[quote]The best things in life are not things.[/quote]
Until recently, the main glimpse we had into the Amish way of life came via a suspender-clad Harrison Ford in the 1985 movie Witness, which resulted in two Oscar awards and over 11 million tourists a year to Amish farms ever since. Now fans of this pious people group can also tune into the controversial vigilantes show, Amish Mafia, returning this month after a record-breaking first season for the Discovery Channel, or the Los Angeles version of Breaking Amish, which premiered a couple of weeks ago to 2 million viewers.
In 2008 Steven Meisel captured the modest dress code for Vogue Italia’s cover story. Then in 2011, a series of minimalist runway shows became known as Amish Fashion Week, and this month Elle Ukraine debuts a fashion story inspired by Amish culture.
The Amish are a distinctive Christian subculture with over 200,000 members, many of whom have settled in the Lancaster region of Pennsylvania, after having first arrived there in the 1730’s to escape persecution in Europe. With a strong value for community, the Amish strive to live simply and humbly together, set apart from the world. One of the main indicators of being part of this community is through their simple, uniform clothing, which has garnered them the nickname, The Plain People. Although both the Amish and Mennonites are descendents of European Anabaptists, they form a variety of sub-groups, only distinguished by small sartorial details. In general, however, Amish women are identifiable by long, solid-colored dresses and bonnets, and Amish men by suspenders, dark pants, and beards.
Although the Plain clothing does promote unity and identification within the group, it’s also conducive to the Amish values of modesty, simplicity, and practicality. By reducing the choices that need to be made, and wearing quality clothing that’s easy to make and maintain, the Amish are not so different from others who find freedom in wearing a uniform. In fact, the benefits of simplicity seem to outweigh the restrictions for most Amish young adults, 90% of whom choose to become full members of their faith after they are given the opportunity to experience life outside the community for a few years at the age of 16 through a practice known as rumspringa, meaning “running around.”
Below is a description of the fashion you might witness if you ever visit the lush farms of Lancaster County, or happen to be in the outskirts of Sarasota, Florida during Amish snowbird season.
Amish women dress mainly for modesty, do not wear makeup, and wear their hair in a braid or bun, covered by a Kapp (“head cap”), which may be their most symbolic garment. Sometimes even worn by infants, the head covering becomes an everyday marker for young teens -- black on Sundays and white otherwise -- until marriage, when a white organza cap is always worn.
Most Amish women make their own solid-colored cape dresses, usually in blue, green, purple, black or brown, and this distinguishes them from the patterned garments worn by other plain dressing Mennonites. If cold, Amish women wear black stockings underneath the dress and a simple black sweater on top, and to minimize adornment, most dresses avoid using buckles or buttons of any type.
The Amish uniform for men consists of a white or blue button-down shirt and wool or cotton trousers upheld by suspenders. Although many Amish men are more relaxed about wearing a black overcoat on a daily basis, they still almost always wear a hat in black felt or natural straw. Unlike their female counterparts, Amish men do have buttons on their shirts, although they stay away from buckles and zippers. They also avoid belts and neckties. In terms of facial hair, single Amish men remain clean shaven, while married Amish men almost always sport beards that are biblical in nature and demonstrate the passage from boy to manhood. However, they are never seen with mustaches: the Amish are pacifists and this tradition stems back to a time when they wanted to distinguish themselves from the military personnel who wore moustaches.
Want to learn more and possibly experience Amish culture first hand? Here are some tips:
Watch: Devil’s Playground explores the Amish tradition of Rumspringa, that time when Amish youth are allowed to engage in hedonism and debauchery and must ultimately decide which way of life is best for them (spoiler alert: almost all of them return to their Amish traditions).
Experience: Amish communities are scattered across the country. Take a day trip or weekend excursion to the New York Amish Trail, the Pennsylvania Dutch in Lancaster, or find an Amish community near you.
Do: Not ready to give up your modern luxuries, but still want to espouse some of the Amish principles? Follow these guidelines.