Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Musings on plain dress.

I'm thinking about it.

I've been reading postings on plain dress, and I'm just fascinated by it, though not exactly led to it.

but something Martin K. said about having so many clothes they won't fit in your closet really hit me. I have lots of clothes. Almost none of them are new, almost none of them are extravagent (actually, none of them are) but I have LOTS of clothes and LOTS of shoes. I wear mostly the same ones every day, but when I think of getting rid of some, I tend to think, "but that's really usable, I will need it someday."

Perhaps I should have called this "confessions of a quaker pack-rat" - which I definitely am.

I also wonder if there are any non-christian plain-dressing quakers out there. It seems to be mostly part of a sort of revival of christianity among young adult Friends. Parts of this upswell touch me, but on the whole, it doesnt' speak (directly) to my condition.

And part of it concerns me, because I see links in it to a sort of conservatism and traditionality. As a queer person, this raises all the hairs on my back. I find myself alert, waiting to see what the consequences will be.

The fact that almost everywhere you encounter it is "plain and modest dress. I am not at all worried about modesty. I believe one could even make a good argument for nudity as the purest form of plain dress. (you present nothing but yourself, you spend no money or time on clothing, etc.).

As a genderqueer person (relevant to this is the fact that I am a woman who most often chooses men's clothes, but not always) the gendered-ness of plain dress is something I find unsettling. If I chose to dress plain, would it be in male or female garb? would I be "allowed" to switch back and forth? but then, that reintroduces the issue of time devoted to choosing what to wear each morning.

Right now I am thinking mostly about giving up t-shirts that say things on them (well, not giving them away, making them into a quilt I think :)

and what seems really compelling, and quite challenging, is the idea of reducing my wardrobe drastically - picking a number, a limit. Like packing for a trip. 6 pr socks, 6 pr underwear, 2 shirts, 2 pants.

I'm not sure what those numbers should be, anyone have any advice?


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Earthfreak,
Well, of course there are all sorts of motivations to and variations of plain/simple/modest dress.

I there's some sort of telescopic effect going on with all of these blogs. You write that everyone calls it "plain and modest dress" but actually that's just the phrase my wife and I use (a google check finds that almost all the top references for "plain and modest dress" refer to my directory page or her Yahoo group). I myself call it plain dress but I saw that enough people called it modest dress (or more accurately: the concept of modest dress is so closely related) that it made sense to add that to the titles of our resources. I like trying to build bridges and wanted the resource guide to be welcoming to those who do come at this from a modesty framework.

And just to put out it as plain as possible: I can categorically state that all of the youngish Quakers I know exploring plain dress and Christianity are extremely LGBT-friendly. One of the most interesting parts to the "liberal conservative Quaker" phenomenon is how Queer it is: about half of the Friends exploring this are LG or T (thinking who I know, I can't think of any B's!). My main post on Conservative Liberal Friends explicitly makes this point and I even find ways to work it in when talking to/about old-style Conservative Quaker Friends who aren't known for their homophilia.

I know plain dress is easier for men just because there's a lot less cultural baggage in putting on a pair of suspenders. I don't think I'd go the dress route if I were a woman (my wife usually wears dresses in public but not at the gym where she works). I know one conservative liberal lesbian Friend who wears t-shirts, pants and suspenders; it's a good look, it works well for her. What you wear isn't really that important. I know a guy who always comes to Quaker events in loud tie-dies and yet there's something undenyably plain about it. It's the attitude with which you wear it that counts. And part of that attitude is simply not getting too worked up about it and keeping a sense of humor about yourself. When it gets too burdensome, it's time to stop the plain dress...

Thanks for posting on my site and letting me know about yours!
Your Friend,
Martin Kelley
aka the Quaker Ranter

earthfreak said...

Thanks Martin

Perhaps everywhere I was encountering it was somehow linked you your site?

I also ran across a woman on a quaker e-forum who was not quaker by very into covering her head and wanted to bond with people about being christian and modest. She was virulently anti-gay (as well as anti-non-christian) and I found the experience pretty disturbing.

I suppose my problem is, as so often happens in my life, I don't "fit" anywhere.

I have been interested in simplicity and plainness for a long time. Plain dress is something that I would love to explore with other like-minded individuals, but apparently there simply aren't other "like minded" individuals. Or at least I haven't found them yet.

earthfreak said...

Oh, and thanks for the link to the conservative liberal Friends post.

It's actually a relief to hear you're not planning on leaving liberal Friends. In my community it feels somewhat different from that. We have (what is maybe) a conservative liberal worship group, made up mostly of people who used to attend my liberal meeting, and I often feel like they want to get away from us, that we are somehow poisonous, though "satanic" would be taking it a bit far.

And I know that there are LGBT people involved in the "movement" (if that's what it is) - even a lot of them, but I am also surprised at how often I find that in this "middle ground" the lines often seem drawn such that some plain dressing and christian liberal Friends would rather associate with homophobic people who share their christianity and dress style than with queer-friendly folk who are universalist.

That saddens me

Liz Opp said...

Oh dear, Earthfreak. I'm sad to see you write of your concern that conservative-liberal Friends might be wanting "to get away" from your meeting. Might you allow for the possibility that these Friends--me among them--are wanting to get closer to what we experience as the Divine, which of course can come across as wanting to get away, but the intention is different....?

I have more to say but need to step back a bit. For now, I'd like to point out something you wrote in your previous post:

What I cherish about Universalist Quakers (not that it is universally true of us) is true universalism - that whatever is spiritually true to a cherished member of our community, is true. It does not have to be personally experientially true for every member of our community for us to worship together. [For] me that creates a richness that I cannot imagine in another setting.

What if I told you that, for me, a liberal-conservative worship group has "created a richness that I cannot imagine in any other setting"?

Thanks for opening up the conversation.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

earthfreak said...

Oh dear!

I see I left this one hanging, and am not sure where to address it, as the response I want to respond to is to a different post.

I think I have a concern in general, not for people who are finding deeper spiritual meaning in a more "conservative" setting - but with how often I hear that (or experience hearing it) being about getting away from liberal Friends - rather than about getting to something else.

It pushes all my abandonment buttons, but it also presents something I don't like about organized religion - the idea that it's not about fullness, but about exclusion. Not that some people or practices help you find God, but that some people or practices keep you from finding God.

just a half full / half empty thing?

Zach A said...

"And part of it concerns me, because I see links in it to a sort of conservatism and traditionality.

the gendered-ness of plain dress is something I find unsettling.

the lines often seem drawn such that some plain dressing and christian liberal Friends would rather associate with homophobic people who share their christianity and dress style than with queer-friendly folk who are universalist.

I hear you on all of these points. I find it really fascinating how something so strongly linked, in other contexts at least, to cultural conservatism and gender polarization is happening among liberal Quakers (including myself). But to me it just feels right – I mean, it feels like it won't become something oppressive. The day it starts to become so would be the day I stopped doing it.

At least that's how it seems when we're referring to the movement as it is now, i.e. a liberal thing. I can almost imagine a similar back-to-plainness movement starting to happen among (semi-)programmed Friends, which would blur the lines, but that would be a different story. I don't see the current New Plain movement as foreshadowing any kind of impending mass exodus from the liberal spirit.

And I can't speak to the third point except from my own experience, since I haven't been in personal contact with many other new-plain Friends, but I for one generally feel much more comfortable around liberal, non-conservative Friends (in the everyday sense of "conservative) than around non-liberal ones.

Kody Gabriel said...

Mmm. Yay. (By which I mean, translated back to Quakerese, Friend speaks my mind.)

I am wrestling with plain dress right now, and have many of the same concerns that you do. As another genderqueer person (FTM transboy who usually presents very androgenously) and a feminist, I worry that the most prevalent styles of plain dress reinforce gender dichotomy in a way that could potentially be very oppressive.

What it comes down to for me is this; if and when I adopt plain dress, my personal presentation will still be visibly queer. I will be a witness to the world that queer identity and religion do not have to be separated. It is only my personal witness that I can be responsible for; as with coming into Christianity, I have to release myself of what the structure means to other people, and ask only the question, What does it mean in my life?

Modesty is never a word that's spoken to my condition. Authenticity, yes, even humility. But modesty has a connotation of shame that really disturbs me.

So yes, there are like-minded individuals, and you seem to have found a few of them! :-)

Kristen said...

Phew! I am a lesbian, recently-discovered Friend (former Lutheran) who has been drawn to plan dress for years. I would love a place to discuss this more, as I too wish to explore the idea without somehow advertising myself as a conservative Christian, rather than a liberal, queer Quaker. Is there a forum/chat somewhere where some of us could meet for further contemplation? Please??

Kristen in WA

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Hey Kristen

There's the alternative dress list, which is in my sidebar, and was started specifically to talk about plain dress but NOT the whole modest/traditional christian thing.

It's sort of turned into a recipe and pattern swap more than anything else, but disucssion of the politics of plain dress would still probably be welcomed, if you wanted to start it :)

Also, feel free to email me, you should be able to through my profile