Quakers have historically practiced plaindress, a testimony that we are famous for. While the practice has mostly become extinct, the theology behind the practice is often still held amongst Friends. What is your relationship with clothing? Does your clothing set you apart from the mainstream in some way? Here is Friend Mark Wutka’s response. Click here to give your own.
Name: Mark Wutka
Meeting: Nashville Friends Meeting (member of Atlanta MM)
Branch: Liberal/Conservative Quaker
I’m Mary Linda McKinney’s “Plainman”, and I never pictured myself going for Quaker plain dress. During my first School of the Spirit retreat, Lloyd Lee Wilson spoke to our class. I had known LLW for a few years already, he has been a tremendous influence on me, but I hadn’t before felt any leanings toward plain dress. In his talk, he said a bit about his style of dress, including his beard, which he called a Tauferbard (believer’s beard). I found that giving it a name somehow gave it power for me.
When I got back to my room, I wrote in my journal that I felt led to grow such a beard, and it felt like there were three specific reasons why it felt right. First, as a statement of Christian pacifism. Second, as a way of making myself more conspicuous so that I couldn’t so easily blend in with the crowd. It wasn’t that I wanted to show off and say “hey, look at me!” but that I wanted to be aware that people were watching me, so that I would be more aware of my behavior – sort of a spiritual discipline. Third, I wanted to invite people into spiritual discussions.
My wife at the time, Ceal, was a bit skeptical about the beard, but she was willing to let me try it, and eventually found that she liked it as long as I let her trim it occasionally. I tried trimming it once about 2 weeks before she died, she had gotten too weak to do it herself, and it was a disaster. Now I just let it grow.
By my second School of the Spirit retreat the beard had grown out enough that I had shaved off the mustache and I had a Tauferbard going. At that point, I was still dressing the way I always had, t-shirts and jeans, or dockers and a golf shirt. Mike Green, one of the core teachers, remarked that pretty soon I’d be wearing white shirts and black pants. I felt strongly that I would not.
Within two months, however, I felt inclined to go to plainer dress and began dressing in white shirts and black pants with suspenders. I felt that it helped me be more of the person I wanted to be, and that it felt comfortable and right. One person on my SotS support committee remarked that it seemed like my exterior matched my interior.
I also wear sort of a blue plain – long or short sleeved denim shirts and jeans, especially if I am working in the yard or going out for a walk. I also got a couple of hats, one is straw, the other a black felt one. Mary Linda thinks the black one looks too stern and that the straw one looks friendlier. People do occasionally come up to me to talk, although most of the time it is to ask if I am Amish (sometimes humorously, such as the person who confused Mormons and Amish, or the one who suggested that Amish was a nationality).
In addition to not having to worry about what to wear (not that I worried, but now I just pull the next shirt and pair of pants off the hanger), I like the awareness it brings – not that I am stoic or anything, but I do find myself giving extra consideration to my actions.