Plain Quaker Dressing at FGC

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!”

Mon­day:

  • “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.)

Tues­day:

  • 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?”

Wednes­day

  • 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.

Thurs­day:

  • 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.
  • Jef­frey Hipp

    Mar­t­in,
    You for­got to men­tion that on Fri­day, you received valu­able point­ers from a plain dress­ing young adult on how to eas­i­ly remove that exces­sive col­lar from your shirt. 😉
    It was good meet­ing you this week, and I’ll keep you post­ed on how the­se young adult min­istry dia­logues in FGC con­tin­ue to devel­op from my per­spec­tive. I’ll also be explor­ing a num­ber of lis­ten­ing ses­sions regard­ing the role of young adults in my month­ly meet­ing.

  • Hi Jef­frey,
    Oh yes, let me not for­get the use­ful lessons learned from the young adults. We should all lis­ten to the chil­dren, for there is much to learn from their wis­dom. (This is the first Gath­er­ing I’ve gone to where I haven’t been involved in the young adult pro­gram).
    Yes, that was a help­ful lesson in do-it-yourself col­lar removal. I didn’t real­ize it was quite so easy. I’ll try it out a few times and might just write it up and put it online.
    It was good meet­ing you too, I’m sure it’s the start of a long friend­ship.
    I’ll write up more about the Gath­er­ing, but over the next week I’ll have to unpack the books, answer dozens of book­store emails, and fig­ure out all the order sna­fus from the past ten days. After each day of this I’ll go home to pack, as Julie Theo and I actu­al­ly are mov­ing by month’s end. It’ll be a busy busy few weeks but I’ll find some time (train time may­be?) to keep the blog up.

  • Eliz­a­beth O’Sullivan

    Mar­t­in,
    Thanks for this blog! I wish you were in Min­neapolis because it sounds like your fam­i­ly and mine have lots in com­mon. I’d love to vis­it with you guys over our kitchen table.
    Any­way. How did you guys test your lead­ing for dress­ing plain? What kind of research did you do? How did the lead­ing become appar­ent to you at first? I’d love to hear about your process because I’ve been get­ting a few nudges about this myself.
    Thanks!
    Eliz­a­beth O’Sullivan
    Min­neapolis, MN
    Eliz­a­beth O’Sullivan

  • Dix­ie Rosendall

    Just read, My Exper­i­ments with Plain­ness and Plain Quak­er Dress­ing at FGC. I have Friends/friends that dress plain (they are the only fam­i­ly in our meet­ing that dress plain) and I have been try­ing it out off and on. I bought an Amish cap resent­ly and I wore it to meet­ing. After meet­ing (and when I was rel­a­tive­ly alone in the room) an elder Friend came up to me (I was seat­ed) and struck a blow to my hat and, thus, my head with her hand. This from a wom­an who stands on the cor­ner of our city, near the fed­er­al build­ing, every week to stand up for peace and non-violence and teach­es work­shops on non-violent con­flict res­o­lu­tion. I guess if it’s per­son­al it’s OK to use vio­lence!!?? I guess you can tell that I am still upset about it. I real­ly appre­ci­ate being able to read your con­tri­bu­tions from your expe­ri­ences. And thanks for lis­ten­ing to my frus­tra­tions.
    Peace and Bless­ings,
    Dix­ie Rosendall
    Grand Rapids, MI

  • Hi Dix­ie,
    Ouch!, what a dis­turbing inci­dent. Am I sur­prised? Well, not real­ly. A lot of Friends find plain dress­ing threat­en­ing. I’ve found this espe­cial­ly true of some of Peace Quak­ers, who don’t want to think about the­ol­o­gy and real­ly don’t want to talk about tests of dis­cern­ment that might ques­tion the moti­va­tion of their activism. Even though you weren’t ques­tion­ing this elder, your dress implied that may­be there is some­thing more to Quak­erism than hold­ing a sign at the fed­er­al build­ing. I sus­pect there’s a lot of gen­er­a­tional stuff going too.
    Your sto­ry reminds me of my own and of the rea­sons I haven’t stepped foot in my Meet­ing­house for over a year now. Telling sto­ries isn’t help­ful though. As I under­stand it, prop­er Gospel Order dic­tates that you should tell this Friend that it wasn’t accept­able behav­ior (you can bring along some­one to be there with you) and then talk to the over­seers in your Meet­ing if the prob­lems per­sists.
    Hon­est­ly: I can’t say you’ll feel any bet­ter and you might be in for a rude awak­en­ing at just how thor­ough­ly your Meet­ing runs from con­flict and from doing the right thing (“speak­ing truth to pow­er” shouldn’t just be a slo­gan Friends reserve for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment). In times like the­se I find con­so­la­tion from the old jour­nals of Quak­er min­is­ters: every one who’s ever done any­thing inter­est­ing has suf­fered through the oppo­si­tion of their fel­low Quak­ers. May the Christ hold you in com­fort through this frus­trat­ing and demor­al­iz­ing time.

  • Kody Gabriel

    Now you have me won­der­ing about those collar-removal tips. Ready to share yet? 😉

  • Robert Rus­so

    Hi my name is Robert.
    I am very encour­aged read­ing this blog and the com­ments on here.
    I grew up in East­ern Long Island and West­ern North Car­oli­na. In Long Island I was raised near the inter­sec­tions of Quak­er path, Chris­tian Ave. and Friends Rd. There used to be a lot more Quak­er influ­ence around. While pray­ing one day I felt a very strong con­vic­tion to seek out the “plain” church. It was some­thing that I’ve been ignor­ing as I knew it wouldn’t be easy but then I real­ized that I was going to have to start mov­ing in that direc­tion.
    That was some time ago. I now am study­ing at a Men­non­ite Sem­i­nary in Va. but am one of the only more “plain” dressed peo­ple there. I attend a few dif­fer­ent wor­ship ser­vices at a few dif­fer­ent meet­ing hous­es on Sun­day morn­ing and one on Sat­ur­day evening. Of those 2 of them are more plain and one even has a hand­ful of folks who up to recent­ly have been Old Order.
    How­ev­er some­times I won­der if I’m quite at home. much of this has to do with gag­ing how active we are in actu­al­ly work­ing for peace beyond the local lev­el. My moth­er has always been a strong sup­port­er of the Friends.
    There­fore I have a few ques­tions for every­one who con­sid­ers them selves a “plain” Friend.
    I ask this because I’m intrigued that y’all are mak­ing the move in that man­ner. Espe­cial­ly because like me, no one said you had to we’re just doing it based from our own scrip­ture read­ing and prayer life.
    1-What char­ac­ter­is­tics make up your plain out­fits, or “plain­ness”?
    2- How active do you feel we as Chris­tians in pol­i­tics and peacemaking/ environmental/social jus­tice?
    3-For the women-do you wear head cov­er­ings?
    4-where are y’all from/ live at now? would love to meet for fel­low­ship with more plain broth­ers and sis­ters in Christ.
    Thank you- Grace and Peace to you all,
    God Bless,
    Robert

    • Well, I know you asked this a long time ago (actu­al­ly, short­ly before I found Quak­ers), but I’ll answer:

      1. I wear either a solid-color dress of nat­u­ral fibers (wool, linen, etc.) or a black skirt and a button-up blouse. I have knee-high wool socks, black boots, a head­cov­er­ing.
      2. Cer­tain­ly in my meet­ing, we’re active. Sev­er­al non-profits were start­ed out of this meet­ing. I think we tend to lean more toward social jus­tice than envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, but I cer­tain­ly see them tied up in each oth­er.
      3. Yes, I do cov­er. I sew my own out of linen.
      4. I live in the Mary­land sub­urbs of Wash­ing­ton, DC and know at least 4 oth­er Friends who are cur­rent­ly plain in this area. There is also a Beachy Amish Men­non­ite church in DC.

  • Mary

    What an inter­est­ing read! As with anoth­er respon­se to this post, I also go back and forth with my plain­ness. I call myself “mod­er­ate­ly plain”. It may be jeans and a sim­ple sweater dur­ing the win­ter, then hand­made dress­es the oth­er three sea­sons. I enjoy just wear­ing sim­ple den­im skirts and t-shirts. I have been receiv­ing lead­ings to plain­ness for about five years, just seri­ous­ly lis­tened the past year. Even though I am drawn to cov­er­ing (head­cov­er­ings), I have not done so. I wear no make­up, lit­tle jew­el­ry and no longer dye my hair. My young boys love telling peo­ple that their moth­er isn’t fan­cy! I stick out like a sore thumb at times and I know that I am prob­a­bly mocked qui­et­ly behind my back, but to me, it’s almost like a bit of “suf­fer­ing” for my beliefs. Once peo­ple know me, they under­stand. My hus­band is very sup­port­ive, but my par­ents don’t understand…..very mate­ri­al­is­tic, the more jew­el­ry and make­up, the bet­ter, etc. I just can’t be like that…..simple and plain is call­ing for me, and I am final­ly lis­ten­ing! I may spend more mon­ey on hand­made items or bet­ter qual­i­ty fair trade clothes, and I may also spend more time con­sid­er­ing my cloth­ing than I ever had before, but to me it’s a part of my prayer. The peace­ful­ness and sim­plic­i­ty of it all just soothes my soul. I vis­it Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, PA, quite often and feel most at home there. I dream of liv­ing amongst oth­er Plain dress­ing peo­ple, even though not all are Friends, but the recog­ni­tion is there. You can see it in their kind smiles as a silent acknowl­edge­ment that they feel as I do, that there is peace in my heart and soul, and peo­ple can tru­ly see it with­out flashy cloth­ing or acces­sories block­ing your true self. That’s all, mod­er­ate­ly plain I am, and I am so very blessed by it!

    Peace and Bless­ings my Friends!

  • JPR

    Hel­lo Mar­t­in,

    Did you ever try that bit about remov­ing the col­lar? If so, could you point me to the post where you described it? I have been inter­est­ed in going plain and slow­ly have been doing so. I’d like to remove the col­lar from some of my shirts to see how it goes.

    Peace,
    Jim