Mennonites are members of an Anabaptist sect of Christianity that emerged during the Protestant Reformation. Members of this sect live simple lives and follow long-standing traditions and customs, including a simplistic way of dress. This includes a black cap or headscarf for women. 
Female Mennonites wear black caps to conform with the community, respect tradition, obey scripture, symbolize submission, show modesty, and avoid tempting men.
Those who don’t often interact with people in the Mennonite community may find some of their customs confusing or old-fashioned, including the custom of wearing black caps. The rest of this article explains this tradition in greater detail.
Why do Mennonites wear caps?
Female Mennonites often wear black caps or headscarves to cover their hair. They do this to show submission, humility, and modesty while they are outside or in the presence of others and to honor God.
Many Mennonite women believe that God asks women to be submissive to the authority of men, and wearing a cap symbolizes this submission. In scripture, woman was created as “the glory of man,” and “for the man,” (1 Corinthians 11:7-8), and wearing a cap helps establish this line of authority.
A cap also demonstrates modesty. Mennonite women are encouraged to dress modestly to avoid tempting men who are not their husbands and to focus on God and prayer and not superficial qualities, such as outward beauty.
Scriptural support for this mindset is found in 1 Timothy 2:9: “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”
If women are always wearing caps, they never need to worry about how to fix their hair. This keeps the focus on God instead of on themselves.
In summary, Mennonite women wear caps to observe submission and express their spiritual devotion. Additional benefits include:
- Providing warmth in the winter
- Shielding against the elements
- Conforming with others in the community
Still, the main justification for the cap is spiritual.
However, Mennonite women don’t wear their caps all the time. They often remove them in the privacy of their own homes, as in their houses, they don’t have to worry about how they look to others. Additionally, they don’t need to worry about tempting other men within their private homes.
Traditionally, only women need to cover their heads with caps, but more conservative Mennonite men wear black hats on Sundays to demonstrate their humility before God. Men may also wear their black hats on other days simply to protect their heads from sunlight or cold or to remind them to live holy lives.
Children may also wear caps to demonstrate that they are under the authority of their parents. Just as women must demonstrate their submission to men, children must demonstrate their submission to their parents.
Why are Mennonite caps black?
Mennonite caps are black because black is a simple and acceptable color in the Mennonite faith, so this color helps the wearer fit in and honor tradition while remaining modest.
One of the main reasons Mennonite caps are black is because black is generally an acceptable color within Mennonite communities.
While most communities don’t have any regulations against wearing brighter colors, black is accepted as a simple color that isn’t too showy and adheres to the simplistic lifestyle that Mennonites try to lead.
Black is a common color amongst Mennonites, and not just because it isn’t flashy. All Mennonites wear dark colors, ensuring they all look much the same. In that way, they make sure no one looks wealthier or “better off” than someone else.
It removes the temptation for members of the community to fall into the same traps of judging people based on appearances that people in the wider world often fall prey to.
Additionally, the color black may indicate a woman’s marital status. Traditionally, unmarried Mennonite women wear black caps to show that they are single and available for courting. Once they marry, some Mennonite women give up the black cap for a white one, although this is not true in all communities.
What other clothing is unique to Mennonites?
In addition to their black caps, other clothing unique to people in Mennonite communities includes suspenders for the men and veils and long skirts for the women. The colors are usually dark or white, as well.
The traditional garb for Old Order Mennonite men is as follows:
- A simple white shirt
- The traditional black hat
- Trousers, usually black or dark blue
The pants and shirt aren’t necessarily unusual, but the suspenders set these men apart from non-Mennonites. Additionally, their hats are pretty distinctive.
Men wear suspenders largely because that’s what Mennonite men have worn traditionally, so they conform to cultural attire. Additionally, because many Mennonites wear suspenders, a man who wears suspenders matches others in the community, which rejects hierarchy and flashiness that could be offensive to God.
Wearing suspenders helps a man embrace uniformity, ultimately allowing for more time to pursue important Christian endeavors. Furthermore, suspenders are a practical way to keep trousers in place, so men aren’t distracted by something as trivial as pants.
Another clothing item unique to Mennonites is a veil. Some more modern Mennonite communities view this practice as outdated, but others view veiling as an important symbol of subservience.
Women who veil do so to preserve their modesty. It also helps them avoid tempting or receiving attention from the opposite sex. Just as wearing a cap keeps the focus on God, wearing a veil keeps women focused on worship instead of how they look.
Finally, Mennonite women often wear long, conservative, and simple skirts. These skirts ensure modesty.
The skirts are also an easy way for Mennonite women to follow scripture, particularly Deuteronomy 22:5, which instructs: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”
For Mennonite women, it’s shameful to look or dress like a man. Men are the stronger, dominant gender in Mennonite communities, and women don’t want to take on any manly attributes or duties.
That means avoiding certain activities and jobs in the community, but it also means they can’t wear pants. Skirts are a feminine way of dressing that ensures the line of authority is upheld in the community.
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