Friday, September 04, 2009

Another comment too long to be a comment...

This post was of interest because I dress in simple clothing--but not plain dress.

For work I wear black slacks of the dockers type, black shoes and socks with a tie that's black or gray (sometimes other solid colors) and a white shirt. I rarely wear a jacket, but if I do it's a sport jacket that is a shade of gray or brown. (I'm the only lawyer I know who doesn't own a suit.) Always the same. Makes deciding what to wear (and what to pack for business trips) easy.

I spend far less time deciding what to buy or what to wear on a specific day, than it takes me to get dressed.

It does get noticed, because I work among legal and social work professionals, and I do say, if asked, that it's a personal Quaker scruple. I will also, insofar as anyone is interested, talk about it. In that regard it's a witness.

Witness or not it is a testimony: an outward manifestation of an inward change done in my by Christ.

For casual, it's blue jeans (sometimes shorts) and t-shirts or long-sleeved shirts of solid dark colors (except for my "second string" white shirts--too gray to wear for work and too ragged to donate but too good to discard). I wear those same black shoes or sneakers or sandals (without socks even though I live in the Pacific NW...). Sometimes I go barefoot.

I am probably in a place similar to where the writer of the blog post to which I respond is on dress.

My understanding of plain dress was that it was originally something to which one was led because one had been dealt with concerning superfluity of dress and fashion--that one had stopped squandering one's time and money on things that were not necessary. Friend Woolman had a particular scruple, too, about cleanliness of clothing.

I have worn uniforms in my life--including those of the US Marine Corps, of a law firm, and judge in court. I do believe that clothes make the person and I do believe that is not a good thing, very often. Uniforms--even informal ones worn, say, by bank employees, intentionally instill a conformity and rigidity to limit one's ability to respond to people spontaneously and to dictate to others how they are to act toward the person wearing it. It's not about a witness to equality.

I have heard it said I wear a uniform, now, and I suppose I do, in a sense. But a uniform actually gets its name from uniform dress among a group of people, not one person's habit of dress. It's a uniform, in so far as it is one, of my own making and it's done with a conscious intention, consistent with the testimonies of simplicity and integrity.

It does influence my behavior, so it does "make the man" to some extent although it doesn't transform me so much as it reminds me of the transformation already done in me. It makes me grateful, at times, too, for that and all the rest that has come with it.

It does not, however, influence how others treat or respond to me.

So uniforms draw lines between and among people--conveying stereotypes and often moving us to respond to the uniform and not the person wearing it. The only way I'd wear one again, I think, is if I went back on the bench.

ps on the bench I prompted people to call me "judge" rather than "your honor." I knew, and they knew, that I was in the role, the job, of a judge. I don't think they could know,in the same way, from that robe I had on, whether I was honorable. That I had to earn--or not--day in and day out.


Chronicler said...

Timothy - thank thee for the post. The following comments are not all directed at thee, and I ask thy forgiveness if my post here appears judgmental.

Friends have had to defend their callings in terms of attire since the 1650s. In all my reading of primary documents in our history, though, I never have seen Friends critique the dress of non-Friends.

The phenomenon has morphed of late into this: today, it is usually Ohio Friends who are expected to defend their choices/direction in terms of clothing, while non-Ohio Friends have a freedom to say something along the lines of "that was then, this is now, and Quakers should stop this." In other yearly meetings, youth with green hair and unusual body piercings is acceptable, but a plain-dressed couple offends people. My leading is considered inappropriate, but the leading of another is too often considered mandatory for all.

Wearing plain clothing conveys that the person desires a closer, inward relationship with Christ Jesus and wants some space from the surrounding culture. Like the use of singular pronouns and the scriptural calendar, plain dress encourages us in our religious callings and strengthens our community. It is also one of several markers that a person is a concerned Friend.

Dress helps in interactions with non-Friends. I work with several people and sometimes share a meal with them. Some of them apologize after cursing in my presence and try to restrain themselves from doing it when I am around. They also are usually careful to choose restaurants where alcohol is not served - when they would not do so if I were not there. I believe that these people have an inward sense of the dangers of these habits (among others) and would drop them if they had less pressure from the larger American culture.

Clothing choices or leadings say something about the person. We can identify someone dressed as an attorney or politician easily. Similarly, those working in emergency employment may be identified by their clothing.

Many religious traditions (not just Ohio Friends) use forms of traditional dress or have clothing expectations. Examples include Roman Catholic priests or nuns, the vestments worn by Anglican officials, or those worn by the Eastern Orthodox or in Orthodox Judaism. I have never heard anyone complain about the dress of Catholic priests and say "they should stop dressing that way."

The surrounding culture has shifted to a place where various forms of "diversity" are accepted and encouraged, but for some reason plain dress remains unacceptable. It appears to be something that non-Ohio Friends might need to become more accustomed to. More and more people are finding the Light of Christ and learning to follow in the path of spiritual safety, and the number of these people wearing plain dress is increasing. We don't have a manifesto that we use to judge the dress or faithfulness of others, but I don't expect the judgment/criticism from others to stop any time soon.

naturalmom said...

Thank you for this -- probably the most simple post I have read on simple clothing. :o) Your approach sounds wonderful, both for your life and as a witness to others.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an interesting post. I am also a lawyer who dresses simply, but as a woman, societal expectations of me are different. I do still wear suits, because my firm's dress code requires them, but instead of shirts I wear an undershirt for modesty (usually white or black, but sometimes a solid colour) and a plain tunic in a solid colour (most often blue.) I wear flat shoes, preferably lace-ups, and I wear my hair in a snood so it is partially covered. These two things are probably what people most notice, but it takes them a while of consistent observation to realise I do it all the time, so I don't get too many comments. I'm glad of this, as one of the objectives of simple dress for me is not to draw attention away from what I am doing or saying to what I am wearing.

For casual, the only thing I change is that I wear jeans instead of the suit and usually cover my hair with a wrap for greater coverage. I really appreciate the simplicity of having a wardrobe that needs only one or two changes to convert from formal to casual, as well as needing very little time to choose clothes in the morning.

I agree that uniforms support conventional social roles in a way that simple dress does not, but I do find that people treat me differently when I wear simple dress. This may be a gender difference. As a woman, I find that I get far less harassment (overtly sexual or otherwise) when I show little skin and have my hair covered. That's another real benefit for me.

Pageturners said...

A picture to show what you mean, please?

Bromo Ivory said...

Very interesting comment on uniforms. I do tend to agree that uniforms are supposed to instill authority/conformity but in many ways they do not.

What a well thought out explanation! While my dress is not particularly simple, it is not particularly ostentatious (being an Engineer by trade, does not give much occasion for sartorial excess), it has given me thought as to what I am doing overall, in terms of clothing.


Tmothy Travis said...


Within the ambit of conscience I will always support and encourage those who live out their spirituality in obedience to the leadings of the Light.

As you point out, my post was not a comment on traditional Quaker plain dress but about my own leading in regard to some of the issues we all face in regard to apparel and adornment.

I find interesting your testimony about how this manifestation of your inward transformation has assisted your witness to those beyond the hedge.

I trust your explanation will edify those among us who, having only seen it from afar, have not had the benefit of speaking with someone who has adopted traditional Quaker plain dress and may be wondering about why anyone would take it up as a part of living under the cross.

Thanks, again, for your comment.

Tmothy Travis said...


Thank you for your take on this subject.

Women are in a different place from men on apparel and adornment in our culture.

Unlike men, women must consider the role that clothing choices can play in regard to the "casual" harassment that women frequently are subject to by our cultural norms. My daughters have sometimes struggled with how "fashion" wants to attract attention but, at the same time, not attract "attention."

The situation of women is also more complicated than it is for men when they work in the law or some other profession that imposes, as you say, a dress code.

My wife has practiced child welfare law for twenty five years. In this less formal domain of the law--it is, after all, largely poverty law--she has done very well without wearing make up and in apparel a little less formal than you describe adopting.

I recall one time I met an angry woman who had been on the other side of a case in which my wife represented the children. By the time I met her this former litigant, she had gone on to be a volunteer advocate and support person for parents whose children were in foster care. When introduced this woman made the connection.

"Oh," this woman said, "I hate your wife. And you really need to get her a Nordstrom's credit card."

People in conflict situations do, when threatened, angry and/or hurt, grab any handle they can reach to protect themselves. How we look and present ourselves is often the handiest handle of them all.

In this and so many other ways our culture conditions us into things and sometimes we don't realize the impact of it all on ourselves and others until it takes us someplace we don't want to go.

Thanks, again, for your comment and its testimony.

Tmothy Travis said...


A picture of me in business dress?

Tmothy Travis said...

Bromo Ivory

Thanks for your comment.

It is interesting that notwithstanding the function of uniforms as instilling conformity they are often used, at least parts of them or stylized versions of them, to express defiance, rebellion and non-conformity.

Tom Smith said...

I have full respect and support for plain dresses in an "obvious" way. I will just add that although I have dressed relatively simple all my life, partially inspired by father, mother and grandparents, it has taken a while for others to recognize the "consistency" of my style of dress.

However, my expressions of faith have sometimes been made with "fear and trepidation," but, except for a few occasions when it was clear the "other" did not want to affected in any way, it has not taken long for acquaintances, colleagues, and friends to recognize my stance on alcohol, swearing, racist statements, etc. Essentially unanimously they have respected my stance and reacted appropriately.

My own belief is that an open expression of basic beliefs, whether through dress, actions, or statements can lead to recognition by others. The advantage of dress is that even strangers recognize a difference. However, my own personality(?) finds it hard to engage in dialog with strangers, but find it possible to express in words more feelings to those who know me at least a little.

I must say that having moved to Barnesville (Stillwater, Ohio YM) I have become even more aware of my style of dress and appreciate the witness of plain dress.