Dress Codes: Mixing Fashion with Faith

We talked to five women who dress according to their faith, not mainstream fashion. What does it mean? How do you ride a bike in that? Isn't it hot in the summer? Yep. We went there. We asked them everything.
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Sister Sarah Roy, Catholic Nun

Although Sarah Roy was raised Catholic, she'd never planned on becoming a nun. In fact, as a girl growing up in Illinois, she dreamed of the day she'd become a veterinarian. "That idea ended in college, once I realized I couldn't do chemistry or physics," Sister Sarah, 33, says with a laugh. She soon changed her major to human development, then went on for a master's in social work. While she was in grad school some nuns gave a talk at the union center, urging students to think about their vocation. That resonated with Roy and soon after she graduated, at age 24, she joined the order of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception and began her confirmation as a Catholic sister.

Today she's the only nun under 65 in her Peoria order who actually looks the part. Most nuns stopped wearing the veil in the late 1960s after the Vatican ruled that nuns should simplify and modify their habits, and most don't wear the habit (a black frock over a white blouse) either. Sister Sarah wears both.

It wasn't easy to adopt a garment that's practically extinct among her fellow nuns, Sister Sarah says. "I was living as a sister for three years before I chose to wear it, but I felt there was something missing." She didn't want to make a choice that would separate her from the rest of her order, but for her the tradition felt right. "I think when I wear the veil and habit, it makes people think about God, if just for a second," she says. "It also gives me a sense of identity -- this is who I am."

Actually finding a veil wasn't too easy, either. At first Sister Sarah borrowed one from an older nun and had it tailored to fit. After searching online, she finally located a store that still sold them and mail-ordered a couple. But that store went out of business, so Sister Sarah now has them tailor-made.

Her parents supported her decision to wear the habit, she says, though her mother would still prefer that she "wear something more fashionable and less nunnish."

Sister Sarah's old-school ways are actually a hit with the students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she works as a religious counselor. They love the fact that someone close to their age is wearing a garment they've seen only in history books and movies. "They like the idea that I'm proclaiming my faith so publicly," says Sister Sarah. "A lot of them are looking for structure and a solid truth, and even if this isn't the path they'd take, I think they admire that someone else has."

Continued on page 2:  Anita Patel, Hindu


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