Friday, 8 June 2012

Rubbing out lifemarks

I went back today and read over one or two of the posts I’d written here when I dressed Plain.  It was an odd feeling.

I love Plain dress.  Reading what I’d written brought back the feeling of it – that sense of having a persona/identity to rest in, greater and deeper than myself.  I loved the sense of retiredness that kind of modesty brought – the covering, the full skirts, the aprons – as though my clothing was an actual house or, even more than that, a tower to take refuge in.  Yes, I can feel as if it were now that sense of solid peace.

I liked the feeling of slow that those clothes gave me – a heavy grace that felt peaceful and dignified.  I liked the physical feel and smell of the folds of cotton, and the colours – blue, brown, purple, green, white.

I love Plain dress.

There were things I didn’t love about it too.  I didn’t like that it drew attention to me, because it is not part of anyone’s sartorial vocabulary in England: here, Plain dress actually and oddly is Fancy dress.  Everyone stared at me, from other folk come to church to worship, to the dustmen come to empty the bins.  Dressed Plain, I took people’s minds from what they were about – even when what they were about was worshipping God – and distracted them to look at MEEEE instead.  And I did not like that.

I didn’t like that it separated me from my family, took me into a different culture, a different life language, from the people God has given me for my belonging.  I didn’t like it any more than an Amish woman would like wearing jeans and a crop top with a shaved head, a tattoo and earrings.

I didn’t like that it spoke very loudly in a language nobody it was addressing could possibly understand.  Apart from a man who stopped me on a street in central London one day – he was from the US and I reminded him of home.  I had learned a vernacular that did not grow from the earth where I was planted, because I learned it on the internet not in the environment of physical presence.

Nowadays I dress plain but I don’t dress Plain.  I wear modest clothes in mostly solid, quiet colours.   I wear what will make me disappear – what will say not “MEEE” but “you”; clothes to make people overlook and forget me.

Most crucial of all is that I believe I have traded “Plain” for “simple”.  When I dressed Plain, I had a dress rail to hang my dresses, aprons, blouses, petticoats and cloak, and a chest of drawers for my sweaters and jersey tops, with a compartment for coverings.  I had a couple of bonnets to store.  Plain took quite a lot of space.  There was an iron and an ironing board too, necessary accessories for Plain.   My clothes now fold up small into a chest of drawers and underbed drawer – and that includes my shoes and one drawer in the chest given over to candles and stationery bits.

I love Plain.  It has about it, oddly, something intensely romantic, a charming grace. 

But I have come to accept that my way is not Plain but simple and getting simpler, a slow rubbing out.

I think that for me Plain was a sort of hobby, an adventure – but not, I think a distraction; more an education.  I learned a lot, just from wearing the dresses and coverings; they kind of spoke to me, every day.

What I am imagining now is a life like a cloth so small and insubstantial you can fold it up and store it in a hazel nut.  Hidden, quiet, forgotten, unseen.  A still small life that has no part any more in earthquake, wind or fire.

I don’t know any way to do this but step by step by step, learning to walk lighter and lighter and lighter until I can reach a point where I cannot be tracked because my life leaves no footprint at all.

I wonder if I can actually do that?  It would be a little like learning to fly.


365 366 Day 155-160 
Sunday June 3rd - Friday June 8th

(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)


Anonymous said...

<3 to you, Pen. Absolutely lovely.

Thy Friend Paula

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

This modest dressing is a journey. Hubby loves color so my dresses are patterned and colorful. Only now I am going to jumpers although I prefer dress. However, my skin is so sensitive any more I have to wear very soft t shirts and it looked silly with my dresses! Huggles.

Pilgrim said...

I think the Amish would never separate plain dress from community. It's interwoven with submission to the authority of the group, somehow.

I don't know what they would say to someone following their clothing practices apart from them being a sign of that submission/symbol of belonging.

When I was with a very conservative Mennonite mission in Canada, the women had three pages of clothing rules, and the men had half a page. When something like that is forced, it carries different meaning than when it is voluntary.

Anonymous said...

I have to share my friend, that I was reading your back posts, especially the November Plain Dressing ones. I am in that stage Pen, where I am geared more and more towards that life, that look.

I live in a very rural environment, so dressing Plain is not an oddity, but it is for me. I am a city girl. A Hispanic woman that was raised to dress attractively to attract men. All the trappings and colors that come with it, were part of my everyday Self.

But now, as I am nearing my 47th birthday, I am so at odd with this persona.

Dressing Plain for me is so comforting, it makes me look at the beauty that was always there but was hidden by all the trappings.

I like your look. I see YOU!

In Christ!


Anonymous said...

Dear Ember
Please don't put this comment on your blog comments section if it offends or upsets you in any way - definitely NOT my intention. xx
I feel very concerned for you. I only know you through your blog and your books, however, I see a lot of myself in you (or you in me?).
I think you are doing yourself a great disservice when you write that you want to become hidden, quiet, forgotten,unseen. You have such a wonderful talent with words - how could you ever be forgotten?
I understand completely your longing for calm and quietness, I love the same things. But don't forget that you are not insignificant and never could be. God loves/loved you so very, very much that He sent His son to save your soul. I know that you know and believe this, but sometimes we all lose sight of how precious we are in God's eyes. I know I often do.
I went through a time of wearing only very dark colours and not bothering with make-up, hair colour, pretty clothes etc. What it did for me was to bring me back to the verge of the dreaded depression that has plagued me all my life. I no longer felt any spark within me: I felt that somehow I was trying to subdue the real me. Now, I must point out that actually I am quite shy, and I wear modest clothes. But, I love soft,pretty colours and dainty prints. I am not a razzle-dazzle, sparkly girl, more of an old-fashioned, gently dressed, feminine woman. (Not that sparkle and glitter is wrong, if that feels right go for it!). And if wearing plain colours really makes you feel 'genuine', that is right for you. I am with you when it comes to skirt length - I love the feel of long skirts.
I suppose what I'm trying to say (albeit very inarticulately) is that, please dear Ember, don't 'do yourself down'. You are very special, unique and loved by more people than you know.
Please forgive me if you feel I am preaching here. But I care for you, my sister in Christ, and I feel very sad about what you've written in this post.
Love to you

Ember said...

Hi Paula :0) Lovely to hear from you xx

Hello Michelle - yes, I guess the important think is that how we conduct ourselves (including our appearance)is all part of our faithful witness. xx

Pilgrim - good points! I think you are entirely right about the Amish - their dress code is inseparable from their commitment to their faith and life in community xx

Maria - so interesting to read what you have written here! God bless your journey into the expression of Christian womanhood, a way of grace xx

Kay - you are such a sweetie! Yes I live with depression, and you are accurate in spotting the signs! But I sometimes think "depression" in our society is a bit of a catch-all term. I think in truth I just get overwhelmed very easily, and have an insatiable appetite for peace and quietness. I have no ambitions to win the human race, I just dawdle along and let it whizz by me. I do find life extraordinarily difficult, and your kindness and words of love bless my soul. Thank you, friend xx

Suze said...

I find it all to easy to relate to this post. After reading I am left with the distinct impression I am too lazy to dress plain. I didn't realise how I had simplified my dress until one morning my three year old piped up. "Mummy you are not wearing your uniform. Go change." In our little part of Australia many employers have uniforms for most workers etc . A trip to school in Switzerland made my eldest daughter realise that uniform simplified her life in many ways.

I love how you are trying so hard to live simply. Perhaps this is your beacon that shines you love for God and our world?

Living with depression is isolating too. I, too, am one who is overwhelmed by the noise and business of life. God bless you and keep you too.

Pilgrim said...

I also find life very difficult. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Maybe that's why I like your books; they connect with a lot of reality as I see it.

Ember said...

:0) Hi Suze. Such an interesting comment. What is the form of dress that your little one perceives as your uniform? And what were you wearing that was different?
I was just looking at your blog. I know the exact Silk Noro yarn you mean ( that you bought last summer!) I bought several balls of it in different colours on ebay to make a blanket of squares for my grandson when he was a baby. It is as beautiful as stained glass.
How's your dad?

Hello, Pilgrim :0) Yes, how I write is how I experience life - inevitably, I suppose! Good to have companions on the journey! x

Anonymous said...


Interesting post. When one lives in a community with a significant Muslim presence (in all that faith's cultural variety), severl orders of nuns, Eastern and Western Catholic rite, a small Exclusive Brethren population, plus older post-war southern Mediteranian migrants, one TKD dress and waistcoat with lace kerchief or wide headband is merely another facet of the gem, so to speak. when standing beside a Muslima in full niqab, including gloves and eyeveils, one can feel positively naked... for me, Plain was never a conscious decision; rather, i 'fel into it' gradually, only recognizing it literally years in. I guess that the nature of drift makes a difference; if it is slow and organic, it may be considered less jarring to those around one than a sudden 'about face' one Monday Morning'. And yet, and yet, I am acutely aware of the way this can sit with family, especially family who run the race, who define success by the standards of the world - career, 'fashion' (a term that irks me), fitting expectations etc., I know how alien 'austere' plain' can be, so tone it down around these folk; a well chosen blouse, skirt and lace buncover (with draped dupata-style wrap or waistcoat acting as softening agent, florals for summer in light hues, darks and darker florals in winter with tartan shawl etc to break it up a little. I don't mind the care, and prefer that the fibres are not Oil Based (and as Aus effectively has no textile manufacturing industry left, I'd rather shop from the girls at TKD than buy where provinance is uncertain or makes me ethically question). Personal choice that Ive made, 'tsall, and no reflection on the path others walk. With a SIL who is 'modest Pearlie', I'm not entirely alone in my extended family and bleaker 'experiments' that have not worked find homes with ladies who want and need such dresses. so, perhaps I'm 'Plainesque'...always loved the flowing long skirt and poet shirt hippy style, that I wore in my 20's and 30's until finding TKD.

May you be richly and wonderfully blessed,


Wimmera said...

I really enjoyed you thoughts.

Suze said...

As to my uniform. At that stage we were broke and I was in a bad marriage. I had so little. Generally I wore a denim skirt and a t shirt all year round. For our fare cold days I had a cardigan from an op shop. The three year old will be sixteen soon.

By preference I still keep to simpler styles of clothing. For instance I went to a choral festival last night. I wore a grey print skirt with a grey top. Because it was cold I pulled out a scarf that was cherry red and promptly forgot it. During the day simple skirts and tops or jeans will do. I do tend wear bright shoes though.

Ember said...

Hi friends - thank you x

Interesting Sarah - rich cultural mix!

Thank you Suze for describing - your clothing sounds easy and peaceful.

Hi Wimmera :0) x

Buzzfloyd said...

Sarah, you reminded me of when I lived in a different part of town, in the middle of the Muslim community. When I went out in normal clothes, the Muslim ladies would avoid looking at me, as usual. But, in the winter, when I wore a long skirt to keep warm and a hooded scarf around my head and face, Muslim ladies would nod and smile in passing. I'm not sure what they thought!

Ember said...

Gosh, how interesting, Buzz! Yes, when I used to live in Aylesbury, during the period of time when I wore saris most of the time, I had some very warm and positive comments and body language from the Afghan/Pakistani/Indian folks.

Anonymous said...

Ember and Buz,

Indeed, Christian modesty is well received among my Muslim sisters; they understand it, even though the face of Christian modesty is a little different than that of their own faith - unspoken understanding and commonality of purpose. A fellow covering and modest dressing friend from interstate came to visit last year and noticed the smiles we both received; the menfolk averting their gaze respectfully, practicing custody of the eyes, and being addressed as 'sisters' in various small retailers (even though we looked nothing like your average Muslima). There is a fantastic article by Frances Claire Fisher over at that tackles modesty and covering with more eloquence, gentleness and genuine love than I have encountered in virtually any other documentation on-line; even if one is not plain and not quaker, her thoughts are mature, Christ-focused and empowering; I receive similar reactions in my own faith community (marounite).



Ember said...


kat said...

it's always amazing to me, the power that clothing has over us, both what others wear and what we feel comfortable in, reminds me of tribes and uniforms!

Ember said...

Odd you should say that right now. Virtually the same thought was going through my head too. Training by approval/disapproval (and sometimes by brutal coercion or blatant ostracising) into compliance to tribal/ideological norms.

Linda said...

I mostly feel how Kay feels about it. But I feel how Ember feels too, because of facebook. But on the other hand have I been planted in facebook, or just in my remote country town? I have no way of working it out. Why is that important? My town does not require fancy clothes, I think.

Ember said...

:0) Hiya x