April 7, August 7, December 7
Chapter 55: On the Clothes and Shoes of the Brethren
Let clothing be given to the brethren
according to the nature of the place in which they dwell
and its climate;
for in cold regions more will be needed,
and in warm regions less.
This is to be taken into consideration, therefore, by the Abbot.
We believe, however, that in ordinary places
the following dress is sufficient for each monk:
a cowl (thick and woolly for winter, thin or worn for summer),
a scapular for work,
stockings and shoes to cover the feet.
The monks should not complain
about the color or the coarseness of any of these things,
but be content with what can be found
in the district where they live and
can be purchased cheaply.
The Abbot shall see to the size of the garments,
that they be not too short for those who wear them,
but of the proper fit.
Let those who receive new clothes
always give back the old ones at once,
to be put away in the wardrobe for the poor.
For it is sufficient if a monk has two tunics and two cowls,
to allow for night wear and for the washing of these garments;
more than that is superfluity and should be taken away.
Let them return their stockings also and anything else that is old
when they receive new ones.
Those who are sent on a journey
shall receive drawers from the wardrobe,
which they shall wash and restore on their return.
And let their cowls and tunics be somewhat better
than what they usually wear.
These they shall receive from the wardrobe
when they set out on a journey,
and restore when they return.
Ah! The wardrobe! Here’s something to challenge us. Do our individual wardrobes begin to reflect such Benedictine simplicity? Do we even want them to? How many outfits and for which purposes do we have clothes in our closets? And shoes? To what extent do our jobs dictate how many outfits we should have? To what extent do we allow fashion dictate our choices? To what extent could we, if we were really honest with ourselves, pare down our wardrobe and do with less?
The detail enchants me that those going on a journey are given underwear. This implies to me that in the original community none was worn. Given that the monks were not to complain about the coarseness of the cloth, lack of underwear could be troublesome.
I appreciate also the respect and courtesy implied that the monks going on a journey should dress somewhat better than usual. Dressing for the occasion is something one almost never sees here in San Diego where casual reigns. I even read a Miss Manners column recently where someone wrote to her complaining of a wedding invitation which came with a statement about the attire that the bride and groom preferred for the church service: suits and ties for men or at least a sport coat with nice trousers; for women, no exposed bosoms, bare backs or arms and skirts at least knee length. The invitee was outraged but Miss Manners pointed out that what was outrageous was the need to define the appropriate dress code, a need all the more implied by the invitee’s apparent lack of knowledge that how we dress sends a message.
For those who may not know her work, Miss Manners is a columnist in the the Washington Post on the subject of etiquette.