Simplicity of dress was important to Quakers. In 1693 William Penn advised his fellow Quakers "Chuse thy Cloaths by thine own eye, not anothers. The more simple and plain they are, the better. Neither unshapely, nor fantastical; and for Use and Decency and not for Pride".
The first Quaker women were often poor and would wear homespun of any colour, red being very popular. Dress was never a uniform. Those who were stricter about simplicity of dress were called "Plain Friends" and those who never adopted the plainest form of dress were known as "gay Friends".
Friends did not like wearing black because of its association with mourning. On the whole all Quakers would dress in a simple way, the trimmings and lace not used so the basic garment was plain. Quakers rejected the fads of fashion and frequently wore designs which had been in vogue fifty years before. Colours were usually muted, but by no means always grey. Soft brown, chocolate, sage green and cream were common.
Cloaks and shawls
Cloaks were worn before the shawl became fashionable in 1800, the shawl being one of the fashions which Quaker women soon adopted for its simplicity. The plain shawl would have three folds at the back of the neck, be pinned at the shoulder and the points would hang down at the centre front.
In the 17th century, the usual headgear for female Friends was a black hood over a white linen cap. In time the hood was replaced with the bonnet, the headgear most associated with early Quakers. The best known of the bonnet styles is a "tunnel" bonnet. Coloured black it was worn straight on the head with the lengthened brim framing the face and irreverently known as the "coal scuttle bonnet". Later bonnets had a narrower brim meeting under the chin and with a soft crown, a Quaker version of the fashionable bonnet of the time. Caps were always worn under bonnets.
Changing patterns of dress
By the 1850s many serious and devout Friends felt that too much attention was being paid to the details of dress rather than the deeper meaning of simplicity. In 1860 the testimony on plainness was replaced by advice to "be careful in deportment and attire". Quakers now have no dress code. Simplicity in the 20th century is still expressed in buildings, dress and lifestyle without ostentation. The advice is to "try to live simply".
Simple dress for men
Clothes for men were similarly simple. In the 17th century men would have had breeches and plain buckled shoes, a knee length coat (but only buttoned from neck to waist) and or a cloak and a fairly low crowned hat without a ribbon.
Wigs were popular at the time. Plain Friends would have kept their own hair cut to shoulder length, but some Friends adopted the simpler style of wig.
By the 18th century hats became three cornered. Colours were muted, but not necessarily dark.
The Griselda Aggs Fox Collection
These are authentic Quaker outfits worn by the Hanbury and Aggs families, and gathered together by Griselda Fox. Her husband was a Lloyd Fox, from Tottenham. The family line still continues in Tottenham. Griselda's grandson, Nick Putz is a member of Tottenham Meeting. His sister, Cathy cares for these outfits. As children, they dressed up in them for special Quaker gatherings. Now the outfits are becoming very fragile and even just showing them can create much wear and tear.
The exact dates of origin are not known as the outfits were handed down from child to child. Most of the clothes are considered to be from about 1830-1870, but some are much older. As Friends were concerned with living simply clothes were made well and often worn decades past their fashion.