Amish Church Clothing (8 Photos)

What do Amish wear to church? In addition to their many women’s head coverings, the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center also has several items of church clothing on display.

The Woman’s Cape & Apron

First of all, a woman’s cape and apron:

The cape and apron are commonly worn on Sunday across communities (we had a look recently at Amish wedding clothing, showing another example of this). Styles and colors can vary by community however.

You will see capes and aprons in other colors besides the white above typical to Holmes County – including black and blue. White however tends to be common for church in many communities (Stephen Scott’s book on Plain clothing, Why Do They Dress That Way? gives a chart comparing styles across settlements).

Unmarried girls may also wear different colors in some communities, such as in Lancaster County where they wear a white cape and apron, while married women wear a black cape and apron.

In Why Do They Dress That Way? we read this about the cape:

The kerchief or cape is worn by nearly all plain women from all the various groups. It is also found in many surviving folk costumes of western Europe. Its wide appeal to pious country women is no doubt based on the modesty it provides. The extra covering is seen to conceal the neckline and the form of the bosom and provides privacy when nursing a baby.

As for the apron:

The apron, like the cape, has been regarded as an extra covering for the sake of modesty. Jacob Brubacher, a prominent Mennonite bishop of the 19th century is said to have made the statement, “The cape to cover the bosom, the apron to cover the abdomen. (Der Cape fer die Bruscht zudecke und der Shatz fer der Bauch zedecke.)” While many of the more moderate plain women have dropped the apron but retained the cape, the Old Order woman very rarely appears in public without an apron.

Styles vary as well here. Steve gives the example of the Amish in Adams County, Indiana, who tie their aprons in the front. Outside of church, you might not immediately notice that an Amish woman is wearing a cape and apron because they may be the same color as the dress.

Here you can see the straight pins holding the apron in place:

The caps or prayer coverings women and girls wear to church will vary as well. In most cases, girls wear black prayer coverings at church, while married women wear white.

The Man’s Sunday Suit

Next you have the man’s clothing – the Sunday suit coat with hooks and eyes.

Stephen Scott writes: “This style with a standing collar became known as the plain frock coat or “mutze” among the plain people. Nearly all Old Order plain men wear this kind of coat for church and other formal occasions.”

There is also another type of coat called the wamus, though that’s a term I really haven’t heard much in the Amish circles I spend time in. Steve writes that “In many Amish communities sack coats (wamus) without outer pockets are worn by men for non-church occasions, while nonmember boys wear this type for church as well.”

Wearing of the suit coat can vary. For example, in the community at Belle Center, Ohio, for regular church members it is seasonal, while ministers wear it year round.

When I have attended Amish church, I have more often seen just the several ministers in attendance wearing it, so I think that pattern is fairly common. There are no pockets or lapels and is rather simple in design. Here’s a closer look showing hook and eyes:

Bonus: Swartzentruber-Style Woman’s Dress

The Center also has on display what you might call an “heirloom” dress of Amish woman Mattie (Kurtz) Miller, who lived from 1880-1942.

Mattie Miller, we’re informed, was actually from Lawrence County, PA (New Wilmington Amish), another plain group. It’s noted that this style is still worn by Swartzentruber women.

There is an extra bodice, and the back of the cape is pleated. You can see the cape is a dark navy or gray color.

For church, however, both Swartzentruber women and girls would wear white capes and aprons.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this closer look at some items of Amish clothing. If you’d like to see this and other exhibits in person, this is where you’ll find them:

Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center
5798 Co Rd 77
Berlin, OH 44610
(330) 893-3192
behalt.com

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    32 Comments

    1. Taylor

      Straight pins

      Why are women’s clothing put together with straight pins instead of buttons? Wouldn’t they get stuck often?

      1. I would guess it mostly has to do with tradition and doing things the way they have been done in the past…Amish will adopt changes in some areas but are more reluctant in others. Maybe it’s in part because this has to do with clothing which is a visual representation of identity (vs. say adopting some new tool that has nothing to do with church or identity).

        1. Mavourneen

          Pins on Women's clothing

          Buttons are considered “fancy”; zippers too.

          1. Stephanie

            Amish Church Clothing

            My opinion is that I think the women should be able to have either hook and eyes and or buttons. But not straight pins.

            1. Ben

              They care little...

              They care little of your opinion in this matter.

      2. Stephanie

        Amish Church Clothing

        I have the same question regarding the women having to use straight pins. The pins pose for a big problem for the women because they can stab their body and even fall out of the clothing when they are working around and bend over. But I am sure the women don’t complain. I know I would complain if I had to use straight pins to hold my clothes up. It seems interesting that they cannot wear their clothes with hook and eyes the same as the men. If there is no significant reason for the women having to use straight pins, then I hope they get to also have hook and eyes. Nevertheless I always appreciate the Amish and Mennonites and your posts remind me of my Mennonite Ancestors on my mothers side and so I am also learning more. Thank you very much. God Bless the Amish and Mennonites

        1. Anonymous

          See Yoder-in-Ohio’s comments. In many communities the pins are used only for certain dress items. Asking Amish women how often they get poked by their pins I get a puzzled look and answers ranging from “I don’t,” to “Never.” Apparently if they are put in properly, they don’t “poke.”

        2. Ben

          Whatever....

          Why don’t you hit your thumb when you use a hammer?
          They use straight pins all the time, as we often use hammers.
          You get good with what you use.

          Pins are plain and simple.
          They don’t wish to be fancy (buttons), or envied.

      3. Robin

        Amish clothing (women)

        Only Amish women use straight pins to fasten their clothing together. Amish men don’t. I, for one really wish they didn’t, because their pins damage the upholstery in my vehicle, and, the pins frequently fall out. They don’t seem to care much about my personal property. They just care about maintaining a silly tradition. They could use safety pins, but they would say that’s too fancy. I wonder if they use straight pins in a baby’s diaper?

        1. Ben

          Silly tradition?

          Silly tradition?
          Really?
          Some would consider much of your behavior silly, also:
          Shaking hands.
          Clinking glasses as in “cheers”.
          Worshiping your god.
          Opening a door for your mother.
          Are those “silly” ?

          You should work on learning more, keeping your mouth shut, and assume you can learn from what you see around you.

          1. Robin

            Silly Traditions

            I absolutely agree. All those traditions you mention are silly too.

            I wonder if your Amish Bishop is aware that you are cruising the internet? Don’t worry, I won’t tell him. 😉

            1. Maureen

              To Robin on "Silly Tradition"

              Robin,

              I take exception to your comment on “silly tradition”. Some people would argue Santa Clause is a silly tradition. yet this beloved Christmas tradition is just that among many Christians around the globe.

              The Amish try to lead a simple, uncomplicated life and stear away from “fancy”. Plain dress is comprised mainly of soild colors, straw hats in summer. Men wear suspenders [instead of belts considered fancy] for a reason – keeps their trousers up. Many conservative Amish women use straight pins as fasteners because they follow plain dress. Buttons/zippers are considered fancy. Amish women wear a kapp or some kind of kerchief as per religious head covering and style is according to their particular order. To Amish, this modest, plain dress is not a silly tradition rather a way of life and a respect for God. These Amish women are excellent at pinning their dresses and rarely have any issue. In their gardens they resort to safety pins because the work is strenuous, and they are then confident of utmost modesty.

              Not sure why you would make a deliberate discourteous comment against Amish for their hallowed religious beliefs. But make no mistake, these traditional gestures are anything but “silly tradition’ to the Amish or any other of us practicing our particular religious traditions.

              1. Robin

                All The Silly Traditions In The World!

                Well Ben,
                Aside from your obvious angry outrage, I reserve the right to view and discuss, and even publish, some “traditional behaviors”, regardless of religious orientation, as SILLY! The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees me this right. You have the same right too, even in an angry tone.

                You apparently missed something in my first missive. Those straight pins cause damage to the fabric in my vehicle. Now, why do those straight pins damage my vehicle? They get stuck in the fabric and when the women shuffle or lean forward, my fabric gets torn. This damage to the fabric of my car’s seats occurs when I drive their parents and injured child to the emergency room because Amish daddy thought it would be fun to have his four year old son ride (foolishly) on the farming equipment. Where upon his son slips off, and get crushed under the same farming equipment’s wheels (true story). Or, when my dear Amish friend falls 30 feet down into his silo, severely injuring his spine (thankfully, not broken) and I need to transport the wife and mother to multiple hospitals for life saving treatment (another true story). I have quite a few more….

                So, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou, I suggest you get off your high horse, and just realize that some people on this planet have discovered, the hard way, that STRAIGHT PINS CAN AND HAVE DAMAGED THE FABRIC ON MY CAR’S SEATS!!!

                Even so, anytime my Amish neighbors need me (to the midwife at 2:00 AM, hospitals, doctors appt, dental appt, etc.), I am there. Are you?

                1. Robin

                  All the silly traditions in this world

                  Same to you Maureen!

                  1. Maureen

                    To Robin, "Silly Tradition"

                    Robin, you stated and I quote; “Even so, anytime my Amish neighbors need me (to the midwife at 2:00 AM, hospitals, doctors appt, dental appt, etc.), I am there. Are you?”

                    I certainly am! I’ve been a driver to the Amish for over a dozen years; readers of “Amish America” know this.

                    Maybe covering your vehicle seats would help curtail damage.

                    1. Kate F.

                      I have many Amish friends and neighbors and also do taxi work. I looked over my seats in my van and see nothing other than the usual wear and tear. I’m not saying you are wrong, but I am saying there seems to be a difference. I do, however, take exception to your comments on “silly traditions.” Your passengers are paying you, right? If it really is so annoying, I might suggest you find another source of income. I know the Amish are not perfect, but really, a little courtesy for another culture, please.

            2. Donna

              Amish Church Clothing

              I agree with everything Robin, Stephanie and others with similar responses to this very silly and very unsafe way for the Amish women to have to close their clothing with straight pins. Furthermore this BEN who has been nothing but rude and arrogant does need to be reported to the Bishop if he is really Amish. Unfortunately there are many Amish who do not like non Amish people. They don’t want anything to do with the government, but when it comes to suing someone you can be sure they will and hire an attorney and go through the courts. Then of course there are those who go out and work for the English. Some can be nice while others prove to be nasty. The English are not Amish and so the Amish are set apart in their own world. I have met some kind ones but very few. So if this BEN is Amish then he is the poison in the pot and if the Amish really cared about other people as all Christians should care, then they would throw this BEN OUT . Also I would like to make the obvious point that others have made, the women have to use straight pins while the men don’t. This proves how sexist the Amish become when they decide the women have to use straight pins even if it is just on sundays. I would like to see the Amish men fasten their fly on their pants with SAFETY PINS and I would be laughing at them while they cry out in pain when the pins stab them where it will be very painful. The Amish women don’t complain because they can’t. But you can be sure they feel the pain from the pins and they have to be careful about how they move. As for BEN and his silly analogy with smashing your thumb with a hammer, that is not half as bad as women silently suffering when they are pricked by a straight pin especially when doing other household chores as well as bending over and tending to the chickens. Women should be able to have buttons and or hook and eye and choose for themselves. I have to wonder why the men think the women need to be so unprotected by the straight pins that can also easily fall out. So I think BEN needs to go take a hammer and hit his head a fews times with it and then hopefully he will stop being such a “troll”. He is a rude, arrogant, full of himself, big bag of flesh. Yes someone needs the Bishop to know about him and read all of his comments. I won’t know though because I won’t continue with this group anyway.

    2. Alice Mary

      If men use buttons and books for their clothing, what is the reason that women need to use only pins? I know this varies by church community, etc., but there must be a reason why it started that way. I would think women could use the time they save (using hooks & eyes or buttons) to get even more done ;). And yes, don’t they get stuck (or their kids, as in sitting on their laps?) It seems akin to wearing hair shirts (as punishment or a reminder of Christ’s suffering), back in the Middle Ages?

      1. Good questions Alice Mary, I don’t know how often it is that people get poked, seems it would happen often enough though. It’s not about hairshirts and inflicting intentional suffering for penance or some other reason…I don’t have an answer I can say with full confidence but what I wrote to Taylor above could apply here.

      2. Donna

        Amish Church Clothing

        I agree with you Alice.

    3. Adair

      This is off-topic, but I was wondering if you have any idea how the Midwestern Amish are faring in this extraordinarily bitter cold?

      1. Ah good question, I haven’t heard much, I did email with one Amish friend in Holmes County over the weekend and he mentioned “some snow and frigid temp” but that it’s supposed to get up to the 50s by tomorrow. In this interview Marie Graber talks about how the Amish deal with the cold in winter:

        https://amishamerica.com/amish-life-in-winter/

        I haven’t heard about extraordinary measures or changes like school cancellations but perhaps that came into play. Would be curious to hear more myself if anyone has heard any stories.

        1. Terry from Wisc

          Faring in the cold...

          In the Budget that came yest there were many comments in the letters about the cold temps. Life is miserable in any lifestyle when it’s -50! Hopefully there’s plenty of fuel for all the stoves that will be going in high gear!

          We’ve chewed the fat on buggy rides in winter if I remember right. Some buggies have a heater in them which would be great when you have a buggy full of little kids. And don’t forget the horses in such frigid temps and bring a horse blanket along. In my hometown a buggy shed was built just off the main street with room for four buggies. The horses will be out of the cold wind while the family is shopping.

          I married a dairy farm girl and there are plenty of memories of survival in winter. Been there done that…

          Today we are 60 degrees warmer than we were Wed and Thurs! Mon we had 10″ of snow and schools cloed; Tues we dug ourselves out and the wind showed up; Wed and Thurs the wind blew us into a -50 wind chill and the schools closed again both days; Fri it was still cold but no wind and we all said Yeah! Sat it got up to 40 above and rain was predicted; Today it is just plain sloppy out and we have water in our 165 year old basement! 🙁 So, us Englisch dig our heels in just like the Amish!

          1. Nice update Terry, thanks for answering the call 😉

    4. Lorna Klotzbach

      Amish clothing--why straight pins.

      I think the reason women wear straight pins in their clothing, besides being very plain, is that women’s sizes change frequently due to pregnancy and even, menstruation. Amish women do not have as many clothes as English women and so, their clothes need to change with them as their bodies change. The pinned together clothes can be easily expanded and contracted. I must admit that I find the straight pin edicts hard to accept. I always wonder how the babies avoid being stuck by the pins! (My closest Amish friends are among the Conawango Valley Amish Community.)

    5. Yoder in Ohio

      The pins in the models were not put in as an Amish woman normally would. If put in the right way, the pin point is under the cloth and you can even run your hand over it and not get poked. The comments on it making it easy to change sizes is a very good comment. Part of it is also tradition and part is it allows a cape to be ironed flat and starched nicely and then for all the correct folds to be put in so it looks fresh and “correct.” I might add that in many more progressive groups, the use of pins is only for best dress-up clothes.

      1. Thanks for the additional detail Yoder!

    6. Nicholas

      Thanks for sharing, Erik. I noticed the standing collar an the men’s suit coat is in line with the edge of the coat rather than notched at the top. Most of the Amish suit coats I’ve seen are notched (Lancaster County style being the exception) which give a bit of clerical collar look. Mennonite and German Baptist suit coats have the same notch with the standing collar and I know at least one person who was mistaken for a priest in his German Baptist coat. He told the man he wasn’t a priest and the man then complimented him on his Nehru jacket. Ah well.

      On the straight pins, I believe some communities use snaps instead.

    7. aswartzentruber

      We use straight pins for cape dresses here in the community I’m from. We also have our “work dress” witch we fasten with safety pins and they are much easier to work with. Buttons are seen as “Worldly.” Where I am from. Little girls wear buttons along the back side of their dresses and once they get older they switch to straight pins or safety pins.

    8. Lauraamine

      Pins are super in the hands of experts.

      I came here to find out about pins. I have Amish family, since my cousin married an Amish girl and joined her community. I did not understand what pinning the clothes meant because I never saw it. The tradition is lovely and it expresses submission to God by being humble. This is a concept that most Americans cannot fathom. Do folks really think these ladies are getting jabbed by pins? I am sure they know how to use a pin and hide it. As an American convert to Islam, I get the same “innocent” questions and concerns. Total strangers constantly asking me if I am hot. It is not fun. I started saying, “Yes, it is 95 degrees, I am hot; are you hot?” I do not know why this must be asked because nobody ever offered me a cool water or shade. They just ask to be snarky, same as the pin questioners. I like being Muslim. I am only Muslim to please God, not any human. I like wearing a hijab. I do not have to. As far as pins go, some Muslim communities consider pins “worldly” so they only tuck their hijabs to cover their hair. When they do use pins, the pins are hidden exactly the way stated above. Other communities have grand, fancy pins that are more like victorian hat pins. Still others, such as myself, use hijab “safety” pins which are very popular with young girls and women. Some Muslims wear only drab or black colors, others wear fantastic flowery fabrics. I know some converts who choose to wear full gloves and face covers (niqab), with just their eyes seen. Nobody forces them. Most of the Muslims I know wear no head-coverings. Nobody cares what another is wearing or not wearing because we know we all have to answer to God alone. I have seen women show up for Eid celebrations, at the mosque, wearing spike heels and mini-skirts in full nightclub makeup. Nobody says anything…it is their business although I know I say a little prayer for God to strengthen their minds.
      I have an excellent relationship with the area mennonites. Their lifestyle is quite halal and we share many ideals at home and on the farm. We do not have a nearby Amish community. I respect them just as I respect the Christian community that I came from. It is not easy to set yourself outside the mainstream, but it is easy on the spirit. We are all just trying to get through this life the best way we know; pins, buttons, hooks, zippers, velcro or pinless, we all have our personal journey.

      1. Jennifer

        To lauraamine

        I understand your frustration with ignorant people, however to assume all people who ask questions are doing so with bad intentions is not fair either. Some people just have a hard time understanding things different from what they are used to. For example I sew clothes from time to time so I really could not understand the concept of using straight pins to secure clothing without being stuck by them. I came here to learn more about how this works. I’m not trying to be insulting, just trying to gather knowledge. That’s how people learn. Please don’t judge everyone based on the actions of some.

    9. Susan

      Babies

      I would think there could be a chance of their babies possibly getting poked from one of the pins in their dress or apron.

      You pick up the toddler and put them on your hip….or the little one is fussy and wallows against mama.

      Seems a good chance they could be poked or scratched by a pin.