FAQ of cape dresses

Three years ago, I wrote a post about cape dresses being comfortable. I had spent about 2 weeks amount conservative Mennonites that summer. It was my first experience with a group of other women who wore cape dresses. This weekend, I made my own cape dress for the first time. Now, I’d like to talk a bit about why this style of modest dress is important to me and dispel some myths about modern women who chose to dress this way.

As America’s popular society has lost respect for God in the last 50 years or so, it’s way of dressing has become less modest to the point today that a woman can wear a bikini off the beach without stares. This is why modest dress was more common in the past than it is now.

Being a woman who wears modest dresses and headcovering, I can say it isn’t always easy, nor is everyone as respectful of my decision. However, in general people are more polite toward me and my family since I started dressing this way.

What is a cape dress? A cape dress is a traditional dress worn by women in conservative Anabaptist Christian denominations including Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, German Baptist, and other non-affiliated churches. It is a long dress, typically falling at least mid-calf. The dress gets it’s name from the extra piece of fabric over the bodice (upper body), called a cape. This is to provide extra modesty. However, there is no one single cape dress pattern. In fact, there is a lot of variations within the general cape dress style.

Sleeves come at least to the elbow but are often 3/4 length or full long sleeve. The sleeves are usually gently gathered at the top, allowing more freedom of movement. They can have plain hems, cuffs, or elastic gathers.

The waist can be gathered with or without elastic, pleated, fitted, or belted. The cape can be in both the front and back or just the front. It is usually tapered to the waist. German Baptist capes are more like a wrap and come to a point in the front and back and partially cover the arms. Most capes are sewn to the dress. However, in some Old Order groups as well as Amish, the cape is actually a separate piece along with an apron so their dresses are in 3 pieces.

Most cape dresses have a hidden zipper in back to hold them shut. However, they can also have buttons in either the front or back. I recently read about a woman who uses a short zipper on one shoulder for her dresses.

Are you stuck in the past? No. Dressing modestly and wearing a headcover isn’t to preserve the past, but to respect God. There are many ways women dress to adhere to modesty. Some simply dress normally but with higher necklines and looser clothes. Others wear jumpers. Others like me wear long dresses including cape dresses.

Is it just for Amish or Mennonites? No. God calls all women to be dress modestly. 1 Timothy 2:9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

But why a cape dress instead of a regular, modest dress? I am a conservative Christian, but not Amish or Mennonite. However, I like to wear the cape dress because it is not only modest but very comfortable. I had a hard time finding modest comfortable dresses (especially at a decent price) before I bought my first cape dress. Now I have several and they are among my favorites. Believe it or not, I get many compliments on them too. It’s also a lot cheaper because I’m aren’t always having to keep up with the latest fashions.

Way back in high school, I was caught up in fashion. Every season I had to get a new wardrobe. That spent most of the money I earned doing 4H. It was never ending. I wasn’t outgrowing the clothes like young children do. I just didn’t want them longer than a few months before something new and better came along. I was like most young women. I hung out at the mall. I was vain.

Now I realize vanity is a sin. The Bible says in Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.” Wearing a cape dress keeps me from being vain following fashion. Some people may claim that wearing a cape dress is vain because it is different from society. Some even go so far as to think it is a prideful, holier-than-thou type “fashion”. I think just the opposite. I see those claims as excuses to still be vain. As Christians, we are called to be separate from the world around us. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 commands, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you”.

Being separate should apply to all parts of our life as Christians, not just when convenient or only on Sundays. Fashion, entertainment, and other lifestyle choices are especially important because it is through these choices the world will judge us. It is through these choices that others may be won to Christ. Sadly, it is also through these choices that many see modern Western Christians as hypocrites. I don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite. Wearing a cape dress not only tells the world I am a conservative Christian, it is also a reminder to me to be careful in my choices.

Women wearing cape dresses

What about variety? Another objection people have to cape dresses is that they are a uniform and do not allow individuality. Yes, they are a uniform, but so is fashion. Most people today would not think of putting on jeans and a t-shirt. Yet, that can be seen as a uniform of Western culture. The main difference is who sets the standard: the church or society.

As you can see if you look carefully in the above photo, there are several differences in sleeves, collars, fabric, and waist even though they are all wearing cape dresses. I’ve already described many these differences above. It’s just that modern society is not used to seeing this type of dress so doesn’t notice the differences.

Isn’t it legalism? No. While cape dresses are similar, very few churches insist on exactly the same dress pattern among the women. In fact, most female military uniforms have fewer variations compared to cape dresses. However, few would criticize the military as being too strict or legalistic. They understand that a uniform gives group identity. So do cape dresses. They identify the wearer as a conservative Christian, usually from an Anabaptist group.

Dress making

Since I’m doing a lot of just sitting around while my knee is healing, I decided this would be a good time to make a few dresses for me and my daughter. I had been buying them from E-bay. However, I’ve been having trouble finding them in my size lately. Last spring I ordered a cape dress pattern from Candle on the Hill, but hadn’t made one yet.

This weekend I went to visit friends. They are conservative Mennonites with 4 daughters, so she is used to making dresses. She had lots of good tips and advice. Since she has a daughter the same age as mine, it was easy to get a pattern. She also helped me to sew my first cape dress for myself.

Friday we went to JoAnn’s Fabrics to pick out the fabric and other things needed for the dresses. We got enough material to make 2 dresses for my daughter and 1 for me. We made a dress for my daughter first. It was finished Saturday, so she was able to wear it to church Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get finished with my dress. It still needs sewn shut below the zipper, and the skirt and sleeves hemmed. That should be fairly easy since the process is still fresh in my mind from making my daughter’s dress. Then I’m going to make the other one for my daughter. I’d like to make at least 2 or 3 dresses for each of us before we leave on our vacation in 2 weeks.

I brought along a few of my favorite cape dresses so we could compare them to the pattern. After much measuring and planning, we decided just to make my dress using the size large of the pattern. The only changes were to the sleeves, which we made shorter and less full. We were able to finish it enough so I could try it on, and it fit great! That will make it easier to sew more dresses instead of worrying about pattern alterations.

1. cut fabric

2. attach bodice front/back at top (attach collar if desired)

3. attach cape front/back at top

4. attach cape to dress

5. gather sleeves

6. attach sleeves

7. close bodice & sleeve sides

8. attach pocket

9. gather skirt

10. attach skirt (add optional elastic or ties to waist)

11. attach zipper

12. sew back closed

13. hem length

14. hem sleeves (add optional elastic at cuffs)

Modest gym clothes

Just about all my life I’ve been embarrassed by gym clothes, both wearing them and seeing others wear them. When I was young, I was embarrassed because I was so small for my age. They had to special order smaller uniforms for me. Now, I’m overweight. Nothing seems to fit quite right. Either it’s tight in all the wrong places or way too loose.

There seems to be primarily two types of gym clothes: those to hide and those to show off your body. It’s hard to find something in between. I want something modestly covering but not in the way of exercising by being too tight or loose. And believe it or not, it is possible to be completely covered yet totally immodest if you look melted and poured into your clothes. Comfort is also a must. So what’s a body to do?

Don’t try serious exercising in sweats, especially cardio, unless you need the added warmth. They are called sweats for a reason! It only took one workout for me to figure that out.

I first started exercising wearing my old stand by of loose cotton shorts and t-shirts. Comfort all the way, but not as practical as some of the new workout clothes. After arguing with myself over the need to spend money on exercise clothes, I decided to start small with bra and shorts or pants since mine were old and no longer fit properly anyway.

This fall I went shopping for new gym pants or shorts. After trying on many pair, I found ones that are perfect. They are made by Danceskin and come just below the knee. There is a small slit to allow better knee movement. They are form fitting but not overly tight. The waist is also up at my waist, which was hard to find since most only came up to the hip, to better show your belly. I can move comfortably in them. They are ultra soft and wick the sweat. They sell them at my gym for twice what I paid at WalMart for the exact same thing so be sure to shop around.

Sport bras have changed a lot from the old tank top style I had in high school. Now you can get different support levels depending on how much impact you will be doing. There’s also many different strap and cup styles for comfort. Wiggle around a bit when trying them on to see if you will get the support you need and still be comfortable. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to exercise in a poorly fit bra.

Your exercise bra shouldn’t be your shirt, no matter how cute it is. Nor should your shirt be another bra over the top. That seems popular in my gym recently. There’s lots of exercise shirt designs that are modest yet won’t cause you to overheat or restrict motion. And by all means, wear an exercise bra! Floppy top is sooo gross.

I guess what I’m trying to say is when it comes to gym wear, be comfortable, but cover up! You probably aren’t as good looking as you think. That may be rude, but true in most instances. And if you are good enough to flaunt it, I still don’t want to see. Leave something to the imagination. With the new styles and fabrics, you don’t have to compromise comfort or modesty when exercising. Properly fitting, modest gym wear on a fit body is more inspirational than a lot of skin.

Oh, and proper shoes are important. However, there is no need to go overboard. Since everyone’s feet and needs are different, I’m not going to say much more about them. In fact, at home doing my exercise videos (Turbo Jam right now) I usually wear just socks on the carpet or even barefoot.

What about boys’ clothes?

My son is growing fast. He’s outgrown just about all his clothes this fall. Last month, we went to WalMart to buy him some new clothes. I don’t like buying boy’s everyday clothes (especially pants) at thrift stores because they wear out so fast that by the second time around, they are almost threadbare already. One advantage of dressing plain, is that button up shirts are often in better condition than printed t-shirts at the thrift store, but the selection for boys is very limited. If I have to buy used clothes twice as often, it’s usually worth buying new instead so long as it isn’t too expensive.

Modesty is frequently associated with girls’ clothes. Making sure hems are long enough, shirts loose, and necklines high. Yet, modesty isn’t limited to them. Boys need to be modest too. I’m not just talking about avoiding running around without a shirt and skimpy shorts in the summer. I mean the clothes should be simple in design and not flashy with the latest logo emboldened across the front or back. (See my post from last fall about clothing or advertising.) They should be free from tears (within reason for play clothes). They shouldn’t draw unnecessary attention. Yet at the same time, as Christians, I want my family to avoid the trappings of fashion and appreciate a basic garment.

My son has surprisingly never liked jeans. He prefers slacks or sweat pants. However, slacks are hard to find without spending a lot more compared to jeans. I guess they are considered dress up clothes and charged accordingly. We lucked out and found some cargo pants at a good price and a pair of elastic waist slacks.

With winter coming on, he needed long sleeve shirts. However, most of them had writing on them to resemble sports shirts. I understand wanting to show team spirit for your favorite team, but these weren’t even for a real team. Just something the designer made up. Even the plaid and flannel shirts had these “team” designs. Ugh. We did finally find a few plain striped shirts on the clearance rack.

It was frustrating for us. He didn’t understand why he found plain shirts the last few years but had such a hard time this year. They had plain flannel shirts for men but not boys. He really wanted some flannel shirts. Even the sweat shirts all had designs on them this year. I can’t even say this is just a WalMart trend. Other stores also had a lack of basic, unadorned long sleeve shirts. I could have gotten dress shirts, but that’s not what we needed.

Many viewing modestly dressed families, mostly see it is for the women and girls. The men are assumed to wear clothes off the rack. Yes, the do. However, they are getting harder and harder to find at reasonable prices. Whereas, you can buy modest dresses at several places online for reasonable prices.

So I ask, where are the modest, boys’ clothes? Why does dressing neat and plain cost so much more than the latest printed junk? Is it just me? Am I the only one who see this as a problem?

OT headcovering

I’ve been sick this weekend. Blah. That gave me time to read and ponder. Among other things, when reading Isaiah, I came to a passage that struck me as a condemnation of a woman’s uncovered head and nudity.

Isaiah 47:2-3

Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks [hair], make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers.

Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.

So the argument some make that headcovering and modest dress were just something cultural in the New Testament simply isn’t true. There are other places in the Old Testament that headcovering is mentioned. Even back in Genesis 24:65, Rebekka covered her head when she saw Issac. Song of Solomon 5:7 mentions watchmen beating a woman and taking away her veil. No, it started before Corinth and still holds true.

New patterns

Tonight I decided to buy a cape dress pattern. I need winter dresses but all that seem to be on E-bay are cotton. However, I’ll need more than a cotton dress for Alaskan winters at -40F. So, I’ll make my own from wool, flannel or knit. They’re pretty similar to the dress I just made for my daughter only larger and with the cape. The ladies at church have been encouraging me to sew for myself and complimented some of the cape dresses I’ve worn, which gives me an idea of what colors would look nice. Sewing is something my husband doesn’t mind me doing in my spare time either.

I looked at several different sites before narrowing down to 2 choices: Friend’s Patterns (#205 Contemporary Plain Dress) or Candle on the Hill (Ladies Simply Modest Dress). They both sound similar in included directions and options like elastic, sleeves, collars, etc. The Friend’s Patterns says their cape dress pattern has been used with CLE dressmaking lightunit. I have those and used them to help make my daughter’s dress. It was $15 with each size sold separately. However, Candle on the Hill included all sizes for only $4 more so I went with them since I’m supposedly loosing weight. It even has pockets. I also bought their girl’s nightgown pattern set and leggings which has patterns for every size from girls to women.

I cut out the pieces for another dress for my daughter tonight. She decided she wanted a pink zipper but the one I bought was too short. I’ll have to exchange it. I did use it to play with my new zipper foot (without the thread of course since I’ll be taking it back). That should help with the pucker and uneven stitches on the last dress. It’s kind of hard to put it on, but it sure will be nice if I’m going to be making more dresses.

Dresses on E-Bay

The past few days I have been browsing the selection of cape dresses on E-bay. You just type “Mennonite Dress” in the search box. This is where I get all of mine. The selection varies so I don’t always find something in my size or price range. However, this time I found 2.

E-bay gives recommendations based upon what you’ve recently bought to tempt you to buy more when logging in again. I had to laugh tonight at their choices. Keep in mind I bought cape dresses which are extremely modest, long, plain, handmade dresses. Anyway, they chose to offer me some of the most immodest, tight, short dresses available. I think a dish rag would cover better than these “dresses”. Yet they thought I would be interested in them after buying cape dresses. I guess they figure a dress is a dress. đŸ˜†