As we got onto the campus of UMass Amherst to help set up for this year’s FGC Gathering, Julie & I realized that this is the first time we’ve been to this venue since we started plain dressing (last year we stayed home since Julie was very pregnant). FGC Friends tend to turn to the Lands End catalog for sartorial inspiration. Hippie culture is another font, both directly as tie-die shirts and in muted form as the tasteful fair-trade clothes that many older Friends prefer. Because the Gathering takes place in July and in sporadically air-conditioned buildings, people also dress for summer camp – khaki shorts & once colorful faded t-shirts are the de facto Gathering uniform. In this setting, just wearing long pants is cause for comment (“aren’t you hot like that?!”) Try broadfalls and a long-sleeve collarless shirt, or a long dress!
So I’ve decided to write down all the conversations or questions I get about my dress this week. I should mention that I actually prefer curious questions to the strange staring I sometimes get. So here we go:
- While ringing up a Gathering store order: someone I’ve known for years asked me whether my clothing was “a theological statement or if it was just comfortable.”
- While troubleshooting the store computers and answering a cellphone call from the office: compared to a literary character named “Cosmic Possum,” who was described to me as someone able to seemlessly live in both the past and modern world (at the time the reference was made I was working two computers and taking a cell phone call.
- Walking by the dining hall, an older Friend called out “Looks good!” I said “Huh?”, he replied “that’s a good outfit!”
- “Nice outfit” again, this time from Nils P. As soon as he said it I warned him that I was keeping this log and that he should expect to see himself in it.
- I talked a little bit about dress with a friend from Baltimore Yearly Meeting, a gay Friend involved with FLGCQBC who is identifying more and more as conservative and thinking about going plain. One concern he raised was avoiding sweatshop labor. (I pointed out that plain dress is a cottage industry and that the seamstresses are usually local and believers.) He also doesn’t want to look “like a farmer” as he walks around the city of Baltimore. (I talked about how I have limits as to how plain I go and don’t want this to be a historical outfit but one which people might actually be able to see themselves adopting. I also talked about how I still want to identify on some level with urban anarchist culture, which has a sort of plain aesthetic.)
- An extended conversation with a bookstore customer from California. She began by asking if I’m doing plain dress for the same reasons as another plain dresser here, who I’ve seen but not met yet. We began talking about motivations and what it’s like and how it is for women, especially who lead active lives. I talked about my wife’s Julie’s practice, which includes leotards when she’s working at a gymnastics coach. We also talked about different kinds of QuakersIt was a great conversation.
- While sitting on a bookstore couch blogging: “You’re looking very distinguished here, with facial hair and susspenders. Is this what married life does? You’re looking very Quakerly. Does thee also have a hat?”
- I spent sick mostly in bed…
- I did have a brief, fever-fed conversation with some of the other plain dressing youths and soon-to-be plain dressing youth. It’s not about dress, but about being Quaker and about how we live as Friends.
- I had an extended conversation with a couple who run the Equal Exchange table about plain dress, Gohn Brothers catalog and avoiding sweatshop-made clothing for union-made clothing. There’s a lot of people interested in this and the issues really connect with simplicity and justice issues.