Despite how well-known the Amish are in popular culture, the details about them remain some of the least-known tidbits of information about United States subcultures.
One of the biggest questions about the Amish is also one of the most interesting: What do the colors mean on Amish buggies?
Observers may have noticed that some Amish buggies — their main mode of transportation — have different appearances than others.
While rare, this is indeed the case.
In short, the colors of an Amish buggy refer to the drivers’ religious denomination (sometimes called an “order”), not to be confused with larger religions that are similar to the Amish.
While the Amish are commonly considered one large group, there are different communities within the Amish who may have slightly different beliefs and practices.
To an outsider, these differences can appear superficial. They may concern the use of modern technology, acceptable professions, or other intricacies of life that would otherwise go unseen by non-Amish.
But to the Amish themselves, these differences warrant the creation of a separate denomination.
It’s also important to note that the “color” of an Amish buggy refers to the color of its roof only. All Amish buggies are black on their chassis, axles, wheels, and yolk.
The covering, on the other hand, is one of three colors:
Here’s what each color means:
1. What Do Black Amish Buggies Mean?
Black Amish buggies are by far the most common. These buggies belong to the most populous, well-known, and integrated Amish in the United States.
You may find these New Order Amish — sometimes also called “black-top” or “black-topper” — Amish in places like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Canada, and into the continental Midwest. They’re typically the denomination of Amish that someone envisions when they think of the term “Amish.”
These Amish buggies are also different from Mennonite buggies in that the Mennonite variants have sliding doors.
In addition, the belief system of black-topper Amish is the most well-known.
These Amish believe in simple lifestyles that emphasize humility and the absence of pride. These beliefs are based on the centuries-old interpretation of biblical law from Amish founder Jakob Ammann, who was a hardline authoritarian when it came to the idea that pride is the sin from which all other sins originate.
However, that doesn’t stop these Amish from maintaining an approachable appearance and exercising some level of care for themselves and each other when it comes to aesthetics.
Black-topper Amish wear their best clothes for community occasions, such as Amish religious services, funerals, and weddings.
They may also bathe before these occasions to ensure they’re presenting their “Sunday best.”
By contrast, their work clothes are likely to be dirty and sweaty, which makes them unpresentable for community gatherings and other occasions.
Even for their ideological differences, New Order Amish maintain many of the same beliefs as the other denominations we’ll discuss in this blog. Those beliefs include a stunted education for children, sexist gender roles, and extreme punishments — including shunning or meidung — for infractions against the church.
With this in mind, what do the other buggy colors indicate about the Amish who drive them?
2. What Do Yellow Amish Buggies Mean?
The next most-common buggy color is yellow. These Amish have several names, including the Alt Gemee (“old church” in Pennsylvania Dutch), Byler Amish, and simply “yellow-toppers.”
Byler Amish originated in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but they’re scarcely seen there today except in the most remote locations. Most Byler Amish are located in their central hub of Mifflin County, a nearby and much less populous region that borders State College.
In Mifflin County, Byler Amish also live among their more commonly-known black-topper Amish cousins.
However, unlike black-topper Amish, the yellow-toppers take ideas of modesty and necessity to a greater extreme.
Aside from the color of their buggies, yellow-topper Amish are identifiable by their refusal to wear more than one suspender. While this may sound like a strange detail, the reasoning is unique to the Amish interpretation of “necessity” — because you only need one suspender to hold up your pants, using two suspenders is a forbidden luxury.
They also forbid the use of carpets and full-length curtains in their homes. They may use some motor power, but never for fieldwork — only for stationary belt power.
In the past, yellow-topper Amish also led to another Amish denomination offshoot, commonly called the Kansas Amish.
Generally, this group of Amish is known as one of the most conservative and insular Amish denominations. In fact, it may only be less conservative than the group that drives buggies with white tops.
3. What Do White Amish Buggies Mean?
The Amish who drive white-topped buggies are often called Nebraska Amish. Despite their name, they’re exclusively found in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, just like their yellow-topper cousins.
Near their communities, they’re better known as Old Order Amish.
Old Order Amish are the most conservative of all Amish denominations, living in a way that is shockingly close to the way they lived when the faith was founded in 1693.
Motor power is expressly forbidden. They’re not permitted to paint barns because paint is not required to keep the structure standing. While they may have bows, crossbows, or perhaps even firearms, they’re often primitive in comparison to what you could buy from any sporting goods store today.
In fact, Old Order Amish are so intensely conservative that they don’t even use battery-powered lights or modern reflectors on their buggies. Instead, they use kerosene-powered lamps. This makes them almost impossible to see at night, especially because these Amish live in the most remote parts of Mifflin County where there are no street lights or even telephone poles.
In a more populated area, this would likely be considered a major road hazard. But because Mifflin County has a population density of 113 people per square mile (and about 10% are Amish), there are few cars to risk encountering an Old Order Amish buggy at night.
It’s much more common (relatively speaking) to see Old Order Amish walking at night than driving a buggy.
Discover More about the Amish
Are you looking for more about the Amish?
You can find it in our book!
We compiled more than 50 answers to common questions about the Amish so that you can enjoy them on your own time.
Click the button below to buy the Big Book of Amish FAQs today!