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Cornette

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Armand Gautier Nuns

A painting of cornette-wearing Sisters of Charity by Armand Gautier (1825–1894)

A cornette is a piece of female headwear that was especially popular in the 15th to 17th century. It is essentially a type of wimple consisting of a large starched piece of white cloth that is folded upwards in such a way as to create the resemblance of horns (French: cornes) on the wearer's head.

Cornettes folded in different fashions (more upwards or more towards the head) were originally worn by married women of the urban middle class. They continually fell into disuse during the 17th century.

Use by the Daughters of Charity

The cornette was retained however as a distinctive piece of clothing into modern times by the Roman Catholic religious order of the Daughters of Charity, founded by St. Vincent de Paul. The founder wanted to have the sisters of this new type of religious congregation of women, that tended to the sick poor and were not required to remain in their cloister, resemble ordinary middle-class women as much as possible in their clothing - this was the reason why the cornette was adopted.

After the cornette generally fell into disuse, it became a distinctive feature of the Daughters of Charity, making them one of the most widely recognized religious orders by their habit. The wearing of the cornette was abandoned by the order on September 20, 1964.

The cornette in popular culture

  • The headgear of the nuns in the American 1960s TV series The Flying Nun was meant to be a reference to (and spoof of) the cornette. It is the driving force of the plot in the series, as the main character (played by Sally Field) is so lightweight that she is taken up by every gust of wind because of the cornette she is wearing, and is thus able to fly.
  • In the 2006 Doctor Who episode, New Earth, the humanoid cat people of the Sisters of Plenitude wear a cornette with their gowns.

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