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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Yet in its improvements of cloathing


But though the Quakers had thus brought apparel under the disciplinary cognizance of the society, yet the dress of individuals was not always alike, nor did it continue always one and the same even with the primitive Quakers. Nor has it continued one and the same with their descendants. For decency and comfort having been declared to be the true and only objects of dress, such a latitude was given, as to admit of great variety in apparel. Hence if we were to see a groupe of modern Quakers before us, we should probably not find any two of them dressed alike. Health, we all know, may require alteration in dress. Simplicity may suggest others. Convenience again may point out others; and yet all these various alterations may be consistent with the objects before specified. And here it may be observed that the society, during its existence for a century and a half, has without doubt, in some degree, imperceptibly followed the world, though not in its fashions, yet in its improvements of cloathing.

It must be obvious again, that some people are of a grave, and that others are of a lively disposition, and that these will probably never dress alike. Other members again, but particularly the rich, have a larger intercourse than the rest of them, or mix more with the world. These again will probably dress a little differently from others, and yet, regarding the two great objects of dress, their cloathing may come within the limits which these allow. Indeed if there be any, whose apparel would be thought exceptionable by the society, these would be found among the rich. Money, in all societies, generally takes the liberty of introducing exceptions. Nothing, however is more true, than that, even among the richest of the Quakers, there is frequently as much plainness and simplicity in their outward dress, as among the poor; and where the exceptions exist, they are seldom carried to an extravagant, and never to a preposterous extent.

From this account it will be seen, that the ideas of the world are erroneous on the subject of the dress of the Quakers; for it has always been imagined, that, when the early Quakers first met in religious union, they met to deliberate and fix upon some standard, which should operate as a political institution, by which the members should be distinguished by their apparel from the rest of the world. The whole history, however, of the shape and colour of the garments of the Quakers is, as has been related, namely, that the primitive Quakers dressed like the sober, steady, and religious people of the age, in which the society sprung up, and that their descendants have departed less in a course of time, than others, from the dress of their ancestors. The mens hats are nearly the same now, except that they have stays and loops, and many of their clothes are nearly of the same shape and colour, as in the days of George Fox. The dress of the women also is nearly similar. The black hoods indeed have gone, in a certain degree, out of use. But many of such women, as are ministers and elders, and indeed many others of age and gravity of manners, still retain them. The green apron also has been nearly, if not wholly laid aside. There was here and there an ancient woman, who used it within the last ten years, but I am told that the last of these died lately. No other reasons can be given, than those which have been assigned, why Quaker-women should have been found in the use of a colour, which is so unlike any other which they now use in their dress. Upon the whole, if the females were still to retain the use of the black hood and the green apron, and the men were to discard the stays and loops for their hats, we should find that persons of both sexes in the society, but particularly such as are antiquated, or as may be deemed old fashioned in it, would approach very near to the first or primitive Quakers in their appearance, both as to the sort and to the shape, and to the colour of their clothes. Thus has George Fox, by means of the advice he gave upon this subject, and the general discipline which he introduced into the society, kept up for a hundred and fifty years, against the powerful attacks of the varying fashions of the world, one steady, and uniform, external appearance among his descendants; an event, which neither the clergy by means of their sermons, nor other writers, whether grave or gay, were able to accomplish during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and which none of their successors have been able to accomplish from that time to the present.


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