7 ~ Simple Dressing


“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us.”

~ Virginia Woolf


 Clothing serves a number of functions for humans. Clothes keep us warm, protect us from rain and sun, hide our bodies from embarrassment, help confirm our social status, attract a partner, may signify our job or even help us get a job, allow us to identify with others, but also give us the chance to demonstrate our individualism. Given all these reasons for wearing clothing, it is not surprising that most of us spend a considerable amount of time and money on deciding how to dress. 

In this chapter, when discussing clothing I will be using three terms; “simple dressing”, which means applying the same principles of simplicity to our clothing as we might to decorating our houses or developing our gardens; and “plain dressing”, defined as dressing simply but avoiding certain forms of dress or patterns of material and generally dressing in a restricted form of design and colours. I also use the term “Plain dress” with an upper case ‘P’, this is used to describe the distinctive form of dress used mainly by religious groups such as the Amish, conservative Mennonites, some conservative Quakers and Hassidic Jews. As well as relating to any simple lifestyle we might also like to consider that any of the above may be adopted to preserve ‘modesty’ as a religious obligation, such as for those in holy orders or many ordinary Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Practical Dressing

Before we look at more controversial ideas about simple dress, we need to remind ourselves of some basics about keeping warm and using clothing as sun protection. The best way to keep warm is not to invest in some very expensive polar expedition wear, but rather to use the old idea of wearing layers of clothing. In winter, just dress yourself in as many layers as you need to prepare yourself for what you have to do.  In the spring and autumn, days often start cold yet soon warm up, so the outer layers of clothing can simply be removed to allow you to remain comfortable. The same is true of working outside in very cold weather; start off with many layers and then, as the work warms you up, take off the outer layers. In both cases, as you cool down, put back the outer layers and you will continue to stay comfortable.
Sunlight is a gift, especially to those of us in northern Europe and North America.  However, the powerful ultraviolet component of sunlight is very damaging to skin; at best it will give you sunburn, or result in premature ageing of skin, and at worst it can cause skin cancer. Those of us with pale skins are most susceptible to damage, but all skin types can suffer harm. The simple solution to this is to stay covered and wear long sleeves and leg coverings when working in the sun. Likewise, the damaging effects of sun on the eyes becomes apparent as we get older, particularly for those with pale blue eyes, so wear a broad brimmed hat outside when the sun shines, whatever the time of year. Dark glasses also work, but a broad brimmed hat has the added advantage of keeping the back of the neck cool in hot weather, an important point to note.
Obviously, if your work involves you in particular dangers then you dress accordingly; digging the garden whilst wearing sandals is not really very clever, neither is beekeeping in shorts!

Aiming for Simplicity of Style

How you decide to dress as a part of your simple life is very likely to result in you having a major overhaul of what you wear, or rather what you have in your wardrobe. To reduce the size of your wardrobe, you must consider the number of items of clothing that you never or hardly ever wear.  If you also want to simplify the process of deciding what to wear, you need to make some important decisions. Firstly, what are you most comfortable wearing?  Use this to decide upon the range of clothes that you are going to base your wardrobe around. Secondly, what colours do you like?  These are very individual matters, but all the same, try to limit yourself to a handful of styles and colours that you are happy with. Thirdly, decide on which fabrics you favor and there you go!  You don’t need to follow any designer nor any trend; warmth, comfort, and practicality will be the most important factors.
Next, look at your current clothing collection and see whether it matches up to the decisions you have just made. Chances are that you have enough items already that match your criteria, but don’t rush out and buy new things if they don’t. Simply give what you don’t need, like, or that doesn’t fit you properly, to a charity shop and replace other items as and when you need to. It may take you a year or so to develop a truly simple wardrobe that you are happy with, but it will have been worth the wait. Spend a little time considering any major changes to the way in which you want to dress.  It is not a simple solution if you find yourself spending time and money on things with which you feel unhappy a few weeks later. Poor decisions will only result in more items sitting unworn in your wardrobe before they also make that trip to the charity shop. Try always to buy things that will fit your needs in the years to come very fashionable items have a habit of looking a little out of place next ‘season’.
Don’t be led into thinking that you need to change if you don’t want to, or that anything is particularly wrong with how you dress at present. Neither should you feel pushed into anything that is outside of what you want; if simple, ethically produced jeans and a T-shirt are what you decide on, or a simple skirt and top, then that’s fine.

Dressing for the Day

Many of us do different tasks throughout the day and may fall into the trap of changing clothes two or three times. Changing takes time and produces more laundry than necessary, so dressing for the day is a good idea. Decide the night before what you need to do (and if working outside, consider the weather); then dress in a way that will see you through to bedtime! Obviously, if you work for an employer then this may not be practical, but for those who work from home and for all of us on weekends, it should be a goal to work towards.

May I put in a good word here for the ‘bib and brace’ overall (sometimes called dungarees in the UK); available in cotton, polyester/cotton or cotton denim, these are perfect for lifestyles that have you working inside and outside the house throughout the day. You need wear very little underneath in hot weather but you can easily wear extra layers underneath when it is cold. Try to avoid zippers when purchasing (see below) and consider polyester/cotton for a fast laundry turn around.

If you are cooking or doing other messy household tasks, invest in some easily washable cotton aprons. Those PVC aprons are really not good to wear, but a cotton apron does the job and you can dry your hands on them as well. Cotton aprons need to go in the wash at the end of a busy day in the kitchen, so you need a few of them. You will find them easy to wash, dry and repair, and unless anything unexpected happens, they have an active life of many years. Buy them with pockets on the front and an adjustable buckle on the neck strap to fit you perfectly.

Natural versus synthetic Fiber

When deciding of the fabrics for your clothing you might assume that the answer is always ‘natural’… but give it a little more thought. Some natural fabrics like cotton are wonderful; soft, washable, durable and still look good, even when faded. Others, such as wool are expensive, difficult to wash without shrinkage, and may take days and days to dry after washing. Another consideration is environmental issues surrounding the manufacture and ultimate disposal of your fabric, and you might also like to consider the chemicals used on the animal or plant that provided the fabric. The table below shows a classification system whereby fabrics are graded as to their sustainability with ‘Class A’ being best and ‘Class E’ being worst. Some fabrics are unclassified because of lack of research. Without going too much into detail, the idea of ‘natural is good, synthetic is bad’ is obviously not sophisticated enough as a mantra for buying clothes. Mixed fibres are an even greater problems to assess in terms of environmental impact.

No matter the fabric or the reason for choosing it, remember that well-chosen items, easily repairable and designed to last for many years, are always more environmentally friendly than items that are beyond use after a year or so. To reduce the impact that your clothing has on the environment, choose carefully and choose clothing to last. Obviously those who follow a vegan diet (or some vegetarians) will have strong issues with wearing wool, leather and silk, all of which are of animal origin.
Choosing the environmentally friendly fabric is only worth doing if the garment is going to last you a long time; if the mixed fibre fabric is going to last you ten times as long, then it could still have less overall impact on the environment than ethically sourced clothing discarded after a year of wear.

Zip Fasteners

Zip fasteners (zips or zippers) are best avoided for the reason of durability and ease of repair. A zip on an outside coat is a great idea, but if the zip gets broken or damaged it will prove impossible, or at least very expensive, to replace. Taking out a damaged zip and replacing it with a new one, always assuming you can find one of the right size, is very difficult and requires the labours of a skilled dressmaker; the cost of doing this may exceed the original cost of the item.  However, replacing buttons is something we can all do. I can think of several items of clothing that I have had to discard for the want of zipper repair when, had they used buttons instead, would still be in active service. Careful shopping can just about eliminate zippers from your wardrobe as items get replaced, but completely zipper-free existence seems difficult. In Europe, trying to find zip-free, rainproof outer wear seems impossible, so some compromise is always needed. Nevertheless, consider choosing clothing without zip fasteners wherever possible.

Ethical Shopping

Few of us are wealthy enough to provide all our clothing needs from non-mass produced sources, and even fewer of us are talented enough to make all our own clothes. Given this, it is important to make sure that unnecessary burdens have not been placed on those who make our clothes and that we minimize the environmental problems caused by the manufacture.
John Woolman, a seventeenth century Quaker, caused quite a stir when he started wearing Quaker Plain clothing, but in raw un-coloured fabric rather than the customary ‘Quaker grey’. His point was that slave labour had been used to produce the dyes usually
used for clothing; he could not support slavery so decided that he could live without fabric dye.
We need to be more like John Woolman in our role as consumers; rejecting goods that we cannot be sure have been produced to the highest ethical standards. It would be impossible to find the source of every item of clothing you buy, so you need to do homework on the companies you buy them from.  All reasonably sized retailers will have an ethical policy and you should satisfy yourself that anything bought from that retailer is suitable. Smaller and independent retailers might be harder to ‘pin down’, but ask - if you are not satisfied, then don’t buy! Labels can be helpful in making your choices.

It is one thing to expect someone with a good income to be ‘picky’ about what they buy, but many people on restricted incomes will find that in reality, they have to read up on the store policies and hope that they are doing a good job!
It is easy to make snap judgements when looking at the pay of workers in developing countries.  We can blame companies for poor working conditions and wages whilst benefitting from low clothes pricing in our shops, but remember - the workers who made your garment may have no work at all if you don’t buy and, in many locations, the only alternatives to low paid or piece work may be prostitution and drug dealing. Local wages may seem low to us, but may be of a good standard in the area; it needs careful analysis. As far as working conditions go, workers should never be expected to work excessive hours, begin working at too young an age, or work until they are too old.  Workers should also have sufficient heat and light to do their work comfortably – we rely on the companies we use to insist upon good conditions for their workers. Always expect to pay ‘reasonable’ prices when you buy and demand that ‘reasonable’ fees are paid to those who made your clothes.


“I find that to be a fool as to worldly wisdom, and to commit my cause to God, not fearing to offend men, who take offence at the simplicity of truth, is the only way to remain unmoved at the sentiments of others.”

~John Woolman (Quaker) 


If you have concerns about the working conditions of those who labour to make your clothes, then do take every opportunity to raise them with readers. Over the last decade, many high street retailers have developed some very pleasing ethical standards, but these will always need close supervision and constant appraisal.

Charity Shops

Called ‘charity shops’ in the UK, and ‘thrift stores’ in the US, these outlets are one of the greatest assets for those of us who wish to live simply. Use them to buy the clothing you need and when you have no need for items of clothing, donate them! Given that these items have been owned and worn already, they will need a careful visual examination when purchasing, and you might just need to do a few repairs. These items have already been purchased once by the previous owner, so ‘ethical shopping’ is not a practical issue as long as you are happy with the charity that runs the shop. I think you are so far removed from the original manufacture of the garment that it is a fairly empty exercise in trying to find out whether it was produced ethically or not, but labels may provide some help. Donations to charity shops are not always resold; some are sent directly to developing countries to help clothe the population (children’s clothes are often dealt with in this way), for disaster relief, and items unsuitable for sale are often shredded to make other products.  No matter what is done with them, these are all far better ways to dispose of your clothing than opting for landfill. Always take a tape measure with you when visiting charity shops, as sizing might not be too accurate.


"Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes."

  ~Henry David Thoreau


Making your Own Clothes
Whether you have the skills or simply need to revive them, making your own clothes is a fine thing to do. No matter if it’s making a dress or knitting a scarf, nothing gives you so much control over fabric, style or colour.  Ethically-sourced working materials are all you need to worry about. If you are skilled at making clothes, be sure to teach your children and any interested friends how to get going on this.

Many people go a little further; they even spin their own yarn and weave their own fabric.  You may not have enough time to do this, but you may find someone with these skills who can supply you with yarn or fabric.


Dyeing at Home

Dyeing clothing is a good way to improve the appearance of items, or to get your wardrobe within the colour range you have decided upon. You can buy dyes that work in the washing machine, or you may prefer to make some natural dyes of your own. Either way, you need to consider a few points. Some fabrics do not take up dye; polyester is notable for this.  If you use black dye on fabric that is white polyester/cotton, then the polyester will stay white and the cotton dye black, the result ~ grey fabric. Many items made of cotton have stitching of a synthetic material that does not dye; after dyeing you will be left with seam stitching of a different colour. A most important point is that you cannot dye clothing that has been stained with bleach, scorched, or spotted with grease or oil; the dye will not cover these things and they may look even worse after dyeing. That aside dyeing can be a very useful way of extending the life of clothing and house fabrics.


Ordinary diluted domestic bleach can be used to change the colour of garments to make them more acceptable or to give them a more natural look. The results are a little unpredictable and often result in not a lighter shade, but a different colour altogether, for instance blues often bleaches not to pale blue, but to pink. Patterns, stripes and the like may be removed by bleaching, but are more likely just become more pale.  As with dyeing, grease stains will show up on any bleached fabric, and metal buttons and fittings may corrode. Still, many find this an inexpensive way to make secondhand clothing more acceptable. If you manage to buy cloth before it has been sewn into garments, then bleaching (after testing on a small sample) may give excellent results. As an alternative to chlorine based bleaches, which are often harsh on fabrics, you can use readily available oxygen based bleaches which are just added to the wash, these are excellent for ‘toning down’ colours that are too bright or too deep.

Designer Labels

Once upon a time, a label in an item of clothing was discreetly sewn on the inside, more or less as a reminder to you of who made it when the time came for a replacement. Now, however, times have changed and the name of the manufacturer is commonly displayed in large letters, or some other recognizable logo, for the all the world to see. Why? If you have purchased the product it belongs to you, do you want to become a walking advertising placard? Why does the manufacturer insist on proclaiming its name on a product which no longer belongs to them? Simple living, if it is anything, is a proclamation of independence from the corporations that run so many aspects of our life. When you walk down the street make sure it’s you others see and not the products you wear. If you do buy ‘designer clothes’, buy them because they are well made, simple, durable and ethically produced.  Reject them if they are using your body to sell more products. If you don’t want your body to advertise clothing companies, consider strongly whether you also want to publicize soft drinks, rock groups, political causes or any other message. Simple clothing does the job; it does not have to sell anything!


"Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are." 

 ~Quentin Crisp


Hair, Makeup and Jewelry

Hair is one of the most individualistic and personal things about us and I think we all have to make up our own minds about it. Obviously, if your hair style costs you lots of time, and money involving regular trips to the hairdresser, then you might want to consider something more simple and manageable in the long-term. Two manageable styles of hair, for either sex, are either so short that you can wash it and dry it and it causes you no problems all day long… or so long that you can wash it, dry it and tie it back. If you opt for a hair style that needs constant visits to a hairdresser, then consider the time and expense this costs and decide whether something more manageable might work for you.

Make up is not worn by Plain people like the Amish, but you have the freedom to make up your own mind. In choosing cosmetics, stick to a simple regime that goes with your overall style and try to keep it so simple that applying it does not become a long daily chore. You will want to take every care that the cosmetics you buy are ethically produced and not tested on animals. If you have sensitive skin, only buy cosmetics and toiletries labeled as 'hypoallergenic'.
Again, jewellery is not worn by Plain people; even watches are very rarely seen. Nothing spoils so much as too much jewellery on an otherwise simply dressed person. An old Mennonite piece of advice passed on from mother to daughter is; always remove the last item of jewellery you put on before going out. Try it! Wedding rings are not worn by many Plain people, but this trend seems to be changing over the last few years.

Facial Hair

A matter of personal preference for men is whether to grow facial hair or not (in fact, it grows anyway, so the decision is really whether to shave it off or not). Razor blades and shaving foam are not cheap and modern razors seem to be made of so many different materials that recycling is impossible, so not shaving may be more environmentally responsible! Traditionally, Plain men have grown beards, but not moustaches, as they were identified with the military.  This can be seen in the traditional Quaker/Amish beard of Pennsylvania and Ohio, but historically, such beards were once commonplace as seen on any portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
In many Plain and Muslim communities, men are clean shaven until they marry and then they grow a beard or in some cases, beards are grown after the death of the man's father. It is likely that facial hair also had a function in protecting the faces of men from intense sunshine, as they traditionally worked out in the open air all day long.  They also helped keep out the cold ~ these functions might also prove useful today.


Laundry can be one of the most time consuming of household jobs, but need not be the most tedious. Washing clothes in the way it was done one hundred years ago is something none of us, thankfully, have to do. Even the Amish use washing machines (powered by their own small generators) and I personally nominate these wonderful laundry devices as one of the most important technological advancements of any age! Still, it is better to keep laundry to reasonable levels and ensure that the process is as environmentally friendly as you can make it. Firstly, don’t wash clothes unless they need it; outer clothes can take a good brush to remove dust and dried mud without going near the washing machine too often. Always wash on the lowest temperature possible and wait until you have a tubful to save money and energy. Experiment with using less washing powder and look at ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives; consider whether you need to use fabric softener at all (if you live in a soft water area you may not).

(C) K and R Lovegrove

(C) K and R Lovegrove
Clothes are best dried outside on a washing line, or if you prefer, a substantial rotary dryer. The joy of seeing a line full of washed clothes dancing in the wind on a bright sunny day is boundless! Whether you use plastic or wooden pegs (I find the wood can stain the fabric) keep them in an open basket so that you can happily, and accurately, throw them in if you have to hurry to get in the washing due to rain.

Ironing is best done as soon after drying the laundry as possible; cotton benefits from being still a little damp when it is ironed. Sort washing before ironing so you do all the ‘hot iron’ items in one lot and then all the ‘cool iron’ items in another. If you own a television, why not record what you want to watch and look at it while ironing. On showery days I like to keep the ironing board up and ready; if it rains, I iron and when the rain stops, I unplug the iron and go back out into the then garden!
Grow some of the herb sweet woodruff in your garden and put the odd dried sprig in between your ironed sheets; it smells fresh and laundry-like!

Dressing for a purpose

For the remainder of this chapter, we will discuss dressing for a purpose; this includes those who want to dress modestly as well as those who want to dress in order to identify with a particular group. Before that we need to discuss some terminology. For some reason the words used for various items of clothing in English differ greatly from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other. Quite why this area shows more differences of terminology than most others is not clear, but this table should help avoid problems.

UK English terminology

US English terminology
Jumper or pullover
Vest (Amish use ‘coat’)

Most of us understand these terms on both sides of the Atlantic through cross cultural fertilization from films (or is that movies), and television. Please note that a man standing on a sidewalk in pants and suspenders would not cause much attention in the States, whereas a man standing on a street corner in pants and suspenders in the UK is a very different thing?

Plain Dressing

Certain groups have adopted a degree of plain dressing with the aim of becoming more simple. Plainness differs from simple dressing in that rules are applied, either by the individual, or by the group to which they belong. Thanks to a vast amount of television and movie interest, the dress of the Amish is almost universally recognized. Women wear long dresses of a plain-coloured fabric, and a small cap to keep their long, tied-back hair tidy and discreet. When working (which is most of the time), Amish women always wear aprons to protect the dress beneath. Amish men wear black ‘broad fall’ trousers and a shirt of plain coloured material and braces (suspenders). They may wear coats over the shirts and a straw hat with a black band in the summer, or a dark broad brimmed hat in winter. Of course, both sexes use straight pins instead of zippers or even buttons; in With fact, Amish men do wear other clothing for working, they will wear buttons if necessary and some less strict Amish groups allow buttons for everyday wear.

You will not see patterned material worn by the Amish, but plain dressing Mennonite women do wear patterned material ~ often a very small repeating floral design ~ for their dresses, and Hutterites often wear spotted or ‘polka dotted’ pattered headscarves and dresses. For some reason, stripes are rarely seen on any of the Plain people, probably due to the fact that they have military connections.

©2006 Larry N. Bolch http://www.larry-bolch.com/prairie/hutterites.htm 

Conservative Quakers, and some liberal Quakers too, also dress Plain. They generally choose to use less colour than the Amish and many stick to grey, black, white and blue. The shirt of a Plain Quaker man is usually worn without a collar or ‘banded’ (for some strange reason these collarless shirts are often sold as ‘granddad shirts’ in the UK). Plain dressing Quaker women generally wear long dresses and bonnets when out, but like the Amish and Mennonite women, will wear soft cotton ‘caps, and aprons indoors. The children of the Plain people dress in very much the same way as the adults, but fairly ordinary looking trainers are not uncommon.

While to the outsider, these Plain dressing customs may look like a uniform, in fact, they are representing the opposite of a uniform; the wearers regard their Plain clothes as a mark of nonconformity, as an act that places them apart from the world around them.. The usual reason for adopting the male norm was to emphasize pacifism. Belts were not originally used to hold up trousers, rather they were used to hold swords, daggers and eventually firearms; by avoiding belts, Plain dressing men pronounce to the world that they carry no arms. The collarless ‘banded’ shirt of Plain Quaker men is a protest against class distinction. At one time professional men wore collars and ‘working’ men no collar; the Quakers recognized no class barriers so simply rejected the collar altogether.

For those who wear Plain dress it is easy to tell the difference between one group of Amish and another, between Mennonite and Quaker by small differences in clothing.

“New Plain”

For many people, Plain dressing seems just an anachronism; women’s plain dress would seem to come from the end of the late nineteenth century, while men’s clothing seems closer to rural work wear of the 1920s. Obviously Amish, Quakers and Mennonites have worn Plain dress that has changed with the passing time, so why should it now seem frozen in time now?

Since the 1990s, many North American Quakers from all strands of the movement have developed a way of dressing termed ‘New Plain’. While it does not have the ‘strictness’ of Plain dress worn by the Amish or traditional ‘Plain Quakers’, it is distinctive and practical. Why are people doing this? Well, if you read the blogs of those that do it, there appear to be a number of reasons. Firstly, there is the need for any link with the traditional Quaker dress of the past; secondly, because they feel some degree of ‘calling’ to dress this way; and thirdly to identify themselves as Quakers to the wider community.

For males, New Plain consists of cotton trousers with a button fly, held up with braces, not a belt, collarless (banded) long-sleeved shirts and a general wearing of plain colours with no obvious designer labels (a small sewn in label on overalls and jeans is acceptable to most). Plain shoes or

boots are favoured instead of trainers or other casual footwear. The wearing of hats and beards seems to be a fully individual choice. For women the tendency is again for plain buttoned clothing, long sleeves and long plain skirts and dresses; head covering is a matter of choice. While most women do opt for skirts and dresses, many others do wear trousers and see no problem in adapting the New Plain to what suits them personally.

There are no rules other than the rules individuals set for themselves. Other people are adopting variations on ‘new Plain’ as a form of dress including some Catholics and Mennonites. Some of those starting with this style of clothing proceed to full Plain dress, but most seem content with their choice.

Simple Geography

If you live in North America it is quite possible to buy clothing from postal catalogues which cater exclusively for Plain dressers. If you live elsewhere in the world, it is a matter of shopping around to find what you want or resorting to the sewing machine!

There is no reason whatsoever to assume that plain or simple dressing needs to be a copy of happens in North America or Western Europe. A regional approach to dressing must take account of where you live on our planet. Availability of clothing and suitability for your local climate need to be taken into account. Both Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi adopted plain dress, but it was the plain dress of their culture, heritage and climate. Be content in adopting a style of dress that reflects not only your outlook on life, but the culture that you feel a part of.

© Quaker African Interest http://quakerafricainterest.wordpress.com/

Clothing for Modesty


“Practice modesty in the wearing of clothes, and have nothing to do with pomp and luxury in raiment. It is a great vanity to spend as much on one suit as would ordinarily be required to clothe two or three persons. When you become old and think back to the time when you sought to adorn yourself, you will feel only regret that you once loved such vain display.” 

- Amish Rules for a Godly Life 


Large numbers of individuals dress for modesty; in fact, unless you are a public nudist, so do we all! The difference comes in deciding what needs to be covered and what is good for public display. Muslim dress has become a familiar sight to most of us, so we know that modest dressing need not be dull nor lacking in style. Many people may dress modestly for religious reasons (whatever the faith), but others because they just feel more comfortable without strangers gazing at their bodies. For women, covering of the legs and arms is most usual while others also cover the hair and neck. Likewise for men, arms, legs and chest are the most common areas covered for modesty. No one can tell you what is right for you. You, may, like most Muslims, adopt a very relaxed style at home with your family, but present a more modest style to the world during the day.. Take a long look at yourself in a mirror and make up your mind, then take a look around any shopping centre at how others art dressing, it may help you to decide.

Clothing and Sexuality

Many would have it that simple or plain dressing may be used to reinforce sexual stereotypes. I have heard it said that ‘plain dressing makes men look more masculine and women more feminine’, I would like to dismiss that idea and get it out of the way at the very start of the discussion. Men and women may want, and choose, to dress in any number of ways that are masculine, feminine or even androgynous and simplicity can accommodate them all. A simple lifestyle is about individuals adopting practices that reduce complexity. It is not about categorizing people into groups and dictating to them what they should do, think or wear. The important thing is to look at what you feel comfortable with and the image that you want to present to the world ~ that is your comfort and your image, nobody else’s!

We are, however, faced with children having decisions forced on them by clothing manufacturers and retailers. From the minute they are born, girls have clothing produced in any shade of pink you can imagine, but this is not ‘freedom of choice’, this is imposed restriction! Likewise, boys are catered for with a limited range of colours and patterns, including ‘camouflage’ which is presumably designed not to make them hard to find in the garden, but to reinforce the idea of a possible military career. Reject stereotypes for yourself and your children; go out of your way to dress for comfort, for your own satisfaction, for simplicity, for modesty, for environmental sustainability and for non-conformity! If clothing manufacturers and retailers do not provide what you need to do these things, then invest in a sewing machine and write on it ‘This Machine Kills Stereotypes’ – then learn to use it!

Guide to how to use these 'green boxes'.

·         Take stock of your wardrobe contents and decide what you want and what you can give away.

·         Consider restricting yourself to a limited range of colours.

·         Research the ethical code of the shops that you generally buy your clothes from. Are you happy with it?

·         Consider dyeing as one way to improve your clothing.

·         Review your laundry procedure ~ use less detergent and lower temperature settings.

·         Get a washing line or rotary dryer if you have any space outside.

·         Get a hat.

·         Start using charity shops (thrift stores) to buy and donate clothing.

·         Avoid buying new clothes with zippers.

·         Consider some variation on ‘New Plain’ as your mode of dressing.

·         Consider if modesty is something you wish to dress for.

·         Learn to knit.

·         Learn to use a sewing machine.

·         Make/alter/repair as many of your own clothes as you can.

·         Learn to get the most out of your washing machine, look at the cost of differing ‘cycles’ and make economy one of your deciding factors in using it.

·         Learn simple washing machine maintenance – clearing the pump, changing the seal etc.

·         As a consumer, apply pressure on retailers to develop and maintain a range of ethical policies in sourcing materials and labour.

·         Consider Plain dressing.

·         Try to become skillful enough to make all your own clothing

·         Get weaving!

You may like to read

Books on Plain dressing are few and far between, but (apart from the fine book by Steven Scott listed below) the internet is an excellent way of finding out more and getting in touch with those who do.

Stephen Scott ~ Why Do They Dress That Way? Good Books, Intercourse PA 1986

Everything you have ever wondered about Plain dressing explained in a scholarly, but always a very readable way.

Penny WalshSpinning, Dying and Weaving. New Holland, London 2009.

A basic introduction to making and dyeing your own fabrics.


The ultimate Plain dressing information site for Quakers;  http://www.quakerjane.com/spirit.friends/plain_dress-.html

Resources for ‘New Plain’ dressers; http://www.quakerquaker.org/notes/Plain_Resources

Plain clothing suppliers

If you decide to dress plain/Plain and live outside the USA and Canada you will probably need to search carefully until you find what you want in general clothing stores, or make your own. Suppliers listed below will supply authentic clothing and may ship some items outside North America.

·         Mail order only Plain clothing;  Gohn Brothers  Box 1110, Middlebury IN 46540-1110 USA

·         Supplier of Amish style clothing;    http://www.amishclothesline.com/

·         UK supplier of bib-and-brace overalls;  http://uk.dungarees-online.com/

·         Plain dressmaking and tailoring patterns; http://www.friendspatterns.net/

(C) Ray Lovegrove (aka 'Hay Quaker') 2014

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