Saturday, 10 October 2015


Plain and modest dress.

A couple of days ago, I went out early in the morning, about half-past seven, to get the household grocery shopping before the roads and stores got busy.

We intended to go down to the Old Town and the wholefood co-op, and get our water from the spring in what has become the usual way. But we needed a big bag of kale, some cartons of oat milk and almond milk, fair-trade bananas, frozen fruit for our kale shakes, and a variety of other things.

The mornings are cold now and, not long past sunrise, it took a minute or two to clear from the windscreen and other windows the condensation that will in due course be a layer of ice in the early morning. But the day was bright and clear, and I enjoyed driving along before the traffic turned into jam.

As I drove along past the bus stop, a woman waiting caught my eye. Once you get it, you never forget it. You can’t not see. She was doing her best to look Mainstream and Normal. Pencil skirt – but not too tight and just past the knee. Dark coloured top, fitted close to the figure; but a high neckline and a cardigan over the top. Long, long hair worn loose with just the merest Alice band doing duty for a covering. Clearly longing to look like Everyone Else.

“Oh; Brethren,” I thought, as I drove by.

Plain dress is a language that can never shake off its accent to pass as a native of the World.


Ganeida said...

That is very true. It always declares itself. What's more, once you've seen you can never not see however hard you try.

Pen Wilcock said...




Sandra Ann said...

Yes we have brethren near to us and I always find it interesting how the use "head covering" can be stretched to include an Alice band! Sometimes it is best to be different and be done with, after all once you are on that path of simplicity and gospel living there really is no turning back :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

"No turning back". That's such an interesting thing to say. Caught my attention! I'm sure you're right, and I will think about it for a long time. One of those comments I hold in my soul's hands, turning it over and over, watching as it catches the light. xx

Rapunzel said...

Yes indeed...the occasional slip off the side of the road perhaps, but no turning back. And we get steadier as we go.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the UK Plymouth Brethren (the Open branch). We didn't practice the 'plain and modest' dress of the Exclusive Brethren (who are pretty much a cult and far more extreme) but women WERE expected to cover their heads in the worship meetings either with a hat or a headscarf. As a teenager, this drove me wild: I felt confined, trapped, hemmed in, and suffocated by these religious rules and regulations. At the age of seventeen, I simply refused to wear a head-covering any more. (Strangely enough, I wasn't reprimanded.) Honestly, I HATED it.

Simple, modest clothing is a different ballgame if it's voluntarily chosen, of course.

I do look carefully at the ethical practices of high street boutiques. And you can find gems in charity shops.

- Philippa

BLD in MT said...

Now I am not plain, of course, but plainer than nearly all the women in my day-to-day what with my calf-length skirts and high collars and all, but: Did I ever tell you about the plain woman and I sharing an over-the-shoulder look at each other after we passed on the trail while hiking in Yellowstone National Park? Its happened more than once in that setting, but I'll never forget the little smiles we shared over our shoulders that first time, checking each other out because we were both aware that the look was not quite "regular" doesn't see too many ladies hiking in long skirts, after all. I notice them. Even when its just denim skirts and bandannas over long, long hair (which is how they blend in up here). Interesting.

MaryR said...

Dear Pen, I decided today I just had to catch up with all you've written in the past month, as I was missing your voice. Lo and behold, you've cheered my spirit no end. We had a week's holiday in a cottage near my daughter and family in the middle of September and came home feeling greatly distressed, as we are now being deprived of seeing our two young grandchildren and having them to stay. Somehow, I've had no mental energy for anything I didn't have to do, but your common sense and your delightful sense of humour (Ageing? You? Perish the thought!) have yanked me out of my selfish musings. Thank you for being there and for being you.

Pen Wilcock said...

Rapunzel ~ "Steadier as we go". That's an interesting thought too. I, given to vacillations and many changes of mind, am yet surprised to find that my spirit witnesses with that. Inching towards consistency.

Philippa ~ Alas I am too tall, too broad-shouldered, and too fat to find gems in charity shops. Except the men's bit sometimes. I think the Brethren who live near me must be the exclusive sort. We invited a Brethren child to tea once - she was in the same class as my daughter at primary school - but our invitation was rejected on the grounds that we were not washed in the blood of the lamb. Doh! And I thought we were! And one time, coming across a bunch of them preaching rather loudly in the street, feeling sorry for them because everyone was giving the a rather wide berth, I went up to the shouting man to shake his hand, explaining that I too love the Lord Jesus. But he said he couldn't shake my hand because we were not in fellowship at the Lord's table. So I don't know if they are Exclusive, but for sure they are exclusive, if you see what I mean.

Beth ~ Oh yes! I am very familiar with that quick, evaluative, sideways glance!!

Mary ~ Hello - why can't you see your grandchildren? Just because they aren't there, you mean, or because somebody won't let you? If the former, I bet you'll get to see them loads in the course of time. xx

Rapunzel said...

One of the things we have in common is our delight in life experiments. What if I tried this? How would I be? How would it affect my household, my neighborhood, this dear planet? It's a constant thread in our work and our lives, born I suspect of good intentions, stout hearts and rampant curiosity.
Can you even imagine being a person who did the same things the same way their whole life long. I shudder to think of it. <3

Pen Wilcock said...

I have often tried; and (puzzled) failed. xx

Rachel Nichols said...

I'm not a plain person or a Friend, but just a Christian. As such, I have strange urges to cover my body that other people can't understand. Even fellow Christians. For example I can't wear a lot of skirts--they have to come well below the knee for me to feel comfortable. I can't wear shorts no matter how hot it gets. Loose capris are as close as I can get. I used to like swimming, but can't do that anymore because of swimsuits. Tank tops make me very uncomfortable unless I wear something over them. I have some scoop tops, but they don't show any cleavage, though I prefer up to my collar bone. I'm buying more long skirts because they make me feel more feminine without makeup or jewelry. (I'm afraid I may have to wear a hat or head scarf to church regardless of the stares.)

I plan on marrying soon and refuse to wear what passes as a wedding dress nowadays. I will wear a long skirt, blouse, and cardigan sweater with maybe an Alice band and minimal jewelry. Is something wrong with me? Or is it the rest of the world that is messed up?

Pen Wilcock said...

Heheh ~ hello, Rachel! You're in good company here. What you described applies to me and many of those who read here.
A wedding dress! Oh, my! I hope you will be patient with me if I make a suggestion? Rather than a skirt and jumper, how about a beautiful modest dress in ivory or white, with some pearls for your jewellery?
You could have a dress made for you at Graceful Threads, or The Kings Daughters. If you look at Elizabeth's fabric chart on Graceful Threads, she has lots of options in the white section, or some very pretty delicate florals if white isn't right for you.
ELizabeth has photos of all her dress styles. They look a little frumpy in the photos, but to wear they are the prettiest imaginable. My Sunday church dresses come from there.
Are you in the UK or US, or - ?
If UK, have you seen the Cotton Lane clothes on eBay? One is wise to go 2 sizes up with their goods, but they are lovely.
Modest dress is very beautiful, but I think a person can still celebrate her femininity - think of it as adorning the altar.
Orvis also make very sensible modest off-the-peg clothes.
For a while, for practicality, I was back into trousers and modest black/grey tops. But like you, I felt undressed in trousers. I've gone back to long, full skirts and dresses.
Zandanas are a good option for head coverings that look fairly normal.
I don't think there's anything wrong with you, but I don't think the rest of the world is messed up either. We are born naked, and God seems to think that's okay. Modesty is a matter of the heart, truly. Even so, there are many of us who are drawn irresistibly to dress as you describe.
May your wedding day be happy and beautiful, and may your modest dress choices be a celebration of everything raceful and feminine. xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh - I see you are in Indiana. Forget about Cotton Lane then - the sizing will be all wrong for US, and is inaccurate anyway. But I totally recommend The Kings Daughter or Graceful Threads for your wedding. I am confident you will not be disappointed; I have loved everything I've had from both sites. If the necks are a little too high for comfort, they will scoop them a tad for you if you ask. x

Pen Wilcock said...

There are some ideas for dresses both pretty and modest on my Pinterest board here:

Rachel Nichols said...

Thank you. Looked at TheKingsDaughters and found a beautiful dress available in white cotton/muslin. Cheaper than most "wedding dresses" and you get more fabric too! :-) I have some pearl accessories to wear already.

Pen Wilcock said...

Exciting!!! Kari Thorne at The Kings Daughters sews exquisitely. Everything she makes is utterly beautiful. If you are getting married during the cold months, how about and Orenburg shawl to keep you warm?
They have several on US eBay.
Here are two, to give you an idea:

Fine as gossamer!

Pen Wilcock said...

Another of my Pinterest pages …

Okay, I'll stop now and leave you in peace!! x

Rapunzel said...

I didn't know you are a Pinner.....kept clicking on your various dresses and getting the response "you have already saved this"

birds of a feather?

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, my word! I got email notifications of you pinning those pics to your board. I didn't know you had a board, though I wasn't surprised once I thought about it. I rushed along to have a look, and I LOVE your boards! :0D xx

Rapunzel said...

I Looooove Pinterest, it is one of the ways my afar daughters and I keep up with each other--we're very visual people, and avid makers, so it's a great place to share ideas.
I have no idea what the neurological basis of it is, but I'm affected very much by color and texture. There are, for instance, certain shades of blue that fill me with an abiding happiness for no rational reason that I can discover. The last time I lived in town (with the same amazing landlord and landlady I have now) I painted my bedroom this blue and woke up immensely happy every morning I lived there.
Anyway, because of this visual thing I also find Pinterest boards to be very good medicine for my spirit. Like good music for the eyes.

Pen Wilcock said...

Me too. If I am feeling really fed up I go and look at my Pinterest boards. And I'll look at yours, too, now. Very excited by all your shoe recipes. x