For many people, I am the only visibly Plain person they know. (It’s the cap and apron.) My husband is Plain, but being a man, it’s not so obvious, since he rejected the Brethren beard as impractical – he still had to shave the upper lip, which meant more mirror time than he wanted. And he doesn’t cut his hair at all anymore, so it is just getting longer rather than being trimmed off at the collar like most Anabaptist men. That’s fine for us, since we are Anglican and not thoroughly Anabaptist. No matter what, I think he’s a very handsome man. (He disagrees.)
But I’m the one who gets the questions. “Are you Mennonite?” is the usual one. Sometimes I just answer, “Yes,” because I am, theologically, very close to Mennonite, without the ordnung. Some people are looking for more, though. They are drawn to Plain life, and have no clue how to begin since they are not going to join an Old Order community. Can I be Plain? they ask, even if I’m not Mennonite or Amish or Quaker?
Yes, of course. Plain is as Plain does. Some people are going to find a spiritual home with the Quakers, or the Anabaptists, others aren’t. Some are intimidated by the language issue of joining the Old Orders, or the huge cultural learning curve. And some, drawn to Old Order life despite the obstacles, simply will not qualify to join the church, because of divorce and remarriage, or because they don’t want a rebaptism – they consider their infant baptism valid. But I find there are a growing number of Plain people in other church communities, Anglican being prominent. I’m going to exclude the conservative evangelical communities, that despite modest dress, are not Plain in dress or life. By Plain I mean following a Biblically based way of dress without ornament, and living as simply as possible, in the teachings of Christ as transmitted by the apostles.
If thee is called to Plain, thee must follow, or face lifelong misery. The Lord does not just go away quietly once the call is given. That call is perpetual, and must be answered, or denied at peril. Thee will know the call. It may start with a simple longing for a simpler life, a choice of clothing that is simple and without pattern, perhaps an interest in historicity that seems to focus on the peasant life rather than the nobility’s.
But the second question I get is often, “How far do I have to go?” Only thee will know. For some women, Plain may mean simple dresses, prayer caps, bonnets, shawls and boots. That would be me. For others it might be simple jumpers in solid colours, turtlenecks, and a veil-style covering. For still others, Plain may be denim dresses and skirts, and a kerchief or scarf on First Day. We do not need to worry that we are not Plain enough, unless we feel in our hearts that we have not done what we should.
For men, the obvious Brethren identification of the chin beard and “Dutch” haircut may be important. It says Pacifism. The men may be most comfortable in traditional Plain dress, of the simple collared shirt, braces (suspenders) and broadfall (button fly) trousers. Other men, such as my husband, are Plain in denim jeans and unembellished shirts and sweaters. Nicholas wears either a black, Quaker-type hat usually associated with the Amish, or this winter, a black fur hat which echoes the style of Russian-emigre Mennonites on the Canadian prairies. It’s time for a new black brimmed hat, and a summer straw, to be ordered next month from Ohio, along with a new black bonnet for me. Since I don’t wear the cape dress (yet) I think we look more Quaker than Anabaptist, but that is a sublety lost on most people.
I must say that I may carry “Plain” to the extreme of letting my clothes get a bit decrepit, because they are merely protection for the body, not a statement about fashion, status or wealth. That is why I’m Plain. Perhaps I fall into “monastic Plain” as a type. Many Plain people are quite conscious of looking neat, with some clothes set aside for going out amongst the “Englisch.” I have to cast about on First Day to make sure I have something presentable before the altar of our Lord. I have to admit that a couple of aprons and dresses are at the patched and threadbare stage, and are not a good witness anymore. I do try to make sure my cap is clean, as it is an article of religious dedication, and I would no more wear a dirty cap than I would wear dirty vestments at the altar, or offer the Lord’s supper on stained linen. (Thee, priests, reading this who are not careful, I remind thee of the Canons. Clean alb, no grime on the stole, and fair linen on the altar. Fair means white and pure, not wine-stained and dotted with candle drips, or made over several times with a number of darns. Thee knows what I mean.)
I do encourage thee, though, to relax about it. Do not become a legalist in dress. I do not intend to go to the gym in long skirts and a prayer cap, but to dress modestly and appropriately for the activity. Although one can do many things in a skirt, do not endanger one’s health and safety. Thee is not representing Christ fairly if one looks ludicrous or is likely to cause trouble with thy skirts.