Going Plain

Old wooden pews in front of a window looking out onto a garden at a Quaker Meetinghouse in Coanwood, England.

“Quaker Meeting House, Coanwood” by Akuppa John Wigham, cc-by

On and off through my adult life, I’ve been carrying what Quakers call a ‘leading’ –a spiritual calling–to take up Quaker Plain Dress. In college, I did an independent study on Plain Dress that involved taking it up for a while, and I came this close to committing to it as a lifestyle. Plain Dress was very grounding, for me. I don’t want to get too theological about it at the moment, but suffice it to say that it helped remind me of the person that I wanted to be. In a bunch of little ways, it made it easier for me to live my Quaker values.

I laid the leading aside at the time because plain dress is a big commitment when you’re trying to break into the workforce, especially in a tough economy. But I always told myself I’d revisit the leading if my circumstances changed. Over the years since, the leading has revisited me quite a lot. My bookmarked plain dress resources made their way into my browser history every few weeks.

My professional circumstances have indeed changed, and pretty significantly. I’m now in a profession where employee dress codes are practically unheard-of. But even if I was still working in a formal office environment, I’ve come to a place where I think I’d try to make it work anyway. Among Friends, a leading isn’t a thing you necessarily want to do; it’s a thing God is telling you to do. I’ve been answering that call with “okay, but later.” And while I wasn’t looking, I arrived at later. It’s time.

I’ve started putting together a ‘look board’ to work off of as I construct my plain wardrobe. Since I’m making my own clothes, I have a lot of leeway in coming up with a style that works for me. What I’ve settled on is a fusion of traditional plain styles and what Quaker Jane calls “modern plain.” I’m trying for a look that is identifiably plain, but still modern enough that it’s not going to cause problems for me as a woman in the Tech industry.

So I’m off to go buy some fabric. I’m pretty excited.

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Going Plain

  1. patrice wassmann says:

    I just found your blog today and was excited to read this post. I too am trying to change my wardrobe, not to “plain” exactly, but very simple and homemade as much as possible. It is quite a spiritual discipline, which has surprised me! I hope to hear more about how this is going for you. Do you plan on wearing any type of head covering? That is a VERY hard one for me!

  2. Brittany says:

    Plain dress has been an on-and-off interest for me as well. At times very intense. Then feminism became more intense about a year ago. That is not to say that I think they are incompatible at all; in fact I think there’s a very significant intersection. But I think there is that constant niggling bother for Plain-interested feminists, and headcovering tops it off. And in the past year my thoughts have shifted towards feminine-style clothing *not* being as value-neutral as I previously thought. All my wardrobe plans thus far have been dress-centered, so I feel like I’m back at square one. However, this is one of the benefits of modern Plain–you are an active creator and can make it fit your values. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about the interplay between your Plain and your feminism?

  3. annalee says:

    Patrice and Brittany:

    Thanks for commenting! I do have thoughts on how plain dress fits in with feminism. I’ll try to get together a blog post on the subject. But the short form is that plain dress–and yes, covering–are ways of asserting bodily autonomy. In a culture where people assume that any woman existing in public must be there to draw the male gaze, plain dress and covering are one way of saying “my body is not your business.”

    Everyone should have that freedom, of course. I reject the notion that women should have to dress any particular way to avoid being treated like their body is a commodity for public comment and consumption, and as I transition into plain dress, I worry that I will be contributing to the idea that women who don’t cover up are somehow courting harassment, or putting themselves on display.

    I expect my thinking on this will evolve over time, so I’m reluctant to make any hard-and-fast statements. But for me, right now, I see covering as a feminist act–a way of asserting autonomy over my own body and rejecting the male gaze.

Comments are closed.