Negotiating Simplicity and Extravagance in Nineteenth Century Quaker Dress: Restraint and Excess in the Clothing Worn by Eleanor Stephens Clark and Helen Bright Clark of Street

Hannah Rumball, Anna Vaughan Kett

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    This paper will examine the sartorial negotiations made by two female members of the British Quaker shoe manufacturing family, the Clarks, during the nineteenth century. Both Eleanor Clark and Helen Bright Clark, mediated their self presentation by choosing clothing which displays evidence of both excess, through their choice of fashionable garments and restraint, prescribed to them as followers of the non-conformist Quaker religion which encouraged simplicity and moderation.
    The family memory archive of the Alfred Gillett Trust located at the Clarks shoemaking company, in Street in Somerset, was collected by the Quaker Clarks family under discussion, alongside the Quaker Priestman family, over several generations and includes garments, photographs, letters and household accounts. Whilst the archive has previously been employed by other Quaker historians, such as Sandra Stanley Holton, as evidence of Quaker women's involvement in radical political movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this paper will focus specifically on the archive's garment collection which provides the source material for this study. As such, this paper is a new and unique contribution to the examination of Quaker women's sartorial attitudes during the nineteenth century using the disciplines of material cultural and dress history.

    Anna Vaughan Kett will discuss the clothing chosen by Eleanor Stephens Clark (1812-1879), specifically a modish, Quaker bonnet, a favourite of Eleanor in the mid-1850s. Hannah Rumball will talk about the two silk dresses worn by Helen Priestman Bright (1840 - 1927) during her engagement party and wedding, to William Stephens Clark, Eleanor's son, in July 1866. These dresses reveal the fashionable sartorial influences she aspired to which were clearly restrained by her own spiritual conscientiousness and religious obedience.
    During the 19th century the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, known as the Quakers, underwent extensive doctrinal upheaval which resulted in the relaxation of its Advices concerning Plainness, or the appearance of the religion's followers. Prior to 1860, the wearing of fashionable ensembles could be disciplined by disownment, however the dwindling membership numbers caused serious contemplation and the Advices were relaxed. After 1860, Quaker men and women were granted individual freedom of choice in the style of their attire.
    Thus not only do the surviving garments worn by Eleanor Clark and Helen Bright Clark span the mid-nineteenth century period which saw the Quaker liberalisation of their traditionally restrained and ascetic attitudes to material culture, they also show the women’s individual tastes and communicate, to varying degrees, the wearer’s unease with fashion, wealth and excess.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Oct 2015
    EventCostume Colloquium V: Restraint and Excess in Fashion and Dress - Auditorium al Duomo, Florence, Italy
    Duration: 17 Nov 201620 Nov 2016


    ConferenceCostume Colloquium V
    Internet address


    • Restraint
    • Excess
    • Dress
    • Textiles
    • Quaker
    • Bright-Clark


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