The Plain Dress Witness: Reasons Quaker Women Give for Going Plain
I wear traditional plain dress because I believe God wants me to. Annoyingly simplistic of me, I know, and quite Quakerly. Other women give more tangible reasons:
- Quaker Testimony of Integrity
The testimony of integrity means that Quakers believe it is important to witness to our Lives in Christ by witnessing to his Truth in our everyday behavior. As George Fox said, "Let your lives preach." For Conservative Friends who wear plain dress, the plain witness is the outward sign of the inward change. Our speech, vocation, dress must be submitted to what God's will is for us in this life. A Friend adopts plain dress when they believe it is an obedience God has called them to and they do not have any understanding that it is something God calls everyone to do. This is specifically Quaker and does not apply in any way to any of the other plain traditions, as far as I know.
This is the reason I wear plain dress: because God asked me to do so. It is an obedience.
- As a Hedge between the Believer and the World
Plain women often report that by identifying themselves so publicly as Believers, it helps them keep to the Path of Truth.
From Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) Quaker Prison and Nursing Reformer:
"I used to think and do now how little dress matters. But I find it almost impossible to keep to the principles of Friends without altering my dress and speech. . . . They appear to me a sort of protector to the principles of Christianity in the present state of the world."
- Biblical Reasons
Many plain peoples cite Romans "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." This position is well explained at BibleViews.com
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works." (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
- To Humble the Wearer
The idea is that by avoiding the vanity of worldly fashion, the wearer will learn humility and shamefacedness. This reason is one that has been least evident for me. I am humbled by God on a regular basis, but most people I interact with make all sorts of flattering assumptions about me as a plain-dressing woman. I have had people make negative assumptions, and use my way of dress as a reason to dislike me, but being disliked has not really been a humbling experience for me.
There is definitely something simple about knowing (pretty much) what you are going to put on in the morning, how you are going to do your hair, what shoes you will wear. And if you cover, something very simple about putting the cap on and forgetting completely about what your hair is up to for the day. For me, simplicity is a side effect of plain dress. I know some plain moderns who cite this as something they are seeking by reducing their wardrobes, but traditional plain dress is really not that simple. It can be hard to acquire and, depending on the styles chosen, can be expensive.
- Ethical Reasons: Fair wages and just working conditions
I have read a number of plain moderns say that one of the things they make sure and do is have their dress made by someone who has gotten paid a fair wage and aren't working in sweatshop conditions. I have to admit I have mentioned it as a benefit of plain dressing as well.
- Among the Quakers, George Fox
from A Collection of Many Select and Christian Epistles, Letters, and Testimonies (London 1698)
"Friends, keep out of the vain fashions of the world; let not your eyes, minds, and spirits run after every fashion (in attire) of the nations; for that will lead you from the solid life into unity with that spirit that leads to follow the fashions of the nations, after every fashion of apparel that gets up: but mind that which is sober and modest, and keep to your plain fashions, that you may judge the World, . . ."