The Shafi`i Madhhab has differentiated, with regard to face-veil (niqab) and covering the hands in public, between it being a qualified order (amr) connected with self-respect (muru'a) rather than an obligation in itself (wajib), however, the conclusive position seems indeed to be the latter as you said. Al-Shirbini said in Mughni al-Muhtaj: "The obvious meaning of the words of the Two Shaykhs [Nawawi and Rafi`i] is that covering (satr) is obligatory in itself (wajib li-dhatih)." Yet the Madhhab *allows* exposing the hands and face if there is no fear of enticement (fitna), especially in trading, witnessing, engagement and marriage, and other transactions, as they are NOT part of nakedness (`awra), and *commands* it in Hajj, although some have deduced that in the context of prohibited gazes they ARE, as related from al-Subki by al-Shirbini and favored by Dr. Sa`id al-Buti in his book Ila Kulli Fatatin Tu'minu bilLah ("To Every Young Woman That Believes in Allah"). Some cite al-Haytami's assertion in al-Fatawa al-Kubra (1:199): "The sum of our [Shafi`i] Madhhab is that Imam al-Haramayn [Ibn al-Juwayni] related consensus (ijma`) over the permissibility for women to go out bare-faced but men must lower their gazes." In Hashiyat Sharh al-Idah fi Manasik al-Hajj (p. 276) al-Haytami repeats this ruling but adds: "This is not contradicted by the consensus over her being commanded to cover her face. The fact that she is commanded to do so for the general welfare does not presuppose its obligatoriness." And (p. 178): "Her need to cover her face stems only from her fear that someone's gaze might lead to a sexual impropriety (fitna), even if we say that it is not obligatory (wajib) for her to cover her face in the public thoroughfares as we have determined elsewhere." This is similar to Qadi `Iyad al-Maliki's assertion of "Consensus (Ijma`) that it is not obligatory for her to cover her face while walking down her street but it is a sunna, and that it is obligatory for men to lower their gaze." The Shafi`is cite this ruling and the Yemeni Shaykh Jamal al-Din Muhammad ibn `Abd Al-Rahman ibn Hasan ibn `Abd al-Bari al-Ahdal (1277-1352) even recommends it in his book `Umdat al-Mufti wal-Mustafti (3:90-91), an abridgment of a collection of books of fatawa which is of great significance given the lateness of the author. He apparently ignored al-Shirbini's comment in the Mughni: "The statement of the Qadi [`Iyad] is weak." At the same time, al-Nawawi in al-Rawda and al-Shirbini in al-Iqna` and Mughni al-Muhtaj both report that Imam al-Haramayn clearly stipulated that the stranger's gaze to a woman's face is forbidden (haram) whether or not there is fear of fitna [short of a valid excuse in the Law such as one of the transactions mentioned] and that "women are therefore forbidden to leave the house barefaced (saafiraat), by agreement of the [law-abiding and knowledgeable] Muslims... since it is more appropriate and decorous in the Law to block the avenue of enticement." The latter ruling takes precedence in the Shafi`i School just as al-Nawawi (especially al-Rawda) takes precedence over al-Haytami. Furthermore, al-Haytami's Fatawa and Sharh al-Idah come last even in the hierarchy of his own books[;] one would have to adduce his Tuhfat al-Muhtaj which is more authoritative, but not more so than the Rawda. It remains to double-check Imam al-Haramayn's actual statement about consensus; however, none of his works is actually authoritative in the Madhhab by itself. the above answer is by g.f haddad, posted by hamoudeh here. I could not locate the original article.