Nuns once agreed with solemn vows to wear the habit of their religious order and could be excommunicated if they didn’t. The rules are less stringent now in some religious orders and the habit of the nun’s mind and behavior is considered more important than the clothes worn. Although simple layman’s clothes have replaced many traditional habits and veils, a nun is most frequently characterized and recognized by the former obligatory garments.
Pull the habit, cassock, tunic or soutane over the head with the arms inserted into the sleeve holes. This full-length robe with long sleeves is generally black or a somber color. An underskirt of cotton, or a heavier fabric in winter, is stepped into and raised to the waist.
Pull the coif, a white head covering that wraps around the head and fits close to the cheeks, over the head and attach it at the back of the head with either Velcro, pins or a tied string. Some religious orders also place a stiff headdress over this covering on which the veil is placed.
Pin the centered veil over the head, over the coif if one is worn, on either side of the head. Veils are different colors depending on their purpose and the state of the nun being honored. The veil of probation, generally white, was worn by novices; the veil of virginal consecration was worn only by virginal 25-year-olds. The veil of ordination was worn by 40-year-old nuns who became deaconesses and could recite the office and read homilies during mass.
Pull scapulars, full-length sleeveless aprons of wool, cotton, linen or silk, over the head, inserting arms through arm holes over the habit. The scapulars may be cinched in with a belt according to the regulations of the religious orders that wear them over their habits.
Place accessories such as woven belts, rosaries, necklaces with crucifixes on them and cloth or stiff wimples according to the dictates of the various religious orders. The wimples are stiff or soft, white, varied-length bibs that are placed over the habit around the neck and attached in the back. It is sometimes easier to connect the ends in front of the habit and once connected, rotate the wimple to the front in order to avoid damaging the wimple while dressing. Crucifixes on silver chains can be worn around the neck or suspended from a rope belt. Most rosaries are carried in a habit pocket for easy access.
References and ResourcesCatholic Encyclopedia: Scapular
Catholic Encyclopedia: Cleric
Catholic Encyclopedia: Tunic
Catholic Encyclopedia: Religious Veil