I am completely obsessed with all things Plain. I own “secret bonnets”, once hidden safely away in a drawer, now proudly worn by my five year old daughter. I have white aprons for “Baking Days”. I even own some near-cape dresses, made to my specifications by women who make Plain clothes for the great UNplain masses.
Religious dress has always fascinated me, in all of its incarnations. Through my many turns in and out of various religious expressions, I have come to love the idea of dressing in a manner that says, “I belong to Something/Someone Else”. I am a daughter of the King, and I want what I present to the world to be emblematic of that.
Here’s the trouble: as a girl who will sit and watch American Idol while wearing a bonnet and apron in secret, I have to be realistic about who I am inherently. I am not Amish, and I am not called to being Plain in that beautiful historical Quaker Way. Having a woman in a bonnet next to me at Meeting (it’s happened ONCE, and she was visiting from some fantasy Quaker land far, far away) is overwhelmingly wonderful. But I will most likely never be that woman in the bonnet sitting next to you. I do, however, have a distinct style that is borrowed heavily from Orthodox Judaism, anthroposophy, Mormons, Russian Orthodox, and a small sprinkling of Islam and Old Navy. I don’t think that it could rightly be considered Plain in the orthodox sense, but I approach it in a Quakerly way. I allow G-d to speak to me about what He wants from me, and I follow H-s leadings, never fearing what he wants from me. I want to be as authentically ME as He made me.
I first started thinking about my manner of dress long before my Quaker Days as an Evangelical, when I read an amazing book, called The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer. Her husband is the creator of L’Abri in Switzerland. In it, she speaks about how since we are made in the image of The Creator, it is our birthright as followers of G-d to be CREATIVE. We can express “art” and “creation” even in the smallest details of our lives. This includes how we dress. See how G-d clothes the lillies! At this time in my life, I was still wearing trends and very modern clothes, without a thought to thinking about if G-d would be pleased with what I wore. I began to open my heart to seeing my dress as a way to express G-d in my life. This is why I do not include only muted colours in My Plain. I do wear colours and patterns, as He clothes H-s Creation.
I have to admit that I place modesty above Plainess. I think in our present day culture, and this day and age…just to dress modestly is Plain in a sense. Even children have a hard time finding modest clothes in a mainstream store. I cover all of my parts. I wear skirts and dresses….or at least a long tunic over pants. It’s my personal conviction that when women wear pants, the eye goes STRAIGHT TO THE PANTS, no matter the figure of the woman or the cut of the garment. So, the skirts-only thing isn’t about not dressing like a man, which G-d condemns…but a personal choice based on keeping private the parts of my body I would like to keep private.
So many Islamic “hijabi” blogs speak about how dressing modestly frees them as women from having to meet certain societal expectations. They don’t have to look sexy, or thin or stylish. Men (and women) can really look at them for who they are inside. This idea speaks to me deeply, and has helped my move towards dressing modestly. Shukr Online has long skirts that you absolutely CANNOT find in regular stores. My “Islamic skirts” are one of my more recent favourite things to wear in the summer.
In the Mormon world, where adherents wear “temple garments” which cover them from knees to shoulders, there has begun a new and unique industry. Women who wanted to be able to wear contemporary clothes from mainstream stores, but couldn’t find things modest enough to cover their garments created a line of “layering” shirts. These jersey shirts come in a variety of cuts and lengths, and can be worn alone, or under mainstream clothes to make them more modest. They have recently branched out in skirts, dresses and swimwear. My two favourite Mormon clothes sites are: http://www.shadeclothing.com and http://www.layersclothing.com I always wear these layering clothes, to cover a bustline, or under something sleeveless or see-through.
On to Judaism…my years in Orthodox and Messianic Judaism gave me a love for headcovering. In Orthodox Judaism, the woman begins to cover upon marriage. I see it as a wedding ring that you wear on your head. To save your hair just for your husband is a beautiful and precious thing. Many women wear sheitls (wigs), but the Modern Orthodox style is to wear a variety of tichels (scarves), bandanas, chaponnes, berets and doorags. Because I also believe in the Messiah (and therefore the New Testament), I also take seriously 1Corinthians11 which tells women to cover their heads…”because of the angels” and as an outward sign of submission to our husbands, and therefore to Christ. G-d has called me to cover, and I have recently taken it on more full-time. I do let my hair hang down, but I always have something on my head….as a reminder.
My children are being educated (at least in large part) in Waldorf Education, which is based on anthroposophy. In anthroposophical philosophy, there is a lot of importance placed on the “archetype”. As teachers (which I am as a homeschooling mother), we are to present ourselves as much as possible as an archetype. We can be the archetype of “Mother/Madonna”…working calmly with our hands, while we gently hum and escort our precious charges through transitions from one activity to the next. We preserve the dreamy wonderland our our children’s lives by approaching them gently, completely open to them. We want to “hold” them with the arms of our love and spirits. The archetype of Mother provides a spiritually rich and warm domestic environment, where the children feel safe and at peace inside of themselves. I feel this falls so much in line with Quakerism (but more on that in another post). All kindergarten teachers in Waldorf Schools wear long skirts and aprons. Some even wear kerchiefs on their heads. They wear this “uniform” because it helps them to represent the ARCHETYPE. It’s a mantle of Madonna. So…even though as a mother to three little ones, I can in no way access this archetype with any great regularity…I find that dressing in this manner helps me a great deal. On really stressful day, where I feel like I am going to pull my hair out and call my husband at work crying from him to come home, I may even “amp it up” with one of my secret bonnets and a prairie dress….all the while chanting “I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE, I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE”.
The Tall Man likes me in modern clothes, so I don’t wear the prairie dress and bonnets out. G-d calls me through my Dear Husband as well, and I want to be sensitive to that. I want to be the bride that is desirable to him, not just follow my own fantasies without care for the one who should mean more to me than myself. So…I dress in modern clothes, in that they cannot be placed in a particular historical era.
My Plain also encompasses what materials things are made from. As much as possible, I try to buy things used, or make things out of other used things. I have a great jersey skirt I made from used t-shirts. I make most of my children’s clothes in this way. I use only natural materials, using the resources that G-d gave us in a responsible way.
Sometimes I become muddled and envious. I want something that I see in a magazine, or I wish I could look like a good friend who does not stay up at night praying about what she should wear (oh, to be so unburdened….). However, I bring these temptations to G-d, where they are levelled to the ground in H-s Great and Magnificent Presence. I am willing to be on a journey with My Messiah on this one…and to watch H-m slowly unfold H-s will for me moment to moment. I remain open to scratching all of these ideas and putting on a cape dress at any point…when He tells me to! Until then, I will continue to pour over those great blogs of women who dress in a True Plain manner, while I sit in my Mormon shirt, Islamic skirt and Jewish doorag.
I’ll post some pictures soon, maybe a little gallery of examples for the curious folks out there…or maybe as inspiration to those who feel called to adopt a more “Plain” style of dress. Ultimately, I know that PLAIN is not just about clothes, but it is an approach to life. If I were to immediately say, “Forget it, I am throwing out all of these clothes, and I am only going to….(insert rules here)”, I would give up. Trust me, I have done it. I want to always look first to my heart, to see if I have sufficiently removed all of the obstacles and distractions that prevent me from hearing G-d’s Voice. I desire first an uncluttered and Plain spirit, one that is singly devoted to G-d. The clothes should reflect that, and hopefully give reason for people to wonder about why my heart swells with gratitude and love for H-m.
*caveat….I have never been a Mormon or a Muslim…after reading this post, I realize it looks like I really have been in a ton of religions!