Historical Quaker Women's Plain Dress
Common Misperception: Quakers always wear graySee also: Historical Quaker Plain Dress References for Those Who Mistakenly Believe that Quaker Plain Dress was a Recent Invention
First, I cannot stress enough that there has not been a strict uniform for Quakers in any age. There have always been "plain" Quakers and "gay" Quakers, and what was considered plain has changed considerably over time. At one point red was a popular color. Browns and grays have generally all been popular for the plain variety of Quaker dress, as well as dark, olive greens. Black has not been a consistently approved plain color, various reasons running from the difficulty of preventing black from fading, the expense of black dyes, its connotations of mourning and the way black has a tendency to actually be fashionable. Amelia Gummere laments the "cliche" of the green apron worn by Quakers when white aprons became fashionable. Prints were not necessarily forbidden, but not the norm. The mainstays for women's plain dress have been the white cap, white kerchief, white apron, bonnet and a shawl or cloak.
Recommended ReadingStephen Scott's book is absolutely the best place to get detailed information about all sorts of plain dress styles. The Quaker Aesthetics book has a nice section on plain dress, with some photos and illustrations.
It is my opinion, after reading what a great many other people have to say on the subject of Quaker plain dress, that there have always been "levels" of going plain. Some Quakers did not go plain at all. Those that did fall into a range that I see Quakers today emulating. There were some Quakers who took the latest fashions and simply "plained" them, removing buttons (or only used buttons covered with the same fabric as the dress), lace, piping. Then there were the Quakers who wore "plained" versions of fashions that were a dozen years or so out of date. Certainly the amount of control extended over member's dress was a Meeting by Meeting phenomenon. Perhaps it had more to do with wealthy versus poor or city versus country. Difficult to say, and many conflicting opinions available in the world. Have a look at a few examples for yourself.
DEAR Friends, I thought needful to write a Letter to you concerning this their Mistake, which you may be wise in making use of; and my desires are, that you may be preserved and exalt in God's Witness in the Turks, Jews, Moors, and your Patroons.
And keep low, and walk wisely, that you may be a good Savour in the Hearts of all there-aways; and then the Blessing of the Lord, and his Presence, will rest upon you, and be in you: I think you have more Liberty to meet there than we have here; ...
I am not Amish or Mennonite, but some people who come to my website are interested in knowing more about these groups. I can recommend these books as authoritative and relatively inexpensive sources of further information.