On Dressing Plain
A guest piece from Rob of “Consider the Lillies”:http://consider-the-lilies.blogspot.com/
Rob describes himself: “I’m a twenty-something gay Mid-western expatriate living in Boston. I was inspired to begin a blog based on the writings of other urban Quaker bloggers as they reflect and discuss their inward faith and outward experiences. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m usually with my friends, traveling about, and/or generally making an arse of myself.”
As of late, I’ve been led to consider my outward appearance and how I choose to dress. Without elaborating on that leading in this posting (perhaps later), I have given much thought to clothing and dress generally. How we dress communicates a great deal to others about ourselves—whether or not it’s our intention.
The vain among us put a great deal of emphasis on our clothes and obsess about what it may say to others about our physical or social traits: “Am I hot, or am I not? Do I look smart with these glasses? Do these pants make my butt look big?” The secretly vain (perhaps everyone else) tend to avoid the topic lest they might have to inwardly admit that they are in the former category. Even if we tell ourselves that we don’t mean to communicate much of anything by our attire, it’s certainly true that others understand our clothes to be saying something about us. Let us begin the conversation there to avoid determining whether we are outright vain or just secretly vain.
Clothing communicates many things about us including perceptions of age, sex, class, and wealth. Clothing can stereotype us as urban or rural; cool or uncool (a subjective measure, of course); hip or hopelessly out of fashion. Some examples: when I wear my best suit to work, I sense that I get a higher level of respect than when I dress more casually. When I go out for a night on the town, I pick my “New York” shoes to convey a certain cosmopolitan image. Also, when I wear my coat collar standing up, it says something different than when I wear my collar flat. In what instances do you dress differently to emphasize a different part of yourself?
On evenings and weekends, I tend to wear the same clothes: a logo-free long-sleeve shirt, corduroy pants and a pair of retro-like sneakers. I do it because it’s comfortable and it’s easy; I always know what to wear, and I get to avoid the dreaded deed of shopping—something I really dislike. (It also means that I do laundry more often!)
Even though I tend to wear that same set of clothes outside of work, that decision says more than that I simply don’t care that my clothes are always the same. The outfit communicates a great deal more: One is just as likely to see a man wearing cords, retro sneakers and a logo-free long-sleeve shirt as one is a woman. Perhaps my clothes communicate androgyny. Maybe they say that I’m an urban dweller—a little bit of a hipster, but not too much. Perhaps they say that I’m cheap. Whatever they communicate, I think it’s fair to say that they say something to others. Once I admit that my clothes indeed say something, I can get past my discomfort (I must be secretly vain) and talk about it openly. Who is the person that I’m called to be and how am I outwardly led to embody those qualities? Through actions, yes, but through dress?
Plain dress, while a statement in and of itself, communicates faith, commitment to that faith, and Otherness. It set a person apart differently than other forms of dress. When prompted by an inner spiritual leading, plain dress isn’t simply the other side of the “cool coin.” It doesn’t vary by day or circumstance, and to some, plain dress is rather ugly. However, plain dress stands for something much different than a rejection of our cultural ideals of beauty and virility. It is an embrace of one’s inner spirit and making that spirit and that faith an outward symbol.
To me, plain dress would serve as a daily reminder of a commitment to lead a more Christian and Quaker life. If I were to dress plain, I would have to sacrifice my coolness (for lack of a better word) and wear plain, and rather unexciting clothes. I wouldn’t have the luxury of dressing for different audiences and circumstances depending on my motivations. In essence, I would outwardly communicate that I am a Quaker first, a person living each moment in the spirit and in the Light, and everything else second. Plain dress would serve as a reminder to me and others that I aspire to live toward God and in the footsteps of Jesus in all places, at all times, and in every circumstance.
What an empowering thought! It is a tremendous leading for anyone to hear and one worth seeking greater discernment.
This piece originally appeared on the “Consider the Lillies” blog on Second Month 15 as the post “On Dressing Plain”:http://consider-the-lilies.blogspot.com/2005/02/on-dressing-plain.html.
*See also:* “Quaker plain dress resources”:http://www.nonviolence.org/Quaker/plain_dress.php, a collection of contemporary stories and links on plain dress.