This is a list of testimonies, guides, books and resources on the Christian testimony of plainness, historical and present. It focuses on the traditionalist Quaker understanding of plainness but it’s not restricted to Quaker notions: you’ll find links and discussions to the related concepts of modest dress and simple dress.
If thou wilt be faithful in following that inward witness that has been so long pleading with thee, thy sins shall all be forgiven and I will be with thee and be thy preserver.
–William Hobbs, quoted in Hamm’s Transformation of American Quakerism. (p.3)
Back in the summer of 2002 my wife and I became interested in Quaker traditions of plain dress (here’s some idea of how we look these days). Trying to discern the issues for myself, I found very little on the internet, so here’s my page with whatever testimonies, tips and links I can find. I’m starting to collect stories:
- My Experiments with Plainness, my own story, Eighth Month 2002
- Plain Dress–Some Reflections by Melynda Huskey, Fourth Month 2004
- Avoiding Plain Dress Designer Clothing by David/MQuadd, Seventh Month 21 2004
- Buying My Personality in a Store by Amanda, Ninth Month 8 2004
- On Dressing Plain from Rob of “Consider the Lillies,” Second Month 15, 2005.
- Quaker blogs on Plainness from QuakerQuaker
- Friends accomplished in the ministry were often encouraged to write journals of their lives in their later years. These journals had a distinct function: they were to serve as education and witness on how to live a proper Quaker life. As such, they also had a distinct literary form, and writers almost always gave an account of their conversion to plain dress. This usually accompanied a profound convincement experience, wherein the writer felt led to cast aside worldly fashions and vanity. Howard Brinton wrote about some of the literary forms of the classic Quaker Journals.
Books on Plainness, a short bibliography
- The Quaker: A Study in Costume. By Amelia Gummere, 1901 (out of print, generally available used for around $50). As the subtitle suggests, Gummere is critical of the “costumes” of plain dressing Quakers. She argued that Friends needed to cast aside the musty peculiarisms of the past to embrace the coming socialist world of the Twentieth Century. Although unsympatheic, this is the most-frequently referenced book on Quaker plain dress. To get a sense of the turn-of-the-century Quaker embrace of modernity, I recommend Jerry Frost’s excellent talk at the 2001 FGC Gathering, “Three Twentieth-Century Revolutions.”
- “Why Do They Dress That Way?” By Stephen Scott, Good Books, Intercourse, PA, 1986, 1997, available from Anabaptist Bookstore. A well-written and sympathetic introduction to modern-day religious groups that continue to wear plain dress.
- Quaker Aesthetics. Subtitled “Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumptions,” this is a 2003 collection of essays put together by Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne E. Verplanck. There’s lots of good stuff in here: see Mary Anne Caton’s “The Aesthetics of Absence: Quaker Women’s Plain Dress in the Delaware Valley, 1790–1900″ which does an excellent job correcting some of Gummere’s stereotypes. Although I’ve only had time to skim this, Caton seems to be arguing that Friends’ definitions of plainness were more open to interpretation that we commonly assume and that our stereotypes of a Quaker uniform are based in part in a way of colonial re-enacting that began around the turn of the century.
- Meeting House and Couting House: Tolles’ book has some reference to plainness on page 126. Have to look into this.
Posts and websites on Plainness
- Discussion thread on Quaker Plainness on QuakerRoots
- Short History of Conservative Friends: Most plain dressing Friends today are part of the Wilburite/Conservative tradition. This online essay does an excellent job showing this branch of Friends and is a good counterpoint to histories that downplay the Wilburite influence in contemporary Quakerism.
- A number of the blogs I list in my guide to Quaker websites frequently deal with issues of plain dress. See also: Quaker Jane.
- Anabaptists.Org and Anabaptistbooks.com. Throughout most of the last 350 years, Friends have been the most visible and well-known plain dressers, but today the Amish, Mennonites and other Anabaptists have most faithfully carried on the tradition. Quakers have a lot to learn from these traditions. These sites are put together by a Conservative Mennonite in Oregon. His wife makes plain dresses, for sale through the bookstore.
- My wife has been happy with The King’s Daughters and I’ve heard good reports about PlainlyDress and Vessels of Mercy.
- Men might want to write away for the paper-only Gohn Brothers catalog (105 South Main, Middlebury, IN 46540).
- There are lots of information links at Costume.org’s religious costumes link.
- My own guide to ordering Quaker plain men’s clothes from Gohn Brothers.