It is actually part of the baptismal rite that the newly baptized be clothed in white garments. The prayer after the baptism reads, “See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. . .” Often parishes have some sort of garment, often a bib or scapular type contraption (just in case the baby is going out to eat lobster after) that suffices for ceremony’s sake. It is not strictly necessary if the baby is already properly attired.
The most common/traditional type of garment as Mrs. Fenner reminds us is a long white robe usually lavishly (though, again, not necessarily) trimmed with embroidery or lace. “This is the one time when a baby may be so dressed without violating the canons of good taste,” she reports. For some reason that is lost on Monsignor Manners, she also stresses that, “Fine white silk, unstarched organdy, fine lawn, nainsook, and handkerchief linen are suitable materials. Chiffon, satin, and taffeta are not.” Perhaps someone out there in Catholic land can enlighten me as to why this might be the case.
Mrs. Fenner also stresses that the entire garment should be handmade including the lace and/or trim. Monsignor is not so fussy. (Do you know anyone who makes lace by hand anymore?) She also finds droll the all white suit and manly caps for boys hoping that, “it may be a fashion that will pass.” It certainly is not in keeping with tradition at any rate although all the ceremony calls for is a “white garment.” It certainly would be better than a lobster bib.
Monsignor Manners found his baptismal garment when closing down the family house. It was a rather fluffy affair more suitable for an American Girl Doll than a baby boy and the evidence has since been disposed of.
In any event, at the baptism head gear of all sorts should be removed. The child will have water poured over his head and need to be anointed with Chrism. Also, the neck of the garment should be loosened so that the priest may anoint the child on the breast with holy oil (another difficulty with bow ties!).
The above is most usual. But there are other practices at your parish for which you may need to be prepared. For example you may have a dunking booth for a baptismal fount. This requires a whole different set of rules. If the baby is going to be submerged in the same clothing with which he came from the womb, you should bring a robe (white and easily administered) to be clothed in immediately following the baptism. In this case, the little man suite would definitely be a problem and a time consumer. If you are hooked on the suit, save it for the party.
If the child is to be baptized in the extraordinary form, access to his back for anointing must also be taken into account.
What should guests wear? Mrs. Fenner suggests, “the same kind of clothes what they would wear to . . . Mass.” Monsignor suggests that one finds out what a guest wears to Mass before issuing this advice to one who asks. Suits and dresses carry the day. Hard to go wrong with that especially for the parents and godparents. I also suggest that if your guests (or your spouse) who normally comes to Mass in a T-shirt and cut offs actually appears at your family’s baptism like this you might encourage them by saying, “Wow, you look really, really great! I think you should dress like that every Sunday! You’ve been turning heads all day!”
Nothing like a bit of vanity to get people to do the right thing.