COVID-19 brings the wimple back to modern wardrobes

I had my mask pushed down beneath my chin as I did housework today, moving between the shared* stairwell and the privacy of my bedroom.

purple fabric mask pushed below the chin on woman's faceStartling myself as I passed a mirror on the wall, I realized something amazing: COVID-19 has brought the wimple back!

Unless, like me and myriad members of the SCA, you’ve dabbled in the study of medieval clothing construction, you may not think you are familiar with the garment known as a wimple. If you can visualize a nun in an old school habit, however, you may be more familiar with the wimple than you think.

woman in long, grey tunic with white veil covering hair and wimple beneath the chinHere’s me wearing a wool tunic with a white linen wimple and veil that I made many years ago. Because I was interested in how these garments went together during the Middle Ages, this head gear is pinned in place with simple straight pins. Confession: I feel fearful every moment I’m wearing straight pins upon my body! Thankfully, my modern mask requires no such piercing fasteners.

Orthodox Jewish women today still generally elect to wear only garments that obscure their collarbones, but most of us no longer feel the neck is a private part demanding coverage for modesty’s sake. The wimple is perhaps the last article of clothing I thought I’d see making a comeback in my lifetime.

Then again, it does do wonders to camouflage an aging neck. Perhaps Nora Ephron should have tried one?

Given the pandemic’s decimation of the trouser market, maybe fashion designers should explore exotic swaddlings for the head and neck in search of more robust sales. Designer sweatpants are a real thing now; why not wimples?

Because two of us are going out into the world daily for in person schooling, we are keeping social distance and wearing face coverings in most rooms in our multi-generational, “single family” home, having effectively split into two “bubbles.”

For the love of living history

My husband claims that I want to live in the past, but I don’t think that is the reason for my passionate love of all sorts of living history experiences. I am the first to admit that I require a hot shower every day to be truly happy, and my physical laziness alone marks me as a modern person.

OSV mill

Water powered mill at Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA

It is fair to say I tend toward escapist fantasies, so it could be that simple.

Of course, I think it is more complicated than that.

I think my yearning for the past expresses a real understanding on my part that human beings need to experience tangible human creation on a regular basis to maintain a spiritual connection to our aggregate humanity. Quite simply, we are starving for the unique in our mechanized modern world, not because novelty is titillating, but because humankind’s creative efforts are what feed our souls.

Every teenager recognizes his need to be “different” (i.e., special, unique), and we write it off as a selfish phase. We age into our suburban sameness as our energy dissipates and all of our passions disperse into more moderate pursuits. But take a moment to reflect upon nature, where every snowflake, every tree, every blade of grass is different from its fellows. This is the clay from which we are made, and we, too, are unique in form and in spirit.OSV 2 yellow flowers

I believe that what I yearn for is a lifestyle in which a preponderance of what I experience bears some stamp of a human maker. Let the mass-produced, soulless object be the curiosity. We may find, then, that our ennui is eased. Slowing production of many things to a human scale would certainly ease resource burdens on our little planet, though some will rail against the reduction of consumption as an economic killer.

Whether this reflects God’s creation or nature’s design, I suspect there is power in it. I’ve started with small steps by creating wearable art in my hand-dyed silks, and by sewing a few small items of clothing for my children. I dream of acquiring the skill to turn silk that I dye into gowns to drape the human form in loveliness and comfort.

SCA medieval lady

Medieval SCA garb, hand-sewn but crude

I think this is why I love living history. It isn’t about what really was, but about a life where routine acts are creative, in the most literal sense of crafting that which will be consumed.

I thank God every day for running water, central heating, and always having more than enough food for my growing children, but being grateful for what I have doesn’t stop me from working toward what I hope can be an even more abundant future. Perhaps that abundance will be spiritual, and, in fact, reflect a lower level of consumption.

Originally posted May 8, 2011 via iWeb