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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Before they could become Quakers in spirit

the publication of these sentiments, George Fox shewed to the world, that it was his opinion, that religion, though it prescribed no particular form of apparel, was not indifferent as to the general subject of dress. These sentiments became the sentiments of his followers. But the society was coming fast into a new situation. When the members of it first met in union, they consisted of grown up persons; of such, as had had their minds spiritually exercised, and their judgments convinced in religious matters; of such in fact as had been Quakers in spirit, before they had become Quakers by name. All admonitions therefore on the subject of dress were unnecessary for such persons. But many of those, who had joined the society, had brought with them children into it, and from the marriages of others, children were daily springing up. To the latter, in a profligate age, where the fashions were still raging from without, and making an inroad upon the minds and morals of individuals, some cautions were necessary for the preservation of their innocence in such a storm. For these were the reverse of their parents. Young, in point of age, they were Quakers by name, before they could become Quakers in spirit. Robert Barclay therefore, and William Penn, kept alive the subject of dress, which George Fox had been the first to notice in the society. They followed him on his scriptural ground. They repeated the arguments, that extravagant dress manifested an earthly spirit, and that it was productive of vanity and pride. But they strengthened the case by adding arguments of their own. Among these I may notice, that they considered what were the objects of dress. They reduced these to two, to decency, and comfort, in which latter idea was included protection from the varied inclemencies of the weather. Every thing therefore beyond these they considered as superfluous. Of course all ornaments would become censurable, and all unreasonable changes indefensible, upon such a system.

These discussions, however, on this subject never occasioned the more ancient Quakers to make any alteration in their dress, for they continued as when they had come into the society, to be a plain people. But they occasioned parents to be more vigilant over their children in this respect, and they taught the society to look upon dress, as a subject connected with the christian religion, in any case, where it could become injurious to the morality of the mind. In process of time therefore as the fashions continued to spread, and the youth of the society began to come under their dominion, the Quakers incorporated dress among other subjects of their discipline. Hence no member, after this period, could dress himself preposterously, or follow the fleeting fashions of the world, without coming under the authority of friendly and wholesome admonition. Hence an annual inquiry began to be made, if parents brought up their children to dress consistently with their christian profession. The society, however, recommended only simplicity and plainness to be attended to on this occasion. They prescribed no standard, no form, no colour, for the apparel of their members. They acknowledged the two great objects of decency and comfort, and left their members to clothe themselves consistently with these, as it was agreeable to their convenience or their disposition.

A new aera commenced from this period. Persons already in the society, continued of course in their ancient dresses: if others had come into it by convincement, who had led gay lives, they laid aside their gaudy garments, and took those that were more plain. And the children of both, from this time, began to be habited from their youth as their parents were.

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