Creation Date

Exact date unknown; ca. 1870-1906


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Portrait of a member of the Sisters of the Assumption (Religious of the Assumption) dressed in the order's traditional habit. The habit was constructed of serge, a type of twill fabric often used in military uniforms. Photo was taken by William Henry Grove at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in the garden at the Kensington convent.

According to Sister Clare Veronica Wyman, R.A., the whole of the front was made in one piece attached to a yoke at the top with five pleats on each side and a cross sewn in between. The back was in two pieces — skirt and top. The top's opening was down the back and closed with large hook-and-eye fasteners.

Wyman provided this narrative about her order's habits:

As far as I know in 1838 when the founding sisters were first deciding what to wear, the use of five pleats was a fairly common design for a lady’s dress; ancient photos of my family show this. Remember that underneath they would have been wearing stays, which reached from just under the armpits to hip level, bras not having being invented, so it contributed to the flat-bosom look. Underneath the stays would be a chemise made of calico.

In my community here, one member made habits for much of her life. “The important thing was to make the bodice fit,” she said. “Once the bodice was correct, the habit was constructed on that rather than on the sister.”

The bodice was not separate from the habit. It was the secure base on which to attach the habit. Ladies' dresses in the 1800s were made in the same way.

I remember that in the robe-makers’ room, there was an adjustable dress form made of papier-mâché, and the current habit under construction would be in process on that.

Another factor in the design was not to look “forbidding.” Our foundress said, “I do not see why children should have to look at something ugly.” I think she considered black in itself to be forbidding, ugly and frightening. Our instruction was to be “true mothers to the children in our care.”

Going back to “hot and heavy”: The original layers were:

  • Chemise
  • Stays
  • Bodice
  • Serge habit with five pleats at the front
  • “Fichu” (a kind of neckerchief; it kept the drafts out of the neck)
  • Guimpe/wimple with veil
  • Thick cord around the waist
  • Black apron (if you were working)

The headgear was quite a complicated construction. First was a kind of bonnet — the “serre-tête” — then the guimpe, tied with tape at the back of the head (tucks in the side bits). Then finally the double veil — a linen under veil and a woolen top veil — heavy as you can imagine.

In choir for feasts: a long, white woolen cloak.

If on a journey: a long, black, all enveloping woolen cloak.

Purple was chosen because of a “vision” of our founding father, Theodore Combalot; the white/cream veil was in honor of Our Lady.


Religious attire, habit, Religious of the Assumption, Catholic religious life, nuns

Permission Statement

Provided with the permission of the Sisters of the Assumption, Kensington, England. Permission documentation is on file. All rights reserved.


Religious attire, habit, Religious of the Assumption, Catholic religious life, nuns


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