The_Age_125There is a whiff of publicity stunt about Esquire magazine’s decision to name Pope Francis its ”Best Dressed Man of 2013”. But the magazine’s editors are pretty astute in recognising that the Pope’s ”black shoes and unadorned, simplistic regalia” are more than just a personal fashion choice.

Esquire approvingly quotes Mark-Evan Blackman, an assistant professor of menswear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who says the Pope’s attire ”really does reflect the mindset behind it”.

A defender of the red shoe-wearing Benedict XVI took to Twitter to defend the Pope emeritus’ footwear. He noted that red in Catholic culture symbolises the blood of the martyrs and suggested that Francis should not casually discard such edifying imagery. This is a variation on the larger conservative Catholic critique of Francis’ style: that his seeming humility disguises an arrogant rejection of deeply rooted church traditions.

In fact, Benedict’s fondness for finery – especially the elaborate vestments he wore at religious rites – represented a departure from the more austere tastes of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.

Pope Francis has been critical of 'clericalism'.Pope Francis has been critical of ‘clericalism’. Photo: Getty

I wrote a few years ago: ”Benedict has returned to his liturgical roots, sporting massive mitres, celebrating Mass in the Sistine Chapel with his back to the congregation and leading Good Friday services vested in a fiddleback chasuble. ”The Pope’s aides say that his choice of vestments is designed to demonstrate continuity with the church’s past. Liberals are more inclined to see it as a slap at the spirit of Vatican II.”

Intermingled with Benedict’s preference for elaborate vestments was his belief in a bright line between the clergy and laity.

By contrast, Francis has been critical of ”clericalism”.

That attitude is reflected by the new Pope’s decision to re-mothball the gold, jewelled mitres that Benedict favoured. At his inaugural Mass, Francis wore a plain mitre and relatively unadorned vestments.

Francis is unlikely to dispense with vestments altogether (as some priests in the Anglican Church want to do), but clearly the red shoes and jewelled mitres conflict with his idea of a clergy that serves rather than rules. So Esquire is on firm ground in inferring clothes make the Pope.

Los Angeles Times