The Friar’s Habit Gets A Streetwear-Inspired Overhaul

The Young Pope would approve.

Regardless of where people fall on the scale of secular to devout, they’re likely to agree on one thing: Religion is a polarizing force that elicits strong opinions.


The Netherlands chapter of the Dominican Order–a group of Catholic preachers, friars, and nuns–wondered how design could help dampen some of the knee-jerk reactions they receive because of their traditional robes and habits, which can symbolize conservative thought and send people walking in the opposite direction. Moreover, the garments draw attention to whomever is wearing them. To commemorate its 800-year anniversary this year, the Order wanted to find a way to rethink its habit and help its members move about more normally.

To explore what that might look like, the chapter collaborated with the Amsterdam-based fashion company Byborre on a conceptual update of their garments called the New Habit.

“The New Habit by Byborre is an exercise, so to speak,” Arjan Broers of the Dutch Dominican Order says. “The Dutch culture is one of the most secularized in the world. Many people don’t have a clue about faith or church, except perhaps their prejudices. Because of the celebration of 800 years [of the] Order of Preachers, the Dominican family in the Netherlands organized a year of various meetings with ‘benevolent strangers,’ people they usually do not meet up with in the very secularized Dutch culture. The idea behind this is that both parties can get wiser in an honest encounter, even when they don’t agree on issues.”

The religious habit is a set of garments traditionally worn by members of an order. The Dominican Order‘s habit includes a long tunic, a cape with a hood, and a long cloak. Byborre–which is known for futuristic looking fashion, both experimental and retail–used streetwear to inform its update of these items. Its 12-piece collection includes joggers, tunics, and a long windbreaker all made from technical fabrics as opposed to traditional wool and natural fibers. If the Dominican Order wasn’t attached to this project, you’d never guess there was a religious connection, but there are subtle nods to history. For example, the Order’s garments are traditionally black and white; Byborre used muted colors to echo that sensibility. The friars traditionally wear a short rounded shoulder cape with a hood attached; Byborre interpreted that as a cropped vest.

When the Order approached Byborre, it came with a question about how it could simultaneously respect its historic dress and take a risk with it. “Even without knowing what we were going to make, they let us know that they are really happy with the habit just like it is and at the same time they just wanted to start a dialogue,” Borre Akkersdijk, founder of Byborre, says. “But that is what made the project interesting: it is about sharing values and knowledge and finding each other even if you live a totally different life. That made the ‘New Habit’ a great project to work on. It was looking into the [design] of the Habit, why it has a certain shape, function, and materials and seeing how this would this translate to today’s techniques and materials.”

While the friars in the order don’t plan to adopt the redesigned garments officially, the exercise has already succeeded in its goal: sparking conversations within the Dominican Order and bringing more awareness about the group to individuals who may never have heard of them.


[Photos: Roel van Koppenhagen]

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.