By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – When a Pope attends a public event like a general audience in St. Peter’s Square or meets a head of state in the papal apartment, he’s not exactly free to “wing it” with his wardrobe. His choice of outfit is dictated by a precise protocol.

Recently a Vatican official published two extensive articles in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in an effort to help observers decipher the papal dress code.

In what can seem like a page of dos and don’ts from Emily Post, Msgr. Stefano Sanchirico, an assistant for papal ceremonies, spelled out current norms on how Popes should dress for a nonliturgical event.

First, a peek at what’s in the papal closet: a white cassock; a white zucchetto or skullcap; a white sash; a short white surplice-like garment called a rochet that is worn over the cassock; an elbow-length red cape called a mozzetta; a red velvet mozzetta trimmed with ermine fur; a white damask mozzetta with or without the white fur trim; a selection of red stoles with gold embroidery; white stoles with gold embroidery; red shoes; and a pair of white loafers.

Even though the items are few, they are worn in particular combinations for specific occasions.

The basic outfit is the white cassock, white sash with gold fringe and the white zucchetto. This is what the Pope wears for almost all public events: the weekly general audience, the Sunday Angelus, an audience with a government official and during most meetings on papal trips abroad.

When the Pope holds an official audience with a head of state or ambassador at the Vatican, the rochet and mozzetta are added on top of the basic papal attire. If the visiting head of state is Catholic, then a stole is added to the mix.

According to Msgr. Sanchirico, the stole and the shoes should always match the color of the mozzetta. However, papal tastes trump sartorial standards in the shoe department: Pope Benedict XVI always wears red shoes in public, even when protocol dictates otherwise.

Whether red or white accessories are worn depends on the time of year.

Msgr. Sanchirico wrote that the white mozzetta – with or without the ermine trim – is worn after the Easter Vigil until the second Sunday of Easter. However, Pope Benedict prefers to wear the white mozzetta until Pentecost.

The red mozzetta is worn the rest of the year. Whether it is trimmed with ermine fur or not depends on the season. A red mozzetta with trim is worn from the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria Nov. 25 through to the Ascension in the spring; the red mozzetta without trim is worn from the Ascension to Nov. 25, wrote Msgr. Sanchirico.

Pope Benedict has reintroduced to the papal wardrobe a wide-brimmed red straw hat that Pope John XXIII often wore and a red velvet cap trimmed with ermine called a “camauro,” which Pope John was the last to wear.

The one thing all the Pope’s nonliturgical garments and accessories have in common is they are either red or white. The colors, the Italian monsignor wrote, “are distinctive of papal dignity” with white symbolizing “innocence and charity” and the red symbolizing the blood and sacrifice of Christ.

But the colors are also rooted in the historical process of the early Roman pontiffs taking on the customs and clothing of the Roman emperor, as outlined in the so-called Donation of Constantine, he wrote.

He said the document, which was probably written around the eighth or ninth century, claims that Emperor Constantine handed sovereign authority over to Rome and the western part of the empire to Pope Sylvester I.

To reinforce the legitimacy of the Pope’s role as a sovereign ruler, the document established that the Pope could wear imperial garments and use the scepter, “which already from the ninth century began to play a role in the rite of installation of the new pontiff,” wrote Msgr. Sanchirico.

The first systematic description of what the Pope was to wear upon his election was written out for Pope Gregory X sometime between 1272 and 1273 by the papal master of ceremonies. Earlier norms specified only the importance of the red cloak, wrote the monsignor.

From the time of Pope Gregory, both white and red were to be visible to show that the Pope represented “the person of Christ and his mystical body, the Church,” Msgr. Sanchirico wrote.

Further codifications of papal dress stipulated that, upon his election, the Pope was to put on a white cassock made of linen or other material appropriate for the weather and that a high-ranking cardinal would then place the red papal mantle over his shoulders.

Msgr. Sanchirico said that the installation outfits eventually became the Pope’s everyday attire for public events and formal meetings.

Even with a few modern modifications, the traditional papal outfit has never gone out of style. Sticking with the same look for centuries offers continuity and “makes visible the uniqueness and singularity of the ministry of the successor of Peter,” Msgr. Sanchirico said.