Monday, August 20, 2007

Plain dress

In an ironic exhibitionism, I am writing a blog on plain dress. Following a leaning felt since childhood, I find that in recent months, I can no longer ignore my desire to dress plain. It has become an obsession. I search the internet to find examples of plain dress and long for a simple cotton dress with an apron and bonnet. What is that about? A bonnet? I actually become uncomfortable when I can't cover my head now. What the hell? I wear kerchiefs most of the time which I bought in plain colors and kind of hope no one thinks I'm a religious conservative. I purged my wardrobe months ago leaving only the most plain items. Some red sweaters remained (red is my favorite color and a goddess color too) and I kept a short skirt and some jeans and comfy pants. I find that I never wear the pants and I now find the short skirt ridiculous.
Last week, I wore a long black skirt with floral print and a black top for a lunch meeting. They didn't show and I was left waiting around in a shopping district. I felt very uncomfortable because I didn't feel plain enough. I figured the skirt, an old favorite thrift store purchase, was fine for home but too busy to wear in public and the top, though black was not in a natural fabric. I kept thinking that no one could tell what I was. It was a very awkward, disturbing feeling to be there looking like "a normal" person. A "yucky" feeling if you will. I wished I had a button or sign that pointed out "This is not who I am!!"
So what am I? I identify spiritually and historically with Friends and Pagans...but not with Christian Quakers and not with Wiccan pagans. Neither my Quaker or pagan thoughts make sense without the other. Maybe they don't make sense together either. Whatever. I see the desire to dress plain as my desire to separate from the rest of the world which I find distressing to say the least. I cannot stand to be a part of it. I also want my dress to be a visual testimony of my beliefs. In a sense, I am sharing the millennialist sentiments of my Burned-Over District ancestors. Repent, the end is near. But I won't be climbing up on any haystack to wait for the descending savior. My concerns are environmentalist concerns: global warming, species extinction, melting icebergs, pollution. I don't believe we have any time left to waste. The end IS near unless we become very seriously committed to protecting our future. Unfortunately, I believe it is already too late. We're screwed already but I'm still holding out hope that we can mitigate the degree of our children's suffering.
Part of my plainness comes from my strong belief that we must pay heed to Gandhi's advice, "Live simply so that others may simply live." But must I wear a kerchief and drab colors? What's up with that? All I know is that it is a relief to wear such things, a relief to own very little. If only I could avoid looking like a conservative Christian.....

9 comments:

Ravin said...

I'm a heathen and have (in one of my periodic bouts of religious studies) been learning about Quakers. Out of a compacting/simplicity impulse I have seriously simplified my wardrobe, and I've felt called to cover off and on since I became a mother 4 years ago. I'm soon going to make a commitment to covering, as an offering to Frigga and a physical manifestation of my commitment to the virtues I feel it represents (frith/peace, a woman's significant role as wife and mother, hospitality, modesty, and industriousness). And though I find a great deal of meaning in the Heathen path I walk, I think the Friends say a lot of things that make sense, and I agree with several of the reasons some of them dress plainly.

And I also don't want to be mistaken for a conservative Christian. Nice to know I'm not the only one out there!

jenna said...

I know this post is over a year old but I wanted to say, along with Ravin: I'm glad I'm not the only one. I feel pulled to Plain...but trying to reconcile that with non-Christian Quakerliness, a dash of Wicca, and some artistic leanings that aren't at all Plain.

Hystery said...

Isn't it a curious thing? Of course, I am not thrilled about being mistaken for a religious conservative or fundamentalist. Neither would I ever want anyone to think that any desire on my part to cover my head (or my ankles for that matter!) comes from any kind of shame of the female body or belief in women's inferiority.

So where does this pull toward plain dress come from? I think it has something to do with a desire to show that our inner convictions are lived convictions. It is not only Amish and some Mennonite groups who adopt religiously observant dress. If one is an American and lives in a consumerist and at times rather shallow cultural/historical society, but is oneself very spiritual, this is painful.

Might not the desire to say with one's clothes "I am religiously/spiritually observant" be both a protection from and a call to the jarring and injured world surrounding us? Is it not a way to soothe the jangled tensions of having to navigate through all the clamoring capitalism?

When I am in my version of plain dress, I am a nun, a monk, an Amish woman on her farm, a witch in her herb garden, a priestess in her temple. My heart is more placid. My motivations toward other human beings becomes more clear. I am more gentle because I am more at home within my peace.

plainasrain said...

This really is curious. Suddenly I'm feeling drawn to cover and dress plain. I've begun by growing out my hair and wearing scarves and snoods. But I feel a very strong urge to clean out my closet and start being kinder to the earth in my dress. I've looked online for plain clothes, and they're spendy. Luckily I sew and may invest in some plain patterns. Perhaps we should start a pattern swap?

Hystery said...

Alas, I cannot sew a stitch. I've worn thrift store finds of long solid colored skirts and I've tried to wear Amish-crafted dresses which I don't think suit me at all really (although my husband loves them). I'm not Amish though. Not a bit. So the quest continues.

Jenna said...

plainasrain, the patterns I got (dress and apron) have every size in them so they are economical. The pattern creator even said to copy the size off in tissue paper (these are printed on a relatively sturdy paper) so that you'll have all the sizes in the future. I really like that type of business person...who is more interested in the person's needs than making them buy, buy, buy. Here's the link http://www.candleonthehill.net/store/catalog.php?category=1

Soclosetolife...or Death said...

Oh it is so nice to hear someone with the same yearnings. Though I do have a solution for being mistaken for a Christian. I am doing a project and will be posting some pictures on my blog soon if you want to check it out.

Hystery said...

I'd love to see what you have in mind. Also, I love your Virgin Mary pic.

Shanzi said...

Just poking my head in to say I'm so glad other people seem to feel the way I do. I've been covering for.. years now, really. I don't really mind when people assume I'm a conservative Christian, or Muslim (though no one's thought I'm Jewish, which oddly amuses me, because my method of covering is pretty close... anyway!). I admit that recently, I have at least taken to partially uncovering when I'm not at work, though I still always wear a wide headband. I feel naked otherwise.

It's partly a comfort thing, and partly a modest thing (though, for me, those seem to go hand in hand.) I see no need to be utterly flashy, and I suppose I look at it as a quiet statement of exactly that, because I've never really been a flashy dresser to begin with.