Why a Bonnet?

Amish Bonnet, Pennsylvania

If any one article of women’s Plain dress says, “I am not of this kingdom,” it is the bonnet. It is the public declaration of being different. It covers the hair, a source of vanity. It shadows the face, a clear boundary of privacy. It is the symbol of feminine identity as a Christian: Quaker, Amish, Mennonite, Anabaptist, Brethren, Salvation Army worker, Plain Anglican.

Amish bishop and wife

The bonnet is unmistakeably a way to say,”I am a serious Christian.”

It is anti-vanity, anti-lust, anti-world. It says that the wearer intends to guard her femininity.

It also says, "No foolishin' around."

I described wearing the bonnet as having the monastery on one’s head. It is a place of security and grace when one takes it on with the understanding that under it, one is in the Kingdom of God.

my bonnet

16 thoughts on “Why a Bonnet?

    • Keep praying over it, it may change his mind. When I googled images for bonnets, I found myself, Ember and our Irish friend Lucy! Although they were all images of prayer caps and coverings – Google isn’t discriminating about “bonnet.” I think bonnets make one look tidy and pulled together.

  1. Bonnets outside of a community setting seem to me to say “I am devout! I am different! Look at me!” But I take a cynical view of… well, everything.

    • People seem to think that when they are first thinking about the bonnet. But, you know, people stare at all kinds of things and their minds skip around without really coming to rest. The clergy collar does the same thing, yet ministers still wear it. (I never liked it.) The bonnet also says, “It’s okay, you are with someone who cares.” It gives people the opportunity to approach me and ask questions if they feel the need. Why shouldn’t I be publically identified as a faithful Christian? I dress the same way at home as I do in public, with just the addition of the bonnet. If you want to pass through life unnoticed, never witnessing visibly to Christ, you may never have the opportunity to witness at all. The bonnet and Plain dress say that I am not ashamed of the cross. I am not ashamed too be identifiably different from the World.

  2. magdalena,

    A brilliant post!!!!!!! If I had my drothers, I’d don one tomorrow!! I’ve one lone prayercap amongst my multitude of other coverings; poor husband thinks its hiddeious (I’m not too happy with it either – am prepared to part with it if anybody would like it; it has a neck ruffle wide bands for tying, and sits back on the head (doesn’t provide any shading) and is white.

    Plain dress to a great extent, fulfills a similar function…we have drifters coming to university daily – all manner of people looking for a safe place to sit, to be, to pray, to get a reasonably priced cup of coffee. These folk walk a very unique path through this life and would be considered odd or even worse by the general public. They always seem to gravitate to me. This used to irritate me (‘why do I always attract the weird ones?????’) After an incident of this nature just before my accident back in april, it finally dawned on my slow, dense mind that the reason they come is because they feel safe to come up to me, to sit and chat, to be around me, safe that this person will not reject them outright or tell them to ‘leave me alone’, that my plain garb and cover on my head somehow indicated safe harbour to them.

    it also convicts. Two days ago, I was with my husband in our local shopping centre when somebody walked straight into me (my guide dog did not have room to veer around them, as it happened, and my husband couldn’t move us out of the way – this person was, according to hubby, gazing up at the open-planned floor above us not paying attention. Well, I’m still using a walking cane and can’t afford to trip, fall or be knocked over due to the spinal injury; after I’d been slammed into, and the individual was off on his way, I curtly stated ‘look where you’re going’ with all the irritation I was experiencing. Immediately, the guilt and condemnation arose in me – was I living Christ’s example to a fellow
    icon of Christ’? No. I had disgraced the King’s uniform, and unlike someone who just gets about in the attire of the day, it was clear to any who would have witnessed this exchange who and what I was, plus who and what I had just betrayed.



  3. Magdalena,

    I have one lone ‘flat disc’ straw bonnet (amish made, imported from the US) with very shallow crown, barely higher than the ribbon band that encircles it. See the ‘straws’ section of Bayley’s http://www.prayercoverings.com site to take a look. While this is beautiful, the more conventional straw bonnet would be far more practical. In aus, due to our incessant heat and sun, a straw bonnet would be far more appropriate than the traditional black ‘Amish style’ bonnet. In Aus, if folk didn’t wish to wear straw bonnets, the light calico bonnet would do well, but headcovering of this nature is next to unheard of. Sadly, (and I am not looking for excuses here) I fear it would completely fracture any witness I already have to my family, who have sadly made a definitive decision to turn from Christ and serious Biblical, Christ-centred Christianity back in the ’70’s, as did so many of the boomer, war baby, and Builder generations. My buncovers and lace kerchiefs etc perform the same role, in our context, as the bonnet does in the Northern Americas.

    If I ever wind up teaching theology I would likely consider this seriously, at least for ‘in class’ time; to get the kids to think…what does the Bonnet and plain modest, gender distinctive attire say to contemporary, postmodern Western Christianity and wider society today? use it as a lead-in to prompt them to think about the youth/pop/sensualized culture that so many are entrapped within – to show that self worth in Christ and on behalf of one another can (and I believe, should) be so very different to what is practiced by the vast majority of believers and taught from the pulpits of almost all denominations . As i’d be likely teaching in a Catholic setting, I could introduce them to the works of Fr. Vincent McNabb, Chesterton, Baloc, (excuse spelling) Dorothy Day etc, not to mention the almost endless commentary gifted to us by the Early Church Fathers and Mothers. Nonetheless, God’s will be done.



  4. I like seeing you girls have found the bonnet a help in your spritual life and that god has lead you towards it. To me it does not have any appeal and I never feel god has wanted me to wear one. I liked wearing my crochet caps but they were too strange to the people around me so I have more or less switched to scarves. I think that they give the right associations to people, they see them as a religious symbol without being too separate. I still get looked at but people don’t look away in avoidance anymore. I don’t really mind that they look away, that is up to them but I also want to be able to actually make a witness to people without them being scared or too confused. The scarf gives me that, and the same spiritual function as a cap. I feel that at the moment I have landed in the way I dress and that I shall stop here now for a while. I still feel that I can do more but that I also need a moment to fully stop and feel what I am given when I dress like this.

    My transition to modesty and a more plain dress has been very slow and still I can feel I have moved too fast. It seems that my mind often moves slower than the rest of me and in some cases I guess that is both good and OK but in this I need to wait for my mind sometimes.

  5. I found you post about bonnets interesting, I recently purchased an old postcard of a Flemish milk-maid wearing a bonnet, it is rather nice and I though you might be interested to see it.

    A Flemish milk-maid

      • The construction is rather strange, it look as if it is made in two parts, the inner, linen part and the outer part of the bonnet held in place with a wide ribbon. I don’t know whether the ribbon serves any purpose as it looks much too wide to be used to tie the bonnet in place. Perhaps it is “ornamental” and there is a tie inside.

        I posted another card of German milk-maids, they look rather glum and their bonnet is much smaller, almost “kapp” in style, http://www.flickr.com/photos/47496164@N03/4904524428/

        There is another of a “Jersey milk-maid” again a different style and I suspect it was designed mainly for the “tourist” trade but it does have a pleasing look to it,
        Jersey Milk Maid

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