Growing into Plain

I’ve been looking at vintage patterns lately and it has been a bit of a revelation. I spent years in professional attire or casual jeans; I always thought of myself as someone interested in fashion, who dressed to be stylish and projected an air of well-read sophistication. (I’m not quite sure how well-read one can look, now that I think about it.) One young friend called it the “cool minister” look.

But as I look through clothes styles from my young days, and pick out patterns I would have worn, bought or coveted, I am surprised to find that Folkwear, “granny” dresses and pinafores played a big part in my taste. I read books by and about Quakers. I liked the Puritan costumes at Plimouth Planation, although Puritan theology gives me the shivers. I had read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books; I was devoted to Yves St. Laurent’s romantic Russian styles from the seventies.

This is what I mean:

I had this pattern. My grandmother didn’t want to make it full length. so she made the top for me. Not what I had in mind. I realize that my family thought I was a bit extravagant in the fabric usage department. Because I would have worn this:

Yes, with the straw hat. Although this variant is appealing too:

That ruffle looks like fun!

I was never one to moon over my future wedding, but when I had a serious boyfriend, I sketched this dress a hundred times:

The one on the right, in lace, with a full veil and a juliet cap.

I could never have afforded anything designer, and the sewing skills required kept me from attempting this, but in my heart of hearts, this is what I wanted to wear:

vintage 1976 YSL

 And here is something I just bought, that I had wanted for decades!

I think it will make a great workdress for the croft, and in a light batiste for summer, a nightdress.

I may be Plain, but I haven’t forgotten romance!


18 thoughts on “Growing into Plain

    • I’m thinking of getting some of them – but realize I would have to scale up the sizes now! I am not the skinny high school girl I once was.

  1. I sometimes go online or flick through my books and moon wistfully over those kind of dresses, and over Edwardian and 1930’s clothes.At the same time, I get wistful of the New Order Amish kapps and the Old Order River Brethren caps.They call to me but the shipping is too expensive.

    I like the hanging veils I have but they make me look very “nunnish” which isn’t always the safest look to have for me.When in public I hope people don’t assume that I’m a child abuser such is the anger at the RCC coverups.My group uses the veil so I shall stick with it but I’d rather a kapp instead of giving people mixed signals.

  2. I was a lover of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as well. I too hugged more to the romantic, long skirt, classic look. Being 5’7″ with more leg than body, I was always more comfortable in long skirts then in mini skirts. I thought they made me look like an ostrich. I also have had the same issue with many professional suits. They make the skirts SOOOO short!

    Come to think of it, I had the center dress from pattern 6218 when I was in grade school. I am so happy that the maxi dresses are back. It is so much easier to find long, comfortable appropriate dresses.

    Recently I discovered the comfort and joy of the cape dresses. I had never worn one and now I have three! They are wonderful for working around the house, I can throw a blazer over them for work or a shawl for church. Wonderful invention. I think they should encourage the “worldly” women to wear them too.

    I am still comfortable with my bun cover. I do not think a prayer cap is in my future. I know a veil is not. But the cape dress I am keeping.

  3. Janon,

    Buncovers are fantastic!! i wouldn’t be without mine!!! In many instances, for me, more substantial coverings cause difficulty, so the buncover is a fabulous way of covering without giving the enemy room to sabotage my witness by the reaction of those close to me who may have difficulty getting past the piece of cloth upon my head and closing down altogether to the call of Christ.I too have a few capedresses, and you’re absolutely 100% correct. Nothing beats them for durability, comfort, ease of movement and a lovely crisp look if paired with blazer, , wrap or draped dupata-like scarf (something in a nice fabric).

    • We wore buncovers backin the seventies – and snoods. My grandmother would crochet them for us. My parents and church did not oppose covering although few of them practiced it anymore. We were allowed pants as long as they were modest, but we wore skirts to all church functions and most social gatherings; we weren’t allowed piercings and dyed hair. We could cut our hair. It was a rough time to be a Baptist girl – the 1960s had changed so many cultural expectations., and our Baptist church was in a period of change. It wasn’t improved by the influence of the up and coming evangelical movement. I think I would have stayed and been happier in the church if they had been stricter overall, but the signals we were getting were decidely mixed.

  4. At what point does “plain” turn into costuming? Part of having a dress code is blending in with a group and choosing according to the group and not according to one’s own tastes.

    • It is a good question – and we all ask ourselves that. Because Quakers in particular are scattered throughout the globe, regular communication has always been an important part of the faith life. For those who are Quakerly in spirit, but not part of an organized Meeting (which is valid in Quaker philosophy) we stay in touch with Quakers and each other through this sort of media. The other traditional Plain groups – mostly Amish and Mennonite – do the same. They are more likely to congregate in family groups, but when they set up new communities they can become detached, so they communicate either via postal service and newspapers, or now, by internet, if their ordnung allows. Isolation leads to fantasies and all sorts of (possibly) obsessive eccentricities. All of us have gone through different phases of Plain dress, and most of us adapt to what is suitable for us. I have noticed that when groups of Plain but not Anabaptist women get together, we look very much alike because we are, perhaps unconsciously, conforming to a group expectation. We keep each other in balance so as to avoid those eccentricities which would lead to “costuming”.

      Your question brought to mind a story of an older priest – now deceased, I believe – who took to heart the rubric in our prayer book that called the priest to vestments according to the time of Edward VI. He decided that to be on the safe side (with God? The archbishop of Canterbury?) he would always wear priestly garments according to the model of the reign of Edward VI. Yes – academic gown, britches, full sleeved shirts and waistcoat – and a cap on the Cambridge model, one of the ugliest pieces of headgear ever devised. This was what he wore on the street, not just in church. This was truly eccentric costuming; no one else (since about the time of Queen Elizabeth) wore this as clerical attire. But Anglicans being Anglicans, his bishop and parish ignored the sartorial strangeness and he went on blithely doing his work.

      What I find strange are Christians who look outside the Christian model for their discipline – remembering that Plain is more than a way of dress, but a way of life. Quite a few women and families I know are adopting what they see as Jewish custom – sometimes in dress, following the model of the Orthodox or Conservative groups. (And it seems to be women who do this despite their husbands’ wishes.) They wear kippot; they light the Sabbat candles; they keep the seventh day as a sabbath – and often set themselves outside their Christian church because they won’t attend divine worship on First Day. Not many keep kosher. Some will refuse to eat pork, but that is about the extent of it for many. MInd, this was settled about 2000 years ago, that Gentiles would not have to follow Jewish law when they became Christians – but there is a widespread and I believe heretical movement to restore Christianity to what some people see as its Jewish roots. I don’t know how today’s Judaism regards this! I know how I feel when neo-pagans adopt Christian customs, from Plain dres to communion – I ask them “Why are you stealing our practice?” (Especially the communion – or Eucharist, commonly called the Lord’s Supper – as it is the most sacred of our worship practices. It is blasphemous to imitate what we do with the sacred meal while denying the faith that we call necessary to truly receive the Holy Spirit.)

  5. This is funny. I was married in a Gunne Sax prairie dress. I have made a half dozen of the Folkwear patterns: the Afghan dress, the Russian settlers dress, dress, the English shepherd’s smock, the Prairie dress and the child’s pinafore as well as all the apron and the biscuit cozy from the now out of print Victorian kitchen. I once had a princess-line gray wool coat in the Russian style with wide black fur (fake) trim at the bottom and and stand up collar and closed with black frogs. I loved it dearly. It seemed so romantically exotic or exotically romantic. My unkind brother claimed it make me look like one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s soldiers. I am still rather partial to traditional Slavic dress. Maybe my childhood love of the illustrations of the original published version of “The Mitten” by Alvin Tresselt.

    • I love Gunne Sax – Jessica McClintock’s mother lived near us in northern Maine, and there was a local Gunne Sax boutique she ran. I will need to look for the defunct Victorian kitchen pattern.

    • I loved Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley. Folkwear have so many beautiful patterns. I really like the Austrian Dirndl pattern. I’ve made that one so many times. How did you like the Russian Settlers’ dress? I’ve got it but haven’t made it up yet. My favourite winter coat was princess seamed with velvet at the collar and cuffs and Celtic trim work at the bottom (my Mom’s hard work). Have you seen Jan Bret’s work, very inspiring too (Jan Bretts Christmas Treasury

  6. The first pattern, Simplicity 7435, I had in 1972 I believe. I made the dress on the left: long skirt with long sleeves. I saw a dress just like it in a shop that catered to hippie fashions and I just didn’t have the money to buy it so, that being the days when it cost less to sew than to buy retail in a specialty shop, I somewhat copied what I saw there and sewn one up. Came out most nicely! Wore to high school only to have a male social studies teacher tell me out loud in front of the whole class that my dress looked like his bathroom rug.

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