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.