Would you wear this habit?

Someone sent me this link that they found on another site. It’s rather interesting. I haven’t finished looking at all of the pictures. However, having looked at many and remembering some of the habits that sisters and nuns wore prior to Vatican II, I have to say that I can’t blame them for laying them aside.

Some of them look impractical, time consuming in maintenance, and unbecoming, to use the word from Perfectae Caritatis. That’s not my word, so don’t blame me for it. For years I wondered why the Council Fathers decided to say that the modified habit should be “becoming”. Having grown up around Franciscans, Dominicans and Sisters of St. Joseph, the term unbecoming didn’t really hit home with me, because those habits were simple and though not beautiful, they certainly were not what I would call unbecoming.

Even today, the Dominican and Franciscan habits with their simpler veils are rather “becoming”. Probably because they’re very simple. But not all of these habits were simple.

I’m just wondering how many of those who mourn for the days when the sisters wore the old habits would wear some of these outfits.

Mind you, I’m not advocating for no habit. I for one wear a habit. Our habit is very simple. It’s a tunic that you throw over your head as you would a nightshirt and gird your waist with a cincture. Voila! You’re dressed. When it needs washing, you throw it in the washer, then dryer, pull it out and put it on. No big deal, no long hours of ironing, starching, sewing or pinning anything together. To me, that’s simplicity.

Anyway, I regress to my question. How many of those people who mourn the old habits would wear one?

I found one that I thought was rather interesting, but seems most cumbersome.


I vaguely remember seeing the Sisters of Mercy in their old habit; but I can’t recall where. It was many years ago. I was struck by the double collar with the starch. I’ve always wondered why men’s habits were never that complicated.

The most complicated men’s habits that I can think of are the Dominican and Carmelite Friars, which is the same habit in different colors. Even that habit is not complicated. There is nothing to pin or starch. It’s just heavy, because it has many layers when you put on the mantle and the outer capuche, not a big deal, especially if it’s cool outside.

Here is the link to the rest of the site.

Traditional habits of women religious

Keep in mind, good friar: most of the nuns wore what was essentially the gentry’s women’s wear. After all, many of the nuns were in fact second daughters and other unmarriagable daughters of the gentry. (Unmarriageable having less to do with looks or brains, and a lot more to do with dad’s financial health and political connections.)

The mendicant orders tended to be non-gentry. Social stratification at work… it permeated medieval life.

Neither is a hard and fast rule, but historical trends. And medieval gentry and noble women wore some really obnoxious wimples. That outfit, aside from choice of fabric, could easily be a noblewoman’s outfit. (I want to say 12-13th C, but that would be a guess, and my costuming books are packed.)

And the Dominican habit is 12th C urban Men’s wear. Tunic, scapular, mantle. Cloak and second mantle of wool for weather wear. Belt, as that was the standard as well. Sandals or shoes by the weather.

Franciscan is Rural, same time frame.

I know the history of religious garb. But you did not answer the question.

By the way, the Franciscans did not have a habit until the 14th century. Francis and Clare were very flexible on that score. The habit was one tunic with a cowl and one tunic without a cowl and a rope instead of a belt. That is all that’s in the rule. The color, style and fabric could be anything. That’s why you have more than 100 versions of the Franciscan habit. The habits did not get standardized until at least 100 years after Francis’ died. The Conventual Franciscans were the first to standardize their habit. They adopted the Augustinian habit, but with a cord instead of a belt.

When I think of simple, one group that comes to mind are the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. There is a habit that is simpler than simple. It’s just a tunic. The headpiece is a white cap, like a surgical cap, to which a black veil is attached with velcro. There are no stockings, no shoes, no coifs and no guimpes and no starch. Even that of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration is a simpler version of the older habit. There is no starch to it and no pins. Everything is wash and wear too.

But the point is that the men’s habits have always been rather simple, while women’s habits have been rather complicated.

My question still stands. To those who mourn those days when women religious wore these type of habits, how many of those who mourn those days would want to wear and maintain such a complicated manner of dress?

I don’t know, Brother. Some I guess do, and join institutes that do that kind of thing if they are otherwise a fit with that, others do not. Me, I’m a man, so even if I was called to the religious life, I’d prefer something simple yet distinct.

I finished looking at the pictures. I think that if you take away the headpieces, the tunics themselves are not bad. They could probably be a little less poofy to save money. Cloth is expensive. It costs a lot of money to make a habit. Our own habit costs about $300.00. It costs a lot of money to look poor. LOL Go figure that one out.

There was a time when cloth was inexpensive and seamstresses and tailors were many. That’s no longer the case. Now you have to send out to a company for a habit. If they went to something that is wash and wear, with less stuff on the head, it would work to their advantage.

What a wonderful site. Thanks Br. JR, it brought back memories of 16 years of Catholic education.

Well, she looks fairly happy anyways. I have a great great aunt who is a Sister of Providence and they no longer wear their habits. When I see old pictures of her with a very high rounded headdress I can see why! I’m a little surprised they abandoned them altogether though.

Having analyzed each habit, my conclusions are that some of the headgear must surely have been a penance or for cloistered orders. I realise that at the time, the headgear would not be unusual but with hindsight, it appears unpractical. If I had to wear some of those outfits I would have had to change my headgear every hour or spent long periods undergoing penance.

As we are talking fashion, I probably would be happy to wear:

a. The standard headgear (veil slightly overhanging the white cap - Keeps the sun and rain off the face and allows people to see the gave. Optional veil for Muslim countries, of course.
b. An ankle length cassock with a tool belt and rosary. The tool belt to hold all the really useful things such as a sewing kit, screw driver, first aid kit, bible etc .
c. An over tabard no higher than the hips to hid the lumps and bumps.
d. For working e.g. gardening, cleaning & cooking etc. A long-sleeved tunic to just above the knees and trousers. And a wide brimmed hat for gardening.
e. Loads of hidden pockets for things that don’t fit in the tool belt.
f. And it would have to be green (I toyed with pink but it didn’t work).

I think a tool belt might be useful for monks as well?

This is diverting me from going out in the rain to the post office to collect a parcel.

PS. Your brothers in Padua have just sent me a wooden crucifix to wear. How nice of them.

The habit in the photo would not practical in a tropical country.

After looking at all, I would not mind wearing this one:


Simple and pretty.

I would probably wear the Joan of Arc one. Simple and pretty.

IMO, it wouldn’t be practical in a snowy country either because the long skirt would get wet and then be cold and drippy indoors. The skirt might also cause someone to trip on icy pavement.

Women’s clothing, especially underclothing, has changed a great deal over the years. Not all of these changes have resulted in comfortable and practical clothing for women (can you say, “thong?!” or “spanx?!”)

But many of the changes have been for the good. Women’s underclothing is no longer designed to create an artificial figure. It’s well-vented and supportive without being constrictive (except for spanx!). No longer do women have to wear garter belts and hosiery that is neither warm nor durable. I won’t continue, since many men are reading this post. But truly, women’s underclothing is very different in a good way than it was in my mother’s time.

And outer clothing is also comfortable and practical. Of course there are dresses, blouses, slacks, etc. that are indecent. But many of the dresses, shirts, blouses, slacks, etc. that women can buy nowadays are easy to put on, stay unwrinkled throughout the day, are easy and cheap to wash and dry, and look flattering.

Also, women who are larger have so many more options than they did 50 years ago. No longer is a large woman limited to dull tents from the half-size section of the department store. When queen-sized clothing first came out, much of it was simply small-sized clothing made larger, and didn’t always take into account that many large women have larger arms, bosoms, stomachs, etc. that are not necessarily in proportion. But in the last ten years, many of the fashion design companies have studied the larger woman and have been able to come up with designs that actually fit a larger woman. Very flattering and comfortable, and reasonably-priced…

And the variety of colors and patterns in fabrics for all woman is delightful!

I cannot see any reason for any woman, including the religious, to dress in antique fashions, unless they are into some kind of historical re-enactment. It is possible to have clothing today that is modest, feminine, practical, inexpensive, and easy-to care for. Why would a religious want to waste precious time donning and caring for antique clothing, and spending a great deal of their day overheated, sweating, and constricted in the antique apparel?

Thank you so much for posting a link to that website! I absolutely love to look at photos of nuns in their habits. To answer your question, I would not wear one of those things except as the previous poster mentioned, in reenactment. I have 4 daughters, two are old enough to consider a religious vocation and both when asked, said, “I could never wear a habit!”

One daughter recently attended a retreat and young nuns in their habits played outside with the young people. My daughter thought of them as a novelty and commented again that she would never join a group if she had to wear a habit to shoot hoops outside.

I also saw a photo in a national magazine of a nun in habit running a marathon! That seems very uncomfortable and dangerous. Our parish priest is a runner, and while he wears a cassock or suit and Roman collar all the time, he runs in black shorts and black t-shirt in races and for exercise.

We have several groups of nuns living and working near us, not one of them wears a habit although I can easily pick them out of a crowd. Short hair, no makeup, polyester pants, patterned, baggy blouses, huge cross pins or necklaces… Our parish priest believes the lack of vocations is linked to a lack of habits in those orders.

I think my daughters are not attracted to the orders with no habit because the sisters are older and they can’t relate to their mission and not because they don’t require a habit. I wonder if there are new and vibrant orders attracting young women who also do not have habits.

Food for thought…

I agree that I wouldn’t wear most of those habits - particularly not those with crazy wimples. However, I don’t see any sisters in habits nowadays that look like that. (I have no idea what cloistered nuns are wearing.)

The sisters who work in my parish wear mid-calf length cream dresses and simple veils that appear to attach under the hair with Velcro. I’m sure they wear normal undergarments but I’ve never asked!:eek:

I can see having a habit made of wool or other sturdy fabric because it would last longer. And with blotting spills, brushing, and hanging to air at night wouldn’t require frequent cleaning. However, modern washers and newer fabrics make caring for clothes easier and they can last quite a long time. I barely iron anything now, I wouldn’t want to be tied to an iron and bottle of starch for hours each week!

I agree that young women may not be attracted to an order because of the ages of the other sisters or their charism and apostolate. I certainly hope no one is making their vocation decision based only on clothes! (Although some threads about cassocks and habits do make me wonder.)

I was in discernment with a Fransiscan group and we did talk about habits, but only as one small piece of the puzzle. The older sisters at the mother house wore the older, floor length habit. The active sisters I knew wore a modified habit. Others wore plain modest clothing - always brown/cream and no patterns - that they received as gifts or bought at thrift stores.
So no sisters in jeans but some did wear slacks. I loved their charism and cared much less about what they wore.

Not to change the theme of the thread but I tend to think the lack of vocations is more thanks to the lack of use of our Church’s universal language. There is no more mystery in the ceremonies of the church. I was at vespers last night at the abbey near me and during benediction as they were singing “O Saving Victim” I was longing for “O Salutaris Hostia!” The habit has little to do with it.

One more thought about habits…the older I get, the more convinced I become about the wisdom of a head coverings for women! Hair arranging, coloring, and etc is so much work. I would welcome a return to veils for women in and out of church.

You’re certainly welcome to wear a veil at mass; what’s stopping you?

Ah the joys of being male; $10 haircut once a month :stuck_out_tongue:

My wife is pretty conservative, no makeup, simple haircuts, plain clothes (and I like her just fine like that!), but even then her simple haircut is $20 while mine is only $10 at the same barber I’ve been using for over 20 years (in fact he’s been $10 for all those years…)

I think there’s a case to be made for voluntary simplicity when it comes to clothes, hair, etc. As a secular oblate I don’t “qualify” to wear a habit as that has special significance for cloistered religious, so I make my “habit” to wear plain, inexpensive but presentable clothing, avoiding expensive brands when there’s a good-quality and cheaper alternative.

Certainly at 55 and 25 years of marriage, and working as an analyst in a cubicle in a far corner of an office tower, I no longer have to “dress to impress” thank God! :slight_smile:

I have two sports jackets and a couple of ties for weddings, funerals and job interviews, that’s the extent of my formal clothing :smiley:

Simplicity is a wonderful virtue, Ora. My wardrobe is very simple, and I can’t tell you the last time I spent money on clothing, while the ones I have, though old, are still serviceable. Carmelites strive to practice poverty as part of our rule. It keeps me humble to remember that Our Savior was born in a stable. Sometimes, I forget to change shoes and go in public with my dirty garden shoes. My embarrassment also keeps me humble as I reflect that there are many shoeless folks who would gladly wear my old togs.

I was surprised to see Mother Angelica change from her attractive simple habit and revert back to the old-style heavy garb. (To keep on topic, :p)

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