Kalona's Old Order Amish dress in a unique, symbolic way, which requires that women should dress in an attitude of prayer. Prayer caps are worn by females of the Old Order through Conservative Mennonite sects. These caps are starched white caps, which tie under the chin, or beneath the hair at the nape. They are given to girls at the age of accountability and must be worn at all times.  The more conservative divisions wear these under their more public black bonnets and shawls.

Their dresses are simple, without ornamentation and the more conservative are made of plain fabrics without any prints, while Conservative Mennonites may wear small prints and zippers. Married women wear dark colored long dresses pinned on the bodice with straight pins. Unmarried women wear white half aprons, changing to a colored half apron matching the dress after marriage. White aprons are also worn for religious occasions, like weddings and funerals, and sometimes by the women who work in shops or bakeries.

Men wear black suits with buttons, which is a departure from the eastern traditions, which allow only hooks and eyes. Their long sleeved shirts are generally chambray blue for everyday, with white fabric being reserved from religious occasions. Neckties and bowties are taboo. Adult men wear long beards to symbolize their married state but mustaches are not worn, possibly due to their historical association with the military, as the Amish are a pacifistic people.

The Differing Orders
Kalona Amish, or Old Order Amish, came to the area in 1846, and though the practices of the Old Order Amish have changed little since that time, there have been some fragmenting from the original order. In recent years it has been more common to see the Amish mixing with the general public, as more are opening small businesses.

Today, there are 5 main degrees of conservatism in Kalona. In order of most conservative, the divisions are locally known as Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Conservative Mennonite, and Mennonite. Amish people refer to the non-Amish as English and we will use that distinction for clarity.

There is a wide range in what the different orders allow in their acceptance of modern conveniences. The most conservative still live as they did in the 1800s with no electricity, phones, or tvs, while most Mennonites, while practicing traditional religious beliefs are more like the English and enjoy the modern ways. Old Order Amish still use horses to farm and travel, while the Beachy Amish can only drive tractors with steel wheels, and cars that are black, and Conservative Mennonites and Mennonites drive cars of any color. So when discussing the Amish of the area, it is very hard to make generalities.

The more conservative of Kalona's Amish order's forego modern amenities, such as telephones, electricity, and automobiles for two reasons: 1) the desire to be separate from the world to obey the Biblical mandate to be “in the world, but not of the world,” and 2) modern conveniences detract from the solidarity of their community.

Amish people will not take up arms to go to war, in an effort to follow the teachings of scripture to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Most Amish have religious objections to being photographed. The Ordnung, or rules for living do not allow photographs for two reasons, first, it’s forbidden to show pride in one’s appearance and secondly, the bible forbids making graven images.

Amish homes are also plain and modest, though they tend to be sprawling to provide for extended family. Most are painted white, and old order homes are devoid of pictures on the walls and usually have no window curtains. Amish give their main house to the oldest son, when they retire, and, if there are children at home yet, there is a fairly large grandpa house built or if they don’t retire, the son will more than likely buy a farm or stay on the family land. It is not uncommon for three and sometimes, four generations of a family to live under the same roof. 

Amish in Kalona, as in other areas, take care of their own and provide for their elderly.  They do not have insurance, but rely on the Amish community at large to contribute to those inpacted by illnesses or accidents. They are very forgiving people. Auto and buggy accidents have ocurred and while saddened by the death or injury, the Amish have held no blame to either party.

Interestingly, Amish in Kalona do practice shunning, a very sad time for everyone involved.  Shunning is when someone or some group is not not allowed to converse or to share bread together with the rest of the order because they have broken from the ordnung, or rules of an order.  This does not happen very often, but when it does it is very emotional and is a sad happening.

Many Amish are bi-lingual and even tri-lingual. For everyday, they speak a Low German, similar to Pennsylvania Dutch, among themselves. High German is reserved for church services, and English is spoken with outsiders.
The Amish settled into farming because this rural lifestyle made it easier for them to keep their distance from non-believers, referred to simply as "The English." Click here to learn more about their farms and farming methods.

Visitors may notice different types of buggies when driving through, or taking a tour through the countryside. There are single buggies, family style buggies, and the church wagon.  The church wagon is very important to Kalona's most conservative orders of Amish. It carries the benches for their church services, which are not held in a separate building, but alternates amongst their homes. Old Order Amish are married on their farms, and visitation or those of the faith who pass on is held at home.

In Kalona, there are Sunday School houses where young people attend classes of faith.  On some Sundays, one may view buggies parked side by side by this small building. Inside, the young people sit on backless benches, to hear an elder teach them lessons about their faith.  These young people also have “sings,” a time to get together and sing hymns for an hour or two, and of course, it provides some opportunity for some “courting.”

Quilting is a common social activity for the women, sitting around quilt frames, although some do "one needle" quilts as well.

The roots of the Amish and Mennonite beliefs and practices extend back hundreds of years, to the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. In 1525, the Anabaptist movement began. Eventually, the first Amish immigrant left Switzerland and came to America, where they settled first in Pennsylvania and as numbers spread, came to Iowa, bringing some customs with them and leaving others behind.

One thing the Amish brought with them was the Ordnung, or rules for living.  These rules explain the reasoning behind living the plain life, and forbids many things, including color in clothing or on walls, and other material things in life. The Bishops of each district also give members another set of rules. As of 2010, there are seven districts in Kalona. The Amish have their own schools that are supervised by the consolidated district of Mid Prairie Schools.

Those outside the faith, referred to by the Amish as "English," are often curious about the Amish and why they forego modern amenities? The most important thing to remember is they are a people of faith and their practices reflect their beliefs.

Who are the Amish?