Thursday, March 22, 2007
Amish Clothing- So Many Questions!
I have emailed my response to the students who have inquired about Amish clothing. It occurs to me that my response would be suitable for one or more posts which may answer the same questions that others have too.
The Amish dress is, or would be, identical to the dress of their forebears except for the accommodations that were necessitated by the changes in the modern society in which the Amish live. They continue to wear hand-made clothing in the same patterns as their ancestors except for a few differences. The primary differences between the clothing they currently wear and the clothing of their ancestors would be these:
1. The Amish no longer make their own fabrics.
2. Because there are no longer any manufacturers of true winter-weight woolens, the Amish have taken to wearing manufactured coats.
3. Synthetic and blend fabrics have become acceptable in some Amish communities.
4. Certain clothing items, like socks and shoes, are purchased on the open market in the communities that surround the Amish.
5. Usually Amish women wear dark clothing, or blue dresses, but in some communities bright solid colors have gained acceptance for daily wear clothing.
The Amish people of all ages, except the very youngest, wear the same type of clothing. Young people during Rumspringa are the only exception.
Daily clothing is durable and meant for work. Work on the farm, milking the cows, plowing, cooking, canning, all the activities that are required to live a self-sufficient, independent life. The men wear straw hats, the women wear white prayer caps and aprons/pinafores. For visiting there is similar clothing but perhaps in a better fabric, unstained, and so forth. The men wear black hats, and the women still wear their white prayer caps.
For worship or formal occasions the Amish wear black. During the recent funeral of the massacred children, you may have noticed that some of the younger women put a formal black dress over their daily blue dress, and a black bonnet over their white prayer cap.
Up to now I have answered the first two of your questions.
The remaining questions require a more complicated response. If I understand correctly, you are old enough to understand the answers. You have asked me <<3. Do the Amish dress like this out of choice or because their religion tells them to do so?>>
The choice the Amish make is far more foundational than what to put on in the morning and who told them to do it. Like the rest of society, the very question infantilizes these people, much as the rest of the western world and, for that matter, Christians have been infantilized.
The primary choice each Amish soul makes is laid out in scripture. Choose life, or choose death. Choosing life means to choose the eternal Will of God. Choosing death means choosing our own will over and above the Will of God. These aren't just pretty or ancient, irrelevant words to the Amish, as they should never be to any person who professes to believe in a Living God.
Once that choice is made, then the rest of your life, indeed every minute, no longer belongs to you but to God. Unless, of course, you have chosen your own will instead, then your life belongs to you and God becomes irrelevant.
This is the function of rumspringa. Because God has asked it of those who belong to Him, children are raised understanding that this is the most important choice any human being will ever make. It is a transforming choice that affects everything you do from then on. It is a choice that cannot be forced on any person, but parents are OBLIGATED TO GOD TO PROVIDE THE RIGHT TRAINING FOR EVERY CHILD. If a parent does NOT train their child in the way they should go, the parent is responsible to God for the soul of that child. Being an irresponsible parent is a very, very grave sin to the Amish (and for all Christians).
Therefore, at between the ages of 15 to 16, every child is 'set loose' in order to have time to make their own choices about how to live their lives. This period is called rumspringa. While the youngster remains living with their parents, if they wish, they are permitted thereafter to make all their own choices and there is no expectation on the part of any Amish parent that the child will even seek their advice. The child in rumspringa is free to work and live wherever they wish, to wear whatever they wish, to get cell phones, a car, go shopping, listen to any music they want to. They may go to university, play sports, play in a band. They may try smoking, drinking, drugs, sex. Anything that you and I can do, they can do. They receive no further guidance or assistance from parents unless the parents are asked.
In short, they get to experience the rest of the world in its fullness, to live one's own will separate and distinct from living in the Will of God.
The vast majority of Amish children return at some point and choose to live the traditional Amish lifestyle. They give up their phones, cars, computers, electricity, fashions, music, fast food. They go to the devotional gathering of their community and announce their choice, and receive baptism. From that point on, they are responsible to fulfill in every way the Christian lifestyle as the Amish understand it.
What is the secondary foundation stone to the choice of an Amish Christian lifestyle? Christ said 'get out of her, my people, THAT YOU DO NOT SHARE IN HER SINS." What are the sins of the world, that the world is accountable to, that they do not want on their souls when they meet the Living God?
Abortion. War. Genocide. Divorce. Broken families. Abuse. Violence. Murder. Adultery. Fornication. Addiction. Thievery. Child molestation. Corruption, glory seeking and dishonesty of every kind. Abandonment and neglect of the poor, sick, elderly, disabled. The horror of these sins being marked on a soul is strongly motivating to live a Christian, loving, honest and responsible life, or at least it used to be.
As a whole, God holds the souls of all humanity responsible for ALL the sins of their own will which they do not reject themselves, societies in which you do not extricate yourself. This is the meaning of conversion. Given the longevity of the Amish communities, they don't need to 'remove' themselves any longer, except at rumspringa. They carefully consider every technology, every advancement, every demand of the government on their people and they DO NOT ADOPT IN THE FIRST PLACE those things which damage the family, damage community life, damage faith. If they make any accommodation to those things at all, it is strictly proscribed and permitted the smallest intrusion into people's lives possible.
The Amish are already clear that leading the best, most Christian lives they are capable of, they still NEED the salvation brought by Christ. They have no desire to increase the number of sins on their souls, nor do they want 'their lampstand removed.'
So when they pray 'forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us' they actually apply this prayer to their everday lives together and are always joyfully seeking opportunities to practice forgiveness, tolerating one another, confessing their sins together, as a way of living in the world.
I will now answer question <<7. How do the Amish feel about fashion (trends)? Do the Amish follow any type of fashion? >>
The Amish see fashion as one of the marks of souls who are seeking their own personal glory. Amish head wear, both men's hats and women's prayer caps, are their 'sign' that ALL GLORY BELONGS TO GOD ALONE. For example, we are told by the Apostle Paul that a woman's glory is her hair. Thus, if all glory belongs to God, a woman submissive to the Will of God wants to take no glory for herself, so she covers her hair and returns the God-given glory of beautiful hair to God. For the Amish women, the headcovering is a traditional prayer cap in a variety of styles. For Catholic nuns the head covering is a veil according to her religious order. The principle is the same. It is NOT a sign of submission to a husband, but a sign of submission to God's Will and His Glory. When a man's head is uncovered, it is his glory, then for the Amish, submission to the Will and Glory of God means that his head will also be covered.
The principle of walking humbly with your God relates to clothing color and adornments of every kind. Because the military wears buttons, and no Amish man wants to ever be confused with the military, they (mostly)do not wear buttons. Military men wear moustaches, thus the Amish do not permit moustaches. Kings and Queens throughout history have worn gold and jewels, to the destruction of their souls, so the Amish do not wear jewelry of any kind. Most Amish communities took years to accept even blue cloth for women's garments, but once they became convinced that colored cloth does not introduce vanity into the community, they permitted the color blue in women's dress. Some few other communities have also permitted other bright colors, but NEVER a print.
These are principles that bind the community together, and there are others.
So to answer your other questions, their clothing has always been modest and so there has been no need to change anything except the cloth it is made from. It is the clothing of the culture around them that has changed and continues to change with every season. Aside from the mandate to dress modestly, they make no claims that scripture tells them how to dress. Since the traditional clothing patterns are modest, there is no reason to seek other styles.
As a community and a culture, they take seriously the issue of capital sins, those sins which cause death to the soul, those sins which create a separation from God. Pride, Lust, Envy, Greed and so on down the list, and their practice of life is meant to avoid the development of those sinful tendencies in themselves and the children they are responsible to God for.
Finally, perhaps outwardly it may seem that it is the clothing that separates them from other people. This is a modern, recent perception of a society around them that accepts fashionable trends as normal without meaning, except for the 'individuality' it 'grants' people. The Amish have compassion on we who are bound by fashion. The temptation to relevancy is as strong as any other temptation, and during rumspringa the Amish pursue it for whatever value they can find in it. By returning to the Amish community, it is a sign that they see it for the empty and useless, and very expensive, indulgence that it is.
It is actually the very principles from which their entire lives are lived that sets them apart from the rest of society, from their buggies and horses, to their head coverings and clothing, to the responsibilities which they bear before a God who is genuine, living and eternal.
Even most Christians can't live such a devoted, disciplined and responsible life. It is very difficult though it is incredibly rewarding.
To keep it in balance, you may find this page very helpful and entertaining www.squidoo.com/amishhumor