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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

A deviation from simplicity of heart


Exactly in the same manner, and in no other, have the Quakers considered the doctrines of Christianity on the subject of dress. They have never adopted any particular model either as to form or colour for their clothes. They have regarded the two objects of decency and comfort. But they have allowed of various deviations consistently with these. They have in fact fluctuated in their dress. The English Quaker wore formerly a round hat. He wears it now with stays and loops. But even this fashion is not universal, and seems rather now on the decline. The American Quaker, on the other hand, has generally kept to the round hat. Black hoods were uniformly worn by the Quaker-women, but the use of these is much less than it was, and is still decreasing. The Green aprons also were worn by the females, but they are now wholly out of use. But these changes could never have taken place, had there been any fixed standard for the Quaker dress.

But though the Quakers have no particular model for their clothing, yet they are not indifferent to dress where it may be morally injurious. They have discarded all superfluities and ornaments, because they may be hurtful to the mind. They have set their faces also against all unreasonable changes of forms for the same reasons. They have allowed other reasons to weigh with them in the latter case. They have received from, their ancestors a plain suit of apparel, which has in some little degree followed the improvements of the world, and they see no good reason why they should change it; at least they see in the fashions of the world none but a censurable reason for a change. And here it may be observed, that it is not an attachment to forms, but an unreasonable change or deviation from them, that the Quakers regard. Upon the latter idea it is, that their discipline is in a great measure founded, or, in other words, the Quakers, as a religious body, think it right to watch in their youth any unreasonable deviation from the plain apparel of the society.

This they do first, because any change beyond usefulness must be made upon the plea of conformity to the fashions of the world.

Secondly, because any such deviation in their youth is considered to shew, in some measure, a deviation from simplicity of heart. It bespeaks the beginning of an unstable mind. It shews there must have been some improper motive for the change. Hence it argues a weakness in the deviating persons, and points them out as objects to be strengthened by wholesome admonition.

Thirdly, because changes, made without reasonable motives, would lead, if not watched and checked, to other still greater changes, and because an uninterrupted succession of such changes would bring the minds of their youth under the most imperious despotisms, the despotism of fashion; in consequence of which they would cleave to the morality of the world instead of the morality of the gospel.

And fourthly, because in proportion as young persons deviate from the plainness and simplicity of the apparel as worn by the society, they approach in appearance to the world; they mix with it, and imbibe its spirit and admit its customs, and come into a situation which subjects them to be disowned. And this is so generally true, that of those persons, whom the society has been obliged to disown, the commencement of a long progress in irregularity may often be traced to a deviation from the simplicity of their dress. And here it may be observed, that an effect has been produced by this care concerning dress, so beneficial to the moral interests of the society, that they have found in it a new reason for new vigilance on this subject. The effect produced is a general similarity of outward appearance, in all the members, though there is a difference both in the form and colour of their clothing; and this general appearance is such, as to make a Quaker still known to the world. The dress therefore of the Quakers, by distinguishing the members of the society, and making them known as such to the world, makes the world overseers as it were of their moral conduct. And that it operates in this way, or that it becomes a partial check in favour of morality, there can be no question. For a Quaker could not be seen either at public races, or at cock fightings, or at assemblies, or in public houses, but the fact would be noticed as singular, and probably soon known among his friends. His clothes would betray him. Neither could be, if at a great distance from home, and if quite out of the eye and observation of persons of the same religious persuasion, do what many others do. For a Quaker knows, that many of the customs of the society are known to the world at large, and that a certain conduct is expected from a person in a Quakers habit. The fear therefore of being detected, and at any rate of bringing infamy on his cloth, if I may use the expression, would operate so as to keep him out of many of the vicious customs of the world.


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