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.
Sunday June 3rd - Friday June 8th
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)