Frock Coat

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In Colonial America the dress coat of men was a long-tailed coat, with split tails for horse-back riding; having no lapels it buttoned up to the top in front. There were no outside pockets. By the end of the 18th century the collar had risen as high as it could on the back and had turned over to make the modern lapel, which lapel still carried the buttonhole and notched corners of the old frock coat. During the 19th century the frock coat slowly passed out of general use in American society. In a general way the Mennonite Church (MC) tended to follow the changes in convention but only after their general adoption. Sometime during the 19th century Mennonite bishops began to accept baptismal candidates who wore coats with lapels. In the Franconia, Lancaster, and Washington-Franklin Mennonite conferences (MC) the ministers were still expected to wear the Colonial frock coat in the 1950s, while some of the laity wore a modern coat with lapels, and others wore a modern sack coat but without lapels, retaining the straight collar of the Colonial coat. Elsewhere in the 1950s Mennonite ministers (MC) generally wore the "plain" coat which has the short tail of the modern sack coat but the plain collar of the Colonial coat. Thus Mennonite ministers outside eastern Pennsylvania were indistinguishable from that portion of the laity which wore the "plain" coat. At the beginning of the 20th century there were a few Mennonite ministers who did not wear the "plain" coat: Bishop Martin Rutt (1840-1905), who wore a cutaway coat which had lapels, and Christian Brackbill and Frank M. Herr, both of whom preached over a decade in the Lancaster Conference before adopting the plain coat about 1911. John H. Oberholtzer's initial refusal to adopt the required coat was one of the factors leading to the division of 1847 in the Franconia Conference, although he ultimately did wear it. By the end of the 20th century the "plain" coat was not worn by most Mennonite Church (MC) ministers, though this was still practice in conservative Mennonite groups. See Conservative Mennonites (Swiss-High German, Pennsylvania)


Wenger, John C. Historical and Biblical Position of the Mennonite Church on Attire. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1944.

Wenger, John C. Separated Unto God; A Plea for Christian Simplicity of Life and for a Scriptural Non-Conformity to the World. Scottdale, Pa: Mennonite Pub. Hse, 1951: 81-86.

Author(s) John C Wenger
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Wenger, John C. "Frock Coat." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 22 Apr 2024.

APA style

Wenger, John C. (1956). Frock Coat. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 April 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 414. All rights reserved.

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