Quaker Plain II: Plain Dress

When I wrote “Quaker Plain I,” I had no idea it would be the most-read essay yet on “Letters From The Street.” Nor the most-commented. Yet so it was.

Now, I hope it was clear in context that plainness encompasses a wider scope than clothing. So I was a bit surprised that dress took up so much of the reaction. Probably shouldn’t have been. Reading around on various blogs concerned with plainness, it’s a frequent topic.

I didn’t plan to address the concern this soon, but I’m going to. If it is that present in so many minds, then it deserves consideration. While my main concern is to learn what plainness means in our contemporary context, looking at specific examples may well help to draw that out.

OK. I hope we all know there’s no standard for plain dress among 21st century Friends. We are, to a great extent, on our own. We can’t tell each other what to do, but we can learn from each other.

So, in the absence of clear direction, I want to talk about some guidelines that have been helpful for me.

First, dressing plain is a spiritual discipline. Like any important feature of our lives, it has overtones in other areas, such as the political, economic, or cultural realms. I’m not saying we shouldn’t address those; we just might. But primarily, we do it because it depends upon and enriches our relationship with God.

How does this happen? As Quakers, we try to follow the Spirit in all of our lives, and to make each moment sacramental. There are many ways to do this; one of them is by being conscious of our clothing choices and allow God to guide us, even in this mundane way.

A commenter on the last essay said, “God doesn’t care how we dress.” Yes, and No. I don’t think it is terribly important to God whether I wear khakis or Quaker grey. I doubt if He cares whether I wear a broadbrim or a ball cap. I’m sure He couldn’t care less about the number of pleats in a woman’s bonnet, or whether she prefers a bonnet to a scarf. In that sense, our friend is quite right. Our Lord has bigger fish to fry.

And, Yes He does. He cares about the most mundane items of our lives, down to the number of hairs on our heads. How can both of these statements be true? Because He doesn’t care about khakis as khakis; He won’t strike me down or lift me up for wearing one thing or another. He cares about how the choices I make reflect our relationship. Every last choice, not just clothes or whether I tithe or whether our babies have water sprinkled on their foreheads or whether we eat fish on Friday. When I let Him into every aspect of my life, I have to be prepared to be led in ways that may seem peculiar, especially in our materialistic, indulgent, and individualistic society (which, for brevity’s sake, I am going to call “the world” from now on.) And if that means that I feel led to dress a certain way in order to hold faith with God, so be it. Your opinion of that is none of my business.

In former times, Friends used to talk a great deal about “the hedge.” This was a reference to how our distinctive testimonies and practices separated us from “the world”. I’m going to digress for a bit here, and then get back to the point.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, the newcomer often feels grateful for the anonymity part of the program. He thinks it protects him from having other people know that he is coming to meetings, that he is an alcoholic, that his social status will not be sullied.

Ha. Little does he know, although he usually finds out when he gets to the “making amends” phase of the program (Steps 8 and 9), that most people already have no doubt whatsoever about his drinking. Whatever damage may have been caused to his social status has already been caused by his own behavior. Joining Alcoholics Anonymous and working the Steps, far from besmirching his image, inclines most people he knows to think better of him. But if thinking that anonymity protects him from the scorn of others helps to soothe those anxious, timid newcomer feelings, so be it. Whatever it takes to get someone in the door and get them active, right?

What he finds out as he progresses is that anonymity is not meant as a protection for him. It is an expression of a spiritual principle that lies at the heart of the program: humility. Humility, as practiced in AA, has to do with unpretentiousness. The alcoholic has already suffered from an ego that has made him feel both better than and worse than he really is. Humility makes him “right-sized.” Neither better nor worse, just him as he really is, a garden-variety drunk trudging the road to happy destiny. He is anonymous because he doesn’t go around making a big deal of his involvement with AA, not because he is afraid for people to know. His ego, always a problem while drinking, is both in check and at peace.

And, given the nature of drunks in general, anonymity also protects the Fellowship of AA. It ensures that one person, or group of people, will not try to hog the spotlight and give an impression of AA that is inadequate, limited, or just plain wrong. It ensures that, if some highly visible person such as an actor or sports figure should join AA and then get drunk again, the lapse will not be laid at AA’s feet.

Now, let’s think about the hedge. For some, the hedge may have been a guarantor of their sanctity. If they talked, dressed, and acted as Quakers were supposed to, then they would not be as likely to fall away from the faith they had found. Less likely to sin, less likely to offend. Yes, the hedge functioned that way, to protect the individual from himself. But that was not the most important function of the hedge.

As Lloyd Lee Wilson explains in his book of essays on Gospel Order, becoming a Quaker meant assimilating a point of view in which God’s creation is known as perfect, and in which one thinks and feels and behaves in such a way as to live within that perfection. The hedge was not there so much to protect us from “the world”, as to remind us that we are not part of it, that we are part of the order of creation as God intended. It reminds us to live, not “as though” the Sermon on the Mount is our present reality, but because the Sermon on the Mount is our present reality. In most churches, the Kingdom is something in the future, or perhaps after death. Not so for Friends. The Kingdom is now.

The hedge could be abused, and was abused, as an instrument of control by the Quaker establishment. It gradually ceased to perform the function that it was intended to serve. And so, during a period of time around a century ago, the various bits and pieces of the hedge were relinquished. In some ways this is good. Peculiarity for the sake of peculiarity is sterile. As a good physician may sometimes discontinue all medications in order to start fresh with a clear picture of what is needed, perhaps the Society of Friends needed to clear its own decks of the accretions of centuries and look at itself anew.

The problem with that is that the true purpose for the hedge, that of facilitating our assimilation into the Present Kingdom, was allowed to vaporize as well. Friends became more and more assimilated to “the world.” Materialism and individualism have made gross inroads into our thoughts, our feelings, our mores, our activities. In the immortal words of the cartoon figure Cartman, from the TV show “South Park”, “Whatevah … I do what I want.”

Back to AA for a moment. The AA member who makes the most of the program soon learns that it is wonderful not to be on his own any more. Not only does he have a Higher Power to rely upon for guidance, he has a sponsor and the rest of the fellowship. A word that is often heard in the rooms of AA is “transparent.” The committed member tries to live a life that is transparent to other members. He doesn’t hide from them. His life is an open book. He seeks feedback on choices he has to make. He welcomes — perhaps after some struggle, for the ego is tamed but not absent — warnings from others when he is unaware of making bad choices. He knows that there are some things he cannot do on his own, and many that it is better not to do on his own even if he could.

Nearly the sole remnant of this kind of thinking in the Society of Friends is the Clearness Committee, and this is a rarity. Eldering and oversight have very limited scope. Despite the lessons learned early and harshly by such as James Naylor, who found in the most painful of ways that anointing his own leadings above all others could lead to perverse consequences, we have to a large extent returned to that same state. How many people seek to test their leadings by laying them before the Meeting? How many humbly submit to its collective leading in response?

We much prefer to follow the example of John Woolman, who maintained his testimonies even in the face of opposition. Or so we think. If we read Woolman’s Journal carefully, we find that he had a more submissive attitude than many modern Friends think. For instance, when he went to England at the end of his life to carry his message about slavery, and was told by London Yearly Meeting that they considered his mission complete before he even started, he shed tears of sadness that he could not share the message as he had thought he would. He did not go ahead and preach anti-slavery sermons in defiance of their stricture. He wept, and he submitted. Seen much of that lately?

And so, plainness is a part of the hedge, and I believe that we need to re-create this hedge in a way that is meaningful for us, now. Clothing certainly is a part of this, because it is something we do every day. We need to think about what we wear, just as we think about what we eat. I remember the boycotts of iceberg lettuce in the early 70s, in support of the United Farmworkers’ campaign to humanize the treatment of agricultural laborers. It didn’t take much to give up iceberg lettuce, but it got many of us thinking about how such seemingly small choices can have such over-arching meanings.

As one who at one time wore broadcloth pants and a broadbrim hat, I honor those whose leading takes them in this direction. It is not relevant to ask whether they are “right” or “wrong”, as some seem to approach the subject. The question is, are they truly led, and have they measured their leading against those who are most suited to serve as guides in these matters? I hope that they seek out the community of others who are re-discovering plainness, because (as in AA) there are some things which are truly best done among others. For one thing, it is so easy for ego to masquerade as the inmost self, and confuse the issue of what one’s true leading is. For another, when setting out on a course which is so foreign to the direction we receive every day from “the world,” there is comfort as well as guidance in the community of others of like mind. Thank God for this Internet which can bring us together from all geographical quarters, who might otherwise never have met.

For the rest of us, who wish to be plain but who do not adopt the older style of dress, what do we do? There were some wonderful comments on the last post which addressed this issue. I think it is likely that most of us would agree, for instance, that displaying brand names prominently is not plain (although at this very moment I have on a t-shirt that says “Campmor” on it.) Putting “Hollister” or “Aeropostale” on the chest or sleeve of my garment does not make it warmer, last longer, shed dirt better, or any such function. It is strictly and solely to appeal to the status-seeking impulse which is so much at the heart of “the world.”

Next, we might think about price. This is a little trickier. It is not always true that the less expensive an item is, the more plain it is. This is often not the case. Many years ago, when I had very little money, I used an amount that was kind of painful to buy a Woolrich woolen shirt. That shirt became a cool-weather jacket and a light-rain jacket as well as a warm shirt for cold weather. It wore like iron. I got many, many years of use out of it. A less expensive shirt would not have served all of those functions, nor lasted as long. A friend of mine calls the kind of “economy” which buys the cheap item in disregard of suitability as “jumping over dollars to pick up pennies.” Well said.

That being said, it is still a valid principle to spend less rather than more, if plain is what you are after. Won’t a Chevy get you around as well as a Benz? Will a good used car do just as well as a new one? In some cases, the answer might be “No.” This is where discernment is necessary, and having others to help make the decision will lead to a better outcome.

Solids rather than patterns? Muted rather than bright, conspicuous colors? Probably, most of the time. Let’s not divest ourselves of all beauty, though.

Manufacture: like my woolen shirt, clothes that are durable are more suitable than those that have to be replaced every time you turn around. In the long run, they use less of the world’s resources.

Style: clothes with classic lines, that will not look silly as soon as the fad passes, are pretty much de rigueur for plain folks. Trying to follow fashion is very much a “worldly” preoccupation. I don’t see any wiggle room on this one. A much older friend, who had attended Olney Friends School in the 1940s, told me once of a Quaker woman who was elderly at that time. She had continued to wear the old-style Quaker plain dress which she had grown up with. She said to him “I’ve been at the height of fashion three times in my life.” This story always brings a smile to my face. That’s a gal I want to emulate.

I haven’t said anything yet about origins: place of manufacture, sweat shops, child labor, etc. I know those things are important. I also know they are more complex than they appear on the surface. For instance, of course I am against the exploitation of children for economic gain. And yet, in that country and under those circumstances, that child’s labor may be what is keeping her younger siblings from literally starving to death. And so, a boycott of such goods would be a selfish exercise of my own ideological purity at the expense of a gruesome tragedy from which I am insulated. I’m open to suggestions on this one. I don’t see any way to go besides a case-by-case decision. Who said living plain was going to be easy?

And that feels like it is as far as I can go with the issue of plain clothing. There were some fine comments last time, and I hope that this essay will spark even more. If it doesn’t help you, I know it will help me.

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14 thoughts on “Quaker Plain II: Plain Dress

  1. Thee writes, “A commenter on the last essay said, “God doesn’t care how we dress.” Yes, and No. I don’t think it is terribly important to God whether I wear khakis or Quaker grey. I doubt if He cares whether I wear a broadbrim or a ball cap. I’m sure He couldn’t care less about the number of pleats in a woman’s bonnet, or whether she prefers a bonnet to a scarf. In that sense, our friend is quite right. Our Lord has bigger fish to fry.”

    I must speak from my own experience that sometimes God does have an opinion about precisely what someone should wear. God set me the task of wearing the traditional outer bonnet. He set that as the requirement, and whatever I wore to “match” that was my own concern. The commenter who said, “God doesn’t care how we dress” denies the possibility that God could ever need to work through someone’s life through what they wear. That is a pretty narrow view of either God’s capabilities or our spiritual needs. When thee says, “I doubt He cares whether I wear a broadbrim or a ball cap,” thee is saying something meaningful about his guidance in his life, but I wonder if thee believes God can never require a broadbrim versus a ball cap. I wish to state unequivocally that sometimes he does have such requirements for individuals, requirements that are good for them and for the improvement of the greater good.

    I needed the Quaker outer bonnet (as opposed to just the cap) to become an obedient child of God. I did not know that was the Lord’s purpose in having me adopt the bonnet, and I could not have predicted all the myriad ways I would be blessed by being obedient. I feel a need to speak up for the power of God’s hand moving directly in our lives, and the power of being obedient to his guidance. Whatever good has come from my obedience has not been because of some power in the bonnet, but power in God that I am able to serve more faithfully by wearing the bonnet because he requires it of me. He knew it would be for my good. He also knew how it would accomplish some greater good. In being obedient to his guidance in this, I have witnessed over and over again how he uses his obedient children to further his Kingdom on this earth. God is the greatest multi-tasker. Over and over again I have seen how his spiritual requirements have been to aid the individual in their spiritual life and to accomplish some greater good in the world. These obediences in the small things, the trivial things, things that others wish to deny he could ever ask of anyone at anytime, these turn out to be some of the biggest moments of spiritual obedience we will ever experience.

    I wished to witness to that aspect of plain dress in my own life here. I thank thee for this interesting blog post and thy heartfelt witness.

    1. Thank you, Jane. You raise some good issues and I am glad to have your voice as part of this dialog.

      Upon reflection, you are quite right. Should I be led to wear the broadbrim again, I would. I don’t know why God would prefer that to a ball cap, and it wouldn’t matter, would it? I’ve followed many a leading without knowing where it would take me. Your story of wearing the bonnet is well taken.

      There is still a part of me that says that, in general, God is not too worried about the exact specifications of our garments. I don’t think He intends us to argue over three pleats or seven. And if He asks me to take up the broadbrim again, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to require someone else to follow suit. Somehow, I think all of this has to be part of our understanding of plainness, and not just plain dress. Otherwise, we might miss the calling that it entails (on the one hand), or get lost in arid distinction (on the other.)

      I hope you don’t mind me posting the URL for your page: http://quakerjane.com/ Friends might want to read more.

  2. I dressed my form of Quaker Plain for three solid years. I felt I was lead to plain dressing by a desire to not conform to society around me. I felt that I was spending too much time/money on clothing and trying to be someone I wasn’t.

    One day, I literally had the light bulb moment in which I realized that I was spending far more time, effort and money to obtain what I thought was simplified living than ever before. I was standing out in a crowd, drawing more attention to myself instead of living a simple, humble life.

    After three years of dressing plain, I realized that I was becoming more obsessed with my “style of plainness” than I was dressing prior to going plain. I was searching online for the proper dress pattern or skirt pattern. I was then searching locally and online for the proper fabrics I needed. I then began searching for clothing that was handmade for the garments that I could not sew myself.

    Now, I have one pair of jeans, a few denim cropped pants, one pair of sneakers, one pair of crocs, boots and some shirts and I’m good to go. Trying to be more simple became so overly complicated.

    I do admire Friends who continue with Quaker Plain, and I love to hear stories of their journeys in this calling. I am still wondering as to why I was lead to dress plainly for three years, and I continue to pray for answers. Maybe one day I will understand. Until then, I am what I am.

    Blessings to all!

    1. Thank you, Mary. You have contributed so much to this discussion. If you have a blog, website, Facebook page, or other place where you post your musings, please feel free to add a URL to the comments here so others can find it.

  3. I have posted a link to this post on my blog http://flappinginthebreeze.wordpress.com/.

    I wanted to comment to something that Mary has offered: I, too, went through a time when I considered myself to be focused more on Plain and spending too much time and money, etc. I also thought it was causing me to stand out…but for me, that was part of the point. For me, to stand apart, to be separate, is to stand out. As a teenager, I often told my mother that I was expressing my individuality–in the jeans and shoes and shirts and eccoutrements that everyone else was wearing. It was only when a friend went into hijab and herself stood separate in her observant dress did I truly understand what expressing yourself meant.

    As to the other, the mind (lower case “m”) will make all kinds of quite logical arguments for what it wants and I personally find it a lifetime’s chore to learn to discern the difference between that voice and the still, small One. Dr. Arnold is correct–it’s such a small thing in eternity, but it can be so challenging.

  4. For me it began with not wearing commercial messages. Then to wearing solid colors, and now to wearing grey shirts with dark blue trousers. It isn’t enough to set me apart as a “plain” Friend but I believe that it opens opportunities for ministry that wouldn’t happen if I dressed differently.

  5. This speaks to many ways of why those who grow up in an environment where plainness is practiced become very sarcastic about it, and not just because they are not following their own spiritual path. Children can see the difference between someone who is practicing humility and someone who is being peculiar for the sake of peculiarity, and when it is one or the other, even if the person practicing plainness, is doing both. The truth, as with the alcoholic, has always been clear to nearly everyone else. I have not had a strong, clear leading to dress plainly since high school. I tried to dress plainly once in high school, feeling that it might help me to lead a more focused path, and was so chastised by my school mates at Olney that I quickly gave in and stopped. They knew I was genuine.They questioned my needing to separate myself from them, and stated, correctly, that I was no more pure. Upon this realization, I could not in good conscience dress plainly and thus separate myself, and I’ve felt that way ever since. I also was closely acquainted with people who had given up plainness because they felt they had left their spiritual paths. I know now, that we never really leave our spiritual paths. I do not feel as sarcastic about plain dressing as I used have during a very long part of my adulthood, but it is true that most of the people who feel led to dress plainly did not come from Friends families; and thus it seems more of a personal novelty to those who did and lived with such women as the one you name. I can picture Elma Mae Hall clearly. I am glad for the people who have clarified for me that for many, it is a true spiritual leading, that has very little to do with the outward display of being pure, with fundamental separatism, or with what other people think.

    1. I grew up plain in a non-plain environment being raised as Friends. After leaving plain dress for a few years, I was lost but tried so hard to fit in. Now that I have been back, thanks to Quaker Jane, and leaving a job that didn’t approve of my “plainness”, I feel more spiritual, and at peace with myself. It’s amazing how strangers will approach me, which allows me to open up spiritually to someone I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so.

  6. I loved this article, thank you! I too wrote about my view of Plain, or how i approach “religious dress” on my blog, so I will link here:

    http://weedragon.wordpress.com/2009/07/25/my-plain-or-how-i-rock-it-for-now-anyway/

    Funny, when I went to my blog to link it, I discovered that my article about dressing Plain is also my top Post! MMM…..there has to be something to that. As a mother of three children, I can tell you that it is a GREAT conscious act and work to find/make clothes for children that do not identify them with the world. With adults, it is a bit simpler…there are all manners of cast offs at thrift stores, and also companies that cater to the wider tastes of adults making their own clothing decisions. But children…forget it. Unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars for quaint archetypal children’s clothing from seamstresses, Italy or even costume companies, the world dictates what children should wear and look like. I feel that I have developed an even deeper sense of “Plain” through dressing my children, and can identify it as a very strong spiritual/religious practice. Making me think that perhaps it is time for a blog entry about “My Plain” for children….

    This may seem slightly off topic, to speak of my children…but the word that I have been craving and looking for in regards to how/why our family dresses the way that it does is HEDGE. I’ve said it and felt it many times…the looks we get in public, the questions “are you homeschoolers” (yes), “are you Christian”? (yes), etc…the hedge definitely separates us from the world around us, giving us an opportunity to share our lives with others. When people in the world are faced with the HEDGE, there is no need for preliminaries….I don’t have to wait for the right moment in a blossoming friendship to let them know that we live/think/believe differently than the norm. That’s already taken care of. We can go straight to the matter. I’ve also found that since taking on a spiritual practice of dress, that people are far more open to hearing what I have to say about God, life, struggles, etc… It doesn’t garuntee that I have anything better to say than anyone else, but it does remind me that in wearing and displaying the HEDGE, I need to keep myself in Him, and not in my own self-centered thinking and ways.

    We don’t look historically Plain…but a family of girls in skirts and scarves, and boys in suspenders, homemade pants and caps turn heads…even when all of us have “boughten” modern clothes, just put together in a “different” way (just a 6 year old boy in suspenders makes people stop in their tracks to stare)….always brings at least ONE comment wherever we go. I’e had older people come to me literally in tears, wanting to touch my children and thank me for “raising them right” (they don’t know anything about how I raise them lol….), or telling me that just to look at my children is bringing them a profound joy. Other times, my kids have behaved just like every other child in a restaurant, and still the waitresses and people around us will comment, “I am so impressed how well behaved your children are”. Really?!?! Cuz I was about to take them to the car!! I’ve realized that part of what people are responding to is the fact that my children (and I) are dressed in a way that does NOT identify with the world. ALthough not historical in style, it is timeless and archetypal…an obvious effort to not identify with the trends and styles of our modern age and world.

    If you think about it, that is what simplicity is entirely…a stripping away of everything that “identifies” and exists purely for its own self contained materialistic pleasure. In this day and age, Plain can occur by never adopting a particular style (although this is totally valid and wonderful), but just by rejecting the worldly “rules” dictated to us by what is in the store. Plain can occur by stripping away everything that identifies us as part of this world and modern culture, and just leaves the person behind. When people comment on my children…I think that they are just not used to seeing CHILDREN. We are so conditioned to seeing the external in this day and age, and don’t think anything of it until something is out of place. Put a pair of suspenders on and you will see what I mean!!!

    Rebecca

  7. I don’t consider “historic”—or however one wishes to term it—Plain to be Quaker Plain. Quakers a hundred years ago weren’t wearing clothing in the style of a hundred years before that (which would have been Jane Austen-era Empire gowns). Their clothing was mid-19th century, which today would put us at around 1960. The idea that historic Plain was set in a specific era instead of simply being a few decades behind the prevailing styles seems to be a fairly recent one (considerably more recent than the advent of Quakerism, at least). Most of us over a certain age have clothes we’ve been wearing since the Eighties because they were style-neutral and we could get away with it, right?

    My approach has been:
    1) Is it simple for me? Can I get dressed in the morning without much consideration? I don’t wear pants by choice (fit issues, not spiritual ones) so I wear dresses, skirts, and blouses. The tops are colored, because I still think life is too short to wear stuff that doesn’t make you happy, but the skirts are black, brown, gray. It all works out to mix-and-match.

    2) Is it easy to get? I don’t want to spend a lot of time tracking down things or special-ordering items of whose fit and quality I cannot be sure. I shop secondhand and I’m lucky enough to be able to sew.

    3) Is it easy to maintain? Dry-clean only is a deal breaker, and I’m not ironing everything I own. I have a lot of knit tops that can be scrunched up and still look OK.

    4) Can I afford it? Much less of an issue when you buy secondhand and not a ton of clothing, even though I don’t have a lot to spend.

    5) Am I comfortable with its origins? Since I buy used, most of what I get, yes, came from sweatshops overseas. Less than ideal, but at least there’s a break in the chain. The other side of this, though, is that while there are lots of good-quality Christian seamstresses, I don’t feel as though I can in good conscience buy from someone whose views on modesty, gender roles, GLBT issues, Biblical interpretation, etc., I cannot support. I wonder what people do, though, who don’t sew?

    6) Am I comfortable with its style? I am, by modern standards, pretty modest by nature. My skirts all cover my knees, I rarely wear tank tops, and nobody has ever seen me in a low neckline. I don’t feel, though, as though I need to have my legs covered to the shin/ankle/instep or my arms to the elbow/mid-forearm/wrist. I am not a flirt or a show-off, I don’t behave in ways that invite disrespectful attention; if other people can’t handle the sight of my neck or lower extremities, they are the ones who need spiritual self-examination, not I. I will not wear clothing made after the styles of other sects. I don’t belong to those other sects, and I think it expresses a lack of faith in Quakerism. Are we so insecure about ourselves that we have to borrow from other traditions? (Anybody watch Dr. Phil? You don’t fix a relationship by going outside of the relationship . . . ) I think that the absence of a fixed Quaker style, after 350 years, is a sign that there shouldn’t be one. That the general practice of wearing sensible clothing until it wears out, regardless of what is new this season, is the Quaker style, and that we should be content with that even if we don’t have a “name brand” on it. I also cannot accept that how we dress is solely between us and God. In the real world, clothing does affect how people respond to us, and I think it flies in the face of our equality and service ideals to think otherwise. I live in an area that does not have a lot of Plain sects, so wearing “historic Plain” clothing would definitely make me stand out and look eccentric. I don’t personally mind looking eccentric but it would be a barrier—a negative one, not a spiritually protective one—in my everyday life. A bonnet and apron would make people uncomfortable or bring me ridicule (annoying, but also, if people are making fun of me, they’re not listening to me), but they are fine with me in a plain skirt and turtleneck, an outfit that costs me almost no effort and is noticed by practically nobody.

  8. So glad to have read your article. My husband was raised in a conservative Mennonite church. I was drawn to the Unitarians. When we married under the care of the Nashville Friends meeting we agreed to dress plain….him in his normal clothes and I would seek to be more modest in mine.
    I love our local meeting! But I would love to meet other plain dressing families. Fellowship for the youth is so important. Would love to hear about other families!!!!

  9. I do think one of the things that can trouble non-Plain Friends about Plain Friends is that Plain Friends can be seen as more “authentic” by outsiders. It certainly isn’t true, and I can completely see how that could be painful and bring out a strong desire to reject the practice. I can imagine that it might be even more painful for some Friends to have to consider themselves in any sort of spiritual fellowship with me. It is hard to hear such opinions and to feel such judgments, but I am always grateful to hear from people who have clearly given such things a great deal of serious thought.

  10. I believe that part of plain dress also could (should) include a consideration of the material. I do not wear anything that is synthetic — not only because I am sensitive to it (swelling, redness, rash), but also because of its origin: petroleum. I only wear natural fabrics.

    A question I have about plain dress is what to do if one wants to enjoy a swimming pool, hot springs or some such — & the place’s norm for a “bathing suit” (especially for women) is less than modest, less than plain. I recently was in a situation that I had to fight for my right to use a facility, using clothing that fit my religious-based mode of dress.

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