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Occasions for Plain Dress

I would like to propose that there are occasions when our ministry to the world might be strengthened by our donning some form of plain dress.

Although our numbers are few, Friends have been among those who led prophetic movements for social justice. As a result, Quakers have a reputation—sometimes undeserved—as people of faith who speak truth to power and who put their convictions to work where work is greatly needed.

In the present highly polarized state of society in the United States, signs of racism, scapegoating, and other forms of bullying in officialdom have often been met with widespread outrage that too often hardens into hatred and vitriol. When hatred meets hatred, the Inner Light is often shrouded in widening darkness. In this context, protesters and other persons working for justice who wear clothing signifying the faith basis of their actions give a check to the demonizing processes. For example, in regard to a June 2018 protest led by interfaith clergy against the immigration policies of the Trump administration, Los Angeles police sergeant Barry Montgomery was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that arresting faith leaders wasn’t easy for him; in fact he “hated” doing it. Clearly, the leaders’ clerical and other religious garb was speaking an important truth.

Some form of plain dress might serve for Friends on such occasions. Although at times our forebears have dressed in brown, black, or other subdued colors, Quaker dress is usually associated with gray, so that would be the color most likely to communicate our identity. A few of us with thespian affinities might like to appear in full William Penn or Lucretia Mott attire; most, however, would probably prefer ordinary present‐day gray pants and shirt, while our signs, “Quakers for …” or “Quakers against …” explain who we are. Or we could produce T‐shirts and sweatshirts with a message such as “Quaker—Friend to the World,” and perhaps a logo such as a flame or sunburst representing the Inner Light. I plan to order such a T‐shirt, and will be glad to order more for interested Friends.

Modified plain dress of this sort might be valuable on other occasions beside protests: e.g., prison or hospital visitation, feeding homeless persons, safeguarding polling places from voter suppression and intimidation (as do members of the group Lawyers and Collars).

“Let your life speak” is still a phrase that guides us, but that does not preclude occasionally using our clothing to speak as well.

Gracia Fay Ellwood lives in Ojai, Calif.

Posted in: Outside the Meetinghouse, Viewpoint

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