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The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns Paperback – April 19, 2005


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Frequently Bought Together

The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns + Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America + Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Reprint edition (April 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385505892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385505895
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even though relatively few Catholic nuns actually wear the distinctive uniforms today, the habit still fascinates and disconcerts Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This "wearable sacramental" sums up much about Catholic spirituality and history, and Kuhns does a workmanlike job of taking readers back to the habit's early origins, through its myriad medieval variations and up to its conflicted present. Along the way we are reminded of the many roles that religious women have played in the development of Catholicism and of Western society, roles that were reflected in the clothing they wore, from peasant simplicity to elaborate creations of silk. Kuhns pays particular attention to the complex interplay between social class and the life of the cloister-different orders drew their membership from distinct social strata. Unfortunately, aside from a deftly written introductory chapter that examines the habit's contemporary fascination, much of the book sorts dutifully through too much history, without a clear story line to keep the reader's interest. [...] Kuhns is strangely neutral on the question, still hotly debated, of whether the habit is a liberating or oppressive force today. This inconclusive conclusion is something of a letdown in a book about Christianity's most dramatic and durable fashion statement.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"…Kuhns does a workman-like job of taking readers back to the habit's early origins, through its myriad medieval variations and up to its conflicted present."
--Publisher’s Weekly


"The author evenhandedly offers historical context and careful explanations . . . This readable overview is recommended for public and academic libraries."
--Library Journal


"A revelatory work that 'opens the nun’s closet doors for the first time,' then scans the contents for all their historical and symbolic associations."
--Kirkus Reviews


"…the door to the sister's closet has swung open..."
--Buffalo News


"…Elizabeth Kuhns' book about the history and culture of the habit is a sheer delight, wonderfully informative…."
--The Catholic Review


"An original, informative and engaging work…."
--The Catholic Advocate


"Fascinating details fill the book…."
--Our Sunday Visitor


"A welcome and important contribution to the literature on a sensitive subject that often inspires more heat than light."
--Margaret Susan Thompson, Professor of History, Syracuse University


"Elizabeth Kuhns’ readable account chronicles the development of the habit, while pointing to the important witness of the veil in the future.... Bravo."
--Raymond Arroyo, News Director, EWTNews




From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

The information is presented in an interesting way and is an easy read.
Cliff
Her discussion of pagan culture is muddled; she collapses together customs of different centuries as if all pagans of all places and times were interchangeable.
Isabeau
I bought this book because I wanted to learn the history of the Catholic Church's sisters/nuns and their habits.
Susan Crofoot Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Gemma on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
+JXP
Ms. Kuhns--a convert--wrote this book as an act of love for the Church and our women religious. Her work answers questions that have long lingered in the minds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike: Where did the nun's habit come from? Why did the nuns throw their habits away? Both questions are respectfully answered. I was very happy to see a clothing list included, also.
Ms. Kuhns is not a mystic trying to explain the heavenly side of the habit. I cannot understand what else the other reviewers were wanting. However, if she had included more mystical information, and photos with details of the habits, culled from fresh research, then I imagine I would have given the book a five star review. However, out of charity and encouragement, I give her three stars. The book definitely fills a gap, and the information needed in today's world.
In this age of air conditioning, why should long habits be discarded? Even some austere Capuchin nuns in the American southwest have air conditioning in their dorm and chapel. I can understand lighter fabrics for the missions, but in this world of hard-molded plastic, some of the starched items could have been replaced with something requiring less maintenance. Many communities have summer and winter habits.
As everyone is beginning to learn, religious orders who have retained a modest habit, are faithful to the Holy Father, have community prayer, and areas of cloister in their convents are blessed with the lion's share of the vocations. Traditionalist orders are bursting at the seams. Unfortunately, our "undercover sisters" do not want to wake up and smell the incense. They continue on their path of modern day fashions, which in our opinion, are not modest enough.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sad to say, the definitive history of the clothing of religious women has yet to be published in the English language. Kuhns' book purports to tell the history of the nuns' habit - why they wore those odd uncomfortable looking clothes, and what those component parts meant. She has cobbled together a synopsis of costume history from the middle ages onward - which information is available elsewhere in more enlightening format. Unfortunately for the reader, Kuhns' prose is dry as toast, totally lacking in interesting anecdotes, and poorly edited. There are a number of typographical errors throughout the book (couldn't she afford an editor?), and in one case, one of the photos in the appendix is miscaptioned with the name of the wrong religious order. For those of us who have a strong interest in the material, you will not find anything new or compelling presented here. The book is "padded" with several chapters on the history of religious women's foundations, which material is best presented in Joann Kay McNamara's book "Sisters in Arms." The informed reader may safely skip this section entirely. The book is illustrated with some vintage photographs, many of them courtesy of Fr. Eugene McCarthy, whose own series of books, "Guide to the Catholic Sisterhoods in the United States," published between 1952 and 1964, are considered the "fashion bibles" of pre-Vatican II nuns' habits. (These photos were originally commissioned by Gonzaga University beginning in the 1940s and later appropriated by said Fr. McCarthy - apparently, the clergy have no compunction about not assigning credit when due.) Serious scholars should pass this work by completely, and opt instead for the hefty, expensive Italian-language tome "La Sostanza dell' Effimero", published by the Daughters of St. Paul in Rome but obtainable through their bookstores throughout the United States on special order.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Bush on June 3, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Religious communities in America (i.e., Catholic Religious communities) have struggled to find their identity for the last 2 decades; but of course, imitating modern culture in so many other ways, to arrive at such a point of confusion, they first threw out anything old, including wearing religious garb. I only wish that the religious sisters of today (the new, "improved" nuns) who threw out their habits would read this book. No, the habit itself does not make a sister a sister. No more than black clothes and a white collar make a priest a good priest. But when there's nearly 2,000 years of tradition involved... just maybe they should have "looked before they leaped." I thought this was a good book. Well-researched, easy to read, full of interesting points, and a good argument for nuns to put their habits back on (though the author doesn't go out of her way to make this point or beat anybody over the head with it). Regardless of what side of the debate people are on, I think the average Catholic should find this a fascinating, good book.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dawn on June 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although the subject matter was interesting, the lack of pictures and overall layout of the book made it tedious to read. I saw so many opportunities for this book to be better. For example, there were many instances where an accompanying picture would have clarified a description or put it into a better context. A specific example of this is where she mentions a nail belt. It would have been illuminating to see a picture of one on that page. The writing style to me seemed dry, almost "textbook".
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