Anglican ministers can wear a wide variety of special clothes. There is however, a wide variety of practice within the Anglican Church of Australia, with some ministers wearing very formal clothes and others informal ones the same as members of their congregation.

Probably the most common special article of clothing is the "clerical collar". Many ministers wear these when leading services, visiting, or just for general use.

It is when they are leading services that many Anglican ministers wear special clothes or "vestments" as they are known. Once again, the type of vestments varies significantly from place to place and church to church.

(From an article in Anglican Encounter, November 2000, by Sally Gero)

Vestments means "official dress" or "robes", and can refer to any type of ceremonial clothing worn not only by clergy, but by anyone in a ceremonial capacity. In the early days of the church no special clothing was worn, apart from a long white garment put on at baptism to signify "putting on Christ".

The long white garment worn in Roman society by professional people did not become a specifically Christian vestment until the fifth century, although Jerome (341-420 CE) distinguishes between everyday clothes and a special 'suit of clean clothes' for church wear. By the fifth century, priests and bishops were wearing the long white garment called the alb (meaning 'white' as in albino and albatross).

A rope girdle or 'cincture' was added later, as was the stole. This is the long strip of material, like a scarf, often with religious symbols or decorations. A deacon wears the stole over the left shoulder, priests and bishops wear it with the ends handing down the front. Since the Reformation, when the colours of the liturgical year were fixed, stoles have usually been in liturgical colours. The origins of the stole are unclear - it may have originally been a garland worn at a festival.

Over their alb Romans wore a conical tent-shaped garment with a hole cut out for the head, called a 'casula' ('little house') outdoors, and indoors for special occasions. We know it as the chasuble. It didn't become a vestment until about the ninth century, when in the West it was accepted that the priest or bishop presiding at the Eucharist wore a chasuble over their alb. It is generally in the appropriate liturgical colour, and may be decorated with strips of embroidered fabric or tapestry called orphreys, or with other liturgical symbols.

A cassock, an ankle length garment with long narrow sleeves, is not itself a vestment but is universally worn under all eucharistic vestments. Its Latin name 'subtanea' (soutaine) indicates that it is an undergarment - however, it is worn as an outer garment. In 1602, the Anglican church law forbade clergy to go out in public "in the doublet and hose without coats or cassocks." The cassock is not only worn by priests, although in black it has always been the basic item of a priest's attire. Today, bishops wear purple cassocks, while cathedral choirs and others can be seen wearing red.

The Anglican Church uses a range of colours to mark the different seasons of the Church year. Colours of vestments, altar cloths and other decorations change during the year, often with considerable variation from parish to parish. Consequently:

  • the colour of Advent is blue or violet to symbolise spiritual preparation;
  • the colour Christmas and Epiphany is white or gold symbolising joy and purity;
  • the colour of Lent is purple or natural-coloured linens to symbolise mourning and penitence;
  • the colour of Holy Week is red symbolising blood;
  • the colour of Easter is white;
  • the colour for the day of Pentecost is red symbolising fire.
  • When there is no feast being observed, green is the ordinary colour and symbolic of God’s goodness to us in creation.
  • White is also used weddings, funerals and saint's days while red is used for ordinations and the commemoration of martyrs.

At the Reformation (16th century), much simpler dress became the norm in the Church of England. The alb was replaced by the shorter white gown with wide sleeves called the surplice which was worn over the cassock. Originally it was ankle length,but by the Reformation, it had been progressively shortened. In a shortened form today, sometimes decorated with embroidery or lace, it is known as the cotta.

The dalmatic is a tunic shaped vestment in the liturgical colour of the season or occasion, worn by a deacon assisting at the Eucharist. It was originally a garment worn by officials of the Roman Empire but was adapted by deacons who had the care of the widows and sick, and has remained a deacon's garment. It is often decorated with two orphreys (embroidered fabric or tapestry strips) running vertically front to back, over the shoulder and connected by two horizontal orphreys.

A tippett is a black scarf, with ends that hand down, that can be worn at the daily prayers. Some Anglican clergy wear this instead of a stole.

The mitre is the bishop's hat. It is though to have evolved its shape from being copied by early Christian bishops from the shape of Hebrew priests' headwear. An adaptation was made, in the divided shape being representative of the tongues of fire that came down on the disciples' heads at Pentecost.

The crosier, like a shepherd's crook is carried by the bishop to remind us tat the bishop if chief shepherd of Christ's flock in this place.