Plain Dressing

The following is an article from Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader.

(Image credit: Flickr user Ted Eytan)

The Amish and similar groups call themselves "plain people." Here's the plain truth about the plain way they dress.


In the 16th century, a radical group of Protestant Christians from Switzerland and Germany formed their sect based on the belief that only adults could make the conscious choice to accept God. So even though they had been baptized as infants, this new group had themselves re-baptized, earning them the name Anabaptists (ana is Greek for "repeat" or "again"). Humility was the cornerstone of Anabaptist belief. They rejected pride, shunned non-believers, and refused to take part in any military action. They took no oaths, not even wedding vows, and firmly believed in the separation of church and state.

The Anabaptists were fiercely persecuted in Europe, which led to mass migrations early in the 19th century to the more tolerant United States. By this time the Anabaptists had split into a number of separate sects, most of them named after their spiritual leaders: the Amish, led by Jakob Amman; Mennonites, founded by Menno Simon; the Hutterites by Jacob Hutter; and the Brethren in Christ. Each branch established its own rules for living and for what devotees could and could not wear. They lived simply and dressed simply, which earned them the nickname "plain people." Their style of dress became known as "plain dress."


(Image credit: Flickr user Jim Mullhaupt)

Plain people believe that beauty comes from within. Any sort of fancy dress or ornamentation that calls attention to the physical body is against their ordnung, or church rules. Their dress is an expression of humility and non-conformity with the outside world. Many people assume that plain dress is a 16th-century style, but it's really a mishmash of styles from different time periods. Today plain women wear 17th-century long-sleeved dresses with 18th-century bonnets and 19th-century shawls.

(Image credit: Ivan McClellan)

Many plain men wear a style of frock coat that Benjamin Franklin might have worn in the 1700s, but instead of Ben's knee breeches, they wear long broadfall pants held up with suspenders, both of which date from the 1800s. Instead of a button fly, broadfall pants are faced with a wide swatch of material that buttons at each hip, similar to sailor pants. Their black felt, broad-brimmed hats date from the 16th century and are similar to those worn by Hasidic Jews. No two communities are exactly alike in their fashion choices and plain dress can vary by the width of a hat brim or the choice of a button over a hook and eye on a coat. Having hooks and eyes on men's black coats and vests is important to the Amish but not necessarily for Mennonites.


Even color can make a statement. When black became fashionable in the 19th century, plain men changed to grays, browns, and navy blues. Many have since returned to basic black.

(Image credit: Flickt user Jill/Blue Moonbeam Studio)

The Amish wear solid, bright colors like blue, burgundy, and the recognizable purple of the oldest-existing settlement in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Mennonites, Hutterites, and Brethren tend to mix it up with patterned fabrics because those don't show dirt as easily. The patterns are, of course, small and unobtrusive. Hutterite women are especially fond of polka dot headscarves. Black stockings of various thicknesses are worn by women in most sects, as are linen caps, which come with or without ties and pleats. In some sects, unmarried women wear black linen caps to church. Women's hemlines vary but always hover somewhere between way below the knee and just above the ankle.

No jewelry is allowed, not even wedding rings. Watches can be worn, but only if the wristband looks like a band, not like a piece of jewelry. Eyeglasses must be non-decorative, which is why one Mennonite sect requires eyeglass makers to remove any gold that glimmers on any part of the frame. Women never cut their hair and wear it parted and pulled into a bun. Men cut their hair, but avoid anything that looks like a hairstyle with blunt bangs and a chopped look for the rest. In some sects, the men wear chinstrap beards; in others they are clean-shaven.


(Image credit: it:Utente:TheCadExpert)

Men's clothing isn't designed to hide anything, but concealment is a large part of the women's design. In nearly every sect, women wear a "cape" called a hals duch (neck cloth). It's really just a folded triangle of cloth that drapes across her shoulders. The center point, which can be a matching or contrasting color, drapes down her back. The other points cross in the front and are pinned at the waist. If they don't cross, they are pinned straight down in front to the waistband. Designed for modesty, a hals duch conceals a woman's neckline and bust. Add an apron to cover the stomach, and it's difficult to determine any real shape under all the fabric. The idea of maternity clothes has been a subject of debate in many sects and rejected. Why? Because it announces the wearer's condition, which is just another way of saying, "Look at me!" and vanity of any kind is frowned upon.


(Image credit: Flickr user Roger Wollstadt)

Children have a little more fashion freedom than adults, only because they don't become members of the church until they are baptized -generally between age 16 and 25. During the rite of passage known as rumspringa (German for "running around"), Amish teens get the opportunity to wear what other teens are wearing: short skirts, sport shorts, tank tops, high heels, and sneakers. Rumspringa is the plain people's way of allowing kids to experience the outside world before making a fully-informed commitment to the Amish way of life. Once they make that commitment and are baptized, they go "full plain."


* The largest population of plain people are in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio.

* There are more than 250,000 Amish in the United States. Of these, 150,000 can trace their roots to 200 Swiss-German founding members. The number of Amish in the U.S. continues to grow because the average number of kids in a family is seven.

* Old Order Amish will not use technology that is connected to electrical or telephone lines because those lines connect the community to the outside world. (Some wireless technology is okay.)

* Automobiles may not be owned because of the prideful "Look at me, I own a car" factor. However, Amish may ride in cars -they simply hire drivers.


This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fully Loaded Bathroom Reader.

Get ready to be thoroughly entertained while occupied on the throne. Uncle John has ruled the world of information and humor for 25 years, and the anniversary edition is the Fully Loaded Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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