historical Quaker women

Historical Quaker Women's Plain Dress


1830s African American Quaker dolls Quaker plain dress doll
Dolls of African American Quakers, 1830s, source: Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia Friends Historical Association Collection Quaker plain dress doll
1840s - 1850s Quaker Dress 1840s - 1850s Quaker Dress
Quaker dresses, circa 1840s-1850s,
photos displayed with permission
from Clinton County (Ohio) Historical Society, source: http://www.clintoncountyhistory.org
Quaker cape and cap, 1780,
image displayed with blanket permission from:
Photos of a Quaker Doll, source: Julie of Marmee's Attic. See more images of this doll. Photos of a Quaker Doll, source: Julie of Marmee's Attic
Painting of a Quaker Doll, mid 1840s-1850s, source: www.nga.gov Painting of a Quaker Doll, 1700s, source: www.nga.gov
Circa 1900 plain Quakers 1870s Quaker Dress and Capelet
Circa 1900 Quakers playing at being plain. 1870s Quaker Dress and Capelet from Iowa State University Extension: Textiles and Apparel Collection. Description: Made of black sheer cotton adhered dotted Swiss. Straight sleeves gathered at the top. Dress front closes from neck to waist with 10 hooks and eyes. Capelet fastens with 1 hook and eye.ĘSelvage edge of fabric on capelet reads "Normandy Fabric."

Common Misperception: Quakers always wear gray

See also: Historical Quaker Plain Dress References for Those Who Mistakenly Believe that Quaker Plain Dress was a Recent Invention

First, I cannot stress enough that there has not been a strict uniform for Quakers in any age. There have always been "plain" Quakers and "gay" Quakers, and what was considered plain has changed considerably over time. At one point red was a popular color. Browns and grays have generally all been popular for the plain variety of Quaker dress, as well as dark, olive greens. Black has not been a consistently approved plain color, various reasons running from the difficulty of preventing black from fading, the expense of black dyes, its connotations of mourning and the way black has a tendency to actually be fashionable. Amelia Gummere laments the "cliche" of the green apron worn by Quakers when white aprons became fashionable. Prints were not necessarily forbidden, but not the norm. The mainstays for women's plain dress have been the white cap, white kerchief, white apron, bonnet and a shawl or cloak.

Recommended Reading

Stephen Scott's book is absolutely the best place to get detailed information about all sorts of plain dress styles. The Quaker Aesthetics book has a nice section on plain dress, with some photos and illustrations.
  1. Why Do They Dress That Way? by Stephen Scott (People's Place Booklet No. 7)
  2. Quaker Aesthetics Edited by Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne A. Verplanck (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2002)
  3. I found Amelia Gummere's The Quaker: A Study in Costume (1901) very sharp-tongued and peppered with a very mocking tone, but it still the best source of information available on the development of Quaker plain dress (male and female).
  4. Sharon Ann Burnston's Fitting and Proper is incredibly expensive to purchase, but I was able to borrow one through inter-library loan. She mysteriously introduces the book by "explaining" that Quakers never wore a specific style of dress, then proceeds to talk about specific examples as "likely" Quaker because of certain stylistic and color choices. She seems to have entirely misunderstood the thesis of Amelia Gummere's The Quaker: A Study in Costume, who appears to be her only source. Lovely examples of early American Quaker dresses and caps, but poor scholarship on the history of Quaker plain dress.

It is my opinion, after reading what a great many other people have to say on the subject of Quaker plain dress, that there have always been "levels" of going plain. Some Quakers did not go plain at all. Those that did fall into a range that I see Quakers today emulating. There were some Quakers who took the latest fashions and simply "plained" them, removing buttons (or only used buttons covered with the same fabric as the dress), lace, piping. Then there were the Quakers who wore "plained" versions of fashions that were a dozen years or so out of date. Certainly the amount of control extended over member's dress was a Meeting by Meeting phenomenon. Perhaps it had more to do with wealthy versus poor or city versus country. Difficult to say, and many conflicting opinions available in the world. Have a look at a few examples for yourself.

historical Quaker women
historical Quaker women
historical Quaker women
plain dress
Quaker spirituality Spiritual mentor Plain dress
daily george fox quote

Epistle 189

"The Preciousness and Weight of Truth"

(To Friends in New-England and Virginia)

MY Dear Friends, Robert Hodson, William Robinson (1), Marmaduke Stevenson (1), Peter Pearson, William Brend, William Ledra (1), and the rest of Friends in New-England and Virginia, Be faithful to the Lord in the Truth of the Lord God, and in his Power and Wisdom be valiant for it upon the Earth, and spread it abroad, and confound Deceit: And dwell in the Power of God, and stand in it, which comprehends the whole World: that through it ye ...
... view full quote