What did nuns in the middle ages wear?

Updated April 17, 2017

The period known as the Middle Ages lasted from the late 400s to the late 1400s. Nuns' lives mostly revolved around reading and prayer, as well as any tasks that needed to be performed in the convent. Their clothing reflected the vows of poverty and temperance that were, and are, the guiding principles of a nun's life.

Colour and Fabric

While modern nuns are known for their black habits, habits in the Middle Ages were generally made of naturally coloured wool, and were thus either white or grey. Nuns usually had two habits, using one for nightwear or when the other was being washed.


The habit consisted of a loose garment that went over the nun's shoulders and ended at the knee, tied with a belt of either cloth or leather. A wimple was worn beneath a veil, which covered the nun's head, neck and the sides of her face. Nuns were required to cut their hair short and cover any hair that remained.

Hair Shirts

Some nuns wore garments such as hair shirts as a form of penance and to help fight temptation. Made of goat hair and worn beneath the habit, hair shirts would scratch and irritate the flesh.

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About the Author

Ray Byrnes began writing for publication in 2004. His work has been featured in "Buzz Magazine," online at the217 and in several literary journals. He specializes in writing fiction, poetry and journalism. He received his Bachelor of Arts in rhetoric from the University of Illinois.