Three years ago, I wrote a post about cape dresses being comfortable. I had spent about 2 weeks amount conservative Mennonites that summer. It was my first experience with a group of other women who wore cape dresses. This weekend, I made my own cape dress for the first time. Now, I’d like to talk a bit about why this style of modest dress is important to me and dispel some myths about modern women who chose to dress this way.
As America’s popular society has lost respect for God in the last 50 years or so, it’s way of dressing has become less modest to the point today that a woman can wear a bikini off the beach without stares. This is why modest dress was more common in the past than it is now.
Being a woman who wears modest dresses and headcovering, I can say it isn’t always easy, nor is everyone as respectful of my decision. However, in general people are more polite toward me and my family since I started dressing this way.
What is a cape dress? A cape dress is a traditional dress worn by women in conservative Anabaptist Christian denominations including Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, German Baptist, and other non-affiliated churches. It is a long dress, typically falling at least mid-calf. The dress gets it’s name from the extra piece of fabric over the bodice (upper body), called a cape. This is to provide extra modesty. However, there is no one single cape dress pattern. In fact, there is a lot of variations within the general cape dress style.
Sleeves come at least to the elbow but are often 3/4 length or full long sleeve. The sleeves are usually gently gathered at the top, allowing more freedom of movement. They can have plain hems, cuffs, or elastic gathers.
The waist can be gathered with or without elastic, pleated, fitted, or belted. The cape can be in both the front and back or just the front. It is usually tapered to the waist. German Baptist capes are more like a wrap and come to a point in the front and back and partially cover the arms. Most capes are sewn to the dress. However, in some Old Order groups as well as Amish, the cape is actually a separate piece along with an apron so their dresses are in 3 pieces.
Most cape dresses have a hidden zipper in back to hold them shut. However, they can also have buttons in either the front or back. I recently read about a woman who uses a short zipper on one shoulder for her dresses.
Are you stuck in the past? No. Dressing modestly and wearing a headcover isn’t to preserve the past, but to respect God. There are many ways women dress to adhere to modesty. Some simply dress normally but with higher necklines and looser clothes. Others wear jumpers. Others like me wear long dresses including cape dresses.
Is it just for Amish or Mennonites? No. God calls all women to be dress modestly. 1 Timothy 2:9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”
But why a cape dress instead of a regular, modest dress? I am a conservative Christian, but not Amish or Mennonite. However, I like to wear the cape dress because it is not only modest but very comfortable. I had a hard time finding modest comfortable dresses (especially at a decent price) before I bought my first cape dress. Now I have several and they are among my favorites. Believe it or not, I get many compliments on them too. It’s also a lot cheaper because I’m aren’t always having to keep up with the latest fashions.
Way back in high school, I was caught up in fashion. Every season I had to get a new wardrobe. That spent most of the money I earned doing 4H. It was never ending. I wasn’t outgrowing the clothes like young children do. I just didn’t want them longer than a few months before something new and better came along. I was like most young women. I hung out at the mall. I was vain.
Now I realize vanity is a sin. The Bible says in Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.” Wearing a cape dress keeps me from being vain following fashion. Some people may claim that wearing a cape dress is vain because it is different from society. Some even go so far as to think it is a prideful, holier-than-thou type “fashion”. I think just the opposite. I see those claims as excuses to still be vain. As Christians, we are called to be separate from the world around us. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 commands, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you”.
Being separate should apply to all parts of our life as Christians, not just when convenient or only on Sundays. Fashion, entertainment, and other lifestyle choices are especially important because it is through these choices the world will judge us. It is through these choices that others may be won to Christ. Sadly, it is also through these choices that many see modern Western Christians as hypocrites. I don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite. Wearing a cape dress not only tells the world I am a conservative Christian, it is also a reminder to me to be careful in my choices.
Women wearing cape dresses
What about variety? Another objection people have to cape dresses is that they are a uniform and do not allow individuality. Yes, they are a uniform, but so is fashion. Most people today would not think of putting on jeans and a t-shirt. Yet, that can be seen as a uniform of Western culture. The main difference is who sets the standard: the church or society.
As you can see if you look carefully in the above photo, there are several differences in sleeves, collars, fabric, and waist even though they are all wearing cape dresses. I’ve already described many these differences above. It’s just that modern society is not used to seeing this type of dress so doesn’t notice the differences.
Isn’t it legalism? No. While cape dresses are similar, very few churches insist on exactly the same dress pattern among the women. In fact, most female military uniforms have fewer variations compared to cape dresses. However, few would criticize the military as being too strict or legalistic. They understand that a uniform gives group identity. So do cape dresses. They identify the wearer as a conservative Christian, usually from an Anabaptist group.
Filed under: around the home, Church | Tagged: Bible study, cape dress, fashion, headcovering, Mennonite, modesty, plain dress | Leave a comment »