My Plain Dress Conviction
In the last few years I had become increasingly unhappy with styles of clothing available and the ethics of buying cheap clothes made by poorly paid exploited workers, some of them probably children. How can you feel good wearing the blood, sweat and tears of some small Bangladeshi child? You can’t that’s how.
Also I was overweight and hated my chunky self. I tried very hard for several years to embrace the fat and love my curves proclaiming loudly that I loved my zaftig shape, but if I’m honest it was a lie. I hated myself to the point of tears. I am only 5 foot 2 and a half (don’t you dare forget the half!) and extremely small boned and being 180lbs made me look like Dumbo the elephant complete with sticky out ears. Got that mental picture? Good.
I was having trouble buying clothes that fit and covered up my boobs and didn’t let my crack hang out. Why is it clothes today can’t cover your top or your bottom? I know I sound like an old lady, but it’s true. In my day you didn’t want your underwear sticking out the top of your jeans. Nowadays that’s the style. I know hotpants were all the rage in the 70s but that didn’t mean that was the only thing available for sale in the shops. But I digress. Anyway, I was bloody miserable and was struggling to think about God or what I could do to improve the planet because I kept running this train of negative thoughts through my head about being such a disgusting fatty. Harsh words, but that is how I felt. I would go to school feeling so cute and then catch sight of myself in the full length mirror in the ladies toilets and my heart would just sink like the Titanic. I would feel self conscious all day and have difficulty concentrating on the tasks ahead of me. I found it hard to teach because I was convinced that everyone was thinking horrible thoughts about me. No? Just me then. So I asked God to help me overcome this obsession with myself and my outward appearance and then one night whilst surfing the web I stumbled on a website about a plain dressing Quaker at http://www.quakerjane.com/.
This literally changed my life. It hit me--POW--like a cartoon villain in a Spiderman comic book. This was the answer to my prayers. I got this *feeling* every time I looked at it. I knew that feeling well. I got that feeling in Meeting when God was asking me to stand up and say something. I got it when I knew I was supposed to become a vegetarian and later a vegan. It was a low, dull quick sound such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. Actually that’s Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart--but the effect is similar. But I thought to myself--Can I actually do this? It is madness? Will I look stupid? Do I care? So I looked at the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to see if could shed any light on my dilemma and this is what it had to say:
The Testimony of Simplicity is the Quaker belief that a person ought to live his or her life simply in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important. It is the practice among Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends) of being more concerned with one’s inner condition than one’s outward appearance and with other people more than oneself. Friends believe that a person’s spiritual life and character are more important than the quantity of goods he possesses or his monetary worth.
I wrote in a journal privately for two months trying to hash out what plain meant to me and where did I want to go with it. Did plain mean a kind of easy to put together uniform that was comfortable and practical? YES. Did it mean being all sombre and wearing a hair shirt? NO. Dressing plain would allow me to focus on the things that were more important: my relationship with God, how I interacted with people and the care of the world around me and get me to stop obsessing about my outer appearance. It seemed both ludicrous and ideal. I finally spoke to the Amazing Spiderman who was surprisingly nonplussed about the whole thing. He reminded me that when I used to teach first grade in the States that I had always worn a big ole coloured apron with kangaroo pockets. Those pockets had been quite useful. And that I used to dress as a Pilgrim for the whole month of November. Yes I really did do that. I was a cool teacher. I loved that Pilgrim dress and apron. They were comfortable, practical and easy to sew. My kind of clothes. So I did it. I went out fabric shopping and made some plain clothes using a McCalls Pilgrim costume pattern. And the rest, they say, is history.
I have been wearing a dress and an apron for four years and I have never looked back. I have become a more balanced person who’s out making the world a better place rather than moaning about my fat arse. Which I don’t have anymore, incidentally. In that time I discovered that you really do need to exercise to lose weight. Yeah, I knew this before, but didn’t want to admit it to myself. We eat vegan food--the healthiest, yummiest diet on the planet (and for the planet), but if you don’t get off your be-hind then the weight ain’t coming off. So now with a sensible program of diet and exercise --blah, blah, blah--I am down to nine stone. I’m saying it the British way now because we are working toward our British Citizenship. And I want to show off my mental maths skills. For those in the U.S. a stone is 14lbs so 14 X 9= 126lbs. A good and healthy weight. Size 12. To be fair some of this weight loss is also due to having a hysterectomy six months ago for fibroids the size of Wales. Want a flatter stomach? Have a hysterectomy! It is scary to admit that the one part of my body that I hated the most might not have been my fault at all.
But even being thinner and healthier hasn’t stopped me from wanting to continue to be plain. Quite the opposite. I am freed from the burden of what to wear in the morning other than “Which of the five dresses and their matching apron is it today?” and I am still not supporting sweatshop labour. Winners all around, I’d say.