“Women should clothe their limbs with regard to health and comfort. Their feet and limbs need to be clad as warmly as men’s. The length of the fashionable dress is objectionable for several reasons:
“1. It is extravagant and unnecessary to have the dress of such a length that it will sweep the sidewalk and street.
“2. A dress thus long gathers dew from the grass, and mud from the streets, and is therefore unclean.
“3. In its bedraggled condition it comes in contact with the sensitive ankles, which are not sufficiently protected, quickly chilling them, and thus endangering health and life. This is one of the greatest causes of catarrh and of scrofulous swellings.
“4. The unnecessary length is an additional weight upon the hips and bowels.
“5. It hinders the walking, and is also often in other people’s way.
“There is still another style of dress which is adopted by a class of so-called dress reformers. They imitate the opposite sex as nearly as possible. They wear the cap, pants, vest, coat, and boots, the last of which is the most sensible part of the costume. Those who adopt and advocate this style of dress carry the so-called dress reform to very objectionable lengths. Confusion will be the result. Some who adopt this costume may be correct in their general views upon the health question, but they would be instrumental in accomplishing vastly more good if they did not carry the matter of dress to such extremes.
“In this style of dress God’s order has been reversed and His special directions disregarded. Deuteronomy 22:5: ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ God would not have His people adopt this style of dress. It is not modest apparel, and is not at all fitting for modest, humble women who profess to be Christ’s followers. God’s prohibitions are lightly regarded by all who advocate doing away with the distinction of dress between males and females. The extreme position taken by some dress reformers upon this subject cripples their influence.
“God designed that there should be a plain distinction between the dress of men and women, and has considered the matter of sufficient importance to give explicit directions in regard to it; for the same dress worn by both sexes would cause confusion and great increase of crime. Were the apostle Paul alive, and should he behold women professing godliness with this style of dress, he would utter a rebuke. ‘In like manner also, 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.’ The mass of professed Christians utterly disregard the teachings of the apostles, and wear gold, pearls, and costly array.
“God’s loyal people are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and they should ever remember that their influence is of value. Were they to exchange the extreme long dress for the extreme short one, they would, to a great extent, destroy their influence. Unbelievers, whom it is their duty to benefit and seek to bring to the Lamb of God, would be disgusted. Many improvements can be made in the dress of women in reference to health without making so great a change as to disgust the beholder.
“The form should not be compressed in the least with corsets and whalebones. The dress should be perfectly easy that the lungs and heart may have healthy action. The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot, but should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street without being raised by the hand. A still shorter dress than this would be proper, convenient, and healthful for women when doing their housework, and especially for those who are obliged to perform more or less out-of-door labor. With this style of dress, one light skirt, or two at most, is all that is necessary, and this should be buttoned on to a waist, or suspended by straps. The hips were not formed to bear heavy weights. The heavy skirts worn by some, and allowed to drag down upon the hips, have been the cause of various diseases which are not easily cured. The sufferers seem to be ignorant of the cause of their sufferings, and continue to violate the laws of their being by girding their waists and wearing heavy skirts, until they are made lifelong invalids. When told of their mistake, many will immediately exclaim, ‘Why, such a style of dress would be old-fashioned!’ What if it is? I wish we could be old-fashioned in many respects. If we could have the old-fashioned strength that characterized the old-fashioned women of past generations, it would be very desirable. I do not speak unadvisedly when I say that the way in which women clothe themselves, together with their indulgence of appetite, is the greatest cause of their present feeble, diseased condition. There is but one woman in a thousand who clothes her limbs as she should. Whatever may be the length of the dress, their limbs should be clothed as thoroughly as are the men’s. This may be done by wearing lined pants, gathered into a band and fastened about the ankle, or made full and tapering at the bottom; and these should come down long enough to meet the shoe. The limbs and ankles thus clothed are protected against a current of air. If the feet and limbs are kept comfortable with warm clothing, the circulation will be equalized, and the blood will remain pure and healthy because it is not chilled or hindered in its natural passage through the system.”
The principal difficulty in the minds of many is in regard to the length of the dress. Some insist that “the top of the boot,” has reference to the top of such boots as are usually worn by men, which reach nearly to the knee. If it were the custom of women to wear such boots, then these persons should not be blamed for professing to understand the matter as they have; but as women generally do not wear such boots, these persons have no right to understand me as they have pretended.
In order to show what I did mean, and that there is a harmony in my testimonies on this subject, I will here give an extract from my manuscripts written about two years ago:
“Since the article on dress appeared in How to Live, there has been with some a misunderstanding of the idea I wished to convey. They have taken the extreme meaning of that which I have written in regard to the length of the dress, and have evidently had a very hard time over the matter. With their distorted views of the matter they have discussed the question of shortening the dress until their spiritual vision has become so confused that they can only see men as trees walking. They have thought they could see a contradiction in my article on dress, recently published in How to Live, and that article on the same subject contained in Testimony for the Church, No. 10. I must contend that I am the best judge of the things which have been presented before me in vision; and none need fear that I shall by my life contradict my own testimony, or that I shall fail to notice any real contradiction in the views given me.
“In my article on dress in How to Live I tried to present a healthful, convenient, economical, yet modest and becoming style of dress for Christian women to wear, if they should choose so to do. I tried, perhaps imperfectly, to describe such a dress. ‘The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot, but should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand.’ Some have contended that by the top of the boot, I meant the top of such boots as men usually wear. But by ‘the top of the boot,’ I designed to be understood the top of a boot, or gaiter shoe, usually worn by women. Had I thought I should be misunderstood, I would have written more definitely. If it were the custom for women to wear high-topped boots like men, I could see sufficient excuse for this misunderstanding. I think the language is very plain as it now reads, and no one needs to be thrown into confusion. Please read again: ‘The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot.’ Now look at the qualification: ‘But should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand. A still shorter dress than this would be proper, convenient, and healthful for women when doing their housework, and especially for those who are obliged to perform more or less out-of-door labor.’
“I can see no excuse for reasonable persons misunderstanding and perverting my meaning. In speaking of the length of the dress, had I referred to high-topped boots reaching nearly to the knee, why should I have added, ‘but [the dress] should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand’? If high-topped boots were meant, the dress would most certainly be short enough to keep clear of the filth of the street without being raised, and would be sufficiently short for all working purposes. Reports have been circulated that ‘Sister White wears the American costume,’ and that this style of dress is generally adopted and worn by the sisters in Battle Creek. I am here reminded of the saying that ‘a lie will go around the world while truth is putting on his boots.’ One sister gravely told me that she had received the idea that the American costume was to be adopted by the Sabbathkeeping sisters, and that if such a style of dress should be enforced, she would not submit to it, for she never could bring her mind to wear such a dress.
“In regard to my wearing the short dress, I would say, I have but one short dress, which is not more than a finger’s length shorter than the dresses I usually wear. I have worn this short dress occasionally. In the winter I rose early, and putting on my short dress, which did not require to be raised by my hands to keep it from draggling in the snow, I walked briskly from one to two miles before breakfast. I have worn it several times to the office, when obliged to walk through light snow, or when it was very wet or muddy. Four or five sisters of the Battle Creek church have prepared for themselves a short dress to wear while doing their washing and house cleaning. A short dress has not been worn in the streets of the city of Battle Creek, and has never been worn to meeting. My views were calculated to correct the present fashion, the extreme long dress, trailing upon the ground, and also to correct the extreme short dress, reaching about to the knees, which is worn by a certain class. I was shown that we should shun both extremes. By wearing the dress reaching about to the top of a woman’s gaiter boot we shall escape the evils of the extreme long dress, and shall also shun the evils and notoriety of the extreme short dress.
“I would advise those who prepare for themselves a short dress for working purposes to manifest taste and neatness in getting it up. Have it arranged in order, to fit the form nicely. Even if it is a working dress, it should be made becoming, and should be cut after a pattern. Sisters when about their work should not put on clothing which would make them look like images to frighten the crows from the corn. It is more gratifying to their husbands and children to see them in a becoming, well-fitting attire than it can be to mere visitors or strangers. Some wives and mothers seem to think it is no matter how they look when about their work and when they are seen only by their husbands and children, but they are very particular to dress in taste for the eyes of those who have no special claims upon them. Is not the esteem and love of husband and children more to be prized than that of strangers or common friends? The happiness of husband and children should be more sacred to every wife and mother than that of all others. Christian sisters should not at any time dress extravagantly, but should at all times dress as neatly, modestly, and healthfully as their work will allow.”
The above-described dress we believe to be worthy of the name of the reform short dress. It is being adopted at the Western Health Reform Institute and by some of the sisters at Battle Creek and other places where the matter is properly set before the people. In wide contrast with this modest dress is the so-called American costume, resembling very nearly the dress worn by men. It consists of a vest, pants, and a dress resembling a coat and reaching about halfway from the hip to the knee. This dress I have opposed, from what has been shown me as in harmony with the word of God; while the other I have recommended as modest, comfortable, convenient, and healthful.
Another reason which I offer as an apology for calling attention again to the subject of dress is that not one in twenty of the sisters who profess to believe the Testimonies has taken the first step in the dress reform. It may be said that Sister White generally wears her dresses in public longer than the dress she recommends to others. To this I reply, When I visit a place to speak to the people where the subject is new and prejudice exists, I think it best to be careful and not close the ears of the people by wearing a dress which would be objectionable to them. But after bringing the subject before them and fully explaining my position, I then appear before them in the reform dress, illustrative of my teachings.
As to the matter of wearing hoops, the reform in dress is entirely in advance of them. It cannot use them. And it is altogether too late to talk about wearing hoops, large or small. My position upon that question is precisely what it ever has been, and I hope not to be held responsible for what others may say on this subject, or for the course pursued by those who put on hoops. I protest against the perversion of my private conversations on this subject, and ask that what I have written and published be regarded as my settled position.
Chapter 84—Our Ministers
In the vision given me in Rochester, New York, December 25, 1865, I was shown that a most solemn work is before us. Its importance and magnitude are not realized. As I marked the indifference which was everywhere apparent, I was alarmed for ministers and people. There seemed to be a paralysis upon the cause of present truth. The work of God seemed stayed. Ministers and people are unprepared for the time in which they live, and nearly all who profess to believe present truth are unprepared to understand the work of preparation for this time. In their present state of worldly ambition, with their lack of consecration to God, their devotion to self, they are wholly unfitted to receive the latter rain and, having done all, to stand against the wrath of Satan, who by his inventions would cause them to make shipwreck of faith, fastening upon them some pleasing self-deception. They think they are all right when they are all wrong.
Ministers and people must make greater advancement in the work of reform. They should commence without delay to correct their wrong habits of eating, drinking, dressing, and working. I saw that quite a number of the ministers are not awake upon this important subject. They are not all where God would have them. The result is, some can show but little fruit of their labors. Ministers should be ensamples to the flock of God. But they are not safe from Satan’s temptations. They are the very ones whom he will seek to ensnare. If he can succeed in lulling one minister to carnal security, and by so doing divert his mind from the work, or deceive him with regard to his own true condition before God, he has accomplished much.
I saw that the cause of God was not progressing as it might and as it should. Ministers fail to take hold of the work with that energy, devotion, and decided perseverance which the importance of the work demands. They have a vigilant adversary to contend with whose diligence and perseverance are untiring. The feeble effort of ministers and people can bear no comparison with those of their adversary, the devil. On one side are the ministers who battle for the right and have the help of God and holy angels. They should be strong and valiant, and wholly devoted to the cause in which they are engaged, having no separate interest. They should not be entangled with the things of this life, that they may please Him who hath chosen them to be soldiers.
On the other side are Satan and his angels, with all his agents on earth, who make every effort and use every device to advance error and wrong, and to cover up their hideousness and deformity with a pleasing garb. Selfishness, hypocrisy, and every species of deception, Satan clothes with a garment of apparent truth and righteousness, and triumphs in his success, even with ministers and people who profess to understand his wiles. The greater distance they keep from Christ their great Leader, the less they are like Him in character, the more close is their resemblance in life and character to the servants of their great adversary, and the more sure is he of them at last. While they profess to be servants of Christ, they are servants of sin. Some ministers have their minds too much on the wages they receive. They labor for wages and lose sight of the sacredness and importance of the work.
Some become slack and negligent in their labor; they pass over the ground, but are weak and unsuccessful in their efforts. Their hearts are not in the work. The theory of truth is clear. Many of them had no part in searching out this truth by hard study and earnest prayer, and they know nothing of its preciousness and value by being compelled to sustain their positions against the opposition of its enemies. They do not see the necessity of preserving a spirit of entire consecration to the work. Their interest is divided between themselves and the work.
I saw that before the work of God can make any decided progress, the ministers must be converted. When converted they will place less estimate upon wages and far more value upon the important, sacred, solemn work which they have accepted at the hand of God to perform, and which He requires them to do faithfully and well, as those who must render to Him a strict account. A faithful record of all their works is daily made by the recording angels. All their acts, and even the intents and purposes of the heart, stand faithfully revealed. Nothing is hid from the all-seeing eye of Him with whom we have to do. Those who have thrown all their energies into the cause of God, and who have ventured out and invested something, will feel that the work of God is a part of them, and will not labor merely for wages. They will not be eyeservants and seek to please themselves, but will consecrate themselves and all their interests to this solemn work.
Some in their public labors with the churches are in danger of making mistakes from a lack of thoroughness. It is for their own interest and that of the cause that they should search closely, try their motives, and be certain to divest themselves of selfishness. They should watch lest, while they preach straight truths to others, they fail to live by the same rule, and allow Satan to substitute something else for the deep heartwork. They should be thorough with themselves and with the cause of God lest they work for wages and lose sight of the important and exalted character of the work. They should not let self rule instead of Jesus, and they should be careful not to say to the sinner in Zion, It shall be well with thee, when God has pronounced a curse upon him.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 459-468