Plain. Most people think of it as the opposite of fancy. Boring, ordinary. For me, Plain is my lifestyle.
It wasn’t always.
I fought it. I really did. For two years, I didn’t understand my reaction when I saw Plain women–Amish, Old Order Brethren, Mennonite, Conservative Quakers, among others. To say I was curious or even fascinated understates it. I was “plainly” riveted. I looked at photos online. I Googled and searched up lots of blogs and sites by and about Plain women. I read the pros AND the cons. I read Quaker Jane and Magdalena and the Burrell’s. I bookmarked seamstresses who make Plain dresses. I learned that it’s not only an Anabaptist thing—but there are plain-called Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists—even Plain Atheists. For me, it became an obsession.
I just didn’t see myself there, though. I had had to wear dresses up until 6th grade because that’s what you did in the 60’s. You kneeled down and your skirt had to hit the floor or it was let out or passed along. I couldn’t wait to get out of them and, by 1970, jeans became my uniform because they were on the behinds of everyone I knew. And although I wore dresses more often than other women in my circle (because I had these sweet tiny ankles!) my jeans and t-shirts comprised my way of dress. Until Plain.
At first, I tried to compromise, gradually sifting and shifting all the stylish things and bright snazzy prints from my closet. Soon, I decided that, like Diane Keaton and Jamie Lee Curtis, I could limit my palette to black and white and maybe that would work. It did…but only for a while.
I bought yards of fabric and finally had dresses made when it was obvious that they weren’t going to get made otherwise. They hung in my closet for about year with me taking them out every now and again, putting them on to get my fix. They were…in a word…frumpy. High collars, long skirts, long sleeves, lots of unsexy bulk-adding gathers, solid colors. I got aprons to wear with in black (for most wear) and white (for baking). I thought I looked horrible. Still, I didn’t—couldn’t—part with them.
Finally, when I could stand it no longer I put one on and went out in public. I was as anxious as if I’d walked out of my house strip-stark naked. I was certain everyone was staring and, quite possibly, snickering. And yet it was a force I was less and less able to resist. At long last a Plain dress went on me to work. It drew the expected “What’s with the get-up?” but by then I was ready.
What’s with my get-up is my testimony of simplicity and modesty. When you have 5 dresses in your closet and the only difference among them is the color, it’s incredibly easy to get dressed. I love that all my clothes were not made by oppressed women and children for pennies in a foreign country. Aprons are both practical and modest—they keep the dress clean while adding additional camouflage to the female form, which, trust me on this, ladies—it needs to be covered because NOBODY’s butt actually looks good in jeans. (Start looking with a critical eye–you’ll see what I mean. Just don’t be obvious about it.) When I went into Plain dress, I didn’t understand. I didn’t get how it would be the most calming and natural thing to have a Plain dress on. I didn’t know that others would think of me as kind, dependable and helpful. These are benefits, however–not the reason.
The reason is that I cannot do otherwise. The pain of not doing what God required eventually became more than I could bear. I am free to wear Plain. In the doing, I have found ways in which I am weak, willful and mostly lacking in trust in God and so can strive to understand Him better in these areas. I have found release from standing in front of the closet wondering who to be that day.
“Only be more consistent with yourselves. Let your dress be cheap as well as plain; otherwise you do but trifle with God, and me, and your own souls…. Be all of a piece, dressed from head to foot as persons professing godliness; professing to do every thing, small and great, with the single view of pleasing God.” –John Wesley
Even now, I have my “other” clothes that I might throw on from time to time, but I always ALWAYS come back and don my Plain things to feel like myself again. The tide has turned. Plain-ing has been a process and I have no doubt that those things in the box will finally move on when I can at last let them go.