"I could never be a monk/priest - I never liked the clothes." - My paraphrase of Flannery's famous line, "She could never be a saint..."
I'm not much on habits, as most of my readers know. I even asked my Bruderhoff friends if they really had to dress like that to belong to their community. And when they left, I asked if they still dressed like that - and evidently the wife does. Then there are those Amish. When it comes to Muslim dress, I'm just as opinionated, no way do I think burkas or turbans are a nice look. It doesn't matter though, because it is just my personal opinion - which means nothing. I believe people can wear whatever they like, or feel obliged to wear. I don't care so much about it any more - in heaven we will be clothed in light, and we'll look good. Obviously some of my readers and religious people do care - a lot - about what people wear. My one friend asked me about sexy lingerie... I know! Or I should say - I don't even want to know. But I digress. Quick shoulder hunch and sheepish smile...
That said, I came across a possible defense, and or excuse, why some contemporary women religious do not wear old fashioned religious torture-habits as they once were obliged to do. (You know of course that Pius XII asked women religious to modify their habits to be able to adjust to modern necessities, such as driving.) But first I must tell you that when some orders were founded, the founding mothers did not necessarily adopt a habit, likewise, in orders such as St. Elizabeth Seton's Sisters of Charity, the women essentially wore the 'widow's weeds' of their day - which became their habit. The bonnet is a dead give away that it was the fashion of the time, or at least, from that epoch's recent past. Therefore, one may imagine how the pastel pantsuits and flowery blouses so many women religious wear today could be seen as the 'new' religious habit - with a little lapel pin of course.
There may be precedence BTW. There still exists the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded at Rennes, France. If I recall correctly, they were founded during the French Revolution. The women wore secular clothes from the beginning, for obvious reasons, and later were permitted to retain secular dress, some even living at home. I've met some of these sisters who once operated a retreat house in St. Paul. I mention these sisters because some people believe a silly maxim, "No habit, no vocation."
Of course the Church desires consecrated religious wear a distinct sign of their religious consecration and commitment, as has been the norm since the earliest days of religious life in the Church. In his
… The Church must always seek to make her presence visible in everyday life, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularized and yet sensitive to the language of signs. In this regard the Church has a right to expect a significant contribution from consecrated persons, called as they are in every situation to bear clear witness that they belong to Christ.
Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.
- Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.
- Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation. - Vita consecrata
The last two bullet points provides the wiggle room, if you will. Like all documents, elements in our great big Roman Catholic Church interpret these types of exhortations according to their particular interests and needs: 'suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.' With the approval of the local ordinary and legitimate superiors - they are 'good to go' - and none of us mere mortals know where they will end up either, nor are we competent to discern if they have a vocation or not. The situation - or rather, the fluidity of interpretation of such documents, is very much in keeping with Catholic tradition. It's not unlike the continuing ordination of ssa men as priests and bishops: Officially, they aren't supposed to be admitted to ordination, but there are always exceptions, 'Where valid reasons of the apostolate call for it...' - and such discernment is left to the proper authorities - not to the laity or com-box inquisitors. (I lifted that term from Mark Shea.)
So there you have it! And you know what they say, "Judge not, and you will not be judged." And, "Let them wear cake!"
Bonus factoid: The 12th century the German abbess Hildegard von Bingen, advocated a style for her nuns that included extravagant and lavish white silk habits worn with golden head pieces designed to present the nun to Christ in her most beautiful form. I know! I think she was weird anyway. - Source
Bonus link: This is for women's-religious-habit-lovers everywhere! Nuns and Sisters