clothing; head covering; veil; oral history; cultural transmission; modesty; agency; social structures; Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Biblical Mennonite Alliance


How do Conservative Mennonite and Amish-Mennonite women conceptualize their religious dress practices? Do they unthinkingly conform to church dress practices or do they exercise some agency? Using an oral history research methodology, we explore the relationship between social structures and individual agency through the stories of seven women regarding their interaction with modest dress practices. These stories touch on the transmission of dress practices, the variety of influences that shaped their experiences, and changes in the expression of dress practices. The stories consist primarily of quotations from interviews conducted by Megan Mong, a former member of a Conservative Mennonite church; her insider status provides a rich and nuanced inquiry. Detailed excerpts from interviews are provided for the seven women. We then organize insights from the interviews around several themes: the relative influence of religious structures and the family, dynamics of change in dress practices, and the role of inner attitudes versus external practices. The picture emerging from these stories is one in which the narrators were and continue to be extensively involved in a constantly evolving set of standards. [Abstract by authors.]


We are grateful to the seven women who gave so freely of their time. Megan thoroughly appreciated their graciousness. We are also grateful to Kim Donehower, Kim Porter, and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments and critiques on earlier versions of this paper, as well as to Cory Anderson, who went above and beyond normal editorial responsibilities.


Figures in this article are rendered in color for the online publication and in greyscale for the print publication.