Plain Dress – Details!

I suspect that a lot of ladies out there are starting to feel convicted to dress plain or modest, but are wondering if they have the Right Stuff. First, the Right Stuff is the interior conviction that God is asking you to do this, not just to make a political, personal, religious or fashion statement. We don’t become Plain outwardly without becoming Plain inwardly. This means a humble spirit, which is far tougher to gain than a few articles of clothing.

I wish I could say that I have a humble spirit, but some days I am as prideful and rebellious against God as ever. I certainly feel slights and injuries greatly. That other cheek is just not turning. I yelled something very impolite at a young woman in a car who almost hit me at an intersection; nice Quakerly ladies shouldn’t even know the hand gesture I used.

My dear husband has begun using all the Anglican morning prayer lessons for our daily devotions, and sometimes Scripture is just what the soul needs. The readings from I Timothy have been helpful and humbling this week. II Chronicles on Second Day (St. Michael and All Angels) was about the humility of God’s prophet Elisha in the face of the enemy, and today Zachariah prophesied the New Jerusalem for those who humble themselves before the Word of God.

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Make me “sober and completely reliable.” (I Timothy 3.)

So the first detail is humility, traditonally called “shamefacedness” – a lowly countenance. The second is modesty, modesty of attitude as well as dress. It is not modest to dress Plain and act worldly, drawing attention to oneself for all the wrong reasons. A quiet voice, a modest gaze that does not single people out (especially men), and an honest attitude – let your yes be yes, your no be no – are the characteristics of modest women. Flirting, worldly talk about shopping, and gossip are not modest.

But you may want to know about the nitty-gritty details. Okay, let’s deal with your anxiety in that. You know humility and modesty, and strive for them. How do you portray that Plain heart physically without making mistakes or looking ridiculous? Face facts, you’ll look ridiculous to some. Some people think that all Plain people are like Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies. (I admire Granny, but that’s beside the point.) They think we are uneducated hayseeds. Just accept that. It’s part of the humility.

I would suggest that you don’t try to be slavishly historical; some historic costume will inform your choices, but you don’t want to be mistaken all the time for a museum docent on the way to work. I got mistaken for a Civil War re-enactor on the Lord’s Day, probably because Conservative Quakers are unknown in Canada, and they would be my model.

Equally, don’t completely copy a religious or ethnic group to which you do not belong. If you wear a prayer cap, keep it very simple or adopt one of the more historic styles. I love the Lancaster County Amish cap, but it is too closely affiliated with that geographic group to work for anyone else. Many Plain women who aren’t in traditional Plain churches choose the modest Cape dress and a short veil, whether black or white, or some other quiet colour.

Be flexible, as much as you can. If you are not in a Plain church and not under the ordnung, you do have some leeway in when and how you dress Plain. I do not think you should oppose your husband if he does not agree with all your Plain choices. Some dislike the head cover, others the weird shoes! If he does not want you to cover daily, at least get a compromise and cover for church. Maybe he will agree to a scarf or bandanna for everyday. If you continue to feel convicted and he is in opposition, all you can do is pray for his change of heart. My own husband dislikes the bonnet, but I do wear it when bad weather makes it practical!

I can share more details on the construction and wearing of various articles of Plain clothing, and will do so in another post.


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