Designing women: creating a fashionable habit for nuns

The result strikes me as closer to Little Red Riding Hood than the Little Flower.  Which, I guess, is the point.

Details, from the Paris Review:

Modest, natural, and snazzy—those were the three directions Mother Mary Magdalene gave artist Julia Sherman for designing the habits for the Community of Compassion, Mother Mary’s new Anglican Catholic order in Forth Worth, Texas. “You can’t just go to the store and buy a habit,” Mother Mary wrote to me. “Every order has to have a distinct one designed by the foundress, and you’re not supposed to copy anyone else.” The difference between two orders can be as simple as a few extra pleats in the skirt or as noticeable as Mother Teresa’s blue-striped, sari-inspired head covering.

But Sherman’s habits are something entirely new. Moreover, the JF & Son store in New York has partnered with Sherman to produce and sell the habits for secular customers. So while Mother Mary is praying in her peach-colored harem pants in Forth Worth, a young New York woman might be traipsing across Fifth Avenue in the very same design.

Mother Mary found Sherman after she saw the artist’s work photographing nun dolls from the Nun Doll Museum in Indian River, Michigan, a shrine to more than five hundred dolls and mannequins, each dressed in the traditional garb of men and woman from religious communities in North and South America. Sherman, whose previous photographic work has focused on the intricate process of creating wigs for Jewish women, clearly has a thing for religious accessories.

“These traditions,” she said, “are compelling because there is an issue of agency. The head covering, for example, can be either a source of pride or oppression, depending on the perspective and position of the woman who wears it.” The clothing line isn’t Sherman’s only nun-related project—she’s also collaborating with another order on a line of blessed soaps and facial creams.

Sherman first became interested in the nun dolls because they wore the only surviving patterns for many centuries-old habits, like those of the twelfth-century German abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, whose order was extravagantly dressed in white silk habits and gold head pieces. “Old habits,” Mother Mary said, “many of them gorgeous, have been forgotten altogether as the order who wore them has died out. There are no patterns, no documentation. It’s really sad.”

Read more, and see more pictures, here.


  1. Beaded collars! Are they for real? And just what are we talking when talking “Anglican Catholic”?

  2. I wonder too about the reference to “Anglican Catholic”. Apparently they get a special corner of the Church to do their own thing?

  3. All the fashion, none of the commitment… what’s not to like? *sigh*

    Old habits die hard.

  4. Actually the habit pictured is kind of cool. Does anyone know what the new order’s charism is?
    Not the first time fashion designers have gotten interested in nun’s habits; recall Christian Dior’s makeover of the Daughters of Charity (aka “God’s Geese”) habit in the 1960′s:
    Unfortunately this picture only shows the top half; I don’t know if they were full length or short.

  5. pagansister says:

    Anyone tried Nuns in blud jeans? :0)
    One advantage of habits is a woman doesn’t have to figure out what she will wear each day!

  6. pagansister says:

    OOPS! BluE jeans! sorry.

  7. Looks like a costume design for Hester Prynne.

  8. It looks like a Galway cloak, except for not being the typical (and lucky) red color.

  9. These aren’t Anglican Use Catholics. They’re “Anglo-Catholic” Anglicans. They’re affiliated with “The Anglican Church of Virginia,” even though they’re in Fort Worth.
    (Anglican/Episcopalian groups confuse me.)

  10. Melody – if I remember correctly, the Dior habit was just below the knee or mid-calf.

    The ‘habit’ shownt here is too Goth and it’s too much of a costume. Little Sisters of the Poor once had a habit which they covered with a hooded cloak like the one shown here, but they wore a sort of white cap with it – and it was only used when they went outdoors. They’ve now gone to a simple habit not unlike the original Dior design.

  11. These are not Roman Catholic nuns, but Anglican nun (not Anglicans converting to Catholicism, just regular Anglicans). I would hazard that most Roman Catholics don’t know that there are Anglican and Episcopalian monks and nuns, including Benedictine communities.

  12. Wow, looks like this religious leadership has some questionable values – snazzy?

    What next, leather? I like the habits of the Dominican Sisters any day over this one.

  13. Oregon Catholic says:

    Looks like something more suited to a witch.

  14. he he he. glad somebody else said it.

  15. no kidding, i glanced the photo first, and thought, “hey, somebody’s doing a Salem witch trial re-enactment?”

  16. What’s with the photo? It clearly looks nothing like what’s actually described in the text. Peach harem pants and a blue-striped sari veil? That photo is way off.

  17. The first modification by Dior removed the cornette (the white cap was retained, and a flattish box like piece with the veil was used) and the crossed-over guimpe was replaced with a “dicky” like guimpe that was worn UNDER the v shaped top of the habit. These habits DID reach the floor and had some of the fullness taken out, especially in the sleeves. The colour was more blue than the old steel blue once used. The rosary was kept, but the green cord was replaced by a belt of cloth or leather. I was taught by GOD’s geese, and remember seeing the changes as I went up in grades. In time the dress became knee length, the sleeves were a few inches above the wrist, and I suspect the “dicky” was replaced with a white mock turtle neck that allowed the sleeve to reach the wrist. The box like headdress was replaced with a standard veil that was pointed, not rounded in the back. I seem to think that the rosaries were still worn by some of the sisters.

    The last time I saw any sisters, the veil was no longer required (these sisters DID keep a standard habit that was required complete with veils), but the rest of the habit was more or less there.

    Hope this helps.

    Msgr Blackwell

  18. I know that the CoE has some forms of religious life. Now for the curve ball, the Lutherian Church also has religious life as well! Never could find a Lutherian who colud tell me squat about it – even asked 2 Lutherian pastors !

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