Q: So what about the funny clothes? Do you dress like the Amish?
A: Some Friends are led to adopt what Christians call the "plain
witness." This is a specific Christian discipline in which
participants choose to separate themselves from the dominant culture in
certain ways, and to adopt what is essentially a religious uniform in
their clothing to make that separation obvious to others. Among
the conservative Amish and Mennonites, the plain witness in dress is a
part of a much more comprehensive separation from the world that
involves almost every aspect of their lives. The dress serves as
a short-cut means of establishing a specific Christian identity among
these Anabaptist groups, in which they can instantly recognize kindred
spirits and community members.
Friends in the 17th century carefully adopted simplified and
undecorative styles of clothing, and were slow to change them, with the
result that in just a few years Friends were instantly recognizeable
wherever they went. This was good, because we could spot each
other if we needed assistance, and bad, because it made us especially
visible to persecutors. Although the dress changed slowly over
the years, it always served as a means of helping Friends maintain
cohesive communties, and of reminding us of who we professed to be.
Until the middle of the 19th century or so, Conservative Friends
generally maintained a plain dress as part of the plain witness
practiced by many members. Most Books of Discipline or Faith and
Practice recommended plain dress as an important means of keeping
Friends a separate people. But gradually the concern for plain
dress began to diminish, as did the use of the "plain speech" (see
above under "Funny Quaker talk.") Today very few Friends still use
the plain dress, although those that do generally believe it to be
very, very important.
For men, it usually takes the form of a broad-brimmed felt or straw
hat, trousers with suspenders instead of a belt, and muted colors in
the fabrics: blacks, whites, greys, browns. Men sometimes
also adopt aspects of the plain witness used by the Amish and
Mennonites : broad-fall trouser cuts and beards without a
moustache (Quaker men were traditionally clean-shaven). Women
usually wear long-sleeved, long dresses, and a head-covering such as a
scarf, bonnet, or cap. There are infinite variations.
There are a number of websites devoted to plain dress among Friends,
Anabaptists, or conservative Christians. Two very good ones for
Friends are QuakerJane and QuakerAnne, listed on our Related Internet Sites
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