Baskin-Robbins offers nearly 60 flavors of ice cream at their shoppes. The varieties of dress among Mennonites and Amish, who split from the Mennonites, is nearly as long and equally fascinating. In recent research, I counted dozens of sub-sects.
By far the most conservative group that maintains plain dress is the Old Order Amish church. The Amish have unfortunately reached pop culture status with hideous reality shows that exploit their way of life including their dress distinctives:
Beards Headcovering with tie strings
Hair cut off straight in back, banged in front Uncut hair parted in center in bun
Coats, vets fastening with hooks & eyes Long dress with cape in solid color
Suspenders and broadfall pants Pleated or gathered skirt
Wide brimmed hats Black shoes and stockings
As though frozen in time, attire of the Old Order Amish church has not noticeably evolved, reminiscent of their European origins.
Then there is the Brethren Church with its various branches. “The Old Order River Brethren continue to wear traditional garb.” The men look much like Amish but the women “wear opaque white headcoverings, capes, aprons, and a peplum on the dress bodice,” which tapers to a V-shape. An excellent source for detail of other sub-sects: http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D74ME.html
Typically, my visit to PA includes an appointment with a perky River Brethren woman who gives massages. You gasp “Massages!” but it’s true! Esther has my vote for the Most Modest Masseuse on Earth; she gives head-to-toe therapeutic massages in her home for a shockingly modest fee. Were she fancy, and not plain, she would fit perfectly in a chiroparactor’s office. Note peplum, short ruffle attached at waistline in photo below:
Finally, there is not simply a Mennonite Church, but a cluster of branches, including a very conservative branch called Black-Bumpers, who drive cars but paint their shiny chrome bumpers black (less flashy)! Once in Lancaster I spotted a sleek Mercedes-Benz sedan with black bumpers and very plain girls spilling out—an image of paradox if there ever was one.
My own brand of Mennonites is the Lancaster Conference Mennonites, who have driven cars rather than horse and buggies but have long adhered to a strict code of dress since their emigration from Europe in the early 1700s. However, plain dress among these Mennonites has been falling by the wayside since the 1960s and 70s when these photos below were snapped.
Smith, Elmer L. and Melvin Horst. “Meet the Mennonites in Pennsylvania Dutchland,”
Lebanon, PA: Applied Arts Publishers, 1997.
Braids, also known as pig tails Braids circling head with hairpins, middle school
Marge Simpson wannabe
Little known fact: The family of Milton Snavely Hershey, the Chocolate King, were Reformed Mennonites; his mother was a member and his grandfather, Abram Snavely, was a bishop for 37 years. Milton married a non-Mennonite. (“Meet the Mennonites”)
There is a connection, I think, between chocolate and access to memory both plain or fancy, expressed so distinctly by Barbara Crooker:
“. . . for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
I Samuel 16:7