Why Do Some Quakers Dress Plain?

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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18 thoughts on “Why Do Some Quakers Dress Plain?

  1. The spiritual underpinnings of plain dress and much more are greatly expanded in the wonderful book A Near Sympathy: The Timeless Quaker Wisdom of John Woolman, by Michael L. Birkel, 2 nd ed. 2010 (2003).
    This book may not be well known currently but is worth seeking out. (I only recently came across it.)

  2. Not intending to disrespect Friends that dress plain

    Two thoughts occur to me – how is this not just a form of DRAG?

    Secondly, I am lead by Margaret Fell’s comment:

    “This narrowness and strictness is entering in, that many cannot tell what to do, or not to do. Poor Friends is mangled in their minds, that they know not what to do; for one Friend says one way, and another, another. But Christ Jesus saith, that we must take no thought what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or what we shall put on; but bids us consider the lilies how they grow in more royalty than Solomon. But contrary to this, they say we must look at no colours, nor make anything that is changeable colours as the hills are, nor sell them nor wear them. But we must be all in one dress, and one colour. This is a silly poor Gospel. It is more fit for us to be covered with God’s eternal spirit, and clothed with his eternal Light, which leads us and guides us into righteousness and to live righteously and justly and holily in this present evil world. (Fell, Margaret, Epistle against Uniform Quaker costume, 1700)

    1. Gay Quaker who crossdresses here, drag is performance art that is supposed to be opulent, outrageous, and eye catching. It’s more a stage persona than simply an outfit or some kind of ideological choice. Plain dress and drag are essentially polar opposites in almost every context.

  3. While I am a Quaker, I belong to a non-Quaker faith sharing group. I have found myself saying *yes, I could do that, but would I want to be doing it while wearing my I AM A QUAKER tee shirt?*
    When Quakers gave up plain dress and plain speech -their version of that I AM A QUAKER tee shirt – they gave up instant recognition as being one of those *peculiar people.*
    Now, we can be a Friend in our meeting community and the rest of the world is *none the wiser.* We may have gained personal privacy with our fitting-in shabby dress, but we have also lost a great deal in opportunities to witness, to minister, and to remind ourselves of the light we carry.

  4. Thank you Rachel, your observations are “spot on”!
    …appreciating your “light”, I do.

    Peace Profound, Jules

  5. Thank you, Jules and Rachel, for recognizing reality. The “inner self” is where the “inner light” is found.
    Altering clothes through 6 decades, to shaving off a beard, never long in form, after 3 decades to periods of hair below the shoulder blades for 5 decades, this soul is of body, mind, and spirit. Being simple versus flamboyant is in the eye of the beholder. As an elementary student with classmates of indigenous heritage to this continent in Oklahoma, a boy with long hair to sense more was accepted. However, upon starting at a Jr/Sr High School in Pennsylvania, (some call the Quaker State), being sent to the Principal’s office and demand for a haircut were the start of the first day.
    Each of the Mennonite and their Amish Sect groups of Lancaster/Lebanon area, Pennsylvania, do have rules and regulations on dress, haircuts, and method of transportation. Honestly, at 3 to 4 years of age my Mom couldn’t keep farmer’s pants, with straps over the shoulders, like many Amish wear, on me. Although 60 years ago, to this day, I still find the idea of wearing those pants as an awful way of being punished.
    What is viewed as being in SPICES is definitely within the soul of each of us, especially with the current pandemic crisis.
    May the Spirit of Life be with all of you.

  6. I can see how dressing plain would be an ongoing reminder of who you are and what you believe. I’m curious to know what other ways Quakers have found to give them that continuous reminder. I put a Q as my middle initial on Facebook to remind me to be careful with my posts. I have a large capital letter Q pinned to the cork board above my desk at work. These little cues help me to stop and think before I say something I might regret. I hope this doesn’t sound trite. I am curious if others have found ways to remind them throughout the day.

  7. Thanks Larry Muller,
    Good question…about a reminder of who we are.
    My sister in law is a non-theist Quaker…on her bathroom mirror is a simple piece of paper with just two words: “I’m available”

    Perhaps, each of us already know what our mission is! But a reminder is is good.

    “There is positive strength in the knowledge that you live for the welfare of others, and that these others likewise live for your welfare and advancement.”

  8. David:

    Drag is a costume for a performance. None of us are in costume. We dress as shown every day.

    As to Margaret Fell’s quote, yes, “everyone must dress the same” would, indeed, be “a silly, poor gospel.” It isn’t gospel (literally “good news”) at all. Our testimony must always point back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  9. I believe this is from Rumi, concerning “light”

    “A wound is nothing more than a place to let the light in”

  10. Mackenzie,
    Some would have it that all human expression is ‘performative’, the reason I use DRAG as a description of the style of dress you outline – is that you chose your wardrobe with the intention of marking yourself (selves) out in a particular way. Almost a way of ‘othering’ – in much the same way that many religious communities dress in distinctive ways – to separate themselves from the mainstream – think Ultra Orthodox Jews, or Muslim women wearing the scarf.

    Your decision to wear plain colours has more to do with ‘this marks me out’ rather than ‘I am just not fond of paisley’.

    As to Gospel, I would take issue with your statement that ‘Our testimony must always point back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ’; I think you need to allow that many Quakers are not Christians, some not not even theists. We are a broad church.

  11. Thank you David,,,indeed I’ve met Quakers that are Non-Theists, Buddhists, Universalists and yes even Nudists…go figure! We are a braoad spectrum, but mostly we are “humanists”.

    Peace Profound

  12. We all have free choice in what we do with our life and what we wear as clothing the Bible king James says God loved the colors burgundy royal Blue purple and gold all colors of stones and God made a rainbow of all beautiful colors and I love it every time I see it and it was a covenant with Noah Jesus died for our sins so we can live for him forever on into heaven our home forever we may have different dress rules way of life different color of skin but God looks into the heart and God and Jesus loves us all I believe we do all we can not to dishonor God and Jesus and be a light to show God and Jesus love to all for the greatest gift God gave us is love God bless you all in Jesus love Phyllis Williams 21168 tucker Rd Greenleaf Idaho 83626

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