We just moved to another city, a smaller, older city with a great history, but a very upscale demographic. It also houses several prisons and detention facilities – so go figure! It is rather Dickensian in atmosphere, an intriguing combination of tasteful old money and improbable characters.
And I am again the only visible Plain person. I have to get used to the stares and whispers, and they have to get used to the long black dresses, prayer cap, bonnet and boots. As my husband puts it, “If they don’t look twice at someone with pink hair, why are they staring at you?”
A subliminal impulse is to try to blend in a bit better – wear a colorful scarf over the cap, dress up a bit more. I’ve tried that before, and felt like a brown hen in borrowed peacock feathers. It just doesn’t work for me. It makes me feel awkward and self-conscious, even clumsy. I can’t appear to be what I am not.
I’ve had the opportunity to advise someone who is convicted to become Plain, and she’s not sure how to do this. She thinks she’ll feel conspicuous in a cap, long dress and shawl. She doesn’t know how she’ll explain it to her family. Here is my advice on making the transition.
Begin quietly. Pin up your hair, take off the earrings, switch to plain shoes. Pack up the fashionable clothes and give them to Goodwill or the Sally Ann, or at least put them in the attic. (I say give them away, so you’re not tempted to go back too quickly.)
After a couple of weeks, start wearing a bandanna or kerchief in a dark colour. People may make jokes about it, but you can just say, “I like the way it looks,” and go on with your day. That’s one of the key points to being Plain – don’t care what people think and say; you know it’s right for you, so do it.
Then comes the big day, and you go out in the prayer cap. I began by going to church with my first handmade cap. It was rather old-fashioned, with little lappets and a narrow band, and the ties were mere decoration. One friend instantly called it “becoming,” which was just what I wanted. It became me. Another said it was “fetching and sweet.” Another positive reaction. The Lord spared me the harsh and nasty words at first, although they came a few months later, when I was stronger in my conviction. By then I had learned “to give the bonnet,” as Quaker Jane calls it, and turn my head away slowly and deliberately, as if to say, “That comment/stare/smirk is not worthy of a person’s attention.”
My Plain dress is now so much a part of me that I cannot envision myself in worldly clothes. I dream of myself Plain, it has become so ingrained. It is me, deep down and always. One casual observation made to us is that we were “hardcore Christians.” And that’s a good way to put it. Plain is riskier, more obvious, and more humble than the visible witness of the clergy collar or nun’s habit, because it is so often a subject of derision and contempt. (Stupid Amish seems to be a theme in Hollywood.) And it’s not that the visible clergy and ordered aren’t sometimes subjected to that humiliation. I experienced it in the dog collar and black suit, too, but someone would come to my defense then, perhaps uneasy with the sacrilegious. But no one defends the Plain publicly, at least not in my experience. We have to take it on the chin and roll with it.
Anyone entering Plain life needs to realize that they will be noticed, will occasionally hear and experience negativity, and there is no fighting back. But that is one of the indications that God ordained it for us, that in our Christian witness, we disturb the world.