Unpicking the Quakers: prescription and practice in 19th century British Quaker dress

Rumball, Hannah (2010) Unpicking the Quakers: prescription and practice in 19th century British Quaker dress. (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


This paper examines the relationship between the prescription and practice of nineteenth century British Quaker dress, in order to challenge stereotypical representations of the Quaker religion. Chosen abstinence from ostentation and finery of attire, specifically categorised as 'plainness' of apparel, traditionally signified association with the Quaker faith. Whilst the 'plain' aesthetic was abandoned over one hundred years ago, frugality and plain living is still synonymous with contemporary representations of the religion. Many Quakers adhered to prescription by ideologically considering the necessity of all articles as evidence of plain living and sought to conceptually legitimise them. However surviving primary garments largely disprove this established portrayal of the religions followers, exposing a lenience of interpretation in practice. I summarise the historiography of literature on fashion theories which may provide a basis from which to evaluate primary Quaker garment sources. I provide a brief history of the Quaker religion and its ideological basis for the prescription of 'plain' attire with considerations of the religions original political and cultural context. Then I represent data collected from archived primary material viewings at museum institutions which house existing Quaker garments as well as documentation collected from the Quaker Headquarters Euston and genealogical sources. I conclude by discussing the garments and my findings which expose that whilst venturing to emancipate clothing from decoration and fashion as religiously prescribed, primary evidence reveals a consistent incapability to reject such qualities in practice.

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