Sunday best: Sister-inspired

I recently tweeted that the outfit I was wearing was a little "Sister Annunciata meets Star Trek away team". It's true that I gravitate heavily to a minimalist starkness in what I wear. But it's not really minimalism I have in mind (unfortunately, manifestation does not always capture intention when it comes to what I wear). I've long loved nuns in habit. I was taught by them, and was lucky to have a positive experience with them (countless, of course, didn't). But I loved their starchiness, those perfect creases, the solemnity of their habits and also the contrast to the spaces they occupied.


The convents and churches of my childhood were not austere or ascetic spaces. Stained glass and dripping candles, beeswaxed wood,  mosaic floors were the backdrop. And always religious iconography, the stations of the cross, the gold leaf of halos, the blue or the Virgin's garments. It all melded in my mind, so those plain black dresses looked not stark but mysterious outlined against a palette of decadent other-worldliness.


Comrags have a dress called "Monk" this season. And the dress above from La Garconne is called "Pilgrim". Both recall those outlines that appeal to me in such a visceral way and directly impact how I dress today. I was also looking at the photos of Desiree Dolron on Friday and felt the same feelings or familiar starkness. Nuns were always beautiful to me in their navy and black, their sensible footwear and sure steps on polished floors.

And of course, there's fear and mystery built into all of this. They could be formidable and fearsome. For all their stark sameness, the personalities and foibles of each nun who taught me stands out in my mind. Sister Bernadette with her cruel and weary disappointment. Sister Nuala, with her doting eyes, but quick readiness to tell me I was vexing her. Sister Annunciata, the most evangelical of them, and the one who permed her hair beneath her habit, susceptible to flares of passion and anger, rousing us always to song.


I outgrew the religion, but not the aesthetic of those places or the silhouette of nuns. On past posts, people have commented that they find it depressing that I wear so much black. But in my mind's eye, it's not that simple or stark; surrounded as it is by a world of colour and patina. And when I move around the world in black, I feel simultaneously defined and protected, secretive. I love the power of clothes to make me feel that way.

Products: Rose Noir from Byredo | Bamboo by United Bamboo Pilgrim Dress from La Garconne | Chromatic Ribbed Tights from Anthropologie | Sylva & Cie Rose Gold and Black Diamond Caviar Band from Twist | Mimi Frank purse from Mimi Berry | Dieppa Restrepo Leon shoe from Totokaelo

Artwork by Desiree Dolron

18 comments:

  1. I woke up and started doing house work bleh.
    Then I remembered it was Sunday...Sunday Best!!

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  2. I love this stark simplicity. Beautiful post--thank you.

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  3. This is so lovely, Jane. The nuns at my school wore sneakers and sporty trousers with elastic waists (and carried backpacks when they took the bus home to their apartments!) but I really do miss my own school uniform.

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    1. Ha! I think I was probably one of the last classes to have nuns in habits. They all started moving out of convents when I was close to the end of school. I hated it!

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  4. Thank you thank you for bringing back Sunday Best after a little hiatus. I look forward to it so much over coffee and a bagel every weekend.

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  5. I love the way you wrote about the convents and churches of your childhood...and I especially love the poetry of this:

    "those plain black dresses looked not stark but mysterious outlined against a palette of decadent other-worldliness."

    Mmm, that is beautiful. And I have never thought of church architecture and design in that way before. It is almost essential then, to have the contrast of plain, simple clothes to set off the "other-worldliness" of the church. How much more beautiful is one when set against the other?

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    1. Thanks Monika - I agree. I think it's necessary and beautiful for the silhouettes to be simple in this setting.

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  6. Oh, I love everything about this post. And that I could relate, as well, to your upbringing. I haven't been to Mass in a very long time, but there are days I feel like going, in France, in the old churches, where footsteps echoed on the stone and whispers and chimes were amplified. Sometimes I pass by an old church and wish the doors were open, as they always used to be, so I could just go in and sit by myself. The feeling I get from sitting in an empty church is not unlike your sense of the nuns' habits.

    I only recently exclaimed in surprise and pleasure on seeing a nun in habit. There is something so brave and beautiful and confident about it.

    PS. I really appreciate your style.

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  7. I love how you describe how wearing black makes you feel. 'Defined' is a great word.

    And the second image of Desiree Dolron's is amazing. The quiet and the grand scale is simply beautiful. For some reason it also makes me think of Hitchcock's Rebecca.

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    1. Ah yes! It is a bit Mrs Danvers, isn't it?! I love both the movie and book.

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  8. I feel the same in black, though I do force myself into color to bighten my mood. I've always romanticized the idea of nuns and being one. My guy friend told me I should be one. I take it as a compliment....

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  9. what beautiful memories and beautifully written. love your blog!

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