ON FEMALE DRESS.
WOMEN who profess godliness, and who have the care of young persons of their own sex, areperhaps in no point more blameable, than in the example which some of them set, and the liberty which perhaps a greater number allow, of undue conformity to the world in the article of dress. Few ministers touch upon this subject in their public discourses ; and indeed it is not very easy to treat it with propriety from the pulpit. Yet whatever is unsuitable to the Christian profession, an inlet to temptation and productive of evil consequences, should in some way or other be noticed, by those who have the honor of the Gospel, and the welfare of their fellow-creatures at heart. I make no farther apology, for offering a few hints, which I hope will not give offence, and which I pray, so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scripture, and confirmed by experience and observation, may be attended to.
I doubt not but many parents who desire to see their children brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, give them many excellent lessons in the nursery. They endeavor to impress their tender minds with a sense of their sinful state by nature, of the evil of pride, and of the vanity of the world.; But when their children begin to appear in public view, for want of due reflection, or resolution, or both, they either encourage, or at least permit them, to form habits, which have a direct tendency to counteract all the benefits which might otherwise be hoped for from the instruction of their early years.
I am certainly no connoisseur in the article of dress; but I know how I am affected by what I see : and I can hear what other people say. The simplex munditiis of Horace, which may be translated, an unaffected neatness, according to different situations in life, seems a tolerable definition of a becoming ■dressBut Christian women should aim to comply with the apostle's advice, to adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety. When he adds, " Not with gold, or pearls, or costly array,". I do not think it necessary to take this restriction so rigidly, as to affirm, that such ornaments are, universally and without exception, unlawful. I think this is one of the many expressions in Scripture, which are to be understood in a comparative sense. Thus when our Lord declares, " That unless a man " hate parents, wife, children, and his own life, he " cannot be my disciple ;'r we are sure he does not contradict, what by his authority is expressly enjoined in many other passages, that we should pay a due regard to our relations, and take a proper care of ourselves. He only teaches us, that whenever our dearest temporal concernments stand in competition with what we owe to Him, they must be given up and renounced.
The providence of God has made an evident distinction of rank and subordination in civil life. There is a long gradation from the highest state of those whom we call the rich, to the lowest state of the honest and industrious poor. It is to be hoped, that some of his own dear people may be found in all these different conditions. And I see no impropriety in paying some regard to them in dress. At present, however, through the dissipation and extravagance of the times, the proper distinction is almost wholly lost, and it is often not easy to distinguish (except perhaps in the article of jewels) between a countess and a milliner.
If clothes are considered merely as a covering for the body, and a defence from the cold, it will be difficult to draw the line, and to determine exactly between what is necessary and what is superfluous. I think some women may as lawfully wear sattins and pearls, as others may wear stuffs and glass beads; and it is more for the honour of, the Gospel, that a woman professing godliness should be distinguished from others, by modesty, sobriety, and good works, than by the shape of her cap, or the colour of her, garment. <
Yet even to ladies of the greatest affluence, who love and fear the Lord, I will venture to suggest a word of caution. To you I say nothing of the expense ; you can, as the phrase is, very well afford it. And if in other respects you are generous and boun-' tiful, ready to distribute, and willing to communicate, the cost of what you choose to wear is of no great consideration. But a nice attention to dress will cost you much of what is more valuable than money—your precious time. It will too much occupy your thoughts, and that at the seasons when you would wish to have them otherwise engaged. And it certainly administers fuel to that latent fire of pride and vanity, which is inseparable from our fallen nature, and is easily blown up into a blaze. I hope you will not be among the first of those, who are eager to catch at, and give sanction to every new mode; nor is it necessary, if the mode be decent and general, that you should be the very last to adopt it. But something there should be in your exterior, to indicate, that though you do not affect a needless and scornful singularity (which is often the source of censoriousness and envy), yet your heart is not set upon these little things. If a woman, when going to public worship, looks in the glass, and contemplates, with a secret self-complacence, the figure which it reflects to her view, I am afraid she is not in the frame of spirit most suitable for one, who is about to cry for mercy as a miserable sinner. There are likewise women, who, we would hope, are pious, and therefore, of course, benevolent. But an attachment to dress, and a desire to approach, as near as they can, to the standard of those who are their superiors in fortune, blunt their compassionate feelings, and deprive them of the usefulness, comfort, and honour they might otherwise attain. The expense of their dress is so great, compared with the smallness of their income, that when they have decorated themselves to their mind, they have little or nothing to spare for the relief of the poor. I doubt not, but they take it for granted, that, upon the supposition that our Lord and Saviour was again upon earth in a state of poverty and humiliation, aswhen he walked in the streets of Jerusalem, and they knew that he wanted a garment, when they were about to spend their spare money in some useless piece of finery, they would gladly forego their purpose for the honour of assisting him. But the heart is deceitful. If we Jive in the neglect of presentduty, we have no right to suppose we should act better in different circumstances. He has said, " Inasmuch " as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did " it unto me." And if we are inattentive to the wants, of those, whom he appoints to be his representatives, we cannbt be sure that we should be properly attentive to hiiwself, if he was with us in person, and in a low obscure condition.
But 1 am not so much hurt by observing the materials, as by the manner of female dress ; by what we call the fashion, and the eagerness with which every changing fashion, however improper, is adopted, by persons whose religious profession might lead us to hope they had no leisure to attend to such trifle's^ Jf some allowance is to be made for youth on this he-ad, it is painful to see mothers, and possibly sometimes grandmothers, who seem, by the gaudiness and levity of their attire, very unwilling to be sensible that they are growing older.
It may be a sufficient censure of some fashions, to say they are ridiculous. Their chief effect is to disfigure the female form. And perhaps the inventors of them had no worse design, than to make a trial, how far they could lead the passive unthinking many in the path of absurdity. Some fashions, which seem to have been at first designed to hide a personal deformity,- have obtained a general prevalence with those who had no such deformity to hide. We are informed, that Alexander had a wry neck, and therefore his courtiers carried their heads on one side, that they might appear to be in the king's fashion. We smile at this servility, in people who lived in Macedonia twenty centuries before we were born ; yet it is little less general among ourselves in the present day.
--- Other fashions were doubtless contrived by persons, who, having not yet attained to glory in their shame, were desirous of concealing it as much and as long, as possible. Yet these, likewise, are no less eagerly adopted. If I did not consider the tyranny of fashion, my compassionate feelings would often be excited For women who 1 should suppose were married, if I did not observe the wedding-fiager destitute of a ring. These improprieties are not simply ridiculous. They are serious evils, in a religious view ; and, to speak of them in the gentlest terms, they are signs of a careless, inconsiderate spirit, very unsuitable to a professed regard to the Gospel. We are required to attend to the things that are lovely and of a good report.—. Ever)' wilful deviation from this rule is sinful. Why should a godly woman, or one who wishes to.be thought so, make herself ridiculous, or hazard a suspicion of her character, to please and imitate an ungodly world ?
But the worst of all the fashions are those, which are evidently calculated to allure the eyes, and to draw- the attention of our sex. ' Ts it not.strange that modest and even pious women, should be seduced into a compliance even with the-e ? Yet I have sometimes been in company with ladies of whose modesty 1 have no doubt, and of whose piety I en. tertain a good hope, when I have been embarrassed and at a loss which way to look. They are indeed noticed by the men, but not to their honour nor advantage. The manner of their dress gives encouragement to vile and insidious men, and exposes them to dangerous temptations. This inconsiderate levity has often proved the first step into that road that leads to misery and ruin. They are pleased with the flattery of the worthless, and go on without thought, " as a bird hastens to the " snare, and knoweth not that it is for its life."—. But honest and sensible men regard their exterior, as a warning signal, not to choose a companion for life, from among persons of this light and volatile turn of mind.
How far does the richest dress which studious vanity can procure from the spoils of birds, beasts, and insects, fall short of the delicate texture and elegance, and the beautiful tints, which we admire in a flower or a butterfly ! " Even Solomon in all his " glory was not arrayed like one of these !'' The resemblance is chiefly in the frailty of the wearer. Soon:, and perhaps suddenly, the body, now adorned with so much nicety and care, must be deposited in the vault or grave, and be food for worms.
An attention to ornament and dress is peculiarly un* seasonable at present. The dark aspect of the times rather requires a spirit of humiliation and abasement'. The judgments of God are abroad, his hand is lifted up. We know not what is before us, hup we have* reaspn to fear awful tokens of his displeasure for our national sins. Perhaps the day is comingwhen the words of the propher, " Tremble ye women that are " at ease, be afflicted ye careless ones," may be no less applicable to us, than they were to the Israelites of old. 1 earnestly request my fair readers carefully to peruse the latter part of the third chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, from the sixteenth verse to the end.