Some Interesting Quaker Roots Threads

Some Interesting Quaker Roots Threads
Quakers and Plain Dressing

Date: Fri, 06 Mar 1998 20:25:57 -0500
From: "William A. Collins" <[email protected]>

There were obviously different types of Quakers, just as there is now in the Mennonite sect. Some were "plain", some were not so "plain"

Here's a description of my ancestor Isaac Collins wedding attire:

"His wedding garb was of fine cloth of a peach-blossom color. Coat with large skirt and outside front [pockets, lined throughout with white silk elaborately quilted, large vest of same material, 'small clothes,' with silver knee-buckles, white silk stockings and pumps, crowned with a handsome three-cornered beaver."

and now his wife (Rachel Budd)'s attire:

"Her wedding-dress was a light blue brocade, made in the fashion of the day, -robe style, with one hoop and very long in the back, "a short blue bodice with a white satin stomacher in front in the shape of a heart, embroidered in colors, with a blue silk cord laced across from side to side attaching it to the bodice, which was very elegant. Shoes of the same material as the dress, pointed at the toe and with very high heels, not much larger at the sole than a gold dollar.

To crown this dress she placed on her head a black hood lined with white, and a huge cape extending over her shoulders. On her return from the meeting house where they were married, she laid aside her hood and donned a white apron of large dimensions, of a thin gauzy material tied with a wide blue ribbon, and large bow in front, below."

Isaac had an oil-painting portrait made of himself by Jarvis, and this was taken after he had become a plain 'Friend,' which was not very early in life.

On a visit to Pennsbury Manor, you can observe some bed covers of the most brilliant red and gold pattern.

So go figure...


From: Booboopies [email protected]
Date: Sat, 7 Mar 1998 08:07:03 EST

In a message dated 98-03-06 21:12:02 EST, [email protected] writes:

<< There were obviously different types of Quakers, just as there is now in the Mennonite sect. Some were "plain", some were not so "plain" >>

Many early Friends were quite colorful in their garb. The wedding you describe, I believe, took place a Burlington in the late 1600s or early 1700s -- I've read this description of clothing before. George Fox had bought Margaret Fell a scarlet cloak, called a cardinal and very much the rage in 17th and 18th century England.

It really wasn't until the late 18th century that Friends really began to alter their style of clothing into what has become today known as Quaker attire. Yes, there were those, like John Woolman, who urged friends to refrain from colorful clothing and not to use indigo and other dyestuffs because of their connection to slavery. Peter Kalm, the Swedish scientist who visited North American in the late 1740s and early 1750s, remarked on the gaudy shoes worn by Quaker women in Philadelphia.

What we think of today as the Quaker costume -- the grey dress and bonnet for women; I cannot speak for what men wore, as I have studied only what women were wearing -- did not really begin to make its until after the American Revolution and did not gain total acceptance until the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 19th century. Until the Revolution, Quaker women were wearing pretty much the same things as non-Quaker women.

A woman's basic garments in the 18th century were (from the skin out): a shift, stays, stockings, shoes, 2 petticoats (what we would call skirts), a short gown or a long gown, a handkerchief (a triangular scarf large enough to cover the shoulders and the neck), an apron, and a cap. If she went out of doors in the cool weather she would wear a bonnet or a straw hat and a cloak -- shawls weren't common until the late 18th century. Most of the clothing was made of linen, wool in the cooler months. I've worked in this type of clothing and can testify to its comfort and durability -- yes, folks, even the stays are comfortable because they were made to fit me. Silk was not uncommon. Sally Wister mentioned in her journal (1777-78) some of her colorful clothing.

The style was changing in the very late 18th century to one-piece gowns with the addition of underpetticoats (which are closer to what we think of today as petticoats) shawls, and bonnets.

By the way, the bonnet was not strictly a Quaker woman's prerogative. There is ample evidence that non-Quaker women wore black silk bonnets, and many of these women were young servants. A friend and I published a small book containing 42 ads for female runaway servants from _The Pennsylvania Evening Post_ (Huesken and Mullian, _Had On and Took With Her_, 1994), and over half of the runaway servants wore black silk bonnets.

Despite the image of what 20th century people think was worn by our colonial and Quaker ancestors, fashion and custom were very closely. Amelia Gummere had her tongue planted firmly in her cheek when she said whatever the current fashion was, Friends were 10 years behind. Friends at least in the 18th century followed the expression: "The best sort but plain" and even in the rural communities wore the latest style, often adapted to life in the countryside.

For information on Quaker clothing, read Gummery's "A Study of Quaker Dress."

Karen Mullian
[email protected]

From: HAYDENCOX [email protected]
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 1998 16:32:14 EST
Subject: Re: Pictures of plain dress

<< This topic has basically run its course, it seems, but I thought that I would tell you that there are pictures of Seth and me on my brother's home page.

BJ Hinshaw

I hope a lot of people have checked out this home page. The wedding document is wonderful. Who wouldn't like to display that in their home? Instead of the boring typed, (insert name here) marriage certificates us non-quakers have.

Looks like it was a wonderful day!


From: DC McJonathan <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 8 Mar 1998 21:23:13
Subject: RE: Plain dress

"To wear things out" also follows the flow of practicality, not to change fashion or have "new" things for vanity or personal aggrandizement. To be humble and put God and what was for all not self above and before anything else.

From: [email protected] (MRS SUSAN A CLARK)
Date: Sun, 8 Mar 1998 19:18:54, -0500
Subject: Plain dress

I remember reading some years back (sorry, don't remember where I read this!) that the Quakers objected to continually buying new clothing just to be "in fashion" and encouraged everyone to wear their clothing until it was worn out. Therefore, Quakers continued to wear styles that had dropped out of fashion with the rest of the population, and that set them apart from everyone else. This eventually evolved to the point where they dressed plain on purpose to set themselves apart, and not simply because their clothes were still wearable. Now because I don't remember where I read this, I can't vouch for it's accuracy, but it does seem to have a grain of truth to it. It would explain why some Quakers were "10 years behind the times" and others dressed in bright, colorful, stylish clothing.

After all, if your clothes had worn out, you could go buy/make new ones, and those would be in style, at least for awhile!

Just my two cents worth.

From: "Seth and/or BJ Hinshaw"[email protected]
Subject: Re: Plain dress
Date: Sun, 08 Mar 98 22:08:00 PST

Friend's dress did vary some with the time and place.

All the quotes in the following are from *Albion's Seed*, by David Hackett Fischer, as that is a book I am currently reading and it is sitting on my desk.

The very first Friends (the first generation-before 1700) basically emphasized simplicity.

"The idea of going plain in the world made its appearance during the first period of Quakerism, as part of George Fox's gospel. His followers took up this teaching with high enthusiasm. In many a North Midland town, the visit of a Quaker evangelist was followed by an event called the burning of the braveries, in which the people made a bonfire of their ribbons and silks." (Fischer, p. 544)

It was the second generation of Friends who made the desire for simplicity into what Fischer calls "dress codes of fantastic complexity".

Most Friends thought clothing had a two-fold purpose: a. to cover their shame

b. to fence out the cold

All ornamentation was seen as not needful, and was eliminated.

However, Friends generally did not have the emphasis on uniformity of style that many Anabaptist (Mennonite/Amish) groups have, and mostly allowed variation within the guidelines.

However, there certainly were guidelines: Men were forbidden to wear certain types of pockets and were urged to refrain from needless pockets. All "were warned against broad hems, deep cuffs, false shoulders, superfluous buttons, fashionable creases, wide skirts, and cocked hats."

The recommendations for women were even more detailed. On the forbidden/condemned list:

fashionable hairstyles, fancy hats, striped silk, long scarves, "any other things which may lead us into the fashions of the World" Many English Friends noted that there was much more uniformity in dress among American Friend than there was among English Friends.

Finally, an excerpt from the Philadelphia YM Discipline from 1827 (just before the Hicksite/Orthodox split), rather than from Fischer:


"Advised, that all Friends, both young and old, keep out of the world's corrupt language, manners, vain and needless things and fashions, in apparel, buildings, and furniture of houses; some of which are immodest, indecent and unbecoming.

And that they avoid immoderation in the use of lawful things, which, however innocent in themselves, may thereby become hurtful; also all such kinds of stuffs, colors and dress, as are calculated more to please a vain and wanton mind, than for real usefulness; and let tradesmen and others, members of our religious Society, be admonished, that they be not accessory to these evils; for we ought to take up our daily cross, minding the grace of God which brings salvation, and teaches to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world." Other disciplines of the 1700s and early 1800s are similar.

If any one is interested in this topic, I would recommend reading the following: a. older Books of Discipline (at last to the time of the split in late 1820s) b. David Hackett Fischer's book

c. the book written by one of our list members, Tom Hamm, *The Transformation of American Quakerism*, esp the section that describes the background.

Hope this helps,
BJ Hinshaw

From: [email protected]
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1998 17:54:57 EST
Subject: Re: Plain Dress among Quakers

Dear Friends and friends,

Period clothing during the 17th and 18th centuries is one of my areas of interest, and I can tell you that drab and natural colors were not the norm.

There are many extant examples of madder dyed, cochineal dyed, indigo dyed, rustic dyed clothing in many clothing collections (including the Quaker Collection). Chester County Historical Society had an exhibit of Quaker clothing a few years ago, and one the gowns was a beautiful plum-colored changeable silk. There was a blue and white striped short gown and quilted petticoats, as well.

Admittedly, not a lot of work clothes have survived from these periods; however, Quakers did not confine themselves to drab and dull colors. Nathaniel Newlin's store inventory (Concord Twp., Chester Co., 1729) included "blew Calico," "Stripped [striped] Linsty, Blew Kersey, led coloured Shalloon, light coloured Shalloon, brown Shalloon, Red Duffils, Mixt Coloured Sagathy, Narrow Red Stuffs, Mixt Colour Duroy, Checered Callico" and the list goes on.

He also carried indigo and vermilion, both expensive and imported dyestuff.

John Trimble of Concord was carrying in 1772 a staggering array of textiles, much of it for clothing, ranging from Padusoy and Bandano Silk to scarlet serge, along with a variety of India cottons.

Friends living in the Philadelphia area especially were able to acquire a broad spectrum of textiles for home furnishings and for clothing. Silk gowns for middle-class Quaker women for day wear were not at all unusual. Sometimes they were dark colors, sometimes they were not. There was a faction among Friends who spoke against the use of dyed clothing, particularly clothing dyed with indigo, because a) it hid the dirt and b) indigo was raised and cultivated through slave labor. On the whole, Friends purchased or made clothing that was serviceable and unadorned, but these did not exclude bright and vibrant colors; the wedding clothes Bill described the other day are a perfect example.

Sally Wister recorded in her journal (1777-1778) wearing "my chintz, and looked smarter than the night before." "I left my chamber between eight and nine, breakfasted, went up to dress, put on a new purple and white striped Persian [a silk fitted jacket], white petticoat, muslin apron, gauze cap, and handkerchief. Thus arrayed, Miss Norris, I ask your opinion."

Jerry Frost quotes Deborah Hill tell her son that he could "wear plain gold or silver buckles or buttons but not wrought."

Frost also states that "from 1660 until 1800 there was no established Quaker costume." The fact that there are so many advises against the wearing of lace, ribbons, stomachers, bangs, or other things considered vain and slavishly fashionable in the monthly meetings is because Friends were indeed wearing such things; otherwise, there would have been no need to admonish members.

I will be attending the Tidy's Symposium on March 21. One of the speakers is Debra Kraak from Winterthur on the subject of Quaker Clothing. I promise I will report back to you on what Debra has to say.

Karen Mullian
[email protected]

From: "LCraven415" <[email protected]
Subject: Re: Plain Dress among Quakers
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 11:34:21 -0500

Don't really know where the plain dress ideas of the Quakers came from, but I've always thought by "Plain Dress" they really meant clothing that did nothing to make them look attractive. I always thought the long sleeved shirts and dresses were just a part of their belief that their bodies were not to be put on display or shown. I guess many of them dressed that way just because they were told to do it, and never really put a great deal of importance on that area of the religion. My father-in-law is not a Quaker, but a firm believer in "plain dressing". He never wears short sleeved shirts outside the house, or inside when there is company. It's just a personal thing that is important to him and I respect him for living what he believes.

He explains it as just the opposite of why a hooker dresses the way she does. She (or he) wants to attract people to her body. A plain dresser wants to attract people to their mind.

For whatever another opinion is worth.......

From: "Seth and/or BJ Hinshaw" [email protected]
Subject: Re: Plain Dress among Quakers
Date: Sun, 08 Mar 98 17:35:05 PST

The issue of Quaker separation in dress has been a touchy issue throughout the 20th century.

There are really two issues which need to be kept separate:

1) Did Quakers, during their existence, emphasize at any particular time, the wearing of a distinctive form of dress? and 2) What does this mean for me?

Keeping the two questions separate is important, since some people (including many Friends) can become quite defensive on this issue. There is really no reason for people to get upset. We should keep in mind that *they* were faithful to what they were called to do in *their* day, and now it is our turn to be faithful.

Here in Ohio YM, we have many members who grew up in plain families and later chose not to continue wearing plain clothing. They can be the most avid opponents of any of our members wearing a distinctive style of clothing on the basis of personal leading.

The issue of Quaker clothing is not clear-cut. Several clothing historians have stated that Friends took the modes of dress of the time and simplified them.

Another that I read felt that Friends took up the dress of their grandparents as a form of conscientious objection to the sumptuary laws.

Both groups agree that 17th century Friends wore clothing which set them off from other faiths.

John and Charles Wesley wrote once that one of the greatest mistakes of their work in the ministry was to neglect to preach the importance of wearing distinctive clothing such as the Quakers wore.

In early Philadelphia, Quaker tailors were careful not to produce clothing which contained superfluous elements. Their witness was so powerful that the Mennonites and Amish copied some of the Quaker elements and now wear clothing which more resembles Quakers of that time than Mennonites.

The issue of "gay" Quakers, or those who wore brightly colored items, is really a 19th century phenomenon. The research I have seen by clothing historians points towards the idea that most colors of the colonial era were dull, not like the bright oranges and yellows which we can purchase today.

So, in a world of dull colors for clothing, Quakers felt they were required (at least beginning about 1750) to restrict themselves to grey and brown.

It was not easy to dye fabric black at that time, so Quakers chose not to wear black for the most part. Black became fashionable in Quakerism during the 1800s.

I understand that the bonnet was created when women began pulling the broad brims of their hats down around their head, which led to the production of hats which were already curved down and without the brim in the back.

Quakers were the most numerous of the plain peoples in the world for many decades, and they were identified by certain elements which were readily apparent to everyone. Some of these elements even faded from use with the word Quaker attached to them, since by that point only Quakers were wearing them: the cravat was called the Quaker band, and the early cloth head coverings for women were called Quaker hoods.

While it is true that plain dress of the 1800s disappeared among the Gurneyite branch first and then in the next generation or so among the Hicksites, there was a great deal of use of plain clothing among the Wilburites well into the 20th century. The last of the plain Friends who grew up wearing plain clothing in Ohio YM died about seven years ago, and those who wear it now do so primarily by personal choice or conviction. This is not so among the other plain groups, where it is required for all members.

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