Why I am a Plain-dressing Quaker, and why I cover

I was walking the dog today and processed a lot of this Plain thing that has been going on. I realize by just saying, “I think I’ve figured it out” that I have not indeed figured anything out for any length of time. So here’s what I have so far.

1. Why am I a plain dressing Quaker

I’ve gone plain to save my life, frankly. The first sign that my life needed saving was when I was laid off from a job that was making me crazy. I realized over a year ago, when I was laid off and began to notice the world around me (similarly to a smoker discovering flavor after he or she quits), that had I not been laid
off I would have continued to work at a job that had me depressed, sick, and on a destructive path with regards to health.

I processed through a lot of this in Meeting, and I thought I’d saved myself then because I had the good fortune to have marketable skills other than in biotechnology and made a relatively smooth transition to
education. I enjoyed my new career immensely, but something was still not quite right. Working for gigs, as anyone who works gigs knows, makes one insecure. You feel that the contract you have potentially is the last contract you will ever have. As a result you are tempted to accept every gig that is offered to you. I did this. I took every teaching contract that was offered me last semester (Spring 2010). This meant that at one time I was teaching 12 classes! Not 12 credits (which would be excessive), but indeed 12 classes. To give a bit of perspective, a full time faculty member might be teaching 3 or 4 and have a moderate amount of
office/administrative responsibility as well.

How did I manage to stay on top of it? Piece of cake. I would drink espresso by the mug full in the late afternoon/early evening. This would make my night time hours exceptionally productive. Midnight felt
like first thing in the morning. I went along doing this, not noticing that I was not sleeping, driving like a maniac, and quick to anger. I had chest pains for a week before I thought I should tell somebody about it, and even then (and only motivated by a lecture I was putting together for a health class regarding stroke and heart attack symptoms) I rationalized that my new asthma medication must have been doing funny things to me, and I went to my asthma doctor.

One EKG and echo cardiogram later I realized that I was suffering from caffeine toxicity. My doctor had asked me about my coffee intake, but I was still thinking in terms of having only 1 or 2 cups of coffee
a day. I was not having 1 or 2 cups of coffee, I was having a MUG (that’s about 2 ½ cups or so) of ESPRESSO (usually consumed by the demitasse) most evenings so that I could meet a ridiculous,
self-imposed workload.

I processed a lot of this in Meeting as well. It was clear to me that I was exceedingly obtuse with regards to my own health and wellness. I lacked any real sensitivity to my own needs. I began to seek a tool to help me pace myself, be less obsessive, remember the things that are important. I knew, for example, that I was always in a hurry, even doing everyday things. I literally was in too much of a hurry to fold something or put something away. I was always steps ahead of myself, if that makes sense to you. So I implemented techniques to slow myself down. These seemed intuitive, but they made such a difference. For example, I
make my bed in the morning. That sounds so mundane, but it helps me begin my day slowly. I take the dog for a walk in the park or take my bicycle (my other dog) for a ride. I make breakfast. This means I chop
vegetables, break the egg, put the kettle on, etc. As a result my work day starts late. This works for my line of work as I am either teaching online or my traditional classes do not start until about midday or later (I also teach the kinds of classes that meet once a day for 4 hours in the evening).

At around that same time I was going through the process of membership with my Meeting, and remember saying that I thought the Simplicity testimony was probably the least applicable in modern times. How’s
that for irony? I am not sure anymore how I really started thinking about Plainness as the next step to slowing down, perhaps Quaker Jane’s website http://quakerjane.com/ However it began, Plainness offered itself as that tool I was looking for to help me remember what was important. Plainness helped me remove myself from the destructive environment I was still in. It was not a physical environment, but as influential. Plainness removed me from a consumerist, hurry-hurry place that was killing me. Plainness attempts to retrain me not to count my importance in having a “regular 9-5” for the sake of having that 9-5. Even as I write that it does not adequately describe what I am trying to say. Plainness attempts to retrain me to balance where there had been imbalance.

Let me give you an example. One of my schools offered a Fall course that would meet on Saturday mornings from 8 am to 1:30 pm. I would have to get up at about 6 to take care of my animals, and leave the house by 7 in order to get to class on time. I would have jumped at that opportunity not too long ago. Now, I will not. I cannot. If I commit to this for 15 weeks my Saturdays would be ruined, and I would be too tired to attend Meeting on Sunday. Saying no to this offer caused me such anxiety and panic that I immediately had to call my sister-friend for support. Who says no to work? That’s just crazy and lazy right? Especially in today’s economy. I am sure some of you reading this blog would have the same sentiment. But I have other things I would rather do a morning than this. I’d rather wake up and make my bed, exercise, feed my animals, and make my breakfast. I think I would prefer the time than the money.

2. Why do I cover

Quakers wait on God. Whatever a Friend’s concept of God is; a theistic one, a non-theistic one, an atheist one, it doesn’t matter for the sake of this discussion. Quakers wait. In an unprogrammed meeting we wait in silence for inspiration, we wait upon the Lord. I find these moments of silence as tonic. They occur for me in many situations. They occur, for example, on a long drive, while I am walking my dog or riding my bicycle, when I am watering my plants, ironing, doing laundry, etc. It struck me that this is as some might
describe being in constant prayer.

Many religious movements practice covering their heads when they pray, or covering their heads in reminder that they pray. I have been led, as non-theistic as I am, to this practice of covering my head in prayer. I cannot say it is because I feel like I am approaching God and must give obeisance. I think it is the latter explanation, that covering my head reminds me that I am in constant prayer. Constant prayer, constant processing, constant meditation, it does not matter to me what it is called. I am simply trying to describe this thing that happens when I am alone and silent and learn so much. It has become so important to me that when I am done riding my bicycle and take off my helmet I tie on a scarf over my pony tail (( I usually wear caps or snoods with my dreadlocks braided underneath, but obviously you can’t wear this under a bicycle helmet). So even then, in my cargo shorts and T-shirt instead of my usual jumpers, dresses or skirts, I am Plain.

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Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 10:14am
I think that is an excellent observation Anne Stansell. While they did not influence my leading, their presence probably made it an easier journey. Early on I talked about seeing a Plain dressing Mennonite at the park where I walked my dog and admiring her ability to dress plain so publicly (I'd been a bit in the closet then) and so I'd say she definitely inspired me come out of the Plain closet. The thing is nobody is a Plain dresser in my meeting. My meeting is quite diverse in styles. There is one gentleman who wears banded collars, and one woman who wears a scarf on her head, but that's about it. It's kind of funny because my plain dress has actually influenced one woman to modify her style a bit so that she wears long skirts (she said this to me).
Comment by Leslie Rodgers on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 10:35am
Anne, I hadn't thought of it that way, but this does feel like it was "the next logical step" for me, as you say. And indeed I've lived near Anabaptists for the last 20 years or more, so in this part of the country wearing simple long dresses doesn't seem outlandish perhaps? It's something we see on the streets as opposed to only in picture books. I am certainly not stared at here. Occasionally someone will say they like my dress, and ask where I got it. I say I made it, and usually that is the end of the conversation. I doubt that anyone looks at me and says to themself, "Wow! She looks sooooooo spiritual!"
then again, I live in a college town, which I realize is different from "the real world" in many ways, sartorial choices included.
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 5:25pm
I have a question for you plain dressing women. As I've said, I have a great deal of respect for plain dress. I understand the cover, as you and Isabel have explained it, Paula, and I understand the witness against materialism, exploitation, the issue of modesty, and so on. And I understand why women who are following the norms of plain dress in traditional communities always wear skirts or dresses, but why do you all wear skirts instead of pants? Is it meaningful in some way to you?
Thanks for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity, if you do!
Comment by Helen Bayes on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 5:36pm
I wear plain black, grey, brown, dark blue pants almost all the time. They are functional and warmer. It is frosty winter where I am. They are also plain, in the sense of not decorated. A skirt is a bit of treat, a special gesture by me for the occasion or the company. If I don't have time, it's not a worry though!
Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 6:28pm
I am really feeling my Crone power at the moment - no doubt this has alot to do with hitting 41. I am feeling very powerfully female right now, more than I ever have. I have a gender and sexual confidence that I wish I had when I was young and trim (wink wink). I am really grooving on the feminine right now; the nurturing, the power, everything. When I walk I feel power in that sway, I feel tall, my neck feels long....know what I mean?

I do wear pants to ride my bike - loose fitting cargo pants for modesty - and if I go back to horseback riding I'll be wearing breeches, but I definitely prefer skirts and dresses right now.
Comment by Rachelle Merle on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 7:14pm
I actually go back and forth between pants and dresses. I usually prefer dresses, because I find them easiest in my climate. In the mornings it is often 50 degrees or so. Right now it is 82 degrees. In the morning I put on socks, tights, skirt, and a couple shirts. As it warms up, I take layers off. So I only have to wear one outfit... Also, with pregnancy and nursing, skirts and dresses are very forgiving.
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 7:40pm
Thanks, ladies! I really appreciate the info. Paula, I'm more of a crone than you are by a couple years, and I love the idea of "crone power"!
Comment by Paula Roberts on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 7:42pm
That hearkens back to my pagan days.
Comment by Anne Littlebird on 8th mo. 3, 2010 at 9:50pm
I long for 50 degree weather. For that matter even 80. We are expected to hit 100 tomorrow. Over 90 for months. And here I sit knitting socks for winter. I sure hope it comes. The wool is a little sticky but I want to get a pair made a week. In between sewing of course. Since I don't know yet where the idea of plain is going for me, I am just making a few things to fill in and putting the 'outlandish' stuff away in the back closet. Luckily my wardrobe is basically plain anyway.

And I really beat you all out as crones. I miss my 40s. :)
Comment by Leslie Rodgers on 8th mo. 4, 2010 at 9:51am
I wear skirts for many reasons.
The well thought out reason is that when I started dressing plain, back in 2007, I was a religious studies major at the university here. I spent a lot of time attending various religious meetings-festivals-rituals-celebrations. I wanted to have one multi-purpose wardrobe, not multiple styles for multiple occasions. There are places I go where women wearing pants would be seen as immodest or disrespectful. There are places I go where a shorter skirt would be inappropriate. I could not think of anywhere I would be going that a dress of mid-calf to ankle length would offend anybody, so I chose to make my 'plain wardrobe' of long dresses.
The personal reasons for wearing dresses are that I like the swish of skirts around my legs, I like dressing different than men, I like layering dresses and petticoats. I like artistic clothing and skirts are more aesthetically pleasing to my eye.
Also, my backside has never been my finest feature, haha. My rear-view is better in a full skirt.
And when I think about comfort, pants always seem to bind and twist around my legs somewhat, they try to strangle my knees when I sit down, and I just don't find them comfortable, never have. If they're loose enough to be comfortable on me they look ghastly. I like the comfort of skirts.
I like long skirts because I can bend over to pick things up without flashing innocent bystanders.
Another practicality is that skirts are cool enough in summer, plenty of air circulation underneath. In winter I can layer under them with tights, thermal underwear, bloomers, layers of petticoats....as much or as little as the weather requires. When I was a jeans wearing girl I could get either tights of thermals under my pants but not both and consequently I had cold legs a lot.
Also I'm 53 now, and have seen fashions come and go over and over. The long skirt always seems to me to be about equally in-and-out of fashion. Never quite trendy, but always recognizable as a womanly attire. That appeals to me.
Anne, you are right on target knitting socks in this heat--it will be good to have them ready when the cold comes. I've got plenty of hand knit socks already, so am working on afghans for the kids apartments, and this is not a good time of year to have that much wool on your lap, haha!
Paula, I do know what you mean about feeling that womanly power thing. Definitely!


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