The history of costume in the Mennonite Church has not yet been exhaustively studied. From the very beginning of the Anabaptist movement in Switzerland and the Netherlands in the 16th century considerable emphasis fell on simplicity of life including attire. Within a century or thereabouts the tendency appeared in some areas for the church to freeze for greater or longer periods the more conservative forms of clothing.
Among the more conservative groups in America the matter of women's headgear ultimately became a major concern. The Swiss Mennonite women of southeastern Pennsylvania undoubtedly wore plain and simple headgear from the first, likely a form of beaver hat, or the old flat hat which in some parts of Europe (in England, for example) were the predecessor of the bonnet. It appears that under the influence of the Society of Friends in the Philadelphia area, the Mennonite women of the Lancaster Conference and of much of the Franconia Conference adopted the "Quaker bonnet" perhaps early in the 19th century. Some of the more conservative areas of the Franconia Conference showed some resistance to the adoption of this plain bonnet. The mother of the late bishop George J. Lapp (1879-1951) and wife of Deacon Samuel W. Lapp (1833-1926) of the Lexington congregation in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, never wore this Quaker bonnet until her family moved to Nebraska in 1878. She had felt that such bonnets were worn for "pride." It was not until 1912 that the Franconia Conference finally fell in line with the other district conferences of the Mennonites (Mennonite Church) by making the wearing of a bonnet a test of membership. During much of the 19th century, and in some areas until the present, the wearing of the bonnet is made a test of church membership (Mennonite Church). Since 1920 or earlier there has been discontinuance of the bonnet in many of the conferences west of eastern Pennsylvania, although the church has stressed the wearing of simple headgear, and although many ministers continue to protest against the wearing of "hats," namely, forms of headgear with brims or ornaments. The Mennonite women of Ontario did not adopt the "Quaker" bonnet but wore the "English" or "Queen Victoria" type of hat (or bonnet). Under the influence of the United States Mennonites this hat was gradually supplanted in the first quarter of the 20th century by the "American" or "Dutch" bonnet, which in turn is again disappearing and being gradually replaced by more conventional headgear. (See Bonnet.)
The Old Colony Mennonites of Mexico still wear flat broad-brimmed straw hats of a shape similar to the flat beaver hats of 18th-century Pennsylvania. (See Mennonite Life for January 1952, which presents several photographs of these hats.) In the Dutch Country (Lancaster, 1953) carries (p. 11) a picture of the 18th-century Pennsylvania flat hat. The museum of the York County, Pensylvania, Historical Society contains several sketches by Lewis Miller (1796-1882) purporting to portray Mennonite costumes for both men and women of the time of his youth (circa 1810), which show the broad flat hats on both men and women. S. F. Coffman's (1872-1954) article, "Mennonite Dress Customs" in the Mennonite Historical Bulletin for January 1955, tells of the earlier wearing of the broad-brimmed beaver hats in the Vineland, Ontario, community as reported by the older people in 1895. A Pennsylvania Amish discipline of 1809 prohibits the wearing of hats. (Priscilla Delp, "History Makes Bonnets." Christian Living II, 1955, 14-22.) -- J.C.W.
The history of the Mennonite men's hat is somewhat similar. The eastern Pennsylvania men, including the Amish, generally adopted the "Quaker" broad-brimmed, flat-crowned (uncreased) hat, although this was not commonly done farther west or in Ontario. In the 20th century the style was supplanted, except among the eastern Pennsylvania Amish, by the conventional American men's hat, though usually the crease was omitted by the preachers. In other sections no distinctive hat was worn by either laity or ministers. However, until recently it was common practice 'for the ministers to wear only black hats. For a time in some sections, at least in Ontario in the second half of the 19th century, the "high hat" or topper was worn by a number of Mennonite men to funerals, weddings, and even to church services. The Old Colony Mennonite men of Manitoba and elsewhere resisted the introduction of hats, wearing instead the peasant type of cap worn in Russia. In South Germany during the mid-19th century the more conservative men wore the French type 3-cornered hat long after the remaining population had abandoned this style. -- H.S.B.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 678. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Wenger, J. C. and Harold S. Bender. "Hats." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/hats.
APA style: Wenger, J. C. and Harold S. Bender. (1956). Hats. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/hats.