The traditional habit for most order of nuns consists of a headdress made up of a stiff coif which frames the face, a white wimple which extends this coverage up under the chin and down onto the chest, and a long black veil attached to the top of the coif that drapes down the back. A long black dress, stockings and shoes and a woven belt holding the rosary complete the traditional habit. Today, many orders of nuns wear modified rather than traditional habits.

Franciscan Sisters

Franciscan nuns are an order that developed in conjunction with the monks who followed St. Francis. These sisters consider the habit of the nun to be indicative of the nun’s particular calling to “marry” herself to Christ and live a life of celibacy. The habit signifies this commitment to the world at large. All Franciscan nuns commit to wearing the veil as a member of the order. Veils traditionally cover the hair and are white for noviates and black for women who have taken their vows. These sisters also often commit to wearing a modified habit — simple clothes and shoes or sandals that signify their vow of poverty.

Salesian Sisters

Orders of Salesian sisters, founded by St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello, are located throughout the world. Some of these sisters are located in countries in which they must choose their form of dress with personal safety in mind. If these nuns were to dress in traditional habits, they might be subject to attacks and harassment. Salesian sisters who live in less volatile locations do wear modified habits, consisting of the all-important head-veil and simple grey dresses and simple shoes. Some 21st century Salesain sisters choose to forgo the habit and were civilian clothing, even those that live in locations that would safely permit it.

Sisters of St. Ann

As is the case with many other orders of nuns, the Sisters of St. Ann once wore the traditional habit. Sisters of St. Anne have also traditionally worn a large silver cross as a necklace. The Sisters of St. Ann today either wear a suit of navy, black or grey, referred to as “intermediate dress” or they wear “regular” civilian dress. The type of dress chosen by a sister of St. Ann often relates to the type of dress she took when she joined the order, with older nuns feeling more comfortable in a more traditional style of dress, while younger sisters choose a civilian style of clothing. All members of the order continue to wear the traditional silver cross.

Cistercian Nuns

The Cistercian order of sisters is noted as the oldest order that is unified with an order of monks, founded by Citeaux in 1125. These sisters continue to wear a very traditional habit that, once a nun takes her vows, consists of a white, floor-length habit with a black headdress and veil, called the scapular and cincture. The first-year postulates do not cover their heads, and they wear a black jumper over their white habit. Second-year novices wear the white habit and cover their heads with a white veil for a year. The black headdress worn by Cistercian nuns signifies their “consecration to God,” while the white habit was assumed to distinguish the sisters from all-black worn by the brothers of the order.