The Meaning Behind Different Colours Of Clergy Shirts

Clergy shirts are one of the wardrobe pieces that priests, pastors and ministers wear as clothing, both during a ceremony or service as well as when they are out in the community. Clergy shirts come in a variety of colours, and the options available can depend on the denomination or religious organization’s requirements. The most common options, particularly for Catholic clergy or priests, is a black shirt with a white priest collar.

Many people aren’t aware that there are two types of clergy shirts. The first being the tab-collar shirt and the second type, which is called a neckband shirt. The tab-collar shirt has a fold-down collar with an opening at the throat where a cloth or plastic neck piece can be placed. This is most easily recognized as a priest collar. The neckband shirt has no collar, but rather a thin band of white cloth around the neck similar to a mock-turtleneck style of shirt.

Clergy Colours Commonly Seen

When it comes to the clothing worn by clergy, many opt for custom robes and accompanying attire, since clergy vestments are highly personal items. The clothing worn is a reflection of the tradition of faith and symbolizes a commitment to serving the congregation. In addition to choosing customized vestments, clergy will also choose the colour of their shirt based on the sermon or service they are delivering.

Below is a more detailed look at what each shirt colour means.


A black shirt is the most recognizable colour of clerical attire. Catholic and Methodist clergy wear black as their primary attire. Traditional black comes in both types of clergy shirts and is worn for everyday attire, as well as in public. Black is considered the primary colour for shirts worn by members of the clergy.


A red or maroon shirt is most typically assigned to members of the clergy who hold the position of Bishop. Catholic, Methodist and other denominations with bishop positions generally wear a red clergy shirt with a white collar. Cardinals often wear a maroon clergy shirt because they hold a higher position in the church than a Bishop.


Purple is also used to designate a specific position in the church, such as Bishop or senior Bishop. This colour can also imply that the clergy holds a specific position in the church. At times, one Bishop may wear a purple clergy shirt in the presence of a senior Bishop, so that there can be the distinction between the two. Purple is also used for services of repentance.


It is common for clergy to wear white shirts during formal ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, or religious holidays. The white shirt is generally worn under a cloak or robe during a ceremony, but not worn out in public. A clergy shirt of this colour is also worn with different colour priest collars that relate to either a season or a specific type of event.

Choosing Clergy Vestments

As mentioned, the items worn by clergy are considered to be a personal statement about the commitment and dedication to their faith. Therefore, it is no surprise that there’s a great interest in finding high quality and well-made pieces, such as custom robes, stoles, scarves and other essential items.

Harcourts is the oldest manufacturer of clergy vestments in North America. Our reputation for excellent workmanship and tailoring continues to be a priority, and our design team individually cuts, sews and can tailor vestments and robes to provide a perfect fit. Contact us to find out more about customizing your garments to meet your needs and match your congregation’s style.