What do nuns wear? (meaning and symbolism of what nuns wear)

As a devout Christian, I have always respected the dress code of various Christian denominations. I was particularly intrigued by the nuns’ attire because it is usually shrouded in unique religious connotations. At theology school, I got an opportunity to interact with several nuns during our bi-monthly interdenominational faith conferences. I made amazing acquaintances and acquired a profound understanding of their style of dressing. Last week, one member of our online Bible study asked a question during the Q&A session on the meanings and symbolism of what nuns wear. Due to my experience in engaging with various nuns, I had all the answers in detail. Thus, I was deemed the best individual to answer the question, ‘What do nuns wear?’

Nuns wear garments that comprise a tunic, veil, wimple, scapular, and habit. The attire is strictly for religious purposes and to set the nuns apart from everyone else. It mainly symbolizes a life of devotion to serving God as well as illustrating the nun’s hierarchy in their religious order.

In this article, I will unveil the meaning and symbolism of what nuns wear and so much more. Stay tuned with me as we delve into this interesting subject matter together.

Meaning and symbolism of what nuns wear

What are nuns in training called?
Meaning and symbolism of what nuns wear. Image source: Pixabay


The main segment of the nun’s outfit is the tunic which reminds them every morning that it is not a worldly outfit but religious gear. By referencing the tunics, nuns pray to God to clothe them with a new individual created in integrity and truth in accordance with God. Hence, it symbolizes that they have worn a new type of ensemble, unlike the worldly clothing they once put on. This specific gear is utilized in the adages of the Desert Fathers in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Due to the fact that nuns are inspired to immerse themselves into the religious customs initiated by the Desert Fathers, they use the same term to designate this portion of their dress code.


Nuns wear a veil to represent a form of consecrated life that symbolizes the sanctification of the nuns as virgins or brides of Christ. Nuns regard the woman’s hair as being their crowning asset and hence, the representation of their natural feminine beauty. The ceremonial covering of the hair with a veil is a sign that they are concealing their natural beauty so that their lives may be hidden with Christ in God. They veil themselves to obscure what may attract people to their bodies and highlight the importance of the inner self. In addition, the veil serves to safeguard the nuns from drawing inappropriate attention to themselves, and it acts as a sign to portray that they are not available for anything other than being consecrated to God, their Divine Spouse. In as much as the veil is often a beautiful garment that draws others to the nuns, it still does not attract any beauty to them as individuals but conveys the message that they are women who dedicated their lives to God. It equally characterizes the fact that they are set apart for chastity and purity to God.

Nuns have a tradition of veiling anything considered a sacred mystery because, according to them, it is not a sheer human custom but is willed by God. The veil is a representation of the mystery of their calling and an indicator of the sacredness of being dedicated to Christ. A white veil illustrates a nun adorned with earthly beauty who has appeared at the sanctuary at the onset of her inauguration but gladly trades it for spiritual beauty. A black or dark veil portrays the life of a widow in exile whose spiritual union with Christ is concealed within the covering of faith in the darkness.


Nuns wear a wimple to ensure that their face is visible, but their hair, head, and neck are covered as a symbol of reserving their beauty for God’s service. Nuns consider a woman’s neck beautiful, and because they are unavailable to men as they are given in religion, they wear the wimple not to draw any attention to their physical beauty. It is customary for them to put on wimples regardless of any fashion trends changing as it compels individuals who interact with them to strictly concentrate on their face only and not other parts of their body.

As the wimple usually renders the face bare, it does not signify that the nuns seek to cover themselves completely, alienate or isolate themselves from others, or block communication with other persons in society. When only their face is exposed, it draws more attention to their eyes and facial expression, which completely expresses their nature and personality. The wimple equally draws people’s attention to the nuns’ inner self, which is manifested by the expressions on their faces. It enables people beyond the convent in the outside world to view them through the lens of facial communication and the exchange of spoken words. It is also a significant component of their religious attire as it facilitates making their relationship and communication with other individuals more human and personal. Therefore, the wimple enables them to affiliate with other individuals in a way that harmonizes exceptionally well and appropriately with their religious vocation.


Nuns wear the scapular because it symbolizes the emblematic significance of a yoke they carry on their shoulders. It looks like a double-framed apron with a space to fit the head that lingers on the front and at the back of the nun’s body. It is used to characterize a yoke or collar, which was an instrument used to peg oxen to a piece of vibrant machinery to either pull or plow. As the yoke usually joined two cattle together, it is used to signify how a nun is connected to the divine life of servitude to God. It is therefore put on as an exterior symbol of their intrinsic union with the customs of their religious life as nuns. The scapular is a type of fabric that hangs on the scapulae, which is over the shoulders. It has been a part of the nuns’ religious apparel since the era of Saint Benedict.


Nuns wear the habit to orient their body and soul to the ascetical life. Since the declaration of the Council of Trent that mandated the habit to be worn by members of the clergy, nuns clothe themselves with it to represent their rightful order. It also helps to make them who they are as it defines their identity. They consider the habit as being beautiful, which is appropriate for them because they regard themselves as being the brides of Christ. It reflects the reality that they are not ordinary women clothed in secular dresses in a worldly sense but rather to characterize the divine beauty of serving God.

The habit aids in making the nuns grounded in knowing how to carry themselves out in a spiritual manner. Additionally, it serves as a reminder to other members of society to view them as servants that devoted their lives strictly to God, like decent brides of Christ. As nuns acknowledge that the external outlook is an extension of the internal character of an individual, they become pious due to the custom of putting on religious gear, as numerous temptations are eradicated when they wear a habit. This way, they are not inclined to be obsessed with clothes as they are not very easily yielded to temptations that tend to be vain as their external actions are impeded by wearing the habit. It also acts as a source of intuition in that whenever they feel uncomfortable in being in a certain place or doing a particular action when dressed in a habit, it is an apparatus of discernment that they should probably not be there or be carrying out the activity.

Furthermore, the habit is utilized as a symbol of modesty for nuns in the convent. As part of their expression of decency, they maintain their legs completely enclosed underneath their long habits. It is an ascetical instrument that teaches nuns to be disconnected from seeking their own comforts or pursuits in life that do not involve God. Therefore, the habit’s asceticism is very imperative for nuns.

They measure their emotional and mental strength through quiet perseverance and suffering. This implies that they have a receptive asceticism that may involve penance for them by virtue of wearing the habit every single day of their lives as nuns, regardless of the season or their disposition, as it is an expression of their own self-reward.

What do nuns wear under their robes?

Most nuns wear regular clothing under their robes. This is especially evident among the ones that reside in colder environments. Other nuns may simply put on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. In hotter climates, nuns may even wear undergarments only. Overall, nuns wear ordinary apparel with no fashion sense beneath their robes because it exemplifies their devotion to a life of contemplation or servitude.

What do nuns wear to bed?

There is no established rule pertaining to what nuns can wear to bed, as they can put on anything provided it is appropriate and decent. For instance, there are nuns who barely ever take off their robes, even in bed. However, most of them change into comfortable nightgowns whenever they retire to bed. The sleeping clothes are often long-sleeved nightdresses with collars and made of cotton because they are breathable and hence keep the body warm and properly ventilated. Other nuns put on actual pajamas, while others wear a maxi shirt and a pair of shorts to bed.

What do nuns wear on their heads?

Nuns wear a veil or a headscarf to conceal their hair and illustrate modesty, humility, subservience, and dignity. The veil equally symbolizes uniformity and hierarchy. It is a simple, four-sided piece of clothing that wraps the head and hangs on the back. It is usually made of black or white fabric that depends on the religious order and portrays the nun’s hierarchy within the monastery. Other nuns prefer to wear headscarves rather than the conventional veil, for instance, Mother Teresa.

What do nuns wear before they take their vows?

What do nuns wear?
What do nuns wear before they take their vows? Image source: Freepik

Nuns wear a white veil before taking their vows. This is especially evident in Roman Catholicism, where a white veil represents the conventional sign that a nun is still in training and is yet to profess her preliminary vows of devotion and chastity. The convents also confer the white veil on the novice nuns to indicate that they are beginners ready to advance and be considered worthy of becoming full-fledged adherents of the order.

What do nuns wear to the beach?

Nuns wear simple and modest one-piece black bathing suits to the beach. Additionally, they can wear black swim caps on their heads while they swim. They equally only do so in the presence of community members around the beach due to conservativeness.

What do the colors of a nun’s attire represent?

Nuns put on robes that are made from fabric with a symbolic color. According to the Roman Catholic Church, a black robe denotes repentance. Numerous nuns in the Catholic put on black veils and habits as a sign of penance and atonement of sins. Various Catholic nuns equally wear light blue robes to characterize the Virgin Mary. Additionally, they are dressed in white garments to signify purity. Buddhist nuns wear red robes to represent the divine in the Eastern religions.

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