The outfit would be kind of like a badge to speak up. If you are plain-clothed, people think you’re just being preachy. You hear, “Keep your mouth shut” to be polite, even as liberals break the Second Commandment on purpose or give wicked advice.
That’s not why I would want to join an order. Personal finances stump me, but the great retirement package (always being cared for, unless you’re a missionary and the natives want to kill you) isn’t why either. I see them as fringe benefits. I am into it to use my skills for God, make up for what’s in the prayer about daily neglects, and to pray for others who neglect the same and for all of our evil-doings–and to be truly happy in the way God intends us to be happy (having Him as the only source of our happiness, even if The Source gives us good friends, nice scenery etc., provided they aren’t stumbling stones).
I think it’s sad Thomas Thomas Merton felt he was fine without the habit. Neither Muslim clerics, Hasidic Jews and Buddhist monks, nor newer young religious, think that way. It’s a powerful way to “witness”, because most people are edified by their image. He was a Cistercian, but he did get around places, I think, but at least his image would appear on the plastic bookcovers that must have been a pretty new concept then, right?
I was thinking that, as St. Francis wore their clothes, as what beggars wore, it would be fine to have matching colored pants (or jeans, if it matches the color of the rest of the clothes) and hooded sweatshirt, but it should be uniform. Maybe there would be an emblem on the sweatshirt. I think Thomas Merton was getting a bit modernized later in his writing.