( Originally Published 1896 )
Do fine clothes add anything to a person's real beauty? From God's book of Nature as well as of Revelation we have every reason for believing that He approves of things beautiful and fine appearances. The apostle exhorts every one to "please his neighbor for his good to edification." What harm can there be in our trying to gratify our friends and neighbors by our neatly-fitting and appropriate style of clothing. May we not, indeed, " study to overcome such defects as Nature herself likes to assist in putting out of sight ?" It is the duty of all to make themselves beautiful - beautiful in outward person, beautiful in mind and soul. It is no more harm to dress our bodies prettily than to build our houses in good taste and with a refined elegance. That is the best fashion in dress which indicates the self-forgetful quality of the wearer. It is right to follow the fashions - at a safe distance. Beware of him or her who strives to lead the fashions. The trouble with fashions in dress is that they mean nothing, have no purpose, no adaptation for comfort, beauty, or economy. They are often senseless-an arbitrary tyrannical style. It is not an evidence of sin that a person dresses in fashion, if that fashion is in harmony with good sense and neither outrageous nor extravagant. We have no sympathy with those who preach the gospel of ugliness. A recent writer observes:
Despite all that is said and written now-a-days regarding grace and beauty in all things pertaining to. daily life, it is astonishing how many people seem still to struggle with the notion that ugliness is, or ought to be, somehow synonymous with virtue.
" Only the other day a young woman, the mother of a child who wore painfully ill-chosen and ill-fitting garments, was heard lecturing another young mother on her manifest extravagance in dressing her child.
" Finally the latter began to defend herself. ' You,' she said, 'are all wrong in your manner of reckoning extravagance. My child has many changes, and is picturesquely dressed because I give the matter some thought, and have taste to make all her clothes myself. You may regard my doing so as a waste of time, if you will, but it is not extravagance. I am willing to challenge you, or anybody, to a comparison of expenses in the course of a year, and prove that I expend the least.'
"It costs just as much money to produce ugliness as beauty in dress, and bad taste often displays more vanity than good taste, only it lacks the perception to see its own foibles. I once knew a would-be dress reformer, who went about preaching the gospel of ugly clothes. She never wore a close-fitting bodice; she would have regarded that as a sin, yet ,l knew her to send the looseround-about jacket she wore back to a dressmaker nine times for alteration. She was a striking exponent of the gospel of ugliness."
Dress does not make a man or woman, yet they look better and often feel better and behave better "dressed up. An enterprising clothier advertised by advising people to cultivate a sweet and amiable spirit and be inwardly clothed with meekness by going to church, and outwardly with nice, soft woolen underwear by going to his store. There are many false and foolish fashions in dress that prevail, nor have we any apology to make for them. There is a cruel tyranny of fashion -fickle and outlandish styles that impoverish the purse and injure the health, while they violate every principle ,of beauty and are often shocking to all sense of decency. Too oftcn they have been started and dictated by the prostitutes of Paris. If the "new woman" is an attempt at mannishness, with shirt-fronts and bloomers, we do not want any such new order of disgraceful character. Many changes of fashion have come about from a desire on the part of some influential person to conceal a deformity or show off some beauty. Neither becoming nor comfortable, they often present the height of ugliness. Shakspeare says: " Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thicf this fashion is? How giddily he turns about all the hot-bloods between four-teen and five-and-thirty? * * * And this I see and say, that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man." Autumn leaves will wear the same colors this year as last. There is no fashionable -nonsense about nature. People of sense dress sensibly. Are not many mothers giving more attention to the elaborate trimming of their dresses than to the moral training of their children? Fashion is the pitiless goddess that empties the pocket and ruins the body and soul. "Before we married," said he, "she used to say, 'By-by' so sweetly as I went down the steps." "And what does she say now?" asked a friend. " 0, just the same Buy, buy.'" "O, I see; she exercises a different spell over you."
Are not beauty and unity grossly violated in the big sleeves which exaggerate the shoulders and minimize the waist ? If God wanted the human form to show a great hump on either shoulder and another on the back, as on the camel, why did He not cause them to. grow there? Did God intend that a woman should compress her natural body into the shape of a wasp ? No one but a dude or a dudine would call a pinching tooth-pick of a shoe beautiful. Pinching the foot only makes it look larger and gives one an awkward gait. A dude with a "single eye-glass, an English umbrella, a. box coat, and with trousers rolled up at the bottom," is not beautiful. Some wear their collars so high that you might rap on said collars behind with your cane and ask if he is in. A primmed up dandy that you would think had just popped out of a band-box is not beautiful; he is starchy. Some fellows fancy that parting their hair in the middle makes them look beautiful, but it is an invariable sign of softening of the brain. It is possible to wear a five dollar hat on a fifty cent head. The same is true of Miss Fuss-and-feathers. A peacock is called beautiful, but it is so suggestive of strutting vanity that we have little admiration for the bird.
Those birds are not high-fliers that are proud of their gay plumage. There is a fable of the peacock spreading its gorgeous tail and mocking a crane that passed by thus: " I am robed like a king, in gold and purple,. and all the colors of the rainbow; while you have not a bit of color on your wings." True," answered the crane, "but I sore to the heights of heaven, and lift up my voice to the stars, while you walk below, like a cock, among the birds of the barnyard." Moral - fine feathers don't make fine birds.
When Vanity goes to church she is death to devotion for several pews on all sides of her. It is better not to, strut in borrowed plumage. Why not leave feathers to birds and not slaughter so many sweet songsters to bedeck human heads ? Many people are prone to be: proud of what is not their own. The sheep wore that fine wool coat or cloak before we did, but they were not proud of it.
"Pride goeth before destruction "-the ruin of hearth and sacrifice of comfort. Mrs. Jane Swisshelm writes: " The things we call women are simply small packages of aches and pains done up in velvet and lace topped out with ostrich plumes." How many women and, children too, are now dressed to kill ? The lamentations is heard everwhere: I have an invalid child, an invalid?, sister, an invalid wife, in short, anything, but an invalid grandmother. Away with all fashionable barbarity!
Some persons owe their greatness to their taller or dressmaker. Fine people do not need superfine, taw-dry clothes to set them off. A handsome person is soon dressed. Beauty is best when plainly dressed. We should dress for health and comfort as well as appearance. Dressy young men and women are apt to be without mind or heart. A person in full dress may be a full grown fool. It is not the wearing of stylish clothes that makes one out a fool, but the giving his whole thought and time to them. We like to see good clothes-and something inside of them. Some men are but a clothes-horse - a mere thing to hang clothes; on. So some women make splendid dressmakers' dummies, the only difference being that the thing is alive.. We prefer to patronize the tailor or dressmaker who are artists in their line. All hail to the fine arts of every class ! "Blessed are the dressmakers," said the little girl triumphantly, when called. upon in public to say her Bible verse. But let it be remembered that a real lady is not made with a needle and thread, nor is a man. measured by his tailor's tape-line.
Shakspeare says: " The clothing oft proclaims the man." Carlyle shows that mankind is divided, subdivided, and made up of clothes. One would think that society is now founded largely on cloth, for the question in everybody's mouth is " Wherewithal shall I be clothed?" and "How was she dressed ? " Some one makes the charge that the whole world is on a visit to Vanity Fair. David said, "Every man walketh in a vain show." Solomon exclaims, " Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Jeremiah adds, " The customs of the people are vain." When Beau Brummel was asked what made the gentle-man, his quick and apt reply was, "Starch, starch, my lord." Many men pass for more than they are worth, and it was said of a certain woman that she was strong in flounces, weak in brains. Some young men seem to think that they know everything, but what they don't know would fill whole volumes. All their knowledge would go in a thimble, and then you could get your finger in. They boast of being self-made, but they always worship their maker. A person vainly decked may be a decorated fool. You have only to puncture the crust of some swelled heads to let the conceit out. We heard of one fellow who was so pleased within himself that he was in the habit of kissing himself " good night" in a mirror. All the life of some men is on the outside. They are hardly more than a shell. Shakspeare again says of one, " There can be no kernel in such a light nut, the soul of that man is his clothes." When you are obliged to begin on the out-side to make a gentleman, you will not find room for much on the inside, and " no way to get in." Nine tailors cannot make a fop into a man. An ape is an .ape, though dressed in a cape." A dandy is like his mother - she will never be a man. Garments cannot -conceal character very long. A good time to judge people's merits is when they have their work-day clothes on.
" When you would select a wife,
When we go into a house, we love to find every thing like a boy's appetite-always in apple-pie order. The best way to judge people is to live with them. George Eliot writes, " Let it not be said that the young men of this age are squashy things; that they look well, but -won't wear." Many of our young men are effeminate nobodies, as "lazy as a bread pill" and as useless as a shirt-button without a hole. How many young women, too, live like a butterfly, nobody can tell why!
Some men are made great by their surroundings. The fine livery and high seat may make the coachman -appear greater than his master. It was said of John the Baptist that "He shall be great in the sight of the Lord," yet he was clad only in the coarse raiment of camel's hair and a leathern girdle. All are not soldiers that wear brass buttons, and all are not good people-that put on goodness as a garb. When Jacob looked for Joseph he found nothing but his coat, so you look in vain for the man in some fine, gay clothes. It might-be well to remember, too, that young Joseph's fine coat was the cause of all his troubles, as it roused his brothers' envy. Was that certain rich man who neglected poor Lazarus and was lost, any the better for being " clothed in purple and fine linen" and faring sumptuously every day? We will never go to hell for the sake of wearing fine clothes on the way-give us rags rather. We would rather wear a patched garment than a whole one not paid for. A patch is more beautiful than a hole, and a patch on an old garment is far more comely than a debt on a new one. Better want for what you cannot pay for. Better out of debt than in the fashion and out of credit. Many people will keep always in debt for the sake of keeping in the fashions. Our Bible says, " The fashion of this world perisheth." The best way to keep your credit good is never to ask for any. Robert J. Burdette gives the following sound advice: "Don't walk the street with a tailor's bill on your back; don't go about with your legs swathed in debt; dress like John the Baptist, who was a much better man than you, until you can pay for your new suit. Though you have worn your old one three years, it will still fit you better, look better on you, feel better to you, than new clothes that belong to your tailor. You would scorn to wear a second-hand suit of clothes that some well-meaning friend, having cast off, should present to you. Well, then, don't wear a suit to which you have less right, and which belongs to a tailor, a bookkeeper, and two or three women. Wear your own clothes, my son.
Mr. Dude Slowpay: " I shall bring you back those dark pants to be reseated, Mr. Snip; ye know I sit a good deal."
Mr. Snip (tailor): "All right, and if you'll bring the bill I sent you six months ago, I will be pleased to receipt that also; you know I've stood a good deal."
Trees are not to be judged by their bark, nor men by their clothes and outward appearance, but by their fruits. Would you judge a book by its binding? Is it not the trashy literature that has the flashy covering? The world has little use for the people who simply live to shine in fashionable follies. All the finery of fashion will not make a finished character and useful man or woman. Fine is not so good as fit when there is work to be done. Iron is better than gold for some purposes. A rag of flannel may be prettier than a ribbon of silk for a sore throat. "Fine and faddy" may not be so beautiful as "rough and ready." White gloves may hide dirty hands. A corpse may be handsomely dressed in rich clothes. Fashion now-a-days even dares to publish the rules for " first communion dresses," and sets: forth the pipings and coiffures in which an innocent girl may approach her God. What! has religion joined hands with the tyrant Fashion? Is it true that the best way to learn the styles is by going to church? "I don't miss my church so much as you suppose," said a young lady to her minister, who had called upon her during illness, " for I make Betsy sit at the window as soon as the bells begin to chime and tell me who are going to church, and whether they have got anything new."
We must not mistake beautiful dress or address for beauty of character and soul. A person may have a genteel dress and beautiful manners along with an empty head and a wicked heart. Fine linen, soft raiment, and sumptuous living must not be allowed to petrify the heart. There is true beauty only when one is all glorious within - clad in the dress of Christ's righteousness - spiritual beauty. A new heart better suits than a new suit. How many think they need a new garment for the body-a coat or dress, but who need a new spiritual dress for the soul far more! How many have never yet put on a garment of praise to God! How many people wash and dress their bodies with great care and never dress their souls, never have their hearts washed ? They take pains with their garments that they may appear well outwardly, when they go abroad, in the eyes of other people, but forget that God's all-seeing eye surveys the soul. Wealth of outward show is apt to be but the mask of inward poverty and mental vulgarity.
There are men who take a pride in being neat in their personal appearance, who brush their hats and their coats, and are very particular even about their shoes, but who take an equal pride in being as foul as possible in their hearts. As Naaman bore under his shining uniform the most loathsome leper-spots and sores, so under many a fine garment of silk or broadcloth or immaculate shirt-bosom there are hideous sin-blots and 'black hearts, and defiled imaginations and wicked purposes. It is better to "covet earnestly the best gifts" and graces of character than the fashionable wardrobes of the wealthy. A sensible writer says:
"I was once walking a short distance behind a very handsomely-dressed young girl, and thinking, as I looked at her beautiful clothes: 'I wonder if she takes half as much pains with her heart as she does with her body?' A poor old man was coming up the walk with a loaded wheelbarrow; and just before he reached us he made two attempts to go into the yard of the house, but the gate was heavy, and would swing back before he could get in. 'Wait,' said the young girl, springing forward, 'I'll hold the gate open.' And she held the gate until he had passed in, and received his thanks with a pleasant smile as she passed on. ' She deserves to have beautiful clothes,' I thought, 'for a beautiful spirit dwells in her breast.'"