As Christians, we ought not to engage in any employment upon which we cannot conscientiously ask the blessing of the Lord. Do you, my sisters, in the needless work you put upon your garments, feel a clear conscience? Can you, while perplexing the mind over ruffles and bows and ribbons, be uplifting the soul to God in prayer that He will bless your efforts? The time spent in this way might be devoted to doing good to others and to cultivating your own minds.
Many of our sisters are persons of good ability, and if their talents were used to the glory of God they would be successful in winning many souls to Christ. Will they not be responsible for the souls they might have saved had not extravagance in dress and the cares of this world so crippled and dwarfed their God-given powers that they felt no burden of the work? Satan invented the fashions in order to keep the minds of women so engrossed with the subject of dress that they could think of but little else.
The duties devolving upon mothers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord cannot be discharged while they continue their present manner of dress. They have no time to pray or to search the Scriptures that they may understand the truth and teach it to their children. It is not only the privilege but the duty of everyone to increase daily in the knowledge of God and the truth. But Satan’s object is gained if he can invent anything which shall so attract the mind that this cannot be the case. The reason why so many are not desirous of attending prayer meeting and of engaging in religious exercises is that their minds are devoted to other things. They are conforming to the world in the matter of dress; and while they are so doing, souls whom they might have helped by letting their light shine in good works are strengthened in their unbelief by the inconsistent course of these professed Christians.
God would be pleased to see our sisters clad in neat, simple apparel and earnestly engaged in the work of the Lord. They are not deficient in ability, and if they would put to a right use the talents they already have, their efficiency would be greatly increased. If the time they now spend in needless work were devoted to searching the word of God and explaining it to others, their own minds would be enriched with gems of truth, and they would be strengthened and ennobled by the effort made to understand the reasons of our faith. Were our sisters conscientious Bible Christians, seeking to improve every opportunity to enlighten others, we should see scores of souls embracing the truth through their self-sacrificing endeavors alone. Sisters, in the day when the accounts of all are balanced, will you feel a pleasure in reviewing your life, or will you feel that the beauty of the outward man was sought, while the inward beauty of the soul was almost entirely neglected?
Have not our sisters sufficient zeal and moral courage to place themselves without excuse upon the Bible platform? The apostle has given most explicit directions on this point: I will therefore . . . that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” Here the Lord, through His apostle, speaks expressly against the wearing of gold. Let those who have had experience see to it that they do not lead others astray on this point by their example. That ring encircling your finger may be very plain, but it is useless, and the wearing of it has a wrong influence upon others.
Especially should the wives of our ministers be careful not to depart from the plain teachings of the Bible on the point of dress. Many look upon these injunctions as too old-fashioned to be worthy of notice; but He who gave them to His disciples understood the dangers from the love of dress in our time and sent to us the note of warning. Will we heed the warning and be wise? Extravagance in dress is continually increasing. The end is not yet. Fashion is constantly changing, and our sisters follow in its wake, regardless of time or expense. There is a great amount of means expended upon dress, when it should be returned to God the giver.
The plain, neat dress of the poorer class often appears in marked contrast with the attire of their more wealthy sisters, and this difference frequently causes a feeling of embarrassment on the part of the poor. Some try to imitate their more wealthy sisters, and frill and ruffle and trim goods of an inferior quality so as to approach as nearly as possible to them in dress. Poor girls, receiving but two dollars a week for their work, will expend every cent to dress like others who are not obliged to earn their own living. These youth have nothing to put into the treasury of God. And their time is so thoroughly occupied in making their dress as fashionable as that of their sisters that they have no time for the improvement of the mind, for the study of God’s word, for secret prayer, or for the prayer meeting. The mind is entirely taken up with planning how to appear as well as their sisters. To accomplish this end, physical, mental, and moral health is sacrificed. Happiness and the favor of God are laid upon the altar of fashion.
Many will not attend the service of God upon the Sabbath because their dress would appear so unlike that of their Christian sisters in style and adornment. Will my sisters consider these things as they are, and will they fully realize the weight of their influence upon others? By walking in a forbidden path themselves, they lead others in the same way of disobedience and backsliding. Christian simplicity is sacrificed to outward display. My sisters, how shall we change all this? How shall we recover ourselves from the snare of Satan and break the chains that have bound us in slavery to fashion? How shall we recover our wasted opportunities? how bring our powers into healthful, vigorous action? There is only one way, and that is to make the Bible our rule of life. All should work earnestly to do good to others, watch unto prayer, take up the long-neglected cross, and heed the warnings and injunctions of Him who has said: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
My Christian sisters, face the mirror, the law of God, and test your course of action by the first four commandments. These explicitly define our duty to God. He claims the undivided affections; and anything which tends to absorb the mind and divert it from God assumes the form of an idol. The true and living God is crowded out of the thoughts and heart, and the soul-temple is defiled by the worship of other gods before the Lord. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” says the commandment. Let us search the heart, compare the life and character with the statutes and precepts of Jehovah, and then seek diligently to correct our errors.
The last six commandments specify the duties of man to his fellow men. Here are brought to view solemn obligations which are trampled upon every day by professed commandment keepers. Those who have been enlightened by the grace of God, who have been adopted into the royal family, ought not always to be children in the work of the Lord. If they wisely improve upon the grace given, their capacity will increase and their knowledge become more extensive, and they will be entrusted with a still greater measure of divine power. In putting forth earnest, well-directed efforts to bring their fellow men to a knowledge of the truth, they will become strong in the Lord; and for working righteousness on the earth, they will receive the reward of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. This is the privilege of our sisters. And when we see them using God’s time and money in needless display of dress we cannot but warn them that they are breaking not only the first four, but the last six commandments. They do not make God the supreme object of their worship, neither do they love their neighbor as themselves.
Christ is our example. We must keep the Pattern continually before us and contemplate the infinite sacrifice which has been made to redeem us from the thralldom of sin. If we find ourselves condemned as we look into the mirror, let us not venture further in transgression, but face rightabout and wash our robes of character in the blood of the Lamb, that they may be spotless. Let us cry, as did David: “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.” Those to whom God has entrusted time and means that they might be a blessing to humanity, but who have squandered these gifts needlessly upon themselves and their children, will have a fearful account to meet at the bar of God.
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” The unbelieving world will soon have something to think of besides their dress and appearance; and as their minds are torn from these things by distress and perplexity, they have nothing to turn to. They are not prisoners of hope, and therefore do not turn to the Stronghold. Their hearts will fail them with repining and fear. They have not made God their refuge, and He will not be their consolation. He will laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh.
Those among Sabbathkeepers who have yielded to the influence of the world are to be tested. The perils of the last days are upon us, and a trial is before the professed people of God which many have not anticipated. The genuineness of their faith will be proved. Many have united with worldlings in pride, vanity, and pleasure seeking, flattering themselves that they could do this and still be Christians. But it is such indulgences that separate them from God and make them children of the world. Christ has given us no such example. Those only who deny self, and live a life of sobriety, humility, and holiness, are true followers of Jesus; and such cannot enjoy the society of the lovers of the world.
Many dress like the world in order to have an influence over unbelievers, but here they make a sad mistake. If they would have a true and saving influence, let them live out their profession, show their faith by their righteous works, and make the distinction plain between the Christian and the worldling. The words, the dress, the actions, should tell for God. Then a holy influence will be shed upon all around them, and even unbelievers will take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus. If any wish to have their influence tell in favor of truth, let them live out their profession and thus imitate the humble Pattern.
Pride, ignorance, and folly are constant companions. The Lord is displeased with the pride manifested among His professed people. He is dishonored by their conformity to the unhealthful, immodest, and expensive fashions of this degenerate age.
Fashion rules the world; and she is a tyrannical mistress, often compelling her devotees to submit to the greatest inconvenience and discomfort. Fashion taxes without reason and collects without mercy. She has a fascinating power, and stands ready to criticize and ridicule the poor if they do not follow in her wake at any cost, even the sacrifice of life itself. Satan triumphs that his devices succeed so well, and Death laughs at the health-destroying folly and blind zeal of the worshipers at Fashion’s shrine.
To protect the people of God from the corrupting influence of the world, as well as to promote physical and moral health, the dress reform was introduced among us. It was not intended to be a yoke of bondage, but a blessing; not to increase labor, but to save labor; not to add to the expense of dress, but to save expense. It would distinguish God’s people from the world, and thus serve as a barrier against its fashions and follies. He who knows the end from the beginning, who understands our nature and our needs,–our compassionate Redeemer,–saw our dangers and difficulties, and condescended to give us timely warning and instruction concerning our habits of life, even in the proper selection of food and clothing.
Satan is constantly devising some new style of dress that shall prove an injury to physical and moral health; and he exults when he sees professed Christians eagerly accepting the fashions that he has invented. The amount of physical suffering created by unnatural and unhealthful dress cannot be estimated. Many have become lifelong invalids through their compliance with the demands of fashion. Displacements and deformities, cancers and other terrible diseases, are among the evils resulting from fashionable dress.
Many a style of dress that was inappropriate and even ridiculous has been generally adopted because it was the fashion. Among these pernicious fashions were the large hoops, which frequently caused indecent exposure of the person. In contrast with this was presented a neat, modest, becoming dress, which would dispense with the hoops and the trailing skirts, and provide for the proper clothing of the limbs. But dress reform comprised more than shortening the dress and clothing the limbs. It included every article of dress upon the person. It lifted the weights from the hips by suspending the skirts from the shoulders. It removed the tight corsets, which compress the lungs, the stomach, and other internal organs, and induce curvature of the spine and an almost countless train of diseases. Dress reform proper provided for the protection and development of every part of the body.
To those who consistently adopted the reform dress, appreciating its advantages and cheerfully taking their position in opposition to pride and fashion, it proved a blessing. When properly made, it was a becoming and consistent dress, and recommended itself to persons of candid mind, even among those not of our faith.
The question may be asked: “Why has this dress been laid aside, and for what reason has dress reform ceased to be advocated?” The reason for this change I will here briefly state. While many of our sisters accepted this reform from principle, others opposed the simple, healthful style of dress which it advocated. It required much labor to introduce this reform among our people. It was not enough to present before our sisters the advantages of such a dress and to convince them that it would meet the approval of God. Fashion had so strong a hold upon them that they were slow to break away from its control, even to obey the dictates of reason and conscience. And many who professed to accept the reform made no change in their wrong habits of dress, except in shortening the skirts and clothing the limbs.
Nor was this all. Some who adopted the reform were not content to show by example the advantages of the dress, giving, when asked, their reasons for adopting it, and letting the matter rest there. They sought to control others’ conscience by their own. If they wore it, others must put it on. They forgot that none were to be compelled to wear the reform dress.
It was not my duty to urge the subject upon my sisters. After presenting it before them as it had been shown me, I left them to their own conscience. Reformatory action is always attended with sacrifice. It demands that love of ease, selfish interest, and the lust of ambition be held in subjection to the principles of right. Whoever has the courage to reform must encounter obstacles. He will be opposed by the conservatism of those whose business or pleasure brings them in contact with the votaries of fashion, and who will lose caste by the change.
Much unhappy feeling was created by those who were constantly urging the reform dress upon their sisters. With extremists, this reform seemed to constitute the sum and substance of their religion. It was the theme of conversation and the burden of their hearts; and their minds were thus diverted from God and the truth. They failed to cherish the spirit of Christ and manifested a great lack of true courtesy. Instead of prizing the dress for its real advantages, they seemed to be proud of its singularity. Perhaps no question has ever come up among us which has caused such development of character as has the dress reform.
While many of the young adopted this dress, some endeavored to shun the cross by indulging in extra trimmings, thus making it a curse rather than a blessing. To those who put it on reluctantly, from a sense of duty, it became a grievous yoke. Still others, who were apparently the most zealous reformers, manifested a sad lack of order and neatness in their dress. It was not made according to the approved pattern. Some would have a variety suit–dress of one material, sack of another, and pants of still another. Others wore the skirt very long, so that only about an inch of the pants could be seen, thus making the dress ill-proportioned and out of taste. These grotesque and untidy costumes disgusted many who would have been pleased with the reform dress proper.
Some were greatly troubled because I did not make the dress a test question, and still others because I advised those who had unbelieving husbands or children not to adopt the reform dress, as it might lead to unhappiness that would counteract all the good to be derived from its use. For years I carried the burden of this work and labor to establish uniformity of dress among our sisters.
In a vision given me at Battle Creek, January 3, 1875, I was shown the state of things which I have here represented, and that the wide diversity in dress was an injury to the cause of truth. That which would have proved a blessing, if uniformly adopted and properly worn, had been made a reproach, and, in some cases, even a disgrace.
Some who wore the dress sighed over it as a heavy burden. The language of their hearts was: “Anything but this. If we felt free to lay off this peculiar style, we would willingly adopt a plain, untrimmed dress of ordinary length. The limbs could be as warmly clothed as before, and we could secure all the physical benefits, with less effort. It requires much labor to prepare the reform dress in a proper manner.” Murmuring and complaining were fast destroying vital godliness.
I had no burden of testimony on the subject of dress. I made no reference to it in any way, either to advocate or to condemn. It was the Lord’s purpose to prove His professed people and reveal the motives of their hearts. At camp meetings I seldom had anything to say upon the subject. I avoided all questions and answered no letters.
One year ago the subject of dress was again presented before me. I saw that our sisters were departing from the simplicity of the gospel. The very ones who had felt that the reform dress required unnecessary labor, and who claimed that they would not be influenced by the spirit of the world, had now taken up the fashions they once condemned. Their dresses were arranged with all the unnecessary adornments of worldlings in a manner unbecoming to Christians and entirely at variance with our faith.
Thus has been developed the pride of heart indulged by a people that profess to have come out from the world and to be separate. Inspiration declares that the friendship of the world is enmity with God; yet His professed people have expended their God-given time and means upon the altar of fashion.
Our people have been steadily retrograding in the work of reform. Wisdom and judgment have seemed paralyzed. Selfishness and love of display have been corrupting the heart and deteriorating the character. There is a growing disposition to sacrifice health and the favor of God upon the altar of ever-changing, never-satisfying fashion.
There is no style of dress more appropriate to be worn at the sanitarium than the reform dress. The idea entertained by some, that it would detract from the dignity or usefulness of that institution, is a mistake. It is just such a dress as one would expect to find there, and should not have been discarded. In this suit the helpers could perform their work with far less effort than is now required. Such a dress would preach its own sermon to the devotees of fashion. The contrast between their own unhealthful, beruffled, trailing garments and the reform dress, properly represented, suggestive as it is of convenience and ease in using the limbs, would have been most instructive. Many of the patients would have made greater improvement had they accepted the dress reform.
We regret that any influence should have been brought to bear against this neat, modest, healthful dress. The natural heart is ever pleading in favor of worldly customs, and any influence tells with tenfold power when exerted in the wrong direction.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4 pp. 629-638