Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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Plain dressing = plain living?

Stumbling upon George Fox's biography (which I am currently only reading on and off, as it competes with other things) has once again sparked my interest in the Quaker movement. One thing I have found particularly intriguing is the commitment of some Friends to the practice of 'plain dressing'. It's a discovery that's called me to reflect on my own assumptions about the clothes people wear and the choices behind them.

I guess, coming from England where religious expression amongst the indigenous population is typically understated, I've always associated overtly-religious dress codes primarily with our Muslim and Orthodox Jewish neighbours.

The practice of modern Christian plain dressing, from the bits and pieces I've researched on the internet, can be traced back primarily to German, Dutch and English Christian groups which emerged during the Radical Reformation - namely the Quakers, Puritans and Mennonites / Anabaptists. Following persecution, these 'peculiar people' then migrated in large numbers to the 'New World' of North American where the tradition of plain dressing, in varying degrees, continues amongst their descendants - the Amish being the most well-known example.

It seems there are direct instructions in the Old and New Testament scriptures about clothing - particularly for women - which have been applied in various forms and to various degrees since the Early Christian communities. In this age, application of strict, gender-specific dress codes by Christians would likely be viewed as an over-zealous, antiquated 'quirk' in our oh-so modern and free age.

But it would seem, at least for modern plain dressing Quakers, that it is not Biblical literalism driving such habits but the Testimony of Simplicity and Testimony of Equality and Community (summed up jokingly by Quakers as, "proud to be a humble Quaker") which commits Friends to live simply, to be a public witness to their faith and to live in solidarity with one another. So in many ways this could be viewed as a progressive, positive step rather than a step backwards.

And in our increasingly secularised, consumerist, sexualised, image-dominated culture, a further motivation is to adopt plain dressing as a public statement of intent and cultural dissent. This trend (not without controversy) is also evident (mixed in with cultural conservatism) in other faith communities in the West, particularly Muslim communities.

Running paralell to this you also find the Fairtrade movement, arguably one of the great works of religious groups in recent times, which Christian churches often take the lead in promoting and supporting. There is a growing awareness in our society (fuelled in part by increased media coverage, including one of the BBC's better pieces of programming) of where our clothing comes from, particularly so amongst socially-minded, left-leaning Christians, which is why (rightly or wrongly) we now see the fashion of wearing TOMS shoes amongst Christian youth.

Speaking personally, all this is quite new and I am left undecided on its ultimate value and credibility. I am certainly attracted to the idea - it appeals to the romantic radical in me - but also cautious of what is often said about Goth subculture and their apparent non-conformity to popular fashions - "...but all you're doing is following another fashion."

I guess you also have to keep in mind that by adopting a specific dress code, you could run the risk of becoming too focused on outer appearances rather than inner values. The practice of plain dress may represent enlightened values of modesty and simplicity, but what if that unbranded (or ethically branded) pious-looking plain shirt I buy is 1) as costly as other clothing 2) made by an enslaved child?

1 comment:

Yewtree said...

I was very interested a while back to read a blogpost entitled "Pagan and Plain" (sadly no longer available), reflecting on whether Pagans might adopt a fair-trade form of plain dress. In fact, on Googling to find it again, there's now a social network for Pagan plain dressers. The reason I mention this is that there's clearly a broader impulse towards ethical / plain clothing.

I was very attracted by the idea of dressing plainly for ethical reasons, though I don't care about the sexual display aspect, as long as I do not feel exploited.