Amish Confusion

Over the last few years, I’ve come to recognize patterns of dress and life that are definitely Anabaptist, as opposed to other Plain ways. (I can pass for Anabaptist, but not always Old Order.) I hate to commit to any of that presumed knowledge, though, because tomorrow someone will come along and say,”No, that never happens – never like that!”

So I have to laugh a bit when I am cruising eBay or websites and something is identified as Old Order Amish, or Amish mennonite. I can see it isn’t; such misunderstandings don’t help anyone trying to learn, of course.

Old photos of Plain Quakers are often considered “Amish” when the style of headcovering or the man’s stock is so obviously not. And a man in a stock, with a tall beaver hat and a gold watch chain is probably NOT Amish, and if he is Quaker, he is a prosperous Philadelphia Quaker of 120 years ago.

Quimper designs, a Swiss folk style, which is colourful but old-fashioned, is often mistaken for Amish or “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Colonial style decoration on china or wall hangings gets called “Amish” a lot.

Has anyone else noticed this as well? Do you have some examples to share?


9 thoughts on “Amish Confusion

  1. I was raised Episcopalian, left at 15 to join a church which kept the 7th-Day Sabbath, and began to cover in 2006. The Sabbath-keeping church did not encourage women to cover or wear hats and I missed my pretty chapeaux. But when I began to cover after reading
    I didn’t feel it was right to cover as the Amish or Mennonites or Quakers did because my beliefs were different and I didn’t want to inadvertantly cause offense to them or to someone who might think I was of their faiths. So I chose to dress in 18thC French style in caps and clothing.

  2. I’ll have to let you know…I’m actually visiting Lancaster, PA, tomorrow with my son and his fiance to meet her folks who are coming the other half way from Phillie. Generally, I think “Amish” has taken on its own “brand” much like we might say “Kleenex” when we mean a tissue (although I use cloth hankies!). This should be an interesting trip!

  3. In this day and age, tacking the word “Amish” onto something SELLS, so people use it liberally to make a buck. That has what I have noticed, unfortunately. 99% of folks wouldn’t know Amish if it came up and bit them on the nose. Interestingly, the various plain groups we’ve been part of are very particular about the little nuances and differences from one group to another, but the (non big city) world sees anything unusual and they say, AMISH!

    I say “non big city”, as I think there are other confusions that come up in those localities. My daughter was in Chicago on a class trip and they were eating at a restaurant where you pick what you want to put on your plate, and the lady behind the glass told my daughter, “No, you don’t want that… it’s pork.” My daughter in a long skirt and a small veil was thought to be Jewish! But anywhere else, she’s considered Amish or sometimes Mormon. To those “in the know” she looks nothing like either.

    • I’ve been mistaken for Mormon – “Are you those people with all the wives?” (Last I checked under the bed, there’s just me.) Because I am so plain in my Plainess (no patterns, almost always dark colours) people, even Mennonites, mistake me for Amish. Until they see me hop in the truck and drive away!

  4. I guess that to most people the difference between difffent groups of Amish and Mennonite (me included) is quite subtle. I think do not think I would see who is who very easily.This is of course due to the fact that I do not see plain people in my life since this a very unusual sight over here. The closest I come to ‘plain’ are muslim women in all black or other mute colors. There is a subtle beauty to plain dress in the Mennonite or Amish style which I like but it would look extremely alien to most people here if I were to dress like them. I think that my croched cap is probably stretching it, and going further would really make people raise their brows. I want to make a plain dress in my own style, not copying any particular group but I am scared about how the cap+long dress would be received. Well, god will help and lead me as has been done before.

    • Have you considered something like the “prairie dress” which is long, has a full skirt, and a high collar? It is more Victorian looking, perhaps more like traditional Swedish dress. I like it with a full bib apron over it, but that is definitely out of the ordinary now! Simply made traditional Swedish dress – the full skirt, white high-collared blouse and short vest or weskit, is very modest, and if you made it in plain colors (deep blue and black or grey) it wouldn’t look like a costume. I have worn Swedish costume many times myself, when I worked at a historic museum in the Swedish colony. It was very flattering, modest and comfortable for all day. With your cap, it would look elegant, feminine and almost plain without being too obvious.

  5. I think the prairie dresses I have seen are extremely ugly and very unflattering for a woman of my body type. They are so bulky on top and I have very broad shoulders and chest (not the breasts so much as the “rib part”). I would look like a body builder in one of those. On top of that I am short and that type of dress makes you look smaller.

    The thing with traditional Swedish dress is that they are very different in different parts of Sweden and you are expected to stay true to the model of the part of Sweden you come from and not change anything in it. You cannot adopt dress from another part, that might be insulting if you have not been specifically asked by someone from that part to adopt their dress. The dress of my part of Sweden is indeed modest, but also very ugly and it does not give the impression to a Swedish person that I am a Christian. The impression is more “I like folk dress/folk dance” which is not what I want to say. I fact I hate dancing, any style. If I would make my own version in a traditional style I would not offend people who think that traditional dress must be followed to the letter but I would be asked what dress I wear and where it comes from and no one would think I would have made the choice for religious reasons.

    My idea on what dress to make is an empire style dress. I like and look good in dresses with a high waist and they do not seem too hard to make. They are also easy to make ‘plain’ or less plain depending on what your wishes are. You can also make them in modern fabrics and they still look good. That is my plan at the moment, but I still need to think a bit more about this before I start. I will not sew any dress before my holidays in summer, so I have until then to plan.

    • Yes, the prairie dress might not be suitable. Nor would the Victorian style traditional dress, as it is close the body. The modern cape dress, with an attached cape and a zipper up the back, is flattering to just about everyone. I like the empire style dress myself, but I am rather full in the upper part, which the empire style emphasizes.

      There really isn’t an indigenous “American” Style of costume, excluding the native people, and even their “costume” is 19th century. ther prairie dress might be considered national costume, but it really is more relevant to the pioneers who crossed the country in the late 19th century. My own family arrived as early as 1640, from remote parts of the British Isles – our native costume would be homespun wool in dark colours, in (probably) medieval cut. Plain, heavy, somewhat itchy and lasts forever.

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