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Selection and Maintenance of Choir Robes

Choir robes can lend beauty and dignity to your worship services. The wise choice of style will be influenced by the nature of your corporate worship. Robes, just like other symbols should make some kind of statement about how we come into God's presence. An Episcopal church which has a procession at the beginning of each service might choose full length burgundy cassocks and overlay then with white surpluses. An AME (African American Episcopal) church might have very bright solid colors with a pattern on a stole. A Southern Baptist church might wear a rather conservative color, eight inches above the floor and have satin removable V-shaped collars. Selection factors will include length, color, solid or pattern, fabric type, monogramming, separate collars or stoles, and sizes for spare robes as well as the amount of money available. Choral directors and organists often have specially designed robes to facilitate playing the organ pedals and conducting.

Quality Fabrics

The term "Quality Fabrics" is somewhat subjective. Certainly, fabrics are available in various grades or quality levels. It should mean fabrics which are among the top 5 to 7% available. In other words if a fabric is available in 100 different quality levels from 1 being the lowest to 100 being the highest, (costs varying proportionately), your supplier should purchase from 93 to 100 on that list. Some companies purchase an average quality fabric in the seventies and eighties, and although the difference in quality may not be readily apparent, the colorfast properties, wrinkly resistance, and durability may vary significantly and will become apparent in the years ahead. Generally the term "quality fabrics", as agreed by various trade associations in the choir robe manufacturing industry, refers to fabrics that meet certain minimum requirements for the above mentioned properties. Generally it would be the top 45 - 50 %. Most companies that are considered reputable use fabrics that are in the top 75% and up.


With regard to laundering vs. dry cleaning many manufacturers prefer dry cleaning at an establishment that uses SANI-TONE products or the equivalent Dry cleaning will give the longest wear and maintain optimum color fastness. If laundering is opted, use lukewarm water and mild detergent. Whether you dry-clean or launder, ALWAYS DO ALL OF THE GOWNS AT THE SAME TIME, EVEN IF SOME DO NOT LOOK LIKE THEY NEED CLEANING. In this way the gowns will fade at a uniform level and will always look the same. How frequently you need to do this varies greatly depending on the church, the temperature, the length of the services, the humidity, etc. It seems 1 - 3 times per year is the average range.


The amount of storage space differs greatly depending on the sizes of the gowns, the size of the hangar, the style of choir robe, the fabric, and whether or not garment bags are used. There is no stock answer, but a rod space of about three to four inches per robe will generally be a good estimate for you to plan space. Be certain to provide enough space for the storage of additional robes that you might purchase in the future.

It is recommended that the rod be placed at least a couple of inches higher than the length of the robe for the tallest person you expect. For safety sake (for future members that may be taller than present members) we recommend a height of 5' 6" to 6' 0 " if space permits. In the event that the rod is too low, a garment bag is the solution. If the bottom of the bag drags the floor, the gown inside will still be clean.


Most of the fabrics that are used in our line are selected with the hopes that they will be used for many years to come. Polycrepe has been in used for at least the past 20 years, Visa for the past 10 - 15 and there are some newer generation fabrics that are being introduced this year for the first time. Before we introduce a new fabric, it is evaluated with much testing so that robe companies can purchase what they believe to be a two-year supply. They also want future choir members to be able to match up with previously ordered robes as best as possible. Every time they order additional fabric in a specific color, the color may vary from one dye lot to the next. In fact, of the more popular fabrics manufacturers may have many different bolts of fabric in their warehouse that differ in shade from one bolt to the next. In order to match gowns that were ordered five years or longer in the past, they generally suggest that you send them a sample robe for matching purposes. Hopefully they will have a good match on hand. If not, they can always send the robe to their fabric mill and can get a better match if available. Some colors and fabric are more colorfast than others are. Also, how the gowns have been cleaned and/or stored may be factors in their color change. Usually, they can get very good matches on most colors, even on older robes, especially if the robes have been well maintained.

The industry standard for longevity for weekly usage robes is 6 - 8 years for robes that have been dry cleaned and stored in garment bags in a dark closet. The average for some manufacturers is estimated in the 8 - 14 year range. There are several churches that are approaching the twenty-year mark, and tell their manufacturer that the gowns still look great.


It is a good idea to have your robes numbered and perhaps have the singer's name in them as well. Some people have the numbers increase with increasing length. This enables the person in charge of the robes to quickly select a suitable available robe when someone new joins the choir. It is also a good idea to have one person who maintains the list of who has each robe and which ones are available for new singers. They can also help with any problems that might arise so that the director might not have to resolve those problems at the last minute before a service begins. They should also be the contact for each person in the choir to let know any repairs that might be needed and to schedule and organize the periodic cleaning of the robes.

I owe a great deal of thanks to Mr. Steve Springer, former President of Springer Uniforms (http://www.springerco.com) for his help in preparing this article.

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