In the end, the choice of black for nuns’ habits boils down to penitence, which is central to Catholicism on the whole. Black equates with contrition and forgiveness. OnePeterFive explains that black also relates to forsaking worldly desires and vanity to be “brides of Christ.” A black habit, in a way, looks like a type of wedding gown characterized by “otherworldly beauty.” “The habit does not make the monk,” OnePeterFive says, but rather, exterior choices reinforce inner values. Substituting all clothing with a mandatory, refined black “habituates our body and our soul to the ascetical life.” Plus, Aleteia says that black was the cheapest color available in the 6th century when the Benedictine order — one of the oldest monk orders — was founded.
That final point raises an issue central not only to the choice of black for nuns’ habits, but nuns’ clothing on the whole. Namely: nuns’ habits didn’t crop up overnight — they’re the by-product of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years of accumulated rules. OnePeterFive says that the scapular, for instance — an apron-like piece that drapes around the shoulders — dates back to St. Benedictine and symbolizes the burden of a pious life. The wimple that drapes around the head and neck, by contrast, didn’t appear until the 13th century. It was adopted for modesty reasons, same as it was for married women. Veils, on the other hand, exist across numerous cultures going back thousands of years.