I have gone through photos recently to decide which ones should be included in my new book, Liberating Lomie. Photos can tell stories if one knows what to look for.
I have one photo of my mother, Mem, before she was married. She would have been around the age of thirty at the time, circa 1950. She is standing next to an “English” friend. It appears it was taken in the slanted light of late afternoon in spring or summer with a cat walking by. But the details that catch my eye would only be noticeable to someone who has lived an Amish life.
Mem is wearing a starched organdy cape and apron, and she is wearing a black kopp, or hair covering. This is the way unmarried Amish women dress to attend a church service, which suggests it was taken on a Sunday afternoon after church. However, if that is the case, I find it fascinating that she is with an English friend and that she is posing to have her picture taken. When I was growing up, both of these things would have been frowned upon, if not outright verboten. I notice that Mem’s organdy apron has no wrinkles in it, like maybe she didn’t sit through a three-hour service that day. The organdy was a stiff fabric, so every wrinkle showed up. I can offer two different explanations for this.
The first is that Mem ironed her apron after church to look good for the photo. The second is that it wasn’t a Sunday afternoon, but she dressed in her “Sunday best” for the photo. I won’t ever know for sure which of these two happened, but I’m guessing she was dressing up for the photo on a weekday.
The detail I am focusing on is the “style” of the apron. Most who don’t grow up Amish have no idea that those who dress plain do have their own styles. In fact, every Amish community has their own style of kopp, colors and styles of dresses, shoes, shirts, etc. For instance in my home community, purple was not allowed, yet that is one of the popular colors worn by Amish women in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The style of pleats in a dress or apron usually vary from one community to the next as well. In addition to all this, the styles change over time in a given community.
When I look at Mem’s apron, I realize that the styles had changed between her generation and mine. Her apron has no pleats in the front, and it wraps halfway around her. In my youth, church aprons did have pleats starting at the top and tapering halfway down the front. They only covered the front, so they didn’t extend so far around the waist.
But the detail that I looked at and wondered about is the folds in Mem’s apron. Mem once told me that this was the style when she was growing up. As I look at this photo, I wonder why in the world that style would have come into vogue. Then I thought of a plausible explanation. Here is my theory.
Back in my mother’s day, closet rods were rare, possibly even non-existent among the Geauga County Amish. It was much more common to have hooks on the walls of the closets. They would have been used for draping a dress or shirt over the hook that you might wear the next day, or to have a hook to hang one’s nightclothes. This meant that most, if not all, of the freshly washed clothes would have been stored in drawers. The old style dresser sets usually included a bureau as well as a dresser, which provided the extra drawer space needed for storing clothing.
Back in Mem’s day when they were ironing their Sunday clothes and folding them to be stored in drawers, the folds were going to show up. So folding the apron into thirds vertically, and into fourths horizontally made them easy to store in drawers. Since the folds were going to show up anyway, why not press the apron that way and make it look intentional?
When I was young, my sisters and I each ironed our own cape and apron. We’d hang the apron on a skirt hanger with the two clamps to hold it, drape the cape over the hanger, and hang them in the closet ready for Sunday morning when we dressed for church. Keeping the apron completely wrinkle free was our “style.” By then we were making them out of permanent press organdy, which meant they didn’t need to be starched. Around the time I was leaving, this organdy fabric was harder to find. I don’t know what fabric the Amish women of Geauga County, Ohio are using nowadays. And I also don’t know what styles are in vogue for dresses and aprons. I know their koppa have changed to be more like the “box koppa” style in Holmes County, Ohio.
So this is a little about Amish styles, all triggered by observations of what Mem was wearing when this picture was taken seventy-some years ago.
If you have any questions about Amish dress, please leave them in the comments section, and I’ll be happy to answer them if I can.
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4 thoughts on “Amish Styles”
I used to think that the white organdy shotz und halsduch made the girls look like flowers. I particularly remember a photo where there were three girls and one friend standing next to my cousin and his car. Photo all in black and white, of course.
I like your ‘liberating’ concept. There is one book out called ‘Escape from the Amish’. A bit over the top, I think. We used to call it ‘running away.’ ha
Oh- as for spam, my browser asks me if the incoming is safe, and I just click it.
Interesting concept… that the shotz und halsduch make young girls look like flowers.
I’m glad you like the “liberating” concept. Are you referring to “The Great Escape: Runaway Amish Girl” by Emma Gingerich? I think the second part of the title would have been just about right.
Glad you’re able to receive my notices. You may be one of my earliest followers for my blog. Glad you came along with the move!
I hope you have a wonderful week. Stay safe… there are Covid outbreaks everywhere.
The first thing I noticed when I looked at the photo were the folds in her apron! Ha! I was surprised by this because i assumed their aprons would never have such creases. I figured she must have ironed and folded it before putting it away. But then knowing how strict the rules about dress are was surprised by the creases. Thanks for explaining. I guess Fashion changes with each generation whether your Amish or “English”. I look at old black and white photos of my grandmother, great grandmother and great Aunts with their hair in a bun and their long dresses and aprons and I am amazed at how women’s dress has changed in a very short period of time. In their time, like the Amish every woman pretty much dressed the same. Now, every thing and anything goes. For myself I prefer long skirts to pants, but then my husband tells me that’s because I’m an old soul, maybe I am!! :)
Yes, there is the school of thought that Amish dress styles haven’t changed… the rest of society has. When you look at the woman standing next to Mem in the photo, you realize she doesn’t look all that different. Shoes and socks, yet. Hairstyle and not hair covering, yes. But her dress is pretty plain and long.
I agree with Paul. I think you are an old soul. And a beautiful soul.
Thanks for dropping by.