Tag Archives: community

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