The Military Is The Reason Why the Amish Have Their Distinctive Beards

Photo Credit: CORBIS / Historical / Getty Images (Colorized)
Photo Credit: CORBIS / Historical / Getty Images (Colorized)

The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships most notable for their relatively “old-fashioned” style of life. As part of living out what they believe to be God’s word, Amish men famously sport long beards.

Today, bearded men aren’t unusual. However, unlike those sporting one for fashion, you won’t see a bearded Amish man with an unshaven upper lip, a choice that actually relates back to the military.

Amish man rubbing his neck
Amish man, September 1950. (Photo Credit: Doreen Spooner / Keystone Features / Getty Images)

The Amish are closely related to Mennonite churches, but have practices and traditions that differ from other Christian groups. The reason for the beard itself is an homage to the Bible. At the time the stories in the religious text occur – long before the days of Gillette razors – most men sported faces full of hair. Devout Amish men pay tribute to this by also growing their own beards.

However, it isn’t as simple as never shaving – only married men are allowed to stop. Growing out a beard is a way of signally to everyone else that this person has become a man. One area they do shave, though, is their mustache.

Portrait of Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant, leader of the Union Army, is one of many military generals from history to sport a mustache and beard. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Historical / Getty Images)

Leviticus 19:27  – “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt though mar the corners of thy beard” – is a core belief of the Amish. Another is pacifism.

Technically, the Amish practice non-resistance, which is regarded as a form of pacifism. It’s the practice of not resisting authority, no matter the situation, even if one considers it unfair. Although this is usually related to their daily life, fighting a war would be considered a form of resistance for the Amish, meaning they don’t perform any type of military service.

Therefore, the mustache must go.

Two Amish men looking pensive
Amish men listen to President George W. Bush during a campaign stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 2004. (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

But why? Today, the mustache is a fashion choice, but it was once a symbol of military service. Facial hair has long been associated with war and the strength of troops, particularly in areas of the world where beards and mustaches are deemed to be more masculine. Even today, facial hair is worn by soldiers in certain regions as a way to gain respect.

For example, the British Empire were big fans of the mustache, going so far as to make it mandatory for soldiers at one point in history. This unique requirement remained in place until World War I, when properly maintaining a mustache was not only a low priority, but often impossible in the harsh conditions of the trenches.

Furthermore, the appearance of gas on battlefields sparked fears that facial hair would prevent a gas mask from completely sealing against the skin. As such, the requirement was dropped in October 1916.

Soldiers crowded in a trench
Before the Battle of Albert in July 1916, the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers fix bayonets. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

With such strong ties to war history, the Amish choose to not sport mustaches in rejection of military service. This allows them to continue growing their beards while avoiding any association with the military.

It helps let others know who’s married, too.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE