Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I had imagined my next post would be about Intelligent Design and my faith, but eh. This one has been bubbling around for a while.

For a long while- I really can't trace it back to its beginnings- I have felt nudged towards a plainness and simplicity of outward appearance. It's not always been religiously motivated, although at this point in my life it is. But I'm still not entirely sure what I want from it, or what it demands of me.

I initially accepted the nudge at the beginning of this summer. I started getting rid of all the clothing I owned that I almost never wore. Then I got rid of a few more things that I wore, but they were ostentatious. I got rid of all shirts with logos or designs or slogans, even political ones that I agreed with, or pretty designs that I was fond of (I had a tank top I loved with a red Welsh dragon on it . . . ). I got rid of all bright colors. Then I started getting rid of patterns except for subtle stripes and plaid. I got rid of six (SIX!) pairs of shoes and replaced them with one pair of well-built ones that will last. I took off all my jewelry (not much to begin with), put it in its box and put it away. By this time it wasn't summer, and I stopped wearing or got rid of my more revealing clothing.

I've kind of settled into a set of rules about what I'll wear. Nothing ostentatious, no bright colors or patterns, no jewelry, no makeup, no clothing that's above the knee or more than a handspan below the collarbone or very formfitting. As little bought new as possible; almost everything from secondhand stores. At this moment, I'm wearing a pair of Carhartts, a collarless cotton shirt, and a wool plaid overshirt, all in subdued earth tones and all procured secondhand for under $5.

Why am I doing it? Well, I feel led. I think our modern consumer culture is pretty awful, I think the exploitation of others to support America's consumer culture is pretty awful, I think the way women are put on display is pretty awful, and I want no part in it. I want no part in it, in some visible way that says, "Hey. I'm not playing these games." I've always had these convictions, even before my convincement, but my religious conviction is now the heartbeat that supports these beliefs.

The why of my plain practice generally bothers me less than another question- 'what am I looking to get out of this?' because the answer to that question is much more complex.

Honestly, in some part of me I long for a common Plain uniform. I'm sure I make some sort of statement as a woman with no makeup or jewelry in simple understated modest clothing all in drab colors and slightly outmoded styles. But in rural Vermont, it's honestly not that distinctive. Some part of me would love to be able to walk down the street and have people know, 'Oh, she's a plain-dressing Quaker.' A bigger part of me would like to be able to walk down the street and be able to recognize other plain-dressing Quakers, and have them recognize me.

I realize there's probably a simple answer to this. We could all (or I could) take up the dressing habits of the Mennonites, for instance, or the Amish. I could cover my head and give up pants, men could grow beards and wear lots of black. Or maybe I could do the Christian Modest Dress thing and wear lots of floral prints and jumpers. With a little veil.

So much of me recoils at this. First of all, I have no interest whatsoever in extreme anachronism. Even before my formal Plainness, I liked dressing in such a way that I wouldn't be out of place in almost any decade of this century (er, last century). A 1940's look is perfectly fine with me. A 1700's look strikes me as ostentatious in its own right, and outside of a very formal religious community, I'm just not interested. Historically, many Quakers have either 'plained' modern fashions or been a few years out of date. Somehow it seems that 'a few years out of date' hasn't kept up with the years among folks who want to dress Plain. And that just doesn't jive with the 'practical,' the 'simple,' and (above all) the inexpensive aspects of my Plainness.

Then there's my feminism, and my queer-positive beliefs. Heck, I go to workshops on gender diversity. I don't believe in a binary sexuality, I don't believe in binary gender, and I myself have just a streak of gender-queer in me. I figure, if God hadn't wanted me to be a tomboy, well, God wouldn't have made me one.

The strict gender roles that seem to go with so much 'modest dress' these days just terrify me. Some of the websites selling 'plain' clothing literally give me frissions of horror up my spine. I hate being referred to as a 'lady.' I am not interested in expressing my 'femininity,' or in 'learning how to lead a more feminine life,' or even 'expressing my femininity for the glory of God.' I'm interested in learning express my humanity for the glory of God. I'm going to medical school, not charm school. I would like to get married and have children some day, but that's a preference, not my life's calling. If I do get married, it will be a partnership of equals.

I'm not sure where to go from here. I'm looking for something a little more distinctive, but not intensely gendered or terribly anachronistic. And I'd like to keep my motives pure.