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The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Kuhns
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 2003
Curiosity about nuns and their distinctive clothing is almost as old as Catholicism itself. The habit intrigues the religious and the nonreligious alike, from medieval maidens to contemporary schoolboys, to feminists and other social critics. The first book to explore the symbolism of this attire, The Habit presents a visual gallery of the diverse forms of religious clothing and explains the principles and traditions that inspired them. More than just an eye-opening study of the symbolic significance of starched wimples, dark dresses, and flowing veils, The Habit is an incisive, engaging portrait of the roles nuns have and do play in the Catholic Church and in ministering to the needs of society.

From the clothing seen in an eleventh-century monastery to the garb worn by nuns on picket lines during the 1960s, habits have always been designed to convey a specific image or ideal. The habits of the Benedictines and the Dominicans, for example, were specifically created to distinguish women who consecrated their lives to God; other habits reflected the sisters’ desire to blend in among the people they served. The brown Carmelite habit was rarely seen outside the monastery wall, while the Flying Nun turned the white winged cornette of the Daughters of Charity into a universally recognized icon. And when many religious abandoned habits in the 1960s and ’70s, it stirred a debate that continues today.

Drawing on archival research and personal interviews with nuns all over the United States, Elizabeth Kuhns examines some of the gender and identity issues behind the controversy and brings to light the paradoxes the habit represents. For some, it epitomizes oppression and obsolescence; for others, it embodies the ultimate beauty and dignity of the vocation.

Complete with extraordinary photographs, including images of the nineteenth century nuns’ silk bonnets to the simple gray dresses of the Sisters of Social Service, this evocative narrative explores the timeless symbolism of the habit and traces its evolution as a visual reflection of the changes in society.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books; 1 edition (Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385505884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385505888
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.1 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,892,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
A Catholic sister wearing religious garb can board a city bus and not be surprised if the bus driver places his hand over the fare box, insisting she ride free of charge. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little to be desired! 16 Aug 2004
Format:Hardcover
I am giving this book 4 stars because it is the only book available on Nuns' habits,at least that I personally know of, but if several books were in existence then I would probably drop it to 3 stars!
Well written, with nice illustrations, and certainly filling a void --there are LOTS of us who want this kind of book--but it lacks the little extras for which I hoped--ie patterns for garments, MORE detail about all the stuff the author may have regarded as too trivial to note.
I am sure there are lots of interested parties for this type of book so I do hope the author will come back with a fuller edition, showing the garments laid out flat, patterns for copying them, and so on.(Believe me nothing is too trivial for those who desire to know!)
The actual text is excellent and I am really delighted with this purchase as a whole and would certailnly recommend it wholeheartedly, but I am greedy for that bit more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and readable 7 Oct 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kuhns has done a remarkable thing in making what could be a rather dry subject into an interesting and informative read.

The Hisotry of Nuns' Habits may at first not seem to be the most riveting of subjects, but she traces the formation of the very distinctive clothing from when many of the orders of nuns were founded, to the present day, when many wear 'ordinary' clothes. As well as focusing on the actual cut and construction of the habits, Kuhns also gives fascinating histories of the orders discussed and relates the overall development of the nuns to the changes in their habits.

I found this fascinating, and I hope you do to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super Read 27 Dec 2007
Format:Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, couldn't put it down in fact. Anyone who has been educated by Nuns would be interested. The history of the clothing of all the different orders is fascinating. It was also quite nostalgic seeing my own order there in pictures I could almost hear the swish of the habit along the school corridor. Religious/Religion is having quite a bad press recently, often well deserved I know, but this book only helped to remind me of all the good that has been done by many strong, fearless and faithfull women over many years. Great stuff.
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Format:Paperback
an interesting idea - but much more about the development of specific religious orders for women, than about habits in particular - at times it seems the habits are just mentioned in passing. I bought the softback version & it may be the pictures in the hardback are better - all there is in the softback is two sections of poor quality black & white photos, one in the middle and one at the end of the book. These are not directly referenced in the text & you have to keep flicking back and forward to match them up with the text about specific orders. Having said all that it is a good read, just didn't really match the title
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5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating reading! 30 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this as although a Methodist I was educated at an all girls Convent Grammar School in the 1970's and have a great interest of anything to do with Nuns as remember my time at school with fondness. The book is well written and presented and a joy to own. I really would recommend this as an interesting read to everyone.
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