Avoiding Plain Dress Designer Clothing

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?
Thanks. David

  • That was my con­cern with strict, plain dress. It takes away from the whole sim­plic­i­ty tes­ti­mo­ny, I think, and is not mod­est, because it draws atten­tion to you. Ortho­dox women I know believe that, that if they wear a snood instead of a wig, it is not mod­est if they go out of their neigh­bor­hood, because the snood draws atten­tion — and that is not mod­est.
    Plain dress is good for its sim­plic­i­ty, but once, I think, it gets so out­ra­geous you get stares, you may have gone to far.
    It’s some­thing I’m still think­ing about.

  • bo bo

    you should realy think about putting pic­tures on your web site!!!!!! >:-/

    • Verymer­ry­marie

      I dress plain, very plain. I have nev­er been the focus of atten­tion because I dress plain­ly in a way that fits in. Exam­ble: Dur­ing the cold win­ter I wear sim­ple tai­lored long sleeved dress­es in a wool blend of a sol­id col­or, slight­ly below the calf, with black tights and flat well kept loafers or pumps, with no bling of any kind. I work in a law office. My hair is always pulled back into a neat bun, and I do wear col­or­less lip gloss and keep my brows neat. Good groom­ing is not counter to plain­ess. In the warmer weath­er I wear sol­id col­or shifts with a gauzy elbow lenth t shirt under­neath or a sol­id col­or very plain shift type dress with quar­ter length sleeves in a sum­mer fab­ric that has a bit of integri­ty. One does not have to go about in flour sack type prairie dress­es to be plain. All of my dress­es have invis­i­ble zip­pers. I do not use but­tons in any form as I like to hon­or those who are gone and eschewed but­tons as at that time they were usu­al­ly expen­sive and dec­o­ra­tive. I also don’t loose a minute of this good life over miss­ing but­tons.
      Being plain has been noticed, but very rar­i­ly. It usu­al­ly takes the form of being asked why I don’t wear a wed­ding ring, even though I am mar­ried. I can explain in two small sentinces and every­one gets it.
      When one is not con­cerned about pick­ing out cloth­ing from the exces­sive pletho­ra of most­ly idi­ot­ic and vul­gar design, one has a lot more time for issues that are of use­ful impor­tance, such as fundrais­ing for wor­thy caus­es, which is my case, and being on use­ful com­mit­tees. Dig­ni­ty is anoth­er nice ben­e­fit of dress­ing plain­ly, along with respect. 

  • Isabel Pen­raeth

    In response to Ann Marie’s post above:
    I am a plain-dressing Quak­er. I wear the full regalia: dress, ker­chief, cap, bon­net, and I wear it because I believe God has asked me to, for what rea­son I real­ly can­not ven­ture, but not, I think, because it is sim­ple or because it is mod­est, though in my expe­ri­ence it is both.
    The entry con­fused me because it offers first that plain dress “takes away” from the “whole sim­plic­i­ty tes­ti­mo­ny.” And then it states that it is “good for its sim­plic­i­ty.” I think it is fair­ly obvi­ous that plain dress is con­sid­er­ably sim­pler than fash­ion­able dress. And I also believe quite firm­ly that it is mod­est.
    If by “immod­est” one can mean “attract unwant­ed atten­tion,” I haven’t expe­ri­enced that. Women are usu­al­ly polite­ly curi­ous, and make all sorts of flat­ter­ing assump­tions about my quilt­ing and bak­ing skills, and it is only women I am approached by in pub­lic. The only thing I have found with men in pub­lic is that they are fair­ly like­ly to open doors for me, but they keep a respect­ful dis­tance and do not engage me in con­ver­sa­tion. The only time I ever felt uncom­fort­able was when an Amish man stared at me, and stared at me hard. I think he stared because he was try­ing to fig­ure out what I was … obvi­ous­ly not Amish, but obvi­ous­ly plain.
    If by immod­est one means “try­ing to attract the sex­u­al atten­tion of the male sex” (who has ever described a man as immod­est?), which I think is the most applic­a­ble def­i­n­i­tion of the word in this sit­u­a­tion, I can say plain dress is not even sex­u­al­ly attrac­tive to (most) men, much less sexy. I don’t think sim­ply attract­ing atten­tion can be described accu­rate­ly with the word “immod­est,” though I am aware that this is the basis of Ortho­dox women wear­ing wigs rather than some oth­er sort of cov­er­ing. If we fol­low the log­ic that attract­ing atten­tion is immod­est, then women speak­ing in pub­lic becomes immod­est as does sim­ply being par­tic­u­lar­ly beau­ti­ful or par­tic­u­lar­ly ugly. This is the log­ic, I think, that leads to burqas …
    Plain dress does attract atten­tion, but it is also a pow­er­ful form of Quak­er wit­ness, and a silent one at that. I think it is for this wit­ness­ing that God has asked me to plain dress, but I don’t require a rea­son, as long as I am being obe­di­ent to God’s will.
    My only prob­lem with some­one wear­ing plain dress would be if it became an “emp­ty form” which was not based on a lead­ing from God, if it were not an expres­sion of Truth. How to test that is the chal­lenge, as test­ing all lead­ings is a chal­lenge.

  • Kel­ly

    I came from a typ­i­cal Amer­i­can back­ground. Reli­gion was nev­er stressed in my house­hold grow­ing up. Although both sets of my grand­par­ents were both very involved in their church’s. One of my grandpa’s is a Bap­tist preach­er. I took it upon myself to seek the word of God and have been doing so since I was about twelve. My extend­ed fam­i­ly all live in Ohio near Holmes Coun­ty so I was exposed to the Amish and Men­non­ite way of liv­ing while I vis­it­ed dur­ing the sum­mers. I was intrigued and read as much as I could on their beliefs and prac­tices. I have always won­dered what exact­ly should be appro­pri­ate dress for peo­ple who are Chris­tians. It seems that most church­es of var­i­ous denom­i­na­tions con­cen­trate on many things that affect the soul and preach about how mod­est Chris­tians should con­duct them­selves, but in the area of dress, it seems that peo­ple are not inter­est­ed. Yet, many peo­ple com­plain about the lack of respect­ful cloth­ing is being made pop­u­lar and avail­able to adults as well as chil­dren. I believe that the way peo­ple dress is a direct reflec­tion on thi­er val­ues just as the eyes are the win­dow to the soul. I am com­fort­ed to find oth­ers that are con­cerned and are at least look­ing for answeres.

  • H. Sid­diqui

    I am inter­est­ed to learn more about Beach Amish peo­ple. Can any­one help me locate their church with an address or a phone num­ber in Philadelphia/Lancaster area?
    Thanks.
    Sid­diqui

  • Petey

    Hey Mar­tin — it’s Petey from FGC. I have an inter­est­ing insight on this top­ic, being that I work for a major cloth­ing retai­lor which I can­not name. If we spend so much time try­ing to dress sim­ply, is it real­ly sim­ple any more, or is it just as com­pli­cat­ed as before?
    Sim­plic­i­ty, in my mind is a com­pre­hen­sive thing — I don’t dress flashy because that’s not quak­er style, but I also don’t go around spend­ing a lot of time look­ing for the cheap­est clothes pos­si­ble, when I know my time, as a resource could be put to bet­ter use else­where besides decid­ing what I need to wear. In the process I may end up buy­ing some ques­tion­able clothes — not know­ing­ly, but still…
    with the time I’ve gained by not thin­ing so much about one aspect of how to live sim­ple I’ve gained time to focus on oth­er aspects, and live a more bal­ac­ned life — a life that focuss not so much on what i’m wear­ing, but what I can do for oth­er peo­ple.
    I work with clothes all the time, I don’t mind shop­ping — it can be fun to see new clothes, but if I spend so much time think­ing about what I’m going to wear I start to feel self-centered and that isn’t the kind of cen­tered that I like to feel. Just my two thoughts.

  • Hi Petey, Good to hear from you, thanks for post­ing. I liked what you said about feel­ing self-centered when you spend too much time think­ing about what to wear. I total­ly relate to that. But you know, plain dress­ing doesn’t need to be com­pli­cat­ed. I spend a lot less time shop­ping for cloth­ing than I did before I start­ed plain dress­ing. It’s not about focus­ing on your­self, it’s about get­ting off your­self. It’s not ask­ing what you want to wear but on what God might want you to wear. How do you adorn the cre­ation and pay trib­ute to the cre­ator?
    We shouldn’t choose plain clothes to try to impress any­one, but we then we prob­a­bly shouldn’t choose world­ly clothes try­ing to impress any­one. How many of the prod­ucts of the major cloth­ing retail­er you work for are real­ly prac­ti­cal, sim­ple, mod­est and affirm that one’s worth is not based on one’s out­side appear­ance? (I know it’s just a job, but still, the cur­rent fashion/clothing industry’s overzeal­ous­ness is one of the best sec­u­lar ratio­nales for con­tem­po­rary plain dress I know of.

  • hairspray_queen

    yeah.…this is a weird web­site and I am kind of freaked out at the moment. Why are you guys pre­tend­ing to be Quak­ers! Ok…so bye

  • It’s not ask­ing what you want to wear but on what God might want you to wear. How do you adorn the cre­ation and pay trib­ute to the cre­ator?
    Mar­tin, I’ve tak­en a few steps towards plain dress, and am con­sid­er­ing fur­ther ones, but I must say this rubbed me the wrong way. I think you are right to put the focus on what God would have us wear, and seek­ing to hon­or him/her in our cloth­ing, but it sounds like you’re sug­ge­set­ing that non-plain dress doesn’t do that. I think gen­er­al­ly, it doesn’t, but I do know of sev­er­al peo­ple who put a lot of ener­gy into their cloth­ing, not (it doesn’t seem) as a vain exer­cise, and wear the most fan­tas­tic, col­or­ful, fun out­fits that make almost every­one they pass smile. Peo­ple like that seem to be adorn­ing cre­ation and pay­ing trib­ute to God at least as much as plain dressers are.

  • Hi Zach,
    Well sure, plain dress isn’t a par­tic­u­lar style, col­or, etc. It’s a atti­tude toward cloth­ing. I have cer­tain­ly worn a lot of sil­ly out­fits in my day and think that was cer­tain­ly an ear­ly man­i­fes­ta­tion of my cur­rent gray-flavored style. The cur­rent form of my plain­ness is influ­enced by hav­ing tak­en on the yoke of being a pub­lic Friend and a Friend who is at easy wrestling with our faith tra­di­tion (as Lloyd Lee Wil­son describes in his new book).

  • Robin M.

    For me, the point is that I nei­ther need to hide nor fur­ther adorn the beau­ty with which God made me. Clothes should be for warmth and health and prac­ti­cal­i­ty. This is a sim­ple stan­dard for me.

  • Diann Her­zog

    Hi Mar­tin,
    I met you and [Julie] at FGC in LLW’s work­shop. I have been liv­ing in plain dress for a lit­tle over a year, and I have lots of obser­va­tions to share. For me, it was a three year lead­ing that I final­ly could no longer deny. It has been quite a jour­ney. I am in the process of writ­ing about it now, and will be in touch soon. Bless­ings to all.
    Diann

  • Pam

    Hi
    I’m new here. I have been sort of surf­ing around look­ing for a dis­cus­sion of “plain dress” and, while there’s a lot here, havent’ real­ly found what I want­ed to. David seems to have asked some­thing like the ques­tion I want­ed to ask, but it does­nt’ seem to have elicit­ed answers as I would have hoped.
    I find myself drawn to plain dress from a dif­fer­ent angle than I per­ceive from most. I have no inter­est in mod­esty and would con­sid­er nudi­ty as an inter­est­ing form of “sim­ple dress”.
    As a les­bian and a trans ally and a woman who most often buys from the men’s depart­ment, I also have con­cerns about the gen­dered impli­ca­tions of plain dress as it seems most often espoused.
    That said, I have con­cerns about fair trade issues -which loom large in most cloth­ing deci­sions. I believe in not giv­ing pow­er to “labels” and cringe and the fash­ion and expense (as well as the waste and exploita­tion) of Hil­figer, Aber­crom­bie, etc.
    Ann Marie’s con­cern about “mod­esty” res­onates with me. Plain dress ini­tial­ly was sim­ply a sim­pler ver­sion of the going style (was it not? I am not versed in this) — I tend to think the mod­ern equiv­a­lent would be no-name jeans & t-shirts, not bon­nets & such.
    Mod­ern plain dress seems to involve a LOT of thought about what one wears (though I admire the idea of hav­ing only a few sets of clothes, and nev­er hav­i­gng to “choose what to wear” in the morn­ing)  — evi­denced to me by the exis­tence of web­sites and yahoo groups about the top­ic.
    I wor­ry that it involves a sense of see­ing one­self as “bet­ter than”, and also a sort of van­i­ty
    To me I believe it would be an “emp­ty form” — Maybe that is my prob­lem — so that I have trou­ble see­ing the lead­ing that lies behind it for oth­ers.
    So, I guess my ques­tions are:
     — It has been men­tioned that it is a form of “wit­ness” — what does this mean? “look­ing quak­er”? — Is there a hope that peo­ple will ask us about it? will learn some­thing from see­ing us dressed dif­fer­ent­ly? Behind this lies the assump­tion that draw­ing atten­tion to our­selves is a “good” — some­thing that seems in con­flict with “mod­esty”. The assump­tion is that it’s not about that per­son “think­ing we’re cool” — what, then, is it about?
     — What oth­er con­cerns go into it? I dress pret­ty much exclu­sive­ly from thrift stores, there­by bypass­ing con­cerns about exploit­ed labor (except the work­ers at the thrift stores), resource use, etc. This is impor­tant to me. I would be reluc­tant to buy new clothes, or even fab­ric, because of these con­cerns.
     — The sim­plic­i­ty of it is what real­ly appeals to me — the vision of hav­ing 3 or 4 out­fits in my clos­et and wear­ing the same thing every day. I real­ly like col­ors, and I some­what like shop­ping. I am reluc­tant to give up either (and with col­or, I feel no indi­ca­tion that God does­nt’ like col­or as much as I do. I doubt I would ever feel led to give it up!) (I dont’ know that that’s a ques­tion!)
     — So, can any­one give a short list of what the “ben­e­fits” have been? How has it changed your world­view? your life? what does the lead­ing feel like, and what does it con­sist of?
     — MINISTRY — that word keeps com­ing back to me. It seems that numer­ous folks think it is a “pow­er­ful min­istry” — and the sense of what that means eludes me almost com­plete­ly. What are you say­ing through plain dress? (or what do you hope you’re say­ing?) My first thought was that it would set you apart as a paci­fist (are all plain-dressers paci­fists? it seems so to me right now) in a time of war, but so would a t-shirt or bumper stick­ers. I am real­ly yearn­ing to under­stand this point. Maybe it’s sim­ply about wait­ing, but if any­one has any­thing they could share, I would be grate­ful.

  • Heather

    I live near a large Men­non­ite com­mu­ni­ty in Okla­homa, and fre­quent­ly see a type of plain-dressers (Men­non­ite or oth­er) at our local Wal-Mart. The ladies wear long den­im skirts with ten­nis shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and have long hair drawn up in a bun — younger girls wear their hair down. I can’t recall the men — maybe they don’t stand out as much, or don’t do the shop­ping! But as for these plain­ly dressed women and their daugh­ters, they are Prac­ti­cal (den­im, ten­nis shoes), Mod­est (long skirts, dis­re­gard for ‘fash­ion’), and Fem­i­nine (long hair, skirts). Nei­ther do they wear jew­el­ry, bar­rettes, braids, nor (I think) make­up. This is the plain dress that I admire, for its mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ty above all else. The online prairie dress­es and old-style boots are very expen­sive. I am per­son­al­ly drawn to mod­est, fem­i­nine, prac­ti­cal cloth­ing for how it encour­ages me to con­duct myself. To me, it’s not so much about look­ing dif­fer­ent as it is shame­less­ly liv­ing by those ideals.

  • Katrin

    I’m not even a Chris­t­ian, but nev­erth­less, I’ve tak­en inter­est to plain dress (which no one in my coun­try real­ly prac­tices). My wardrobe already looks quite plain, and I’m plan­ning to go fur­ther still. I’ve been think­ing these mat­ters a lot and am shar­ing my thoughts in hopes that you will find them help­ful.
    Most impor­tant things in plain­ness to me are free­dom and peace of mind . A “nor­mal” mod­ern way is to think exces­sive­ly of one’s out­ward appear­ance. When one makes a con­scious rea­son not to care of all the things that media tells her to care of, it will soon become obvi­ous that she has great resources to redi­rect to some bet­ter activ­i­ty. When I think of how I look, my thoughts are dis­tract­ed. Plain­ness means to me free­ing myself of need to think my appear­ance exces­sive­ly.
    I agree with those who say that out­ward appear­ance reflects what is inside. What we wear is always a mes­sage that we send to oth­ers, and it always effects in some way on how we are eval­u­at­ed. Today’s fash­ion empha­sizes sex­u­al­i­ty, “bold­ness” and finan­cial suc­cess. All these are things that I oppose. Instead, I wish my dress to pro­claim that my val­ues are dif­fer­ent: dig­ni­ty, love for wis­dom, self-respect and impor­tance of inner beau­ty. It has become very clear to me, that if I wish to express these qual­i­ties, I must go plain­er.
    I don’t believe that we can approach this ques­tions by mak­ing lists of “good” and “bad” clothes. The mat­ter is just not that sim­ple. Instead, I believe that we are bet­ter off if we ask our­selves when mak­ing deci­sions “Does this piece of cloth­ing reflect the val­ues that I want to pro­mote in my life?” “Does wear­ing this gar­ment sup­port or dis­tract me in my effort to became a bet­ter per­son?”. When we put ques­tions this way, we see that the real issue isn’t whether we should buy a Vol­vo or BMW. If motive for our want­i­ng an expen­sive car is, that such a car is nec­es­sary in per­form­ing our duties and it isn’t con­flict­ing our val­ues, then it’s all ok to buy a good, expen­sive car. But, if we could real­ly do with a less flam­boy­ant car -that is, if our true moti­va­tion for want­i­ng an expen­sive car isn’t need but our love of lux­u­ry or pride- then our buy­ing that car isn’t good.
    So, what’s plain dress­ing to me at the moment.
    -Style: A mod­est style that doesn’t draw atten­tion to my body or doesn’t appear as sex­u­al is what I’m after.
    -Col­or: Bright col­ors and pat­terns draw attention- that of oth­ers nat­u­ral­ly, but I have also noticed that I’m more aware of my appear­ance if I wear bright col­ors. So, my wardrobe con­sists main­ly of whites, blacks, browns and grays.
    -Prac­ti­cal­i­ty: Prac­ti­cal­i­ty means, that I seek to ful­fill my cloth­ing needs sim­ply and buy­ing new clothes when I real­ly need them, not just because fash­ion has changed. So far I’ve bought all my cloth­ing, but I’m plan­ning to learn to sew.
    -Qual­i­ty: If a piece of cloth­ing fits to my oth­er stan­dards and is a qual­i­ty item, I may buy it. I don’t admire cheap stuff that is bad­ly made from fab­rics that don’t last. I try to be a con­sid­er­ing shop­per and buy clothes that have such qual­i­ty that I can expect to wear them a long time.
    -Sim­plic­i­ty: I find that besides col­ors, also pat­terns, cuts and orna­ments can make a cloth not suit­able for my needs. Also exces­sive use of jew­el­ry goes in here. I appre­ci­ate beau­ty and have no objec­tion for wear­ing jew­el­ry in general- but I’m against “fash­ion jew­el­ry”- jew­el­ry that is meant for dec­o­ra­tion only and has no “mean­ing” besides giv­ing tem­po­rary plea­sure to wear­er.
    I wear my hair long and bunned- also because sim­plic­i­ty. A long hair needs less car­ing than a short hair, and a bun is neat and sim­ple style, that doesn’t con­form with beau­ty stan­dards made by salon indus­try.

  • I won­der, has any­one expressed the thought that a more gen­uine trans­la­tion of tra­di­tion­al Quak­er “plain dress” might be cheap and ser­vice­able ordi­nary clothes from the local thrift shop? I’ve been get­ting most of my clothes that way since, well, since my Jew­ish Dad first took me to the Good­will as a lit­tle tyke. It nev­er would have occurred me to call it “plain dress.” For the past cou­ple years I’ve been shav­ing my head in the bath­room with a bar­ber clip­per and a 3/4-inch attach­ment. My rea­son­ing was, I don’t want to pay for hair­cuts or sham­poo any more. I’m cheap and lazy.
    My tes­ti­mo­ny is, cheap and lazy deserves more respect than it gets.

  • Matt Bow­er­man

    I have won­dered about plain dress for years now. I am return­ing to the Quak­er way of life, as it is a fam­i­ly faith going back to Barn­sta­ble, MA in 1623 for us Bowermans/Bourmans. I have found the com­ments on this page to be very help­ful.
    God Bless you all,
    Matthew Bow­er­man

  • Karen

    Hel­lo!
    I’ve been slow­ly mov­ing toward plain/modest dress for awhile now, although i’ve nev­er been par­tic­u­lary flashy (i.e., I’ve nev­er worn skirts above the knee or any­thing low cut). I’m a Chris­t­ian but not offi­cial­ly Quak­er, large­ly because there are no groups close by. I attend the Methodist church I was raised attend­ing. I love its open-minded, accept­ing, peace-loving struc­ture of beliefs.
    That said, I feel drawn to Plain Dress for a rea­son I’d like an opin­ion on. Because of my spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, I see it as a way to retreat from an ever more aggres­sive, intrud­ing world. I’m mar­ried and i am not a prude with my hus­band, but late­ly I feel like he’s the only per­son who should see my legs or oth­er parts of me. Also, I feel so out of touch with so much around me that I feel like I want to put a bar­ri­er between my body and the world. I’m drawn toward wear­ing sim­ple, floor-length skirts and dress­es, plain blous­es that cov­er my elbows.
    Does any­one have feed­back, ever felt some­thing sim­i­lar, have any rec­om­men­da­tions for tran­si­tion­ing to so modest/plain a style? FWIW, I am a tech­ni­cal writer who lives and works in Cal­i­for­nia. The peo­ple I work with will accept me no mat­ter what, but most will not “get it.”
    Thanks in advance,
    Karen

  • Dave L

    I am a Plain Quak­er. It sems to me that too many are wor­ried about the “appear­ance” of being “plain” on the out­side to show the world how much you abhor the greed and excess. Take more time to look inside, and be a plain per­son from the inside out. Don’t wor­ry about how you look, but lead by exam­ple about how you live.

  • Bri­an

    It seems to me that a lot of peo­ple are mis­un­der­stand­ing the lead­ings of oth­ers. The deci­sion for an indi­vid­ual to dress plain­ly, in this con­text, is not entire­ly theirs. Many of the com­ments express con­cern that those wear­ing plain dress are over­ly con­cerned with out­ward appear­ance. Tak­ing a few hours to pick 3 out­fits to be worn until they can no longer be worn is indeed a good way to save time that might oth­er­wise have been spent shop­ping over the years. What’s more, the few hours tak­en to pick out those 3 out­fits leaves plen­ty of time for inner plain­ness. In ear­ly Quak­er prac­tice some cloth­ing was seen as an encum­brance. Today, a Quak­er is respon­si­ble for choos­ing his/her cloth­ing with spir­i­tu­al guid­ance based on the things that they expe­ri­ence as being encum­brances in their lives. This will free an indi­vid­ual to become more spir­i­tu­al­ly con­nect­ed and allow them to bet­ter lead by exam­ple.

  • Steve Nabazas

    I have lived my life in a sec­u­lar envi­ron­ment. My best friend passed away last year. He was against mate­ri­al­ism. It was his per­son­al philosopy, not tied to a reli­gion. He believed in God. He had been ill for years. He was too proud to take aid. In his final years he died in pover­ty and home­less.
    For years I have nei­ther worn a belt and rarely a tie. It was the way I was most com­fort­able dress­ing.
    Recent­ly I decid­ed it made no sense to buy pants with belt loops. The only place I could find the style I want­ed was re-enactment com­mu­ni­ty and peo­ple that dressed plain.
    After liv­ing with and work­ing with the home­less and recent events in world events I am tak­ing a paci­fist lean­ing in my thoughts. I am a bit shocked that peo­ple have no prob­lem buy­ing from com­pa­nies they know use child labor or slave labor for the sake of fash­ion.
    I believe fam­i­ly busi­ness and cot­tage indus­try is more hon­est and vir­tu­ous form of busi­ness struc­ture. Cor­po­rate struc­tures think noth­ing of putting peo­ple in harms way or mak­ing deci­sions that they know will harm chil­dren and seniors.
    In my search for cloth­ing that suit­ed my tastes I real­ized that even though I could get cloth­ing that suit­ed my needs from re-enactors I did not wish to glo­ri­fy wars. Past or present. I have been drawn more and more to those that dress plain. This does some­times draw atten­tion to myself. I am not real­ly com­fort­able with this. So yes, plain dress can draw as much atten­tion to a per­son as dress that is not mod­est. I think dress­ing out­side of any of society’s “norms” what­ev­er they may be will bring the risk of atten­tion. It may or may not be want­ed. I think that is the key. Is the style of dress reflect­ing a love of God and your fel­low man?
    I am not try­ing to be plain, Amish, Men­non­ite, Quak­er, Shak­er or any­thing else. I am try­ing to be me. I have found these clothes wear well, seem good for most occa­sions, are com­fort­able, and make a state­ment of MY per­son­al beliefs. I know an adult made them and was paid a fair com­pen­sa­tion and paid tax­es into his or her com­mu­ni­ty and sup­port­ed the youth of their com­mu­ni­ty.
    In study­ing the ways of these groups I have learned vol­umes. They are not plain and sim­ple. The tech­nol­o­gy is sophis­ti­cat­ed and inge­nious. It serves a pur­pose and is in gen­er­al in bal­ance with nature and soci­ety.
    I always try not to wear all plain clothes because I am not of that com­mu­ni­ty. If I wear a few select­ed items I feel I am mak­ing a state­ment of thanks. It is a salute to them and the con­tri­bu­tion they make to our com­mu­ni­ty and our con­science. To wear all plain cloth­ing I feel I may offend some­one I admire very much. I don’t wish to do that or make them think I am mock­ing them.
    More and more I am slow­ly learn­ing to make and repair my own. I am becom­ing more self suf­fi­cient by a study of these meth­ods. If we rely more on our­selves and our com­mu­ni­ty there is less chance of con­flict. Espe­cial­ly when we enter into trade with cul­tures that are dif­fer­ent than ours that are hard to under­stand.
    Pos­si­bly I am just grow­ing old­er. When I see young men and women in the lat­est fash­ions fol­lowed by men and women that dress plain, some­how the lat­ter group looks much bet­ter. It is bet­ter to car­ry your rich­es in your heart than on your cloth­ing.
    With respect
    Steve Nabazas

  • Rebekah Wal­ton

    I would love to wear plain long dress­es. And I under­stand the impor­tance of being mod­est. I try to be mod­est wear­ing the longest skirts I have with me to church. They are not ankle length but they are not too short like those fan­cy skirts most kids wear now.They are about kneel length. Do you know wear I could get some dresss­es or skirts that are about to my feet? rebekah_28@hotmail.com

  • The Revd. oon­agh Ryan-King

    I have, I think, THE MOST respect for Quak­ers and Men­non­ites because of their social jus­tice work. We lived in the Repub­lic of Pana­ma for three years and AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, I will NEVER, EVER live any­place with­out Quak­ers, Men­non­ites, Jesuits, and with­out a gay bar clos­er than 4.5 hours!

    And I can­NOT wrap my brain around a social jus­tice per­son shop­ping at Wal-Mart. I know, I HAVE been known to actu­al­ly SHOP at a WM but ONLY because of some­thing that was a neces­si­ty and I had burned up more than 1/2 tank of gas search­ing for par­tic­u­lar item. I even have a tshirt dress that says, “As a Xan, I oppose the labor prac­tices of W-M; I am here today because I could find it nowhere else and it is impor­tant that I get this item NOW.” Like when some­thing plumb­ing wise breaks at 3AM and WM’s the only thing open and the bath­room and house are going to flood.… or the grand­ba­by has a fever and a tepid sponge­bath won’t keep it down and it’s not high enough to go to the doc­tor and the clos­est 24 What­ev­er RX is ten miles away and WM is 4 min­utes.

    I am not a Quak­er ONLY because I love litur­gy. And now we’re back in the US and in MS (Mis­sis­sip­pi) where the only known and pro­claimed Quak­ers are in Starkville and Oxford (both huge uni­ver­si­ty towns) and no one will respond to my emails because even though I’m a priest, some­times I real­ly NEED a meet­ing.

    I wear a LOT of plain dress because I find it beau­ti­ful. There are pat­terns. I can make them. And they fit. If my cloth­ing is NOT plain dress specif­i­cal­ly, then it’s pret­ty plain. I’ve always liked a sim­ple look, not sim­ple in a bad way, but sim­ple in a good way. AND dress­ing plain and sim­ple CHANGES one; espe­cial­ly if one is using a Quaker/Plain/Mennonite pat­tern. It does good stuff to me spir­i­tu­al­ly, so that mak­ing cloth­ing becomes a sacred med­i­ta­tion, like mak­ing vest­ments. In fact I tweaked a plain pat­tern for my cler­i­cal dress with a col­lar. I LOVE fab­u­lous fab­ric and every 3rd year, if I find some­thing on super­sale and fab­u­lous, fabric-wise, I buy it and make anoth­er plain dress. 

  • i nev­er like plain dress ever coz it looks lone­ly and not attrac­tive.

  • kat­va­lente

    I con­sid­er plain dress to be dress that is aligned with the tes­ti­monies of sim­plic­i­ty and mod­er­a­tion. I buy as much of my cloth­ing (and oth­er house­hold items) as I can from thrift stores. In that way, I am keep­ing an item that took phys­i­cal, human and ener­gy resources in cir­cu­la­tion, rather than bring­ing anoth­er item into our already over-crowded world and using fresh resources to pro­duce it. I buy sim­ple, well made clothes which I then take care of so they will last even longer. A “plain” dress that costs $300 or was made in a sweat shop is not in keep­ing with my under­stand­ing of the tes­ti­monies.

  • Schilderes­je

    I was in Chica­go this sum­mer and saw a group of Amish women and their chil­dren in plain dress. they came to me as mod­ern women of today, the only dif­fer­ence are their clothes. I find their clothes attrac­tive because it is sim­ple and shows peo­ple that clothes are only a shell. I do not see it as a uni­form but as a state­ment, some­thing that Mus­lim women also choose here in the Nether­lands, wear­ing a head­scarf a major debate. I think it has lit­tle to do with reli­gion but it has to do with tol­er­ance com­pared with oth­ers groups.

  • I agree with those who say that out­ward appear­ance reflects what is inside. What we wear is always a mes­sage that we send to oth­ers, and it always effects in some way on how we are eval­u­at­ed. Today’s fash­ion empha­sizes sex­u­al­i­ty, “bold­ness” and finan­cial suc­cess. All these are things that I oppose. Instead, I wish my dress to pro­claim that my val­ues are dif­fer­ent: dig­ni­ty, love for wis­dom, self-respect and impor­tance of inner beau­ty.