I once knew a man who wore khaki pants and a blue oxford button-down. On Saturdays he wore the blue button-down with jeans. There was nothing unusual about this; after all, nearly all middle-age white guys wear khakis and blue shirts at least once a week. It took me about a year to notice that he didn’t wear anything but khakis and a blue oxford. At that point, I realized that I had never really paid attention to my friend’s clothing at all, probably because he himself never really paid attention to the style of his clothing. And I think that’s a good thing.

An important tenet of Quaker belief is the “testimony of simplicity.” Early Quakers eschewed the silver buckles, European lace, and elaborate hairstyles that marked the fashion of their time. George Fox, one of the founders of the movement, argued that fashionable dress distracts from the spiritual life by consuming one’s resources of time and money, by introducing inequality in the community, and by calling attention to one’s outward appearance rather than their inner disposition. Another early American Quaker, William Penn, wrote:

“Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretense to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention. Their folly would diminish if they could spare but half the time to think of God, that they spend in washing, perfuming, painting and dressing their bodies. In these things they are precise and very artificial and spare no cost. But what aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might comfortably supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation’s pride should be maintained in the face of its poor.”

Our sartorial temptation is a little different today; in fact, it’s the very opposite. In an effort to set ourselves apart from a consumer society which does value fashion so highly, a lot of us have embraced anti-fashion in the form of second-hand clothes, outdated styles, novel accessories, and reduced personal hygiene. Think of 90’s Grunge or millennial hipsters. Think of the homeless-inspired “Derelicte” fashion line from the movie Zoolander (which was based on an actual New York fashion line). Yet fashion and anti-fashion have the same goal – to set the wearer apart from the crowd and draw attention to the individual.

Within the Lotus community, we aspire to the testimony of simplicity in all aspects of life. Our covenant states: “In our speech, our dress, and our home, let us have nothing to attract undue attention; after all, we are not trying to please by our outward appearances, but by our good lives.” This means avoiding the extremes of fashion and anti-fashion, and anything else which calls attention to self. For middle-age white guys, this might mean khakis and simple shirts. For others it might mean t-shirts and blue jeans. Whatever is ordinary, whatever is common, whatever might take a year to notice. The decision to dress plainly isn’t easy, but it is simple.

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