As a traveler, Tracy is a student of the world's many cultures. Amish heritage and way of life are among Tracy's specialties.
I have been fascinated with the Amish ever since my first childhood trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, location of the oldest Amish settlement in the U.S. It was during this trip that I first came in contact with Amish people at a farmers market. Shortly after entering the market, I spotted a few teenage Amish girls who were wearing white bonnets covering their pulled back hair and long dark colored dresses draped with white aprons. I was struck with curiosity, I wanted to talk to them, I wanted to understand them, but I didn’t know what to say. It didn’t matter though, they seemed preoccupied with selling their wares and didn’t seem to even notice me. I wondered what the world seemed like through their eyes. I yearned to be in their shoes, even if only for a moment. I never spoke to them. I don’t remember if I even bought anything at the market that day, but I did take home with me a burning curiosity about the Amish and what they are about.
I knew these girls were Amish because of the clothes they were wearing. One of the first things that outsiders will notice when seeing an Amish person is their uncommon clothing. Their old fashioned looking clothing stands out and it is meant to, the Amish want to remain separate from the modern world, and this is one way that they keep separate, there is an intended purpose to their choice of attire.
With the goals of looking plain and avoiding individual attention, the Amish as a group adhere to strict clothing rules with severe limitations.
For Amish women the clothing consists of:
Bonnets and Kopps:
Amish women wear 'kopps' (caps) or hair coverings indoors with bonnets over the kopp in cold weather. In some communities, Amish women will wear a white kopp during the week and a black kopp to church. After marrying, a woman will wear only the white kopp. In some communities girls don’t wear any hair coverings until they reach their teens. The Amish women in Nebraska do not wear bonnets.
Amish women wear plain calf length dresses, typically in a dark solid color.
Amish girls begin wearing capes for church and special occasions beginning at 8 years old. The cape is made using a triangular piece of cloth that is pinned to the apron to keep it in place. Unmarried women, up until the age of thirty, wear a white cape during church services while at other times the cape will match the color of the dress. When a woman turns forty she will begin wearing a black colored cape.
Aprons are most often used at home; younger girls will wear white aprons while married women will wear purple or black. Aprons are also worn when attending church.
Since the goal is to be plain and not bring attention to the individual, the Amish follow strict rules about which fasteners can be used and especially fasteners that can be seen. Snaps and plain buttons can be used on shirts and pants. The Amish will not use decorative buttons, zippers or Velcro and often use straight pins, hook and eye closures, and sometimes safety pins to fasten clothing.
See How an Amish Woman Gets Dressed
Amish men will wear:
Broad rimed black wool hats are worn on colder days and straw hats are worn on warmer days.
Those married or over 40 will grow a beard, the beard also serves as a symbol of marriage.
Men typically wear plain pants in a dark color. Some Amish groups allow dark blue denim material to be used. Some men wear vests, a coat or suspenders. These rules vary from one community to the next.
Amish Men's Clothing
Children also wear similar clothing to their adult counterparts, with little variation. Amish clothing covers most of the body and a bonnet or hat is usually covering the head.
Clothing is Handmade
Many Amish women buy fabric and sew the clothes for themselves and their family.
When it comes to clothing there is very little in the way of variation regarding what men, women and children can wear. There is a rhyme, reason and purpose for following these strict clothing rules. Each Amish community follows a set of rules decided on by their church elders, any change in these rules would have to be approved of and breaking the rules can easily lead to being removed from the church.
These rules are called the 'ordnung'. The ordnung applies not only to clothing but to all aspects of life, including the use of technology, home construction, dating and reading material. Basically, all aspects of life for the Amish are decided upon by the church ordnung. Because different communities have different ordnungs you will often find variations between different groups of Amish in what is permissible to wear
Community Goals through Clothing
The rules of the ordnung are meant to help the members of the community follow the laws of God as stated in the bible. The Amish put the greatest value in God, community and family and look down upon individualism and independence. This works wonderfully in terms of supporting each other throughout their lives, but is limiting and sometimes stifling in terms of self-expression or following aspirations that are not condoned by the church. It is also extremely limiting in terms of clothing and the possibility of choosing clothing colors or styles that don’t follow the ordnung.
Equality through Clothing
One purpose of the strict clothing rules is to encourage equality among members of the community. With everyone wearing pretty much the same thing there is less aesthetic difference between members, everyone can be seen as equal. This is a fundamental aspect of Amish life; the intention is that all members have a relative equality.
Unity through Clothing
Wearing the same clothing also offers a sense of belonging, a sense of unity towards all of the members of the group, this sense of unity helps to build a strong community.
Clothing and Jesus
With each person dressing more or less the same, the focus can lean towards living a life that focuses on biblical values rather than materialistic goals. This represents a huge departure from the biblical interpretation of many modern day Christians. The Amish seek to live the life that Jesus Christ would have lived, or at least as close to that life as is reasonably possible. The Amish choice of clothing represents one of the many ways in which they can seek to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Clothing and Vanity
Another major reason why there are so many rules regarding the clothing that the Amish wear has to do with vanity. The concern with vanity crosses over many aspects of Amish life such as the choice and style of your home, type of buggy, playing musical instruments and photographs.
This concern over vanity is emphasized in the bible. The bible talks about vanity in Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Vanity involves an unhealthy concern with the outward appearance; it involves the striving to bring attention to oneself and seeking to raise oneself above others in some way. This is inherently in opposition to the Amish goals of community and equality among members, and it is spelled out in the bible. This is why vanity is looked down upon and avoided by way of the rules of the ordnung and permeates so much of Amish life.
The Amish seek to look past the material world and onto something greater, more substantial, something that the material aspects of life could never attain.
Living by the grace of God is the underlying motivation for the Amish way of life. Taking a thoughtful look at the Amish choice of attire offers a window into their deeper beliefs, reminding outsiders that the Amish have chosen are committed to a different way of life, and we, as outsiders can take notice. We can look at the Amish clothing and choose to judge them and question them or instead, choose to look deeper and perhaps learn from their strength of unity, desire for equality, and avoidance of vanity; all of which are part of their effort to follow the bible in the best way they know how.
© 2014 Tracy Lynn Conway
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on May 07, 2014:
Visting Amish Country isn't only about experiencing another culture, it also in many ways about visiting our own history, that is simply fascinating! Thank you for sharing your impression from your visits. I would certainly miss the air conditioning on a hot sticky summer day.
Tracy Lynn Conway (author) from Virginia, USA on May 07, 2014:
The "why" of clothing can be fascinating. The original purpose can morph into something else. Jeans rose from the working classes and onto the runway. Funny that you should mention neck ties, just this morning, while folding my son's necktie; he wondered who invented the folding technique. I do know that neck ties were originally used to block the cold draft that would sneak between the buttons when heat was scarce, now they are "fashion only". Considering the Amish clothing rules leads you to begin thinking twice about why people wear what they wear.
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 27, 2014:
I have always found the Amish interesting, too. We used to live in Akron, Ohio, an hour or so from Amish country, and we just returned from visiting last week (although we've long since moved away). We used to frequently visit Amish country, especially during the Summer and Fall, as their homemade items (wood crafts and furniture, cheese, breads, syrup) were always enjoyable. You could overhear them speaking their German dialect. When purchasing items, it was interesting that the most devout vendors would not accept credit cards (electronic), did not have calculators or cash registers, and their shops did not have air conditioning. Some of the Amish furniture we have is the best made stuff. However, I would absolutely not want to be a girl in their society.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 23, 2014:
Interesting. Clothing is fascinating as to why ---- why the heck ties and high heels?