Breaking Habits: Fashion and Identity of Women Religious

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Dress has played a critical and visible role in reflecting and helping to construct social and personal identity of Roman Catholic women religious. During the 1960s and 1970s, the majority of women in active, non-cloistered orders relinquished religious habits for secular fashion. Many in this study had worn habits for a large portion of their lives, often between 20 and 30 years. Their personal and social identity were interrelated, as they had relinquished individuality for a communal identity symbolically expressed by the habit. Through open-ended, one hour interviews of twenty six women religious and use of symbolic interaction theory, I examine identity work symbolically expressed in dress of women religious. I discuss how the modified habit, worn by many of the women in this study for a brief period after Vatican II was a metaphor for the identity ambivalence that they experienced. Current use of secular fashion is examined for its ability to visually convey the expanded role of personal identity in the lives of women religious.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 1998

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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