Plain Dress – Children

Amish children, Lancaster County, old postcard

All the Old Order children I have met dressed Plain. There didn’t seem to be any question about it; they dressed much like their parents, and if anything, their clothes are simpler and plainer. Little girls usually wear a chemise type dress with sleeves, and a overall kind of apron that buttons in the back. Little boys wear pants with suspenders and button front shirts. Infants of both genders wear a longish dress with diapers until they are toilet-trained, which seems to be at an earlier age than Englisch children.  When you are just weary with washing cloth diapers, you are likely to push the toiletting much earlier, especially if you have another in diapers and one more on the way! Most children have the muscle control necessary by two, at the latest; very few won’t by three. It might even be four or five for all night bladder control, but as my family pediatrician used to say, “They never start school in diapers.” I honestly don’t know why parents want to keep buying disposable diapers. They are expensive and a nuisance to dispose! I know that if you don’t have your own washer, it is quite a chore to haul buckets of diapers to a laundry. Still, women did them by hand for many generations.

Amish child's dress and apron ca.1900

Amish girls still wear garments much like these. This outfit was for offer on eBay; the seller’s reserve wasn’t met, so it may still be available. I think he was hoping to get upward of $100 US. Perhaps someone will want this for a collection. But since the style and method of construction is pretty much the same as today, I don’t see anyone spending much for it. Old clothes only have real value when they are connected with a famous person or event. Contrary to what most people think, museums don’t purchase much unless it has an important history and is directly related to the rest of their collection. They are often the sellers of items that are no longer pertinent to their focus, or are being replaced by better examples. Archival storage space is expensive, and for textiles in particular, as they must be held within a certain temperature and humidity range, while being housed in containers that are acid-free and insect proof.

The dress without the apron

I would think that examples of Amish clothing from this time would be rare, as clothes would be handed on to another sibling or cousin, and eventually would end up as rags or patches. I think this cornflower blue quite pretty, but I suspect the original colour was a deeper indigo.

Amish child's dress and pinafore

This is a more recent example, but made of the same basic design.

Winter outerwear, Lancaster County

Both boys and girls wear simple short jackets in winter in Lancaster County. The young man here is wearing a scaled down version of Pa’s black felt hat. Girls might wear black bonnets over their prayer kapps, or a black wool scarf tied kerchief fashion under the chin. This group, apparently siblings, have bright scarves at their necks. They seem to be without mittens or gloves, though.

Englisch barn boots of the black rubber pull-on type seem to be in common use now among Plain people in winter, with socks inside for warmth. Lace-up boots are so cute on little children, but I can imagine when Mama has to get five young children into boots every morning, it could be quite a struggle. I’ve noticed that Old Order children often wear flip-flop sandals in summer and dark or white running shoes the rest of the year. Young men in their teen years wear dark running shoes or workboots, while young women and girls wear Keds in all but the coldest months.

Bright sunbonnets are standard among small girls – parents allow a bit of freedom of choice in the fabric for the summer bonnet, and even older women will wear quite a colourful floral print sunbonnet on weekdays. Bonnets are good sense for children’; they protect the face, neck and the tender scalp of children prone to burn, and there is no risk of adverse reactions as there is to sunscreen. They stay on better than sunhats. Little boys wear wear straw hats much like their fathers. They may be anchored on the youngest with a bit of elastic.

I would say that Plain parents, even if not Amish or Mennonite, should expect their children to dress Plain. The child is obedient to the parent until independent. It might be a struggle to get teenagers who go to public schools to honour this, but I wouldn’t allow much dissension in my own house. (It isn’t an issue, since all the children were away from home when we became intentionally Plain.) I would expect little girls to cover by the age of eight unless parents don’t expect that until baptism or reception as an adult in the church.

Plain dressed families have so many advantages – the clothes do not go out of style, and are usually handmade and sturdier than factory made clothes. There is no question about status or fashion. There is no temptation to push the limits on how mature or “sexy” the clothes make the child. (Although I have heard of Amish girls asking if they can wear a cape dress and adult covering at a younger age than their older sisters, so they can look more mature. It’s rather like my wanting lipstick and pantyhose at twelve, emulating my older cousins.)

Lancaster County, vintage postcard

Note that here, all the children but one are barefoot! The little boy looks as if he has been dressed up for an occasion; this may be a family setting out for church or market. Perhaps the oldest girl has another place to visit or attend, and she put on shoes and hose.


8 thoughts on “Plain Dress – Children

  1. Growing up in Eastern PA, you didn’t have to go too far west from where I lived to see the horse and buggy, roadside pie stands and signs with “Quilts” written on them pointing down a dirt lane. I really miss Shoo Fly pie.

  2. Beautiful post, I especially love the pictures. 🙂 Another wonderful aspect of plain dress for children is that they can be easily passed down from sibling to sibling.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Many blessings
    Mia Langford of My Simple Journey

  3. The reason there are no problems having Amish children dress like the Amish is that they are in a closed community of Amish people. I don’t think it’s right for someone living outside a closed community to force a child to dress in such a way as to invite remark or mockery from his friends.

    My daughter wears long skirts because everyone else does.

    • In our community, the girls who are from Pentecostal families wear very modest skirts and blouses to public school, while their peers wear jeans and t-shirts. In some communities, Plain German Brethren send their children to public schools and they continue to dress Plain and cover. I used to use the “I should dress like my friends and not be different” argument on my mother, but it didn’t get me very far. When I was fifteen or sixteen, we were allowed to wear slacks or nice jeans to school. My conservative Baptist mother insisted that if we wore pants, they had to be modest, and covered to the hip. I don’t think we suffered any for it.

      • Do the plain children spend their leisure time, generally, with other plain children or with their public school compatriots? If they do not have most of their friends in the German Exclusive Brethren community (which would shock me, given the Exclusive Brethren practices) then it is wrong for their parents to have them dress that way. Their parents should locate themselves near to a Brethren community. The same would apply to Pentecostal children.

        I don’t think that dressing like an Amish person while not being Amish is comparable to wearing jeans that are modest. A person dresses as if he is Amish attracts stares on the street. He does not choose among varieties of unremarkable secular dress.

      • I dress like an Amish person every day. My point is that I don’t think children will be humiliated if they dress differently from their school peers. I may get the occasional stare, but why would I care? People stare at anything that is a bit different. I think “wrong” is perhaps a bit strong. Christian children are admonished to obey their parents. Our peculiar dress is because we are a peculiar people, set apart from the world. That is the Plain witness. Conformity is not our witness. My parents were trying to let us “fit in” better by letting us wear jeans to school, and it pulled my sisters right out into the world to have that much freedom. I chose to go back into a distinct Christian witness, they did not. Our Baptist Church and my parents then wondered why we did not return to church. Why? Because the world is so much more appealing.

  4. I would not push plainness onto my children (it must be said though that I am more ‘modern plain’) and I don’t think plainness is an absolute requirement for a Christian so I would take a more allowing route here. No, I would not buy expensive designer clothes that cost 3-4 times more ethan a perfectly acceptable item without a special label but if my children would choose to use their pocket money for that I would allow them to. However, I would not allow immodest clothes or clothes that put my children into a bad light (like a t-shirt promoting crimes or drinking and so on) but the choice would be up to them when it comes to what they will wear and what prize to pay (if they use their own money). When they are young I will probably mainly go for second hand clothes as they are more environmentally friendly and all chemicals in the fabric are already washed out. I would not say no pants on girls as I do not think it is wrong for women to wear pants and I do wear them on occation. If I had a girl who refused skirts that would not be an issue to me, I would see it as a part of her personality. Neither would it be a problem for me if I had a girl who wore skirts and climbed trees and played in the mud, skirts are not just for formal occations to me and I hope to be an example that way. I would be scared however that others would think that if my girls wear skirts that I will not allow them to be children and play around the way they want. I have a friend who was told by the kindergarten teachers that she should put less ‘fancy’ clothes on her girl. The teachers said that the skirts hindered her in her play and that she just sat still in a corner of the play ground. My friend was puzzled as that was not what the girl did at home, she did everything children do including climbing trees and come in covered in dirt and mud despite the dresses. My friend asked the girl if she did not like her kindergarten and why she didn’t run around with the other children at the play ground. The daughter then said that one of the teachers had said that girls could not run around in dresses so she didn’t. The teachers had created a problem with her dress that didn’t exist because of their prejudice. That I would be scared of happening to a girl in a dress, in particular a girl of a mother in long skirts and dresses and wearing a head covering… (prejudice, prejudice, prejudice)

  5. Ella and I wear dresses. People notice. I’m not going to start wearing pants, nor am I moving to Elmira. Why do we have to conform?

    “then it is wrong for their parents to have them dress that way. Their parents should locate themselves near to a Brethren community. The same would apply to Pentecostal children.” -why should people of certain religious beliefs be segregated? In today’s society it’s becoming ‘odd’ to have any religious beliefs. Maybe we should all give up religion so we can ‘fit in’??

    More parents should dress their children modestly (not necessarily plain). It’s time we rescued our children/society from the over-sexualization that has happened since the Feminists have taken over. The choice should be look like a tart or live in an approved area (Christian ghetto).

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