
Pre-Christian Choir Garments
High priests in pre-Christian Jewish law were required to dress in clerical garb and regalia. However, early Christians tried to prohibit priests from wearing robes. The underground character of the earliest Christian communities likely played a role in this.
Did you know that it all originated in ancient Egypt? That was done in the distant past, but it is still done now. Numerous religious sects have emerged over time, and with them, choirs that sing praises songs. Around 2700 BC, there was the first graphic representation of a singing chorus found in Egyptian tombs. However, there was no suggestion that such early choirs wore a robe, a vestment, or any other formal or regulated apparel.
Ancient Rome and The Greek Choir
Choir robes with possibilities for formal wear can be traced back to ancient Greece. There is evidence of the Greek Chorus being performed frequently by that time, as they appear on a piece of earthenware from circa 425 BC. Members of a Greek choir are depicted singing and playing instruments on this piece of ancient earthenware.
As the Judeo-Christian faith and culture spread, it became customary to distinguish priests from lay people by requiring them to wear special gowns and vestments. Clerical garb and regalia were required for every high priest in pre-Christian Jewish law. However, early Christians tried to prohibit priests from wearing robes.
Choir Robes in Christianity
It is known that Christians were forced to hide their faith from Jewish and Roman authorities for the first several centuries of the religion's existence. There was no safe way to dress in this climate without risking serious consequences. The development of the choir robe happened during six main periods of time, which are:
For the first four centuries of Christianity, neither clergy nor choirs that performed in public or private settings wore a distinctive robe, tunic, vestment, or other attire. The major form of clothing was still tunics, which were normally knee-length to ankle-length and had cinctures. A himation—an additional piece of clothing—was frequently worn. This rectangular object was worn over the tunic and wrapped around the torso. Depending on the occupation, gender, and position, himations were available in a variety of hues, materials, and styles. No proof exists that the himation evolved into a priestly garment.
With time, clergy attire improved, using more expensive materials while emphasizing aesthetics. Although possible, it is uncertain if the choirs of the time did the same.
Christian choirs as we know them now emerged as Christianity spread over Europe and the world from the early to the late Middle Ages. The church choir developed into a cornerstone of European culture, from solemn Gregorian singing to boys' choirs, certain elements of which still exist today. Contemporary choir robes mirrored the styles of clerical clothing of the time, consisting of a white surplice (resembling a blouse) worn over a black cassock (a long, loose-fitting tunic). As a result, a sophisticated choir costume was developed, inspired by contemporary clergy garb.
Both the content and the form of choral music advanced significantly throughout these times, as seen by the timeless nature of many Renaissance hymns and the exquisite robes worn by choral ensembles in artistic depictions of the era. Back then, the Geneva Robe—a graduation-style gown modeled after doctoral robes—became the standard for choir robes around the world. Beginning around this time, choir robes began to diverge in style from those of the clergy, the judiciary, and the academy.
During the Reformation era, a new style of pulpit attire known as the Geneva style gained popularity. This design was based on the Academic Regalia for Ph.D. graduates and is still in use today. Following suit, choirs of the reformation adopted robes modeled after graduation robes rather than the current secular vogue. During this period, the four primary categories of gowns—clergy robes, choir gowns, academic robes, and judicial robes—were formed and still exist today.
Choral music was influenced by the baroque age of music, which was characterized by chords, opera, and instrumental music. In addition to the classic a cappella choirs, other ensembles have accompanied choirs as a result of new harmonic approaches like counterpoint. Choral segments and accompanying solos were alternated in the verse anthems.
Classical To Romantic
Since the Romance era, choral music has advanced beyond pious worship, and both religious and secular choirs have experienced a sharp increase in popularity. This growth generated new musical and attire trends for choirs. The 18th century was devoted to increasing the popularity of instrumental music and symphonies. Sacred music abandoned its religious framework by the 19th century, and choir stage concerts on secular stages gained popularity. This period also saw the creation of secular cantatas and oratorios.
Modern Era and Contemporary Period
The 20th century saw the development of choir music as a time of experimentation, formalization, and growth. The extensive commercialization of choir robes for both secular choruses, especially in schools, and religious choirs, primarily in churches and temples, occurred with this transition.
Sales of choir robes initially concentrated on a small number of hues, fashions, and materials. Initially, the majority of choir robes were only offered in shades of black, white, or blue. The popularity of gospel choirs led to an increase in the number of options for choir robes.
Today, choirs from all over the world can pick from more than a hundred styles, practically any color on the color wheel, and a wide variety of fabrics and embellishments.
Did you enjoy this bit of history on choir robes and outfits? We hope you did! If you’re looking for choir robes for church or any performances, please feel free to contact us and ask us anything about choosing the right one for any needed occasion. At Concert Attire, we focus on quality and satisfaction!