Annalee and Clothing

Name: Annalee
Takoma Park FM
Branch: Liberal Quaker, Conservative Quaker

I’m a costume designer. As a student at Earlham, I did an independent study of Quaker plain dress.

I undertook my independent study in the first place because I believe that the things we wear say a lot about us, both as individuals and as a culture. I’ve been studying period costume since high school, and clothing is still the primary lens through which I view history. When I began making a concerted study of Quaker history, looking at the history of Quaker clothing just seemed like the natural way to go about it. But the most eye-opening experience I had when researching plain dress was actually wearing it. That’s when my independent study turned from a history lesson to a theological one. That’s when it turned from a project into a leading.

The thing about wearing clothes that announced my religious convictions to the world is that it made me keenly aware of how accountable I was to those convictions. Not just in big, obvious ways, but in all the little personal interactions that make up daily life. Whether I was buying groceries or going through airport security, I felt like my bonnet made me an ambassador of my faith, and it became extremely important to me to embody that faith to everyone I met. To, in Fox’s words, be a pattern, be an example, among all sorts of people, and to them. Fox was right–making that effort did make it easy to walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone.

There are a lot of more subtle ways to do plain dress (and there always have been–it’s a myth that there was ever a universally-accepted Quaker uniform. Assuming that the admonishments in old Quaker records about ‘fancy’ clothes means that no one was wearing them is a bit like assuming that the “no smoking” signs in our community mean nobody smokes). Many of the plain dressed Friends I’ve spoken to have said their concern for the peace and equality testimonies are a big part of their plain-dress witness, and many folks who don’t wear obvious plain dress take up this concern in how and where they buy their clothes. But I found that wearing plain clothing that marked me as a Christian woman to the world wasn’t just a way of living my concern for peace and equality–my clothing became a tool that helped remind me to live all my convictions.

With any clothing, there’s a risk of getting too lost in the medium to remember the message–whether it’s priding ourselves on our brand names or on our plainness. But my experience suggests that clothing myself in rightiousness can be at least a little bit literal. After graduating and stepping into the working world, I had to set my bonnet aside, but I still feel the call of that leading. I expect eventually, the call will get strong enough to pull me back to it.

Posted in Modern Quakers and Clothing | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Annalee and Clothing

  1. Mackenzie says:

    Do you have electricity?


  2. Annalee says:

    I should clarify that I checked the “conservative Quaker” box because the beliefs and traditions of Conservative Friends square well with my own beliefs, and what I want out of a faith community. While I’ve had a few chances to worship and discuss theology with various Conservative Friends, I’ve never actually been a member of a Conservative meeting.

  3. DigitalQuaker says:

    As we are not too far away from each other (Rockville), I hope we’ll have a chance to talk of both experience and opportunity in our shared Quasi-Urban environment.

  4. Barbara Smith says:

    Annalee – Thank you so much for posting this. your simple witness is very meaningful to me. I have been wearing an obviously religious black head covering for a few months, along with my plainish clothing and it has been quite an experience! I completely know what you mean about being conscious of every interaction you have in public! It is now a leading I don’t think I can ever give up as it is so important to my spiritual journey.
    I hope you dol get to return to your bonnet someday.
    PS You look stunning in your outfit! I assume you made it yourself? Is it from a particular time period or is it a more fluid creation?

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