When We Became Plain

We’ve been publically Plain for more than four years now. It was a very easy step for us, but the consequences were great, and no one expected it of two middle-aged Anglican priests. My husband, Nicholas, had lived in southern Ontario for quite a while, and often encountered Amish and Old Order Mennonite as he travelled around the province in his work. He openly admired them, the simple, Christian way of life, the lack of materialism. He adopted some of that simplicity in his life, although it wasn’t that obvious. Anglican priests, for the most part, dress quite simply. Black is the colour. That’s about it. Black shirt with white collar insert to look like clergy, black jeans or trousers, a plain black jacket or sweater. Yes, I know Anglican clergy, male and female, who are veritable peacocks. (You know who you are.) Most of us, though, keep to the simple and narrow way – it’s easier and it hides the coffee stains, which are an occupational hazard.

I, on the other hand, had closets of clothes. My daily dress was basic black, with some grey for variety. Off-duty, once out of overalls and denim jackets (raising sheep limits one’s wardrobe, too) I had dresses of fanciful shape and hue, and shoes, shoes, shoes. I had designer clothes. Oh, yes, tasteful designer clothes in those timeless styles, but cashmere, expensive wool, silk. Poor Nicholas was more than a bit intimidated by my high style when we met. (I wore designer jeans, a silk blouse and a suede cowboy hat. He was wearing an ugly plaid shirt and khakis – it just screamed “priest out of uniform.”)

Once we were together, and I had winnowed the chaff from the grain, wardrobe-wise, I was motivated to go one step further. Nicholas gave me his copy of Scott Savage’s The Plain Reader. I was home at last. Within a few days, I was down to two dresses, a skirt and blouse, and boots. I kept my black wool coat and made my first prayer kapp, thanks to Shepherd’s Hill.

But why?

It wasn’t mere Amish-enthrallment, motivated by romantic novel covers. I had known Mennonites and liked them, and had felt a bit of a tug to get Plain, but didn’t follow through. Anglicans aren’t Plain, I reasoned. No one will understand, people will hate it, I will look silly.

So I put that impulse aside. Little did I realize at the time that the hounds of heaven were on my heels.

Nicholas and I talked it over. It was a new life for us. We were already rural people, living a very simple life. It seemed practical, but it seemed more than that. We were making a break from the worldly past, and we were eager to show it. In Plain dress, with kapp and sturdy boots, I felt armored for the battle. I was ready. I was under the shelter of the heavenly hand.

That was the fulfillment of my search. I once said, “If only we could go out into the world, and take the monastery with us!”  I meant that we need to carry peace and mercy with us, sheltered by God. We move in this world, but we are not of it. We live in His Kingdom, here on earth. We are not citizens of the world of commerce and trade, just sojourners eager to return Home.

I went through many permutations of Plain, from nearly monastic to what I wear now, a Quakerly cape dress or jumper and a white or black kapp, and a very Plain Mennonite bonnet. I have made myself a slat bonnet, and those who know me as the most Austere of Austere Plain will be surprised to hear that today I bought two print fabrics for summer dresses, by Nicholas’s advice.

Nicholas looks the same as he has for four years or more: black shoes or workboots, black or blue jeans, black braces, Plain cotton shirt in white, beige, blue or black. He does have one madder red shirt he calls “orange” and thinks way too flash. He wears a black felt hat in winter, a plain straw hat in summer, doesn’t cut his hair and wears a full beard. He was wearing the Brethren chin beard, but his low vision now prevents him from shaving properly, and his beard and mustache have filled in. His winter jacket is his old peacoat, which he has had for many, many years. He’s a handsome man and I am blessed to have him by my side.

That’s us, Plain.

14 thoughts on “When We Became Plain

  1. Hello,
    Just curious – not at all critical. Wondering why your husband suggested print for your dresses? I only ask because I wonder how many of us who tend to wear the few somber colors suffer from any sort of – not depression, but just needing a bit of color from time to time. For me, if I was wearing street clothes I would still end up in the same colors – most of the time. I tend toward navy blue, brown, black, beige. But, in the past, when a change of season came I tended to have to wear a few times something that made me feel a part of that seasonal change. I had an old pale red gingham jumper I wore for years in the 3rd and 4th month, but after that I was over it. When the cool weather set in I had several ensembles I “needed” to wear a few times and then that was out of my system. They included a nubby skirts and certain sweaters in gold, brown, black, and my trusty old beret. I would be over it in a few weeks most of the time and not so concerned with what I wore. I still go through this every season!! I have given in a few times and worn the gold sweater and a long skirtand a long scarf covering. Soon, I am needing to be back in my plain clothes. I feel, though, that I need to cut this out and be consistent. I suppose I will if the Lord feels I should and He will supply the strength. The German Baptists we church with wear prints only and lots of wild colors. Thankfully, that doesn’t entice me. Anyhow, I just wondered about the print and if anyone ever has a bit of a withdrawal on certain things – not anything that goes against modesty.

    • I think the choice of colour and prints was partly because of his vision loss. He responds more to brighter colours than he did before. It was also my disappointment that I couldn’t find a suitable weight fabric in my usual colour range. I’v worn patterned clothes from time to time in the last four years, but usually not for long. Favourite comfortable clothes are a bit like talismans – we get them out seasonally and feel inside that all will be well, this sweater or skirt has seen me through before. Or we remember some happy times and a sense of well-being while wearing those ensembles when new. It’s certainly not vanity when the clothes have been with thee for several years and are quite out-dated! I don’t miss bright colour or pattern – I did this mostly because it was available at a good price and Nicholas liked it.

  2. Yes, I do think it is for me remembering happy times. Memories are so powerful, especially if you are going through a time where your not feeling like your making too many new ones. Ones that are happy anyhow. I have been in a valley for a long time and it is amazing to me how memories bug me. I lost most of my family in the span of about 5 yrs (parents, uncles, aunts,) and I can understand why older people tend to ruminate on the past. I don’t have time to ruminate on it, but it just pops up and needles me in odd ways. I find myself drawn to things of a particular time of my life and that includes colors and styles.
    I am sorry for your husband’s vision loss. That would be so hard! I don’t think some of us realize how hard that would be. Can he read still? Strokes are so strange in how they damage. We have a friend who lost his ability to read, but no vision problems. He is reading a bit better now, but not up to his usual. He drags books in to read, but they sit there unread.

    • He can read, but his comprehension is slow. He sometimes goes over the same page several times. Part of his vision loss is a vertical gaze palsy – his eyes jump from line to line. His left eye is most damaged, but his focus and acuity are very low. He can see things, but they are out of focus and indistinct.

  3. I keep winnowing down my clothes – and I still feel like I have too many! I may be because family buys me clothing. Is that something you’ve had to deal with? Someone being kind and well meaning and buying you something you’ll never wear?
    And by the way, today I am buying my first covering from garlands of grace and I am getting a mantilla from Veils by Lily 🙂 Pray for my witness at Seminary! I’ve already had a few good conversations with people about it.

    • Since my mother and grandmother are gone, there’s no one left to give me inappropriate clothes! And they always gave me things I would never, ever wear, Plain or otherwise. I woudl just thank them and then pass it along to charity. I fret a bit about having too many clothes, but I sometimes have to alternate between two dresses, and wash one while wearing the other, so I could give myself a bit of slack there. Teenaged girls are horrified that I can catalog from memory all my clothes. I have three black dresses, one brown dress, one grey jumper, one blue jumper, etc. Pretty soon I wil have two new print dresses!

  4. It was very interesting to read about your journey to plain. I love bright colors and prints, even leopard I’m afraid so being completely plain is never going to be an option and me sane at the same time. I go for modest, because this I can do and still have the colors l like and feel comfortable in.

    I have a question though, I am going on my first airplane trip since I started wearing a head covering. I want to cause as little stir as possible so I wonder, should I go for a covering that looks distictly religious (like a cap or a scarf tied in a way which looks religious) or a more ‘fancy’ covering which looks more like a fashionable detail? I guess that the first one makes it more clear that I am serious when I say that I wear this for religious reasons if asked but the latter might be seen as something that does not need to be removed at all instead. What is your thought? I am leaning towards the first one even though it might be seen as peculiar to cover as a Christian.

    • I haven’t flown covered!Quaker Jane has, and she wears her usual cover. Whether you will be asked to remove it is entirely up to local regulations and the airline. Maybe if you say you wear it for religious reasons, they won’t ask you to remove it. It would bother me a lot to do so.

  5. I enjoyed the post. I understand the comprehension thing. I once did very complicated crochet and cross stitch pieces but once the head injury caught up to me I had to learn to enjoy doing simpler pieces. Even so, I at times can read a simple pattern and it makes no sense at all! I have to lay it aside and allow my brain to figure it out. I am pleasantly surprised I am able to cross stitch the wolf piece as it is a bit hard and I think a lot of it is that I started not at the center as is common but at the top and am going page by page. You learn to compensate for things.

    • I have fibromyalgia and when I am tired I simply cannot reason anything through. I am trying to complete two cape dresses, but I have failed at the pleats completely, something I usually do well! I ahve to be patient with myself and give it more time, though. That’s the most difficult part for me.

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