Skip

Plain Jane: Modest Dress and the Modern Woman
December 14, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Fifteen years before Katy Perry advised her fellow female performers to "put it away," one woman decided to go all the way and to live as a bonnet-required Plain-dressing Quaker. Her experiment is long over, but her website, Quaker Jane, remains as a collection of resources for plain/modest/plain modern dressing, and a look at the responses her distinctive dress drew.

The concept of "modest dress" is fraught. Is it about personal expression? An outgrowth of a Biblical injunction? Another way to compel women to self-police their appearance? Is it more acceptable if it's also stylish and offbeat? If it supports a small industry?

"Dressing Modestly Changed My Body Image for the Better"
I don't have to compare my thighs to Gwyneth Paltrow's, since I cover them with a properly fitting skirt that covers my knees.
Secret Keeper Girl: An Inside Look at Evangelical Cognitive Dissonance
The group believes in Christian purity and modesty—women need to save their “secrets” (their bodies) for their husbands at marriage. To accomplish this, they promote loving Jesus, being close to one’s mothers, and dressing modestly.
"Toward a New Understanding of Modesty"
...the current modesty debate among evangelical Christians might actually have something to offer beyond its own ranks.
Modesty: I Don't Think it Means What You Think it Means
Often, these two cultures combine to send out a pulse of confusing messages: “Look cute … but not too cute! Be modest … but not frumpy! Make yourself attractive … but not too attractive!” Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people.
Curvy in a Christian Home: The Modesty Movement and Its Negative Effects
There is not much worse for a young girl in a conservative home than the biological curse of double ds.
Rurally Screwed: Mennonite Ladies: Rise!
I wouldn’t have a problem with Mennonite fashion if the men had to wear, say, shoes that were three sizes too big, or really tight woolen jumpsuits, or kaleidoscope goggles, or whatever, but they don’t. They get to look normal. Modern. They get to blend in.
Bitch magazine, 2007: "The Great Cover-Up"
The modesty movement makes some good points about the effect a hypersexual culture can have on women's well-being and sense of self. And it's hard to argue that corporations and pop-culture products that reduce women and girls to consumers of constructed sexuality—from Bratz and Club Libby Lu to The Bachelor and Age of Love—are deeply problematic. But by claiming that modesty is the only solution, and by overlooking long-term feminist efforts to expand both women's access to sexual pleasure and the right to say no, the new-modesty hucksters are doing women no favors. 

Mormon 'modest fashion' blogs, 2011
"Longer Skirts, No Cleavage!"
Offbeat Modest Dress
Pinterest board
Flickr pool
madamOwl on the subject
Makers
Mennonite Maidens
The Modest Clothing Directory (with that retro Geocities vibe)
Friends Patterns
Further reading
Previously: I want a girl with a long skirt and a loooooong jacket.

Book Review: Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith: "Crossing creeds and cultures, analysing commentary alongside commerce, the book aims to explore the personal and the political as well as religious, aesthetic and economic implications of contemporary dress practices and the debates that surround them."

The modesty wars: women and the Hasidim in Brooklyn
Finally, in current events: The second "Wear Pants to Church Day" is planned for tomorrow. (Images from last year's event.) Some Mormon women have even gone bare (previously) in protest of the LDS Church's emphasis on modesty culture.

This post came about because I saw a sign in a local store -- "Modest attire appreciated" -- and, after doing a quick self-assessment, wondered about the thinking behind it.
posted by MonkeyToes (144 comments total) 92 users marked this as a favorite

 
The complaints about plain dress not being frugal in the first link are so weird. I mean, I get why people would think that, but when you think about where your clothes come from and why they're so cheap it seems odd to make a virtue out of spending as little as possible. Plus it's always nice to have durable clothes.

I want to take it in a different direction than the Bitch article and say that I think modesty as a norm is kind of good, in a way-- I don't like that so many default women's clothes are so revealing. You can be fashionable and sexy without needing to reveal, to literally put your flesh on a pedestal and point at it. There's an obvious difference between men's clothing and women's clothing and I think it makes a substantial difference in how women feel about their bodies and how we objectify ourselves, and how we think our bodies need to be perfect. I guess what is really hurting deep down though is I guess that whatever we do to our bodies, it's viewed as sexual and politically incorrect in some way-- there's no way to get around that question as a woman.

I like revealing clothes, though I think I've been conditioned to like them-- I like my body and feel pretty comfortable in them, but I didn't grow up thinking "wow I want to reveal my sexy body soon, can't wait." I grew up feeling very exposed and unusual when I wore short shorts, or a scoopneck tee-- it felt uncomfortable and awkward, limited my movement (because I was so aware of being thought of as sexual), and kind of ashamed. Too much to unravel there.

Anyway I've been known to wear short skirts through the winter (with layers of wool tights of course) and see-through shirts with a visible bra underneath, so I'm not trying to shame women, I just wish the standards were different, and that women's everyday clothing wasn't so performance oriented, I guess. Some days I wish I were a regular ol' man, some days it seems frightfully boring. That's the fatigue and thrill of performance I guess.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't have to compare my thighs to Gwyneth Paltrow's

You don't have to do this, period, regardless of what kind of clothing you choose to wear.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:33 AM on December 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


You forgot Wendy Shalit who has been talking about this stuff for a while.
posted by windykites at 11:34 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't have to compare my thighs to Gwyneth Paltrow's

You don't have to do this, period, regardless of what kind of clothing you choose to wear.


This is true, if you take Ms. Paltrow as a synecdoche of women. Everyone else you encounter in life will be happy to do it for you.

Being a human being in company with other humans is performative, but being a woman is made exhausting because the expectations are inherently contradictory. No matter what we do, someone thinks it's wrong and will be happy to explain why at length.
posted by winna at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


There is not much worse for a young girl in a conservative home than the biological curse of double ds.

Let's be honest: This is a curse in most, if not all, cultures for a teenage girl.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:45 AM on December 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Also, I typically wear long loose skirts. I wore pants for the first time in months the other day and immediately noticed guys perfunctorily checking out my ass. I hated it. It really bothered me- I felt so objectified and insignificant. When I dress modestly, (in my opinion, modest clothing isn't just sexually modest, it also doesn't stand out too much), people pay attention to me, not my clothes.
posted by windykites at 11:45 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Quaker Jane's overall comment about the responses to her dress seems telling - "The message I hear underneath all of these complaints: conform." Today I'm thinking this statement has wide applicability, although to be fair, Metafilter is an exception.
posted by sneebler at 11:46 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think this is/was interesting! I certainly understand the appeal of "limiting your palette in an addle-pated world".

It makes me think of cosplay, but as others have noted, dress is performative, so even the hoodie and jeans I am wearing this minute are cosplay. Experimenting, trying to somehow modulate or be more in thoughtful relation to hyperabundance, is always an interesting project, to me, regardless of what domain we're talking about.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:50 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gotta say, I think the Muslima fashion bloggers are the ones who really tend to get this stuff right. They come up with so many ways to look chic, interesting, dignified, and urbane, without feeling like you're offering up various body parts for judgment or display.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2013 [34 favorites]


Kind of goes to show, no matter what you do there are going to people that despise you for doing it.

If there was 5 things I could magically cure the human race of, being so fucking judgmental over such things would be on the list. We should wear what we want and tell everyone else to piss off.
posted by edgeways at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


Being a human being in company with other humans is performative

Perhaps assuming/accepting that this is the case is what prompts people to compare themselves to Gwyneth Paltrow, and/or to give a shit about others' expectations (contradictory or no)?

Even if the other people in the room did come expecting you to give them a show, that doesn't mean you have to give them one.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:03 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I too am rather covered in public. A cross-dresser I knew said
'It's ALL drag Baby!' I personally don't want to look scary to folks who might be afraid of Muslims. I don't want to show more of my body than is permitted, and I want physical comfort and POCKETS!
So a long skirt, a blouse, a waist-pack or a vest with pockets, shoes socks and a scarf long enough to cover my hair.
I gave up wearing slacks, jeans, or camo pants when my belly refused to respond to that 'One old weird trick'.

Women's fashions still deny us real pockets.
Modern women's fashions often don't meet our actual bodily needs.

Our hormones do stuff to us sometimes. Being able to use a skirt with a drawstring is just ONE practical solution that ought to be less discouraged by people who decide what we wear to the office.

Most of my irritations with fashion and clothing are with the tacit but solidly enforced culture of the corporate world.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:20 PM on December 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


Really interesting links. It's not a choice I am often forced to personally confront as a man (the swimming trunks I bought this summer are almost long and baggy enough to wear to a church, for example; there were literally no "sexy" or short and tight swimsuits for men for sale in that store). Just by going shopping, my default becomes "modest" without even thinking about it.

And that's maybe the oddest aspect of this -- mainstream male fashion choices are incredibly constrained, and currently skew away from exposing any flesh, while women's choices cover far more ground (if often less skin) and are far more fraught. I liked these articles and liked many of the pictured fashions, but it's kind of sad that so much weight gets put on what is almost a background part of life.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:23 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I really loathe the contemporary fashion for insisting that modern ideas about social behavior and expression are objective truths and compulsory. People should get to have some say in whether or not their dress is construed to be performative or not. For many of us, clothes are still primarily and desirably functional.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:24 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


mainstream male fashion choices are incredibly constrained, and currently skew away from exposing any flesh

Don't I know it.

If you show me yours, I'll show you mine.
posted by rue72 at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2013


"They get to look normal. Modern. They get to blend in. (Donning the occasional straw boater hat doesn’t count!)"

I imagine there are degrees of Mennonite like there are degrees of most religions, but around here, the Mennonite men are pretty easy to spot in the aisles of Home Depot or the grocery store.

Blend, they don't, even if their dress isn't quite as distinctive as the women.
posted by madajb at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a religious home also, and remember the exhortation to dress modestly, even though I didn't get anything near a woman's body until I left for college. I feel for Becky Brinkerhoff, the woman with the large breasts trying to navigate her way through that utter morass as a teen. I knew a couple of girls in my aunt's church subjected to the same hostility and busybody-ness of others.

At this church, the pastor gave what I considered to be ridiculous sermons on "silly women" - to a church filled with women - and about how even their modest Pentecostal dress were making men look upon them with lust and that Jesus was not pleased! He didn't even give a token sentence on men controlling themselves. What was worse were the other women in this church going along with this crap and never questioning these dictates that somehow let men off the hook for their behavior.

Unfortunately, my modest dress and lack of womanliness as a pre-teen and teen didn't stop random men from almost daily scouring my body with their eyes looking for what I can only suppose is an excuse to blame me once they got their jollies in catcalling me. It still doesn't, and no one has publicly seen skin below my neck or over my knees since ever. Because it's my fault; I "make" them horny by being female, I suppose, and dammit, I will accept their attention whether I want to or not. Which is the crux of it all, of course, control. Ironic that there are a lot of men who don't want to control their own behavior, but get angry when a woman says she's not responsible for how they feel or behave when they look at her, as evidenced in a few of the comments that Becky got.
posted by droplet at 12:37 PM on December 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


but it's kind of sad that so much weight gets put on what is almost a background part of life.

To men I think it often seems this way. Many women WISH it were this way. There are several men in the thread right now saying they resent being told their clothes are performative... perhaps because for men, they are less so.

I know there are women who escape the pressure to perform femininity and do not feel their clothes take up too much mental space, but basically saying that is how all women should be is denying women the ability to express themselves in ways men take for granted-- men can wear conforming clothes and still blend in. Women want to wear conforming clothes, they have to stand out in some way, usually objectifying their bodies. Women want to wear nonconforming clothes, they can, but they won't blend in. We don't usually get it both ways.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:39 PM on December 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think part of the bothersome thing is that what you'd think of as a neutral, conforming, appropriate outfit for a woman still usually shows off T&A. It's usually a tight shirt of some kind, tight pants, even if not "overly" tight. Cleavage (which to be honest, going no-cleavage can be uncomfortable in a shirt if it makes you feel like you're tied up in a bag). Women's clothes, man. I agree, just put more pockets on them.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:43 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Women's fashions still deny us real pockets.
....
Women's clothes, man. I agree, just put more pockets on them.


Reminds me of this blog post (via Pharyngula), by a man, also lamenting the lack of pockets on women's clothing. He and some of the commenters make the point that the lack of pockets on women's clothing reinforces the idea that men have the responsibility for taking care of money and such, while women aren't really supposed to be autonomous (no place to stash money and keys, because the menfolk have those...)
posted by dhens at 12:49 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great post, MonkeyToes; I’ve spent a fun afternoon browsing all the links. As my girl RuPaul says, “You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”

My personal taste in everyday dress tends toward the modest, but I’ve had some exposure to those who embrace it for religious reasons.

The dress code of the parochial school I attended as a kid called for long skirts and modest tops for girls year-round (I was still wearing some of those skirts above the knee in public high school). The high school cheerleaders wore long poodle skirt, and we wore knee-length cutoff sweats in gym class instead of shorts. Of course, this was before mainstream young girls’ clothes became so hypersexual in the first place , so it truly didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time.

As an adult, I always just felt more polished and put-together with less skin on display. Maybe it’s from growing up on black and white movies; those ladies always seemed so strong and fierce and in control. Mind you, I have a deep appreciation for fashion and costume, and you’ll guess from my RuPaul quote that I love the sexy, exotic stuff, too. I’ve worn my share of it, but in my mind it’s for certain occasions and not for every day.

My second brush with religious dress was looking for pretty and comfortable headcoverings during cancer treatment. I stumbled across tznius.com, ordered a bunch of their scarves and studied their wrapping and tying instructions, and basked in the compliments. Their inventory was MUCH bigger then, especially in the non-headcovering department. Their skirts and dresses were gorgeous. As a long-legged lady, it’s had for me to find a skirt I don’t have to tug down all day in some kind of netherward distaff Picard Maneuver. If I have to turn to a religious company to get one instead of sewing it myself, I have no trouble with that.

And I just cannot stand trousers that ride up into my ladybusiness all day. Nothing to do with modesty, that’s just a matter of comfort. Trousers that don’t do that are very difficult to find on the mainstream market at a price I can afford these days. So, I generally rotate skirts and heavy tights with the few pairs of looser, less fashionable trousers I've been able to find secondhand.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:49 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also men can dress in a shirt and pants and feel like a Neutral Human Being. Neutral Professional Human Being, or Neutral Casual Human Being, going to work in nice work clothes, going out in a t-shirt and jeans. Women don't really get that option, we are always othered, in my opinion. There's really no Human Uniform we can wear, since you know, we're not Star Trek yet. Look at how the cut of women's t-shirts changes constantly. What are our "default" clothes? A dress, pants, shorts (how short), &c. There are a million billion choices, and it's even more class-obvious than men's fashion, IMO. If I want to wear jeans and a hoodie, I'm prettyyyy aware that I'm wearing jeans and a hoodie. Because I am freakin' deciding things every time I get dressed. Decision fatigue. On the other hand, my boyfriend just gets up and grabs two pieces of clothing and bam.

I have actually established a "uniform" for myself that allows me to dress faster and is oriented toward my "personal style." I wear a shirt, a sweater, and a high-waisted skirt with tights and boots almost every day. It's easier but it took me a long time to reach that level where I was comfortable with what I was wearing from a fashion perspective, but could also simplify it for myself, without feeling like I was going overboard. And also to build a wardrobe out of elements that suit my body/make me feel comfortable when it has not always been easy to find such items. I really like wearing a high-waisted A-line skirt because I don't worry about my belly but I still feel feminine and like I look nice. I'm comfortable, my legs are free (instead of wearing age-appropriate tight jeans, as I'm young), and I feel stylish. But geez it took so many years to get there.

Is European fashion more confusing to men in Europe? This is a serious question I have, are there more choices/is there more performativity for men there? Or is it just that to an American eye European clothes are more fashionable for men?
posted by stoneandstar at 12:51 PM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's funny, as someone who always felt pressured to cover up, I stopped and just felt better in general.
posted by discopolo at 12:53 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


the swimming trunks I bought this summer are almost long and baggy enough to wear to a church, for example; there were literally no "sexy" or short and tight swimsuits for men for sale in that store

I'll hem 'em up for you!

And that's maybe the oddest aspect of this -- mainstream male fashion choices are incredibly constrained

I agree - it's baffling. I, for one would love to see more variety come back.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:56 PM on December 14, 2013


I love pockets (LOVE POCKETS), but I mean, we do carry purses. And keep hella shit in those.


discopolo, for me it was a balance. When I was young I felt like I had to cover up because my body was sexual, and I felt really uncomfortable. When I stopped thinking about my body as sexual, I didn't care about covering up, and wore whatever. But now it makes other people see me as sexual. So, fuck everybody.

I think I internalized from a very young age that women were titties titties titties and my body was kind of a pre-determined sexual package courtesy Playboy, so I wanted to hide all that to avoid the role that was being proposed for me by movies &c. Kind of disgusting to think a 7-year-old girl has to think about that and feel ashamed already. (The shame came from thinking I had to be a brainless bimbo or an intelligent person, since those were the two kinds of women I saw, and I knew at age 7 I was good at reading and didn't have breasts yet, so I avoided femininity like the plague.)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is cool stuff. I see a lot to value in plain dressing and I know a lot of (otherwise contemporary and not over-extremely modest) liberal Quakers who more or less do it; not wearing anything special or costumey, but just dressing without fuss, keeping things simple, making clothes last a long time. I can't say I do - my workplace is rather appearance-obsessed and I try to blend in there - I also enjoy a little flair from time to time.
posted by Miko at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't resent it--I'm agreeing that it sucks for everyone and especially women. Forcing the same warped standards on men as on women doesn't offer any relief for the women who don't like being ogled. It elevates the worst parts of the way things work now to compulsory for everyone.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:01 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or is it just that to an American eye European clothes are more fashionable for men?

I live in an area of the country where, for men, wearing a shirt with buttons is considered dressing up, where wearing pants instead of jeans or khakis will get you asked 'When's the interview?', so my perspective might be a little skewed.

That said, having just spent 3 weeks in the UK, I noticed that men of all ages* dressed nicer overall, especially when I was near a major city.
Pants fit better, shoes weren't sneakers, belts seemed more prevalent, etc.

I wouldn't begin to surmise if it is because the men are demanding better clothes or if they are just buying what the stores sell, but it was an interesting observation.

* And women, for that matter
posted by madajb at 1:01 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Forcing the same warped standards on men as on women doesn't offer any relief for the women who don't like being ogled. It elevates the worst parts of the way things work now to compulsory for everyone.

But it's fun, too. It's exhausting and also fun. Like I was saying earlier, sometimes I wish I were a man (for the ease of it, fashion-wise), sometimes it seems so boring (for the lack of variety, fashion-wise). I wish it was more of a personal choice than compulsory for women, unavailable to men.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love pockets (LOVE POCKETS), but I mean, we do carry purses. And keep hella shit in those.

Not all women do or -CAN- carry purses. I've had jobs and situations where a purse was not an option (no one was allowed to bring any kind of bag into the area at all), but I still had to carry a wallet, keys, badge, and (being female) have somewhere to stash my tampons. Pockets were the only way to go.

For that matter, we should not require an entire gender to carry a bag just because.
posted by FritoKAL at 1:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [28 favorites]


Tznua or tzniut is the concept of modesty in Judaism. There have been moments throughout my life that I felt the need to follow some of the laws of tzniut, not for gods but for myself, because modesty, covering, felt right. I grew up in a Reform household, and modesty wasn't a real issue but I also lived in Israel and found that a measure of tzniut felt right and was normalized. When I came home to the states, I continued to wear the same clothing.

To this day, 25 years later, I wear and keep tichels (head scarves) and while I don't wear them every day or even every week, they are part of my wardrobe and no one at work seems off-put or surprised when I do happen to wear one.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying purses should be compulsory, just that I find arguments that women aren't in charge of anything because no pockets pretty specious. Since the majority of women will never be in a no-purse-allowed situation on a regular basis. I've had jobs where I can't actually carry my purse around, and pockets are useful at those times, but usually I have on a smock or something else with pockets in it.

I like pockets and a purse. I want pockets for little things and my purse to carry around books and like, floss, or whatever. It's basically a fashionable backpack.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


With the exception of the bonnets, this is how I look most of the time, but without looking like I'm in a re-enactment at some historic site.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2013


This isn't "plain dressing", this is costuming. Nothin' wrong with that, of course.
posted by carping demon at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


one woman decided to go all the way and to live as a bonnet-required Plain-dressing Quaker. Her experiment is long over

Has Quaker Jane given up the plain dress? Looks to me like this was a way of life for her, not an experiment, and I've seen nothing to indicate that she's gone back to mainstream clothing. If she has, I'd like to read about how she arrived at that decision, so please point me to where it says that.
posted by orange swan at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2013


as stated above, there are 'degrees' of mennonites, sort of. you'll have a hard time picking out most members of Mennonite Church USA, but the Old Order or Conservative Mennonites aren't hard to spot.

one year, the general conference mennos were holding their big conference in my home region and my dad (who'd worked for 25 years in the church-affiliated organizations) was out to lunch in a restaurant with some people from a local mennonite church. a nearby table was overheard as saying "did you hear that there's some kind of mennonite thing going on? i can't wait to see all those horse and buggies roll into town." everyone at the table smiled and went on with their food.
posted by gorestainedrunes at 1:25 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is interesting to me, because it looks like she wasn't a Quaker until she suddenly had the idea of wearing a bonnet, which ... I mean, she acknowledges on her site that plain dress isn't universal among Quakers, but I'd say at this point, it's more than that: it's VERY VERY VERY rare among Quakers. So it's almost like she came up with the dress and then found a faith that at one time commonly adopted that dress but now mostly doesn't. (She does refer to "conservative Quakers" and I know western Quakers are very different from the Philadelphia-flavor ones I grew up around, but she says she went to a non-programmed meeting. My guess is that at a non-programmed meeting, most of the people there had literally never seen a plain-dress Quaker in their lives. I went to a Quaker school and a Quaker camp, and I don't think I've ever seen a Quaker in a bonnet. You still see a lot of Quakers who shun ostentatiousness, but the ones I've known don't literally wear bonnets -- they're cardigan people.)

None of this is negative, it's just curious. It's a curious path to a faith, which doesn't mean it's in any way bad, it's just ... curious.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:31 PM on December 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yeah, I do not like purses and I generally never carry one. An exception might be when traveling and needing a small bag to collect things in over the course of a day, maps, souvenirs, pen/journal, etc.

I carry my messenger bag to work. Other than that, I use my pockets. And I don't buy many clothes without pockets, because it's just sooo frustrating.

Purses are definitely not a default for women. I hate the things. They just beg to be left somewhere or stolen, and they're not comfortable to carry - I swear you have to have a certain build to carry a shoulder bag, because whenever I've tried it just slips right off my shoulder - infuriating! And to carry something in my hand? Hell no, I need my hands free, for safety, for messing with my phone, for whatever. So when I do carry a bag it's always a crossbody strap.

Anyway, bags don't make up for lack of pockets.
posted by Miko at 1:32 PM on December 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


To this day, 25 years later, I wear and keep tichels (head scarves)

This morning, I was standing in line behind a woman wearing an Eastern Mennonite stiff cap (scroll down for an example) and there was something pleasing about the neatness and order of the pleats. Where I live, head coverings are varied -- everything from Amish bonnets to Mennonite caps to head scarves. Reminds me a little of the ponytail -- a go-to hair arrangement that's practical, quick, and relatively low-fuss once you have the hang of it. It's a uniform, I guess, especially if it's something you grew up with. I really can see the appeal, mentioned above, of having an established style you don't have to think too much about (wasn't it President Obama who mentioned something about having shirts and ties of a very limited palette -- like one or two colors -- because he wants to conserve his decision-making energy?).

Has Quaker Jane given up the plain dress?

I swear, she has given it up but I cannot find it. Until I do, her comments on temporarily putting aside plain dress:
I also know so many weighty Friends and spiritually wise non-Quakers who dress in so many varieties of ways that I can't think for a second that what a person wears bears any impact on that. Except if their dress is their idol, and it becomes an empty form. That can happen, and then it is time to let it go. I laid the plain dress discipline down for a period of, I think, four months, while God was re-ordering me on that. I was so *mad* about that. First he makes me look the fool by making me put on that enormous bonnet and those ridiculous clothes. Then he says to stop. Then I get to look twice the fool. By the time that exercise in humility was done and I returned to plain dress, I finally had a sense of when my orientation is true. It comes and goes at God's will, not mine.
A-ha!

"I have set aside personally wearing plain dress, as I no longer feel the Lord strengthening me to offer up that personal witness, but I created this website during the ten years I did wear plain dress and I am leaving this website up for those who do feel drawn to that obedience."
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:37 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's VERY VERY VERY rare among Quakers.

Yes and no. The kind of plainness in the OP's post is, but it depends how extremely you define it (and I tend to agree that to dress in a way that is visibly and extremely different from the mainstream is no longer really plain). I am very familiar with the world of Philadelphia-area Quakers, and a lot of them (as I said in my comment above) DO dress plain in principle - but their interpretation of "plain" isn't a nineteenth-century smock dress with a bonnet, it's a basic pair of jeans/pants or a skirt or leggings with a basic sweater, sweatshirt, t-shirt, etc. Not a lot of makeup and not a lot of jewelry. I don't argue this is a codified behavior but that it is an emergent property of a religion that places a high value on simplicity and avoids getting wound up in materialism.

It's a question of emphasis, of priorities. I mean, no matter how liberal your Quaker meeting is, there's rarely an occasion to accuse a group of Quakers of being overdressed. Those choices are 'plainness' too, the deliberate lack of interest in setting a fancier standard of dress for either worship or daily life. It's just not something to write a blog about. But yes, modern Quakers tend to lean toward simplicity of dress.

I'm aware that there is a bit of an uptick in interest in "primitive Christianity" and really rootsy versions of more Bible-driven, evangelical Quakerism, and there is a pretty sizeable (as anythikng Quaker goes) gang of people who are serious about plainness. But even most of those people essentially dress modern; you might not know that they're working on plainness, because maybe they just look like a bartender at an artisanal restaurant.
posted by Miko at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


but their interpretation of "plain" isn't a nineteenth-century smock dress with a bonnet, it's a basic pair of jeans/pants with a basic sweater, sweatshirt, t-shirt, etc. Not a lot of makeup and not a lot of jewelry.

That's ... what I said, right? About cardigans? I think we agree.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Perhaps assuming/accepting that this is the case is what prompts people to compare themselves to Gwyneth Paltrow, and/or to give a shit about others' expectations (contradictory or no)?

When other people's expectations on something as trivial as the material of your shirt dictates how they treat you (hint: yes) then it's obligatory to decide how you will respond, whether you like it or not.

I mean, I bum around in yoga pants and tshirts from college most of the time, but I have accepted the message it sends. You can pretend to ignore it, but it's not ignoring you.
posted by winna at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm with the people going "cosplaying". And there's nothing wrong with cosplay, but if you want to dress up as someone from the 18th century, people are going to notice. If 'modesty' is actually the goal, it's perfectly possible to cover your body as demurely as you would like in modern clothing. As someone pointed out above, you will see this often with hijab-wearing muslim women, who will be wearing perfectly ordinary, yet perfectly modest within the standard of their religion, clothes. The only reason you would even notice them is the headscarf.

Hell, you don't even have to make a goal of modesty. I wear exactly the same thing to work as my fellow engineers: jeans and simple cotton shirts, with the result that during most of the year not an inch of skin is showing below the neck and above the wrists. And I don't give a shit for modesty, I just like comfortable clothes.
posted by tavella at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Anyway, bags don't make up for lack of pockets.

I dunno, my sister, who wears men's pants and has plenty of pockets, recently started carrying a purse (when she wears leggings/yoga pants) and loves it. I, too, love having a purse, and have none of the issues you have. So mileage varies. Also, a messenger bag is essentially the same concept, there are plenty of "purses" that are basically messenger bags, so I don't know how meaningful the distinction is.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:42 PM on December 14, 2013


That's ... what I said, right? About cardigans? I think we agree.

I think so, but I'm standing up for the idea that it's a matter of degree. A lot of Quakers do dress plain (so it's not "rare,") but they don't do it in the same vividly overt way QJ does.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2013


The distinction is meaningful because I don't carry anything unless I'm going to work. The bag is for binders, my badge, pens and work stuff.

I'm not saying purses are bad, or that if you have pockets you couldn't still want them. I'm just saying that I hate purses, so I want my clothes to have pockets. Social sanction for women who enjoy carrying a bag doesn't mean my clothes should not have pockets.
posted by Miko at 1:44 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


they don't do it in the same vividly overt way QJ does

Okay. Yes, that's exactly what I meant by saying they shun ostentatiousness but don't wear bonnets, so yes, we are saying exactly the same thing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:47 PM on December 14, 2013




they shun ostentatiousness but don't wear bonnets

And then there's this, from Janet Malcolm's profile of Eileen Fisher:
There is a wish shared by women who consider themselves serious that the clothes they wear look as if they were heedlessly flung on rather than anxiously selected. The clothes of Eileen Fisher seem to have been designed with the fulfillment of that wish in mind. Words like “simple” and “tasteful” and colors like black and gray come to mind along with images of women of a certain age and class—professors, editors, psychotherapists, lawyers, administrators—for whom the hiding of vanity is an inner necessity.... I was attracted by the austere beauty of the clothes. They were loose and long and interesting. There was an atmosphere of early modernism in their geometric shapes and murky muted colors. You could see Alma Mahler wearing them around the Bauhaus. But you could not wear them yourself if you weren’t fairly stately. After a few years, the clothes changed and began to suit small thin women as well as tall substantial ones. But their original atmosphere remained. I joined a growing cadre of women who regularly shop at Eileen Fisher and form a kind of cult of the interestingly plain. . . .

At a certain point (and perhaps at a certain price point) plain becomes chic.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


For a long time, I held to the idea that this kind of modesty was wrong from a faith point of view because it was basically the opposite of modesty: It's screaming "look at me, look at how pious I am" instead of "look at me, look at how sexy I am" but so far as I can tell, the Bible has a lot more of a problem with trying very hard to look pious. I still think that, I guess. But at the time, I thought that it was far better from a faith point of view to strive for "normal". And then realized that a lot of where I was coming from on that was a position where I have no real gender identity to speak of and I live in a world where my going around in khakis/jeans+t-shirt+casual jacket is pretty much invisible. Nothing in me feels wrong when I do that. I'm not always a great fan of my body, but my dress can conform with how I feel without effort or social judgment.

But not everybody has that. I was reading a thing a bit back about how there's a certain tendency to fetishize the idea that transwomen and nontraditionally-gendered people designated male might want to dress in very feminine ways just for the purposes of their own enjoyment. We don't say it's a fetish when cisgender women do it, but we do have a tendency to say it's slutty if the skirt is too short or the makeup too pronounced or whatever. But across the board, lots of people do it. Lots of people enjoy the performance of femininity in that way, not for others to look at, but just for themselves. I don't, and since I don't I spent a long time thinking that there must be something attention-seeking about it, but there isn't. And maybe there's not necessarily something attention-seeking about this, either, maybe some people just internally long to wear bonnets and that should be okay, too.

Still not sure that blogging about it or whatever is precisely "modest", but if that's the only failing one has then that's pretty minor.
posted by Sequence at 1:53 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


This isn't "plain dressing", this is costuming.

Well, there are degrees, of course, but every single thing you put over your naked body is costuming.

On pockets:

I simply don't trust 'em. I've had too many things slip out of pockets while I was sitting down, or fall through tiny holes in pockets I didn't realize were there. Maybe that's a side effect of poorly-designed or poorly-constructed pockets in women's clothing, but I'll trust my keys to a purse any day before I'll trust them to a pocket, even if I have one. So, simply adding more pockets to women's designs isn't going to change anything for me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2013


Purposefully wearing clothes that don't fit to offset potential slut shaming is an act that will surely be punished on judgement day by the gods of fashion.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2013


Maybe that's a side effect of poorly-designed or poorly-constructed pockets in women's clothing

Yeah, it is. There's a default to slash pockets with a small, angled interior - those kinds of pockets suck. Jeans pockets are good. My wool trousers also have nice deep, square pockets.
posted by Miko at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


-Maybe that's a side effect of poorly-designed or poorly-constructed pockets in women's clothing

--Yeah, it is... Jeans pockets are good.


Not any jeans I've ever had.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:58 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found the story of how she came about her faith really disturbing. It sounds like an obsession. Which may be what grappling with faith can look like, but also what mental illness can look like.
But this becoming obsessed with a bonnet and shaking when she saw nuns. And then the way God makes her wear plain clothes and then suddenly not for four months and then again and then not...it's too weird for me.

Despite the fact that I'd really like to try what it's like to live plainly.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:04 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I see so much of this as an attempt to look Religious, not so much an attempt to opt out of performative aspects of dress.

I would LOVE a resource for "plain dress", and I was really hoping for some kind of all-American down to earth Cayce Pollard kind of approach.

But, no, "plain dress" = religious costuming.

Which is fine. It's pretty apparent from the site that religious costuming is what Jane is going for.

I just wish there was some alternative to mainstream women's clothing that wasn't specifically religious in nature. I want someone to really do CPUs, I guess. As a real livable approach to dress.

Nthing the Muslim equivalent of this as far more interesting, flattering, and chic than anything religious Christians are doing. I felt as ill-dressed in Istanbul as most women talk about feeling in Paris.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm a Levi's gal.
posted by Miko at 2:14 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am wholeheartedly with Miko on the pockets thing. I want to have my hands free. I don't want to have to find a place to set it down, remember where it is, keep an eye on it, like you do with a purse. Some jeans have good deep pockets, and some have ridiculous shallow pockets that won't hold a quarter reliably. Bad pockets/no pockets are a dealbreaker for me, and sometimes I daydream of starting a women's clothing line based just of good pockets.
posted by ambrosia at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I spend a large part of my day visiting classrooms with my male supervisor. My job requires me to dress professionally and carry keys and a cell phone. Rarely do I have pockets. I've figured out how to put my keys on a lanyard, but bending over to talk to students with a cell phone hanging from a lanyard around my neck just doesn't work. Only once did I resort to asking my boss to put my phone in his pocket (ARG) but on several occasions have been caught without money because I left my purse in the car or at the office because I couldn't carry it around with me. Putting the phone in a case with a clip doesn't much help because dresses don't always have a belt or a waistband either. It's a problem.
posted by tamitang at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2013


Well, there are degrees, of course, but every single thing you put over your naked body is costuming.

In Sweden there is a saying: There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Keeping your body warm in a cold climate is not costuming, it's a necessity and ideas about what looks "good" are quickly surrendered when it's -25C.

It would seem to me that (applying a broad brush) men do not dress with any concern about how other men see them. Women, on the other hand, are extremely judgmental of each other. My daughter and I go through battles over what she wears to school - she is extremely conscious of what the other little girls wear. My son could hardly be bothered with what he has on.

Men have had this figured out for a thousand years. The majority of us don't bother with make-up, uncomfortable shoes, or how our hair looks. Maybe it's time that women start following our example.
posted by three blind mice at 2:25 PM on December 14, 2013


On the other hand, my boyfriend just gets up and grabs two pieces of clothing and bam.

I think I put in some thought on how I'm dressing and expect men to do more work (but not too much work). I can't be the only woman who does this.

Though maybe I am. I've seen beautifully dressed women with guys who look like they only wear stained and wrinkled tee shirts and I like to silently send her a message saying,"Oh, honey, you know you can do better than that guy*."

And tbh, I think all women should be taught that dating red flags include: obscene tee shirts and sweatshirts with the Looney Tunes embroidered on them.

As to why there are no sexy swimsuits for men, it's because the topless part is supposed to be the sexy part, abs showing and whatnot. And Spanx for men is a thing so I think we're heading for some kind of equality on this, for better or worse.

*unless he was too exhausted from saving a barnful of puppies and kitties to put any thought into what he's wearing.
posted by discopolo at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just wish there was some alternative to mainstream women's clothing that wasn't specifically religious in nature.

Victorian?
(It's a bit involved.)

Maybe Neo-victorian.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:35 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most Quakers stopped wearing plain dress and using "thee" around 1900. The Quaker plain dress was originally just a plain version of mainstream dress which meant that Quakers wore clothes of sober colours (i.e., black, brown, gray) and that were simply cut, with the idea that one was not to be distracted by frivolous and worldly things. As mainstream fashion evolved, the Quaker plain dress became more of a specific dress that had lost its relation to mainstream clothing and its original meaning and was simply setting Quakers apart from non-Quakers. The same argument applied to the use of "thee". English used to have a formal personal pronoun that was used for one's betters and for people one didn't know well ("you"), and a familiar personal pronoun that was used for everyone else ("thee"). This distinction still exists in French ("vous" and "tu"). The original reason for the use of thee was that a Quaker should show the same level of respect to everyone because everyone is equal (they still don't believe in titles or honorifics such as "sir" and "your honour"). But then everyone else gradually stopped using "thee" and just used "you", so the use of "thee" had lost its original purpose and simply become something exclusive to the Quakers, and which, they felt, excluded and alienated others.

Most Quakers then dropped specific plain dress and the use of "thee", though some individual Quakers (who tended to be elderly) continued to wear it, and there were some Quaker meetings who kept to the old ways.

I found the story of how she came about her faith really disturbing. It sounds like an obsession. Which may be what grappling with faith can look like, but also what mental illness can look like.
But this becoming obsessed with a bonnet and shaking when she saw nuns. And then the way God makes her wear plain clothes and then suddenly not for four months and then again and then not...it's too weird for me.


I've known about Quaker Jane for some time as I came across her when I was reading up on the Quakers (I'm an attender myself, though not a member), and Quaker Jane's back story has always struck me the same way. She should wear whatever she wants, of course, but her story of coming to a decision to wear plain dress, and then not to wear it, sounded neurotic and disturbing rather than thoughtful. Her stance was basically, "I wear plain dress because I feel God wants me to wear it and I had no peace until I did it." There's no matter of principle involved as there was with the original Quaker dress and she offers no thoughts as to what greater purpose it might serve. And so I find the whole exercise to be simply weird rather than compelling or instructive in any way.
posted by orange swan at 2:40 PM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Men have had this figured out for a thousand years. The majority of us don't bother with make-up, uncomfortable shoes, or how our hair looks. Maybe it's time that women start following our example.

Hell no. I like how I look and I like pretty clothes. I spent too much of my life trying to be "above it" and missed out on fashion fun. I love pretty clothes. With the gift of becoming more fun-living and relaxed and comfortable in my body in my newly single 30s, I'm finally getting to be girly and have fun.

Men need to shape up. Especially the guys who think it's okay to wear misogynist/rude tee shirts out in public. And when they look like slobs, I'm silently judging. And I know I'm not alone in this.
posted by discopolo at 2:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Keeping your body warm in a cold climate is not costuming, it's a necessity and ideas about what looks "good" are quickly surrendered when it's -25C.

Ennnnhhhhhhhh, not really.

I mean, if you live in a climate that is usually fairly temperate, and for one week you get a freak cold snap, sure. People will do what they have to do.

But I grew up in a somewhat tropical climate and later moved to the US Northeast. And, yes, when you wear a coat, scarf, hat, gloves, sweaters, boots, etc. every single day, it of course becomes a sort of performance.

You can absolutely tell what someone's gender is when it's freezing out. You can tell whether they're wealthy or homeless. In NYC, where race and ethnicity are a really big deal, you can tell that information. You can tell whether someone is a "hipster" or a "bro" or a "douchebag" or a goth or a hippie. I can take one look at what kind of coat you're wearing and probably guess what kind of education you have, what neighborhood you live in, what your hobbies are, and all sorts of EXTREMELY specific information. Because clothes are performative. Even functional winter clothes.

(FWIW I actually don't even care that clothes are performative. I just want something with pockets that isn't too confining and comes in colors that look good on me and is practical to wear to work and isn't covered in advertising. I hate that feeling of standing in H&M, realizing that NOTHING actually works.)
posted by Sara C. at 2:44 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I hope we can just keep in mind that women in some religious communities who dress this way aren't doing it out of an internal sense of modesty or piety, necessarily, let alone by choice. They're doing it because their lives are lives of abnegation, subjugation, shame and guilt. They're responsible for all of the sin and degeneracy in the world, and a pack of temptresses besides! If the men can't keep their hands off them, it's their fault! If they should choose to dress otherwise (or, say, think independently, question authority, etc.) they could find themselves shunned and shamed.

[Source: my woman is (was) a Menno]

For a woman to be able to choose to dress this way is a mark of relative freedom and privilege, but I don't think it really does anything to address the social phenomena that result in women being the "sex class" or having to deal with leering and judgement. And you can wear a Hudson's Bay blanket but underneath it all, you're still conscious of the fact that your legs are fatter than [the photoshopped version of] Gwynneth Paltrow's. It's more interesting to get at why that's a problem in the first place than to try to cover it up.

But, as a man who'd pretty much walk down the street naked for no reason and not feel a mite of shame... the value of my opinion on this matter might be somewhat limited.
posted by klanawa at 2:45 PM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


I feel like the original plain dress of Quakers was about not wearing special clothing that drew attention to you -- which is exactly what dressing like a 17th century woman in the 21st century does.

A truly plain dressed woman of this century and in the west would wear a plain shirt and trousers - maybe a t-shirt and jeans - fitted but not tight, in neutral colours. This is really plain dressing - dressing in a simple manner, not drawing attention to yourself. And you can buy your clothes at a second hand shop for added modesty (aka true modesty, which is about not being proud, not fussing about your lady bits).
posted by jb at 3:05 PM on December 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


As to why there are no sexy swimsuits for men, it's because the topless part is supposed to be the sexy part, abs showing and whatnot.

Oh, there are definitely sexy swimsuits for men than emphasize ass and package. But they are not marketed to heterosexual men at mainstream retailers. I was at a Macy's or a Nordstrom and literally every pair was knee length and baggy, two or three racks full of the same style.

If I wanted an ass-lifting, nut-hugging suit, I would have to go out of my way to find it online or at a retailer targeting a specific demographic. For a woman, it's the reverse -- you need a specialty supplier like the one discussed in one or two of the links to get a swimsuit with serious coverage. Same with pockets: I can theoretically buy pants with no pockets, or absurdly small pockets, but I'd need to look hard to find them. The default is pockets, full coverage, and modest -- exactly what the woman in the really interesting xojane piece chooses.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a Quaker, and I know some men and women (more men than woman) who wear plain dress. It's fairly common for me and my Quaker friends to have conversations about what plain dress might mean in the present day. The history of Quaker plain dress is complicated; even after I'd done a whole reading project on it a few years ago I didn't feel like I could authoritatively say, "This is what a Quaker woman would have worn in 1883," or whatever. Historically, Quakers have not usually had a set "uniform" like the Amish or the Mennonites might. Their clothing might be cut in the fashion of the day, but with less adornment than was fashionable and in dark colors, and of course it would have modest necklines and the like. There's some quote from an early Quaker that we throw around a lot: "of the best stuff, but plain," which suggests that self-denial or the appearance of relative poverty was not a goal as it can be in the religious dress of people from other traditions.

I found an image here of a Quaker couple of the 17th Century (the image is from the early 1900s, though) that demonstrates this pretty well, I think.

This article contains a photograph of a group of Quakers from the 19th Century (scroll down) that shows a general uniformity of dress without people's clothing being identical. It actually reminds me of present-day liberal Friends in that I always say that you can't necessarily spot a single Quaker by the way she dresses, but a group of Quakers has a distinctive look that is not quite perfectly congruent with the crowd you'd see at a Pete Seeger tribute concert or shopping at the local food co-op but has much in common with those groups. It's like lesbians: you can't always spot a single lesbian but a group of lesbians is pretty obvious. Same with Quakers. Walk into a room full of them, and you know you've walked into a room full of them.

There is a terrific article here on the development of plain dress, that includes these instructions issued by a quarterly meeting (an association of all the monthly meetings in an area) in the 17th Century. It includes warnings against extraneous buttons and visible button slits, specifies how much fabric can be used in a scarf, and advises against women cutting their hair. It includes notes about how poor people can adapt these instructions.

First Among the Men … Also in their Apparell Wee condemn all broad ribbands for Hat bands, All Cocking up the side of their hats, all vaine powdering of Wiggs or their own hair: As also all their bushie and Long Cravats fringed or speckled; We condemn their false shoulder peeces, Like Necks of Shirts called by severall Cheats, And desires they may putt comely necks to their Coats; We condemn their hand bandsor cuffs Like Shirt sleeves: Wee desire their coats may be buttoned to the tope, And not some buttons kept loose to make a show with their Cravats: Let all superfluous buttons and blindholes be put away, And no buttons further down than needs for fasning their Coats: Let the pockets of their Coats be in the Inside, and so needles Slitts and shows of ranges of buttons be prevented on the outer side of their coats, and all needles Lyps and superfluous Cloath be forborn in their Coats: And all rows of heads of Stockings at their knees be altogether forborn, And let plain buckles be in their Shoes.

And as to the habits of Women either Younger or Elder; Wee Jointly doe desire, They forbear vaine Cutting or shedding their hair to sett it out on their faces or forheads; But that it be put straight back: And that they wear on their heads, a plain Queff, without any rufling or needles lyps in the Frons of it: And their hood above it without any wiers or pas-boord to keep it high, but Let it be tyed strait and Low, and not waving Loose about their faces; And Let no Long Lapps, not maserind* [* Maserind: from the Duchesse de Mazarin - to decorate with lace in some particular manner, 1694, etc.] Lapps be on their hoods or head cloaths (an ell and ane halfe being Judged to be be fully sufficient for their hoods about their faces Lapps and all Let non wear rufled Neckcloaths, but either plaine bands or plain Napkins: Let their Mantows or other gowns be made plaine, without broad or rufled lyps on the shoulders of them; And without Lead or great rows on the sleeves of them, but only a plaine uplay thereon: And without short tailes, or lying over lyps in the pinning of them, to make them fitt out bigg behind: Let them be pinned strait that they may Lye plaine and broad behind: Let their be no side or Low trains, neither at Gowns or Coats. Let the Long Scarffs be cutt, It being Judged, That two ells and ane halfe, is fully sufficient for a Scarffe; Let no Stamenger be of any other collour but the same with their Gowns: Let no coloured plaids be used any more, but either Mantles or Lond hoods: And the Poor that can-not reach to that, Let them wear white plaids, without fine collored Spraings in them: Let non want aprons at all, and that either of Green or blew or other grave cloath collors and not white upon the Street or in public at all, nor of any spainged or speckled silk or cloath nor any silk aprons at all.


The elders of that Quarterly meeting would have had some firm words for that couple in the first image I linked to. Did you see that guy's extraneous buttons? *look of horror*

When my Friends and I talk about plain dress, some of the questions we have include:

What does plain dress mean for women in an era when women have so many clothing choices?

It's not that hard for men to adopt plain dress. Most of the men I know who've done it just switch to plain white or grey collarless shirts, dark pants, and suspenders, while maybe picking up a hat from their local Amish shop. I have known men who worked in professions while wearing plain dress, who have told me that their dress has set them apart but not been a major impediment to being accepted in their role. One said that once he put on a dark jacket and took off his hat, except that he wasn't wearing a tie, most people didn't even seem to realize he was doing something specific with his dress.

But what about women? If plain dress means adopting some version of the dresses worn by Mennonites, then we're not only not in keeping with the practices of our own Quaker history, but a lot of us are going to rebel against it. But if plain dress is an opportunity to witness, to be visible in the world as a Quaker, then just wearing a simple palette and not wearing a lot of jewelry isn't going to serve that function. It's hard to figure out how a woman can choose to dress that signals "I'm not just dressed badly, I have stepped outside the system of dress and fashion," and still preserve the freedom of choice we treasure these days. To the extent that what you wear sends a message, how can a Quaker woman experimenting with plain dress send the message she wants to?

The adoption of the kind of head coverings and dress worn by other sects is problematic because not only is it confusing to a wider culture that doesn't know the difference between Quakers and Amish in the first place, but it sends a message about a certain kind of modesty, and what is and is not appropriate for women, and about sexuality, that most liberal Friends would not unite with.

Is plain dress a part of historic Quakerism we want to preserve?

Early Quakers disapproved of music and the arts, the reading and writing of novels, and other such things as "frivolous." You could be read of out your meeting for them. In a response to the excesses of early Quakers--which included things like people feeling led by God to appear naked in public or to disrupt others' church services--there were a couple of hundred years of very strict discipline. One of my friends from my Quaker meeting and I used to tease each other if we thought one of us was being "showy." "I'll be sending the meeting overseers by thy house later," we'd say, "to cut the fringes off thy antimacassars."

We sometimes miss the sense of Quakers being a peculiar people set apart from the world. But we don't want to go back to a time of strict conformity, when people could be read out of meeting for "marrying out of discipline" (marrying a non-Quaker) or disciplined for having red stockings on under one's dress. Nobody wants to go back to a time when there were individuals in Meeting with the power to punish for violations of dress or manner.

And we don't want to be a people who suppress joy. We tend to relish singing these days, for instance. Although we don't do it in a planned way during worship, we kind of like it when someone breaks out into song during meeting, and some meetings have a time for singing before silent worship. We embrace the artists among us. Although we struggle with body image issues just like anybody else in America, we want girls and women to feel beautiful, and we support people who choose to wear lovely things or bright colors, although it is pretty rare to encounter a Quaker woman who is "high femme" in a conventional way. And we want to support the healthy development and expression of sexuality in our young people. These are all values that are very much at odds with early Quakers', and with Evangelical and some Conservative Friends today.

We fuss about everything, really. We are the Beanplate Religion.

Quakers are nothing if not reflective. We don't have a creed; what we have instead is a practice of issuing "queries" for prayer and reflection. My monthly meeting has a habit of considering one set of these queries each month. We have books called, usually, Faith & Practice (formerly Books of Discipline) that have collections of queries on topics like meeting for worship, the conduct of our business, support of ministry, religious education, how we care for one another, simplicity, social and political witness, and so on. A meeting might gather for what we call "worship sharing," which is a kind of silent worship in which the barrier for speaking is lower than in Meeting for Worship; one might share one's own thoughts in worship-sharing, while hoping not to speak in Meeting for Worship unless prompted by God. The queries will be read, and then people will speak out of the silence, leaving silence between speakers and not responding directly to others' words, about their responses to the queries.

For example, here are some of the queries on "Integrity and Simplicity" from the 1997 revision of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice:

What does our Meeting understand to be the meaning and implication of our testimonies on simplicity and integrity?

How do our Meeting's actions demonstrate this understanding?

As a Meeting, what are we doing to encourage members to embody integrity and simplicity in their own lives?

Am I temperate in all things? Am I open to counsel and advice on overindulgence and addicitive behavior? Am I careful to speak truth as I know it and am I open to truth spoken to me? Am I mindful that judicial oaths imply a double standard of truth?


We believe in continuing revelation, so we tend to like the questions more than set answers. We don't believe that there is one answer for everyone, or for all time. I could write another long essay on the challenges that this brings to our society--many feel we've become an association of solitary seekers rather than a true communal religion these days--and another about how the queries have changed over the years. But this will give you a taste.

Someone like Quaker Jane, whose blog I used to follow closely, is doing an experiment to explore possible answers to these questions. I have really valued her reflections on the experiment over the years.
posted by not that girl at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2013 [48 favorites]


Her stance was basically, "I wear plain dress because I feel God wants me to wear it and I had no peace until I did it." There's no matter of principle involved as there was with the original Quaker dress and she offers no thoughts as to what greater purpose it might serve. And so I find the whole exercise to be simply weird rather than compelling or instructive in any way.

"I'm doing this because God seems to want me to even though I don't understand it" is actually a pretty Quakerly thing to do. However, we do try to guard against impulse, decisions made out of mental illness or instability, and ill-considered flashes of drama through the use of what are called "clearness committees." If you're having a leading--like, "I'm thinking about taking up plain dress"--and are part of a Quaker meeting, you can ask for a clearness committee, which will help you discern whether what you're doing is really spirit-led. The clearness committee can report their unity back to the meeting, and in some cases, meeting will write letters of support.

Over the years, I've sat on clearness committees for people wanting to get married, for someone who was considering writing a book, for someone who was considering making a large financial donation, for someone considering becoming a minister, and so on. We believe in individual leadings but also in seeking corporate discernment, to prevent people "running ahead of their Guide," which is to say getting ahead of themselves and Spirit in their actions. Quaker Jane, if she is making decisions without corporate guidance, may be doing that.
posted by not that girl at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Purposefully wearing clothes that don't fit to offset potential slut shaming is an act that will surely be punished on judgement day by the gods of fashion.

Women should wear what they want, and the 'gods of fashion'--as if women need more critical opinion from some Ultimate Arbiter!!--can get stuffed.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I wanted an ass-lifting, nut-hugging suit, I would have to go out of my way to find it online or at a retailer targeting a specific demographic.

Or... try cycling. My woman doesn't seem to mind the spandex. There are good practical reasons for the skintight kit, but I have to believe that a lot of it has to do with showing off what all that hard work hath wrought.
posted by klanawa at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Victorian?
...
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:35 PM on December 14 [+] [!]


That's my town. Folks say she and her husband are very nice. Port Townsend is the kinda place where you are free to live as affectedly or hypocritically as you like. It's quite charming.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to read folks' opinions in this thread. I live surrounded by Anabaptists (particularly Mennonites, Brethren and Amish). While "they" tend to be readily identifiable, and thus perhaps not actually "modest", they are modest in their way. The "religious costume" goes a long way to make the individual person invisible and subsumed in the identity of the group. It's much easier to remember "a Mennonite woman" than that particular person.
posted by FredFeral at 3:20 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I wanted an ass-lifting, nut-hugging suit, I would have to go out of my way to find it online or at a retailer targeting a specific demographic.

Mr Turk, or basically any men's wear place in your local gay village. Can't get rainbow knee highs (too mainstream now?), but small swimsuits for men are everywhere.
posted by jb at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2013


For a woman to be able to choose to dress this way is a mark of relative freedom and privilege

Of course. If I wear a tichel once a month, it is for completely different reasons and with completely different ends than a Satmar woman who must shave her head at marriage and wear both a sheitel and tichel until she dies.

I did not grow up with my mother and grandmother wearing one (though my great grandmother did), my acceptance in my community was not predicated on wearing one. I've never been told that my hair is private and only for my husband.

I wear a tichel sometimes because I am feeling overexposed, mentally or emotionally. Quite a difference.
posted by Sophie1 at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I wanted an ass-lifting, nut-hugging suit, I would have to go out of my way to find it online or at a retailer targeting a specific demographic.

MeMail me about opening up an online store with me called "Nut Huggers." We don't have to just sell swimwear.
posted by discopolo at 4:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


You can absolutely tell what someone's gender is when it's freezing out. You can tell whether they're wealthy or homeless. In NYC, where race and ethnicity are a really big deal, you can tell that information. You can tell whether someone is a "hipster" or a "bro" or a "douchebag" or a goth or a hippie. I can take one look at what kind of coat you're wearing and probably guess what kind of education you have, what neighborhood you live in, what your hobbies are, and all sorts of EXTREMELY specific information. Because clothes are performative. Even functional winter clothes.

I've been thinking about this recently because it's been really freaking cold here. Wealth is pretty much inversely proportional to how many layers you're wearing, with some sort of multiplier effect for wearing two of the same type of clothing (e.g. two hoodies). But I feel like you only start telling things about people besides how much money they have for the people who are choosing clothes based on something other than 'How cold will I be waiting for the bus?' They're also the people who don't wear hats. For everyone else, I could usually (though not always) tell you someone's gender, but race is fairly unlikely (a little more likely for women than men, I think, and I suspect I could spot Somalis more easily than any other group). All that said, winter cyclists (of all social classes) are pretty easy to spot even without their bikes.
posted by hoyland at 4:37 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The worst ogle I ever got in my life--I was walking down a long hallway and the dude with the office at the end of it just fucking STARED AT ME THE WHOOOOOOOLE WAY DOWN--I was wearing a trench coat that covered me from neck to feet.

I don't think it matters how "modest" you dress. You're a woman and thus any dude is likely to be thinking, "I could fuck that" when he sees your gender, no matter if you're dressed like a nun or a hooker. You might inflame the thoughts more if you dress sexy, but you're probably not actually damping them down by dressing "plain" and "modest."

In other news, I love the idea of going to a clearness committee about things. I wish that was an option for non-Quakers.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


You can tell whether someone is a "hipster" or a "bro" or a "douchebag" or a goth or a hippie. I can take one look at what kind of coat you're wearing and probably guess what kind of education you have, what neighborhood you live in, what your hobbies are, and all sorts of EXTREMELY specific information. Because clothes are performative. Even functional winter clothes.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, I do not think this is possible & living in NYC am a valid test subject.
  1. North Face "McMurdo" parka, in a dark brown no longer listed, & I never seem to bother attaching the fake fur fringe.
  2. Scarf, argyle, black & blue
  3. Knit cap, black
  4. Gloves like this, but mostly black with blue trim on the fingers.
Mainest thing I was going for semioticswise is avoiding bright colors, which signals that I understand wearing bright colors in NYC can be pretty gauche.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shoes?
posted by bq at 5:06 PM on December 14, 2013


If there where gods of fashion I would willing commit dieicide
posted by edgeways at 5:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mainest thing I was going for semioticswise is avoiding bright colors, which signals that I understand wearing bright colors in NYC can be pretty gauche.

While I don't believe Sara C could tell anything that precise from your winter dress, you wearing a North Face jacket says a whole lot about you, whether or not it's intentional. There's a reason the North Face brand is white and in a position that it's rarely obscured.
posted by Think_Long at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


which is exactly what dressing like a 17th century woman in the 21st century does.

Well, to give her just a wee bit of credit, it's really more like the mid 19th century.
posted by Sara C. at 5:46 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, I do not think this is possible & living in NYC am a valid test subject.

Depending on the shape of your pants and your footwear, I'm going with hipster. Or at least some kind of downtown techy type who is more on the "hipster" end of the spectrum, but would probably deny being a hipster. Lives in Brooklyn, Upper Manhattan, or possibly western Queens (Maybe East Village or LES, especially if you're wearing these things with otherwise much more expensive clothes).

It's hard to say more without knowing about your shoes and other clothes.

Also, I'm guessing you have to be a guy if you seriously don't think a North Face parka says anything about you at all.
posted by Sara C. at 5:59 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's hard to say more without knowing about your shoes and other clothes.

I don't think shoes and other clothing should really be allowed in this challenge, though, because they're not really winter clothes. I'm pretty darn oblivious and even I can read a hell of a lot into shoes.
posted by hoyland at 6:04 PM on December 14, 2013


You've got some money, anyway. Low-income folks don't buy North Face, and it's one brand you hardly ever ever see in a thrift store and not usually in a discount store (because they refuse to sell to them). You want to be seen as well-prepared and rugged. You don't really want to have to think too hard or shop too hard for your clothes, but you also don't want to wear something from KMart or something that might be low quality, so you go with a well-known brand that you feel is reliable and is seen as such. Chances are really good you grew up in the suburbs and went to 4-year college.

Second time I've brought this article up in two days: In a North Face Jacket, a Reversible Appeal.
When asked about the secret behind its unusually widespread appeal, the people at North Face and its holding company, the VF Corporation, weren’t so eager to talk. Or rather, they were happy to speak endlessly about the North Face-wearing marathoner, snowboarder and mountain climber — the sort of athlete featured in the company’s newest national television commercial, which began appearing last week.

Instead, he said, North Face decided four years ago to divide its products and marketing into four “activity based” models: hiking, trekking and mountaineering; running and training; snow sports; and youth (aimed at those 12 and under). “We do consider our core customer to be someone who is centered in one of those activities,” he said.

Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, was a little skeptical that the company didn’t track its demographics.... “Maybe they don’t want it to be in The New York Times that their average customer is, say, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom,” she said.

“I think they’ve got their position in the marketplace and they would probably never admit there was a college girl buying their product,” Mr. Boyle said. “But they’d be a much smaller business if college girls weren’t buying.”
posted by Miko at 6:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think shoes and other clothing should really be allowed in this challenge, though, because they're not really winter clothes.

Shoes are absolutely, 100% affected by season. Winter shoes and summer shoes are not the same.

Especially not for women!
posted by Miko at 6:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am a woman and have spent my adult life in a relatively modern orthodox Jewish community. For example, wearing even baggy pants, while tolerated in practice, is a bit of a political statement. T-shirts that show the shape of the boob are something I would wear to the office, but almost always with a cardigan, and I would be a little embarrassed to run into my neighbors that way.

Though it varies by congregation and neighborhood, there is not much of an emphasis on plainness as per Quaker Jane or the Anabaptists. Certain communities have started objecting to bright red for women, but there's no problem with, say, ruffles, beading, patterns, jewelry, or spending a ton of money, as long as it pays lip service to "understated elegance." You read inspirational stories of elderly rabbis' wives who have worn only one dress to weddings and bar mitzvahs for the past 30 years, but this is considered above and beyond, for saintly people.

I've thought about these issues a bunch. I have reflected and even prayed in the traditional sense of Lord give me direction, which is not something I usually do. I have concluded that for me, personally, simplicity in dress is the best way to express my femininity, my communal membership, and, yes, my loyalty to my partner. For example, I have one or two black skirts and I rotate a lot of different tops, mostly solid colors or some other simple thing (plaid, stripes, etc.).

This much I'll say. You can do this look on a budget and come across like a bohemian, frumpy academic, earth mother, or some other alternative type. This is usually fine for me. Frumpy academic is my look of record. But to dress simply and fit in in a typical office environment takes M-O-N-E-Y. I am sure there are fashion naturals who can do it all out of Goodwill, at any age. But at 36 I am finding that the tasteful Goodwill look is getting a little stale on me, at least for a standard professional purpose. (In the academy, it doesn't matter.)

For example...just one example of many...I tend to wear one pair of shoes and wear them out. This has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, but it's part of my personal simple dressing trip. And once I've found something I like, why change? So I got my current pair of Keens at DSW for $63. For me, that's an expensive pair of shoes. Seven months later, they LOOK like someone's been wearing them every day all year. Again, at a certain age, past 30, I guess it was, I would be embarrassed to wear them to a regular office in Midtown.

Until recently, I had long hair, wore it in a bun. I cut my hair off...but even $15 at the barbershop, every month, is what it takes to keep me on the remote edge of business casual with short hair. Even an expensive sweater that you plan to wear forevvverrrrr...if it's really a wardrobe staple, it will wear out.

TL:DR. I respect people who can do a work-appropriate modest-but-stylish or plain modern look. But it is only plain in appearance, not in cost. Plain in appearance AND in cost is for jobs where you can wear anything.
posted by skbw at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


You've got some money, anyway. Low-income folks don't buy North Face, and it's one brand you hardly ever ever see in a thrift store.

It's worth noting that the only North Face jacket I've ever owned came from TJ Maxx. That's limited to people with enough cash to set out to buy a winter coat, but competitive with a winter coat from Target. (Of course, the last winter coat I bought at TJ Maxx is a shitty Nike thing that really isn't warm, but it is warm enough with something else on underneath it. I just look a little like the Michelin Man.) Not having a winter coat is definitely a marker of being poor, but once you clear the no winter coat people and the people 90s Starter jackets (how those are even still in once piece, I don't know, but you see them around here), you end up in this ambiguous area of people wearing whatever.

Shoes are absolutely, 100% affected by season. Winter shoes and summer shoes are not the same.

In the sense that my hiking boots don't come out for general wear in the summer and my sandals don't come out for general wear in the winter, sure, but nothing else is season-specific. I feel like either people are wearing their normal shoes, which then shouldn't count as winter clothing, or boots of some kind, which pretty much signals they have enough money to afford boots. (The sort of leather boots I would think would signal 'hipster' aren't winter clothes--people wear them year round.)
posted by hoyland at 6:24 PM on December 14, 2013


It's worth noting that the only North Face jacket I've ever owned came from TJ Maxx.

Fair enough, but it's rare. The article talks about how unlike other outerwear makers, they hardly ever sell to discount outlets. North Face is just not "wearing whatever" 99% of the time. It's an intentional purchase. Even you knew what you had and snapped it up.

Columbia is the big brand of decent parka that you can find at a discount store for $39.99. There's another one that's always at Marshalls, but I can't recall the name.

nothing else is season-specific.

I'm kinda getting this vibe that you don't live in the US Northeast. My SO, a guy, has waterproof boots for winter, light hikers, LL Bean duckboots, etc. The quality/make of winter boot is significant as a marker of psychographic and class, to some extent. He's in his boots most of the winter from first snow on, since he commutes and walks a few miles a day to and from the train.
posted by Miko at 6:44 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think it matters how "modest" you dress. You're a woman and thus any dude is likely to be thinking, "I could fuck that" when he sees your gender, no matter if you're dressed like a nun or a hooker.

Oh, definitely. For me, not showing skin isn't about avoiding the male gaze. Every incident of unwanted sexual attention I've gotten has been in modest clothing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:55 PM on December 14, 2013


In the sense that my hiking boots don't come out for general wear in the summer and my sandals don't come out for general wear in the winter, sure, but

But, again, this says something about the wearer.

The sort of woman who wears hiking boots in an urban environment is a very different type of woman than the woman who wears Fry boots shown off to best effect by tucking your jeans into them.

Also, yes, what Miko says about the US Northeast and the diversity of seasonal footwear. In New York I had my snow/hiking/rugged boots, my wellies, my boots to wear with a skirt so that I could look nice and still be warm, and my winter sneakers. And I'm a low-maintenance woman who isn't particularly interested in shoes.
posted by Sara C. at 6:59 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think it matters how "modest" you dress. You're a woman and thus any dude is likely to be thinking, "I could fuck that" when he sees your gender, no matter if you're dressed like a nun or a hooker.

Not sure I quite agree. I get a LOT more attention, flattering and not, in modern/secular clothes. Overall presentation does make a difference.
posted by skbw at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2013


I'm kinda getting this vibe that you don't live in the US Northeast.

No, I live in Minnesota, which has the really fucking cold and snow thing covered.
posted by hoyland at 7:08 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then I think it's weird that you would say that the season of the year changes your footwear not at all. Are you a driving commuter who never really has to be outdoors? (Home>>Garage>>Work>>Garage>>Home)? Because other than that, I can't really fathom how you could get by in normal men's leather street shoes or light hikers all year.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, I don't own a car. My primary winter modes of transport are walking and the bus (I get some fairly predictable lifts from people, but only home, not to places). I mean, my hiking boots are waterproof. But if it's not totally freezing and the sidewalks are clear (or the snow is frozen solid), they're not super necessary. (I generally don't wear them on account of temperature unless it is in the single digits.) I do try to prioritize water-resistance when buying shoes because I have no choice but to walk in the rain, but I don't think I'm a crazy outlier among people I know (Well, I definitely know people who own more shoes than me, but for aesthetic not practical reasons.)
posted by hoyland at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2013


I do think you're an outlier.

But if it's not totally freezing and the sidewalks are clear (or the snow is frozen solid),

That's an important difference between you guys and the Northeast. We don't get dry deep freezes that last very long, so we don't reach some winter stasis point that only changes when it's actively snowing. The temperatures fluctuate in the winter and go above and below freezing with regularity. During winter, we can have sleet, freezing rain, ice, snow, regular rain, slush, inches of frigid water, snowbanks, ice buildup that hasn't been and can no longer be cleared, and all in the same day and the same block. You can't just pop on your same boots every day and be good to go. Conditions change a lot, and warmth and safety mean you have different shoes for different conditions. Really poor people have a pair of sneakers. Anyone who can manage will at least add a pair of waterproof snow boots to that. And then as your income goes up, you have many options in between, and you sure don't wear any leather office dress shoes on the street.
posted by Miko at 8:31 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the constant freeze, snow, thaw, rain, deceptively warm day in February, freeze, snow, thaw, rain cycle of the Northeast -- especially the cities, where traffic turns everything to sooty mud-slush -- engenders a much more diverse array of shoes than you'd think.

And, yes, one's approach to this is TOTALLY a signifier of their identity and status.
posted by Sara C. at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Men have had this figured out for a thousand years. The majority of us don't bother with make-up, uncomfortable shoes, or how our hair looks. Maybe it's time that women start following our example.

What? This is an extremely impoverished view of mens' fashion over the last thousand years. And completely incorrect. In the Western World it was only when religious leaders or royalty decreed makeup or ostentatious clothes to be signifiers of moral decay did men give up their lace, curls, wigs, makeup, high heels and corsets- until a new political/cultural movement made conspicuous and unusual clothing the symbol of a new generation. Of course when repressive mores were the norm, these men were considered epicene or effeminate; wasters and bounders; hoodlums, fops, and punks. It was a way of neutralizing them politically because men who cared about their appearance to a degree not sanctioned by society made people uncomfortable. It certainly is not correct to declare that men have been unconcerned with their appearance for the last aeon. And it's fucking patronizing to tell women they are idiots for not having "figured out" this hypothetical example of an imaginary lineage of unconcerned, classless, apolitical, gender-correct and carefree men.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:51 PM on December 14, 2013 [57 favorites]


Men have had this figured out for a thousand years. The majority of us don't bother with make-up, uncomfortable shoes, or how our hair looks. Maybe it's time that women start following our example.

Yes, when we want to dress up, we're free to dress up in the same mouse-colored coat and trousers as every other man on the street. Maybe, as a bit of flair, colored socks or a less-sober tie.

But never anything actually cool or interesting.

(This is not to say that women don't have it much worse, in terms of constraints on behavior.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


No matter how many fascinating FPPs we have about issues that affect primarily women, there's still a dependable and fairly constant contingent of MeFites who consider it their duty to remind us how silly women are for going around being women all the time.
posted by tigrrrlily at 10:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


Men have had this figured out for a thousand years. The majority of us don't bother with make-up, uncomfortable shoes, or how our hair looks. Maybe it's time that women start following our example.

-->"How do men deal with the fact that women can basically get sex whenever they want?"

Sigh.

Anyway, I'm not religious and wasn't raised with religion, so I have a hard time understanding the sentiment that God not only cares what I wear but has specific outfits picked out for me. I try to accept that people do experience a connection to God like that, but I can't really wrap my head around it. The movie "Arranged" got through to me about the issue in a way that articles and blogs like these really never do, and I think it's because, during the course of the movie, the women overtly and consciously used their clothes as costuming. The costuming/performance/cos-play aspects weren't the subtext, it was the meat of the plot. *Shrug* it's basically a makeover movie, albeit from a different angle (?!).

Maybe what's odd yet appealing about Plain Jane's narrative is that it's not so much a conversion story as a makeover story?
posted by rue72 at 10:33 PM on December 14, 2013


"I want to write about how I have personally experienced modesty standards, and how they shape not only my behavior but my sense of self. I don’t expect to convert anybody to my point of view, but maybe I’ll begin to articulate how it can be that some women experience modesty as a kind of security and power." - Modesty and the Imaginary Me
posted by weston at 10:49 PM on December 14, 2013


i have a friend who is radical and an anglican priest, she wears the equivalent of plain dress--practical, and modest, in the way of both setting her apart and making the work easier. she doesn't make a fuss out of it.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:09 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia: "In the Western World it was only when religious leaders or royalty decreed makeup or ostentatious clothes to be signifiers of moral decay did men give up their lace, curls, wigs, makeup, high heels and corsets ..."

Pffft. Speak for yourself.
posted by barnacles at 3:43 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]




I am totally amused at the idea that North Face jackets are utterly neutral, because in the Midwestern college town where I live, they're literally the least neutral piece of clothing imaginable. "North Face jacket" means "rich person from the suburbs of the nearest big city," so much so that you can say "there were a bunch of dudes in North Face jackets there" and everyone will know that you're saying the place was full of rich suburban kids. I think North Face jackets probably only seem neutral if you're a member of particular demographic groups, which are not necessarily the dominant demographic groups here.

I'm really torn about the whole modesty thing. I'm a feminist who has a ton of issues with the ideas that underpin many notions of modesty. Women aren't responsible for policing men's desires, and if I want to walk around in a bikini, I should be able to do so without apology. I also prefer to dress relatively modestly, and I really like the clothes featured on some modest shopping sites. I fell in love with The Shabby Apple long before I realized it was a modest clothes site. (To be fair, there's very little talk of that on the website. My extremely fashion-conscious sister-in-law, who has actually met the owner, had no idea that she was Mormon or adhered to Mormon modesty rules. They're pretty savvy about appealing to modest women in ways that don't turn off non-religious shoppers who happen to like retro clothes.) I would way rather wear a Rey Swimwear modesty suit than a bikini, not because I think bikinis are sinful, but just because I feel more comfortable in a one-piece. I don't know how to reconcile my aversion to the concept of modesty with the fact that I prefer to show less skin than seems to be the norm.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Though maybe I am. I've seen beautifully dressed women with guys who look like they only wear stained and wrinkled tee shirts and I like to silently send her a message saying,"Oh, honey, you know you can do better than that guy*."

Hey, that's exactly what the guy my girlfriend was cheating on me with told her too! Guess I deserved it!

(Me and my t-shirt collection are a package deal.)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:39 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny - I clicked on that Rey Swimwear suit and that reads to me like a va-va-voom vintage bombshell. If anything, that's way sexier to me than a contemporary bikini.

Also, I've shopped Shabby Apple and I had zero idea it was a modesty-related site. I just love vintage styles.
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2013


Yeah, there's a definite pin-up thing going on in the Rey Swimwear catalog photos. I'm not exactly sure what "modest" means to them, but it doesn't seem to mean "not sexy."

Interview with the founder of Shabby Apple:
What was your vision for Shabby Apple?

Having been endowed at 23, I had had modesty on my mind for a long-time. Dressing modestly was particularly difficult in the New York summer. In a land of tube tops, short shorts and 95 degree weather, my long-sleeved cardigans seemed both a fashion and a temperature faux pas. I remember a guy I was dating breaking up with me by saying, “Anyone who wears a t-shirt under a sundress doesn’t see the world the same way that I do.” It’s funny but it was also kind of true! It was way too hot in New York during the summer to wear pants. There was 100% humidity. I had no air conditioning. There were no summer dresses or skirts that I could wear that were modest. Finding clothes like that was virtually impossible. All of the summer dresses I owned required that I wear a cardigan over them to keep them modest. In that kind of weather, wearing a sweater was tantamount to suffocation. I started to realize that somebody needed to design dresses that have sleeves and a longer hemline. It was a real need. I remember thinking, “There should be clothing options that make women feel beautiful and allow them to feel spiritual.” (Or maybe that at least allowed their boyfriends to break up with them for a different reason.) That was about three years before I started Shabby Apple.
I bet she'd answer that question differently if she weren't talking to a Mormon publication, though.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:55 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Boys don't notice what other boys are wearing and expect conformity?
Some blogs to explore.
Previously on the Blue.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plain modern. I finally have a term for the way I dress. Which is kind of nice, instead of just thinking of it as having failed/resisted femininity.
posted by jokeefe at 2:10 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Plain modern. I finally have a term for the way I dress.

Yes, that's a helpful parsing, isn't it? I struggle with labeling style. My MIL, a chaplain, had a lovely plain modern style -- slightly large white shirts, soft cardigans with big pockets, and flowing black pants constituted her daily uniform, accessorized with a chunky necklace. Her best friend? More Eileen Fisher: Flowing columnar, deconstructed shirts in lovely neutral colors and inviting fabrics; artsy necklaces, comfortable, tasteful trousers. Graceful, interesting plain vs. plain modern. Similar in spirit, but one for utility and the other for beauty, both of them understated and confident. Neither style expressly invited feedback -- one projected refined assurance, and the other a comforting welcome. It was the subtleties of fabric -- cut -- flowingness -- proportion -- that made the difference between them.

I run along practical lines and refuse to wear anything that I have to tug, adjust, or re-button while I'm wearing it. That rules out a lot, and rules *in* things with more fabric. I *need* pockets, and oh, how I love my Carhartt town coat because I can put everything I need in the pockets! It swallows me up a little and, like much of my clothing, is modest without any intention of being so. But that's relative, too: When you live surrounded by conservative Mennonite ladies in cotton print, below-the-knee dresses, and head coverings, it's not hard to start thinking that babydoll Ts and shorts are daring. Heck, wearing anything that shows my shape seems out of line. Short heels and an above-the-knee skirt? Damn, I am living dangerously. In my head, these Good Women are like the NSA, creating an amorphous but all-seeing chilling effect on how I dress. [I'm often in jeans and boots at home, and don't understand how they can run their lawn tractors in dresses!]

I think about how I present myself here. Laugh if you will, but I really did stop and check my outfit when I saw the "Modest attire appreciated." I didn't want to give offense -- and was well within acceptable dress -- but neither did I want to draw disapproving eyes (they would never say anything, of course).

So I'm still trying to work it out: What do I call the way I tend to dress? Plain modern isn't it, and I'll never be elegant enough for interestingly plain; I don't have any interest in being particularly modest and have issues with the religious connotations that word has in terms of clothing. But I'm not interested in the skin game and love clothing that functions for me, in my particular context...and yeah, I have some vanity. Argh.

Thank you all for the good conversation here, and for helping me think through other dimensions of dress and self-presentation. I may never have a name for my own style, but I think I understand a little more now about what it *isn't.*
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:03 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The North Face certainly thinks that it projects an image -- and that it needs to protect that image. Witness the sad fate of The South Butt (I saw someone wearing a South Butt jacket here in State College, PA a few years back).
posted by dhens at 4:30 PM on December 15, 2013


There is an Orthodox spoof of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" that comes to mind here. (Eishet chayil mi yimtza is the Hebrew for the first line of Proverbs 31, "a woman of valor, who can find?")
She's a good girl, a real eishes chayil
Mi yimtza
--that's what I'd like to know.
posted by skbw at 4:31 PM on December 15, 2013


Fashion is one of those topics, like food, that I wish weren't so charged with judgment. How about we accept that there are social pressures for women to dress feminine and then chastise them for dressing too feminine, or not feminine enough? How about we acknowledge that people respond to this differently? Some women choose to resist the pressures and dress butch, some embrace it because they refuse to be shamed out of doing something they enjoy, some dress in the middle because they don't feel so strongly about one position or another, some change depending on their mood, and some pick their outfit without really considering the politics.

A lot of this applies to guys as well, but men have a lot less social pressure to dress a certain way (as long as it's generally masculine... crossdressing is a subject worthy of its own post).
posted by yaymukund at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


yaymukund, that seems eminently reasonable. The fact that you had to go out of your way to head off the inevitable "men, too!!!" arguments (and I do mean you had to, as in it was necessary, I would have done it too) is illustrative of why I'm not holding my breath.
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a side note pertaining to Anabaptists, winter clothing, and straight-up vanity...

Once, just for fun, I bought an Amish mandlie (cloak) from an actual outfit of Mennonite seamstresses. It is a real piece of work (not incidentally, with a large pocket inside) and very warm. I wear it for non-work occasions when I don't have to carry a backpack or a satchel. It says something about my overall demeanor that I can usually get away with the cloak (and certainly with the dress I ordered from them) without comment on the street. ("Nice cloak!" at most.)

It being the winter, I was once taking a cab home to my very stoop. The driver was going forward and backward to avoid the snow and making pleasant conversation. "I guess you ladies have off tomorrow," he said.

"Is that so?" I said. I thought maybe I did not understand him because he was speaking Spanish. It's not Christmas, I was thinking.

"I guess you have off tomorrow," he said again, as I was getting out of the car. "Holy Day of Obligation. You work over there, right?" and gestured into the distance, to what I now understand was the Catholic high school on the hill opposite from my building.

It is an HONOR to be taken for a nun, but we're kidding ourselves if we think that sectarian clothing is showing how plain we are. If I were an actual nun, THEN that would be a plain outfit.
posted by skbw at 8:06 AM on December 17, 2013


I am late getting back here but that was a cold reading. I am disappoint, you literally named half the population of the city.

I mostly own this coat because a drug dealer offered it to me lightly used at a good price. I mostly don't purchase things with prominent manufacturer logos myself, actually, & I think North Faces are a bit overpriced for what they are, but like I said, I made A Deal. I do not think it says nothing, not at all, but it doesn't say so much. Everyone seemed to assume I'm white, which is like a fine choice due to being on Metafilter but not so much just from the jacket, you think they don't have North Face up in the Bronx? Chinatown, cause I was just there, and they do. Things are different everywhere but in my experience lower income people definitely own North Faces, not like the dirt poor, but the working poor and the lower middle for sure. That's kind of where it can actually function as a status symbol in any notable way (not that I'm criticizing its use as such, it makes sense), like seriously none of my peers are going to be impressed by a $200-$300 winter coat just on price, come on.

Definitely mostly functional. Now what I wear at work, that's pure performance, considering we operate computers and could just go nudist with no practical difficulty.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2013


I am disappoint, you literally named half the population of the city.

The point is, it's really easy to tell which half.
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on December 18, 2013


If I were an actual nun, THEN that would be a plain outfit.

That's another example of a type of clothing that was just a simple version of normal women's clothing at the time it was standardized, which has become unusual simply by virtue of not changing. It started out plain, and became unplain as it became rare. In fact, since Vatican II a lot of habits have modernized and many nuns don't wear them at all, or at least not the gown.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2013


I was in the chorus of a show once where we were expected to provide our own modern dress to suit the "characters" we had been building in the rehearsal process; mine was "no-nonsense businesswoman." I shoed up to dress rehearsal in a straight black skirt just above the knee, a white button-down blouse, a fitted black blazer, sheer pantyhose, and 1 1/2" black character shoes. I think I may have had a small silver pin or chain on. The director took me aside at the end of the rehearsal and said, "Can you find something else for tomorrow night? I don't want to offend anyone, and you really should have discussed it with me if you were planning on making your character a nun."

I was too tired to argue (plus, I had already argues with him about something else), so I just pulled a gray skirt and checked cardigan out of the closet, popped the lenses out of some horn-rimmed sunglasses, stuck a pencil in my hair bun, and changed my stereotype character overnight to "old maid librarian." When I was a kid, nuns wore flat, sensible shoes, skirts that didn't show any knee, and jackets that didn't hug the body. Their religious jewelry was always understated, but if I'd been meaning to read "nun" from across the footlights I'd have been wearing a cross you could recognize from a distance.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2013


The point is, it's really easy to tell which half.

But I don't think it's even right in general ... my experience is that they have plenty of North Face in the Bronx, Staten island, and Chinatown... like it's a pretty good list of where someone on Metafilter probably lives in NYC, but I don't think so much a good list of where someone with a North Face lives in NYC.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:37 AM on December 19, 2013


I am disappoint, you literally named half the population of the city.

You really think white college educated tech-savvy Brooklynites is "half the population of the city"? You don't get around much.

When I say "I can tell a lot about you from your clothes, even in winter", I don't mean I can say "Your name is Trevor O'Neill, and you live at 319 Kent Ave. in Williamsburg, have brown hair, and four tattoos. You grew up Catholic, and think the new pope is pretty OK, but are not religious yourself."

I mean I can say exactly what I said. You're not homeless. You're not a sixteen year old girl. You're not a recent Chinese-American immigrant. You're not Hasidic. You're probably not punk or goth or part of any other super-specific subculture. You're probably not poor, but you're also probably not rich enough to be wearing something more subtle/exclusive/luxurious.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And by calling it a "cold reading" you just verify it. Cold readings use visible detail to project facts that are highly, highly correlated with that detail. As I understand it, nothing in the profile we cobbled together is wrong. Is it? Are you nonwhite? Didn't grow up in the 'burbs? The jacket labels you - really, it does. Either as right in that Venn diagram, or aspiring to be.
posted by Miko at 1:33 PM on December 19, 2013


oh, Hey Trevor! We haven't seen you at church for awhile. What's new?
posted by Think_Long at 3:48 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hahahah, if/when "aspirational" was the goal seriously I would stay away from a North Face. I'm kind of at the other end where it's potentially tainted as a low-income status symbol, and I'm not particularly high up, just kind of above average->average depending on if you judge me against Americans, New Yorkers, or White Manhattanites. It's my understanding that you need some like, Marmot for the pure "I spent money on this" value & anyway while I'm not all that hipster by local standards there is enough of that influence & just plain old "don't need to be ostentatious" going on that "look how much cash I spent on this jacket" is not necessarily the best route. But one of the things I enjoy about living in this city is that I basically mail most of my status signalling bona fides to the landlord each month to establish a nice baseline and then don't have to worry about it all that much. Also especially considering my profession I am involved in a lot of like, counter-signalling, where my ability to go around scruffy/shabbily dressed becomes more of a marker than nice clothes. My boss is a master at this, he shows up in Hawaiian shirts all summer, quite the power move.

"Half the city" was locationwise. Seriously come on we're all mostly White here on Metafilter, it's an easy call here. The other people I saw IRL wearing North Face today: bunch of ethnic Chinese in Chinatown (I did not ask about their immigration history, but I'm pretty sure that they have plenty of North Faces in China even if many are "fakes".), Hispanic immigrant delivery guy, Black guy wearing it as part of a concerted fashion, White business guy. And for real 16 y/o girls have North Faces too, and if you can pull "tech-savvy" from North Face I really want it explained how.

For reals, if anyone has actual real racial/income data on the distribution of North Faces please bring it out, otherwise I gotta go with my ground observations, however faulty, over Internet assertions that contradict my everyday experiences.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:52 PM on December 19, 2013


if anyone has actual real racial/income data on the distribution of North Faces please bring it out

So, did you read the Times article I linked?

Sorry, but I think we nailed ya, despite what appears to be a complex, beanplatey relationship with your jacket. Since you started out arguing that how you dress signals nothing, it's interesting that you seem to really think a lot about what you are trying to signal or are capable of signalling or is appropriate to signal. So point proved, I think.
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the fact that you said "semiotics" in an earlier post probably helped the triangulation process a good bit.
posted by Think_Long at 9:23 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean I can say exactly what I said. You're not homeless. You're not a sixteen year old girl. You're not a recent Chinese-American immigrant. You're not Hasidic. You're probably not punk or goth or part of any other super-specific subculture. You're probably not poor, but you're also probably not rich enough to be wearing something more subtle/exclusive/luxurious.

That's his point, though. You've left a huge chunk of the population and actually mostly focused so heavily on the North Face branding that you've seemingly missed a lot of what's conveyed by that particular jacket. This or this is the jacket for the demographic you picked. save alive nothing that breatheth is likely telling you something about himself as a parka-wearer by owning a North Face parka rather than an LL Bean parka, but you didn't drill down that far.* (Just owning the parka would give me: Not particularly fashion conscious, or at least more concerned with practicality than fashion. Probably has a commute that entails significant time outside (presumably a given for someone living in NYC). To my mind, it's kind of overkill for the climate, so I might speculate that he's originally from a warmer climate if I wanted to overreach. Or I'm just lucky in only needing one bus for my commute, so don't have to worry about getting stuck outside when a transfer goes awry.)

You did use that particular jacket to eliminate sixteen year old girls, but it's actually borderline plausible for a Chinese person, at least in Minneapolis. (Chinese people are the biggest long down coat demographic around here. That occasionally drifts into parkas for men.) Most Chinese people I encounter are either grad students (who don't have $300 to spend on a coat) or undergrads from fairly well-off backgrounds (with parents in China or having moved to the US), which I realise is really not representative of the Chinese population in a lot of the US.

*Though if we were talking about my dad, who totally would own a North Face jacket before LL Bean, part of that is "I don't buy things online and because of when I got divorced, I don't get the LL Bean catalog" (since buying something online is what triggers receiving that catalog these days).

(Coincidentally, I did a survey about winter footwear in Minneapolis last weekend, which showed I wasn't a crazy outlier. One person originally from the East Coast suggested the incredulity expressed here towards my footwear was cultural, rather than actually related to differences in weather conditions. It's not like we don't have slush in the Midwest.)

posted by hoyland at 12:17 PM on December 20, 2013


It may be cultural, but people who can afford more than one pair of shoes don't wear light hikers all winter on the East Coast anyway. It may be that appearance matters more in the coastal metros- also cultural, but connected to why you choose what you choose. So it hardly matters why, it just doesn't happen here.

likely telling you something about himself as a parka-wearer by owning a North Face parka rather than an LL Bean parka, but you didn't drill down that far.

Uh...that's the central point. Yes, the brand matters; that's why we're having the conversation. A Columbia parka, a Burton parka, a Champion parka, a Canada Goose parka: all these deliver information and contribute to a perception of the individual wearing them. A lot of people wear parkas, here in the Boston area, in the New York area, etc. Has nothing to do with coming from a warmer climate; it's appropriate winter wear, especially for commuters and people who walk a lot, as anyone in New York does.

Again, the arguments seem to support the larger point, not refute them.
posted by Miko at 12:43 PM on December 20, 2013


[Sara C/hoyland, this thread is not MeMail. Talk to the general audience or use MeMail please. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, did you read the Times article I linked?

Yes, did not have the relevant data that I saw.

Sorry, but I think we nailed ya, despite what appears to be a complex, beanplatey relationship with your jacket. Since you started out arguing that how you dress signals nothing, it's interesting that you seem to really think a lot about what you are trying to signal or are capable of signalling or is appropriate to signal. So point proved, I think.

Everyone else I saw in a North Face today was Hispanic. I think your guys nailers are miscalibrated with regards to what North Face means in NYC and the level of specificity you expect, is what I'm getting at, not that my clothes don't signal anything. I don't think it's racially coded based on my own observations, it certainly doesn't signal "tech job," doesn't particularly signal suburban, is not strongly gendered as a brand, and it's a pretty weak signal of income in this city. And I can't fuckin' win, if I think my jacket does no signalling I'm an ignorant white male, if I have opinions on the signals it produces I'm beanplating.

One of the beanplate things I do re: signalling is make sure I'm leaving enough out there to provide affordances for people to easily tip their hands. On the reception side of signalling, you can get way more from someone's judgements on clothes than you can get from someone's clothes.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2013


you can get way more from someone's judgements on clothes than you can get from someone's clothes.

I can't see someone's judgments. I can see a North Face parka, and a white middle-class suburban-raised college-educated brand-conscious individual inside it. Clothing does communicate; it can't be helped. Even if you really think what it says is inaccurate - it's still communicating.
posted by Miko at 4:48 PM on December 20, 2013


So many - most the past couple days I've been noticing- goddamn people I see every day in a North Face ain't white middle-class suburban-raised though. You keep ignoring that fact.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:52 PM on December 20, 2013


It's anecdata, and also probably selection bias since you're noticing the people who support your point. The fact that you see some people in your daily round who don't fit the company's purchaser profile doesn't mean that's not the company's purchaser profile - setting your experience against the vast swath of their consumers, the people you see become more obviously a smaller fraction of the market. Besides which, we were talking about what we can learn about you by your choice of clothing. And the profile seems to fit you, doesn't it?
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Half your shit is full of shit, actually, it's just fun watching you assume you're right.

I still haven't seen an actual purchaser profile as opposed to discussion of how they don't talk about that...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:48 PM on December 21, 2013


I don't really understand what "an actual purchaser profile" has to do with anything.

It's not really about just the jacket (though, yeah, most people wearing North Face parkas are assumed to, at the very least, be middle class, or INTENSE strivers for belonging in the middle class).

You can tell a lot about a person based on what they wear. Winter clothing is no exception. I don't really understand how this is that hard to grok.
posted by Sara C. at 5:29 PM on December 21, 2013


it's just fun watching you assume you're right.

Oh, not at all, my well-grounded assumptions are nowhere near as fun as watching you be utterly unable to admit that you are working with a limited data set and are insufficiently informed. Or even just that you are white. You just can't choke it out! But these opinions aren't some radical fringe, as you can see on Stuff White People Like, Urban Dictionary, The North Face Gang, Why Are White People Obsessed with North Face Jackets, 20 Signs You're a Stereotypical White Girl, and Romney, Ryan Love North Face. But I can't believe how much time I've already invested reading about this ubiquitous and boring jacket just because some young men decided to get combative about the idea that yeah, your clothes speak about you. It's the wrong thing for me to be doing. Peace on earth, goodwill to man. Enjoy your adventures with your jacket!
posted by Miko at 9:11 PM on December 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


you wearing a North Face jacket says a whole lot about you, whether or not it's intentional.

It's relatively expensive clothing, so I suppose it's a decent guess to say its purchase falls along some class lines, and that may cascade to other demographics in the same way an unfortunate number of class-related things often do. And clothing choices fall along cultural lines anyway, even where class isn't an issue, so it may be fair guess to say that there may be a pattern that falls along various demographic lines.

At the same time, though, unless there was actual purchasing/market data trotted out in the thread that I missed, I'm not sure there's anything better than stereotypes and anecdata to bring to the discussion about how reliable a predictor it would be of the demographic of the person wearing it.

I did see the (or a) NYT article linked earlier in the thread, I didn't see data there... in fact, the lack of publicly acknowledged data was one particular point of the article, as was the fact that as far as the North Face folks and the author's article are telling, there now seems to be lots of people besides white dudes buying their products.

I think it's also possible there are different uptakes for different reasons in different regions. I see some differences between the Mountain West and urban California (the places I have the most experience with) in who wears what kind of clothing and why. There was some discussion about save alive nothing that breatheth's observations, I've never lived in New York, but because it seems to me to be an exceptional place in a number of ways, and for that reason alone I'd personally be particularly hesitant to tell anyone who's living there they're cherrypicking if their local observations don't match even a well-documented generalization.

Enjoy your adventures with your jacket!

Ugh. And here we can mark the end of the realm of potentially defensible implications of clothing.

Yeah, there probably are some people who buy their North Face jackets hoping it will give them an sporty cache without ever intending to so much as expose a tire tread (let alone their feet) to a dirt road. Perhaps some who just see others in their cohort adopting the brand/style and follow along. Maybe others who buy one hoping -- even fulling intending -- it will be part of a larger investment in a more outdoor-active lifestyle, just like so many gym memberships in January are based on hopes and intentions. All that seems likely enough given my experience with human foibles.

Of course, there are also people who buy a North Face jacket because they think it'll be a good jacket ("if such-and-such athlete is willing to trust this on the hills of Latin America, I’m willing to pay a little more for the brand"), even when they *know* they're probably going no farther than the next zip code or two anytime soon. And then there are in fact people who actually wear that stuff while hiking, climbing, running marathons, and camping.

That Wonka-Wilder caption meme? It goes beyond potentially defensible guesses about class, possible connections to other demographics, and relies on the central conceit that you can tell which of the people I've described above you're looking at when you see the jacket. Or, worse, that only one of those possibilities is realistic.

That not only seems unreasonable to me, I suspect that it has something in common with the belief that one can justify some negative conclusion from the fact that a woman is wearing a sundress, or pants to church, or something not quite feminine enough to the office.

I wouldn't read that much into someone tossing it off as a bit of thumb-biting in an internet comments tussle, but it's fair to call out the concept behind it.
posted by weston at 1:54 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Answers in the Yahoo link:

LMAO! I live in Chicago too. I went to a white high school and they all had those colored North Face fleeces. Seeing that, I thought I'd be looked at as white if I bought one. But when I moved to NY, all the Black and Latino kids had the North Face snorkels, so I said fck it, I'm cold so I'm a get a North Face.

Being "obsessed" with North face Jackets has nothing to do with being Caucasian, I live here in New York City and blacks wear North Face Jackets over whites by a landslide. If anything, its more of an urban trend. People tend to have a fascination with anything that has a steep price tag.


blacks and latinos brought this to the forefront in NY fashion back in the late 90s to early 2000s. Now it's spread to whites, and blacks and latinos don't wear them as much.
Not being funny, but it's the truth.


That last coincides with my experience of that time... going to high school, kids doing some kind of hip hop / "urban" fashion were big on North Face among three or four other brands... Avirex, First Down. North Face was definitely mildly closed Black/Latino at that time & place.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:48 AM on December 23, 2013


It's relatively expensive clothing, so I suppose it's a decent guess to say its purchase falls along some class lines, and that may cascade to other demographics in the same way an unfortunate number of class-related things often do. And clothing choices fall along cultural lines anyway, even where class isn't an issue, so it may be fair guess to say that there may be a pattern that falls along various demographic lines.


I think this is where we're running into trouble.

It's not a bad thing to say that your clothes say things about you. It's not about othering, or saying "aaaahhhh, you're obviously a bourgie white person!!!!!!!" We're not pointing out prejudice, or inequality, or privilege.

It's just life. This is what it means to be human. There are a lot of bourgie white people who don't wear North Face, for reasons that are exactly the kinds of reasons North Face somewhat implies that you're bourgie/white. I mean, TFA is a perfect example of that -- a white woman who wanted her clothes to speak about her religion, not anything else about her. Most punks and goths and preppies are also middle class and white, but they don't wear North Face. Middle class people who aren't white wear North Face, too, and there are whole other nexuses of brands and styles that signify being Black and middle class, Asian and middle class, etc.

I can look at a woman wearing Uggs, a woman wearing Hunters, and a woman wearing LL Bean duck boots and tell different things about them. And none of those things are necessarily about race or class, though they might be, a little. None of those things are about saying "YOU'RE AN EVIL OPPRESSOR!!!!!!"

It's just... we signify who we are with clothes. We just do. We're humans. Deal with it.
posted by Sara C. at 8:49 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I came back to say, I've gone to stores and not bought anything due to a total absence of decent pockets.
Here is what I carry. 1. ID and debit/credit card and some store cards and gift cards. 2. A small amount of cosmetics, (eye-liner and scent) 3. a pen. 4. a bus pass. 5.A demi-tasse spoon 6. My chep phone. 7. my iPod touch and a charger. From here, these things I carry if I am going to be out all day or over-night. 8. Sometimes a couple days worth of medication 9. a tiny jar of my special coffee creamer. Two servings of camel milk powder.
I hate purses. I spent years of my life carrying books, a purse, groceries, a diaper bag. I like my hands free so I can defend myself, or pick myself up again if God forbid I fall.
A good vest with zippered pockets, a light coat or sweater with pockets, a dress with pockets, or a well designed waist bag all can do the trick.
I don't like shoulder bags or cross bags for another reason, I like jewery. Not expensive jewelry, solidly made costume jewery.
Cross bags, and shoulder bags can just tangle with things. They also are easily forgotten, and can easily be stolen.
I arrange things as best I can not to have to constantly be carrying stuff.
Another thing about purses and bags is they hurt my neck. Even a light purse with EXACTLY what I just listed is too much weight in one spot.
I look for well designed vests all the time when I shop. I only have ONE vest my size, intended for a woman with inside pockets! I found it in a thrift store. It's an Eddie Bauer vest. Thank God it goes with most of my clothes! All it needs to be perfect is zippers on the inside pockets.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:31 PM on December 24, 2013


« Older A lot of public domain images   |   A source for 531 excellent FPPs Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post