Plain dress

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An Old Order Amish family in traditional plain dress clothing

Plain dress is a practice among some religious groups, primarily some Christian churches in which people dress in clothes of traditional modest design, sturdy fabric, and conservative cut. It is intended to show humility and preserve communal separateness from the rest of the world.

The practice is generally found among the following Anabaptist branches: Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites with the following subgroups: Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites and traditional "Russian" Mennonites. It is found as well as well among Old German Baptist Brethren and conservative splinter groups from them, among some few Quakers and fundamentalist Mormon subgroups.[1][2] Amish, Old Oder Mennonites and Conservative Mennonites share the same Swiss-German/South-German Anabaptist tradition.

Other groups adhering to a conservative dress code include Buddhist and Christian monks, Orthodox Jews and Muslim women, but these forms of dress normally are not called "plain dress".

Among the Amish and other plain groups, plain dress is not considered to be a costume but instead is an expression of their religious philosophy.[3] Plain, simple dress is governed by an unwritten code of conduct, called "ordnung" among Anabaptists, which is strictly adhered to by the Amish and Old Order Mennonites.[4]

Cultural Influences[edit]

Liturgical dress[edit]

The Protestant Reformers of western Europe rejected the traditional dress worn by members of the Roman Catholic Church because they disagreed with what it represented. Instead they began attending church in their daily clothes, which happened to be long black robes due to the fact that the majority of the Reformation leaders were of the scholarly class. This was eventually defined as liturgical dress, and the traditional garment for those in leadership roles.[5][6]

Practices of plain dress[edit]

Plain dress is attributed to reasons of theology and sociology.[2] In general, plain dress involves the covering of much of the body (often including the head, forearms and calves), with minimal ornamentation, rejecting print fabrics, trims, fasteners, and jewelry. Non-essential elements of garments such as neckties, collars, and lapels may be minimized or omitted. Practical garments such as aprons and shawls may be layered over the basic ensemble. Plain dress garments are often handmade and may be produced by groups of women in the community for efficiency and to ensure uniformity of style. Plain dress practices can extend to the grooming of hair and beards and may vary somewhat to accommodate stages in the life cycle such as allowing children and older people more latitude.[7]

Within these general practices, distinctions abound. In some groups, for example, the women's preferred head covering is lacy or translucent; in others, it must be opaque.

The traditional plain dress worn by the Anabaptists and other religious groups has long sleeves with a set waist, long skirt, and no adornment. It denotes "utility, modesty, long wear and inconspicuousness", does not display any trademark, and is not dictated by fashion trends. Shawl, aprons, bonnets and cap are part of plain dress.[8]

Theological bases for plain dress[edit]

Plain dressing Christians cite Paul's advice to the Romans, "Be not conformed to this world," as one Biblical basis for their distinctive dress. Other scripture passages counsel women to wear head coverings while praying (1 Corinthians 11:5), not to cut their hair (1 Corinthians 11:14-15), and to dress modestly without braids or jewels (1 Timothy 2:9-10), and for men not to shave or cut their beards (Leviticus 19:27).[9]

Social effects of plain dress[edit]

Plain dress may establish a sense of belonging within the community while also marking the group's members as different in the wider society. Some practitioners describe their dress as a protection from unwanted attention. Quaker minister Elizabeth Fry considered her plain dress to serve as "a hedge against the world", and "a sort of protector".[10] Marketing through the internet has these sites which propagate plain dress: "Quaker Jane", "Plain and Simple Headcoverings", "Rachel’s Seamstress Services" and "Mennonite Maidens".[2]

Simple dress, considered "sensible and useful" and necessary, is sometimes hard to find as the clothing market is dictated by fashion conscious people who consider plain dress dull.[11]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, Stephen (1986). Why Do They Dress That Way? Intercourse, PA: Good Books.
  2. ^ a b c Yoder, Jeremy (15 September 2010). "Plain Dress:Wednesday Link Potluck: Not Dressing Like Lady Gaga Edition". Eastern Mennonite University. 
  3. ^ "Amish People and Amish Culture". Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "Amish: Out of Order Facts – What You Probably Don't Know About the Amish". Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Gribben, R. "Liturgical Dress in the Uniting Church" (PDF). Assembly Commision on Liturgy. p. 2. Retrieved 1 September 2015. The origins of the Geneva Gown 
  6. ^ O'Brien, G (2015). Christian Worship: A Theological and Historical Introduction. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-4982-3135-0. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  7. ^ Reynolds, Margaret C.; Bronner, Simon J. (2001). Plain Women: Gender and Ritual in the Old Order River Brethren Penn State Press. pp. 61–96. ISBN 978-0-271-02138-6
  8. ^ McKean, Erin (2013). The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of Our Time. A&C Black. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-1-4081-9050-0. 
  9. ^ Torrey, Mary Ide (1838). Ornament, or the Christian Rule of Dress Crocker & Brewster.
  10. ^ Caton, Mary Anne (2003). "The Aesthetics of Absence: Quaker Women's Plain Dress in the Delaware Valley, 1790–1900" in Emma Jones Lapsansky and Anne A. Verplanck, eds., Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption, 1720–1920. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 246–271. ISBN 978-0-8122-3692-7
  11. ^ Rose, Hilary (29 August 2015). "The joys of a perfectly plain dress". The Times.