Plain Dress November

Plain is as Plain does

I’ve been Plain since 2006, along with my husband. He was naturally plain, I think; even as a child, when his mother, a very good seamstress, would make him fashionable shirts and clothes, he would only wear them to please her, preferring jeans and dark shirts. He was a natural for clergy garb – black pants, black shirt with the funny white plastic tab in the collar. (I absolutely despise those tabs.) He’ll wear the same shirts now, without the insert. Oddly, he always hated belts – the buckles were never plain enough for him, and he’s not shaped well for a belt, anyway. When I switched his trousers to braces buttons, he was well-pleased.

He hates suits. When he’s had to wear one, especially if it means a tie, he looks like a dressed-up bear. He rolls his arms forward and leans out of the tie. He no longer has either.

My journey to Plain is well-documented here; I don’t need to recapitulate. I’ve survived the hostility from friends and family, and in some cases, I’m still waiting for some people to come mend their side of the fence. Those that don’t like it can go on not liking it; I’m done defending myself because for Heaven’s sake, I have done nothing wrong in this.

Should others become Plain? Only if called. When the call is felt, it is inescapable. I was probably called from childhood. I loved Plain people, Quakers and Amish. I loved nuns in traditional habits. I thought our Baptist ministers in their suits and coloured ties were real peacocks compared to the Catholic and Anglican priests! (I’ve since met some really flamboyant dressers, and have toned down my opinions.)

We do need to think about Plain when we are called. It will be a long, hard meditation, with a lot of wavering. It isn’t vanity to take pains with Plain when we start. It took me a couple of years to refine what I needed to do. Some of it is pragmatic – the stiff caps instead of soft caps, the length of skirts, the choices of colours. (My husband is partially blind for the last year and more; I’ve switched to brighter colours so he can see me more easily.)

Dressing in the morning is now more than undies, jeans and a pullover. I have to consciously think of how the clothes go on, and remember why I am doing it. Long dresses, some of them cotton, require shifts and such underneath, and an apron (or some such) over for modesty. (I have a lot to be modest about,which I used to flaunt, or at least emphasize. I’m not ashamed of it, but it isn’t what I need to present first to the world.) Priests of the high church party used to have cards outlining the prayers they were to say as they put on their ecclesial garments, a practice derived late in the 19th century from the vesting prayers of the Orthodox Church, which are ancient. I have used both, although when alone my vesting prayers were along the lines of “Please, God, don’t let me say anything stupid out there, and keep me from tripping over my cassock again.”

In the church, I was plain at the altar. I wore cassock and surplice (a really long one that looked like a nightie; it subbed as an angel costume) and black stole, known as a tippet. This is also called a preaching stole. I very rarely wore coloured stoles, an alb or a chasuble – the round garment that signifies the prist who is celebrating the communion. Some priests wear their university hood with cassock and surplice and stole. I was taught to wear one or the other, hood or stole. I’ve lost my hood, and I doubt if I will replace it. It says to the people, I think, “I’m smarter than you.” There were times I would get called out of the vestry, not get back in, and start the service in just cassock. I sometimes said the service in street clothes. Everyone there knew who I was and what I did, why did I need special clothes?

Things I like about Plain: I don’t send mixed messages. I don’t look rich, or sexy, or trying to look younger than I am. People ask me questions in a friendly way. Sometimes I have amusing encounters with people who guess all the wrong things about me (except that I am rich, sexy or young.) I can make my own clothes and ear them for years without anyone wodnering why I’m out of style. My shoes are comfortable. I get to wear aprons.

It is an easy vocation, now that I’ve done it for quite a while. It is a blessing.

8 thoughts on “Plain Dress November

  1. I am going for Plain November but as I am already as plain as I wish when it comes to how my clothes look so my offer to Plain November is to not buy clothes. I have toned down and simplfied my dress but I still very fond of getting new items or altering the ones I have but this month I will not do that. I will make do with what I have and thank god for what I have (of course I will not mainly focus on my clothes I have so much more which is more important). I am not a very consumerist person but clothes is my big downfall in that area. If I reach any level of success I will probably go for a year of not buying anything unnecessary in 2011.

  2. When I wore suits I had people walk through the door or not hold it for me. I was rarely called “mam” and I was often questioned on motives. Now people hold doors for me, almost always call me “mam” or “miss” and when I say something I am never questioned. The other day I was in chambers and the Judge did not have notes on a pretrial. When I recited my recollection, the Judge instantly replied, “Oh I am certain that is what happened, simply because you say so.”

    With power comes responsibility. I cannot abuse my position of trust because not only would that harm my reputation but it would also go against my reason for going modest to begin with.

    I laughed when I read in your post about having a lot to be modest over. Being a 38 DD myself I can relate. Where I used to dress to make that point well known, I now like empire dresses that don’t bring that point so well home.

    My husband is still fighting my modification. Last night he asked why I do not wear my hair down a few times a week. I told him that I put it down at night, for him, but for whom else would he like me to be pleasing for?? Stumped him. He is still working on the answer.

    Love your posts.

  3. I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on going plain. I look forward to more posts, thank you again!

  4. Would you mind letting me know of posts you have, that are in reference of your views on Christmas and Christmas trees w/decorations etc. I am open to your views. Blessing’s

    • I wrote quite a bit about Christmas and trees in December 2008. I’m not doctrinaire on Christmas trees. If someone likes them, wants one, and thinks it is a good part of their seasonal festivities, I won’t oppose it. I don’t put one up myself. For one, it seems a waste of either a good tree or an excessive use of plastic; the ornaments are now “collectible”, meaning people are spending money on something essentially useless; it takes a lot of time to get the tree decorated, and so many people put them up well before the Advent fast is over. Christmas (or Nativity, a better word perhaps) begins at midnight on December 24, and the Festival of the Nativity continues until Epiphany, January 6.

      I still, deep inside, think of the Norse sacrificial practices involving hanging living sacrifices to die slowly on trees, and this is a bit creepy when I have to decorate a Christmas tree. It is the main reason we don’t have one. I do give some alternatives in my posts in December 2008.

  5. I feel that still small voice telling me to wear caps . . . even though it does seem to “bother” folks at my church who are admonished to wear modern modest clothes. I now don’t feel dressed without a cap, even at home. I don’t know really if people look at me more in public or not due to the cap . . . something about a 100 lb Malamute mix service dog does tend to draw the eye.

    My one bonnet, so far, is for coverage from the sun due to sun allergy. The poison oak/ivy feeling is not pleasant at all and I *really* don’t want it on my face.

    Can you direct me to your discussion of stiff caps versus soft ones? I’m not sure I understand the pragmatism of stiff caps. I have very oily hair and frequent washing is a necessity of my couple of caps so far. I have discovered that I can’t abide having my ears covered by my caps and, so, have been trying to come up with caps that don’t cover the ears. While I think caps with ties look charming, I don’t like things tied under my neck, though I’m learning to deal with that with my bonnet, and on bad fibromyalgia days become quite the clutz. I’m concerned that dangling ties would cause problems.

    Thank you for your blog. I learn much from you. You cause me to think and examine, which I truly enjoy, even though I do sometimes get lost on some of your Anglican specific discussions.

    • I know I’ve written about it – I wear stiff caps because of my tiny head and fine hair, so they stay on. For thick hair, a soft cap might work better. I wash my stiff caps by hand with a bar of laundry soap on the grimy parts and they still hold their shape. I spritz them with spray starch if they seem limp. Soft caps need to be pinned with straight pins or clippies, but my stiff caps stay on with just a couple of bobby pins at the back. You can find stiff caps that are “cornered” – they don’t have ear pieces or ties. The Beachy Amish wear them. You might consider a snood for comfort.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I get lost in the Anglican stuff too, but I try my best, God willing!

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