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.

  • I am new to being a Friend. What exact­ly would con­sti­tute Plain dress­ing? I rarely wear any­thing but jeans and tshirts…

  • Hi Kas -
    One of the most nice­ly orga­nized overviews of Quak­er Plain dress is at Quak­er Jane’s site. She describes “dif­fer­ent lev­els of plain” — your jeans and t-shirts would like­ly fall into the “sim­ple dress” catagory.
    Wel­come to being a Quaker! 🙂

  • Hi Kas,
    My answer to “what’s plain dress­ing?” is “how­ev­er you’re led to dress.” I do have “more to say”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​m​a​r​t​i​n​k​/​a​r​c​h​i​v​e​s​/​0​0​0​0​8​0​.​php but the first prin­ci­ple is that this isn’t a uni­form to be adopt­ed so you’ll fit in, but instead a reflec­tion of lead­ings and prompt­ings from the Holy Spir­it. See the
    “Quak­er plain dress”:http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org/​q​u​a​k​e​r​/​p​l​a​i​n​_​d​r​e​s​s​.​php page on this site for a whole range of sto­ries and definitions.

  • Jonathan

    My idea of plain­ness would be bet­ter under­stood by using the term modest-dress. I think that peo­ple should avoid too much expense when buy­ing clothes, spend­ing friv­o­lous amounts of mon­ey on cloth­ing and being seen drip­ping in design­er labels from head to toe will cause peo­ple to ques­tion your sin­cer­i­ty and faith­ful­ness. The mes­sage: do not let mon­ey be your god.
    Your clothes should not reflect your dis­pos­able income or sta­tus. Clothes are worn for a basic pur­pose, to keep us warm and give us dig­ni­ty and a decent appear­ance. They should not be barom­e­ters of wealth or mere fash­ion state­ments. Nei­ther should they be too bright and colour­ful, or too skimpy. Cloth­ing should cov­er provoca­tive areas like cleav­age and legs.
    Avoid wear­ing too much jew­ellery, it is incred­i­bly vul­gar to wear too much and will imply a mate­ri­al­is­tic or vain tem­pera­ment. Remem­ber, the only pos­ses­sions that Christ ever had were a pair of san­dals and the clothes on his back. Stick to a sim­ple wed­ding ring (a plain gold band is best) and a pair of mod­est ear­rings or studs (not the long, dan­g­ly kind). The final item that you COULD add to this list is per­haps an ele­gant pearl neck­lace for evening wear. This should be the most jew­ellery that you should own, you should not need any more than this. Any­thing else is sim­ply vanity.
    As regards the wear­ing of cos­met­ics, the woman who wears make-up today is no longer a fall­en woman or a devi­ous temptress, but she should still exer­cise cau­tion. A light, sim­ple make-up is the way to go. Just a lit­tle foun­da­tion sealed with a light dust­ing of face pow­der, a quick swish of blush, a dab of neau­tral brown eye shad­ow on the eye­lids and the mer­est hint of brown or black mas­cara for def­i­n­i­tion, a final slick of lip­stick in a basic shade com­pletes the look. Avoid frosty or glit­tery ‘fash­ion shades’ of lip­stick. Stick with a clear red or a plum pink. Nev­er wear too much make-up, a face caked with cos­met­ics has an arti­fi­cial look and los­es char­ac­ter. It also hides the indi­vid­ual under­neath all of that make-up. For many women going com­plete­ly barefaced may be an option, if you have the con­fi­dence to do this. A face with­out cos­met­ics can look fan­tas­tic if skin is in good con­di­tion, you will also save mon­ey from not hav­ing to pay out for expen­sive make-up all the time.
    Being plain does not mean hav­ing to be a washed-out, whey-faced wall­flower. You have the option of wear­ing taste­ful­ly cho­sen and very light­ly applied cos­met­ics. If you are not very good at ‘doing your face’ how­ev­er, I think you should avoid wear­ing base and sim­ply apply a quick brush of mas­cara and a quick smudge of lip­stick. This will make you look pre­sentable with­out appear­ing immod­est or flashy. You can also scrub your face bare and show off your God-given face to the world, if you dare.
    #Just a lit­tle advice from a qui­et, Eng­lish Quak­er hop­ing to be of service.