Size Matters

The Vatican's Big Fashion Problem: How Fat Is the New Pope?

L'Osservatore Romano/Getty

A new pope will soon be on his way--reports say that an announcement could come as soon as Thursday. But since the papal selection process is cloaked in secrecy, companies that service the Vatican are currently over-preparing for the church’s new appointment. The new pope will need to appear in all his finery just minutes after the announcement, delivering one of the office's famous balcony speeches.

According to the New York Times, fashion is not exempt from unknowing equation, since the papal garments are what visually separates a pope from his cardinals. Those layers of white and red robes need to be ready to go before the appointment is even announced. But there's one problem: most papal robes aren't one-size-fits-all. Writes the paper's fashion reporter, Guy Trebay: “For a select group of Catholics, the news most eagerly awaited from the conclave of cardinals gathering in Rome to elect the new pope is less about who that man is than how big.”

Like normal people, popes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. So to prepare for whoever is ultimately chosen as the new pope, papal outfitter Ditta Annibale Gammarelli (who’s dressed every pope in the last century with one exception, Pius XII, who had his own personal tailor) has produced two sets of pope attire in three different sizes each (small, medium, and large). Each set, comprised of four components—a floor-length wool cassock, a white sash, a white skullcap, and an optional scarlet mozzetta, in addition to a one-size-fits-all red velvet cape (for winter weather)—have been prepared in anticipation of the new pope’s uncertain waistline.

But according to Trebay, the preparations used to be worse: Gammarelli once produced extra-large ensembles too. But this time around, “none of the likely current candidates, as it happens is any heftier [than a size large].” He added that no pope has worn an XL since “Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963.”

The matter of shoes is apparently a little trickier. Trebay reports, “there will be a selection of red papal loafers in all sizes to prepare for every contingency.”

For civilians who want to get in on the sartorial papal action, French store Mes Chausettes Rogue (translation: 'My Red Socks') is licensed to tell Gammarelli’s myriad of Vatican-friendly socks to the public for around $25. Hamish Bowles, the stylish European editor-at-large of Vogue, is apparently a fan.