But for a few lapses, I have been plain for as long as I can remember: Jeans, t-shirt, black and white tennis shoes, ball cap, worn until threadbare. I recently argued here on Quaker Quaker that perhaps plain dress in the form of an 80 dollar wide-brimmed hat was not so plain; that to buy the five dollar ball cap and give away the other 75 dollars might be more in line with 'do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will put on...'

But the responses I got from my argument quickly had me re-thinking my position. I was reminded that my cheap clothes were probably made in sweatshops, that the 80 dollar hat was contributing to a fair wage in a local economy, and that it was a fairly plain and inexpensive hat considering its lifetime use.

I had always believed that my cheap made-in-China hat was helping some poor dirt farmer to earn a wage, and this is probably true in some cases. But it seems, after doing a little research, that most workers in Third World clothing factories really are modern day slaves, trapped and exploited by the job they sought to free themselves.

And I realized my old arguments supporting such exploitation were the very arguments that once supported slavery in America: they are better off as slaves than they would be otherwise, unemployed and nowhere to go; and to free them would destroy the economy.

Friends, I have been reached.

And having been reached, I recently set out to find simple, inexpensive clothing made here in Portugal. I was surprised to learn that nearly all the clothing for sale where I live comes from... China.

As I have no credit card, internet shopping for clothes is out of the question. I considered having clothes made for me by a German woman who lives nearby, and I am still considering it.  But then I stumbled upon a shop selling traditional Portuguese clothing, out of fashion for some forty years, except among the elderly. The clothing is all fairly inexpensive, and made in somber colors.  It is made locally, and the people who make it receive a relatively fair wage. By process of elimination, it seems I may soon be plain dressing in the manner of the old Portuguese. Meanwhile, I have still got some sweatshop clothes to wear out.       

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I am sitting here at the computer in a white dress shirt outgrown by my husband and a long Indian print skirt from about 1979. Both were bought new. I wear them constantly at home. (If you are into the concept of "cost per wear," these items now cost only a few pennies per wear.)

I am not a thrift store shopper, and what I buy I intend to have last forever. In fact, I have a couple of skirts that are wearing out, and I would like a dressmaker to copy them for me. I buy clothes in classic lines, usually on the long side, so they look conservative. But the flip side of that is friends have commented favorably on my "style." What I'm wearing right now fits that "style" too.

So, Friends, my question is, what happens when people consider us to have a "style" that they like? Do I have to get rid of all my long clothes, because they have people misunderstanding me?

I already choose not to wear anything in meeting that someone has commented on, for I do not wish to distract Friends from their purpose in sitting in meeting, but even that decision gives me pause. Just because I stopped wearing black knee-highs that someone thought were jazzy, is that person now going to get down to the business of worshipping God? Or will that person just find something else in the meetinghouse to fixate on?

Discernment is never at an end.

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