Is there an English expression for a priest or monk not wearing his religious attire? (any Christian doctrine, or even more general).

Clarification: I'm trying to say that someone looks like an Orthodox priest who's not wearing vestments, not find a term/expression for priests who have, for any reason, not been wearing theirs.

I didn't include the Orthodox part in the original question since I was looking for a more universal expression, not a religious term, Orthodox or not.

  • 6
    In his civvies?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 16:49
  • 5
    Well, "defrocked" comes to mind, but probably not what you're looking for.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 16:50
  • 3
    I would call that a 'clerical error'.
    – user110907
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 18:08
  • 2
    Let's get the question straight. Here is this man, not a priest, but wearing black suit, black shirt, hoping that he will be thought to be a priest? (for some reason, honest or nefarious...) Is that what you are asking about?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 19:08
  • 4
    Honestly your clarification seems confusing because it seems to turn the problem on its head and ask for the opposite of what the rest of the question seems to request.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 20:13

6 Answers 6


Aside from a hair-splitting distinction among some Catholics (see below), there is no official term, and you will find a variety of choices:

In Catholicism, it depends on what you mean by religious attire. There are various various types of clerical dress for different purposes, and while the customary daily dress is the cassock, in many countries, at least among secular priests, the cassock has been replaced by the clerical suit.

This is not a newfangled development. The clerical suit was long preferred in Britain in order to distinguish Catholics from their cassock-clad Anglican cohorts, and in the U.S., it was adopted at one or the other Councils of Baltimore as a precaution amidst strong, sometimes violent anti-Catholicism in American society. But to some traditionalists, the cassock is the only acceptable public costume, and therefore the clerical suit is not "official" attire.

  • It is not uncommon, or used not to be, to see a vicar in suit or tweed jacket, but wearing a clerical collar. A few years ago my wife and I went on a cruise where the ship's chaplain (an Anglican) was also the port lecturer. During the day, and whilst giving his lectures he would be in normal holiday attire like the other passengers - open necked shirt etc. But on formal evenings when people dressed for dinner with DJ and black tie, he would wear his clerical collar - I think with a dinner jacket.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 17:45
  • I'm also a fan of "out of uniform" - but it's more idiomatic than accurate. I'm also not sure how common it is.
    – Ghotir
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 18:46

Perhaps you could say in mufti

Plain clothes worn by a person who wears a uniform for their job, such as a soldier or police officer: I was a flying officer in mufti

Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • 1
    Is that American? Also, it doesn't seem very common in relation to clergymen, judging by Google searches.
    – surfmadpig
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 16:42
  • 1
    Originates in the British Army, adopting an arabic word. More usually used for Army Officers out of uniform. The sense would be understood by many UK folks.
    – djna
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 16:47
  • You mean a 'mufti' is not fur-lined headwear for the deep cold winter?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 17:22
  • At my children's schools in the UK, "mufti" is used to describe clothes which are not school uniform. Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 17:39

As an Anglican Priest, I generally use the term plain clothes. But rarely is it necessay to explain what I am wearing. Among friends and other clergy, I just say "I'm not wearing my Priestlies (Priestly attire) today." Or I say I'm going "uncollared". I'd imagine that this differs more than just by the country in which the expression is used. Like just about everything, people have their own quirks, mannerisms, habits and expressions. I'd venture it differs by the person. I'm positive I've heard just about every phrase that can be strung together that means I'm not wearing my clerical vestments in just my local Parish.
If you're looking to describe a Priest in a more formal, rather than casual way, it would be proper to say that he was in layman's clothes or not attired in his clerical vestments.


Plainclothes :

  • dressed in ordinary clothes and not a uniform while on duty.

  • ordinary clothes, as distinguished from uniform, as worn by a police detective on duty

    • a plain-clothes policeman.

Layman's attire or layman's clothes. From "Martin Luther: The Man and the Image," by Herbert David Rix: "he (Luther)...changed his identity by putting on a layman's attire for his evenings out." "John P. (a fellow Augustinian monk) ran off because he was guilty of shameful behavior that disgraced us all. The police found him in layman's clothes in a brothel."

A Google search easily finds many other examples of these expressions in literature.

  • While your suggestion is certainly correct, the results are not that many - I'm hopefully looking for a more common phrase.
    – surfmadpig
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 16:45

You can consider non-clerical clothes/attire. (to emphasize that the context is related to priests/clergy).

For example, this expression appears in "Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents" By Austin Flannery:

It is forbidden to celebrate Mass or perform other sacred actions, such as the laying on of hands at ordinations, the administering of other sacraments or the giving of blessings, while wearing only a stole over non-clerical clothes.

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