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Shaker Museum

Maroon wool dress inscribed “MB” and “1748”, Mount Lebanon, ca. 1800-1810. This is the earliest known extant Shaker dress.

A red dress on a mannequin.

Maroon wool dress, Mount Lebanon, ca. 1830-1850.

A brown dress on a mannequin.

Figured print fabric lining on the sleeve of maroon wool dress.

An image of a brown jacket with a pocket on it.

View of figured print fabric lining the bodice of maroon wool dress.

A red dress with a polka dot pattern.

Burgundy wool dress, Mount Lebanon, ca. 1875-1890.

A red dress with black trim on a mannequin.

Photograph of Sister Amelia J. Calver, Church Family, Mount Lebanon.

An old photo of a woman in a dress.

Silk neckerchief with initials, "CP" and "RE". Articles of clothing were passed down from sister to sister.

A brown leather cover with the letter g on it.

Carte-de-visite of Sister Eunice Cantrell, Jr., Church Family, Mount Lebanon.

An old photograph of a woman in a striped dress.

Wool and silk blend dress, Canterbury, NH, carefully constructed and neat inside and out.

A grey and brown dress with a pleated sleeve.

Detail of dress, Canterbury, cross-woven of rose and blue silk and wool.

A grey and orange skirt hanging on a wall.

Blue and burgundy quilted winter bonnet, Sabbathday Lake.

A blue and red hat on a stand.

Photograph of Sisters Emma Neale, Carrie Wade, and Sadie Neale.

Three nuns posing for an old photo.

Shaker dress: “Plain, comfortable, economical, and comely” (2018)

Online Exhibition


The Shakers at Mount Lebanon were first gathered into gospel order, worshiping in the meetinghouse and living and working communally, by the end of 1787. The communities at Watervliet, NY, and in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut followed soon after. These earliest Believers (the term used among Shakers) dressed no differently than their counterparts in the world.  

On July 2, 1817, Elder Rufus Bishop of the Mount Lebanon ministry wrote to Father David Darrow, lead of the Ohio ministry, “Mother [Lucy Wright] has felt a gift to have some improvements made in the wearing apparel of brethren and sisters (without following the fashions of the world) – it has been gained by a spontaneous union of the body, and has ever since given a more general satisfaction than any change of the kind since the first of our faith.” 

The code of dress adopted by the Shakers was meant to ensure that Believers were focused on matters of the spirit rather than the body and ego, but there were practical reasons as well. Uniformity of dress and appearance helped to keep everyone in union, feeling as an equal to one another. It also served the purpose of preventing expenditures that the Shakers could ill afford in the earliest years.  

The clothing and appearance of the Shakers, particularly the sisters, was also a way to set them apart from the people of the world. The style of sisters’ dresses, adapted around 1800-1810, did not alter significantly until the middle of the 19th century, though materials, colors, and patterns varied. By continuing to wear caps, neckerchiefs, and dresses while worldly taste grew more elaborate, the Shakers demonstrated through their appearance that they had a higher calling. As an 1879 essay in The Shaker Manifesto put it, “We honor our forefathers and foremothers, not for any especially grotesque eccentricity nor purposed oddity of dress, but for their inclination and persistence, even to pertinacity to wear a plain, comfortable, economical and comely dress.”   

A black and white photo of a person smiling.

Shane Rothe

Curatorial Associate

Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.