Why the Pope Wears Red Shoes

Pope Benedict XVI in London, England, September, 2010

Romans knew that the timetable for the papal conclave would be a quick one when the three sets of vestments prepared for the new pontiff—in small, medium, and large sizes—had already disappeared from the display window of Gammarelli, the ecclesiastical tailors, on Friday, March 8. The three white wool satin cassocks had appeared on March 4, along with one scarlet capelet, the mozzetta, trimmed in white ermine, versatile enough for one size to fit any aspiring pontiff, a single pair of red kangaroo-leather shoes in a medium size, and a white moiré silk zucchetto, the pontifical skullcap. Though they are loaded with Christian significance, many of these articles of clothing actually have a far more ancient pedigree.