( Originally Published Late 1800's )
If I had my life to live over again," said Horace Mann, "I would pay more attention to dress and address." And the man who would succeed in life will have to pay great attention to both. A large part of that which we have termed pleasing appearance depends upon becoming attire. To dress well and neatly is as necessary as to practice civility of speech and courtesy of conduct. Nothing is more unsatisfactory than to see a man with a slovenly habit of dress, with his garments ill-fitting and soiled from use and carelessness. He becomes repulsive, and one cannot feel that consideration for him that would prevail, if he knew how to clothe himself properly. Then, again, there is nothing more repulsive than ostentatious and extravagant display in dress. That fussiness and slavish regard for fashion, that is neither in good taste nor good sense. If comparisons are possible, the dude is more useless than the sloven. The latter may have a good mind and a good heart hidden away beneath his soiled coat, but the dude can have neither. He was never guilty of such accomplishments.
We believe it is every man's duty to dress as well as his means and circumstances will allow. Cheaply if he must, expensively if he can, neatly at all hazard. Let him cultivate a taste in dress that shall lead him to a wise selection of colors and material, so that his dress shall be appropriate to the work he has to do, and at the same time be an adornment to his person, so as to add grace to his figure and attractiveness to his appearance. In order to dress plainly and neatly, it is not at all necessary to dress meanly. We are not called upon as Christians or as gentlemen and ladies to don a uniform of asceticism or a plainer one still of Quakerism. The only injunction is that we are to exercise our common sense, and " do all things decently and in order.
It is impossible to lay out any definite rules for dress. The vocations of life are so different. The work and habits of different individuals so diverse that what would be appropriate for one time and glace would be greatly inappropriate under other conditions. Then, again, a woman may be as presentable in the morning, in her seven-cent calico, as she is in the afternoon in her silks and laces. A farmer may look as neat and becoming with rough cloth blouse and "stoga boots," riding his mowing machine on Thursday, as he does in broad-cloth and gaiter shoes on Sunday. Neatness of apparel is largely a matter of habit, and may be cultivated in all places and in nearly all conditions in which we may be placed. There is, under ordinary circumstances, no excuse for attire that is not neat, clean, and orderly. Probably the safest rule to adopt is to dress so as not to attract attention. Doubtless, if the attire is perfectly appropriate, it will seem so to all beholders and will attract notice neither by its poverty nor its display. We are sometimes clothed so that our habiliments do not occupy our own attention and do not seem to occupy the attention of others. This would appear to be the true ideal of dress, that fitness of things which entirely satisfies our aesthetic sense of the beautiful. We have all seen people so dressed that they appeared most highly respectable. Color and style of garment seemed subservient to that hidden principle of taste that produced a result extremely pleasing and commendable. Such persons should be our examples in the matter of dress, and if there were less study of fashion-plates and more of comfort, health, and real attractiveness, the world would be vastly better off for it. When our apparel is truly suitable, and when it adds grace to the person, it is one of the greatest aids to pleasing appearance. But when it does not do this, when it seeks vulgar display, when it occupies the attention and fills the mind to the exclusion of other things, it becomes the greatest nuisance on earth--a field of waste; a source of endless trouble and annoyance.
The relation of dress to health is a vital one, and has not as yet received that attention which its importance demands. There can be no reasonable doubt that many of the prevalent habits of dress are destructive to good health. This is especially true in the case of girls and women. Our physicians and medical writers have been sounding the warning for many years, but there seems little diminution in some of the most vital abuses of health. It is not reform we need so much as revolution. Prevailing practices need overhauling. The corset needs to be reformed out of existence. The uncomfortable, high-heeled, narrow-soled shoes that our women wear ought to be used to batter out the brains of men who will invent such an abomination. That custom which prescribes bare arms and throat and chest ought to be banished to a place among the infamies and barbarisms of the past. Such a custom is a sin against bodily health, to say nothing about its indecency and immorality. Many a life has been imperiled by this senseless exposure of the person to night air and cold draughts. Sickness and death in countless eases can be traced directly to a cold contracted in this inhuman undress uniform, while passing from the heated drawing-rooms into the conservatory or past an open door. Many a woman has lost not only her glowing beauty, but her physical health as well by following this foolish custom. It is time that the sober common sense of our mothers, wives, and daughters put an end to this unchaste, unwomanly exposure of their persons to the eyes of men and to the attacks of lurking disease.
Dress, as we have said, is an important factor in a pleasing appearance, but it is only a means to an end, and should never be made an end in itself. We believe it to be right and proper for everyone to dress well and in a becoming style; but it should not be forgotten that it is a most expensive luxury, and hence should be made subservient to the grander and nobler aims of life. It is possible and practicable for a young lady to dress in such a way as to excite admiration not only in her own sex, but in the opposite sex as well. It is possible to do this and still keep within the bounds of economy and practical good sense; and, as Holland says, "It is right and well for her to dress like this, and it is not right and well for her to dress otherwise." The same is true of the dress of a young man, and there is abundant room for the exercise of good taste and prudence in this matter. Perhaps there is no one thing connected with our daily lives that demands greater care than this, and we may well hope for the day when sound discretion, and not frivolous fashion, shall dictate what clothes we shall wear.