by Ellie Melero
LEAVENWORTH — They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
And for many Knights of Columbus, that’s too true.
On July 1, the colorful capes and feathery hats, or “chapeaus,” that have become associated with the fourth-degree Knights will be a thing of the past as the worldwide order adopts a new uniform.
In 2017, the supreme council of the Knights decided to modernize the look after 79 years of the old regalia, which included a ceremonial cape and chapeau, a tuxedo, white gloves and a sword. The supreme council decided to change the uniform in an effort to attract younger men to the order.
The new uniform consists of blue blazers with the fourth-degree emblem, dark gray slacks, blue ties and black berets. Members will still wear the ceremonial swords, and gloves are still worn when handling the swords.
The old regalia was supposed to be phased out in 2018, but the deadline to switch to the new uniforms was extended one year because of the backlog of orders for the new uniform.
Father Dan Gardner, the former Kansas state chaplain for the Knights, said the new uniforms have been received reluctantly in some places. Knights who wore the old regalia liked being able to stand out in a crowd — and older members don’t want to have to buy a new uniform.
“The one that they’re phasing out, that was pretty much a standout,” said Father Gardner. “People would know you everywhere, wearing that kind of outfit and everything. This [new uniform] is more subtle, much more subtle.”
Color Corps coordinator Robert Hall of Immaculate Council 900 in Leavenworth isn’t looking forward to the change for two reasons.
Hall said that before July 1, he can organize 40 men for a color guard for a funeral or visit from the archbishop. But after July 1, he’ll be able to organize only seven. This is partly because the new uniforms are tailored to each member.
In the past, Hall has been able to loan chapeaus and capes to men who want to be in the Color Corps who haven’t bought the regalia yet but who own tuxedos. But they won’t be able to do that with the new uniforms.
Hall’s other reason is that members who have the old regalia don’t want to buy the new uniform.
“There’s this history with [the old uniform],” said Hall. “People recognize it. You can walk down the street, they say, ‘Knights of Columbus.’ With the new uniform, it’s just too modern, too military, if you will.”
The new uniforms are also more expensive than the old regalia, and many Knights feel the change came out of the blue.
Father Gardner says the uniform change is the result of research done by the supreme council to determine why more men don’t join the fourth degree. Apparently, many men thought all fourth-degree Knights have to wear the uniform, and they disliked the old regalia.
In reality, only members of the Color Corps wear the uniforms — and joining the Color Corps is optional.
“In discussing that, they tested out a couple of options,” said Father Gardner, “and so, they changed the look of the uniform in order to be more attractive to the younger members.”
Hall doesn’t believe new uniforms will help them recruit new members to the fourth degree.
In fact, the change has lost Council 900 two members already — and has left younger members underwhelmed.
Gabriel Mesa, the youngest member of the fourth degree at Immaculate Council 900, has never worn the old regalia, but said he always liked it. In fact, it was part of what attracted him to the Knights.
And he has no plans to buy the new uniform.
“There’s a lot to be said about the tradition of the old uniform,” said Mesa. “And there’s a lot to be said about how it presents the order itself.”
Mesa said he thinks changing the uniform was the wrong way to go about recruiting. If the Knights are really serious about recruiting younger members, he thinks they should be looking for methods of better outreach to college age men and men in their mid-20s to 30s.
Roll out the welcome mat
For Tim Lednicky, however, the new uniform is a welcome change.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “You don’t have that much to carry with you when you go to an event. All you really have to carry is your sword and beret, so I can get ready quicker.”
He likes the new uniform so much, in fact, he plans to wear it forever. Literally.
“It’s a nice imported suit,” said Lednicky, “and I plan to get buried in it.”
Lednicky said he understands why people don’t want to let go of the history associated with the regalia, but he also thinks people need to remember the Knights didn’t always wear it. The fourth-degree uniform underwent many changes between 1900 and the 1940s before the Knights settled on the regalia.
Immaculate Council 900 is not the only council facing reluctance from some of its members regarding the uniform change, but on July 1 all councils were to retire the old regalia or face consequences from the supreme office.