The Masonic Service Association of the United States
JUNE 1968 NO. 6
How did the Ancient Craft get
its distinctive dress? Whence the apron, collar, jewel, raiment? Why do we put
so much emphasis on being "properly clothed"?
No one can answer with complete
authority; so many causes contributed that it is impossible to state an origin
as having been at one time or place.
The first paragraph in the
"History of the Cryptic Rite" (Authors Hinman, Denslow, Hunt) sets
"In slavery days in this
country, little colored babies were sometimes sold to speculators who raised
them for the market. Topsy, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, was a child thus raised, and
therefore with no knowledge of her parentage or age. She said she 'never was
born, never had no father nor mother, nor nothin; I was raised by a speculator
with lots of others. Old Aunt Sue use to take car' on us-I 'spect I just
Masonic clothing is much like
Topsy-it "just grow'd". No man may say who its father and mother
were or the date when it was born. But there is much to be said of the family,
and, if we cannot trace direct, we have some knowledge of collateral
Apron and gloves have already
been considered in these pages (June, 1932; February, 1940) but clothing as a
whole and "clothing the lodge" is of wider interest.
"Clothing" should not
be confused with "regalia"---It too often is, and modern
dictionaries are to some extent responsible. In its Masonic sense
"clothing" and "regalia" are distinct.
"Regalia" is not found
in Latin with its present meaning. William of Malmesbury in the 12th century,
describing the coronation of Emperor Henry V by Pope Paschal 11, says:
"After the ceremony the pope laid aside his sacerdotalia and the
emperor his regalia". The words "regale" and
regalia" meant the royal prerogatives. "Regale" meant the
privileges of kings of France to receive certain revenues and to present
benefices. But by the 17th century, the modern meaning was given to the word
According to the Standard
Dictionary that "modern meaning" is "the distinctive symbols or
decorations and insignia of a particular order as 'the Masonic regalia"'.
But the dictionary also states that in Old English law the word meant
the six prerogatives of sovereignty: judicature, power over life and death,
right to wage war or conclude peace, right to tax, to coin money, and to take
charge of masterless goods.
In England today
"regalia" is formally used to mean the emblems of royalty used at a
coronation: the crown, scepter, verge (rod) staff of Edward the Confessor,
ampulla (flask of anointing oil), anointing spoon, bracelets, spurs and
apparently the only modern British connection of "regalia" with
"clothing" as the latter word is used in the Masonic sense.
In 1772 Preston described
"properly clothed" for public appearance as follows: "All the
Brethren, who walk in procession, should observe, as much as possible, an
uniformity in their dress. Decent mourning, with white stockings, gloves and
aprons, is most suitable and becoming; and no person ought to be distinguished
with a jewel, unless he is an officer of one of the Lodges invited to attend
in form. The officers of such Lodges should be ornamented with white sashes
and hat-bands; as also the officers of the Lodge to whom the dispensation is
granted, who should likewise be distinguished with white rods".
The Festival of St. John the
Baptist was reported in the Boston Gazette for July 2, 1739 as follows:
"At three in the Afternoon They assembled at the House of their Brother
John Wagborn, from whence they walk'd in Procession to His Excellency's House,
properly Clothed, and Distinguished, with Badges, and other Implement
pertaining to the several Orders and Degrees of the Society, proceeded by a
Compleat band of Musick, consisting of Trumpets, Kettle Drums, etc".
In early days of Masonry in
London the brother "made" had to "clothe (or cloath) the
lodge" which meant that he supplied the aprons and gloves to all who
attended. Those who did not attend did not receive "clothing" from
the newly-made brother, as we learn from many sources.
The by-laws of a Boston lodge of
1733 specify: "The Master of this Lodge, or in absence, the Grand Master,
Deputy Grand Master or Wardens, when there is a private Lodge ordered to be
held for a Making, shall be obliged to give all the Members timely notice of
the time and place in writing where such Lodge is held that they may give
their attendee and every member being duly warned as aforesaid and neglecting
to attend on such private Making shall not be cloathed.
"No member that is absent
from the Lodge of a Lodge night when there is a Making, shall have the Benefit
of being cloathed for that time."
It is correct to speak of proper
Masonic clothing as the "livery of Masons", although for those to
whom the word means only the uniform of a domestic servant or butler the
statement may seem strange. Nevertheless livery, meaning the costume of a
class, sect, organization or group, can be applied to the costume of the
ancient pilgrim, seeking his goal in a dress peculiar to his vocation, or to
the modern Masons in apron, gloves, collar, jewel, and hat.
The pilgrim is a character of
song and story; the pilgrimage made to a holy place is, apparently, as old as
man. Exodus speaks of "the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage,
wherein they were strangers". One of the great poetic passages of
the Bible is in Hebrew, 11: "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go
out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and
he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of
promise, as in a strange country * * * * For he looked for a city which hath
foundations, whose builder and maker is God." The story of faith is
finished with the verse: "These all died in faith, not having received
the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and
embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on
the earth." (Italics supplied.)
The pilgrim, then, was a man who
sought good -- -who traveled to seek God. In the Middle Ages his dress was
conventionalized and prescribed, giving us a new vision of the age of livery
and clothing and dress as a part of ceremony.
The pilgrims of the early 'teen
centuries wore a long gown, dark in color, coarse in texture, a leathern
girdle as an emblem of humility and poverty, a staff, a rosary and cross, and
carried a scrip (bag). Spenser in the "Fairie Queen" describes
A silly man in
simple weeds foreworn
And soiled 'with dust of the long dried way,
His sandals were with toilesome travel torne
And face all tanned with scorching sunny ray;
As he had travelled many a summer's day
Through boiling sands of Araby and Inde,
And in his hands a Jacob's staff to stay
His weary limbs upon; and eke behind
His scrip did hang, in which his needments he did bind.
The word livery comes
from that which was delivered-anciently, land or property held in
trust, and given to its owner at the proper time; delivery was the
act of possession. Hence, according to Mackey, when feudal lords delivered
their clothing to their servants, that clothing became "livery".
Clothing and livery became synonymous in the time of Edward the First and
he who joined a gild or association was said to "have the clothing".
Mackey thinks there is no doubt that the "clothing" of Masons, and
our custom of speaking of one ready to enter lodge as "properly
clothed", comes from this custom of livery or uniform costume of the old
Hence "a Freemason's
livery" is a term of honor, not one of belittlement.
The emphasis on
"clothing" for Masons-which varies in different countries and
times-according to the noted authority H. L. Haywood springs from the days of
the operative Masons, the cathedral builders. To them the twin questions of
clothing and of wages were of vital importance. Indeed, the "Master's
Wages" of modern Masonry seems an echo of days when builders were badly
underpaid, so much so that they could not afford decent clothing.
Today workmen would form a
union, strike and get what they wanted. In the early centuries of cathedral
building such remedies were not known. The authorities had a much better plan.
If a workman
could not afford good clothes for his family, they tried to make him satisfied
by forbidding him to buy them or his family to wear them! Clothing for wives,
sons, daughters was a matter of legal enactment to keep workmen and their
families from dressing "like their betters", and to make sure that
the workmen and their people wore the proper livery of their craft. In the
time of Edward the Third, the law specified that "people of handicraft
and yeomen" could not wear cloth costumes higher than forty shillings,
and furs, except the very cheapest, were forbidden the women.
Here Haywood finds a reason why
gloves were early so important in Masonry---the gloves worn in lodge meant
that here at least the lowest was the equal of "his betters".
Some Grand Lodges today
prescribe Masonic clothing in great detail; others content themselves with
specifications as to the size and permissible decorations of the apron; still
others have no, or little, regulation.
Massachusetts is typical of
those Grand Lodges which go into detail as to clothing. In addition to
prescribed shapes, sizes and forms for jewels and other insignia, the Grand
"The Collars of the Grand
Officers shall be chains of gold or metal gilt.
"The Apron of the Grand
Master shall be of white lambskin, lined with purple, ornamented with the
blazing Sun, embroidered in gold in the center; on the edging the pomegranate
and lotus, and the seven-eared wheat at each corner, and also on the fall; all
in gold embroidery, the fringe of gold bullion, with purple edging and
"The Apron of the Deputy
Grand Master and of a District Grand Master shall be of the same material and
lining, having the emblem of his office in gold embroidery in the center, and
the pomegranate and lotus alternately embroidered in gold on the edging.
"The emblem of the District
Grand Master shall be within a double circle bearing the name of his District.
"The Aprons of the other
Grand Officers shall be of white lambskin, lined with purple; edging of purple
three and a half inches wide; with purple strings; ornamented with gold,
having the emblems of office, in gold, in the center.
"Each officer of a Lodge
shall wear a blue velvet collar trimmed with silver lace, or a white metal
chain collar upon blue ribbon of such pattern or patterns as shall be approved
by the Grand Master, from which shall be suspended the jewel of the office in
silver. The aprons may bear the emblems of the offices and a fringe of silver.
"The Apron of a Master
Mason will be a plain white lambskin, fourteen inches wide by twelve inches
deep. The Apron may be adorned with sky-blue lining and edging, and three
rosettes of the same color. No other color shall be allowed, and no other
ornament shall be worn except by officers and past officers."
The Ahiman Rezon of the Grand
Lodge of Pennsylvania sets forth that on the occasion of "public
participation in any ceremony, all the members of the Grand Lodge shall appear
in Masonic dress, consisting of a suit of black clothes, black necktie, black
silk hat and white gloves; the Officers of the Grand Lodge and Subordinate
Lodges shall wear their appropriate jewels and aprons; the other members of
Grand Lodge white lambskin aprons; Past Grand Masters, Past Deputy Grand
Masters and Past Masters shall wear their appropriate jewels on the left lapel
of the coat".
It is further stated in this
book of the law that a brother must "wear a Masonic apron on entering a
lodge* * * * every Past Master must wear his jewel".
Incidentally, in Pennsylvania
Grand Lodge officers have white satin aprons with purple velvet
borders with a gold edging, but are rounded at the bottom and have a rounded
flap; they are lined with purple and have purple strings.
In a few lodges, here and there,
those who conduct a degree, usually the Master's degree, wear costumes,
generally called robes. The practice is not common, and is neither provided
for nor forbidden by the Masonic law in most jurisdictions. It is perhaps a
compound of the desire to "dress up the parts and make the scene more
lifelike, and a throw-back to the days when the proposal was made in the Grand
Lodge of England (1778) that the Grand Master and his officers should be
robed. The cloak or mantle is very old, and must have been known to the Masons
of the Grand Lodge of England in 1778 as ancient dress, because for many years
it had been the hallmark of chivalry, the knight-in-armor's principal
decoration when not dressed in steel. But wise counsels prevailed,
the Grand Lodge decided to stick to its own peculiar style of dress, rather
than ape that which had long been prescribed for a different order.
Nevertheless robes, cloaks,
costumes are occasionally used in Symbolic Lodges; they are much more common
in Royal Arch Chapters and find their fullest use in the ceremonies of the
Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and in such appendant orders as the Shrine