Most Quakers stopped dressing plainly in the late 1800s, but the practice is still alive for some. Four Friends explain why they choose plain dress today.
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Mark Wutka: No, I didn’t always dress this way. I would say I was a Friend for seven years before I came to this plain dressing, and I found that once I started with the beard… A friend of mine said, “Oh, next thing you’re gonna have white shirt and black pants and suspenders,” and I said, “No. That’s not gonna happen,” and within a few months that was exactly how I dressed.
Why Do Some Quakers Dress Plain?*
Max Carter: Quaker and the Amish, of course, are often confused because of dress styles. You see the old pictures of Quakers and they’ve got broad-brimmed hats and bonnets and plain clothes much the way the Amish dress today. Indeed, Quakers used to dress almost uniformly, although there was never a particular rule for how you dressed the way there is for Amish society today, but Friends were to be plain. But, Quakers stopped dressing plainly for the most part in the late-1800’s and Friends were encouraged to dress simply and modestly, but not in a certain plain uniform — although some Friends to this day will dress plainly as a public testimony to their belief in simplicity.
Mackenzie Morgan: Most Quakers do not dress the way I do. Most Quakers you probably wouldn’t be able to tell just by seeing them– although, I’ve gotta say, there’s quite the affinity for tie-dye. But nowadays most Quakers dress pretty much like everyone else. They might have some more compunctions about shopping at thrift stores or fair trade or not having writing on their clothing — you know, it’s not going to say “Hollister” across their chest because then they’re advertising for a company and they don’t want to do that. So you’ll see those kind of things as how people take up their version of plain — this is just my version.
Reasons for Plain Dress
I do the plain dress thing as… Ok, so there’s a practical side and spiritual side to this, right? So you can, on the practical side, be looking at things like minimalism, minimalist wardrobe. You know, I’ve got something like five shirts and my black skirt and I’m good to go! On the spiritual side, for plain dress, you can look at there are parts in the bible that say not to dress ostentatiously, basically. Traditionally, Quakers have had that as sort of a rule; our own books of discipline would say to dress plainly.
Scott Holmes: I’ve sort of experimented with lots of different looks in my own quest for plain dress. I had this phase where I dressed up like the Quaker box guy and walked into a tough part of town at lunch every day for more than a year, and had very interesting adventures with that. But, for me it’s usually a collarless shirt, a hat, and usually an earring, and I think those things in this place and time are simple. They aren’t things that would alienate people and they’re things that folks would be interested to talk about. Something about the big Quaker hat was that people felt real comfortable laughing or, you know, asking me if I was Mormon or something. It was a real conversation starter, and I think plain dress has that quality, too.
Mark Wutka: So my thought of when I started to dress plain, and I started with the beard and added the rest gradually, was that I didn’t want to be able to blend in with the crowd. It’s so easy to just look like everybody else and maybe interact with people or do things that you know you really shouldn’t be doing, but you just kind of go along with the crowd. But for me, I really wanted something that would call my attention to how I was interacting in the world, and looking different is a helpful tool for me.
Following God’s Leadings
Lloyd Lee Wilson: After dropping out of graduate school I ended up working in Massachusetts General Hospital in the medical clinics as the business manager, and I had a steady income and I had essentially no economic responsibilities, and I began enjoying buying myself good clothes to wear and I had more clothes and nicer clothes than I had ever had in my life, and God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, “You’re not going to do that.” Then there was the usual internal struggle for a while and God had the last word, and so God said, “You’re not gonna wear suits or sports coats anymore.” But God wasn’t done with me, so after we got to that I had to give up my ties and then I had to pay a lot of attention to not making my dress project a false image of me. And this process went on for easily 30 years. So I didn’t start out– I didn’t start any of this, ok, and it has never been about replicating plain dress of Quakers of older days, but it has been a series of leadings that God has given me. There are similarities– I can see the similarities between this and plain dress of olden day, I can also see differences. And yes, people stop me on the street and ask me if I’m Amish and that’s an opportunity to witness.
- Do your spiritual beliefs influence the way you dress? How so?
- Lloyd Lee Wilson is very conscious “to not [make his] dress project a false image of [him].” What image does your dress project of you? Is it a true image or a false image, and why?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.