Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Plain

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.

Hmmmm.

29 comments:

Nancy A said...

The reason Quakers gradually gave up the traditional grey "plain clothes" is that at a certain point it stopped being modest and began being a costume. Once it's a costume, it's not modest anymore.

I think sometimes people who explore plain dressing can fall into the "costume" trap because it's as much fun as fashion.

Ah, vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Robin M. said...

What are Carhartts?

I've personally gone in much the same direction, but I've decided that I'd rather buy clothes made with clear human rights/fair trade manufacturing policies quickly on the internet than haunt second hand stores shopping for the right stuff in the right sizes for better prices. Somewhere Martin Kelley makes a mildly derisive comment about Quaker wardrobes by Land's End, but that's about all I buy nowadays.

And I'm moving towards having only one wardrobe, not several for different parts of my life.

Robin M. said...

Oh, one more thing. I haven't given up blue and green and pink colors, because they make me happy and I don't think they really detract from my simplicity.

I did give up wearing black. Partly because it is such a fashion statement in the big city. Ummm, but mostly because when I gave up cosmetics, I realized I look horrible - like I'm sick - in black.
So yes, vanity, all is vanity.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Sarah,
For whatever it's worth, it sounds like you're asking all the right questions. As I've come to understand it plainness is not a particular style but instead the outward form of a changed attitude toward one's relationship with God and the vanities of the world.

Plainness can very definitely become a costume, but if you keep asking questions and listening to the inner guide you should be able to work out something over time (I've met plenty of plain-dressing tomboys). Those of us who feel the nudge toward plainness also need to remain open to the other leadings that often come along with it.

PPS: Robin, I'm wearing a fleecy Land's End vest today!

Sarah said...

Nancy-

Yes, I am rather wary of the 'costume' trap. On the other hand, I know there are folks out there who wear things most would see as a 'costume,' and wear them with dignity and without self-consciousness. Perhaps some people can pull it off, and others can't . . .

Robin-

Carhartts are a brand of work pants made out of thick canvas that are rather popular in my neck of the woods. They're ridiculously expensive new, unfortunately, but they're very well made and wear like iron- hence my pleasure at finding a pair secondhand for under $5!

Is Land's End fair trade? Good to know . . . hehehe, I admit that my favorite colors have always been green, brown, and gray anyway, so composing my wardrobe of them wasn't difficult- it was mostly those colors already. It was more of a limiting-my-palette thing than a these-are-Quakerly-colors thing. I'm trying for one wardrobe, too, though I find it difficult when part of my life is "high school teacher" and other parts are "tromping through the woods on snow shoes."

Martin-

Well, thank you! I'm trying to stay open to the nudgings, especially those which, as you say, seem to go along with it.

I'm looking forward to seeing you in February!

-Sarah

Alan Parker said...

Remember - Quakers were often guilty of a form of vanity that had them wearing plain clothes but made out of extremely expensive material, and dyed with Indigo from their own slave plantations -
We spoke about plain dress at a Quaker study group this week and one of the elders (who is in her 70's!) asked us to remember that Margaret Fell recommended bright colours, especially those that complemeted the season - Autumnal, Summery and so forth.
My feeling is that its jolly good that we can't recognise each other by the way we dress - because that way we see each wonderful person themself and have an open mind about them - it really shouldn't be an issue if they are wearing a kaftan, a police officers uniform, a burkha - whatever - we are all children of the light.
The point really should be these days; Is it ethical? Are we buying, for instance, Nike's, that have been stitched together by little Philipino children for pennies. There are so many super organisations now such as nativebynative (who make shoes, bags etc made from the garbage reclaimed by the poorest people in the world - the garbage pickers of Delhi)
At our meeting there is a very distinguished Friend who wears the most colourful knitwear you have ever seen - but he is a simple man, and I bet has never paid more than a £ for an item - its all charity shop stuff and perfectly good.
But personaly, I draw the line at charity shop underwear!

Isabel Jane Penraeth said...

"Once it's a costume, it's not modest anymore."

Who decides it is a costume? An essential part of my convincement and my call to the plain dress discipline was the bonnet. The ultimate in anachronism. I resisted it completely. I kept thinking God must be joking. But it became entirely clear it was what God wanted, and so I submitted. God works in much more wondrous and mysterious ways than putting people into unkind, simplistic buckets such as the wearing of traditional plain clothes means a person is an immodest, vain bit of empty costume history.

Plain dress is a projection magnet. Certain people assume all kinds of wonderful things about me. Others assume all kinds of negative things. I just have to keep it centered where it belongs: God's purpose and will for me.

Sarah said...

Isabel-

"God works in much more wondrous and mysterious ways than putting people into unkind, simplistic buckets such as the wearing of traditional plain clothes means a person is an immodest, vain bit of empty costume history."

*grin* You were the one I was thinking of when I said in an above comment that "I know there are folks out there who wear things most would see as a 'costume,' and wear them with dignity and without self-consciousness." I definitely don't think of you as vain.

For me, a bonnet would definitely be a costume, though. Perhaps it takes a certain kind of grace. Or rather, since you feel led, it's not a costume, and since I don't, it would be.

Rob said...

hey Sarah,

I hear you on all fronts. I guess I never got around to getting too rigid w/respect to Plain-wear because it's a dynamic experience that seems to need rexamination fairly often.

The challenges for me have been many:

1) The pressures of office culture demand a suit and tie. I haven't been able to reconcile with this as much as I HATE wearing a tie. I also need to be taken seriously in my work. It cuts both ways I guess. That said, I keep a much smaller set of work clothes now and try to keep it simple.

2) The gender/culture pressures are also pretty big. It wasn't until I tried dressing Plain that I understood there is a modesty component--even for men. Plain clothes, in my experience, have a way of taking sexuality/masculinity out of dress. I think most men aren't even aware of it, or if they are, they're unwilling to acknowledge it.

3) Plain evolves for each person. Try something out, and if it doesn't fit, then don't wear it. I own a plain suit, but almost never wear it; the fabric is too hot, and I look like a priest. I don't wear a hat or suspenders. I like gray jeans instead of black trousers. I stopped buying from the online Plain retailers because I like to try things on to make sure they fit first.

Where does that leave me? Plain-lite I guess. It's really more about the devotional aspect of Plain-wear rather than the actual clothes themselves. It's what works for now.

See you in February,
Rob

Liz Opp said...

Sarah,

Nice post; glad to see the discussion it has sparked. I had a similar response to Martin's:

As I've come to understand it plainness is not a particular style but instead the outward form of a changed attitude toward one's relationship with God and the vanities of the world.

In some ways, Quakerism starts from the inside out.

As for me and plain dress, I'm far from it in terms of my consciousness, choices, etc. (Why do I feel like I'm outing myself somehow...?!)

Like you, Sarah, I grew up a tomboy and loved it. Now being in Minnestoa, I need to keep an eye open for durable winter shoes, but have just about given up on finding dressy durable winter shoes!

Please let us know how your leading evolves, and what, if anything, you learn from the experience.

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

jeff said...

Dear Friends I find your comments challenging and refreshing. At the same time I would like to put forward my thoughts and how I see the way I 'dress' and the outward appearance of my life in general.

For me colour, texture, design can reflect the beauty of God's creation. We live in a cosmos not of uniformity but diversity. Creatures and plants,the landscape of earth and sky, the ocean and the beings who dwell within it are an ever changing display of exquisite beauty. We live in a world which is esentially aesthetic, sensual, and in some sense 'designed'.

For me the way I dress can reflect that beauty. I cannot deny colour, the soft feel of lovely fabrics, the way a well made garment wraps around me...and the ways in which it may express the odd, unique person I am. For me to see someone in clothes which enhance their appearance (I say this in the light that ALL human beings are beautiful) brings me deep pleasure.Humans are created at least in part to enjoy this life, to enable God to spiral ever more goodness and creativity into the world.

For me the significant questions become... Do my clothes and my home reflect a desire to be 'superior', richer, of higher status? Did their making oppress others...are they an expression of injustice? Are they ecological...either recycled or made of organic material? Are they well designed and made...reflecting a love of the aesthetic? Expression isn't neccessarily oppression.

There is also(for me at least) the danger of 'plainness' and 'ethical consuming' itself becoming yet another 'lifestyle' option for the well off. I used to work in an ethical goods store...the clothes were organic, fairly traded and beautiful. But on my limited income they were beyond my pocket.

There is a wonderful story about two
English Friends visiting Boston in the Nineteenth Century. After calling on many of the Quaker families in the area the woman turned to her husband and remarking upon her experience of the visits said,'George I don't think we will ever be rich enough to live quite as simply as they do..'

What I find in all the comments in this Blog is the question how does each of us feel personally led to live out the love of God. We are led in different ways, reflecting the richness of diversity. This seems to me how it ought to be.

Alan Parker said...

I know its infra dignitatum to speak twice in meeting - but I'm going to have another go; Jeff, great comments - I couldn't agree more. Sarah, in one of your last blogs you mentioned the Berkenstock (is that how one spells it?) shoes - perhaps we should call this whole syndrome 'The Berkenstock Question'
I have to say I have never heard of a living Quaker wearing a bonnet - is the a US phenomenon? But I am suprised that this particular blog has got the momentum it has - Why? What is it about dressing plainly that seems appealling to some people? I'm baffled.

Paula said...

Sarah and all,

Thank you for the discussion. I too have been asking the same questions and am in transition; I call it "plain -in-training." (BTW Alan, I wear a bonnet. Very useful item. I have one I made out of wind-blocker fleece that I call my preformance plain gear.)

There is much I could say now but sadly do not have the time. Please continue to ask and know there are fellow questioners. Thank you.

I think it is possible to to buy from Lands' End and other retailers with conscience. I only buy items made in the US and many LE items are, including the most comfortable tights I have ever worn.

Sarah said...

Rob-

That's very interesting what you mention about there being a modesty component for men, as well. You're right, there is- and you're right, it's hardly ever discussed. At the same time, I feel like the modesty element for women is far OVER-emphasized!

I particularly liked what you said about it being more about the devotional aspect than anything else. I agree with you there, too. Part of the devotional aspect for me, though, is having it be something that I notice. Although if I were someone else, I imagine I'd notice my lack of makeup and jewelry and color, I am pretty capable of forgetting that I'm doing this for a reason since it comes so easily to me. I think part of my wondering in this post is about me looking for that aspect of reminder.

Jeff-

I loved your anecdote about not having enough money to live simply! That's actually one of the things that really bothers me a lot and that I try my best to avoid. I've noticed it a lot in the hippie culture, actually- 'I am so cool and countercultural and not consumeristic- my organic hemp pants only cost $60, and my hand-made by women-working-for-a-collective in Nepal silver earrings only cost $80!' Not that organic hemp pants or fair-trade jewelry is a bad thing, because both are good things- but part of my simplicity does come out of a desire to not spend money on externals like that (both for humanitarian and religious reasons) and it's really easy to slide into that sort of thing . . .

Zach A said...

I've appreciated all these comments here, especially Jeff's and Alan's.

Alan, to speak just for myself, I'm attracted to plain dress because it's a new way to live a simpler life, and to express my values publicly. Lots of people have asked me why I wear what I do, and some of them have then expressed conviction about all the resources they spend on their clothes. I also have grown to just like the way it looks.

I think a very important realization for me, having experimented/struggled with plain dress for 7-8 months, was that there is no one right answer, no last word in plain/simple/modest dressing. No matter what we do, we are going to be at least a little bit un-simple, at least a little bit un-ethical, a little immodest, a little ostentatious. And at the end of the day, it's just clothes.

Sarah, your two paragraphs about feminism and gender roles/diversity speak my mind, although I'm coming more from the male end of the spectrum.

On the one hand, I'm pretty comfortable with masculinity, so I don't mind too terribly the fact that my clothes mark me out as a male. But (1) like you, I don't want Quaker neo-plain dress to be rigidly gender-binary, if that's a word, and (2) I feel like I have a little bitty streak of genderqueer too, and (3) I think it's good, not to mention great fun, to make people squirm sometimes, at least if the squirming is caused by their own prejudice. So I've been looking for ways to conform less to my assigned gender. I think a little vegan makeup is going to do the trick. Funny, isn't it? One plain Friend being led away from makeup, and another to it.

See many of you in February,
Zach.

Alan Parker said...

Well - I'm going to have one last word on this - apologies! Having had my thinking cap on for a while - I think it IS an American thing; I think clothes are so (comparatively) cheap in the USA (I have spent a great deal of time in Maine and NY, and bought plenty of clothes - especially for my children that would have cost 4 times as much here) that these choices and concerns are obviously something that arise from this position of privelage. Also, there is -just as in the UK - a real sense of immoedsty among people- especially young people, and we don't bat an eyelid about bared bellies, pierced navals etc. And indeed, why should we? Its no more concerning than the body decarations of the Tahitian islanders. I'm trying to supress a bit of non-Quakerly rage here, but I must say that the other day on the radio here (Radio 5) an aid worker in South Africa summed up my feelings on this (she was appearing to raise money, for - as it happens - a Christian organisation that helps AIDS orphans; She was in a rural village on the veldt in Southern Africa on a recce' when two chidlren asked her to come and look at her mother who was ill. She went to the hut where they lived with two young aid workers and saw the mother laying under a tarpaulin in a very bad way. Apart from that is wasn't a tarpaulin, it was a 'king' of rats, eating her from the feet up, as her HIV Aids was so advanced she couldn't move.They all slithered away as the door was opened - and I -along with I guess thousands of other radio listeners had tears roling down our faces - Other than that, she was naked, and died soon after being loaded onto a lorry. This woman - the aid worker - took the two children to her own home to join the other 42 - yes, 42! that she had sleeping there too. Her mentor, a finnancier who helps run this particular charity, said 'Dorothy - you cant keep doing this, you'll go under' to which she replied 'I am moving from a position of faith - I can't do anything else' Now, this may seem preachy and beyond the point of simple dress, and I accept that point - but I am trying to suggest that too much self absorption and introspection here can lead very easily to this 'Berkenstock Question'. I really don't want to come over as all British and superior - I'm really not like that - but I am suprised that this concern is raised - given how many people in the world haven't got a pair of shoes to their name. Perhaps as a by-product of lifestyle choice it is perfectly acceptable, but it seems to me as much of a cul-de-sac as the young fFriends in the 1970's who tried to resurrect the 'thee-ing' and 'thou'-ing' I used to be beaten for at school!
Of course, I think it possible that I am mistaken and I apologise in advance if this message is too harsh.

Jeffrey Hipp said...

Actually, I don't think it's just "an American thing." I know one plain-dressing British blogger (and yes, she wears a bonnet), and there is apparently a group of "primitive Friends" in England that meet outside of BYM, some of whom practice plain dress.

When I went to the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster last summer, a Guatemalan Friend talked to me about something similar amongst Evangelical Quakers there. They have a distinctive way of dressing, so that if, say, they go to a party and start getting roaring drunk, people will say "What is that Christian doing getting tanked?"

I found it interested -- though this Guatemalan Friend was new to the idea of plain dress in the historical Quaker sense, Friends in his part of the world had developed a similar testimony for a similar purpose as the early Friends -- creating an outward sign of Christian/Quaker identity that one couldn't easily escape when following the practices of their faith became challenging or inconvenient.

Lorcan said...

Dear Sarah:
I'm feeling a bit conflicted these days with a few in the plain Quaker community, and very close to others... but, I think... though I am still comfortable in my plain tradition, that all Friends need to give a lot of thought to the inner plainness and all that means- starting with simple unadorned presence to each other.

Just a wee note to let thee know I am adding thee to my links.
Thine
lor

earthfreak said...

I generally echo nancy's point, that plain dress can become a "costume" of sorts, simply a game.

I would go further to say that this is how I've experienced most of this resurgence of interest recently. (and let me clarify - how I perceive it - I can't speak to the spiritual promptings of another.

I have written some of this on my own blog (long ago) and find myself mostly in the same boat with you, Sarah- the major distinction being that I naturally gravitate towards bright colors, and would settle on hot pink, periwinkle, and yellow (or a similarly bright combination) were I only "allowed" 3 (today, however, I am wearing purple, teal, and forest green)

-"modesty" and gender roles are both anathema to me. (not just not goals, things that I actively resist!)

-I am much more concerned about the ethics of consumption than about any sort of spiritual insight that might be gained by dressing a certain way (and again, am liable to resist this concept as "an outward form")

-oh, there's a difference that's bigger than color preference, and that is that I don't want to be recognizable as a quaker, or a plain-dresser or whatnot. This is another aspect of this "trend" that disturbs me - I worry that some of the motivations towards it consist of clique-ish-ness or a sort of boasting. I often hope that people will notice me as a quaker, or a spiritual person, but only because I hope that I will be led to be extraordinarily brave, honest, forthright, kind, loving, etc, in situations where I otherwise might not be. (not, "wow, you're dressed so weird, are you a quaker?" but "wow, you are so centered/loving/forgiving, are you a quaker?" - not that that has EVER happened to me, I'm just sayin')


Zach - I think that's funny about make-up! I'd give you more crap, but at least it's vegan :)

I myself would go for more lace or more pink if I was trying to femme it up. I just hate, hate, hate make-up. Lipstick tastes nasty, something to consider if you've got someone to kiss. Plus, somehow to me makeup seems over this line of complete frivolity and uselessness, but then, if I"m honest, so is lace....

(This is a struggle for me, as I'm dating an awesome woman who likes makeup and hair dye and lots of other stuff that hits my "unnatural" buttons - but she's stopped wearing lipstick, so it's always nice to kiss her now :)

I would like to see a concerted movement in quakerism that has to do with plainness and simplicity, and really is a movement. It's funny, because I feel like the "plain" movement is arising among those who are calling us "back" to some sort of "true" quakerism, and yet, it's not a corporate movement, and it seems like it's almost seen as inappropriate to wrestle with the issues that arise as a unit. I don't know.


But I would really like to know more about the differences in this "revival" - (traditional) plain dress now sets us apart from other people, wheras it was given up years ago, because that was seen as a danger. now it's seen almost as the goal, why is that?

Lastly, I can really understand where Alan is coming from, and I think it's apt to point out it's an "american thing" - I had a teacher while I was studying in Norwary who, when I mentioned that I was a vegetarian, said "I would be too if I lived in the US, there would be too many choices otherwise" I had never thought of it that way, and that's not my reason for being veg, but it's interesting - in most other places in the world people don't need some huge philosophy behind owning no more than 2 pairs of shoes, it would simply never occur to them to do so.

quakerdave said...

Please post more often. I've enjoyed what I've read here so far.

Angharad said...

Personally, I'm drawn to plain dress because a) it's simple b) I am a decent seamstress and can make or alter my own clothing on the cheap, so it's economical, minimizes commercial participation, and allows recycling; and c)for some obscure reason, I behave better and feel more productive when I'm in a dress.

I'm not dead set on wearing a traditional "plain" costume. For one thing, I work at a law firm and I'm sure that would raise some eyebrows. Also, I'm not sure I like the associations with conservative Christianity, when I'm not even sure I count as "religious." I very much like some of the styles from the 1930's and 1940's. But my primary pattern is a plain princess-seamed dress that fits well and looks simple, but not antiquated.

I'd like to eventually have all plain dresses... but I can't bring myself to pitch out perfectly serviceable shirts and skirts just because they're too "festive". Admittedly, most of said shirts and skirts are over 10 years old and have been re-altered several times, but they still have plenty of wear left. (the curse of polyester... it NEVER dies...)

Carolyn said...

I have lately come to headcoverings. Recently in a store a clerk asked me if my name were Freida? I said no, Carolyn. She said I looked like Freida, and I especially looked like I should wear a bonnet. To me a bonnet is a F&I colonial item of dress, as I am a reenactor of that period. I told her I had a bonnet--she said again I looked as if I should wear one. I promptly went home and told my husband that I wanted to wear my bonnet and asked him to research headcoverings. I did some research too and together we arrived at some startling conclusions for us--Sabbath keepers (women) should be wearing headcoverings, too, and plainer clothing would not be amiss.

Kim said...

I found this article very interesting. I did have one suggestion for plain modern clothing that is organic, well-made, very functional, and is made according to fair trade principles: Deva Lifewear (www.devalifewear.com). I found them a while back. I used to do the thrift shop thing, and still do quite a bit, but I am not the easiest to fit and find that many items in my size at thrift shops fit awkwardly (generally being much too short-sleeved and too short of pant legs). The nice thing about Deva Lifewear is that it isn't purporting the types of principles that some of the more gender-specific companies do. In fact, many of its garments are unisex. I have long loved Amish dress, and you can buy Amish cape dresses on ebay used very cheaply (I have several) but I am wary of wearing them as my usual wardrobe. In my particular case, especially being in the corporate world, I think it would create more attention than I seek. Dresses are also not nearly so practical for me as pants, since I work in Seattle and take public transit so I'm often walking in the rain, and I also have horses to ride and care for. A collection of pants and warm sweaters and coats is just a lot more practical with backpacks, hiking, pitchforks, and horseback riding than dresses and shawls (though I do find the dresses and shawls lovely).

Mary Jo said...

I absolutely love how I was led to this blog and these comments! Being a Friend by convincement, I have been doing so much research on dressing plain and what would be the best "fit" for me. Isabel Jane's was my first experience with plain dressing Quakers, and has been a wonderful resource.

Trying both store purchased items and Amish and Mennonite clothing has been quite an experience for me. I still struggle with what feels good to me, the joy I feel when I dress plain in the private security of my home, and the nagging vanity that also comes along with it. What will my neighbors think? Why is she suddenly wearing these clothes? What will my family think.....I've already shocked them with following in my husband's footsteps and finding Quakerism to be such a fulfilling spiritual life for us and our children....will they think I've just gone mad if I suddenly dress plain?

I have been gradually changing myself outwardly to match what I feel inside. I no longer wear makeup, little jewelry, and my bottled brown hair will soon be streaked with my natural salt and pepper color as I let it grow out. I feel so much at peace just being who I am, and not what others expect of me. I cringe at how much money I have wasted over the years on stylish clothes, hair products, makeup and other unnecessary immenities just to try to look like some picture perfect woman that is sold to us each and every day. Right now, I'm a blend of what Isabel described as "Plain Modern" and my own version of conservative modest....some garments are purchased second hand and some handmade.

I think that those of us that are led to dress plain don't need to conform to any one way of plain dressing, but to allow ourselves to be comfortable in our own skin, in our own way.

Anonymous said...

Mary A.,here. Friend by convincement.
I think modesty is a matter of the heart. There's no need to spend a lot of money to dress more simply. I suggest just giving away those things in the closet and dresser that are not simple & modest, or that you rarely wear, or that are obviously costly. High-end clothing that isn't suitably simple or modest can be sold and the proceeds donated to the poor. As the remaining articles of clothing wear out and become threadbare it's better not to replace them with new things unless there just isn't anything in the local thrift shop or second-hand store that is suitable. Many people are of a size or height that prevents them from being able to find much to wear second-hand. If one needs something new to wear and one can sew this isn't such a problem, and there are lots of patterns available for very simple clothing that will still meet an office dress code's requirements. Practicality is important. One can dress simply and modestly without sticking out like a sore thumb, although to many it will be obvious that one is not slave to fashion. The more flamboyant dressers, unless they are rude, are not going to ask questions about one's attire in a business setting. It's possible to cover one's head without wearing a veil. I wore a veil for years and had long hair, but finally I just couldn't manage it with my schedule so now I have very short hair and I wear a beret-style cap but I wear it like a snood, on the back of my head. It looks utterly appropriate with a dark suit and a plain blouse or top. My skirts are long (lower calf length) and my shoe heels are low. I do not want what I am wearing to engender envy. I do not want to call attention to myself or invite comments. So far, so good.
Cheers,
Mary A.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, it sounds like you have a religious spirit....it's a form of pride when you say that you want to walk down the road and have people see that you are a "plain dressed" woman. A person can be immodestly dressed by dressing too plain because it draws attention to themselves....it's like saying 'Hey-I'm better than you are-more holy!!" Jesus looks at our heart...not whether our clothes are more plain than someone else's. ANY time a person looks at another person and thinks they are "more holy" or "better" than they are, they simply do not know God's grace...they are trying to "work out" their salvation by wearing plain clothing. I am saying this in love, and I am not trying to be mean when I say this, because I also wear a headcovering full time and I dress in long dresses/skirts and very modest clothes. But I do my very best NOT to "stand out" with my modest clothing, because it does not honor my Lord at all.....it only draws unwanted attention to myself by making me seem "holier than thou".

Fianou said...

Dear kindred spirit, I totally relate to what you have posted. I too am drawn to plain dress but I do not feel dressing in christian plain dress, or what honestly in australia would be fancy dress is particularly living simply or modestly. what I am attracted to is a uniform practicality of dress. While I like girly clothes I too rail against the idea of gender stereotypes. You don't need a dress to be a woman. I love that this discussion across the interwebs has connected christians, jews and muslims alike. And so, I am also grateful to be a Bahai. We have no strict clothes to wear, and are encouraged to honour and express our cultural and personal diversity. No fabric, no colour is prohibited. We are told not to dress in a manner that would be identifying of our faith but rather let the warmth and spirit of God and the integrity of our character shine out and identify us as Bahai. I thought you might appreciate that idea, that your character and life in Faith be your identifying vestment. Your christian character should shine throuh no matter what you wear. : )
We are told "let deeds not words be your adorning." We are only given simple instructions about dress. "Beware, lest ye become the playthings of the ignorant." that may seem simple, but reflecting on it deeper, it is a teaching that adapts to the changing world. For me that means I will be learning to sew and use sustainable and ethical fabrics to make practical lasting garments. It seems to me that by buying mass produced garments I am being a plaything of the ignorant because I am paying top dollar for ill fitting merchandise made in unjust conditions and that neither flatters my figure nor reflects my individual personality, is not practical to my daily life, cannot be washed easily and will fall apart in less than a year. That must be the utmost folly don't you think? Thank you for sharing you feelings on the subject.

Mrs. Goulette's Awesome Blog! said...

I am happy to find that others have had a leading towards simplicity, yet don't have a clear direction. I too have found myself yearning, often about heading towards a plain and simplistic form of dress, but often stumble on the "What about this..." "How will it affect this..." "What will your husband think..." and so on. The other part is I am not entirely sure where to head next with it. I do a major "purge" of my wardrobe and then sit there and think what's next? I have been waiting for a leading, a message, a thought to awaken me and point out the next direction, but nothing seems to come. All I know is when I see a plain-dressing friend that visits from another meeting, my heart leaps and I get very excited and even a bit envious that this individual has the courage and know-how to be more simplistic. I suppose more leadings and urges will arise when it is time, but I feel that I am in a holding pattern and don't know quite what to do. Some things I like, like some jewelry that my husband has given me, or putting on some make-up. ::shrugs:: I just feel better that I am not alone in all of this and am happy to read your blog.

Sincerely,
Andrea

Victoria Miller said...

It's a very slippery slope. I was raised very modest by my parents, for example I don't wear make-up and have no piercings. To me it doesn't seem like much but to others they don't understand and want to change me.