English Boy Choirs: Costumes


Figure 1.--This image shows a variety of robes and ruffs worn by modern English choristers. The clip is from a TV broadcast featuring choristers from many different English cathedral choirs. The boys at the front in the elaborate double ruffs are from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral; the coped boy at rear is from Lincoln Cathedral.

English boy choirs often perform in liturgical choir robes. This is due to their association with the the early Catholic and later Anglican cathedrals and their primary purpose of providing choral music for church services. The different choirs wear a variety of different collars with their robes, ranging from 19th century Eton collars to 16th century ruffled collar. There is no definitive rule and individual churches decide for themselves. The ruffled collars seem the most popular in Church of England choirs. Several of the Catholic choirs have chosen Eton collars. The every day uniforms worn by British cathedral choirs is the school uniform of the various public (private) schools to which the choir is attached. This has mean caps, blazers, ties, short trousers, and kneesocks. In recent years the choirs have mostly dropped the caps and the boys now mostly wear long pants.

Performance Costumes

English boy choirs often perform in liturgical choir robes. Here the primary garment is the surplice, but albs are also worn. Tunics are mentioned in early accounts, but we are not always sure what is mean here. These church garments are of course worn because of the song school assicuations with the early Catholic and later Anglican cathedrals and their primary purpose of providing choral music for church services. In fact choristers in the early Church were normally boys planning to be monks or priests. Collars are often not described in early accounts. A reader tells us, "There is a significance to choir robes and meaning to the different colours of cassocks and the lengths of surplices." [Ebb]

Ordinary Clothing

Medieval era

The choristers when not performing probably wore livery. This was the destive dress or garments wore by the retainers of a fedual lord. The Choristers were in effect the reatiners of the Church. One historian describes typical livery as a long gown looking much like a cassock. The cassock was apparently the normal dress for both clergy and students during the medieval era. The Church surplice changed hardly at all and even the ordinary clothes changed very little over long periods. It should be mentioned that fashion changed much slower in Medieval Europe and thus dress styles may persist for centuries. The ordinary clothes such as livery would be worn under the surplice in church.

17th century

Choristers were not always provided livery which could cause problems. Before the Revolution, in England meaning the 17th century, Denis Granville, the Dean at Durham Cathedral, reportedly complained of irregularities and describes "Singing men and boyes wearing no gowns at all, when they officiate, under their surplices". An account at the Chapel Royal indicate, that after the restoration of the Charles II, choristers received the following insyructions, "Gentlemen being decently habited in their gownes and surplices (not in cloakes and bootes and spurs) shall come into Chappell orderly together". [Nicholson]

Modern era

The every day uniforms worn by modern British cathedral choirs is the school uniform of the various public (private) schools to which the choir is attached. This has mean caps, blazers, ties, short trousers, and kneesocks. In recent years the choirs have mostly dropped the caps and the boys now mostly wear long pants. Some song schools have had very destincrive every day uniforms such as the St Mary of the Angels Song School where the boys wore smocks.

Hair Styling

There is little information available on the hair styling in English boy choirs. We do know that at Exeter, and proably at least some other Cathedrals, the choristers received the tonsure. [Nicholson]

Dress Uniformity

Some Parish churches promoted uniformity of dress. At some parishes it was common for the west gallery musicians to dress in white smock-frocks. Girls wore red cloaks. It was apparently thought proper to outfit the 'Charity Children' who often provided the musical accompanyment in town churches. They often sang hymns with words expressing their gratitude for what ever care they received. Rgere were occassions in which large numbers of these charity children were organized for Festival at St.Paul's in London , presenting according to contemporary accounts, an 'affecting spectacle'. [Nicholson]

Sources

Ebbs, Chris. irector of the Treblemakers Junior church choirs. E-mail message, April 8, 2005.

Nicholson, Sydney H. Quires and Places Where They Sing.







HBC






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Created: December 26, 2002
Last updated: 2:28 AM 6/11/2005