For the Amish, hair isn’t just hair. Hair is deeply symbolic.
Those customary horseshoe beards of Amish men represent four hundred years of tradition. They are the Amish wedding ring, grown after a Plain man weds his bride. Mustaches, though, are eschewed. Too strong an identification with the military. The Amish— all the Anabaptists, including the Mennonites, the German Baptists, the Hutterites—share a core belief of pacifism.
Amish women take their hair quite seriously, too. A girl’s hair is never cut. The styling of hair is unique to that particular district: Lancaster women wear their hair in a certain way, parted in the middle and twisted back into a tight bun, held with pins. Yes, you read that right. Pins! And a covering is worn at all times, even at night. During the day, Amish women wear a thin organza prayer cap or a woven bandana. In most churches, little girls start wearing the prayer cap from day one. In Lancaster, though, they wait to wear the cap until eighth grade. By the way, a bonnet is different from a prayer cap. The bonnets are large and black, a little like blinders on a horse, worn only when a girl or woman goes visiting.
The simple hairstyles are designed so women do not take pride in their hair. We non-Amish lassies understand that tendency, don’t we? I’m embarrassed to admit how much my middle-aged friends and I spend in a hair salon every six to eight weeks. U.S. hair care is a multi-billion dollar industry. Long before the practice of touching up gray roots, the Amish saw the tendency of women to glory in their hair. They base the need to cover the hair on several scriptural passages (1 Corinthians 11:15, 1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Hair, for the Amish, symbolizes so much more than we might think: identity, tradition, humility before God, marital status, district affiliation.