Elizabeth [not so] Plain & Tall

My brother is approaching a milestone birthday next week (happy birthday, SS2!), so in honor of him, I’m quoting him without his permission. Nice, right? Truth is, I’ve been meaning to blog about the topic of being “plain” since August, which is when I got the following e-mail (I’ve hyperlinked the blog posts he’s talking about, in case they don’t ring a bell):

“I was thinking… you mentioned a couple times in your blog about people in plain clothes, both at the auction and also referring to lack of closet space because people back in the day had only two outfits. Often when we talk about this idea of community, the idea of living a simple lifestyle would go hand in hand.  How much more simple would life be if we didn’t worry as much about what we wore or how we looked.  To me the idea of dressing plain, simplifying our wardrobe, is very appealing. It also can be considered a ‘community identifier’– you can tell a person is part of an Amish/Mennonite/etc. community by their plain clothes.” — SS2, my older brother

First of all, for those of you not from central Pennsylvania or areas where subcultures of people wear “plain clothes”: such a term can mean a lot of different things. Well, actually, it always means the same thing, I’d say, just to varying degrees. Even among the Amish, there are assorted levels of plain-ness, but the main thing I want to drive home here is that to use the term “plain” is not to be insulting. It’s a particular way of dressing that does, as my brother points out, identify a community as well as have cultural/ethical significance to the wearer. One of the things it is “about” is not drawing attention to the individual in the clothes. It’s the antithesis of fancy, but also the antithesis of individual. It makes it a lot harder to live in a world of “look at me and all the cool stuff I have,” a world of “look how different that other person over there is from me.” The other practical thing here is that plain clothes are rather interchangeable–so there’s no reason to have an excess of clothing… an excess of clothing. An excess.

I stumbled across the 100 Thing Challenge yesterday, and I’m still trying to figure out what it’s going to mean for me in rural America and for me here at Texas Schmexas. You should probably go over there and read about it for yourself before continuing.

It made me–me, the gal who swears she already lives pretty simply–open up my closet, take one look at the pile of shoes on the floor and count them. Twenty pairs. And some of my shoes haven’t been unpacked from the move in June. (In my defense, the reason I have so many is because I don’t throw things away–some of the flip-flops I have had for over ten years; my wool clogs are more than 13 years old; my Birks are 15 years old… but still, woman, you’ve got over two dozen pairs of shoes!) I have five belts hanging from my closet doorknob, one of which has never been worn. It still has the plastic hook from Marshall’s on it. I have at least a dozen pairs of jeans. Sure, some of them are from high school, just like a lot of my favorite T-shirts are second-hand scores from the 1990s. But I’ve got a lot of stuff, lots of baggage, even if it is old, loved, and falling apart.

I really like the connection my brother makes to being “plain”–that is, living simply–and being in community. Our stuff really gets in the way, in the way of community, in the way of emotional health, in the way of life. Not because it is stuff that we don’t need (though we certainly don’t need it all), but because it is OUR stuff, and we like to surround ourselves with us.

Like I said, I’m not sure where this is headed, but stay tuned. I’m headed somewhere.

My brother’s a pretty smart guy.

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