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.”

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Buying my Personality in a Store

A guest piece by Aman­da

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed as a com­ment to “My Exper­i­ments with Plain­ness”, Amanda’s sto­ry deserves its own post: “I’ve noticed that I’m becom­ing real­ly attached to my clothes. As I was grim­ly and method­i­cal­ly culling my clos­et, a whiny, des­per­ate voice in my head piped up, and I began to have a seri­ous con­ver­sa­tion with myself… [A] reser­va­tion I have is that plain dress­ing may just be anoth­er way of telegraph­ing the image I want the world to have of me. Only instead of that mes­sage being ‘I am cool and wor­thy of your atten­tion and envy’ the mes­sage might be ‘I’m so hoooooly’.”

Hi there!

I am 21, and the only mem­ber of my fam­i­ly who attends meet­ings of Friends. (I am not a Friend yet, being young to the whole expe­ri­ence, and an ex-catholic, and hav­ing wan­dered for sev­er­al years in strange paths!! 🙂 How­ev­er, I am tak­ing it very seri­ous­ly, and read­ing all I can get my hands on. I feel a strong call towards plain dress, and have gone through fits and starts of it spon­ta­neous­ly, even as a Catholic child. At 12, I decid­ed I would no longer wear colours in imi­ta­tion of all the siants habits I saw in my books, and my friends and I (I grew up in rur­al Cana­da, home­schooled, the old­est of 11 kids, an anar­chon­ism to begin with) tried sewing our own clothes our­selves, praire dress­es and pinafores. 

When I was 14, we moved to the States, to the sub­urbs, away from our über-traditional Catholic enclave, and I began to nor­mal­ize myself out of the “home­school­er uni­form” (its own sort of plain dress — those ter­ri­ble jumpers with ankle socks and can­vas sneak­ers! Ack!) and into main­stream fash­ion, where I’ve been solid­ly entrenched ever since, espe­cial­ly since mov­ing to NYC.

I am now in the process of purg­ing a lot of my stuff, and seek­ing a sim­pler way of liv­ing. I quit smok­ing, and have decid­ed that drink­ing as a recre­ation­al activ­i­ty is out unless it’s an orga­nized event. This may become more strict in time, but I have to ease into it a lit­tle bit. I got rid of sev­er­al bags of clothes and a bunch of house­hold items I was hoard­ing “just in case I might need them some­day”. Clas­sic. A lot of things have pre­cip­i­tat­ed this, but one of them is my absolute hor­ror at how I’ve gone from mak­ing $12,000 a year to near­ly $30,000, and I still am sav­ing no mon­ey at all, nor am I mak­ing any last­ing purchase/investments, etc…I’m just spend­ing it on vain and use­less things. I’ve noticed as well, that I’m start­ing to have more and more big-salary fan­ta­sis­es, and recre­ation­al­ly go to stare in shop win­dows at clothes, not just to appre­ci­ate the asthet­ic val­ue of some of the most gor­geous gar­ments in the world (after all, this is Man­hat­tan) but also to drool and cov­et. I found, while exam­in­ing my con­cience, that it wasn’t even the thing — the piece of cloth­ing that I want­ed, and it wasn’t a sim­ple desire to have some­thing pret­ty. I saw myself link­ing these clothes and things to my self worth and future hap­pi­ness. You know:

“Once I am thin and rich enough to wear this, I will be hap­py. I will be so hap­py. So very hap­py. Every­thing will be per­fect, and my hair will always be straight, and I will have my teeth veneered, and I will have a hand­some man who wor­ships the ground I walk on, and three bright-eyed chil­dren who appear only on Sun­day morn­ings to snug­gle with me in my California-king-sized bed with the white crisp sheets, while I lan­guid­ly smile at their frol­ic­ing and plan to buy them a gold­en retriev­er pup­py lat­er that after­noon as I stroll through an antique fair and buy a vin­tage wick­er bird cage, which I will fill with finch­es and hang from my sun-drenched porch in my sec­ond house in the south of France, and I be hap­py. So hap­py. So very hap­py, if I am only thin and rich enough to wear those clothes.”

I real­ly, real­ly woke up one after­noon to find myself stand­ing on 5th Ave and 59th street, on my lunch break, star­ing in a win­dow, and hav­ing that fan­ta­sy with absolute­ly no inter­nal iron­ic monolouge at all. At all. 

It com­plet­ley pan­icked me. 

I’ve noti­cied that I’m becom­ing real­ly attatched to my clothes. As I was grim­ly and method­i­cal­ly culling my clos­et, a whiney, des­per­ate voice in my head piped up, and I began to have a seri­ous con­ver­sa­tion with myself. 

“You can’t get rid of so many of your cool clothes. The clothes are you, they’re a huge part of who you are.”

“Wait,” the oth­er voice in my head, the stern one, said (I am a schiz­o­phrenic and so am I) “You are say­ing that I am what I wear. That’s sup­posed to make me want to keep them? Do you even hear what you’re say­ing?”

The first voice was total­ly back­track­ing.

“No, no, no, I didn’t mean you were your clothes, or that you were only worth as much as your clothes, why do you always have to be so lit­er­al? I meant that your clothes tell peo­ple about you, about who you are and what you believe in. They’re an out­side sign of who you are.”

“Ah.” said the sec­ond voice, rather sar­cas­ti­cal­ly, I thought, “So we’d rather have peo­ple learn every­thing they need to know about us by our clothes, instead of hav­ing them take the time to get to know us from expe­ri­ence of us.”

“Well, that’s all very well!” said the first voice. “That’s nice in an ide­al world. But the truth is, the sad truth is, most peo­ple won’t take the time to get to know you if you don’t seem cool.”

“Wow.” said the sec­ond voice. “Wow. This has noth­ing to do with fash­ion, does it? This total­ly has to do with your infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex, dat­ing back to about sec­ond grade, doesn’t it?”

At this point the first voice began to suck its thumb, and I real­ized to my hor­ror that the sec­ond voice was right. It’s always right.

“Fash­ion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.” ~Quentin Crisp

I’ve actu­al­ly begun buy­ing my per­son­al­i­ty in a store, and telling myself that it’s okay because I’m buy­ing it in a thrift store. I know from per­son­al expe­ri­ence that the right head­scarf or pair of vin­tage shoes, or fun­ny t-shirt will sud­den­ly raise the val­ue of my social cur­ren­cy off the charts. And I’m becom­ing real­ly depen­dent on that, to the point where I’ve start­ed to actu­al­ly feel anx­i­ety around my “style” and my clothes. I iron­i­cal­ly played the role of fash­ion police for a boy at a par­ty who was mock­ing me for being from Williams­burg, and although I was kid­ding around when I exco­ri­at­ed him for his American-Eagle shorts and surfer-boy hair, it struck me, I’m spout­ing all these “rules” as if I’m mock­ing them, but I actu­al­ly live by them, don’t I? 

And I’ve increas­ing­ly begun to obey them out of fear instead of out of a love of neat clothes or a sense of aes­thet­ic. I have cool­er clothes than ever, and suden­ly I have a need to make more mon­ey so that I can keep look­ing cool, and keep fit­ting in, and keep prov­ing to every­one, most of all myself, that I should be invit­ed to Angelica’s birth­day par­ty because the whole rest of the class is and it’s not fair…oh wait. That was sec­ond grade. 

Ben­jamin Franklin wrote: “Mon­ey nev­er made a man hap­py yet, nor will it. There is noth­ing in its nature to pro­duce hap­pi­ness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its fill­ing a vac­u­um, it makes one. If it sat­is­fies one want, it dou­bles and tre­bles that want anoth­er way.”

This seems like a huge cliché, but you know, the more I think about it, the more it seems that the mod­ern hor­ror of clich­es may have less to do with a love of orig­i­nal­i­ty than with a fear of the truth.

So those are the moti­va­tions — that much is worked out. But the prac­tice of it is hard. Was I expe­ri­en­ce­ing a gen­uine call­ing to plain dress as a child, or did I just read too much “Lit­tle House”? (Is there such a thing as too much “Lit­tle House”?) And now, am I just a costume-loving pos­er?

I feel a bizarre attrac­tion to head-covering as well, though I recoil with my whole post-feminist self from those pas­sages in the bible. I don’t think I believe in sub­mis­sion to any­body. In fact, I’m not sure even God wants me sub­mis­sive -I feel he wants my co-operation.

“I will not now call you ser­vants: for the ser­vant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends: because all things what­so­ev­er I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Anoth­er reser­va­tion I have is that plain dress­ing may just be anoth­er way of telegraph­ing the image I want the world to have of me. Only instead of that mes­sage being “I am cool and wor­thy of your atten­tion and envy” the mes­sage might be “I’m so hoooooly”. Or, per­haps more pos­i­tive­ly, it might be a mes­sage that is “wit­ness” — a con­cept I am strug­gling with on its own — what if I make mis­takes and my wit­ness is mis­tak­en, etc.

My com­pro­mise was to get rid of all the clothes I’d bought just for atten­tion, all the clothes I was keep­ing for pure­ly sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons, every­thing that didn’t fit, or match with any­thing else, etc. And to be hon­est, that just pared it down to where I can actu­al­ly fit all my clothes in my 1 clos­et and dress­er, a feat hereto­fore unknown to me. Also, a big part of this move was to start tak­ing care of my clothes, some­thing I’ve nev­er done. I’ve made an active dici­pline of some­thing as sim­ple as hang­ing up my clothes each night, as an act of respect and grat­i­tude. It occured to me that when I am so for­tu­nate as to have many poses­sions, it seems extreme­ly wrong that I should mis­treat them the way I’ve been doing. 

Wow. For­get plain dress, plain speech is going to be an even big­ger prob­lem. I’ve writ­ten a nov­el.

* blush *

Any­how, it is won­der­ful to see it dis­cussed, some­times I feel like I’m just nuts. I mean, I know I’m nuts, but I don’t like feel­ing that way. 🙂

in friend­ship,
Aman­da

Gohn Brothers, broadfalls, & men’s plain dress

A few years ago I felt led to take up the ancient Quak­er tes­ti­mo­ny of plain dress­ing. I’ve spo­ken else­where about my moti­va­tions but I want to give a lit­tle prac­ti­cal advice to oth­er men who have heard or even got­ten ahold of the “Gohn Bros.” cat­a­log but don’t know just what to order. I cer­tain­ly am not sanc­tion­ing a uni­form for plain dress, I sim­ply want to give those so inclined an idea of how to start.

Just as back­ground: I’m a thirty-something Philadel­phia native, brought up with­out any for­mal reli­gion in a Philly sub­urb. I first start­ed approach­ing Quak­ers (Friends) back in col­lege. In my ear­ly twen­ties, I start­ed work­ing at a collectively-run paci­fist book pub­lish­ing house and liv­ing in what was then the sort of down­scale hip­ster neigh­bor­hood of West Philadel­phia. In 2002 I attend­ed a week-long work­shop that had some plain dress­ing Friends and felt the nudge to exper­i­ment. I’ve left Philadel­phia to become a res­i­dent of a small farm­ing town in South Jer­sey (what love will do) but I still spend a lot of time in the city and in decid­ed­ly urban set­tings. I don’t aim to be his­tor­i­cal­ly cor­rect with my plain dress and I don’t want to sim­ply “look like an Amish” per­son.

Gohn Broth­ers is a store in Indi­ana that sells “Amish and Plain Cloth­ing.” It is cur­rent­ly cel­e­brat­ing it’s 100th year in busi­ness. It’s known for it’s sim­ple print cat­a­log, which is updat­ed every few months. It does not have a web­site. You should get a copy of the cat­a­log to get cur­rent cloth­ing and ship­ping prices. It’s address is:

PO Box 1110, 105 S. Main St., Mid­dle­bury IN 46540
Phone: (574) 825‑2400. Toll-free: 800 – 595-0031

When I first start­ed “going plain,” I sim­ply wore reg­u­lar dark pants with sus­penders found at a gener­ic depart­ment store. It was impor­tant to me that I was wear­ing clothes I already had, and I want­ed to be “Sears Plain,” by which I meant I didn’t want to go to any extremes to find plain cloth­ing. When I first bought a pair of broad­falls (the zip­per­less pants favored by plain men), I didn’t wear them for months. Slow­ly I start­ed start­ed wear­ing them out and feel­ing more at ease in them. They were made of rugged den­im, wore well and were quite com­fort­able.
As my pre-plain clothes have worn out, I’ve start­ed replac­ing them with Gohn Brothers-produced broad­falls. They’re just as inex­pen­sive as any cheaply-made jeans from Old Navy but they hold up and are pre­sum­ably made in Indi­ana by seam­stress­es earn­ing a decent wage.

Broad­falls

Gohn Broth­ers offers many dif­fer­ent weights and fab­rics for their broad­fall pants, num­ber­ing them for ease of order­ing. I have bought two pair, both of which I like:

  • #66: 10 oz. sol­id grey den­im, 100% cot­ton: $22.98
  • #92: 100% cot­ton blue jean den­im (11 oz.): $24.98

Coats

Gohn Broth­ers pro­duces a num­ber of coats, also called “over­shirts.” In these pur­chas­es I have tend­ed to be more dis­tinct­ly Quak­er. I have two Coats:

  • #225: 9oz. Poly, cot­ton. $41.98 at the time of this post. I have opt­ed for a few alter­ations: A “reg­u­lar cut” for $3.00, a “standup col­lar” for $2.00, “but­ton holes with met­al but­tons” for $3.00 and a “quilt­ed lin­ing” for $5.00.
  • #125 9 oz. Black drill den­im. Poly/cotton. Unlined Jack­et, black drill. Alter­ations: “standup col­lar” for $2.00. (for this I had the default “snaps” in place of but­tons and the default “full cut”).

I’ve pref­ered the spe­cial­ized “reg­u­lar cut” coat over the stan­dard “full cut.” The reg­u­lar cut feels more like the stan­dard suit jack­et that most pro­fes­sion­al men wear to work, while the full cut felt more like a wind-breaker. I also pre­fer the but­tons, as the snaps con­tributed to the wind-breaker feel.

Sus­penders

Also known as “braces,” all you need are dark broad­falls and sus­penders to real­ly look “plain” to the world. “Tabbed” sus­penders fit over but­tons in your pants, while “clip-on’s” use alli­ga­tor clips to fas­ten onto stan­dard pants. Tabbed look bet­ter but I can’t help think­ing of Michael Dou­glass in “Wall Street”; a lot of ordi­nary anabapist men I see have clip-on’s.

I’ve heard the sto­ry that there’s a good-hearted rib­bing between the Iowa and North Car­oli­na Con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­ers about whether thin or wide sus­penders is more plain. I’ve start­ed to throw my lot in with Iowa and have got­ten the three-quarter inch sus­penders. (Fash­ion­istas will remem­ber that thin sus­penders were pop­u­lar with a cer­tain kind of high school geek in the mid-1980s – think Cameron in Fer­ris Beuler’s Day Off; fair dis­clo­sure requires that I admit that I wore them around Chel­tenham High). Again Gohn Broth­ers:

  • #550T 3/4″ tab. Black: $7.98
  • #552C 3/4″ clip. Black: $6.98

Hats

While Gohn Broth­ers does hats, I haven’t bought any of theirs. Instead I’ve gone for the Tilley T3 hat. I’m not com­plete hap­py with this, as Tilley’s seem to be asso­ci­at­ed with a cer­tain kind of clue­less trav­el­er, but I’ve noticed that there are a lot of men in my year­ly meet­ing who wear them, I think as an uncon­scious nod toward plain­ness. The Tilley is also friend­lier to bike com­muters: its tie-down strings wrap eas­i­ly around bike han­dle­bars, and it’s very crush­able and wash­able.

Not a Uni­form

Again, let me stress: I am not try­ing to spec­i­fy a mod­ern plain dress uni­form. The only time you should adopt plain dress is when you’re feel­ing active­ly led by it. Some­times that lead­ing is an intu­tion, which is fine, but you need to fol­low it on your own terms. My prac­tice has evolved over time and yours should too. I’ve become more plain since I start­ed this wit­ness sim­ply because I had to replace worn clothes and couldn’t see spend­ing more mon­ey for shod­di­er clothes than I could get at Gohn Broth­ers. You don’t need to get broad­falls to be “plain,” as “plain­ness” is as much a state of mind and an atti­tude toward God and your spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty as it a set of clothes. I think of it now as a spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline, one very fit­ting for our con­sumeris­tic times.

I’d love to hear from oth­ers about their plain dress­ing.

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

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.

Plain Dress Discussion on Yahoo

Julie, my wife, has just start­ed a Yahoo group called PlainAnd­Mod­est­Dress.
Here’s her descrip­tion:

This group is for Chris­tians inter­est­ed in dis­cussing issues of reli­gious plain and mod­est dress. It is not nec­es­sary to have grown up in a plain or mod­est­ly dress­ing group. We are espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in the expe­ri­ences of those who have come to this point as a sort of con­ver­sion or a “recov­ery” of tra­di­tion that has been lost. Tra­di­tion­al Catholics, Anabap­tists, con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­ers, and oth­er Chris­tians wel­come here. The­o­log­i­cal points and demon­i­na­tion­al dif­fer­ences are open for dis­cus­sion (not argu­ment), as are the specifics of what type of plain dress you have been called to. Dis­cus­sion of head­cov­er­ing is also allowed here, as are gen­der dis­tinc­tions in dress. We may also share prayers for one anoth­er, as well as the chal­lenges we face in try­ing to live in obe­di­ence to the Lord. This is not a forum in which to dis­cuss the valid­i­ty of Chris­tian­i­ty – no blas­phem­ing allowed. 

There is much to be said about plain dress. This is not an easy wit­ness. It forces us to deal with issues of sub­mis­sion and humil­i­ty on a dai­ly basis – just try to go to a con­ve­nience store and not feel self-consciously set apart. Explain­ing this new ‘style’ to one’s more world­ly friends can be quite a chal­lenge. These are eter­nal issues for those adopt­ing plain dress and I laugh with com­rade­ship when I read old Quak­er jour­nal accounts of going plain.
Even so, I have a bit of trep­i­da­tion about a news­group on plain dress. I don’t want to fetishize plain dress by talk­ing about it too much. The point shouldn’t be to for­mu­late some sort of ‘uni­form of the right­eous,’ and adop­tion of this tes­ti­mo­ny shouldn’t be moti­vat­ed by peer pres­sure or ambi­tion, but by a call­ing from the Holy Spir­it – this is the crux of what I under­stand Mar­garet Fell to have been say­ing when she called pres­sured plain­ness a “sil­ly poor gospel”. (I should say that some non-Quaker do dress more as an iden­ti­fy­ing uni­form, which is fine, just not nec­es­sar­i­ly the Quak­er ratio­nale).
But like any out­ward form or tes­ti­mo­ny (peace, Quak­er process, etc.), tak­ing up plain dress can be a fruit­ful course in reli­gious edu­ca­tion. I think back to being sev­en­teen and buck­ing my father’s wish that I attend the Naval Acad­e­my – my “no” made me ask how else my beliefs about peace might need to be act­ed out in my life. It became a use­ful query. Plain dress has forced me to think anew about how I “con­sume” cloth­ing and how I relate to mass mar­ket­ing and the glob­al cloth­ing indus­try. It’s also kept me from duck­ing out on my faith, as I wear an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of my beliefs.
So join the plain dress dis­cus­sion or take a look at the ever-growing sec­tion of the site called Resources on Quak­er Plain Dress, which includes “My Exper­i­ments with Plain­ness”, my ear­ly sto­ry about going plain.

Plain Dress – Some Reflections

A guest piece by “Melyn­da Huskey”:mailto:mghuskey@msn.com
When I was a kid, I yearned for plain dress like the kids in Obadiah’s fam­i­ly wore. I loved the idea of a Quak­er uni­form and couldn’t imag­ine why we didn’t still have one… And now, at near­ly 40, after 35 years of bal­anc­ing my con­vic­tions and my world, I’m still han­ker­ing after a tru­ly dis­tinc­tive and Quak­er­ly plain­ness.

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My Experiments with Plainness

[See also: Resources on Quak­er Plain­ness]

This was a post I sent to the “Pearl” email list, which con­sists of mem­bers of the 2002 FGC Gath­er­ing work­shop led by Lloyd Lee Wil­son of North Car­oli­na Year­ly Meet­ing (Con­ser­v­a­tive). Eighth Month 20, 2002

 

I thought I’d share some of my jour­ney in plain-ness since Gath­er­ing. There’s two parts to plain dress: sim­plic­i­ty and plain-ness.

The most impor­tant part of the sim­plic­i­ty work has been sim­pli­fy­ing my wardrobe. It’s incred­i­ble how many clothes I have. I sus­pect I have a lot few­er than most Amer­i­cans but there’s still tons, and nev­er enough room in the clos­ets & dressers (I do have small clos­ets but still!). I’d like to get all my clothes into one or two dress­er draw­ers and donate the rest to char­i­ty. Two pairs of pants, a cou­ple of shirts, a few days worth of socks and under­gar­ments. This requires that I wash every­thing fre­quent­ly which means I hand-wash things but that’s okay. The point is to not wor­ry or think about what I’m going to wear every morn­ing. I’ve been to a wed­ding and a funer­al since I start­ed going plain and it was nice not hav­ing to fret about what to wear.

I also appre­ci­ate using less resources up by hav­ing few­er clothes. It’s hard to get away from prod­ucts that don’t have some neg­a­tive side effects (sup­port of oil indus­try, spilling of chem­i­cal wastes into streams, killing of ani­mals for hide, exploita­tion of peo­ple con­struct­ing the clothes at hor­ri­ble wages & con­di­tions). I try my best to bal­ance these con­cerns but the best way is to reduce the use.

These moti­va­tions are simple-ness rather than plain-ness. But I am try­ing to be plain too. For men it’s pret­ty easy. My most com­mon cloth­ing since Gath­er­ing has been black pants, shoes and sus­penders, and the com­bo seems to look pret­ty plain. There’s no his­toric authen­tic­i­ty. The pants are Levi-Dockers which I already own, the shoes non-leather ones from Pay­less, also already owned. The only pur­chase was sus­penders from Sears. I bought black over­alls too. My Dock­ers were vic­tims of a minor bike acci­dent last week (my scraped knee & elbow are heal­ing well, thank you, and my bike is fine) and I’m replac­ing them with thick­er pants that will hold up bet­ter to repeat­ed wash­ing & use. There’s irony in this, cer­tain­ly. If I were being just sim­ple, I’d wear out all the pants I have – despite their col­or – rather than buy new ones. I’d be wear­ing some bright & wacky pants, that’s for sure! But irony is part of any wit­ness, espe­cial­ly in the begin­ning when there’s some lifestyle shift­ing that needs to hap­pen. As a per­son liv­ing in the world I’m bound to have con­tra­dic­tions: they help me to not take myself too seri­ous­ly and I try to accept them with grace and good humor.

But prac­ti­cal­i­ty in dress more impor­tant to me than his­tor­i­cal authen­tic­i­ty. I don’t want to wear a hat since I bike every day and want to keep my head free for the hel­met; it also feels like my doing it would go beyond the line into quaint­ness. The only type of cloth­ing that’s new to my wardrobe is the sus­penders and real­ly they are as prac­ti­cal as a belt, just less com­mon today. A few Civ­il War re-enactment buffs have smil­ing­ly observed that clip-on sus­penders aren’t his­tor­i­cal­ly authen­tic but that’s per­fect­ly okay with me. I also wear col­lars, that’s per­fect­ly okay with me too.

The oth­er thing that I’m clear about is that the com­mand­ment to plain dress is not nec­es­sar­i­ly eter­nal. It is sit­u­a­tion­al, it is part­ly a response to the world and to Quak­er­dom and it does con­scious­ly refer to cer­tain sym­bols. God is what’s eter­nal, and lis­ten­ing to the call of Christ with­in is the real com­mand­ment. If I were in a Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty that demand­ed plain dress, I expect I would feel led to break out the tie-die and bleach and manic-panic hair col­or­ing. Dress is an out­ward form and like all out­ward forms and prac­tices, it can eas­i­ly become a false sacra­ment. If we embrace the form but for­get the source (which I sus­pect lots of Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry Friends did), then it’s time to cause a ruckus.

Every so often Friends need to look around and take stock of the state of the Soci­ety. At the turn of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, they did that. There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing anti-plain dress book from that time that argues that it’s a musty old tra­di­tion that should be swept away in light of the social­ist ecu­meni­cal world of the future. I sus­pect I would have had much sym­pa­thy for the posi­tion at the time, espe­cial­ly if I were in a group of Friends who didn’t have the fire of the Spir­it and wore their old clothes only because their par­ents had and it was expect­ed of Quak­ers.

Today the sit­u­a­tion is changed. We have many Friends who have blend­ed in so well with mod­ern sub­ur­ban Amer­i­ca that they’re indis­tin­guish­able in spir­it or deed. They don’t want to have com­mit­tee meet­ing on Sat­ur­days or after Meet­ing since that would take up so much time, etc. They’re hap­py being Quak­ers as long as not much is expect­ed and as long as there’s no chal­lenge and no sac­ri­fice required. We also have Friends who think that the peace tes­ti­mo­ny and wit­ness is all there is (con­fus­ing the out­ward form with the source again, in my opin­ion). When a spir­i­tu­al empti­ness sets into a com­mu­ni­ty there are two obvi­ous ways out: 1) bring in the fads of the out­side world (reli­gious revival­ism in the 19 Cen­tu­ry, social­ist ecu­meni­cal­sim in the 20th, Bud­dhism and sweat lodges in the 21st). or 2) re-examine the fire of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and fig­ure out what babies you threw away with the bath­wa­ter in the last rebel­lion against emp­ty out­ward form.

I think Quak­ers real­ly found some­thing spe­cial 350 years ago, or redis­cov­ered it and that we are con­stant­ly redis­cov­er­ing it. I have felt that power/ I know that there is still one, named Jesus Christ, who can speak to my con­di­tion and that the Spir­it comes to teach the peo­ple direct­ly. I’ll read old jour­nals and put on old clothes to try to under­stand ear­ly Friends’ beliefs. The clothes aren’t impor­tant, I don’t want to give them too much weight. But there is a tra­di­tion of Quak­ers tak­ing on plain dress upon some sort of deep spir­i­tu­al con­vince­ment (it is so much of a cliché of old Quak­er jour­nals that lit­er­ary types clas­si­fy it as part of the essen­tial struc­ture of the jour­nals). I see plain dress as a reminder we give our­selves that we are try­ing to live out­side the world­li­ness of our times and serve the eter­nal. My wit­ness to oth­ers is sim­ply that I think Quak­erism is some­thing to com­mit one­self whol­ly to (yes, I’ll meet on a Sat­ur­day) and that there are some pre­cious gifts in tra­di­tion­al Quak­er faith & prac­tice that could speak to the spir­i­tu­al cri­sis many Friends feel today.

In friend­ship,
Mar­tin Kel­ley
Atlantic City Area MM, NJ
martink@martinkelley.com

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