Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Fashion Whys and Size

Do you ever try to analyze why you wear what you do?

In my Beachy-Amish younger days I was taught that following the fads and fashions of the world was a very bad thing, and so we had a very specific, prescribed style of dress that we wore which was simple, modest and economical and most definitely did not follow the fads and fashions of the world.

Except it sort of did, what with polyester doubleknit when that was about the only fabric you could buy, and all the little details we tried to get away with when those were "in" in worldly garments.

Which meant that the church fathers' purposes were kind of defeated, because if you got a grocery sack full of hand-me-down dresses, it was OBVIOUS which ones were from ten years ago, even if they were all solid colored, with capes, and you didn't wear them unless you were desperate.

So I wore the dresses the church prescribed with whatever embellishments I had the patience to sew, that I thought I could get by with.

Fast forward.

Today I am in an admittedly-boring groove with clothes.  I wear Mennonite clothes--long skirts and high necklines but not solid-color capes.  Mostly I wear what I do because it's affordable, durable, warm, reasonably pretty, appropriate for the occasion, and of classic style to wear until it wears out. And did I mention warm?  Warm is important.

I wear a lot of long denim skirts, long khaki skirts, long-sleeved t-shirts from Lands End, and corduroy jackets from Christopher and Banks.  Or sweaters.

These days, the Beachy-Amish are more fashionable than me.  I am just trying to stay warm.

I am not following the fads and fashions of this world, I don't believe.

We plan to go to Thailand again this summer.  The dress code at the Bible school there is one-piece dresses or jumpers.  And the climate is HOT.  Which means I need cool, loose, cotton dresses.  Which I don't have.  Which means I have to think and plan about clothes.  Which I don't enjoy.

There's a lady in my life that I feel somewhat responsible for, and she also needs dresses.  In the Sunday paper there was an ad for inexpensive dresses.  So I ordered three.

And I realized two things.  One is that I have a prejudice against large sizes.  I ordered the dresses in size 5X and felt compelled to explain to the guy on the phone that these were not for me.  Wow.  Like it mattered.

The other is that I am more fashion-conscious than I knew.

I took a good look at the ad.  What was keeping me from ordering these dresses for me to wear in Thailand?

They were loose and cottony and long enough.  The sleeves were long enough.  I could easily bring the neck up to code.

I liked the purple print.

They were economical and it would be good stewardship to buy a few and forget about sewing.

They would be nice and breezy in that awful heat.


I asked myself why.  Why in the world did it matter, what with starving children in the world and all that?


Not unless I lived entirely among blind people.

I asked my girls what they thought.

Emily: "Oh my.  Those are dresses?  Not housecoats or hospital gowns? I mean, if you wore a wide cinchy belt and a cute cardigan MAYBE you could make a dress like this presentable IF you could find an ok print."

"What sort of person does it make you think of?" I said.
Emily:  [something negative-stereotyped about the sort of horizontally challenged people who do not take care of themselves hygienically and whose feet go slap slap slap when they walk]"And bad breath."
Jenny: "Someone who's going to bed."

There have been many garments--such as denim jeans--that made the transition from practical and ugly to the height of fashion.

How would we all react if the skinny young moms of this land would all start wearing these dresses?  And posting Instagram shots of themselves wearing them with cute sandals and sunglasses?

Like Shelley the niece over at Frame of Mind.

We would all think, "Oh, ok.  I guess I was all mixed up.  They ARE pretty, really, kind of."

So, are we all slaves to fashion?

Or are clothes actually more like costumes, telling people who we are and what we do and how we feel about ourselves and our place in society?

In which case it behooves us to be careful what we wear.

I'd love to hear from you: why do you wear what you wear, REALLY?

And in closing, we have this shot:

I bought a pretty, cottony skirt at Goodwill that was very large so it had enough fabric to turn it into a Thailand-dress for Jenny or me.  Some brilliant Smucker mind had an idea and this is what resulted.  It's too bad Amy wasn't here.  There was room for her, too.


  1. Our church is made up primarily of Mennonites, but also have others from other backgrounds. We don't have a "standard", but I still pretty much dress the same. In fact, I think alot like you. I totally agree that the Beachy-Amish are way more fashionable. We don't live in a very big Menno community, but when I get to Holmes County or even some other places I can feel quite unfashionable. And those sun dresses...I guess I myself would class them more like housecoats. I don't think I'd wear them to go out. Not even in Thailand!

  2. This was a fun read. I'm pretty sure THAT dress would be a stretch even with a belt and a cute cardi. ;) But I am DYING to know where the first picture comes from!!!! It looks like a shot from a school or church picnic at Faith Mission and I'm certain I'd have noticed if you'd have been there. :)

  3. Michelle--It came from a Beachy-information website via Google Images.

  4. I think that the dress could be improved a great deal by choosing a size that fits closer to the body. The dress in the photo is simply too big around.

  5. Some of those ladies on the first picture look weaverland Conference...just sayin'
    And that skirt on the bottom...use the rest of it-the part around your daughters- and make the bodice and sleeves for your Thailand dress.
    Guess I need to write a post about why I wear what I do.
    Thanks, you challenge me.

  6. To above commenter...Typical anonymous blog commenter, of the hit and run variety.


  7. Clarification: Randy is referring to two comments I deleted.

    to Anonymous: thank you for taking the time to come by and comment. Sorry I had to delete your comments. You have an efficient writing style, and I am sure you have many worthwhile things to say.

  8. Why I dress the way I do is kind of complicated, I guess. Things that play into it:
    modesty, comfort, finances, no time to sew, I'm a nursing mother, horizontal challenges ;), my own tastes.
    What that amounts to is usually bought button-up shirts (knit is too clingy) with homemade elastic or drawstring waist skirts, a headcovering and tennis shoes. Colors range from blue to blue, with a twist of brown or black.

    I'm told our local Mennonite congregation is Beachy, and upon visiting was surprised to see the variations in dress. Being "English" I had supposed style was more regulated by the church.

    As to your newspaper dress, I agree that regardless of the name, it looks like a housecoat/nightgown.

  9. Color is important to me--especially that my dresses complement rather than detract from my natural skin tone. I love wearing some bold colors, but always in cool rather than warm tones. I also notice how lines flow in the design of the fabric and the construction of the garment. I regret when simplicity and modesty are sacrificed, and I regret when any decorative feature draws attention to itself. Neatness is more important to me than cleverness. I'm Beachy, but I see some Beachy ladies' clothes that I have no urge to defend because I believe they fail on some or all of the above counts. I probably shouldn't start on what I think of covering up cape dresses with closely-fitted shirts that are neither modest or beautiful--just "in" and therefore found desirable.

  10. In that case I bet I could tell you exactly who took the picture {and no, it wasn't me}. Thanks for satisfying my curiosity.

  11. I'm a Mennonite. I love clothes because I love color and creativity - I compare it to quilting, really. But I do wonder sometimes how I will know if I'm spending too much time on clothes? I'm not a shopper and I'm very thrifty. But I do care about style and I don't usually follow trends very much.

  12. What you wrote, Dorcas, about Beachys being fashionable is more true than I wish it were but there are many Beachys who are not fashionable. I also pay attention to color, trying to stick to colors that blend with my skin tones rather than clash. I want my clothes to be subdued, not shouting for attention to detail, color, etc., but rather to cover neatly and modestly. I'm somewhat of a “forever” type, content with the same style. The main reason I have as much variety as I do in clothes is because I sometimes buy second hand dresses. -LRM

  13. I enjoyed this post very much! Definitely a challenge among the Mennonites to not ruin our witness to the world with immodest clothing. I too, have a concern for covering up cape dresses with tight, form fitting shirts or sweaters! It's very obvious that what's in the heart will come out.

  14. I love clothes but am usually the last to realize that something is no longer "in"! Yesterday when I wore a peplum top with big shoulder pads and puffed sleeves to the middle school where I work, there were actually people who weren't sure if I was just wearing it for "Flashback Day". (I was, and I love the top now just as much as I did back in the 80s!) But even I shuddered at the sight of those dresses in the paper and thought what a waste of advertising dollars because surely no one would actually buy them! And Dorcas, your attire is always tasteful and lovely!!

  15. I am chuckling as I read this beecause I remember a shopping trip in the not to far past!!! God post and I am with your daughters!!! That dress in the add would NEVER do!!! :) Sharon

  16. Can't seem to spell...."because" and "good"!! Mercy!!

  17. Sharon--It would be worth it to show up in one of those dresses just to see your reaction. The shriek--I can hear it now.

    WLEN--I laughed about the 80s top and can see myself doing the same. I still like those big floral prints.

    LRM and Mrs.I--I was intrigued with the common threads in your comments.

    Margo--clothes and quilts! Never thought of that but I can see the connection for artistic people.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments/thoughts/insights.

  18. There is nothing wrong with the dresses in the ad. When we went to Belgrade one summer my mother who was conservative Mennonite wore something like that because it was so hot. Clothing is to cover us and when you worry too much about what other people think then you have another problem.

  19. I try to avoid the "gunny sack of potatoes" look. Aging increases the challenge.

  20. Dorcas, you are really funny but I do agree with you. My thought was a nightgown or something for a post-op woman to wear after surgery. I am a Mennonite who wears cape dresses and although I don't add frills and extras I do try to make them neat and attractive. I hate the frumpy look and feel that we need to dress in a way to bring honor to God. I think we need to be careful that we don't follow the fads to the point of immodesty. I hope you find a solution to your problem without having too much expense or headache.

  21. Grandma Ruth3/21/2013 10:10 AM

    Ms. Dorcas...love your blog! I am not Mennonite, but Christian and believe in dressing modestly too. That said, I grew up in the "anything goes" world, and the problem with that is that everything goes wrong! At some point the Holy Spirit whispered to me, that I "need only worry about making myself attractive to God" I have been workin' at that ever since. Having been an actress at one point, I know that "costume" can help fill a roll. I like to dress confident, femenine and fun! I guess that's what I enjoy seeing others dressed like too. I enjoy variety, creativity and prettiness...all can be accomplished modestly!
    BTW....I love seeing you and the girls playing with clothes!! Y'all bring miles of smiles!!!

  22. I don't think you have to be frumpy to dress modestly and look nice. Betsy in Indiana

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  24. I loved this post. Especially the part where you told the person on the phone that the dresses were are not for you. So funny! I often sew a sleeveless, capeless dress using a basic pattern and then I wear it with a top of some sort. If you don't like to sew this might not help you.

  25. I'm printing this for my husband to read. You put into words very well what I was trying to express to him the other day, which he was not getting, about how the women, especially younger ones, from the "plain" church we left a number of years ago, follow styles while staying within the church-prescribed uniform.

  26. As a "horizontally challenged" person I know I am being overly sensitive about this post. I guess I just assumed that I would never read something here that mocked people for their size. And that assumption is wrong on my part. Religion does not make someone automatically kind, and making fun of fat people is accepted by all walks of life apparently.

  27. Anonymous--please message me privately at dorcassmucker@gmail.com and we can discuss this further.

  28. Dear anonymous, I also know how sensitive I can be when I read something because I also need to lose a few pounds but this post did NOT offend me at all because I know Dorcas, and trust me when I say.. she would not in any way poke fun or belittle. So give her the benefit of a doubt :) ac

  29. I enjoy your blogs and have never commented before. It saddens me as well to see an immodest cape dress, or a modest cape dress covered by a tight sweater or shirt. I don't think it is wrong to buy clothes at a thrift store, but too often I see modesty compromised because "it was a bargain." May I recommend an excellent book on this subject- "What Shall the Redeemed Wear" by Simon Schrock. We women need to listen to what the men say on this subject. Our church requires one piece dresses, and I have always sewed my own. I think we should be neat and our clothes should cover not only the body, but also the form. If a skirt is so tight you can see the outline of the legs as you walk, my husband would say it is immodest. LM

  30. I don't think people always realize when they are saying/doing something that ridicules obesity. I'm VERY sure Dorcus wouldn't intentionally do it.

    Our society not only accepts, but actively encourages an attitude of disrespect and hilarity at the expense of people who are heavy. Unless you or someone you are very close to struggles with obesity, you are not aware of how hurtful and humiliating it can be to hear/see their opinion of us, even if it is lighthearted and innocently expressed.

  31. All this talk about dresses/clothes reminds me of a quote by Edith Head. "A dress should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to prove you're a lady.”


  32. My favorite clothing related quote is by Gilda Radner,"I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch."

  33. "House dresses" were the product of a factory in Harrisburg, PA, where I was interviewed in 1960 for a position in the art dept. Unlike the ad Dorcas posted, those dresses had waistlines, and fabrics were small prints. Part of my test was to choose the 20 best-selling dresses from a rack of 40. I picked the ugliest - and missed only two! (No, I wasn't hired. I returned to teaching art.)

  34. At first I didn't realize you were all in the skirt!!! I think sometimes we over think it a bit....to most people in society, the thought that someone could be immodest in a cape dress is laughable....= )

    And if we are accidentally immodest, the nice thing is...there is probably someone that is not concerned about it.

  35. Karen Layman3/25/2013 8:21 PM

    "These days, the Beachy-Amish are more fashionable than me. I am just trying to stay warm." I lol'd. That's just great.....my favorite line of the article. :-)

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  37. We got that exact dress ad in our paper as well.

    Now, about why I dress the way I do...guess I'll stick out my neck a bit here. (Hope your readers leave my head attached!) :) :)

    I started making my own clothes & head coverings at age 13, so with time it went pretty well for me.
    However, my husband & I have decided that I should start buying at least most of my clothes. We've watched people come into our "plain" groups. The ladies try so hard at fitting in by trying to learn to do the gardening, the canning, the sewing, the baking, etc.
    They so often feel like misfits because they didn't learn to do these things while growing up. If it doesn't go well, they feel somehow "different". Often they leave our groups because of feeling they just can't "belong", somehow.
    (Shame on US!)

    We have decided that I will shop at thrift stores for my clothes, proving that modesty is doable and economical in our society.
    I can buy a scarf, a blouse, and a skirt or a jumper, all for less than $10. If you spent $20 - $30 for fabric, (and possibly spend $20 -$30 to have a dress made) and $20 for a head covering, well, .... so much for the "simple" lifestyle.
    Any lady in the county can do the same, and have a tasteful, modest outfit without the high cost of fabric. Plus, she won't need to choose whether to brave the headache of sewing it (at risk of it not turning out well), or to have the added expense of paying someone else to sew it.

    When someone makes the decision to do what we have, they risk being misunderstood. They know there will always be folks who believe they wanted more freedoms in "worldliness". Trust me, my comfort zone would be to do it the way we always did. I loved my dresses and the way they felt and fit. I actually miss my homemade dresses.
    But we have come to view do-ability without compromise to Biblical modesty as part of our discipleship mission.
    And, yes, I realize that modesty is relative. We need to be in tune with God, and then be obedient to His direction. If we love God, we WILL desire modesty.

    Let's make sure that we're not making "learning to sew' a part of the cost of Christian discipleship. The Bible simply does not require that.
    I'm curious how you feel about all that. :) I'd welcome your response.

    And now I will add that arthritis and tendonitis do make sewing a difficult thing for me anymore.

    Hopefully this isn't too long and tedious. -PC in VA

  38. I used to shop at thrift stores, but I couldn't hardly find anything that fit right, and I'd spend so much time there and end up returning things after not too long of wearing them. In contrast, I had three skirts made for me. They fit me perfectly, I love them, I wear them all the time, and it's been over two years and they are still in good shape.

    I'm having some dresses made in mid-weight linen (a natural fabric, God-given, healing, and cooling!), and I know they'll last me for years. Most clothes at thrift stores are either conventional cotton (not healthy) or synthetic (really not healthy). Did you know that wool and linen are the only two fabrics that heal the body? Organic cotton has an energy frequency of 100, the same as a healthy human body. Polyester, rayon, most synthetic fabrics, are at 15, the same as a diseased human body. Conventional cotton is at 75, draining and unhealthy. Silk is 0. Interesting to note that silk comes from an unclean animal. The flesh (and I'd assume other parts) of unclean animals has been scientifically shown to be toxic to human blood. But I digress.

    Wool and linen are both a whopping 5000 on this energy scale (Medically and scientifically studied and proven), so they are very healing. In addition, they are anti-bacterial and help to block bad electromagnetic rays. But ... their energy patterns move in opposite directions, so if you weave them together (forbidden in the Bible), they cancel each other out and become a 0.

    So, next time someone talks about having home sewn clothes, there very well may be an awesome reason for it, even if it is just to have clothes that fit better and last longer. Simple? Yes, indeed.