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An essay by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Dress, Or Who Makes The Fashions

Title:     Dress, Or Who Makes The Fashions
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe [More Titles by Stowe]

The door of my study being open, I heard in the distant parlor a sort of flutter of silken wings, and chatter of bird-like voices, which told me that a covey of Jenny's pretty young street birds had just alighted there. I could not forbear a peep at the rosy faces that glanced out under pheasants' tails, doves' wings, and nodding humming-birds, and made one or two errands in that direction only that I might gratify my eyes with a look at them.

Your nice young girl, of good family and good breeding, is always a pretty object, and, for my part, I regularly lose my heart (in a sort of figurative way) to every fresh, charming creature that trips across my path. All their mysterious rattletraps and whirligigs,--their curls and networks and crimples and rimples and crisping-pins,--their little absurdities, if you will,--have to me a sort of charm, like the tricks and stammerings of a curly-headed child. I should have made a very poor censor if I had been put in Cato's place: the witches would have thrown all my wisdom into some private chip-basket of their own, and walked off with it in triumph. Never a girl bows to me that I do not see in her eye a twinkle of confidence that she could, if she chose, make an old fool of me. I surrender at discretion on first sight.

Jenny's friends are nice girls,--the flowers of good, staid, sensible families,--not heathen blossoms nursed in the hot-bed heat of wild, high-flying, fashionable society. They have been duly and truly taught and brought up, by good mothers and painstaking aunties, to understand in their infancy that handsome is that handsome does; that little girls must not be vain of their pretty red shoes and nice curls, and must remember that it is better to be good than to be handsome; with all other wholesome truisms of the kind. They have been to school, and had their minds improved in all modern ways,--have calculated eclipses, and read Virgil, Schiller, and La Fontaine, and understand all about the geological strata, and the different systems of metaphysics,--so that a person reading the list of their acquirements might be a little appalled at the prospect of entering into conversation with them. For all these reasons I listened quite indulgently to the animated conversation that was going on about--Well!

What _do_ girls generally talk about, when a knot of them get together? Not, I believe, about the sources of the Nile, or the precession of the equinoxes, or the nature of the human understanding, or Dante, or Shakespeare, or Milton, although they have learned all about them in school; but upon a theme much nearer and dearer,--the one all-pervading feminine topic ever since Eve started the first toilet of fig-leaves; and as I caught now and then a phrase of their chatter, I jotted it down in pure amusement, giving to each charming speaker the name of the bird under whose colors she was sailing.

"For my part," said little Humming-Bird, "I'm quite worn out with sewing; the fashions are all _so_ different from what they were last year, that everything has to be made over."

"Isn't it dreadful!" said Pheasant. "There's my new mauve silk dress! it was a very expensive silk, and I haven't worn it more than three or four times, and it really looks quite dowdy; and I can't get Patterson to do it over for me for this party. Well, really, I shall have to give up company because I have nothing to wear."

"Who _does_ set the fashions, I wonder," said Humming-Bird; "they seem nowadays to whirl faster and faster, till really they don't leave one time for anything."

"Yes," said Dove, "I haven't a moment for reading, or drawing, or keeping up my music. The fact is, nowadays, to keep one's self properly dressed is all one can do. If I were _grande dame_ now, and had only to send an order to my milliner and dressmaker, I might be beautifully dressed all the time without giving much thought to it myself; and that is what I should like. But this constant planning about one's toilet, changing your buttons and your fringes and your bonnet-trimmings and your hats every other day, and then being behindhand! It is really too fatiguing."

"Well," said Jenny, "I never pretend to keep up. I never expect to be in the front rank of fashion, but no girl wants to be behind every one; nobody wants to have people say, 'Do see what an old-times, rubbishy looking creature _that_ is.' And now, with my small means and my conscience (for I have a conscience in this matter, and don't wish to spend any more time and money than is needed to keep one's self fresh and tasteful), I find my dress quite a fatiguing care."

"Well, now, girls," said Humming-Bird, "do you really know, I have sometimes thought I should like to be a nun, just to get rid of all this labor. If I once gave up dress altogether, and knew I was to have nothing but one plain robe tied round my waist with a cord, it does seem to me as if it would be a perfect repose,--only one is a Protestant, you know."

Now, as Humming-Bird was the most notoriously dressy individual in the little circle, this suggestion was received with quite a laugh. But Dove took it up.

"Well, really," she said, "when dear Mr. S---- preaches those saintly sermons to us about our baptismal vows, and the nobleness of an unworldly life, and calls on us to live for something purer and higher than we are living for, I confess that sometimes all my life seems to me a mere sham,--that I am going to church, and saying solemn words, and being wrought up by solemn music, and uttering most solemn vows and prayers, all to no purpose; and then I come away and look at my life, all resolving itself into a fritter about dress, and sewing-silk, cord, braid, and buttons,--the next fashion of bonnets,--how to make my old dresses answer instead of new,--how to keep the air of the world, while in my heart I am cherishing something higher and better. If there's anything I detest it is hypocrisy; and sometimes the life I lead looks like it. But how to get out of it?--what to do?--"

"I'm sure," said Humming-Bird, "that taking care of my clothes and going into company is, frankly, all I do. If I go to parties, as other girls do, and make calls, and keep dressed,--you know papa is not rich, and one must do these things economically,--it really does take all the time I have. When I was confirmed the Bishop talked to us so sweetly, and I really meant sincerely to be a good girl,--to be as good as I knew how; but now, when they talk about fighting the good fight and running the Christian race, I feel very mean and little, for I am quite sure this isn't doing it. But what is,--and who is?"

"Aunt Betsey Titcomb is doing it, I suppose," said Pheasant.

"Aunt Betsey!" said Humming-Bird, "well, she is. She spends all her money in doing good. She goes round visiting the poor all the time. She is a perfect saint;--but oh girls, how she looks! Well, now, I confess, when I think I must look like Aunt Betsey, my courage gives out. Is it necessary to go without hoops, and look like a dipped candle, in order to be unworldly? Must one wear such a fright of a bonnet?"

"No," said Jenny, "I think not. I think Miss Betsey Titcomb, good as she is, injures the cause of goodness by making it outwardly repulsive. I really think, if she would take some pains with her dress, and spend upon her own wardrobe a little of the money she gives away, that she might have influence in leading others to higher aims; now all her influence is against it. Her _outre_ and repulsive exterior arrays our natural and innocent feelings against goodness; for surely it is natural and innocent to wish to look well, and I am really afraid a great many of us are more afraid of being thought ridiculous than of being wicked."

"And after all," said Pheasant, "you know Mr. St. Clair says, 'Dress is one of the fine arts,' and if it is, why of course we ought to cultivate it. Certainly, well-dressed men and women are more agreeable objects than rude and unkempt ones. There must be somebody whose mission it is to preside over the agreeable arts of life; and I suppose it falls to 'us girls.' That's the way I comfort myself, at all events. Then I must confess that I do like dress; I'm not cultivated enough to be a painter or a poet, and I have all my artistic nature, such as it is, in dress. I love harmonies of color, exact shades and matches; I love to see a uniform idea carried all through a woman's toilet,--her dress, her bonnet, her gloves, her shoes, her pocket-handkerchief and cuffs, her very parasol, all in correspondence."

"But, my dear," said Jenny, "anything of this kind must take a fortune!"

"And if I had a fortune, I'm pretty sure I should spend a good deal of it in this way," said Pheasant. "I can imagine such completeness of toilet as I have never seen. How I would like the means to show what I could do! My life, now, is perpetual disquiet. I always feel shabby. My things must all be bought at haphazard, as they can be got out of my poor little allowance,--and things are getting so horridly dear! Only think of it, girls! gloves at two and a quarter! and boots at seven, eight, and ten dollars! and then, as you say, the fashions changing so! Why, I bought a sack last fall and gave forty dollars for it, and this winter I'm wearing it, to be sure, but it has no style at all,--looks quite antiquated!"

"Now I say," said Jenny, "that you are really morbid on the subject of dress; you are fastidious and particular and exacting in your ideas in a way that really ought to be put down. There is not a girl of our set that dresses as nicely as you do, except Emma Seyton, and her father, you know, has no end of income."

"Nonsense, Jenny," said Pheasant. "I think I really look like a beggar; but then, I bear it as well as I can, because, you see, I know papa does all for us he can, and I won't be extravagant. But I do think, as Humming-Bird says, that it would be a great relief to give it up altogether and retire from the world; or, as Cousin John says, climb a tree and pull it up after you, and so be in peace."

"Well," said Jenny, "all this seems to have come on since the war. It seems to me that not only has everything doubled in price, but all the habits of the world seem to require that you shall have double the quantity of everything. Two or three years ago a good balmoral skirt was a fixed fact; it was a convenient thing for sloppy, unpleasant weather. But now, dear me! there is no end to them. They cost fifteen and twenty dollars; and girls that I know have one or two every season, besides all sorts of quilled and embroidered and ruffled and tucked and flounced ones. Then, in dressing one's hair, what a perfect overflow there is of all manner of waterfalls, and braids, and rats, and mice, and curls, and combs; when three or four years ago we combed our own hair innocently behind our ears, and put flowers in it, and thought we looked nicely at our evening parties! I don't believe we look any better now, when we are dressed, than we did then,--so what's the use?"

"Well, did you ever see such a tyranny as this of fashion?" said Humming-Bird. "We know it's silly, but we all bow down before it; we are afraid of our lives before it; and who makes all this and sets it going? The Paris milliners, the Empress, or who?"

"The question where fashions come from is like the question where pins go to," said Pheasant. "Think of the thousands and millions of pins that are being used every year, and not one of them worn out. Where do they all go to? One would expect to find a pin mine somewhere."

"Victor Hugo says they go into the sewers in Paris," said Jenny.

"And the fashions come from a source about as pure," said I, from the next room.

"Bless me, Jenny, do tell us if your father has been listening to us all this time!" was the next exclamation; and forthwith there was a whir and rustle of the silken wings, as the whole troop fluttered into my study.

"Now, Mr. Crowfield, you are too bad!" said Humming-Bird, as she perched upon a corner of my study-table, and put her little feet upon an old "Froissart" which filled the armchair.

"To be listening to our nonsense!" said Pheasant.

"Lying in wait for us!" said Dove.

"Well, now, you have brought us all down on you," said Humming-Bird, "and you won't find it so easy to be rid of us. You will have to answer all our questions."

"My dears, I am at your service, as far as mortal man may be," said I.

"Well, then," said Humming-Bird, "tell us all about everything,--how things come to be as they are. Who makes the fashions?"

"I believe it is universally admitted that, in the matter of feminine toilet, France rules the world," said I.

"But who rules France?" said Pheasant. "Who decides what the fashions shall be there?"

"It is the great misfortune of the civilized world, at the present hour," said I, "that the state of morals in France is apparently at the very lowest ebb, and consequently the leadership of fashion is entirely in the hands of a class of women who could not be admitted into good society, in any country. Women who can never have the name of wife,--who know none of the ties of family,--these are the dictators whose dress and equipage and appointments give the law, first to France, and through France to the civilized world. Such was the confession of Monsieur Dupin, made in a late speech before the French Senate, and acknowledged, with murmurs of assent on all sides, to be the truth. This is the reason why the fashions have such an utter disregard of all those laws of prudence and economy which regulate the expenditures of families. They are made by women whose sole and only hold on life is personal attractiveness, and with whom to keep this up, at any cost, is a desperate necessity. No moral quality, no association of purity, truth, modesty, self-denial, or family love, comes in to hallow the atmosphere about them, and create a sphere of loveliness which brightens as mere physical beauty fades. The ravages of time and dissipation must be made up by an unceasing study of the arts of the toilet. Artists of all sorts, moving in their train, rack all the stores of ancient and modern art for the picturesque, the dazzling, the grotesque; and so, lest these Circes of society should carry all before them, and enchant every husband, brother, and lover, the staid and lawful Penelopes leave the hearth and home to follow in their triumphal march and imitate their arts. Thus it goes in France; and in England, virtuous and domestic princesses and peeresses must take obediently what has been decreed by their rulers in the _demi-monde_ of France; and we in America have leaders of fashion, who make it their pride and glory to turn New York into Paris, and to keep even step with everything that is going on there. So the whole world of womankind is marching under the command of those leaders. The love of dress and glitter and fashion is getting to be a morbid, unhealthy epidemic, which really eats away the nobleness and purity of women.

"In France, as Monsieur Dupin, Edmond About, and Michelet tell us, the extravagant demands of love for dress lead women to contract debts unknown to their husbands, and sign obligations which are paid by the sacrifice of honor, and thus the purity of the family is continually undermined. In England there is a voice of complaint, sounding from the leading periodicals, that the extravagant demands of female fashion are bringing distress into families, and making marriages impossible; and something of the same sort seems to have begun here. We are across the Atlantic, to be sure; but we feel the swirl and drift of the great whirlpool; only, fortunately, we are far enough off to be able to see whither things are tending, and to stop ourselves if we will.

"We have just come through a great struggle, in which our women have borne an heroic part,--have shown themselves capable of any kind of endurance and self-sacrifice; and now we are in that reconstructive state which makes it of the greatest consequence to ourselves and the world that we understand our own institutions and position, and learn that, instead of following the corrupt and worn-out ways of the Old World, we are called on to set the example of a new state of society,--noble, simple, pure, and religious; and women can do more towards this even than men, for women are the real architects of society.

"Viewed in this light, even the small, frittering cares of women's life--the attention to buttons, trimmings, thread, and sewing-silk--may be an expression of their patriotism and their religion. A noble-hearted woman puts a noble meaning into even the commonplace details of life. The women of America can, if they choose, hold back their country from following in the wake of old, corrupt, worn-out, effeminate European society, and make America the leader of the world in all that is good."

"I'm sure," said Humming-Bird, "we all would like to be noble and heroic. During the war, I did so long to be a man! I felt so poor and insignificant because I was nothing but a girl!"

"Ah, well," said Pheasant, "but then one wants to do something worth doing, if one is going to do anything. One would like to be grand and heroic, if one could; but if not, why try at all? One wants to be _very_ something, _very_ great, _very_ heroic; or if not that, then at least very stylish and very fashionable. It is this everlasting mediocrity that bores me."

"Then, I suppose, you agree with the man we read of, who buried his one talent in the earth, as hardly worth caring for."

"To say the truth, I always had something of a sympathy for that man," said Pheasant. "I can't enjoy goodness and heroism in homoeopathic doses. I want something appreciable. What I can do, being a woman, is a very different thing from what I should try to do if I were a man, and had a man's chances: it is so much less--so poor--that it is scarcely worth trying for."

"You remember," said I, "the apothegm of one of the old divines, that if two angels were sent down from heaven, the one to govern a kingdom, and the other to sweep a street, they would not feel any disposition to change works."

"Well, that just shows that they are angels, and not mortals," said Pheasant; "but we poor human beings see things differently."

"Yet, my child, what could Grant or Sherman have done, if it had not been for the thousands of brave privates who were content to do each their imperceptible little,--if it had not been for the poor, unnoticed, faithful, never-failing common soldiers, who did the work and bore the suffering? No _one_ man saved our country, or could save it; nor could the men have saved it without the women. Every mother that said to her son, Go; every wife that strengthened the hands of her husband; every girl who sent courageous letters to her betrothed; every woman who worked for a fair; every grandam whose trembling hands knit stockings and scraped lint; every little maiden who hemmed shirts and made comfort-bags for soldiers,--each and all have been the joint doers of a great heroic work, the doing of which has been the regeneration of our era. A whole generation has learned the luxury of thinking heroic thoughts and being conversant with heroic deeds, and I have faith to believe that all this is not to go out in a mere crush of fashionable luxury and folly and frivolous emptiness,--but that our girls are going to merit the high praise given us by De Tocqueville, when he placed first among the causes of our prosperity the _noble character of American women_. Because foolish female persons in New York are striving to outdo the _demi-monde_ of Paris in extravagance, it must not follow that every sensible and patriotic matron, and every nice, modest young girl, must forthwith and without inquiry rush as far after them as they possibly can. Because Mrs. Shoddy opens a ball in a two-thousand-dollar lace dress, every girl in the land need not look with shame on her modest white muslin. Somewhere between the fast women of Paris and the daughters of Christian American families there should be established a _cordon sanitaire_, to keep out the contagion of manners, customs, and habits with which a noble-minded, religious democratic people ought to have nothing to do."

"Well now, Mr. Crowfield," said the Dove, "since you speak us so fair, and expect so much of us, we must of course try not to fall below your compliments; but, after all, tell us what is the right standard about dress. Now we have daily lectures about this at home. Aunt Maria says that she never saw such times as these, when mothers and daughters, church-members and worldly people, all seem to be going one way, and sit down together and talk, as they will, on dress and fashion,--how to have this made and that altered. We used to be taught, she said, that church-members had higher things to think of,--that their thoughts ought to be fixed on something better, and that they ought to restrain the vanity and worldliness of children and young people; but now, she says, even before a girl is born, dress is the one thing needful,--the great thing to be thought of; and so, in every step of the way upward, her little shoes, and her little bonnets, and her little dresses, and her corals and her ribbons, are constantly being discussed in her presence, as the one all-important object of life. Aunt Maria thinks mamma is dreadful, because she has maternal yearnings over our toilet successes and fortunes; and we secretly think Aunt Maria is rather soured by old age, and has forgotten how a girl feels."

"The fact is," said I, "that the love of dress and outside show has been always such an exacting and absorbing tendency, that it seems to have furnished work for religionists and economists, in all ages, to keep it within bounds. Various religious bodies, at the outset, adopted severe rules in protest against it. The Quakers and the Methodists prescribed certain fixed modes of costume as a barrier against its frivolities and follies. In the Romish Church an entrance on any religious order prescribed entire and total renunciation of all thought and care for the beautiful in person or apparel, as the first step towards saintship. The costume of the _religieuse_ seemed to be purposely intended to imitate the shroudings and swathings of a corpse and the lugubrious color of a pall, so as forever to remind the wearer that she was dead to the world of ornament and physical beauty. All great Christian preachers and reformers have leveled their artillery against the toilet, from the time of St. Jerome downward; and Tom Moore has put into beautiful and graceful verse St. Jerome's admonitions to the fair churchgoers of his time.



Who is the maid my spirit seeks,
Through cold reproof and slander's blight?
Has _she_ Love's roses on her cheeks?
Is _hers_ an eye of this world's light?
No: wan and sunk with midnight prayer
Are the pale looks of her I love;
Or if, at times, a light be there,
Its beam is kindled from above.

I chose not her, my heart's elect,
From those who seek their Maker's shrine
In gems and garlands proudly decked,
As if themselves were things divine.
No: Heaven but faintly warms the breast
That beats beneath a broidered veil;
And she who comes in glittering vest
To mourn her frailty, still is frail.

Not so the faded form I prize
And love, because its bloom is gone;
The glory in those sainted eyes
Is all the grace _her_ brow puts on.
And ne'er was Beauty's dawn so bright,
So touching, as that form's decay,
Which, like the altar's trembling light,
In holy lustre wastes away.

"But the defect of all these modes of warfare on the elegances and refinements of the toilet was that they were too indiscriminate. They were in reality founded on a false principle. They took for granted that there was something radically corrupt and wicked in the body and in the physical system. According to this mode of viewing things, the body was a loathsome and pestilent prison, in which the soul was locked up and enslaved, and the eyes, the ears, the taste, the smell, were all so many corrupt traitors in conspiracy to poison her. Physical beauty of every sort was a snare, a Circean enchantment, to be valiantly contended with and straitly eschewed. Hence they preached, not moderation, but total abstinence from all pursuit of physical grace and beauty.

"Now, a resistance founded on an over-statement is constantly tending to reaction. People always have a tendency to begin thinking for themselves; and when they so think, they perceive that a good and wise God would not have framed our bodies with such exquisite care only to corrupt our souls,--that physical beauty, being created in such profuse abundance around us, and we being possessed with such a longing for it, must have its uses, its legitimate sphere of exercise. Even the poor, shrouded nun, as she walks the convent garden, cannot help asking herself why, if the crimson velvet of the rose was made by God, all colors except black and white are sinful for her; and the modest Quaker, after hanging all her house and dressing all her children in drab, cannot but marvel at the sudden outstreaking of blue and yellow and crimson in the tulip-beds under her window, and reflect how very differently the great All-Father arrays the world's housekeeping. The consequence of all this has been, that the reforms based upon these severe and exclusive views have gradually gone backward. The Quaker dress is imperceptibly and gracefully melting away into a refined simplicity of modern costume, which in many cases seems to be the perfection of taste. The obvious reflection, that one color of the rainbow is quite as much of God as another, has led the children of gentle dove-colored mothers to appear in shades of rose-color, blue, and lilac; and wise elders have said, it is not so much the color or the shape that we object to, as giving too much time and too much money,--if the heart be right with God and man, the bonnet ribbon may be of any shade you please."

"But don't you think," said Pheasant, "that a certain fixed dress, marking the unworldly character of a religious order, is desirable? Now, I have said before that I am very fond of dress. I have a passion for beauty and completeness in it; and as long as I am in the world and obliged to dress as the world does, it constantly haunts me, and tempts me to give more time, more thought, more money, to these things than I really think they are worth. But I can conceive of giving up this thing altogether as being much easier than regulating it to the precise point. I never read of a nun's taking the veil without a certain thrill of sympathy. To cut off one's hair, to take off and cast from her, one by one, all one's trinkets and jewels, to lie down and have the pall thrown over one, and feel one's self once for all dead to the world,--I cannot help feeling as if this were real, thorough, noble renunciation, and as if one might rise up from it with a grand, calm consciousness of having risen to a higher and purer atmosphere, and got above all the littlenesses and distractions that beset us here. So I have heard charming young Quaker girls, who in more thoughtless days indulged in what for them was a slight shading of worldly conformity, say that it was to them a blessed rest when they put on the strict, plain dress, and felt that they really had taken up the cross and turned their backs on the world. I can conceive of doing this, much more easily than I can of striking the exact line between worldly conformity and noble aspiration, in the life I live now."

"My dear child," said I, "we all overlook one great leading principle of our nature, and that is, that we are made to find a higher pleasure in self-sacrifice than in any form of self-indulgence. There is something grand and pathetic in the idea of an entire self-surrender, to which every human soul leaps up, as we do to the sound of martial music.

"How many boys of Boston and New York, who had lived effeminate and idle lives, felt this new power uprising in them in our war! How they embraced the dirt and discomfort and fatigue and watchings and toils of camp-life with an eagerness of zest which they had never felt in the pursuit of mere pleasure, and wrote home burning letters that they never were so happy in their lives! It was not that dirt and fatigue and discomfort and watchings and weariness were in themselves agreeable, but it was a joy to feel themselves able to bear all and surrender all for something higher than self. Many a poor Battery bully of New York, many a street rowdy, felt uplifted by the discovery that he too had hid away under the dirt and dust of his former life this divine and precious jewel. He leaped for joy to find that he too could be a hero. Think of the hundreds of thousands of plain ordinary workingmen, and of seemingly ordinary boys, who, but for such a crisis, might have passed through life never knowing this to be in them, and who courageously endured hunger and thirst and cold, and separation from dearest friends, for days and weeks and months, when they might, at any day, have bought a respite by deserting their country's flag! Starving boys, sick at heart, dizzy in head, pining for home and mother, still found warmth and comfort in the one thought that they could suffer, die, for their country; and the graves at Salisbury and Andersonville show in how many souls this noble power of self-sacrifice to the higher good was lodged,--how many there were, even in the humblest walks of life, who preferred death by torture to life in dishonor.

"It is this heroic element in man and woman that makes self-sacrifice an ennobling and purifying ordeal in any religious profession. The man really is taken into a higher region of his own nature, and finds a pleasure in the exercise of higher faculties which he did not suppose himself to possess. Whatever sacrifice is supposed to be duty, whether the supposition be really correct or not, has in it an ennobling and purifying power; and thus the eras of conversion from one form of the Christian religion to another are often marked with a real and permanent exaltation of the whole character. But it does not follow that certain religious beliefs and ordinances are in themselves just, because they thus touch the great heroic master-chord of the human soul. To wear sackcloth and sleep on a plank may have been of use to many souls, as symbolizing the awakening of this higher nature; but, still, the religion of the New Testament is plainly one which calls to no such outward and evident sacrifices.

"It was John the Baptist, and not the Messiah, who dwelt in the wilderness and wore garments of camel's hair; and Jesus was commented on, not for his asceticism, but for his cheerful, social acceptance of the average innocent wants and enjoyments of humanity. 'The Son of man came eating and drinking.' The great, and never ceasing, and utter self-sacrifice of his life was not signified by any peculiarity of costume, or language, or manner; it showed itself only as it unconsciously welled up in all his words and actions, in his estimates of life, in all that marked him out as a being of a higher and holier sphere."

"Then you do not believe in influencing this subject of dress by religious persons' adopting any particular laws of costume?" said Pheasant.

"I do not see it to be possible," said I, "considering how society is made up. There are such differences of taste and character,--people move in such different spheres, are influenced by such different circumstances,--that all we can do is to lay down certain great principles, and leave it to every one to apply them according to individual needs."

"But what are these principles? There is the grand inquiry."

"Well," said I, "let us feel our way. In the first place, then, we are all agreed in one starting-point,--that beauty is not to be considered as a bad thing,--that the love of ornament in our outward and physical life is not a sinful or a dangerous feeling, and only leads to evil, as all other innocent things do, by being used in wrong ways. So far we are all agreed, are we not?"

"Certainly," said all the voices.

"It is, therefore, neither wicked nor silly nor weak-minded to like beautiful dress, and all that goes to make it up. Jewelry, diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, and all sorts of pretty things that are made of them, are as lawful and innocent objects of admiration and desire, as flowers or birds or butterflies, or the tints of evening skies. Gems, in fact, are a species of mineral flower; they are the blossoms of the dark, hard mine; and what they want in perfume they make up in durability. The best Christian in the world may, without the least inconsistency, admire them, and say, as a charming, benevolent old Quaker lady once said to me, 'I do so love to look at beautiful jewelry!' The love of beautiful dress, in itself, therefore, so far from being in a bad sense worldly, may be the same indication of a refined and poetical nature that is given by the love of flowers and of natural objects.

"In the third place, there is nothing in itself wrong, or unworthy a rational being, in a certain degree of attention to the fashion of society in our costume. It is not wrong to be annoyed at unnecessary departures from the commonly received practices of good society in the matter of the arrangement of our toilet; and it would indicate rather an unamiable want of sympathy with our fellow beings, if we were not willing, for the most part, to follow what they indicate to be agreeable in the disposition of our outward affairs."

"Well, I must say, Mr. Crowfield, you are allowing us all a very generous margin," said Humming-Bird.

"But now," said I, "I am coming to the restrictions. When is love of dress excessive and wrong? To this I answer by stating my faith in one of old Plato's ideas, in which he speaks of beauty and its uses. He says there were two impersonations of beauty worshiped under the name of Venus in the ancient times,--the one celestial, born of the highest gods, the other earthly. To the earthly Venus the sacrifices were such as were more trivial; to the celestial, such as were more holy. 'The worship of the earthly Venus,' he says, 'sends us oftentimes on unworthy and trivial errands, but the worship of the celestial to high and honorable friendships, to noble aspirations and heroic actions.'

"Now it seems to me that, if we bear in mind this truth in regard to beauty, we shall have a test with which to try ourselves in the matter of physical adornment. We are always excessive when we sacrifice the higher beauty to attain the lower one. A woman who will sacrifice domestic affection, conscience, self-respect, honor, to love of dress, we all agree, loves dress too much. She loses the true and higher beauty of womanhood for the lower beauty of gems and flowers and colors. A girl who sacrifices to dress all her time, all her strength, all her money, to the neglect of the cultivation of her mind and heart, and to the neglect of the claims of others on her helpfulness, is sacrificing the higher to the lower beauty; her fault is not the love of beauty, but loving the wrong and inferior kind.

"It is remarkable that the directions of Holy Writ, in regard to the female dress, should distinctly take note of this difference between the higher and the lower beauty which we find in the works of Plato. The Apostle gives no rule, no specific costume, which should mark the Christian woman from the Pagan; but says, 'whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.' The gold and gems and apparel are not forbidden; but we are told not to depend on them for beauty, to the neglect of those imperishable, immortal graces that belong to the soul. The makers of fashion among whom Christian women lived when the Apostle wrote were the same class of brilliant and worthless Aspasias who make the fashions of modern Paris; and all womankind was sunk into slavish adoration of more physical adornment when the gospel sent forth among them this call to the culture of a higher and immortal beauty.

"In fine, girls," said I, "you may try yourselves by this standard. You love dress too much when you care more for your outward adornings than for your inward dispositions, when it afflicts you more to have torn your dress than to have lost your temper, when you are more troubled by an ill-fitting gown than by a neglected duty,--when you are less concerned at having made an unjust comment, or spread a scandalous report, than at having worn a passe bonnet, when you are less troubled at the thought of being found at the last great feast without the wedding garment, than at being found at the party to-night in the fashion of last year. No Christian woman, as I view it, ought to give such attention to her dress as to allow it to take up _all_ of three very important things, viz:--

All her time.
All her strength.
All her money.

Whoever does this lives not the Christian, but the Pagan life,--worships not at the Christian's altar of our Lord Jesus, but at the shrine of the lower Venus of Corinth and Rome."

"Oh now, Mr. Crowfield, you frighten me," said Humming-Bird. "I'm so afraid, do you know, that I am doing exactly that."

"And so am I," said Pheasant; "and yet, certainly, it is not what I mean or intend to do."

"But how to help it," said Dove.

"My dears," said I, "where there is a will there is a way. Only resolve that you will put the true beauty first,--that, even if you do have to seem unfashionable, you will follow the highest beauty of womanhood,--and the battle is half gained. Only resolve that your time, your strength, your money, such as you have, shall not all--nor more than half--be given to mere outward adornment, and you will go right. It requires only an army of girls animated with this noble purpose to declare independence in America, and emancipate us from the decrees and tyrannies of French actresses and ballet-dancers. _En avant_, girls! You yet can, if you will, save the republic."

[The end]
Harriet Beecher Stowe's essay: Dress, Or Who Makes The Fashions