In Colonial America the man's coat was a frock coat without lapel, and buttoned to the throat. It had a long, split tail for convenience in horseback riding. In the early 19th century the collar rose higher and higher on the back and finally turned over to form the modern roll collar and lapel. At the same time the tail shortened to form the modern sack coat. The ministers in general, and some of the laity, in the more conservative Mennonite groups objected to these changes, and clung to the old-fashioned frock coat with its long tail and no lapel. In the strictest groups such as the Old Order Amish the old collarless coat, known as the "plain" coat, is still worn by ministry and laity alike, and is fastened with hooks and eyes rather than buttons. In the eastern sector of the Mennonite Church (Mennonite Church [MC]) (Franconia, Lancaster, Washington-Franklin, and Virginia conferences) the ministers generally still wear the split tail frock coat (somewhat shortened) with the "plain" collar, while some of the laity wear a collarless sack coat, and others wear the conventional sack coat with roll collar and lapel. In the remainder of the church (MC) the standard practice of the ministers is to wear the sack coat with the "plain" collar, but most laymen wear the conventional coat with lapel. (See also Dress.) Mennonite deviations in dress from the conventions of the surrounding culture are regarded by many as symbols of nonconformity to the world.
The Amish congregations descending from the Alsatian Amish immigrants of 1815-60 did not bring the "plain" coat with them from Europe and did not adopt it generally until well into the first quarter of the 20th century and then only for the ministers, not for laymen. In the course of the first quarter of the century most of the Mennonite and Amish conferences (Mennonite Church) adopted regulations requiring the "plain" coat for the ministers and recommending it for the laity, hence the "plain" coat is often called the "regulation" coat. The high tide of the movement was about 1920-30. In the Lancaster Mennonite Conference in the 1950s all male church workers, including Sunday-school teachers, were required to wear the "plain" coat as a condition for service. Further west the trend seemed to be toward less wearing and less requirement of the "plain" coat, even for ministers. In some sections the "plain" vest was also worn with the plain coat. Because in most sections of the church west of the Allegheny Mountains very few laymen wore it, the plain coat had in effect become a preacher's coat or clerical coat, and had indeed a very similar appearance to the clerical coat worn by some Roman Catholic and Episcopalian clergymen. Its origin, however, has no connection with the clerical coat.
The Church of the Brethren, which formerly had the custom of wearing the "plain" coat similar to the Mennonite custom herein described, had largely dropped it by the late 1950s. Among the Quakers it had completely disappeared. The Brethren in Christ still retained it in the 1950s.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 183-184. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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To cite this page:
MLA style: Wenger, John C. "Plain Coat." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/plain_coat.
APA style: Wenger, John C. (1959). Plain Coat. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/plain_coat.