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Church Dress

( Originally Published 1879 )

THE best bred people of every Christian country, but our own, avoid all personal display when engaged in worship and prayer. Our churches, on the contrary, are made places for the exhibition of fine apparel and other costly, flaunting compliances with fashion, by those who boast of superior wealth and manners. We shall leave our gewgawed devotees to reconcile humiliation in worship with vanity in dress. That is a problem which we confess we have neither the right nor the capacity to solve. How far fine clothes may affect the personal piety of the devotee we do not pretend even to conjecture; but we have a very decided opinion in regard to their influence upon the religion of others. The fact is, that our churches are so fluttering with birds of fine feathers, that no sorry fowl will venture in. It is impossible for poverty in rags and patches, or even in decent but humble costume, to take its seat, if it should be so fortunate as to find a place, by the side of wealth in brocade and broadcloth. The poor are so awed by the pretension of superior dress and "the proud man's costume," that they naturally avoid too close a proximity to them. The church being the only . place on this side of the grave designed for the rich and the poor to meet together in equal prostration before God, it certainly should always be kept free for this common humiliation and brotherhood. It is so in most of the churches in Europe, where the beggar in rags and wretchedness, and the wealthiest and most eminent, whose appropriate sobriety of dress leaves them without mark of external distinction, kneel down together, equalized by a common humiliation before the only Supreme Being.

No person can attend upon the services of any of our churches in towns and cities, and worship God with-out distraction. One needs continually to offer the prayer "take off my eyes from beholding vanity." But he must be blind to have his prayer answered, for the sight of the eyes always affects the heart. There is the rustle of rich silks, the flutter of gay fans, the nodding of plumes and flowers; the tilting of laces, of ribbons, of curls; here is a head frizzed till it looks more like a picture of the Furies than that of a Miss of "sweet sixteen," and there is another with hair hanging full length, waxed and dressed so as to four-fold its quantity; there are bracelets and ear-rings, and fantasies of every sort and every hue; everything that is absurd and foolish in fashion, and everything that is grotesque and ridiculous in trying to ape fashion; all these are before you, between you and the speaker, the altar whereon is laid the sacrifice of prayer, and from whence the truth is dispensed! How can you worship God? how can you hear with any profit?

With dress and fashion, its propriety, its sin or folly, in the abstract, we are not now dealing; only with its improper display in the house of God. If persons have the taste, and the means to gratify that taste, in expensive, showy apparel, let them have it to display at home, or abroad, at parties, at the opera—anywhere, but in the sanctuary.

The adoption of more simple apparel for church on the part of the rich, in this country, would have the effect, certainly not of diminishing their own personal piety, but probably of increasing the disposition for religious observance on the part of the poor.

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