You’d be forgiven for thinking that nuns and fashion don’t particularly go hand in hand. But a new illustrated book, released earlier this year, presents the unexpected reality of color brought to us in the form of nun’s habits.
This surprising little book, Looking Good: A Visual Guide to the Nun’s Habit is the result of a fantastic collaboration between the publishing house GraphicDesign&, the illustrator Ryan Todd, and the theologian Veronica Bennett. It acts as a visual guide to the costumes worn by 40 communities of nuns around the world. The book begins by cataloging the various components that typically comprise a nun’s habit. These include things like veils, rosaries, tunics, medals, coifs (the cap worn under the veil), and sandals. This section provides the reader with a visual framework that is designed as a guide through the minimalist illustrations that make up the rest of the book.
The 40 orders are divided up into spiritual families (Franciscan, Benedictine, and so on). If the order in question is cloistered (orders made up of communities inside convents who have little contact with the outside world), the stylized nun you’ll see will have her back to you. Bennett then takes over and uses the various elements of each habit to tell the story of the order, and something of its particular beliefs. This accompanying text also includes descriptions of visions, miracles, and persecution as well as revealing how the story of the habit is also that of the struggle between the powerful and the poor; of politics, social care, and the role of women.
This unique little book discusses the forgotten fact that fashion really is commonplace in the world of nuns. For example, in the 1960s, it was decided that the habits of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul should be redesigned, it was no other than Christian Dior that got the job. He produced some truly extravagant cornettes (bonnets)- one of which is photographed below next to the traditional style.
In an interview with GraphicDesign&, this intriguing history was said to be one of the key motivators for the book, alongside the idea to celebrate the way in which “religious communities have been using color, form and symbol to communicate their identity for hundreds of years, making the habit a form of visual code.”
Despite its seemingly limited appeal at first, the book is well-defended by its publishers as something to inspire a wide interest for many:
“We concluded that graphic design and illustration were uniquely placed to make this tangible to a wide audience. This isn’t a religious book, but it’s a book that looks with interest and affection at the garb of religious women.”
A further remarkable element of the book is its dedication to Sister Mary Corita Kent, a nun whose graphic design work has been heralded as some of the 20th Century’s most defining visuals.
So, why not pick up something a little different today and discover a wider insight into the nun communities? Looking Good: A Visual Guide to the Nun’s Habit is available now.
YouTube Channel: British Pathé
Featured image via Wired
h/t The Guardian