What Do White Bonnets Mean to the Amish?
The Amish way of life is centralized around modesty and humility. As a result, the Amish have their own traditions and rituals that are different from the public at large, even if they share similar traditions.
One example of this is marriage. In most American marriages, marriage is symbolized by a trade of rings.
But the Amish don't wedding rings. So how do they show marriage?
And the women?
They wear white bonnets.
In this blog, we'll delve into the reasons why married Amish women wear white bonnets, including some possible origins of the tradition.
First, let's answer the most important question — why?
Why Do Married Amish Women Wear White Bonnets?
Amish women wear white bonnets to symbolize marriage for a number of reasons.
It's important to note that these reasons, like many Amish traditions, are not necessarily universal. Different Amish denominations may observe slightly different traditions, and even Amish of the same denomination may have regional variations of this concept.
Still, the broad strokes of the reasons are fairly simple and easy to understand.
Reason 1. The Amish Don't Wear Jewelry
Much of the Amish way of life is focused on the idea of modesty before God and the community.
This modesty includes a sense of plainness and simplicity, which is also shown in other "plain" people throughout the world.
For the Amish in particular, this extends to the concept of jewelry and, in other cases, precious metals that have no practical purpose.
In that respect, the Amish simply don't wear jewelry. Aside from religious reasons, jewelry just isn't practical to wear when you're involved in manual labor. Rings, necklaces, and other ornamentation can get in the way of your work — not to mention the damage it could do if it got caught on a tool or machinery.
Because almost every other tradition of marriage somehow includes rings or other ornamental accessories, the Amish needed a way to show that two people were wed in their communities.
Without rings, they turned to the easy options at their fingertips.
Men grew beards, and women wore white head coverings — or bonnets.
As a result, it's easy to identify both a married man and a married woman just by looking at them.
This, incidentally, brings us to a second reason why Amish women wear white bonnets after marriage.
Reason 2. It's Easy to Identify
It's hard to overstate the importance of being able to identify someone who's in a committed relationship in any community, especially one as insular and community-focused as the Amish.
While modern American tradition only has rings (at least as a baseline) and a varied system of dating, Amish marriages are almost always preceded by a period of courtship.
This courtship includes much of many of the same ideas as courtship from the 1940s or 1950s, where a man and woman begin spending time with one another to discover whether there's a connection that they share.
While not all courtships are successful, they're important to the system of marriage and family that the Amish embrace.
So, in other words, married women wear white bonnets to show that they're incapable of courting, just as a man grows a beard to show the same.
In modern American terms, this means that they're "off the market."
However, just because men and women share methods of indicating marriage, they do not necessarily share a level of equality.
Reason 3. Antiquated Gender Norms
The Amish are an ultra-conservative sect of ethno-religious individuals, meaning they're almost exclusively made of white Caucasians of German descent who all agree to worship the same god.
This means it's fairly simple to get everyone on board with traditions, as the Amish enjoy a shared heritage that has persisted for literal centuries.
One of these traditions is a pre-feminist standardization of gender norms and roles. Men are providers who spend most of their time working manual labor, while women are relegated to household or garden work. When a married couple starts having children, women are also responsible for raising those children in addition to their other responsibilities.
In that respect, the Amish interpretation of gender is antiquated, to say the least, and sexist, to say the worst.
This antiquated vision of gender also means that there are different expectations of women than there are of men. One of these expectations is that a woman will wear a head covering to show her modesty.
Another of these expectations is the classic (and sexist) version of a "pure" woman — often interpreted as a virgin — entering into a marriage with a man of the community.
When combined, these traditions result in the idea of married women wearing a white bonnet to show their marriage.
The color white acts as the traditional symbol of purity, while the bonnet continues to show an Amish woman's humility before their god and community.
(An Amish man's beard only shows marriage.)
What Are the Origins of the White Bonnet?
While it's not written down anywhere (that we could find, anyway), it's not too much of a stretch to envision that Amish women were instructed and forced to wear a white bonnet as a way to show, again, their purity and humility before God.
In reality, it was a way of complying with the sexist beliefs of Jakob Ammann and the Amish men who came after him.
Part of the reason that this may have been the case is that Ammann himself was preoccupied with purity of living, including working to achieve repentance and earning forgiveness through penitence.
This is a hardline view, and it was considered hardline by the Mennonites at the time of the Great Schism, the name for the day when Ammann officially split his followers from the Swiss Brethren to create the Amish.
If anything, it's only become more hardline over the past 300 years.
Needless to say, while the world has advanced in technology and ideology compared to the Amish, the Amish have left these advancements in the dust — for better or for worse.
As a result, the white bonnet remains the callsign of a married woman in the Amish community.
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