The Amish have a very distinct lifestyle and culture which separates them from other religious groups and mainstream society as a whole. Inside of the Amish there are even more sub-groups which might have different rules, regulations, and practices. Today I want to give a basic overview of the Old Order Amish of Lancaster Pennsylvania, how they dress, relate to one another, and conduct their daily lives.
How can you tell if someone if Amish? Well, if you know a few basic facts, it isn’t very difficult to pick them out of a crowd! One of the most obvious things is their distinctive dress style. This is a very important issue for the Amish and strict codes must be followed. The women wear dresses of a solid color with black shoes and socks. They often wear capes and aprons, with the married women wearing black and the single women wearing white. In the Lancaster area they generally wear a white heart-shaped or “butterfly” style covering. Women grow up knowing how to sew and make the clothes for themselves and their families.
The men also dress in a very plain fashion. For church, black and white are worn, and suit coats are simple and plain. Buttons are not used, but hooks and eyes and straight pins are permitted. Generally, when out of doors men wear hats which are either straw or black, depending on the time of year and the occasion. Married men grow out their beards, but are not permitted to have mustaches. Because of the position of pacifism to which the Amish hold tight, any type of dress or personal appearance which might be associated with the military, both now, or at any time in the past, are generally avoided.
Another very obvious distinction of the Old Order Amish is their use of the horse and buggy as a means of transportation. While they are allowed to ride in a motorized vehicle, they are not permitted to own or drive one themselves. In the book The Amish: The Old Order in Words and Photos, Lucy Hanley states that “They believe the use of automobiles would erode the unity of the community and change their culture.” (p. 15). There are several different types of buggies used, and the three basic ones are the family wagon, the market wagon, and the courting buggy. Different styles and colors often denote varying groups, and are also found in different states. For example, the buggies seen in Lancaster might look very different than a buggy seen in Holmes County, Ohio, or Goshen, Indiana. There are an abundance of styles and colors which have different underlying meanings and connotations.
The schooling of the children is quite unique and distinctive as well. The main occupations of the Amish involve agriculture or a specific hands-on trade. Most woman simply need to know how to run a home, raise children, and take care of the garden, so children are usually only educated until the 8th grade. While some Amish children might be sent to a public school, most are sent to a one-room school house in which just the most basic subjects are taught usually by a young, single woman. While the Amish feel that this is sufficient education for their lifestyle, it contributes to keeping them separate from mainstream society.
The distinction of this group of people from mainstream society is very interestingly paralleled with that of the highly religious Orthodox Jews. The distinction of dress and the adherence to strict social and lifestyle rules are very similar. In an upcoming blog we will be looking more closely at the dress of the conservative Orthodox Jews and the similarities we can see between the two religious groups.
Amish: The Old Order in Words and Photos Published by American Souvenirs and Gifts 150 North 3rd Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325