A guest piece by “David,” originally posted on the Plain and Modest Dress Yahoo Group.
From: “mquadd” <mquadd@y…>
Date: Wed Jul 21, 2004
Subject: Introduction and questions
Hi. My name is David and I attend but am not a member of the Friends Meeting here. I was actually raised as an Episcopalian although I had several uncles who were birth-right Quakers. I grew up (for my first 10 years) in Chester County, PA which traditionally was an area with a high concentration of Quakers. I would expect that this is no longer true as the area has become quite suburban with a big influx of new residents. Nonetheless, I grew up attending meeting now and then with relatives at various meetings in Chester County and northern Deleware. That was in the 1960s and was a time when some people, mostly older people (people most likely born in the 1800s meaning these people were in their 70s or 80s in the 1960s), still used plain talk. Even in the 1960s, in a fairly rural area, this was more of an excepting than the rule and was limited to the oldest members of the meeting and never used outside the Quaker community. Those who used plain talk never used it outside of the Quaker community – home, Friends, and meeting. As far as I know, they never used this type of talk for business or relations or outside the community.
At age 10 we moved to Lancaster County. At that time, many Memmonites who now no longer dress plain or wear coverings did still did both of these. I went to school with many Mennonite kids. In addition I became friends with several Old Order Amish families (and one Beachy family) with whom I am still friends. That was 35 years ago, I have witnessed the plain testimony weaken in each of these groups including the Old Order Amish. I actually spent much of my childhood and teenage years hanging out with one paticular Old Order Amish family as way to escape the insanity of having drug addicted and alcoholic parents. In their very simple and unstated Christianity, they were very willing to provide food, shelter, and love to a very confused boy (me).
Anyway, the Lancaster Conference Mennonites (now part of the largest Mennonite group) seem to be totally mainstream. Perhaps there are some who still follow the former order. The Beachy Amish now dress like conservative Mennonites and less and less like Amish. Finally, I was watched the Amish allow lots of modern changes in their discipline although their basic clothing is pretty much unchanged but sun glasses are now allowed and many Amish girls and women pluck their eyebrows – both not allowed in the 1970s. By the way, in the late 1960s they had already adopted cotton-poly blends for both clothing and quilts!
The reason for that, perhaps odd, biographical sketch is to give some background on my exposure to plain groups and, more importantly, plain thought. I have toyed with the idea of plain dressing although I can’t give a clear reason why I feel this. Is it a calling or am I just crazy? I do know that the stability I found in that Amish house in the 1970s most likely had a giant influence on me (a happy Amish family where I had fun vs. living in a family that was in the self-distruct mode due to addiction). I also I have clear memories of having Quaker teachers in elemently school and vanity and worldliness was a bad thing. It was during the height of the Viet Nam war, so there was this odd hippy-Quaker thing going on with some of my teachers. I am sure some of you who were around the RSF in the 1960s can relate. So here I am still toying with these ideas and still attempting to define my own religious feelings at the middle of my life (I am 45).
Here are a few things I do know that apply to me. First, I feel very at odds with our society that focuses on the most superfical things. Our society spends BILLIONS on make-up, hair dye, plastic surgery, breast inplants, push-up bras, designer clothes (that are no different that basic clothes except the label and might even be of lower quality)…. People are judged on the these issues. Character and morality (a loaded term that seems to have been highjacked by the rightwing and ultraconservatives)seems to be secondary to these very superficial things. What we tell ourselves and our children is that we are not adequate as we are. We have to change our body and then drape it was overly priced clothes to count. The outside is more important that the inside. This is sick. It is distructive. It is a sin.
Beyond that, my feelings about plain dressing get less clear. Is a uniform what I am seeking? Those groups who were very uniform clothing tend to be insular and often attact as much attention to themselves as a belly shirt and designer jeans! If you doubt this, go to Lancaster County and attempt to drive on Rt. 340. The attraction that the plain people attract in that area rivals any movie star or rock concert. Lancaster gets literally millions of tourists each year. So is that type of uniform dressing that is quite distinct serving a good purpose? I am not sure but am just offering a question rather than a judgement. Other groups that dress quite plain such as ultra-orthodox Jews are not so much a tourist attraction but clearly are insular and seperate from the larger society. Many people view this as being “stand off-ish” which I hope is nobody’s goal. I have heard people apply this type of judgement to plain christian groups also.
So, I would be very interested in hearing what drives others to dress plain? If you are a Quaker, what has been the reaction at your meeting? I once met a plain dressing Quaker who said that he had received more negative than positive reactions when visiting other meetings. Are there any meetings where all or most members dress plain? In my childhood experiences, there was no plain dressing in any Quaker meetings in Chester County or in Deleware. I have not even run into anyone who uses plain language for over 30 years except that one plain dressing man. Clearly, I know no Quakers who have been raised with the idea of plain dressing or plain language including some of my cousins who are worldly to say the least. What makes plain. I know of “black bumper Mennonites” who drive a black bumper Mercedes. Is that plain? Why is a Volvo often considered ok but a BMW is bad? They both cost $40K. Often I see this type of thinking in those who claim to follow a less than worldly life style. I think there is always a risk of falling into the mindset of some labels being good and others being bad. Once a particular brand, say a type of hat or type of jeans, is thought to be the proper “plain uniform” does that not become the designed clothing of the plain dressers? I am not sure. What I find is that once you jump into this topic, it becomes complicated and that is not the point.
One final question, what benefits do you recieve from plain dressing?