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Plain Dress Information

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Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
- Revelation 3:20

Examples of my Quaker Plain Dresses
photos below

...but mind that which is sober and modest, and keep to your plain fashions,
that you may judge the World, . . ."

- George Fox

This page endeavors to provide answers to some of the questions I have encountered about the clothing choices I've made as a Christian plain Friend, or Quaker. Included are pattern styles that I use and some of the reasons behind those choices along with a few pictures of my plain dresses to help illuminate the information. In sharing my experiences about going plain, I hope to lend a helping hand and resources of encouragement for the sake of those spiritual sisters who may be trying to work this issue out in their own lives and perhaps be of help to someone else who is making the journey towards becoming plain. Most of all, I offer the information to the Glory of God.

First though, it must be clearly understood that for Quakers, "going plain" is strictly a matter of individuality. There is no formal standard or even implied recommendations for the type of clothes one wears when they are called to the plain dress witness. This means that styles of dress vary greatly between individuals as there is no required group conformity. So, some of the questions for one facing this decision in their life become, "How is the Lord leading me?" "What best defines plain dress?" and "Where can plain clothes be found?"

Examples of "plain dress" have been best preserved for us by the religious communities who for generations have wavered very little from their fundamental ideals of simplicity in lifestyle. This is found most commonly in traditional groups such as the Amish and old order Mennonites. They stand out distinctly because as clothing styles changed with the evolvement of modern society, these old order communities refused to be swept along by the tides of current fashion. They retained a group defined style of dress which came to be known as plain. For such ones, plain dress has become an identifying mark of a religiously motivated group rejection of things "modern". So, their unaltered conformity to a particular way of life is noted in one respect by the style, or lack there-of, of their clothes which have changed very little over the past 100 years.

Quakers, for a time, also observed plain dress to some degree as a group. They ardently avoided fashionable styles and trends and could easily be identified by their simplicity. But, in living out their belief that the Lord guides each soul individually, the larger number grew away from group conformity in matters of clothing. However, over the generations, there have been a remnant few who continued to dress "plain" and today there is a notable revival within Quakerism of the plain witness, both in speach and dress, as a growing number of individuals feel led to live a way of life that more visibly testifies to their holy obedience. More and more Friends are acknowledging Christ's purpose for their lives as he tugs silently at their hearts with sure leadings. Such ones are accepting this spiritual invitation and are following the lead of the Holy Spirit in turning their lives over to God in this matter.

Admittedly, it is no easy task to accept and live this testimony. There are very few resources and little information as to "how" to pursue it. This is where it becomes ever more important to cast the matter before the Lord and allow Him to reveal the way in which to follow.

So again, may I remind readers that the information here is just the opinion and experiences of one servant of the Lord, individual to my calling and not a definitive outline or recommendation. The information is also geared towards women.

Plain dress encompasses a wide range of possible options. For men it can mean anything from simple store bought trousers and and a plain shirt, to grey or black broadfall pants, handmade shirt (often without a collar) and a Quaker style hat. For women choices range from a simple jumper or prairie type dress to a cape dress and most usually a head covering, such as a prayer cap, bonnet or veil. For both men and women such clothing might be commercially manufactured or hand made.

Going plain usually encompasses the ideals of simplicity, humility and even social conscientiousness and in any any respect, is always directed by the Holy Spirit and experienced as an inner calling or "leading" from the Lord to follow Him in holy obedience. It is because this leading is directed by the Lord that there is not simply a right or wrong way. Prayer, meditation and holy silence - listening - clarifying - takes time because it is not thy will in doing but God's will being done. Keep in mind Proverbs 3:5 - "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."

My inclination towards plain dress has been life-long. In my early 20's I almost exclusively wore skirts that were long hemmed and modest. It had nothing to do with a religious group dynamic, the Lord's leading in my choices for clothing was just always so clear. When my children were born - being unable to locate modest dresses that were suitable for a nursing mother, I made dresses for myself from very simple patterns (my sewing abilities are extremely limited!), altered to suite my needs. They weren't stylish but they were serviceable and comfortable for their Christian modesty. I still have 2 of them tucked away as keepsakes. As the years passed my clothing choices remained the same even though ankle-length hems were seldom in style!

But when the Lord led me to the Religious Society of Friends and the plain dress witness I found it a complicated challenge. It is one thing to be different, entirely another to be peculiar.

The first problem I encountered was the almost complete lack of information on the subject. Research turned up old publications that provided a some help but there was little else. Corresponding with a few plain Friends provided helpful insight but ultimately one follows as the Lord leads and no one else.

Once that was worked out, a few experiments were ventured to begin the discernment process of adopting attire that would be plain but distinctly Quaker - for me. Putting the matter before the Lord and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, I realized that my outfit should be distinct to itself so it would not be confused with the style of dress used in our surrounding plain communities.

So, I first looked closely at the clothing styles of the traditional Amish and Mennonite orders in our area as well as those I was familiar with in PA. After extensive research, pouring over pictures and reading articles and books, I came to understand that the Amish/Mennonite style of plain dress could be made suitable for this well intended Quaker (me!) if certain adjustments were made.

There were several ladies in a near-by Amish community who had offered to do sewing for me, but I chose instead to work with a local seamstress with whom I could comfortably collaborate with more candidly. I truly did not want to offend anyone with this project. The result of over 1 years worth of research, experimentation and hard work resulted in the creation of a unique dress style which I adopted as "Quaker-plain". Now, when people ask about my clothes, it can be truthfully stated that they are Quaker; this is by virtue of the fact that I am and my clothes, specifically created, are - Quaker.

To achieve this, at first I fumbled around with old patterns I'd collected over the years - jumpers, prairie dresses and the like. But nothing worked out very well, nothing had spiritual resonance. Then, I purchased an old order Mennonite dress pattern as well as an Amish cape dress pattern. I studied them a bit and after prayerful consideration which led to several initial alteration recommendations, I sought the help of my greatly admired and talented seamstress/friend, Marcia. She assisted with thoughts and ideas, altering the styles a bit further and even combining a few things together, until finally, a simple, plain dress was created that looks much less like what is worn here in our surrounding plain communities and more unique to itself. Here is a list of some of those alterations and general considerations otherwise:

  • The fabric color of the dresses I wear in public is either dove grey or black only. I have a green and light brown one for home/work use. Colors are always solid.
  • The fabric itself is not polyester but cotton or wool.
  • The hem line is considerably longer than those of other plain orders - just at my ankle bone.
  • There is no double hem line - just single.
  • The dresses and aprons are pleated, not gathered.
  • Dresses usually have collars.
  • The apron is tied, not pinned.
  • The cape is double pointed in front and rear instead of one solid piece. I have a white linen one I sometimes use in public.
  • The cape is made as a separate piece and not sewn onto the dress.
  • The cape and apron are separate pieces.
  • The Lepli (sort of a back ruffle) is removed.
  • The dresses have buttons.
  • The shoulders have no gathering at all and the sleeves are a bit more generous. (I often have to "roll-up" my sleeves for one reason or another. It is just not serviceable for me to have them dipping in to any work I'm doing, especially cooking, making bread or washing dishes and if they are too tight, they can't be rolled or pushed up comfortably or well.)
  • The neckline of dresses made without collars is a bit higher. (one of my dresses has no collar for summer wear)
  • I've been wearing a scarf on top, black or white, - a square piece of fabric, about 25", folded into a tri-angle and pined together in front. It is a little too small and that is why I sought fabric more which was more suitable, especially for summer, something lighter to make a larger (maybe 40" or so) scarf. I was delighted to find a light linen cotton blend fabric that is perfect.
  • My prayer cap is different from Amish or Mennonite styles found here...though I wish it could be a little bigger. The fabric is not sheer and I use either white or black.

    The following are a few photo examples - I will be adding more to this page and these pictures as time allows.


    White prayer cap.


    Black Quaker dress
    with white linen cape and apron.



    Gray Quaker dress
    with gray cape, no apron.




    Black Quaker dress with buttons,
    no cape, no apron.

    Black prayer cap head covering.


    Black Quaker dress
    with black pointed cape and apron.



    Gray Quaker dress
    with white linen cape, no apron.



    Gray Quaker dress with buttons,
    no cape, no apron.


    Black Quaker dress with white scarf.

    Head Coverings
    Bonnets, Prayer caps, veils


    Helpful links of interest:

    Friends Patterns
    www.friendspatterns.net
    P.O. Box 326
    Gettysburg OH 45328-0326
    This is the company I purchased the Mennonite and Amish dress patterns from. Very good quality and dependable service.

    Plain & Simple Headcoverings
    www.prayercoverings.com
    Dependable, prompt service. I ordered a straw bonnet and it exceeded my expectations - very fine quality!




    Books

    The Quaker: A Study in Costume by Amelia Gummere.
    This is one of the books I found helpful for illustrations. However, the text and tone of the writing are often troublesomely back-handed in my opinion.

    Plain Women by Margaret C. Reynolds
    A book about the Old Order River Brethren I found helpful for general plain information

    Why do They Dress that Way by Stephen Scott
    There is a wealth of information here about the dress styles of different plain communities including information about Quakers. This book makes a very good study.

    A Quaker Woman's Cookbook Edited by William Woys Weaver
    The Domestic Cookery of Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, published in 1845. This is a fastening look at domestic simplicity in Quaker terms. Elizabeth Ellicott Lea lovingly wrote the book - almost as a ministry - as a resource of information for new inexperienced brides just starting out. To quote part of the introduction by William Woys Weaver: "Quakerism is simply a way of thinking, a perception of truth. It does not reveal itself in a definate cuisine because Quaker cookery has more to do with nuance than with flavor; it is more in the spirit of the serving than in the spice."

    I just love this book and what it stands for and highly recommend it if nothing else to catch some of the essence of a sincerely beautiful soul. I myself have used many of the recipes and teach classes based on her work. I really appreciate being able to get a glimpse into the kitchen of a dear sister from days past!



    Pray for Peace

    "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works"
    - Titus 2:14