QUAKER DRESS

 

We are most grateful to the author, Joan Kendall, and the editor, Ann Saunders, for allowing us to use this study of the history of Quaker dress, which appeared in “Costume” Number 19, in 1985. [The original study identifies the reference sources for the material and quotations used, although these have not been reproduced in this website version.]

We acknowledge that this paper is reproduced by kind permission of The Costume Society, an educational charity which encourages scholarship in dress, fashion and textiles. Please visit www.costumesociety.org.uk for more information.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A DISTINCTIVE FORM OF QUAKER DRESS

by JOAN KENDALL


The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers as they were nicknamed, emerged during a period of non-conformist evangelism following the Civil War of 1642.

The original message preached by George Fox, the founder of the Society, was that Christian qualities are more important than ritual and dogma, and that there should be an awareness and reliance on the guidance of the indwelling spirit of Christ rather than on the interpretation and intersession of priests. It was a loving and joyful approach to life. “Sing and rejoice …; for the Lord is at work…”, and “… then you will come to walk chearfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone …”.

Friends had a testimony of plainness of speech, behaviour and apparel. The latter was defined as simplicity with no distinguishing marks, for in George Fox’s words: “Costly apparel with ye lace; yet wee formerly had hunge upon our backes yt kept us not warme with yt wee coulde maintaine a Company of poore people yt had noe cloaths.” In 1654 he wrote an epistle “to such as followed after ye fashions of ye world” in which he repremans those who feel

they shall not be respected else, if they have not got Gold & silver upon their backes, or his heire beenot powdered, or if he have a Company of ribbons hunge about his wast red, or whit, or blacke, or yellow, & about his knees, & geets a Company in his hatt … then he is A brave man … then he is noe Quaker … Likwise ye women haveinge … their spots upon their faces … haveinge their rings on their fingers … haveinge thewir cuffes dubell under and about, like unto a butcher with whit sleeves … haveinge their ribbons tyed about their hands, and three or fower Gold laces about their Clothes, this is noe Quaker saith they …

The warnings are all against “superfluities” with no uniform specified.

The postscript to an epistle to “the brethren in the north” issued by a meeting of elders at Balby in 1656 shows the positive outlook of the founding Friends.

Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light that is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fufulled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.

One of the “vain fashions of the World” against which Friends testified was that of “making counterfeit presentment” or having one’s portrait painted. This attitude survived until 1925 when the author of A Mirror for the Society of Friends writes “The present author is under a sense of contrition for reproducing the portraits that illustrate this book. If he has caused any distress of mind thereby he prays to be forgiven”. Thus one has to rely greatly upon journals, inventories and wills which rarely give enough details of plain dress.

There are so many epistles and advices concerning what Friends should not wear for one to realise that even from the beginning there were Friends who never adopted the plainest form of dress. These became known as “gay Friends”. Strict Friends were called “plain Friends” and there were those who, like George Anne Bellamy (1731-88) did not dress herself “with the studied formality of a rigid Quaker, but only so plain and neat as to entitle (her) to the denomination of a “wet Quaker”, a distinction that arises chiefly from the latter’s wearing ribbons, gauzes and laces”.

George Fox left us few details of his clothing in his journals. In 1652 he was in north Lancashire at Swarthmore Hall where he met Judge Fell and his wife Margaret who “had a vision of a man in a white hatt yt shoulde come and confounde the preists”. He was often referred to as “the man in the leathern breeches”. “A Captain … askt me where my leather breeches was … & I helde uppe my Coat and said here is my leather briches.” An early manuscript stated that ”… he was made to get Lethern Breeches & Dubblet & such he hath kept on Ever since Except a Little one hot Summer he had a pair of Stuff Breeches & Dubblet but he was made to Lay ym away again”. It will be seen that Fox, as the son of a country cobbler, wore sensible hard-wearing clothes suited to his travelling life.

At the same period Thomas Traherne, a writer of devotional meditations, was doing the same in order to live economically. How economically can be gathered from William Hartas, a Yorkshire farming Quaker, 150 years later. “Why when I was a lad there was a vast still sitting in their father’s leather breeches and more than one I kenned had breeks their grandfathers had had for their best and there was a vast of good wear in ‘em yet.”

There was written in May 1664 a description of

Thos. Bamfeild of Devon, trusty & well-beloued Counsellor at Lawe to ye Presbyterian party, is turned Quaker, & hath assumd a habittd whereof, … viz a shirt of flaning, & upon it a course gowne wth a kind of hoode, & cappe of ye same, leather stockings & pumps sewed wth a thong …

There are many testimonies to simplicity published as pamphlets. Gilbert Latey, a Cornishman and Thomas Wilde of Yorkshire, both tailors, told of their refusal in the 1650s to make the elaborate clothes worn by the “Worlds People” and how their business suffered.

In 1677 John Mulliner wrote a touching Testimony against Perriwigs and Perriwig making.

Friends thought that I did not do well in making of them. If there be Art to make a Decent Wig or Border what harm is that? But are there not several of thy Friends who wear Borders and are accounted honest men … if such do wear Borders for their health’s sake?

At least one Friend continued to wear a wig until 1819. An anti-Quaker tract of 1679 says “The Quakers cry out against all external ornaments, whilst themselves at the same time doat most wickedly upon a Quirp-cravat, copied from a Chitterling original”.

Margaret Fell organised a fund to support those early Friends who travelled the country preaching as ministers and who were often imprisoned. Between 1654 and 1658 various sums were paid from the fund for items of clothing. John Browne received clothes costing 7s. 8d. and a pair of breeches at 2s. 8d. Alice Birket had a pair of shoes for 2s. 6d. After her husband died Margaret Fell married George Fox and the Swarthmore household accounts give a clear picture of the clothes worn by Margaret Fox and her daughters in the 1670s.

Three black alamode whiskes were bought for Rachel and Susannah costing 2s. each. Sarah had blue aprons and strings and there was red, white, sea-green and sky-coloured worsted thread for stockings. As well as two blue calico aprons, a green say apron was bought for 2s. 9d. Black, sky-coloured and green ribbons and green gallowne were bought as well as garters, gloves and shoes. Petticoats varied in colour between white flannel and kersey and ash-coloured, red, dove-coloured and black. Other items were a gown of hair and two barrateen hoods (barragon is a Lonsdale dilect word meaning fustian) and a “French hatt” learge enough in the head for George Fox. In October 1674 Sarah bought “a vizard mask for 1s. 4d. and eighteen months later two more for 2s. 6d.”, possibly to protect her skin from the weather as she managed the estate. In December 1683 Sarah sent from London “enough black cloth for a gown (five yeards and a half), 4 ells of Holland, 1 muslin nightrail, 6 pairs of gloves, a coloured stuff manteo” which cost 14s., and “11 yards and a half of black worsted stuff at 2s. a yard.” She advised that “her mother’s gown be made without a skirt which is very civil and usually so worn both by young and old in stiffened suits.”

There was certainly no lack of colour (or uniform style of dress) for Friends during the early period, but on 24th 4th* 1685 [*Friends did not use the names of the months, since they came from pagan sources. January was 1st month, April 4th month, etc.] George Fox wrote from South Street in London against the “increase of Pride, Vanity and Excess in Apparel”. He recommended again the only ornament to be that of a meek and quiet spirit .. “not briodered Hair, or Gold, or Pearls, or costly Array”. Jewellery was always preaches against, and as wedding rings take no part in a Quaker marriage ceremony they are not usually worn. They were referred to in a letter to the British Friend in 1847 as “the badge of a Hireling Ministry”. Friends also had a testimony against mourning stated as early as 1698, when Southwark Monthly Meeting commented “… and Upon the Deceace of neare Relations its observed some women of late goe into black, two much Imitateing the worlds Customs in that they Call mor(n)inge to be Wholey Avoied …”. The testimony was still in force in 1850.

On 18th 4th 1685 the Women’s Meeting at the Bull & Mouth, London, published a pamphlet “A Tender & Christian Testimony to young People & others” ending with the words “Whilst the World saith, ‘The Quakers are now like us, they want only Lace and Ribbands’”. Egbert van Heemskirk painted a satirical picture of a Quaker Meeting, said to be the Bull & Mouth, between 1680 and 1690 and a number of engravings were taken from it.

Figure 1: E. van Heemskirk, Meeting at the Bull and Mouth, London, c. 1680-90. The two Friends on the right are wearing the style of dress worn by William Penn, Sir Hohn Rodes and Thomas Ellwood, all well-connected and eminent Friends, a plain version of contemporary dress. All the other men appear to be wearing coats buttoned from neck to waist with round cuffs, falling bands and easy-fitting breeches. Hats vary in width of brim but all have modest crowns.

Two of the women Friends wear the high-crowned hat, all the other dark or light coloured hoods, under some of which can be seen a coif. There is one black whisk but the rest wear neckerchiefs pinned at the neck. The gowns have plain sleeves, elbow length or long. One back view shows the train of an open gown. They all wear dark or light coloured aprons.

A testimony issued by Aberdeen Quarterly Meeting in 1698 advises Friends in great details of the way they should dress.

First Among the Men … Also in their Apparell Wee condemn all broad ribbands for Hat bands, All Cocking up the side of their hats, all vaine powdering of Wiggs or their own hair: As also all their bushie and Lon)g Cravats fringed or speckled; We condem(n their false shoulder peeces, Like Necks of Shirts called by severall Cheats, And desires they may putt comely necks to their Coats; We condemn their hand bandsor cuffs Like Shirt sleeves: Wee desire their coats may be buttoned to the tope, And not some buttons kept loose to make a show with their Cravats: Let all superfluous buttons and blindholes be put away, And no buttons further down than needs for fasning their Coats: Let the pockets of their Coats be in the Inside, and so needles Slitts and shows of ranges of buttons be prevented on the outer side of their coats, and all needles Lyps and superfluous Cloath be forborn in their Coats: And all rows of heads of Stockings at their knees be altogether forborn, And let plain buckles be in their Shoes.

And as to the habits of Women either Younger or Elder; Wee Jointly doe desire, They forbear vaine Cutting or shedding their hair to sett it out on their faces or forheads; But that it be put straight back: And that they wear on their heads, a plain Queff, without any rufling or needles lyps in the Frons of it: And their hood above it without any wiers or pas-boord to keep it high, but Let it be tyed strait and Low, and not waving Loose about their faces; And Let no Long Lapps, not maserind* [* Maserind: from the Duchesse de Mazarin - to decorate with lace in some particular manner, 1694, etc.] Lapps be on their hoods or head cloaths (an ell and ane halfe being Judged to be be fully sufficient for their hoods about their faces Lapps and all Let non wear rufled Neckcloaths, but either plaine bands or plain Napkins: Let their Mantows or other gowns be made plaine, without broad or rufled lyps on the shoulders of them; And without Lead or great rows on the sleeves of them, but only a plaine uplay thereon: And without short tailes, or lying over lyps in the pinning of them, to make them fitt out bigg behind: Let them be pinned stait that they may Lye plaine and broad behind: Let their be no side or Low trains, neither at Gowns or Coats. Let the Long Scarffs be cutt, It being Judged, That two ells and ane halfe, is fully sufficient for a Scarffe; Let no Stamenger be of any other collour but the same with their Gowns: Let no coloured plaids be used any more, but either Mantles or Lond hoods: And the Poor that can-not reach to that, Let them wear white plaids, without fine collored Spraings in them: Let non want aprons at all, and that either of Green or blew or other grave cloath collors and not white upon the Street or in ublict at all, nor of any spainged or speckled silk or cloath nor any silk aprons at all.

Now that the period of intense persecution of Friends had passed there was an increasing sense in some Friends of their separateness from the world, with a wish for conformity in plainness of dress by maintaining the styles of the founding period. This so concerned Margaret Fox that in 6th month 1698 she wrote an epistle to Friends in which she said

It’s a dangerous thing to lead young Friends much into the observation of ourward things, which may be easily done; for they soon get into an outward Garb, to be all alike outwardly; but this will not make them true Christians: It’s the Spirit that gives Life …

Two years later she wrote

In so much that poor Friends is mangled in their minds, that they know not what to Doe: for one Friend says one way, and another, another, But Jesus Christ saith, that we must take no Thought what wee shall Eat, or what wee shall Drink, or what we shall put on: but bidds us consider, the Lilies how they grow in more Royalty, then Solomon: But Contrary to this, wee must looke at no Collours, nor make any thing that is changeable Collours as the hilles are, nor Sell them, nor wear them: But wee must bee all in one Dress, and one Collour; This is a Silly poor Gospell, It is more fitt for us, to be Covered with God’s Eternall Spirit, and Cloathed with his Eternal Light, wch Leads us, & Guides us into Righteousness, and to live Righteously & Justly and Hollyly in this present evil world.

In the early eighteenth century there are many references to the distinctive clothing of plain women Friends, a style that lasts for about another seventy years and lingers with some elders to the end of the century. In A Bold Stroke for a Wife by Mrs Susan Centlivre, a play performed in 1718, Mistress Lovely is made to discard her hooped petticoats and adopt “the pinched cap, formal hood, and handkerchief” of her Quaker guardian.

The wardrobe of a woman Friend at this time is revealed in the will of Elizabeth Wright of Sidwick, dated 26.2.1718. She bequeathed to her cousin Agnes Harrison

My best brown searge petty coat, My best say apron, my best searge under wastcoat, my best straw hat, my leckin bodies
To Agnes Fisher my best wastcoat with long sleeves, my best Linnin Shift, my middle say apron
To Margaret Jackson the better of my little under Coats, the worse of my Lin shifts, my worse say apron, my best hardon shift, my best Shoes my Camlot Hood.

A green apron is mentioned as the badge of a Quakeress in a play performed in 1699 Love Without Interest and in A collection of Several Sermons & Testimonies dated 1701 it appears again …

Friends … how comely did it look in the beginning when Friends generally come to Meetings in green Aprons? Green Aprons are of long standing, our Mother Eve wore a Green Apron, but it is a most out of fashion; Friends can now come to meetings without green Aprons …

Womens Quarterly Meeting for Lincolnshire 21st 4th month 1721 writes “We think green aprons are very decent and becoming us as a people”.

As a protection against the weather the Quakeress would wrear a flat beaver hat and a mantle or a riding hood and possibly a safeguard. At Southwark Meeting in 1707 it was “taken notice that several women Friends at the Park Meeting do usually hang their riding hoods on the rail of the gallery, whereby Friends that sit under the rail of the gallery are incommoded.” Another irritation was voiced by Samuel Neale of Cork later in the century when he asks “… friends who wear patterns to take them off coming into meeting …”

As always there were gay Friends described in an epistle written

At Our Yearly Meeting held at Yorke 4th mo. Ye 22d & 23d 1720 … severall things Remains amongst which are Very Burthensome … Vist. ye Imitateing ye fashions of ye World In there head cloaths some having four Long Piner Ends hanging Down &c. And handkerchiefts being too thinn some having em hollow’d out & Put on farr of theire Necks also their Gown slieves & short Lapps with a Great Deale to Pinn up in ye Skirt alsoe their Quilted Petticoats sett out in Immitation of Hoops some wearing Two togeather also Cloath showes of Light Coulers bound with a Differing Couler & heeles White or Red with a white Ranns & fine Couler’d Cloggs & strings: alsoe Scarlett or Purple stockings & Petticoats Made short to Expose em Friends are alsoe desired to keep out of ye fashion of Wearing Black Hatts or shaveing or straw ones with Crownes too Little or too Large.

The will of Mary Thirnbeck of Dowbiggin in N. Yorkshire dated 1.11.1755 describes the clothes of a woman Friend of the mid-century

Im. I give to my Nephew Richard Thirnbeck my Best Gown and Petticoat, a black Quilt coat & Green Bodice & Stomacher & my Best black hood, a muslin and Cambrick Handkerchief & a Lin shift.

Im. I give to my Nephew John Thirnbeck’s wife my best white camblet Gown & my Green stays & my Black Quilt lined with Blue and to my Nephew John daughter Ann I give my Broadcloth cloak & my Black Hat and white silk hood. Likewise to my Nephew John’s wife a shift and muslin & cambrick Handkerchief & a Black hood & a green Gresset apron.

A constant complaint about men Friends was their wearing of elaborate wigs and hair powder. Plain Friends kept their own hair cut to approximately shoulder length but many adopted the simpler styles of wig. The Minutes of the Mens Meeting of Cork 28.XII.1703 read: “It being observed yt many young people have of late gott Wiggs, and some to powder their haire, wch is a grief …”. A month later “Severall in ye mtg whose Wiggs seemed too large or curled were advised to have ym more plain &c wch they have consented to …”. A portrait of John Gurney, a minister for thirty-two years, was painted about 1730. His wig may be shoulder length but his coat has plain round cuffs and few buttons. His pocket is a patch with no flap and his shirt has plain wristbands. He wears the usual short plain cravat.

On the 3rd of the 7th month 1710 the Six weeks Mens Meeting of County Tipperary was concerned that “some young men are … having … Thr hatts tackt up in two or three places.” Quakers were so noted for their hats that the fashionable world adopted the name for the style. In 1762 The London Chronicle wrote “Hats are now worn upon an average six inches and three-fifths broad in the brim, and cocked between Quaker and Kevenhuller … With Quakers it is a point of their faith not to wear a button or loop tight up; Their hats spread over their heads like a pent-house, and darken the outward man, to signify that they have the Inward Light”. In 1768 John Roper of Norwich wrote that peculiarities of dress “are mercifully designed by infinite Wisdom to build a separation … to prevent an improper, unsafe communication … with those amongst whom we dwell”. In 1798 there were still “Several powdered heads” at London Yearly Meeting and there were “animadversions upon men’s hats with and without stays – an American, Charity Cook, pleading for hats without stays as plainest, which English Friends controverted.”

Figure 2: L. F. Dubourge, eng. P. Tange, White Hart Court Meeting, 1723. A group of people watch a Meeting for worship. Two very fashionable full-skirted coats with many “blind holes” and boot cuffs – one visibly open – are worn with swords and a cane. A cloak is worn by a third man. There are three campaign wigs and a bag wig. Shirt cuffs are ruffled and hats are fully cocked.

In contrast the menFriends all wear uncocked hats (they were only removed during spoken prayer). One wears a cloak and leans on a stick. All coats are plain and unshaped at the waist, buttoned across the breast with the ends of the plain cravat tucked in and with round cuffs. One has buttons to the hem which as he sits reveals the knees of his breeches, and the stockings tucked under them. The man on the right of the gallery appears to wear a night gown with a sashor belt. They wear their own hair cut to shoulder length and undressed. Two women have bulky skirts which could conceal hoops. Each wears a cap with lappets turned u; one has a handkerchief tucked into the neck of her gown; the other a wide cuff to a gown sleeve which reveals the edge of a ruffle. Most of the women Friends wear plain dark hoods tied under the chin, one at least with a curtain, but there are three plain white coifs. The plain round gowns of various shades have below elbow length sleeves with turned back cuffs. Neckerchiefs and the ends of long hoods appear to be tucked into the waistbands of their aprons which vary in shade. Apron strings appear to fasten at the front with the knot tucked out of sight.

James Jenkins recollected in the 1820s that in his youth

The appearance of the congregation at Devonshire House was considerably different from what it is at present: … in those days, every man wore a three-corner’d hat, and the distance between the brim, and the crown constituted the criterion of plainness, or otherwise; some of the gayest young men wore them cocked up close, yet that was the extreme boundary, to have adopted the button and loop (so common to those not Friends) would have been considered a virtual renouncement of Quakerism …

The plainest men Friends, wore large ones with the flaps low, their cloathes (the whole suit) and stockings of the same colour, which was often drab, but of whatever colour invariably kept to throughout life, … a very small pair of silver buckles to the shoes, which last mentioned, being only worn on first days, got dry, and made a creaking noise as they walked into meeting …

I should not omit to mention that some of the plainest Friends wore (in winter) a thin great coat made of closely woved camblet, and which, was a good preservation from wet, for in those days we had no umbrellas …

The colour of cloathes of the young men were marone light mixtures, bright snuff, pea-green, and peach bloom, the dark ones so much now in vogue they deemed only fit for their grandfathers; ... the knee, and shoe-buckles were mostly large and of an oval shape …

The dress of the plainest females was a drab coloured beaver hat, black sik hoods with lappets which came down before nearly to the waist on each side, and were laced over the stomacher with white silk lace, causing the intermixture of black, and white to form a pleasing contrast; many of them wore green aprons, adopted (as I have heard some of them avow) in the cross, or in other words, for personal mortification …

A kind of competition existed amongst the men respecting the fineness of the plaits on the breast, and shirt sleeves the latter of which were drawn down below the wrist, and the coat sleeve worn short, in order to display a pair of brilliant Bristol stone sleeve buttons, and this handy work of the Ironers, who were at this numerous sisterhood, following (from house to house) a lucrative business …

I know not how it was, that, in the days of my youth, our scrupleous friends overlooked that great superfluity – the men’s wigs, which were then so generally, and (by nine, out of every ten) needlessly worn, and some of them so large as to obtain the name of bushell wigs …

… and the same notions of what is plain, or otherwise, did not exist at all times, & in all places, … I have in Ireland seen, a plain friend, dressed in a three-cornerd looped hat, a blue coat, & waistcoat, black breeches, light speckled stockings, and with large silver buckles, which glistened on the feet, and at the knees …

Bonnets were adopted by women Friends some time before 1778 when William Forster visited Hitchin on 18th of the 2nd month: “Rudd Wheeler’s second daughtershowed by her manner that she had seen the Metropolis … She wears a dark bonnet and cloke which in their plain meeting looked, if not gay, singular”. Was he referring to a cap with a stiffened brim or a true bonnet as described by Mme. J. M. P. Roland in 1784 during a visit to England, as a hat which in the country is “mostly black for those of the common class, often gathered in behind like a “bonnet”, and projecting like a penthouse in front”. Since the new bonnet brims were stiffened with pasteboard or straw, Friends often used an oilskin cover to protect them in wet weather. These were the shape of the bonnet and sometimes had an attached capelet. That the black hood and the apron is still recognised by the public as distinctively Quaker is shown in an illustration from Act III of The Fair Quaker of Deal published in 1792. By that date probably only a few of the elderly Friends would still be wearing the hood and green apron. A Friend historian remembered that “by 1806 the green apron was nearly if not wholly laid aside” and Susanna Row who lived from 1719-1804 was said by another to be the last Friend of Devonshire House Monthly Meeting to wear one.


Figure 3: GracechurchStree Meeting, London, painting from sketch, c. 1780. The painting can be dated from the groups of “World’s People” in the galleries, each accompanied by a Friend. The fantail hat with ribbon-bound pigtail wig, the round hat and frock and the high stand-fall collar, queued wig and the long loose curls of the women visitors and their wide-brimmed, elaborately trimmed hats are fashions of the 1780s.

The man Friend standing to minister wears a coat of the cut of about fifty years earlier, but another two benches below wears one of a more recent cut. Two frocks and three collared overcoats can be distinguished. Various styles of wigs and natural hair are worn and the hats are all shallow cocked.

There are seven black long hoods among the women ministers and elders and some still wear green aprons. Ten flat hats are worn over caps. The remaining women wear bonnets of various muted shades over their caps. That there were distinctive colours other than Quaker grey is shown by Mrs Powys’s description of Fawley in 1771 where “The dining room was stucco and painted Quaker brown”. All wear handkerchiefs, and mantles, cloaks and riding hoods and a few shoulder shawls are worn. Four or five bonnets are developing towards the “tunnel bonnet” but most are the round bonnet of the early period.

Figure 4: A London Quaker Meeting, watercolour by T. Rowlandson, c. 1809. As in the eighteenth century, women Friends had been “eldered” for wearing too many petticoats, they were doubtless eldered now for using too little material. The waistlines have crept upwards and hoods are not worn. Bonnets are worn straight on the head with the lengthened brim framing the face. These are irreverently known as “coal scuttles” or “tunnel” bonnets. They and the few round bonnets are still worn over caps. The colours of the gowns range as in the late eighteenth century between browns, fawns, sage greens, greys and cream. Few are wearing black gowns as this was considered “worldly” and Friends still maintained the testimony against mourning.

Among the men there are no wigs though some elderly friends still wore them. Two wide-brimmed cocked hats are still worn, but most are wearing the high crowned, round beaver hat.

Elizabeth Gurney came from a family of middle-class gay Friends. In 1798she attended Meeting for Worship wearing “new purple boots laced with scarlet”. It was there that a visiting Friend’s words changed the course of her life. In 1799 Joseph Fry visited her and found her “in a brown silk gown, a black veil wound round her head like a turban, the ends pendant on one side…”. In her journal she describes “turning plain” aged nineteen. It was not a sudden change. She gradually, after much thought, replaced her garments with “plain” ones. “Today I put my handkerchief over instead of under my gown”, and later “I took up my little cross in dress which was leaving off the band to my cap”.

Richmond’s portrait of Elizabeth Fry was painted in 1824 and shows the typical plain Friend of this period. She had a plain silk gown with long sleeves and a handkerchief is worn over the gown bodice. A triangular fawn woollen shawl lined with cream silk is pinned at either the natural waistline or on the shoulders. This generally produced three vertical tucks at the back of the neck. There is a little fullness, hardly a frill, around the band of the cap and lappets. She wears the same style of dress in a photograph taken in the early 1840s. Not all plain Friends’ dress was so severe. When Amelia Opie, the novelist widow of John Opie the painter, turned plain, she continued to buy the silks for her dresses in Paris. David sculpted a medallion of her describing her cap as a “Phrygian helmet with an air of classique.”


Figure 5: Eight muslin caps.

Although some older Friends still wore the plain low crowned cap which fitted underneath the round bonnet, many women Friends wore elaborate high crowned transparent muslin caps under the fashionable bonnet shape. However a low-crowned cap was again fashionable in the 1840s.

As Mrs Merrifield wrote in 1854:

The crown of the cap has, however, recently been lowered and the Quaker ladies, with much good sense, have not only modified the form of their bonnets but also adopted the straw and drawn silk bonnet in their most simple forms. In the style of their dress also they occasionally approach near the fashions generally worn.

Figure 6: Earith Meeting, Huntingdonshire, S. Lucas, c. 1840. The men still wear the Friends’ coat and cravat and those on the front bench wear gaiters, top boots or flat buckled shoes. There are three different styles of hat, the eighteenth century half-cocked, the plain round hat, and the white beaver, traditionally undyed as a testimony against the use of indigo grown by slave labour. Many Friends dyed their white beavers “on account of the Radicals wearing white hats”.

One of the five women Friends wears a low-crowned cap, two the open bonnet that followed the tunnel bonnet, and two the “English bonnet” with a narrower brim meeting under the chin and a soft crown, a Quaker version of the fashionable bonnet of the time. This shape was the last development.

A proposal was made at the beginning of the century at Ackworth (a Friends’ school) for “some improvement in the dress of the boys who had been accustomed from the beginning to wear three-cornered hats and short smalls made of leather …” A half-length portrait of Septimus Roberts in 1807, aged eighteen, shows him wearing the high crowned beaver and the three-inch standing collar to waistcoat and coat with a plain cravat tucked in. William Sturge (born 1820) and his brother “were dressed as little Quaker scarecrows with collarless jackets and broad-brimmed white beaver hats.

Figure 7: Ackworth School, W. Johnson, lithograph by Day and Haghe, c. 1837.

A pupil of Lisburn school describes her “uniform” of about 1810.

Winter and summer we wore the same dress of dark coloured stuff with short sleeves and low neck. Our tuckers of muslin were drawn in with a string. Over this when we went to meeting we wore in summer white vandykes of thick muslin or a white muslin handkerchief crossed over in front. In winter we wore little cloaks … and gloves of slate coloured muslin. These we made ourselves in sewing class, also our little bonnets of the same material. Our pinafores were of checked linen made high round the neck, but we were not allowed to wear these during lessons; we had to take them off, fold neatly, and sit on them till lessons were over.

Throughout its history, London Yearly Meeting regularly repeated warnings against following the vain fashions of the world but many serious and devout Friends felt that an inordinate amount of attention was paid to details of dress, speech and behaviour to the detriment of Spiritual Life. In 1849 a supplement was added to the Rules of Discipline (in practice rules of self-discipline). “We are renewedly persuaded that our testimony to plainness of speech, behaviour and apparel rests upon sound, unalterable grounds”.

In the 1850s many pamphlets were written presenting both sides of the disagreement. One stated that … plainness of dress was

never fixed by “Yearly Meeting decree”, … bur quite as much constituted a principle of the Society … The standard was a little higher some fifty years ago; … Now it is pretty firmly settled at the collar. (Dress) … as fashionable as you like … but straight collar – lined with velvet and half compromised by being dog’s-eared – and you are all right. … But let him dress all in greys with a turn-down collar and, “I’m sorry to see thee following the fashions of the world”,

Although coat and usually waistcoat must have a stand collar it was permissible to have a turn-down collar to the overcoat, “which leads some Young Friends with a dislike of appearing singular to wear their overcoats well into the Spring”. When one boy arrived at Ackworth with a turned-down collar it was cut off. However another Friend writes “A few words on the 3rd Query” … “I have ever felt it a protection and a defence as well as an outward confession of religion.” A woman Friend, as for men it was the 4th Query.

As the anonymous author of the leaflet Nehustan, said to be Edward Fry, later Lord Justice of Appeal, wrote: “A novelty in dress is first regarded as objectionable, then it is admitted and not considered inconsistent; and, lastly, when the rest of men have passed away from it, it is clung to with all the devotion which our Society entertains for its peculiar customs”.

At London Yearly Meeting in 1860 the testimony to plainness was replaced by the advice “Be careful to maintain your won conduct and encourage in your family that simplicity in deportment and attire … which became the disciples of the Lord Jesus”.

Figure 8: J. Bevan Braithwaite, from a photograph. “In 1843 at the age of twenty-five adopted the stiff white cravat as the further mark of a desire to appear a consistent Friend”.

Plainess lingered on in the Society. A group of Friends who wished to maintain the testimony settled at Fritchley in Derbyshire in 1869 and formed their own General Meeting. A further break occurred within Fritchley general Meeting and a separate meeting of Strict Friends was established at Bournbrook. Of this Meeting Hannah Hatcher continued as a plain Friend until she died in 1965 aged eighty-nine years.

Fritchley Meeting House, Derbyshire, 1897. Some women still wear the mid-nineteenth-century bonnet, but the shawl has been replaced by a mantle.