Why Do Nuns Wear White? (What Is The Meaning Of Nuns Wearing White?)

In the final year of my Religious studies, I took a keen interest in the variations in the clothing, commonly referred to as habits, of nuns worldwide. I took a personal initiative to study the evolution of the church, including the origin and significance of different colors associated with the habits of various religious ranks, especially the nuns. I visited one of the convents in the neighboring town just to find out from the nuns the significance of the different colors associated with their habits. Coincidentally, in one of the remedial sessions for our theology class, a student asked what the implication of the different colors of the habits for the nuns was. Having engaged nuns at the convent on this subject, I had the answers at my fingertips. So, why do nuns wear white?

According to various commentaries on the Catholic religion, the white habit is a sign of the nuns’ purity, chastity, and devotion to their course. It also generally distinguishes the specific group of sisters from the rest of the community.

I invite you to read on and learn more about the significance of the all-white wear for nuns, the difference between the white and black habit, the order of nuns who can wear the all-white, and even whether they have the freedom to interchange between the black and the white habits.

What Does It Mean When A Nun Wears An All-White Habit?

There are a number of reasons attached to the all-white habit a nun wears. The all-white color could, first of all, be a way of identifying with their founding leader. For instance, the Dominican nuns adopted the all-white habit worn by St. Domini while performing his priestly duties. While on community-based missions and nursing activities, the nuns often wear all white to distinguish them from the general public.

The more universal significance of the all-white habit is the sign of their consecration from sin and devotion to their course. The all-white is part of the seals to their vows of chastity, purity, and propagation of the course of Christ. The white habit is considered a reflection of their simplicity of life, innocence, penance, mortification of worldly desires, and the resort to a life completely hidden in Christ.

What Order Of Nuns Wear All White Habit?

What Is The Meaning Of Nuns Wearing White?
What Order Of Nuns Wear All White Habit? Image source: Pixabay

Most nunnery orders are associated with the founding leaders of that particular community. Their conduct is mainly derived from the directive of the leader. Several orders have been known to embrace the all-white habit. These include:

  • The Cistercian nuns
  • The Dominican nuns
  • The Carthusian nuns
  • The Mercedarians

These orders traditionally identify themselves with the all-white habit because it is what was defined by their founding leaders. However, other orders who do not traditionally wear the all-white habit can adopt the all-white habit for specific occasions. For instance, professionals such as nurses serving the community wear all-white to distinguish them from the rest of the community.

Is The White Habit Different From The Black-And-White Habit?

The two most common colors that have a definite significance are black and white. The all-white habit denotes specific aspects of the vows made by the nuns, such as purity, chastity, consecration, and innocence. It’s more common with nuns in convents and monasteries who do not interact with the rest of the world. Their life is dedicated to prayer, reading, reciting Holy Scriptures, and studying more about God.

The black color of the nuns’ habits, on the other hand, is considered a simple color, which is in line with one of the vows they take, and mostly signifies their choice for a simple life. Black also signifies repentance and separation from the sinful world.

Those wearing the combined black-and-white habit seek to represent the various aspects of the vows pertaining to their chosen life. This is common with the nuns who take simple vows with their place of service being in the communities among the people as opposed to those who take solemn vows and are confined within convents and monasteries away from the rest of the world.

Can Nuns Interchange The Color Of Their Habit?

Why Do Nuns Wear White? 
Can Nuns Interchange The Color Of Their Habit? Image source: Pixabay

Yes, nuns can interchange the colors of their habits depending on the occasion and the rules and regulations of the specific order they belong to. For instance, nurses who traditionally wear the black habit but are out in the community to offer nursing services may be required to wear all-white to distinguish them as specific professionals.

Since most of these colors are traditionally accepted, a nun can be allowed to have a representation of both black and white in their dress.

In the stages of formation, when becoming a nun, they often use the black habit in the initial stages. However, at the Novice stage, which is one of the stages of formation, a nun is allowed to wear a white habit instead of the black one since they are at an advanced stage of taking vows.

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