For the new pope, it's all sewn up - small, medium or large

New pope

At Gammarelli, a discreet oak-panelled tailor's shop in central Rome, they are expected to be already creating sumptuous vestments for the new pope - in small, medium and large sizes so whoever is chosen will get the right fit.

Few of the tourists strolling past on their way to the Pantheon, one of Rome's grandest ancient temples, give the shop at 34 Via Santa Chiara a second glance. Locals who know it is the pope's tailor are a bit more curious.

"Looks like they have it ready," says one, peering at a golden cassock in the window of the 200-year-old ecclesiastical outfitters, speculating that it might be the costume the future pope will wear on day 1.

Tradition dictates that three versions of the same vestments will be made in advance for the new pope, whatever his size, be it, for example, Timothy Dolan, the portly Archbishop of New York, or the diminutive Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines.

Once the white smoke has appeared from the Sistine Chapel, signifying that a pope has been chosen, nuns at the Vatican make last-minute alterations to the robes that are the closest fit before the new pontiff walks out onto his balcony to face the world.

Inside the shop, with the framed portraits of former popes - former customers - looking down, staff have been instructed not to talk to reporters as the world's media descends on Rome.

The reticence may have something to do with the attention - not all of it welcome - that Benedict's wardrobe has received in his almost eight years as pope.

His fondness for reviving costumes unseen for generations and a range of flamboyant hats prompted the Wall Street Journal to ask "Does the Pope Wear Prada?" Esquire magazine named him "Accessorizer of the Year", praising his red leather loafers.

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