More About The New Plain
Instead of sticking to the outline I started with, however, I'm going to step back a bit and record my own personal reactions to these new Plain Friends, with a focus on why I'm not becoming one of them.
My first reaction is that I'm glad to see them. I like the look. I even think it could become "fashionable" in our circles, though of course worrying about that would not be in the spirit of plainness. (I note that Amanda has a post called "Plain But Vain" or something like that, which is a good example of what I said about the element of irony and humor in The New Plain). But more than liking the look, I like the fact that these folks have revived the outward forms of "plainness" because in examining those forms I find an opportunity to rediscover the inner spirit of it.
Let me give an example. Friend Larry says that he dresses plain partly in order to not be using the products of slave labor in China. I hear myself thinking "But you can avoid using the products of slave labor and still wear contemporary designs". This leads to the next question: What about me? Am I avoiding the use of the products of slave labor? How often do I look at labels any more? How much trouble am I prepared to go through to find clothing that's not blood-stained? The Plain Friends do me a service by prompting me to think of such things. Note, though, that this can happen becaus I already know a little about where they are coming from and what the tradition behind their plainness is. I don't think that the "world's people" get the same message.
I have my own kind of "plainness" or simplicity in clothing. Part of my concern is wastefulness: both of natural resources and of my own funds. I limit the number of clothing items I own at any one time, and try to keep wearing the same things for as many years as possible. Recently I accidentally left a pen in a pocket when I did the laundry. The resulting (thankfully small) ink stains on a pair of light-colored pants have not discouraged me from wearing those pants to work and to Meeting on Sunday.
I'm pretty indifferent to fashion (deliberately) and also to clothing aesthetics (because I'm aesthetically challenged). Being indifferent to fashion is different from being hostile to it, though. When I do get around to buying something new, I don't reject anything just because other people are buying it this year too.
I actually did wear a broad-brimmed "Quaker" hat for a few years in my mid-twenties. I was a tad self-conscious (but also proud) about its conspicuous distinctiveness, but I lived on the Lower East Side at the time and noted that all kinds of unique clothing, sometimes bordering on costume, was commonly seen on the streets, so I didn't really feel radically out of place.
One of the things that eventually led to my hanging up the hat was that I found it promoted some misunderstandings and stereotypes about Quakerism. People I talked to thought that I "had to" wear the hat because of some Quaker rule. It helped them place Quakers in their minds as a "quaint" people whose lifestyle decisions were governed by a peculiar tradition, as opposed to a radical people of faith whose way of life truly challenges the values of the dominant society.
I may (or may not - I've learned that my intentions for this blog can change rather rapidly) have more to say in another post about the relationship already to alluded to of plain dress to vanity and to pride.