Last week, I held a contest for an Amish-made cloth doll and an autographed book of the winner’s choice. That winner, chosen using Random.org, is Barva H. Congratulations, Barva! Thank you to everyone who participated, especially those of you who shared recipes. I enjoyed reading the wonderful comments all of you left on my post.
On the second Monday of each month, I’m going to aim to address readers’ questions about the Amish.
Today I’m going to talk a bit about what the Amish wear and why they choose to dress the way they do.
The topic of Amish clothing can be a complicated one. As we’ve discussed before, Plain Amish and Mennonites come from many different sects. Each group has its own patterns and however slight those differences may appear to us, I’ve witnessed time and again how those slight changes in style or fabric are very distinguishing to them. But the similarities can make it difficult to generalize on this topic, so bear in mind that what’s true of the clothing for one group may not be true of another.
Common Items of Dress
Amish men dress for practicality and that primarily includes a button-down, collared shirt of a solid color and a pair of rough (or broadcloth) trousers that are often made from wool, cotton, and in more recent times, polyester. Their pants are held up by suspenders. It wasn’t that many years ago when an Amish man wore a simple black coat unless working. That is not always the case anymore. They almost always wear a hat, and the exact look of the hat is one of the distinguishing features among the various sects of Amish. They do not use buckles on their clothing, but the men have buttons on their shirts and for the men in a more conservative Plain community, they use buttons on their pants instead of zippers. In most Amish sects the men who are married keep a beard, but they do not have a mustache. Single Amish men keep their face shaven until their wedding day.
Amish women dress for modesty above all else, but their clothing is also practical. Their garments cover their bodies without becoming so much of an ornament that they could be deemed non-functional. Typically the females bind their hair in some form of braid or bun and cover it with a black or white cap (prayer Kapp). Their main form of clothing is a cape dress with an apron to cover it. Apron and cap styles vary according to the different Amish groups. Black stockings are usually worn underneath the dress. If cold, women may use a simple black sweater or jacket. If you see an Amish woman in a black cape, she should also have on a black bonnet, but she can wear the black bonnet without the cape. Like the men, women do not use buckles or any other type of ornament on their clothing. Unlike men, women’s dresses and aprons avoid buttons. Their sweaters or overcoats have buttons now, but that was not always the case. They may use one or two very small buttons on their dresses, mostly they use a lot of straight pins in lieu of buttons.
This style of clothing is considered outdated by society, but the Amish have held on to this same basic style for a number of reasons. Our clothing, as English, often reflects who we are. We can identify the age, interests, economic status, and/or cultural background of a person just by glancing at his or her clothing. Even more commonly, we use uniforms to identify some professions. Oftentimes an individual’s identity is tied to the way he or she chooses to dress. The Amish use this principle as a way to visually show others their beliefs.
The Amish believe that God has called them to be completely separate from the world and its negative influences. Choosing to wear clothing that sets them apart as different immediately divides them from the English. The choice to dress a certain way strengthens the community’s bonds and declares their commitment to the principles of the Amish church.
In addition, humility is an important and central part of the Amish beliefs. They maintain that dressing as you please creates pride in your appearance or choices. According to the Old Ways, if one individual stands out within a group, that person tends to develop boastful ideas about his or her success or individuality. Instituting a dress code, then, is meant to keep the Amish away from pride so that they can spend their time focusing on the state of their heart and soul, not the outward appearance.
The Amish style of dress also highly stresses modesty. The women must cover themselves almost completely, down to keeping their hair hidden under a cap. They believe that this type of modesty in dress is necessary to keeping their hearts and bodies pure.
There are numerous things I appreciate about the way Amish women dress:
There is no need to call a friend to find out what is the appropriate attire for an event. (Pants, jeans, business dressy or business casual, formal, heels, flats, tennis shoes) At a fully Amish function, such as a wedding, picnic, or church event, no one has yet had to cringe at how inappropriately dressed someone was. There is no time wasted trying to decide what to wear or if you wore the same thing the last time you went to the same event.
So, what do you think? Would we discover we had more freedom if everyone dressed the same? Could you follow the Amish dress code? Would you want to?