Plain People

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In the mid-19th century most Mennonites, Amish, Brethren in Christ, and Brethren (Dunkers, Church of the Brethren) could be considered "Plain People." The Society of Friends (Quakers), who probably coined the term, were rapidly losing their plainness by this time. Separation and nonconformity to the surrounding world are essential to the plain life. Plainness mainly refers to the use of simple, modest dress. Clothing is plain because it is free of ornaments and stylish appendages. To "dress plain" means to wear a distinctive, traditional garb which is not in fashion with the world. By the late 20th century the majority of the groups once considered plain have been outwardly assimilated into the larger society. Some of those who are visibly conformed to the world still identify themselves as plain people by virtue of their inner values and simple life-style.

The Old Order Amish are the largest group of Plain People. The Old Order Mennonites, Reformed Mennonites, Beachy Amish Mennonites, and various conservative Mennonites who withdrew from the large Mennonite Church (MC) since the 1950s are also plain. The Old Colony Mennonites and other groups of Russian-Manitoba background (Sommerfeld Mennonites, Chortitzer Mennonite Conference, Saskatchewan Bergthal Mennonites, Kleine Gemeinde in Latin America) adhere to principles and practices similar to those of the Pennsylvania German Plain People. Hutterites also have some distinctive features in their dress. The Old German Baptist Brethren and the Dunkard Brethren as well as several smaller Brethren groups and a minority within the Church of the Brethren carry on the plain traditions of their Dunker forebears. The Old Order River Brethren have retained the plain ways that have largely been lost by their Brethren in Christ cousins.

Additional Information

"Plain People of Pennsylvania." Penn State On Demand panel discussion moderated by Patty Satalia with Donald Kraybill, Richard Page, David Weaver-Zercher, Stephen Scott and Julia Kasdorf. 58:45 minute streaming video in QuickTime or WindowsMedia.

Author(s) Stephen E Scott
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Scott, Stephen E. "Plain People." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 24 Jun 2024.

APA style

Scott, Stephen E. (1990). Plain People. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 June 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 705. All rights reserved.

©1996-2024 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.