The traditional tuxedos, capes and chapeaus — or fluffy hats — long associated with the Knights of Columbus, will soon be a thing of the past after Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson announced a change in the Fourth Degree uniform during the Knights of Columbus 135th Supreme Convention held in St. Louis Aug. 1.
In an e-mail sent to the general membership Aug. 4, Anderson said the sword would remain a part of the uniform.
Throughout the years, the regalia of the Fourth Degree, known as the patriotic degree, has gone through changes, Anderson said. When the Fourth Degree was first established, the uniform included white ties, top hats and tails.
In place of a tuxedo with a black bow tie, members will be wearing a blue blazer, tie and a beret, all with the Fourth Degree emblem on them, along with a white shirt and dark gray slacks. Throughout the years, the regalia of the Fourth Degree, known as the “Patriotic Degree,” has gone through changes, Anderson said, noting that when it was first established, the uniform included white ties, top hats and tails.
“The Board of Directors has decided that the time is right for a modernization of the Fourth Degree uniform,” Anderson said. “On a limited basis, assemblies may choose to continue using the traditional cape and chapeau for color corps at public events and honor guards in liturgical processions. However, the preferred dress for the Fourth Degree, including color corps and honor guards, is the new uniform of jacket and beret.”
In his e-mail to the membership, Anderson said the new uniform “is part of a comprehensive and necessary effort to keep our Order relevant and attractive to men, particularly younger men.”
Up until this point, only a tuxedo was required for Fourth Degree members, and the regalia was only for color corps members. Members who wanted the regalia could get a package from one of the Knights’ official third-party suppliers for around $500, in addition to the tuxedo. The tuxedo will no longer be required and the new uniform will only be required for color corps members. It is currently only being sold at the official Knights’ store for $510.
Anderson said in his e-mail the traditional uniform, while popular, has been cited as a reason many young men don’t join the Knights or why younger members don’t advance to the Fourth Degree. He also said the new uniform will be more versatile and can be worn “at a much wider range of functions.”
“Our choice of uniform, while important, has always been ancillary to the work we do carrying out the principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism, and this should always be the case,” Anderson wrote. “We have been testing the new uniform over the past year with key groups of Knights, including those brother Knights who participate in our annual Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage. The feedback we received from these groups has been very positive.”
Robert Earl, a member of Father Novatus Assembly 23, which serves Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Daniel the Prophet parishes in Scottsdale, welcomes the new changes.
“I feel it is significant that the Order changes to respond to changing times. The new uniform evokes an image of elite military corpsmen in my mind, and I believe this is the intent behind the change,” Earl said.
“Our former regalia was reminiscent of Navy officers and consistent with the nautical theme in the Patriotic degree, but it perhaps did not have currency in the minds of the general public,” he added, noting that in addition to the tuxedo, the other items collectively could cost approximately $500. “I think the new uniform creates a positive and striking image of ‘soldiers for Christ,’ which is, after all, what we are meant to be.”
Many members are not as thrilled about the pending changes which has generated some controversy among the membership. Joseph Meyer from Msgr. Bernard G. Collins Assembly 2899, which serves St. Bridget and Christ the King parishes in Mesa, said the new uniforms lose a sense of the pageantry associated with the Fourth Degree.
“I have been a Fourth Degree knight since 1978 and we have always had this regalia,” said Meyer, who was a color corps commander in Toledo, Ohio for 13 years before moving to Arizona. “We all looked great in the Fourth Degree outfits. These [new] outfits look bad.”
Meyer also expressed concern for members who own the current uniform and have to spend money on the new one.
“If we get a new uniform like this you will see a lot of knights leave the degree. A lot of your knights are retired and don’t have over $500 to spend,” he said.
Paul Lee, a member of the Iowa delegation who spoke to The Catholic Sun from St. Louis, said the reaction on the ground was “mixed.”
“The largest concern is people don’t feel that they have answers for the question of why the need for the change. They want something beyond a more modern look,” said Lee.
Lee said many members he’s interacted with are excited about the changes because it brings the uniform “more in line with other military service organizations because it connects us as patriotic organizations.” There are also members who “don’t like change, so they’re already up in arms.
“Then you have the sect of folks that feel that their voice was not consulted – this sort of change should have taken place as discussion at the state council level and then brought concerns to the Supreme level,” Lee said, countering that conversations have been happening at all levels of the order about the need for change.
Anthony Lisa, co-owner of the English Company, one of the Knights’ official suppliers of the traditional regalia, said he learned of the uniform change at the same time as everybody else, saying Anderson’s announcement was a “big shock.”
“We’ve been selling regalia for over 50 years as an official supplier,” Lisa said. “We have a tremendous amount of inventory.”
Lisa said he’s not sure what the future of the company will be, but that he hopes to continue the relationship with the Knights of Columbus.
“Nobody’s gotten back to us. We are hoping to possibly sell it,” he said. “If that’s what the new uniform is going to be, we’d like to be a part of it.”
Bryant Sayers, district master of the Fourth Degree Arizona District, said that since guidelines for implementing the changes have not been received yet, the standard in Arizona will be to keep the traditional uniform until then. He added that it had already been planned that incoming members can wear a dark suit instead of a tuxedo for a smaller exemplification scheduled for Nov. 11 in the Phoenix area.