Plain Dress

Wednesday Link Potluck: Not Dressing Like Lady Gaga Edition

September 15th, 2010 – by Jeremy W. Yoder

This past Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards, reigning pop queen Lady Gaga caused a stir when she accepted the “Video of the Year” award in a dress made of meat. Throughout her career, Lady Gaga has often pushed boundaries by dressing provocatively in order to make statements on politics and sexuality (of course, once you can buy Lady Gaga costumes for your infant, I’m not sure the message has punch anymore). To say the least, Lady Gaga has a distinct and unique taste in clothing.

Of course here in Mennodom, we’ve had our own traditions of distinct and unique clothing. While perhaps not as flashy and provocative as Lady Gaga’s choices, plain Mennonite dress has often seemed strange and confusing to the outside world, a visual boundary between the community of faith and the rest of society. So in honor of Lady Gaga’s clothing, today’s Link Potluck features (kind of) the distinctive dress of plain Mennonites.

  • The paperback version of Rhoda Janzen’s memoir Mennonite In A Black Dress continues to chart on the New York Times Bestseller list. When Hollywood inevitably turns this into a movie, I bet they will transfer the location from the Mennonites of borscht and zwiebach to the Mennonites of Lancaster County and Julia Roberts will run around in plain clothing shooting people just like Harrison Ford did in Witness.
  • GAMEO has a good, comprehensive essay on North American Mennonite plain dress written by J.C. Wenger in the 1950’s and updated by Robert Kreider in 1989. The article suggests that the practice of plain dress has both theological and sociological reasons.
  • In February, the Oregon legislature repealed an eighty-seven year ban on religious dress by teachers in public schools. Prior to the vote, The Oregonian posted a series of comments by believers of various traditions who wear distinctive dress, such as the Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and Mennonites.
  • Plain dress has primarily been worn by Swiss-German Anabaptist groups. Karl Landis laments that we often confuse “Swiss-German” ethnicity for “Mennonite.”
  • In one of those weird cultural mash-ups on the Internet, there’s an on line community and market for plain and “modest” clothing. Conservative “Quaker Jane” provides guidance and resources for plain dress. Plain and Simple Headcoverings sell exactly what you think they sell. Rachel’s Seamstress Services andĀ  Mennonite Maidens are online plain clothing stores. Or you could always make your own clothing.
  • Googling for “plain dress” will also bring resultsĀ  for “plane dress” — i.e. how to dress on an airplane. Perhaps someone could make a movie about Amish travel and call it Plain on a Plane (Groan).
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