Meet El Stoltzfus, a personal friend of ours and an amazing member of the Urban Southern family. We’re incredibly honored that El would share her story with US. Like us, El was born Amish. Today she shares the journey of how she discovered her personal style. This post is not sponsored.
The Beginning: Born Amish in the 80s
It is the 80s, 1982 to be exact and I am two years old. I am petite with pigtails, dressed in a long pinafore apron that opens down the back.
It’s hot outside, and dry. I am squatting in the dirt with a stick, scratching unhappily at the dry, red clay under my bare feet. I feel irritable and frustrated. My plastic diaper cover rustles. My bottom feels big and damp. My pigtails irritate my neck. When I walk, my pinafore opens in the back and shows my tiny frame.
I try to tell my Mom how much I hate pigtails. She hears me and ties my pigtails up with little pieces of yarn.
Yes, that is my first memory, and ironically it’s tied to some form of fashion, although fashion is the last concern the Amish have. I was different. I knew I was Amish from the age of two. I knew we were different, and I hated being different.
GROWING UP AMISH
As a 10-year-old, I followed my mother’s brown dress around Walmart with my head down, the wings of my black bonnet hiding my face. I didn’t want to be seen dressed like this. I was ashamed of my family because of how we looked.
At 8-years-old I started to sew, and by age 12 I was sewing most of my clothes. The freedom of sewing allowed me to lower the neckline a little, getting rid of the awful, hot, choking feeling of polyester wrapped tightly around my modest throat. Often I had to force myself not to scream with the sensation of my black covering tied under my chin, coupled with the necklines of my little Amish dresses, but one’s collarbone must not be seen.
At age 13, I started riding horses. I wore an old pair of Amish barn door pants under my dress, and once away from home, I would loosen my neckline, and gallop gloriously free through the evening air.
What are barn door pants?
Barn door pants are an Amish style of pants. They are homemade pants without a zipper where the front of the pants may be folded up and buttoned along the top.
Photo of Barn Door pants from an internet search, source unknown.
LIVING WITH A DISEASE
At age 15, I developed Cushing’s Disease, and for two horrifying years I watched the trunk of my body swell bigger and bigger. My skin was hot and flushed; my bones became brittle and no longer held my weight. I had huge bruises on my legs and arms.
I stopped living and stayed in my dark bedroom with the door shut. None of my clothes fit, and I became intensely aware of myself but with a bitter hatred. Thank God at 17 I had surgery to remove a tumor and within a year was back to my old self.
DARING TO DREAM
The first dress I remember making myself after my body was normal again was an airy, light blue, cotton. I rebelled and put elastic into the waistband. I even attached the cape to the dress itself. That dress became my freedom. When I wore it, I didn’t feel micromanaged. I felt like myself.
I wish I had pictures of all of these stages, but alas, I have none. It was around this time that I decided I could not spend my life in a situation that I hated more than anything. I wanted to be normal, and so I started dreaming of leaving the Amish.
When I turned 18, I somehow found this little denim dress that buttoned up the front. I must have found it at a Goodwill, I wore it day in, and day out. It had a straight skirt that fell past my knees, and when I was working around PTO’s which is a power output shaft on farm implements that are easily and rapidly connected to a tractor, to unload a load of silage (for example). An unguarded PTO shaft is extremely dangerous, if a corner of one’s skirt accidentally gets too close, it can wrap a person up and kill them within seconds. And indeed, it has happened in the past. However, in that dress, I had no fear, not even on windy days. It became my “work-dress” and also the catalyst to my dreams of leaving.
I drove to the courthouse that year and determinedly took my written driving test. I passed and held tightly to my beloved license for six months. After six months, the Lord blessed me above and beyond by allowing my whole family to leave the Amish.
(My best friend and I, summer of 2001, Monterey TN)
WHAT GLORIES, LEARNING TO DRESS LIKE ME.
I made myself a fluffy yellow dress with a white ruffle collar. Oh, I thought I was so cool! I felt so beautiful in that dress, so much so that I went to Walmart and had my picture professionally taken. (It’s ok, go ahead and allow yourself a laugh.)
I quickly switched to those little denim Dollar General jumpers that were made for the geriatric crowd, but I owned them with all of my being.
TRAPPED AND MICROMANAGED
At this point, my thought process became cluttered with outside influence from well- meaning ladies who sought to keep me from leading “the brothers” astray. I was strongly encouraged not to wear slits in my skirts, which I did, but I no longer do. No V-Necks were allowed, and extreme emphasis was placed on modesty, so much so, that I once again felt trapped and micromanaged.
When I was Amish, I was pushing back against a system, but not wronging any one person. Now I was told that I was causing my brothers in Christ to lust after my body by my already extremely conservative clothes, making it intimately personal on a level I had never even considered before. Even though I did not desire attention like that, that burden was placed on my shoulders, making me feel manipulated in pretending to be something more than what I actually was.
I became paranoid and disgusted with myself for listening to people rather than God, and men who I saw increasingly as weak creatures who demanded submission and modesty from every female simply by proxy of them being born a helpless male driven by their own lusts. I decided, during those years, that I would never allow myself to be tied to a man like this.
Later, my husband’s love and his practical responsibility for his own sexual purity healed me from this mindset, and I was once again able to dress with joy and freedom from the heart, neither pretending to be more, or less, than what I actually was.
LEARNING TO BE HAPPY IN MY SKIN
At age 21, God so graciously allowed me to cook for a boys camp, along with two other girls. It was a glorious summer filled with happy memories.
I found out that summer away from my whole family and church, what I was made of. Nothing changed. I wore what I always wore and was happy and comfortable.
At that point, I was wearing skirts and comfortable knit tops. I had finally discovered the most glorious creation of all time, the cotton T-shirt. I lived in them. No, I did not tuck them in; I still had no concept of style.
I had a denim jumper that buttoned up the back that I wore for years. I wore it until the seams fell apart. I then took it apart, made myself a pattern, and made more of them.
My denim hat became my icon.
LOVE & MARRIAGE
I met my husband in the fall of 02, and we got married the fall of 03. He accepted me at face value and made my whole world spin with delight. I call him Mr. B.
Then it started getting complicated. What my husband liked, also came into the equation. The opinion of others still played into my style big time. If there is anything I would do differently, it is to go back and shut all the voices up and simply enjoy clothes without over thinking them.
But it took ten miscarriages, the death of a beloved sister in law, and God convicting me of my longing to please people rather than Him, before I was willing to abandon all and just live.
THE SWEATSUIT ERA
Let’s fast forward through the muck of a brief flirtation with matching sweatsuits (Oh yes I did. I have a picture to prove it) to now.
WHAT IS MY STYLE TODAY?
My style is shabby more than chic. It is practical, responsible, high-quality. My wardrobe is tiny, consisting mainly of a small collection of soft ripped jeans that I patched with lots of visible stitching, handmade T-shirts that I designed, patterned, and made myself with high quality natural fibers. A few long elegant dresses that I designed, patterned and made to wear out on date nights.
I pair these outfits with a few pairs of carefully picked out, leather Frye boots, and one pair of Keen sneakers. For date night during the warmer months, I wear my beloved Frye sandals that are gloriously strappy but oh so comfortable.
I abhor cheap, custom jewelry and only wear meaningful pieces. Ironically my very favorite accessory is a black leather bracelet that I gleaned from my husband’s boots after his leather shoelaces broke. I also have a gorgeous Plunder pendant that I strung on a piece of his leather shoelace. On it, the following words are engraved, “Faith in God also means faith in his timing.” This reminds me to pray for an innocent friend in prison.
MY MOTTO IS QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.
I stand against the modern day tidal wave of cheap, 52 seasons a year, clothing companies. My wardrobe is tiny, minimalistic, consisting of wool, bamboo, cotton and leather.
I mostly carry Urban Southern bags. The rich, supple leather, the practical sizes, and the simplicity works perfectly with my style that bursts from my heart and fill me with joy. (I am not getting paid for saying these flowery offerings; they simply are my favorite, hands down.)
I even go so far as to only shop a few trusted brands. Too many choices fill me with clutter and depression. An empty closet with colors and textures that I adore makes me feel rested and excited to get dressed.
MY STYLE BRINGS ME JOY
So to summarize for all you gorgeous people, I dress in colors that fill me with joy. I wear only what makes me supremely happy. I don’t watch the fashions of the world change around me.
If you dress what’s inside you, you will always be stunning because it is quite literally a physical manifestation of the joy that is in your soul.
MAKING MY OWN CLOTHES
The maternity clothing industry leaves much to be desired. I am continually appalled at the prices charged for extremely low quality garments. So I make my own.
This is a brand new pattern that came to me suddenly, like a bolt of lightning. I sat down, and created it out of a bit of 95/5 Cotton/Spandex for the top, that was neither big enough for a whole T-shirt, but too big to simply discard. The bottom is a piece of repurposed silk I have been hoarding for a long time.
Mr. B wanted me to iron the silk, but I explained to him in deeply aggrieved tones at great length that it would ruin the whole look I am going for. How can I be a maiden from Scotland if I iron my silk? Also, here’s a confession: I don’t iron.
PS. I sometimes throw my hair in a Mom bun, wear my comfiest leggings and flit off to run errands, although at this point in life, I plod more than flit.
Were you born Amish or Mennonite? Are you interested in sharing your journey of finding your personal style with us? We’d love to hear from you! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org