The “Roman collar,” a white band that goes around the neck of a priest (or clergy members of some Protestant congregations), remains one of the most distinctive elements of clerical vesture. It speaks more loudly than any words and clearly identifies clergy members in a crowd of any size.
It wasn’t until the 12th and 13th centuries that priests adopted the Roman cassock as a distinctive piece of clothing that visually separated them from the laity. A few centuries later the cassock was regulated to be the color black and it was during this time period that the white collar came into existence.
At the time the current fashion was to wear a linen collar over the top of a person’s clothing. According to Matthew Bunson, “This became accepted custom, and by the 17th century there were many forms of this linen collar, such as the ornate Roman variety, the collarino, of ornate and expensive lace, and the French adopted the collars worn by the noble classes, of linen and fine lace.”