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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Ellen G. White's Message on Dress*

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Section Titles
Reviewing the Past
Reasons for Reform
Instruction From Ellen G. White
Avoiding Extremes
Renewal of Agitation Discouraged
Fundamental Principles
Appropriate Length of Dress
Represents Character

Relatively speaking not many people will come to our churches or to our evangelistic meetings to hear the message; but people everywhere are watching Seventh-day Adventists. They are learning our message by what they see revealed in our daily lives. They are actually forming their opinion of God and His remnant church by what they see in you and me.

“Ye are my witnesses,” says the God of heaven. Here in this world we are to be a demonstration of the kind of people God wants and will have in His eternal kingdom. We should walk the streets of our home town just as we expect to walk the streets of the New Jerusalem.

That paragraph gives us plenty to think about. If we are not God's witnesses in our own home city, we


* This chapter has been prepared by the author and his wife, Florence Kneeland Rebok. Much of this material appeared in two articles in the Review and Herald, May 4 and May 11, 1944. Used by permission.


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shall not be His witnesses in the New Jerusalem. The consequences of our study are just that serious. Our witness in our home town must be so correct as to cause people to say, “There is one of the loveliest, finest, and best persons in this city. I wish I could live as she does.”

Someone has said, “Your clothes, and that includes every detail, should be the perfect background for your personality. They should add confidence to your manner, assurance and poise to your bearing.” Since clothes do so much to make a person either attractive or unattractive, we do well to begin with a statement on this important point made by Ellen G. White at a time when some thought our sisters should adopt a healthful but very mannish attire known in the early 1880's as the American costume:

“‘No occasion should be given to unbelievers to reproach our faith. We are considered odd and singular, and should not take a course to lead unbelievers to think us more so than our faith requires us to be. Some who believe the truth may think that it would be more healthful for the sisters to adopt the American costume, yet if that mode of dress would cripple our influence among unbelievers so that we could not so readily gain access to them, we should by no means adopt it, though we suffered much in consequence. But some are deceived in thinking there is so much benefit to be received from this costume. While it may prove a benefit to some, it is an injury to others.’”—Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 456, 457. (Italics supplied.)

“Oddity and carelessness in dress have been considered a special virtue by some. Such take a course which destroys


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their influence over unbelievers. They disgust those whom they might benefit.”—Ibid., p. 275.

Thus we have the question before us, and we hasten to add that our Seventh-day Adventist women are anxious to know just what Mrs. White did teach on the subject of dress, so that they may be able to meet God's ideal for them in this, as in all other essential matters. One of them wrote a letter to our church paper, the Review and Herald, and here it is:

“Dear Editor:

“I read an article in one of the recent Reviews on the subject of women's dress. I know that our people have grown lax on that subject and have followed after the world in their customs and fashions. It is my belief, as was said, that we should take the standard of the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy for our guide. But it is hard to know just what that standard is, without going from one extreme to the other, in the matter of length. I quote from Testimonies, volume 1, page 464:

“‘“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 judge from that statement and the context of the whole chapter in volume 1 that the standard is nine inches from the floor. That is very neat and becoming for a woman in her seventies or eighties, but I can hardly see it for a young person or middle-aged person. I quote again from volume 1, page 458:

“‘“Christians should not take pains to make themselves a gazingstock by dressing differently from the world. But


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if, when following out their convictions of duty in respect to dressing modestly and healthfully, they find themselves out of fashion, they should not change their dress in order to be like the world; but they should manifest a noble independence and moral courage to be right, if all the world differ from them. If the world introduce a modest, convenient, and healthful mode of dress, which is in accordance with the Bible, it will not change our relation to God or to the world to adopt such a style of dress.”’

“Of course, the world has not introduced such a style of dress, and we will have to be different. But do you think the plain statements made in volume 1 are for our time?

“My sister and I are about twenty and we both have a sincere desire to do what is right and carry out God's instructions fully and yet shun any extremes. Do you think a dress three and a half or four inches below the knee is a modest length for us; and for a woman about fifty, six inches below the knee?

“If that length is modest for our times, why did not Sister White give us as definite a standard for our time as was given for her time; because she could look ahead into the future, could she not?

“I am sorry to take any of your time, but this has been a question between us for several years, and I would like to get your opinion.

“Sincerely yours,

———”

“Dear Sister:

“The editor of the Review has appealed to me to answer the questions raised in your letter with regard to the specific length of dresses for our time, in the light of standards of the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy counsel. You refer to the length of the skirt as mentioned in the testimony


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in 1867, as well as to the caution against extremes, and you ask the relation of this counsel to the determining of a proper present-day standard of skirt length. In order to reply satisfactorily, I have spent some time in reading, and now wish to share with you some of my findings.”

That which follows represents the answer to that appeal.

Reviewing the Past

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It was about the middle of the nineteenth century that, here and there in our country, women with their heavy trailing or hoop skirts began to awaken to the fact that the clothes they were wearing had a decidedly detrimental effect upon their health. It was as though a new day were dawning, and a few brave individuals stepped forward to introduce a much-needed reform. This was not an easy thing to do, for previous to this time women had been accorded no “rights,” and in the matter of dress had always followed along as custom had decreed. The idea of a reform dress actually originated among progressive women in Europe, but was quickly championed in this country by many outstanding persons. Here in America we find that the dress reform was at first linked not only with health reform but also with temperance and rights for women.

The first actually to wear a dress intended to bring about an improvement in women's clothing was Elizabeth Smith Miller. Her father, Congressman Gerrit Smith, had been very outspoken in favor of this needed reform; so she had his support as well as that of her


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husband in this new venture. She wore the dress first on the streets of Washington, D.C., where it was hailed as quite an item of news in the press. After wearing it for about three months, Mrs. Miller went to Seneca Falls, New York, to visit her cousin, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the honored women of the nation because of her efforts in the cause of women.

Speaking of the advantages of the new dress in contrast with the inconvenience of the prevailing styles, Mrs. Stanton wrote:

“To see my counsin [Mrs. Miller] with lamp in one hand, a baby in the other, walk upstairs with ease and grace, while, with flowing robes, I pulled myself with difficulty, lamp and baby out of the question, readily convinced me that there was sore need of a reform in woman's dress, and I promptly donned a similar costume. What incredible freedom I enjoyed for two years! Like a captive set free from his ball and chain, I was always ready for a brisk walk through sleet and snow and rain, to climb a mountain, jump over a fence, and work in the garden, and, in fact, for any necessary locomotion.”—Stanton and Blatch, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, vol. 1. Harper's.

The next to join these two women was Mrs. Amelia Bloomer. She was editor of The Lily, a monthly paper for women, published at Seneca Falls, New York. In her position she was able to give great publicity to the reform dress. In fact, her name was given to an adaptation of the new costume, although she insisted that the credit really belonged to Mrs. Miller.


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Some months after Mrs. Miller's visit to Seneca Falls, Mrs. Stanton and Mrs. Bloomer, with others, visited Dr. Jackson's health institute at Glen Haven, New York. Here they met Dr. Harriet Austin, who became an ardent promoter of the reform dress, and it was through her influence that the style was modified and became generally known as the American costume, concerning which Mrs. White says:

“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.”—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 465.

Dr. Austin and Dr. Jackson, as editors of the Water Cure Journal, gave prominence to this new style of dress.

Later the reform was advocated in Laws of Life, successor to Water Cure Journal. In all sections of the country were to be found those who adopted the new style of dress. Also there were those who criticized and ridiculed any attempt to change the fashion of the day.

Reasons for Reform

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At that time there were three outstanding features of women's dress that demanded the attention of those advocating a reform: (1) the decided unhealthfulness of the prevailing style; (2) the immodesty of the hoop skirt then being worn; and (3) the inconvenience to the wearers.

A writer in the Health Reformer of March, 1868,


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made the following statements regarding the first point:

“When the Health Reform Institute was established, the physicians decided that a better style of dress for women than the long, dragging skirts, was desirable…. The physicians declared it was not only desirable, but necessary in the treatment of some cases; and that being so, it would be useless and wrong to receive such cases without adopting what they were assured was essential to effect cures. Again, it seemed to be understood and conceded by all health reformers who had investigated the subject, that a reform dress was necessary, and if it was not adopted at the Institute, a class of patients would surely be driven to other institutions, where something different from the cumbersome, prevailing fashion was adopted. Therefore, to neglect this reform would be to sacrifice the best interests of the Institute, and of a certain class who most needed its benefits.”

It is difficult for us, perhaps, to realize the unhealthful aspect of the dress of that time. Not only were the skirts so long that they dragged on the ground in all kinds of weather and under varying conditions, but the weight of the twenty to thirty yards of material used to make one skirt rested entirely on the hips instead of being suspended from the shoulders; nor was there any freedom of movement.

In a secular book of that time, Four Years in a Boys' College, Mrs. S. L. Anderson gives these words to one of her characters:

“Ninety-nine hundredths of all diseases on record belong to women, and they all arise from her mode of dress. What would you think of tying up a race horse that way


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and starting him on the course? It is just as absurd to expect a woman to run this race of life creditably in her present style of dress.”

Concerning the point of immodesty, a writer made this observation in the Review and Herald of June 18, 1867:

“Anyone that has traveled as much as I have, can bear testimony with me to the immodesty of the hoop skirt. A lady with one on very seldom enters a carriage, omnibus, car, and such places without immodestly exposing herself.”

Ellen G. White wrote earlier in the Review and Herald of August 27, 1861, emphasizing the same point:

“Hoops, I was shown, are an abomination, and every Sabbath-keeper's influence should be a rebuke to this ridiculous fashion, which has been a screen to iniquity.”

In 1868 Ellen G. White wrote a tract entitled, The Dress Reform. In it, speaking of the inconvenience of the dress of the times, she stated:

“If she goes into her garden to walk or to work among her flowers, to share the early, refreshing morning air, unless she holds them up with both hands, her skirts are dragging and drabbling in dirt and dew, until they are wet and muddy. Fashion attaches to her, cloth that is, in this case, used as a sort of mop. This is exceedingly inconvenient. But for the sake of fashion it must be endured.”—Page 4.

Upon the first presentation of Handel's Messiah, in Dublin, on April 13, 1742, it was announced publicly


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beforehand that “ladies should not wear hoopskirts nor men their swords,” so that the auditorium, which ordinarily accommodated six hundred persons, might have room for seven hundred at the performance.

Thus we can see that the agitation on the entire dress question originated outside the ranks of Seventh-day Adventists, many years before the reform dress was adopted by them. It was a cry for freedom from a burden that Dame Fashion had imposed upon the women of that time.

Now that we have seen the beginning of dress reform in the United States among those not of our faith, let us see how the early Adventists related themselves to it. Living at that time and under those conditions, they were bound to feel its influence, for they were verily a part of the time in which they lived, even as we are today.

Instruction From Ellen G. White

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In Life Sketches Ellen Harmon wrote of her experience between 1840 and 1844, which was typical of the experience of those who were looking for the Second Advent of Christ:

“I had no temptation to spend my earnings for my own personal gratification. My dress was plain; nothing was spent for needless ornaments, for vain display appeared sinful in my eyes…. The salvation of souls was the burden of my mind.”—Pages 47, 48.


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And of the early days in the experience of the Sabbathkeeping Adventists, we observe that—

“From time to time articles appeared in the Review and Herald counseling simplicity in dress, though the consideration of the matter from the standpoint of health was for some years subordinated to the thought of the scriptural injunctions against pride and display.”—D. E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message, p. 104.

It was not until August 5, 1858, that anything at all was said in the Review and Herald in condemnation of a specific style of dress. And it was thirteen years after Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Stanton, and Mrs. Bloomer had initiated the dress reform that Mrs. White began to advocate a reform dress for Seventh-day Adventists.

As is true of every reform movement, there were some who stood ready to swing the pendulum from one extreme to the other rather than to take a sane, sensible, middle-of-the-road attitude on this dress reform movement. Getting the skirts off the ground was one thing, but keeping them at a proper length was something else. In the American costume, as it was called, the clothing adopted by many women of the world was very similar to men's attire, and went to the extreme of raising the skirts to the knees or above!

With the agitation of the time and the various reactions to the dress reform, it is not strange that our sisters began to ask counsel. In vision Mrs. White was shown the general principles that should guide in


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the matter, and she herself was searching for something that would meet the needs of Christian women. During a visit to Dansville, New York, where the reform dress was worn at a health institute, she wrote:

“They have all styles of dress here. Some are very becoming, if not so short. We shall get patterns from this place and I think we can get out a style of dress more healthful than we now wear, and yet not be Bloomer or the American costume. Our dresses, according to my idea, should be from four to six inches shorter than now worn, and should in no case reach lower than the top of the heel of the shoe, and could be a little shorter even than this with all modesty…. I am going to get up a style of dress on my own hook which will accord perfectly with that which has been shown me. Health demands it. Our feeble women must dispense with heavy skirts and tight waists if they value health….

“We shall never imitate Miss Dr. Austin or Mrs. Dr. York. They dress very much like men. We shall imitate or follow no fashion we have ever yet seen. We shall institute a fashion which will be both economical and healthy.”—From a letter to Brother and Sister Lockwood, dated September, 1864.

While this question was such a live issue, Mrs. White wrote about the dress of three companies of women as they had been presented to her in vision:

“The first were of fashionable length, burdening the limbs, impeding the step, and sweeping the street and gathering its filth; the evil results of which I have fully stated. This class, who were slaves to fashion, appeared feeble and languid.

“The dress of the second class which passed before me


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was in many respects as it should be. The limbs were well clad. They were free from the burdens which the tyrant, Fashion, had imposed upon the first class; but had gone to that extreme in the short dress as to disgust and prejudice good people, and destroy in a great measure their own influence. This is the style and influence of the ‘American Costume,’ taught and worn by many at ‘Our Home,’ Dansville, N.Y. It does not reach to the knee. I need not say that this style of dress was shown me to be too short.

“A third class passed before me with cheerful countenances, and free, elastic step. Their dress was the length I have described as proper, modest and healthful. It cleared the filth of the street and side-walk a few inches under all circumstances, such as ascending and descending steps, etc.”—The Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867.

Avoiding Extremes

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In the same article Mrs. White explained how this subject was presented to her:

“Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation. As I wrote upon the subject of dress the view of those three companies revived in my mind as plain as when I was viewing them in vision; but I was left to describe the length of the proper dress in my own language the best I could.”—Ibid.

Of her experience in developing a style of dress harmonizing with that shown her in the vision, Mrs. White wrote further in the same article:

“I put on the dress, in length as near as I had seen and


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described as I could judge. My sisters in Northern Michigan also adopted it. And when the subject of inches came up in order to secure uniformity as to length everywhere, a rule was brought and it was found that the length of our dresses ranged from eight to ten inches from the floor. Some of these were a little longer than the sample shown me, while others were a little shorter.

“Numerous letters came to me from all parts of the field, inquiring the length of the dress shown me. Having seen the rule applied to the distance from the floor of several dresses, and having become fully satisfied that nine inches comes the nearest to the samples shown me, I have given this number of inches in [Testimony] No. 12 [see Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 521], as the proper length in regard to which uniformity is very desirable.”—Ibid.

Of the experience at the Health Institute in Battle Creek, one wrote:

“At my request the physicians at the Institute named a number of its inmates whose dresses they considered as nearly correct in make and appearance as could be found to that number amongst the varieties. I measured the height of twelve, with the distance of their dresses from the floor. They varied in height from five feet to five feet seven inches, and the distance of the dresses from the floor was from 8 to 10½ inches. The medium, nine inches, was decided to be the right distance, and is adopted as the standard.”—The Health Reformer, March, 1868.

In 1865 Mrs. White warned against the adoption of the American costume because of its imitation of men's clothing:

“Those who adopt and advocate this style of dress, are carrying the so-called dress reform to very objectionable


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lengths…. They could be instrumental in accomplishing vastly more good if they did not carry the matter of dress to such extremes.”—How to Live, No. 6, chap. 6 (1865).

In 1866 Mrs. White set forth some basic principles to guide the sisters of the church in their selection of clothes:

“‘Christians should not take pains to make themselves a gazingstock by dressing differently from the world. But if, when following out their convictions of duty in respect to dressing modestly and healthfully, they find themselves out of fashion, they should not change their dress in order to be like the world; but they should manifest a noble independence and moral courage to be right, if all the world differ from them. If the world introduce a modest, convenient, and healthful mode of dress, which is in accordance with the Bible, it will not change our relation to God or to the world to adopt such a style of dress. Christians should follow Christ and make their dress conform to God's word. They should shun extremes.’”—Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 458, 459. (Italics supplied.)

“‘I was shown that God would have us take a course consistent and explainable. Let the sisters adopt the American costume, and they would destroy their own influence and that of their husbands. They would become a byword and a derision…. There is a great work for us to do in the world, and God would not have us take a course to lessen or destroy our influence with the world.’”—Ibid., p. 458. (Italics supplied.)

The quotations I have used give the background of conditions existing generally at that time. They also indicate how our women were influenced by these conditions, and their earnest attempt to arrive at a


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satisfactory solution. However, there were many of our own women who either failed to adopt the recommended standard or who went to an extreme. For this reason, dress reform became a decided stumbling block to many.

Some took the attitude that the wearing of the reform dress must be obligatory, but Mrs. White wrote (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 637), “I did not make the dress a test question.”

Still others with misguided zeal placed it entirely out of its setting:

“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…. 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.”—Ibid., pp. 636, 637.

“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.”—Ibid., p. 636.

“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 labored to establish uniformity of dress among our sisters.”—Ibid., p. 637.


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For these reasons, less and less was said about the reform dress until, as George I. Butler wrote:

“A point was reached where it became evident that the short dress, which was designed to be a blessing to our people, became an actual hindrance to the cause, because of the unreasonable course of many among us concerning it. Sister White ceased to speak in its behalf, and did not wear it herself, and it soon ceased to be generally worn.”—The Review and Herald Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883.

Renewal of Agitation Discouraged

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It was in the early and middle sixties that most of the agitation on the question of a reform in women's dress was seen in our own ranks. Because of the extremists and the opposers of the changes in dress Mrs. White dropped the subject for several years. Very little more was heard of the dress question among our writings until about 1897, when some asked why the specific reform dress of earlier days was not being worn, and wished to revive the issue. Mrs. White wrote at that time:

“In answer to the questions that have recently come to me in regard to resuming the reform dress, I would say that those who have been agitating this subject may be assured that they have not been inspired by the Spirit of God. The Lord has not indicated that it is the duty of our sisters to go back to the reform dress. The difficulties that we once had to meet are not to be brought in again. There must be no branching out now into singular forms of dress. New and strange things will continually arise, to lead God's people into false excitement, religious revivals, and curious


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developments; but our people should not be subjected to any tests of human invention that will create controversy in any line.

“The advocacy of the old reform dress proved a battle at every step. With some there was no uniformity and taste in the preparation of the costume, and those who refused to adopt it caused dissension and discord. Thus the cause was dishonored. Because that which was given as a blessing was turned into a curse, the burden of advocating the reform dress was removed.

“There were some things that made the reform dress a decided blessing. With it the ridiculous hoops, which were then the fashion, could not possibly be worn; nor the long, trailing skirts, sweeping up the filth of the streets. But in recent years a more sensible style of dress has been adopted by the world, which does not embrace these objectionable features; and if our sisters wish to make their dresses after these models, simple and plain, the Lord will not be dishonored by their doing so.

“Some have supposed that the skirt and sacque mentioned in Testimonies, Vol. IV, page 640, was the pattern that all should adopt. This is not so; but something as simple as this should be used. No one precise style has been given me as the exact rule to guide all in their dress. Should our sisters think they must adopt a uniform style of dress, controversy would arise, and those whose minds should be wholly given to the work of the third angel's message, would spend their time making aggressive warfare on the outward dress, to the neglect of that inward piety, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

“The dress question is not to be our present truth. To create an issue on this point now would please the enemy. He would be delighted to have minds diverted to any


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subject by which he might create division of sentiment, and lead our people into controversy.

“I beg of our people to walk carefully and circumspectly before God. Follow the customs in dress so far as they conform to health principles. Let our sisters dress plainly, as many do, having the dress of good, durable material, appropriate for this age, and let not the dress question fill the mind. Our sisters should dress with simplicity. They should clothe themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety….

“The working of the Spirit of God will show a change outwardly. Those who venture to disobey the plainest statements of Inspiration, will not heed any human efforts made to induce them to wear a plain, neat, unadorned, proper dress, that will not in any way make them odd or singular. They will continue to expose themselves by hanging out their colors to the world….

“Therefore I say to my sisters, Enter into no controversy in regard to outward apparel, but be sure you have the inward adorning of a meek and quiet spirit. Let all who accept the truth show their true colors. We are a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. False prudence, mock modesty, may be shown by the outward apparel, while the heart is in great need of the inward adorning. Stand ever committed to the right.”—Manuscript 167, 1897. Quoted in D. E. Robinson, The Story of Our Health Message, pp. 361-364. (Italics supplied.)

Fundamental Principles

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There are several points presented here for our consideration. The specific instruction given in the sixties was to meet a definite crisis. At that time, however, certain fundamental principles of dress were


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laid down that will always remain true, and our course of action today should be based upon these principles. For that reason it is not necessary that detailed instruction be given our sisters from time to time. One of the first principles stressed in the dress reform program was that of health. Back there it was especially needed. I suppose there has never been a time when, generally speaking, fashion has decreed a dress more healthful than now. Thus the question of health in dress is not the extreme issue today.

The second point stressed was that of modesty. The reason for cultivating and cherishing this virtue is just as much present today as it was eighty or a hundred years ago, or at any other time. Christian women are expected to dress modestly. If for any reason Dame Fashion introduces a passing style that calls this virtue into question, then a responsibility rests upon the Christian woman to stay by what she knows to be right, regardless of prevailing fashion.

The third feature of the dress reform movement was simplicity and appropriateness, which applies equally as well today as at any other time. Wearing a dress that drags on the ground would be no more appropriate today than the extremely short skirts were back there. “Consistency, thou art a jewel.”

A careful study of the light given us on the whole dress question forms itself into a picture of the well-dressed woman at any time. We are told that the materials chosen should be the best we can afford to


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buy, for that is economy. Our dress should be neat, and not of a gaudy nature that would attract undue attention. This is where modesty comes in, too. No properly dressed woman need fear that she will be insulted if her actions are in keeping with her attire; nor that insulting remarks will be made about her. Somehow there is planted in the heart of every woman a sense of modesty that can and should be cultivated. Now, honestly, can't you tell when your own dress is modest, or when it doesn't feel just right? The following statement is to the point:

“In dress, as in all things else, it is our privilege to honor our Creator. He desires our clothing to be not only neat and healthful but appropriate and becoming.

“A person's character is judged by his style of dress. A refined taste, a cultivated mind, will be revealed in the choice of simple and appropriate attire. Chaste simplicity in dress, when united with modesty of demeanor, will go far toward surrounding a young woman with that atmosphere of sacred reserve which will be to her a shield from a thousand perils.”—Education, p. 248.

Just to show how true principles are recognized everywhere, may I call your attention to the application of these principles in our present day? Personality Unlimited, by Veronica Dengel, is a good book, published in 1943 (John C. Winston Company), with the subtitle, The Beauty Blue Book. How familiar this instruction on principles of dress sounds:

“Good taste in clothes starts with simplicity, proceeds to becomingness, and culminates in appropriateness for the


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occasion. No matter how beautiful any article of clothing may be, unless it suits the wearer, unless it is functional and right for the specific purpose and time it is worn, it is not in good taste. Loud, flashy colors, poor fabrics and workmanship, and inharmonious combinations all contribute to bad taste….

“Simplicity should border on plainness, but with the distinction that is achieved by perfect fit, beautiful line, fine tailoring, and complete suitability to the figure type. Absence of ornamentation helps to bring out the beauty of the fabric and cut; badly designed clothes are often betrayed by the surplus of trimming used in an attempt to conceal the inferior workmanship. But it is possible to find inexpensive dresses of good line and fabric which have been ‘decorated’ to catch those who dote on fancy extras. Your keen eye will help you to find the basic good style underneath all this. By removing the bows, flowers, or whatnots, you may have a dress that will look as expensive as a higher priced dress with the addition of a choice accessory.”—Pages 366, 367.

“Your clothes, and that includes every detail, should be the perfect background for your personality. They should add confidence to your manner, assurance and poise to your bearing. This is not vanity; it is merely the realization that your clothes are as impeccable as your deportment.

“To be sure, your attire should and does attract attention, but if your costume is a foreground instead of a background, then it has been badly chosen, and you are overdressed.

“Do not protest that you cannot afford to be smartly dressed. Basic good style is always to be desired rather than the novelty fashion of the moment. Your appearance advertises your ability to make the most of your natural attributes. If you wear outmoded clothes and are carelessly


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groomed, you will convey the impression that your mentality is also dated, and that you are not capable of development along the modern trends. Such a reputation is a serious drawback to any woman.”—Page 387.

Perhaps we have given enough of the background discussion of the dress question as it appears in the Spirit of prophecy, and as it is considered today, even by those who set the best standards for the world. A careful study shows that there is a surprising harmony between these two.

Appropriate Length of Dress

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Now for consideration of the definite question on the proper length of dress for Christian young women today. From the facts presented it is clear that the nine-inch standard was selected at the time when the dress question was being agitated everywhere, as a balance between the dress dragging on the ground and the one that had been raised above the knees. At that time principles were laid down that were to serve us all as we should apply them to ourselves. There is no need for a separate statement of skirt length to be made for each succeeding age or era—modesty is the standard.

With this thought of modesty is to be coupled “appropriate for this age.” Appropriate means “specially suitable, fit, proper”; so we see that this also places the question of dress in its proper setting as regards time, climate, age of the wearer, and so forth. We are


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not required to be so different in our dress as to become gazingstocks to those about us, but rather what is generally accepted as appropriate for the time in which we live will be suitable, if it is healthful and modest. It is generally conceded, too, that the appropriate length of dress varies with a woman's age. An elderly woman would not expect to dress like a girl in her teens, nor should a young girl be expected to dress like her middle-aged mother. Not only does age enter into the decision of the right style of the dress, but the person's build and type must also be considered. Some women are tall, while others are short; then there are the fat ones, the skinny ones, and those in between. Some dresses are made very full, while others are narrower, and this is another factor to be considered.

The current book previously referred to has this to say about standards for dress length:

“The fashionable skirt length is the one to adopt; but if skirts are worn short, do not go the modes one better and have yours at or above your knees, for the knee is not an attractive sight either from the front or back. Your skirt should always end below the knee, at or just above the fullest part of the leg. One extreme is as bad as the other. If your legs are very heavy, do not attempt to hide them by wearing your skirt too long, for you will only draw attention to yourself. An inch, or even half an inch, longer than usual will suffice.”—Veronica Dengel, Personality Unlimited, pp. 385, 386. (Italics supplied.)

“With the right line you can make a figure seem taller or shorter, narrower or wider, as may be required….

“The tall girl must avoid any silhouette that will extend


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her height, whereas the short or heavy woman can create an impression of height by carrying the eye ‘up and down’ in every possible way. On the other hand, the heavy or short woman must avoid lines that carry the eye from side to side, because these certainly will make her look shorter and heavier. Horizontal lines, which tend to ‘cut’ height, are only for the tall, slender person….

“A very short skirt cuts the height and increases width. A long skirt increases height.”—Ibid., pp. 374-376.

Thus I cannot give a definite answer as to whether “three and a half or four inches below the knee is a modest length for girls of twenty; and for a woman of fifty, six inches below the knee,” because build, height, weight, the style chosen, or the kind of material to be used—all have a bearing on the proper length of dress. The instruction that we have considered all agrees that the knees should always be covered, whether one is standing or sitting, and that the dress should extend far enough below the knee to reach gracefully to the fullest part of the leg. A mirror will guide in determining the proper length for individual needs, as can the honest opinion of one who has these standards in mind.

Represents Character

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Our dress is to represent our character—what we are, and what is in our heart. The following statement brings out the thought I have in mind:

“Are we confessing Christ in our daily life? Do we confess him in our dress, adorning ourselves with plain and modest apparel? Is our adorning that of the meek


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and quiet spirit which is of so great price in the sight of God? Are we seeking to advance the cause of the Master? Is the line of demarcation between you and the world distinct, or are you seeking to follow the fashions of this degenerate age? Is there no difference between you and the worldling? Does the same spirit work in you that works in the children of disobedience? If we are Christians, we shall follow Christ, even though the path in which we are to walk cuts right across our natural inclinations. There is no use in telling you that you must not wear this or that, for if the love of these vain things is in your heart, your laying off your adornments will only be like cutting the foliage off a tree. The inclinations of the natural heart would again assert themselves. You must have a conscience of your own.”—The Review and Herald, May 10, 1892. (Italics supplied.)

As Christian women today, it is our privilege at all times to be so modestly attired that our dress will be a witness of our profession.

In closing this chapter I wish to quote our 1946 General Conference declaration of standards of Christian living on the matter of dress. It sums up the counsel from Mrs. White and the best thinking of the best-informed people of the world on this subject, and gives us our own denominational standard on this very important topic.

“Seventh-day Adventists have been called out from the world. We are reformers. True religion which enters into every phase of life must have a molding influence on all our activities. Our habits of life must stem from principle and not from the example of the world about us. Customs and fashions may change with the years, but principles of


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right conduct are always the same. Dress is an important factor in Christian character. Early in our history, instruction was given as to the way Christians should dress, the purpose of which was ‘to protect the people of God from the corrupting influences of the world, as well as to promote physical and moral health.’—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 634. Truly a comprehensive purpose. There is no virtue in dressing differently from those about us just to be different, but where the principles of refinement or morality are involved, the conscientious Christian will be true to his convictions rather than follow the prevailing customs.

“Christians should avoid display and ‘profuse ornamentation.’ Clothing should be, when possible, ‘of good quality, of becoming colors, and suited for service.’ It should be chosen for ‘durability rather than display.’ Our attire should be characterized by ‘beauty,’ ‘modest grace’ and ‘appropriateness of natural simplicity.’—Messages to Young People, pp. 351, 352. That it may not be conspicuous, it should follow the conservative and most sensible styles of the time.

“The adoption of fads and extreme fashions in men's or women's dress indicates a lack of attention to serious matters. Regardless of how sensibly people generally may dress, there are always extremes in style which transgress the laws of modesty, and thus have a direct bearing upon the prevalence of immoral conditions. Many who blindly follow the styles are at least partly unconscious of these effects, but the results are no less disastrous. The people of God should always be found among the conservatives in dress, and will not let ‘the dress question fill the mind.’—Evangelism, p. 273. They will not be the first to adopt the new styles of dress or the last to lay the old aside. ‘To dress plainly, and abstain from display of jewelry and ornaments of every kind is in keeping with our faith.’—Testimonies,


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vol. 3, p. 366. It is clearly taught in the Scriptures that the wearing of jewelry is contrary to the will of God. ‘Not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array,’ is the admonition of the apostle Paul. (1 Tim. 2:9.) The wearing of ornaments of jewelry is a bid for attention which is not in keeping with Christian self-forgetfulness.

“In some countries the custom of wearing the marriage ring is considered imperative, having become, in the minds of the people, a criterion of virtue, and hence is not regarded as an ornament. Under such circumstances we have no disposition to condemn the practice.

“Let us remember that the elements of beauty lie not so much in feature and color as in the expression of intelligence and benevolence. The use of lipstick, unnatural shades of fingernail polish and similar cosmetics employed in the common ‘make-up’ partake of the artificial and are out of keeping with Christian simplicity. Cleanliness and Christlike modesty should also be observed in the care and grooming of the person seeking at all times to please and rightly represent Christ our Lord.

“Our Christian parents should bring to bear the weight of their example, instruction, and authority, to lead their sons and daughters in modestly attiring themselves, and thus winning the respect and confidence of those who know them. Let our people consider themselves well dressed only when the demands of modesty are met.”—Standards of Christian Living, pp. 7-9.

For a helpful assemblage of the Spirit of prophecy counsels on the question of dress, we urge the reader to study carefully the section entitled Fitting Attire found in Child Guidance, pages 413-436.

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