Why do some nuns no longer wear habits?

The habit worn by members of religious orders is a symbol of poverty and uniformity: poverty embraced by vow and endured by necessity requires simple dress, and uniformity makes religious men and women instantly recognizable witnesses to the gospel. But after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, many religious communities made the habit optional, limited its use, or stopped wearing it altogether. This reflected the signs of the times. Traditional habits, modeled on the dress of the medieval poor, no longer have any connection to the garb of poverty in the 21st century. And in some settings outward identification makes members of religious orders less approachable, thus hindering rather than furthering the proclamation of the gospel. Also, as religious women took on increasingly diverse occupations after Vatican II, they adapted their dress accordingly. Any religious sister or brother will tell you that wearing a habit has both advantages and disadvantages. Each order establishes its own practice, which may also vary by region. Today, some communities continue to wear habits at all times, and others wear them occasionally or not at all.

Neela Kale

Neela Kale

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.