On Plain Dress

Wednesday last week, my “Amish” prayer caps arrived.  I had one from Shipshewana in case of an interview - so I could appear as I would for any new job - but these from PA are just perfect, lightweight, see through, easy maintenance (rinse off when needed) and just the "look" I wanted.

On Friday, I worked all day at a faith-based homeless shelter in Middletown, Ohio.  I have been slowly introducing my button-less sweaters and somber colors into my wardrobe to replace the plaids, reds, and stripes that I gave away.  I have two denim skirts I am very comfortable in, and I made ten jumpers by turning around back-to-front denim dresses, splitting them up the back, and sewing a little "bridge" onto them so that they protect my clothing from knees to neckline, and are open and airy in the back.

So I arrived at work in prayer cap, ribbons loose, denim skirt, grey turtleneck, brown boiled wool sweater, and my "granny shoes."  I put on the apron and set myself on a variety of tasks during the day.

From the first person I greeted, there was politeness.  A small child came up and hugged me around the legs and made me laugh.  People really smiled, and many asked what church I went to.  Several sat with me and told me their confessions - what was missing in their life, troubles with their spouse, their put-off dreams - and I shared myself with them.

At a store that evening, the Lebanese clerk was very complimentary about “American women that aren't afraid to show their religion” and that people should respect me - because he did.  We discussed Ramadan, cheeses, children's toys, and his long hours at the shop.

The next day, I donned my washed “interview” outfit again.  I was far from home and wanted more positive feedback such as I received at the shelter and the store.  I shopped in five places - was never asked for I.D. to accompany my debit card, was assisted very nicely with selecting merchandise, people smiled and were kind.  A little girl in a fabric store tugged on my skirt and asked if I would help her find her mommy.  A man at the gas station tipped his hat.

My grandfather was very pleased, and introduced me around to folks at his church.  He thanked the minister for advising me a year ago that the important thing was not to give up looking - that actively seeking God would lead me to the right place.  The minister was positively beaming, and hugged me both when I arrived and when I left.

So when I got home I was still wearing the prayer cap.  My husband complimented how I looked (he had seen the cap, but not me wearing it).  He asked if I would be wearing it to work the next day, and I said yes.

My boss was pleased; she and I had talked about my wanting to “go plain” when I left this job for another.  She is a Christian, and upon seeing me, said “You are wearing your hat!” and smiled warmly.  I complimented her wooden cross and she promptly ordered me one from the craftsman who made it.  I felt supported and accepted.

So now I am Plain.  For my friends, I am just the same old Valerie.  The somber colors and simple, homemade clothes are economical, easy to care for, simple.  The prayer cap is the only thing in my wardrobe probably not in your closet - but it speaks to others of my commitment to my own changed state, and my hopes of improving myself so that I can be a better person.  It's for focusing on what's right.  It's for reminding myself to be patient.  The cap helps people recognize I'll listen to them.  It says I have spiritual beliefs and am able to face the world boldly wearing publicly my desire to serve others, to be a kind fellow human.  My apron, when I see it hanging on the wall or on myself, reminds me there is so much need out there, and that my skills can be used for so many good things for others.

At home, I wear jeans and turtlenecks and cover my hair with a scarf or kerchief when going up and down the stairs for laundry or carrying things in from the truck.  When in for the night, I let my hair down, get a nightie and thick socks on, and all's as it ever was.

For those who have walked and talked with me on this change in my life, I thank you.  For those just learning about this, I ask for your open-mindedness.  Please, if you have any questions at all about the Plain movement, Quakerism, Society of Friends, or any related matter, don't hesitate to ask as clearly and bluntly as you like, and I will happily reply.


Thank you,

Your Peace-Seeking Friend,

Valerie Hibbard

November 13, 2006


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