Ask The Editor: Clothing Colors?

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One of our website visitors, Ella, recently submitted the following question:

Wanted to ask a question about the dress code of the Amish communities. I know that some communities only allow black and dark navy for the clothing but there are some that will other colors such as blue and purple and green, etc.

Is this an individual choice that has been approved by a communities bishop? Or is there a reason why some where dark colors over the ones who wear the more bright colors?

This a good question and I’m going to give you the answer as I’ve experienced it and if someone wants to  add to this, feel free.

Day to day life in an Amish community is governed and codified in the ordnung.  Don’t go poking around, though, looking for a written copy of the ordnung.  It doesn’t exist.  The ordnung is a list of unwritten rules that church members follow to stay within the church’s good graces.  The rules are different from church to church.  Often these rules are governed just as much by tradition as they are by theology.  Clothing colors go into the category of tradition.  The Amish are a conformist culture, no one person wants to stand out from the crowd. This is why you generally don’t see Plain people on TV.  They don’t want to stand out. The taboo against photography has just as much to do with conformity compliance as it does with the “graven image.”    An Amish person will just know what colors are permissible in their church. They’ll grow up seeing the clothing worn by those around them and that’s that. Perhaps one could push the envelope around the edges a bit, but if an Amish woman showed up at a quilting bee in a leopard print dress would be formally censured by the church? I doubt it.  But the social ostracism would be so significant, one wouldn’t even try. It wouldn’t be worth it.  And more important, if you’re agreeing to be a part of the church you are entering into an implicit social contract that you follow the norms and traditions of your church in addition to the theological teachings.   Look at these pretty matching mint green clothes that Elizabeth Eicher and her friend Timothy wore to a wedding a couple of years ago.  For a wedding – just like in a non-Amish wedding – colors may actually be specified.  I think they were in this one. Below is a a photo of laundry on the line in the Amish settlement of Partridge, Kansas, a more progressive community.  Solid colors are the norm in any Amish settlement, even the more “liberal” ones.

This is clothing hanging on the front porch of an Amish home in St. Ignatius, Montana. Again, solids are king. The most conservative Amish settlements will dress in blacks, browns, and grays, the darker colors on the spectrum.  The more progressive communities will often mix in rusts, mustards, and violet colors in dresses and shirts.  I saw a young Amish man outside of Sugarcreek, Ohio wearing black pants and a crimson red button down shirt.  I had never seen that level of brightness before, but he obviously felt that he was within the “social contract” in his particular church or he was pushing the envelope. These are some Amish people touring outside of Pinecraft, Florida. There is a brighter “salmon” type dress in the group.  But, again, there colors are going to be within a certain spectrum and always solid.  Hope this answers your question, Ella!

 

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The Discussion


  1. Thank you Kevin. I enjoy reading about the plain people and thru you we can learn a little about their culture. Really enjoy Lovina’s column and the new one Plain Kansas. I had a recipe from the original column that Elizabeth wrote and I lost it. It was pop overs. Which was just flour and a couple simple ingredients. If Lovina has the recipe I would apreciate it if she would share it,they were tastey. Thanks a lot for all you do.

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  2. Interesting about the colors. I like wearing solid colors myself.

    I’ve often wondered how much of Amish clothing is homemade and what they will purchase in a store, or even from another member of the church.

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    • Wendy, most clothing is hand-made. Underwear, socks, and stockings are generally purchased in stores, the rest is made. Although you will find other church members giving “hand me” downs to younger families who may need them, Amish will buy some clothing from garage sales on occasion, usually from other Amish…but there are some solid-colored (I’m thinking blue is common) polo/golf type shirts that would be appropriate for boys that could be found at a non-Amish garage sale…but the vast majority of an Amish wardrobe is made not bought…
      Kevin recently posted..Ask The Editor: Clothing Colors?My Profile

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  3. In the Lancaster PA Amish communities I always notice lots of dark purple, deep blues and grays. The men wear straw hats in warm weather, and women wear white prayer caps and sometimes black bonnets. A small Amish owned dry goods store in that area sells the fabric by the yard and I have seen a limited selection of pre-made clothing that can be purchased. A small sign near the hangers gives the address of a local Amish woman who does make and sell clothing. Maybe its another way of them running a small home business while providing a service to other Amish who may need sewing done from time to time.

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  4. What I’d like to know, is where do the Amish buy the material? Do they go to Jo Ann fabric or some other fabric store?

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  5. As always Kevin, there are variations among the Amish. The Marion Michigan community has a written Ordnung which I was given a copy of. Frequently larger communities have someone who runs a fabric store. Also in some communites, such as Berne Indiana there is a used Amish clothing store. Berne used to have two the last time I was over there.

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  6. Thanks Keven.
    As usual you made my day. I so look foward to hearing from you. I really feel bad that I am not able to contribute at this time as I am on social security which does not go very far at all. Just as soon as I am able I will certainly send something. It wont be a lot , but hopefully it will help a little. God Bless you and Rachael. You are always in my prayers.

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  7. Kevin,

    Thank you for the great information! One of the things that I like about your site is that you really do educate on the Amish and their traditions.

    I am actually starting to plan a trip for my daughter and I to take to Amish country. Just have not figured out where to go yet. Am thinking maybe Ohio (I want to visit the Lehman’s store) or Pennsylvania as I could easily visit family in New York for that trip.

    Thank you again for all the information!

    To the person asking about where to buy some Amish clothing – I found a link on another website for Katie’s Mercantile. She is out of Mount Morris New York and she sells clothing to not just Amish but also to the general public. Her prices are extremely reasonable and all the clothing is handmade. I have not ordered from her yet but I am planning to with my next pay check at the end of the month. I am not sure if Kevin will let me post a link – Kevin if it is okay I can come back and post the link.

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