Are Beautiful Vestments More Expensive Today Than They Were in the Past?

Very frequently I have heard the thought expressed that in years past beautiful vestments did not cost as much as they do nowadays. The idea here being that vestment makers today ask for significantly more than the vestment makers of the past used to ask for similar products. Or, put another way, that beauty was less costly in days gone by.

This is the thought (an assumption generally), but is it true? It might be easy to assume that since many monasteries used to produce vestments, those monasteries were providing these vestments virtually at cost. Of course, while it is quite possible that they may have provided a relatively 'charitable' rate (which is simply to say, not price gouging), it must be remembered that monasteries need income to support themselves, whether that meant producing alcohol, cheese, or other products (like vestments), so in that regard one shouldn't be naive; monasteries certainly wouldn't have been giving these things away. These weren't necessarily acts of charity. 

Aside from monasteries, what about secular vestment makers -- with their even greater costs and overhead? 

Well, recently Altarworthy, a contemporary vestment maker, came into possession of a cope from the year 1927. This particular cope was part of a series of vestments that would have been mass produced. It was a "catalogue" vestment. It included silk and cloth of gold with (likely machine/mechanical) embroidered figures:

Some details:

This type of vestment wasn't uncommon at this time and they still turn up in Masses from time to time. They would have formed a part of a Solemn Mass set at its fullest expression (which would include the cope as well as a chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, humeral veil and other minor parts and pieces).  Such a set would look something like this if bought in full:

So this is the type of set we are considering here. Going back then to the cope that Altarworthy procured, it happened to be a salesman's sample piece that he would have carried around with him and, as such, it included affixed details about not only the construction of the vestments, but also their individual costs. Here is that information:

You can see that if you add up all the costs for a complete set, you'd end up with a cost of around $870.00. Some see this and incorrectly think of this in terms of today's dollar value and thus assume it was inexpensive. But of course, $870.00 in 1927 went a lot further than it does now.  In point of fact, calculating the inflation rate, this set, in today's dollar values, would have cost the buyer $15, 206.35 -- and bear in mind once again, this is not a custom or bespoke vestment set; it is a mass-produced catalogue offering (which are always less expensive than one-off, bespoke offerings). 

So in short then, no, beautiful vestments are not necessarily more expensive today than they were in the past.

No matter the time, no matter the age, the fact always remains that if one wants (as they certainly should for divine worship) qualitative materials and beautiful craftsmanship and detail, there is an associated cost that comes with obtaining it; a cost that is comprised of both the base material cost and also the time cost for producing items of exceptional beauty and dignity. 

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