Up until the 1960s it was easy to identify the different national Colleges through their distinctive dress. If you think the Scots were striking in their heather-coloured garb, then look at the students of the German and Hungarian College, who were known as the gamberi cotti (boiled lobsters) on account of their red soutanes.
It was said that such conspicious costume was devised so that they could be spotted easily and not fall prey to behaviour inappropriate to ecclesiastics. Another version is that they were given scarlet so that they were not be blamed for incidents for which students of the English College were really responsible!
The members of the Ruthenian College (founded 1897) were equally colourful, sporting a blue cassock and an orange sash (some sources say yellow)!
The students of the North American College (NAC) wore a black cassock with blue piping and a crimson sash, as you can just make out in this photo of the College's first students:
The students of the Venerable English College had black cassocks without a sash, over which they wore a soprana, a sort of sleeveless academic gown with 'wings,' originating from the Jesuit habit. The most distinctive part of the dress of a Venerabilino was the 'soup plate hat' on which the brim on either side was joined to the crown by two cords.
The second photo shows an unusually snowy St Peter's in the mid-1950s. The chap in glasses second from the left is now Archbishop of Liverpool.
Such ecclesiastical dress must have made Rome a very colourful place indeed. In her superlative Companion Guide to Rome (first published 1965), Georgina Mason notes with regret that 'these rules were general until the last few years, but things are changing fast and already many of them are of purely historic interest.' Zadok the Roman has a full list of the Roman 'seminarian dress of yore.'
Labels: Roma Eterna