( Originally Published 1879 )
LOOKING thus upon the panoramic field of God's works, we must conclude that he has taken especial care to gratify the varying tastes of his creatures. And more than this, we must conclude that he himself has an infinite taste, which finds an infinite pleasure in making and viewing this magnificent universe of flashing splendor and somber sweetness, this field on field, system beyond system, far off where human eye can never reach, all shining and moving in an infinite variety of forms, colors and movements. Moreover, we cannot but feel that God is a lover of dress. He has put on robes of beauty and glory upon all his works. Every flower is dressed in richness ; every field blushes beneath a mantle of beauty; every star is vailed in brightness; every bird is clothed in the habiliments of the most exquisite taste. The cattle upon the thousand hills are dressed by the hand divine. Who, studying God in his works, can doubt that he will smile upon the evidence of correct taste manifested by his children in clothing the forms he has made them ?
To love dress is not to be a slave of fashion; to love dress only is the test of such homage. To transact the business of charity in a silk dress, and to go in a carriage to the work, injures neither the work not the worker. The slave of fashion is one who assumes the livery of a princess and then omits the errand of the good human soul ; dresses in elegance and goes upon no good errand, and thinks and does nothing of value to man kind. It does, indeed, appear, that the woman of our land is moving against all the old enemies of society She herself rises and is helping others.
Beauty in dress is a good thing, rail at it who may. But it is a lower beauty, for which a higher beauty should not be sacrificed. They love dress too much who give it their first thought, their best time, or all their money; who for it neglect the culture of mind or heart, or the claims of others on their service; who care more for their dress than their disposition; who are troubled more by an unfashionable bonnet than a neglected duty.
Female loveliness never appears to so good advantage as when set off by simplicity of dress. No artist ever decks his angels with towering feathers and gaudy jewelry; and our dear human angels—if they would make good their title to that name—should carefully avoid ornaments which properly belong to Indian squaws and African princesses. These tinselries may serve to give effect on the stage, or upon the ball room floor, but in daily life there is no substitute for the charm of simplicity. A vulgar taste is not to be disguised by gold and diamonds. The absence of a true taste and refinement of delicacy cannot be compensated for by the possession of the most princely fortune. Mind measures gold, but gold cannot measure mind. Through dress the mind may be read, as through the delicate tissue the lettered page. A modest woman will dress modestly ; a really refined and intelligent woman will bear the marks of careful selection and faultless taste.
A coat that has the mark of use upon it is a recommendation to the people of sense, and a hat with too much nap and too high lustre a derogatory circumstance. The best coats in our streets are worn on the backs of penniless fops, broken down merchants, clerks with pitiful salaries, and men that do not pay up. The heaviest gold chains dangle from the fobs of gamblers and gentlemen of very limited means; costly ornaments on ladies, indicate to the eyes that are well opened, the fact of a silly lover or husband cramped for funds. And when a pretty woman goes by in plain and neat apparel, it is the presumption that she has fair expectations, and a husband that can show a balance in his favor. For women are like books-too much gilding makes men suspicious that the binding is the most important part. The body is the shell of the soul, and the dress is the husk of the body; but the husk generally tells what the kernel is. As a fashionably dressed young lady passed some gentlemen, one of them raised his hat, whereupon another, struck by the fine appearance of the lady, made some inquiries concerning her, and was answered thus: "She makes a pretty ornament in her father's house, but otherwise is of no use."
The love of beauty and refinement belong to every true woman. She ought to desire, in moderation, pretty dresses, and delight in beautiful colors and graceful fabrics; she ought to take a certain, not too expensive, pride in herself, and be solicitous to have all belonging to her well-chosen and in good taste; to care for the perfect ordering of her house, and harmony and fitness of her furniture, the cleanliness of her surroundings, and ' good style of her arrangements : she ought not to like singularity, either of habit or appearance, or be able to stand out against a fashion when fashion has become custom: she ought to make herself conspicuous only by the perfection of her taste, by the grace and harmony of her dress, and unobtrusive good-breeding of her manners: she ought to set the seal of gentlewoman on every square inch of her life, and shed the radiance of her own beauty. and refinement on every material object about her.
The richest dress is always worn on the soul. The adornments that will not perish, and that all men most admire, shine from the heart through this life. God has made it our highest, holiest duty to dress the soul he has given us. It is wicked to waste it in frivolity. It is a beautiful, undying, precious thing. If every 'young woman would think of her soul when she looks in the glass, would hear the cry of her naked mind when she dallies away her precious hours at her toilet, would listen to the sad moaning of her hollow heart, as it wails through her idle, useless life, something would be done for the elevation of womanhood. Compare a well-dressed body with a well-dressed 'mind. Compare a taste for dress with a taste for knowledge,' culture, virtue, and piety. Dress up an ignorant young woman in the "height of fashion"; put on plumes and flowers, diamonds and gewgaws; paint her face and girt up her waist, and I ask you if this side of a painted feathered savage, you can find any thing more unpleasant to behold. And yet just such young women we meet by the hundred every day on the street and in all our public places. It is awful to think of. Why is it so? It is only because woman is regarded as a doll to be dressed—a plaything to be petted—a house ornament to exhibit—a thing to be used and kept from crying with a sugar-plum show.
What multitudes of young women waste all that is precious in life on the finified fooleries of the toilet. How the soul of womanhood is dwarfed and shrivelled by such trifles, kept away from the great fields of active thought and love by the gewgaws she hangs on her bonnet ! How light must be that thing which will float on the sea of passion— a bubble, a feather, a puff-ball! And yet multitudes of women float there, live there, and call it life. Poor things ! Scum on the surface ! But there is a truth, young women; woman was made for a higher purpose, a nobler use, a grander destiny. Her powers are rich and strong; her genius bold and daring. She may walk the fields of thought, achieve the victories of mind, spread around her the testimonials of her worth, and make herself known and felt as man's co-worker and equal in whatsoever exalts mind, embellishes life, or sanctifies humanity.
The true object and importance of taste in dress few understand. Let no woman suppose that any man can be really indifferent to her appearance. The instinct may be deadened in his mind by a slatternly, negligent mother, or by plain maiden sisters; but she may be sure it is there, and, with little adroitness, capable of revival. Of course, the immediate effect of a well-chosen feminine toilet operates differently in different minds. In some, it causes a sense of actual pleasure; in others, a consciousness of passive enjoyment. In some, it is intensely felt while it is present; in others only missed when it is gone.
Dress affects our manners. A man who is badly dressed feels chilly, sweaty, and prickly. He stammers, and does not always tell the truth. He means to, perhaps, but he can't. He is half distracted about his pantaloons, which are much too short, and are constantly hitching up; or his frayed jacket and crumpled linen harrow his soul, and quite unmans him. He treads on the train of a lady's dress, and says "Thank you," sits down on his hat, and wishes the " desert were his dwelling place."
A friend of ours, who had long been absent, returned and called upon two beautiful young ladies of his acquaintance. One came quickly to greet him in the neat, yet not precise attire, in which she was performing her household duties. The other, after the lapse of half an hour, made her stately entrance, in all the primness of starch and ribbons, with which, on the announcement of his entrance, she had hastened to bedeck herself. Our friend, who had long been hesitating on his choice between the two, now hesitated no longer. The cordiality with which the first hastened to greet him, and the charming carelessness of her attire, entirely won his heart. She is now his wife. Young ladies, take warning from the above, and never refuse to see a friend because you have on a wash gown. Be assured the true gentleman will not think less of you because he finds you in the performance of your duties, and not ashamed to let it be known. Besides, there may positively be a grace, a witching wildness about an every-day dress, that adds to every charm of face and feature.