Town’s Fashionable, and Fashion-Forward, Nuns

Town’s Fashionable, and Fashion-Forward, Nuns

During the Inquisition, or Colonial Era, the town’s cloistered nuns were of the Immaculate Conception order.  Though little seen, their images spread throughout the world in their Crowned Nuns portraitures.  These were paintings taken before a novice professed their final vows to be a nun, or Bride of Christ, featuring their autobiography, a baby Jesus, a painted shield and loads of flowers.

Normally, when joining the order novices would have to bring with them:

  • A piece of wool, silk thread and lining for two.
  • Light fabric for handkerchiefs and coifs.
  • One sewing box with everything needed for sewing.
  • Four aprons.
  • One rebozo (wide scarf).

Back then, all nun regalia featured the following:

  • Coif – the white headpiece made of cotton to cover the cheeks, ears and neck.
  • Veil – the dark piece of cloth that is worn over the coif to cover the head.
  • Tunic – the main piece of the habit, made of wool and colors vary according to the religious order.
  • Cincture – a belt made of woven wool for the waist.
  • Scapular – a long garment that hangs from both front and back. Worn over the tunic, and over, or under, the belt.
  • Apron – worn over the habit to protect it during work activities.
  • Cape – worn above the other garments and was of different colors according to the order.
  • Accessories – like a rosary, cross or ring.

To this day Conceptionist nuns wear a white tunic with white scapular and coif, black veil, blue cape/mantle and a rosary.

Back in the day the nuns also wore a nun shield, small oval art usually featuring religious scenes such as the Holy Trinity, saints or the Immaculate Conception worn over the neck and chest. The shields were painted in oil on a copper background.  Sometimes they were embroidered instead.

Today the nun’s shield is passé, replaced by a simple medallion that identifies the order. However, at the time, a nun’s shield provided a bit of controversy.

The nun’s shield originated in response to reforms aimed at curtailing the luxuries of convent life by banning the wearing of devotional ornaments made of gold or precious stones. In accordance with these reforms, yet also in defiance of them, the nuns instead wore elaborately painted shields which were often the work of the finest, and most popular, artists of the period.

Today the nun’s shields are small paintings that can fetch between three and four thousand dollars at auctions.

Oh, to be as fashionable, and fashion-forward, as a nun!

Aside:  Below is a detailed painting of all the Mexican orders and their Colonial Era fashions.