The Old Order Amish, usually called just the Amish, are a conservative and austere religious group with roots in the 16th century Anabaptist movement. Members of that movement felt the Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough in purifying Christian churches of Roman Catholic rituals and sacraments. They opposed infant baptism as well as the fusion of church and state power. The Amish broke from the Mennonites in the late 17th century because they supported stricter observance of shunning and excommunication, as well as stricter rules dictating appropriate dress. The Amish prayer cap, or "headcovering," for women is one example of this dress code.

Respect for Literal Biblical Authority

Amish communities view the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. They interpret the 11th chapter of the New Testament Pauline letter 1 Corinthians as a command for women to wear the headcovering. The fifth verse states, "But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head -- it is the same as having her head shaved." Because the Amish believe in the biblical admonishment to pray "without ceasing," they do not relegate the covering to church. They also wear it in public places and throughout the day, except when they sleep.

Modesty and Plain Dress

The Amish believe God commands them to dress modestly to prevent sexual temptation. For women, this means dark, solid-colored dresses as well as headcoverings. Amish women usually arrange their hair in a bun and place it under the headcovering because they believe this itself is an act of modesty. Because of their strict adherence to rules regarding dress, the Amish and other Anabaptist groups have sometimes been called "plain people." They view their plainness as a way of setting themselves apart from others as followers of God, a practice they call "nonconformity."

Expression of Gender Roles

The Amish headcovering is also an expression of gender roles within the church. The 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians states that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man." Verse seven spells out the distinction: "A man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man." The Amish believe the headcovering provides a tangible reminder of the concept of male headship and authority, as well as female submission.

Expression of Amish Cultural Identity

The Amish are heirs to a tradition that is about 500 years old. They see the preservation of their ethnic and spiritual cultures as an important task in a world that they view as hostile to their convictions. Each Amish community preserves its cultural practices and religious convictions through the Ordnung, or set of rules that govern daily life. The Ordnung specifies how men and women should dress, and includes the headcovering for women.