COSTUME AND MORALS

"Moreover the Lord said, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: in that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose-jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils,"—Isaiah 3:16, 18-23.[2]

This is a Jerusalem fashion plate. It puts us two thousand six hundred years back, and sets us down in an ancient city. The procession of men and women is moving up and down the gay streets. It is the height of the fashionable season. The sensible men [96]and women move with so much modesty that they do not attract our attention. But here come the haughty daughters of Jerusalem! They lean forward; they lean very much forward—so far forward as to be unnatural—teetering, wobbling, wriggling, flirting, or, as my text describes it, they "walk with stretched-forth necks, walking and mincing as they go."

See! That is a princess. Look! That is a Damascus sword-maker. Look! That is a Syrian merchant. The jingling of the chains, and the lashing of the headbands, and the exhibitions of universal swagger attract the attention of the Prophet Isaiah, and he brings his camera to bear upon the scene, and takes a picture for all the ages. But where is that scene? Vanished. Where are those gay streets? Vermin-covered population pass through them. Where are the hands, and the necks, and the foreheads, and the shoulders, and the feet that sported all that magnificence? Ashes! Ashes!

That we should all be clad is proved by the opening of

THE FIRST WARDROBE

in Paradise, with its apparel of dark green. That we should all as far as our means allow us be beautifully and gracefully apparelled is proved by the fact that God never made a wave but He gilded it with golden [97]sunbeams, or a tree but He garlanded it with blossoms, or a sky but He studded it with stars, or allowed even the smoke of a furnace to ascend but He columned, and turreted, and doled, and scrolled it into outlines of indescribable gracefulness. When I see the apple orchards of the spring and the pageantry of the autumnal forests, I come to the conclusion that if nature ever does join the Church, while she may be a Quaker in the silence of her worship, she never will be a Quaker in the style of her dress. Why the notches of a fern leaf or the stamen of a water lily? Why, when the day departs, does it let the folding doors of heaven stay open so long, when it might go in so quickly? One summer morning I saw an army of a million spears, each one adorned with a diamond of the first water—I mean the grass with the dew on it.

When the prodigal came home his father not only put a coat on his back, but jewelry on his hand. Christ wore a beard, Paul, the bachelor apostle, not afflicted with any sentimentality, admired the arrangement of a woman's hair, when he said in his epistle: "If a woman have long hair, it is a glory unto her." There will be fashion in heaven as on earth, but it will be a different kind of fashion. It will decide the color of the dress; and the population of that country, by a beautiful law, will wear white.

[98]

THE GODDESS OF FASHION.

I say these things as a background to my sermon, to show you that I have no prim, precise, prudish, or cast-iron theories on the subject of human apparel; but the goddess of fashion has set up her throne in this country and at the sound of the timbrels we are all expected to fall down and worship. Her altars smoke with the sacrifice of the bodies and souls of ten thousand victims.

When I come to count the victims of fashion I find as many masculine as feminine. Men make an easy tirade against woman, as though she were the chief worshipper at this idolatrous shrine, and no doubt some men in the more conspicuous part of the pew have already cast glances at the more retired part of the pew, their look a prophecy of a generous distribution. My sermon shall be as appropriate for one end of the pew as for the other.

MASCULINE FOLLIES.

Men are as much the idolaters of fashion as women, but they sacrifice on a different part of the altar. With men the fashion goes to cigars, and club-rooms, and yachting parties, and wine suppers. In the United States the men chew up and smoke one hundred millions of dollars' worth of tobacco [99]every year. That is their fashion. In London not long ago a man died who started in life with $750,000; but he ate it all up in gluttonies, sending his agents to all parts of the earth for some rare delicacy for the palate, sometimes one plate of food costing him three or four hundred dollars. He ate up his whole fortune, and had only one guinea left. With that he bought a woodcock, and had it dressed in the very best style, ate it, gave two hours for digestion, then walked out on Westminster Bridge and threw himself into the Thames and died, doing on a large scale what you and I have often seen done on a small scale.

But men do not abstain from millinery and elaboration of skirt through any superiority of simplicity. It is only because such appendages would be a blockade to business. What would sashes and trains three and a half yards long do in a stock market? And yet men are the disciples of custom just as much as women. Some of them wear boots so tight that they can hardly walk in the paths of righteousness, and there are men who buy expensive suits of clothes and never pay for them, and who go through the streets in great stripes of color, like animated checkerboards. I say these things because I want to show you that I am impartial in my discourse, and that both sexes, [100]in the language of the surrogate's office, "share and share alike."

INDELICATE APPAREL.

As God may help me I am going to set forth the evil effects of improper dress or an excessive discipleship of costume. It is a simple truth that you all know, although the pulpit has not yet uttered it, that much of the womanly costume of our time is the cause of the temporal and eternal damnation of a multitude of men. There is a shamelessness among many in what is called high life that calls for vehement protest. The strife with many seems to be how near they can come to the verge of indecency without falling over. The tide of masculine profligacy will never turn back until there is a decided reformation in womanly costume. I am in full sympathy with the officer of the law who, at a levee in Philadelphia last winter, went up to a so-called lady, and because of her sparse and incompetent apparel, ordered her either to leave the house or habilitate herself immediately. It is high time that our good and sensible women make vehement protest against fashionable indecency, and if the women of the household do not realize the deplorable extremes of much of the female costume, that husbands implead their wives on this subject, and that fathers prohibit their [101]daughters. The evil is terrific and overshadowing.

STAGE COSTUMES.

I suppose that the American stage is responsible for much of this. I do not go to the theatres, so I must take the evidence of the actors and managers of theatres, such as Mr. John Gilbert, Mr. A.M. Palmer, and Mr. Daniel E. Bandmann. They have recently told us that the crime of undress is blasting the theatre, which by many is considered a school of morals, and indeed superior to the Church, and a forerunner of the millennium. Mr. Palmer says: "The bulk of the performances on the stage are degrading and pernicious. The managers strive to come just as near the line as possible without flagrantly breaking the law. There never have been costumes worn on a stage of this city, either in a theatre, hall, or 'dive,' so improper as those that clothe some of the chorus in recent comic opera productions." He says in regard to the female performers: "It is not a question whether they can sing, but just how little they will consent to wear." Mr. Bandmann, who has been twenty-nine years on the stage, and before almost all nationalities, says: "I unhesitatingly state that the taste of the present theatre-going people of America, as a body, is of a coarse and vulgar [102]nature. The Hindoo would turn with disgust at such exhibitions, which are sought after and applauded on the stage of this country. Our shop windows are full of and the walls covered with show cards and posters which should be a disgrace to an enlightened country and an insult to the eye of a cultured community." Mr. Gilbert says: "Such exhibition is a disastrous one to the morals of the community. Are these proper pictures to put out for the public to look at, to say nothing of the propriety of females appearing in public dressed like that? It is shameful!"

I must take the testimony of the friends of the theatre and the confirmation which I see on the board fences and in the show windows containing the pictures of the way actresses dress. I suppose that those representations of play-house costume are true, for if they are not true, then those highly moral and religious theatres are swindling the public by inducing the people to the theatre by promises of spectacular nudity which they do not fulfill. Now, all this familiarizes the public with such improprieties of costume and depresses the public conscience as to what is allowable and right.

DRAWING-ROOM RIVALRY.

The parlor and drawing-room are now running a race with the theatre and opera [103]bouffe. They are now nearly neck and neck in the race, the latter a little ahead; but the parlor and the drawing-room are gaining on the others, and the probability is they will soon be even and pass the stand so nearly at the same time that one half of Pandemonium will clap its hands because opera bouffe has beaten, and the other half because the drawing-room has beaten. Let printing-press, and platform, and pulpit hurl red-hot anathema at the boldness of much of womanly attire. I charge Christian women, neither by style of dress nor adjustment of apparel, to become administrative of evil. Show me the fashion plates of any age between this and the time of Louis XVI., of France, and Henry VIII., of England, and I will tell you the type of morals or immorals of that age or that year. No exception to it. Modest apparel means a righteous people. Immodest apparel always means a contaminated and depraved society.

EXTRAVAGANCE.

It is not only such boldness that is to be reprehended, but extravagance of costume. This latter is the cause of fraud unlimitable and ghastly. Do you know that Arnold of the Revolution proposed to sell his country in order to get money to support his home wardrobe? I declare here before God and [104]this people that the effort to keep up expensive establishments in this country is sending more business men to temporal perdition than all other causes combined. It was this that sent prominent business men to the watering of stocks, and life insurance presidents to perjured statements about their assets, and some of them to the penitentiary, and has completely upset our American finances.

But why should I go to these famous defaultings, to show what men will do in order to keep up great home style and expensive wardrobe, when you and I know scores of men who are put to their wit's end and are lashed from January to December in the attempt? Our Washington politicians may theorize until the expiration of their terms of office as to the best way of improving our monetary condition in this country. It will be of no use, and things will be no better until we learn to put on our heads and backs and feet and hands no more than we can pay for.

AN INCENTIVE TO DISHONESTY.

There are clerks in stores and banks on limited salaries who in the vain attempt to keep the wardrobe of their family as showy as other folk's wardrobes are dying of muffs, and diamonds, and camel's-hair shawls, and high hats, and they have nothing left except [105]what they give to cigars and wine suppers, and they die before their time, and they will expect us ministers to preach about them as though they were the victims of early piety; and after a high-class funeral, with silver handles at the side of their coffin of extraordinary brightness, it will be found out that the undertaker is cheated out of his legitimate expenses! Do not send to me to preach the funeral sermon of a man who dies like that. I would blurt out the whole truth, and tell that he was strangled to death by his wife's ribbons! The country is dressed to death.

You are not surprised to find that the putting up of one public building in New York cost millions of dollars more than it ought to have cost, when you find that the man who gave out the contracts paid more than five thousand dollars for his daughter's wedding dress. Cashmeres of a thousand dollars each are not rare on Broadway. It is estimated that there are eight thousand women in these two cities who have expended on their personal array two thousand dollars a year.

What are the men to do in order to keep up such home wardrobes? Steal—that is the only respectable thing they can do! During the last fifteen years there have been innumerable fine business men shipwrecked on the wardrobe. The temptation comes [106]in this way: a man thinks more of his family than all the world outside, and if they spend the evening in describing to him the superior wardrobe of the family across the street that they cannot bear the sight of, the man is thrown on his gallantry and his pride of family, and without translating his feelings into plain language, he goes into extortion and issuing of false stock and skillful penmanship in writing somebody else's name at the foot of a promissory note; and they all go down together—the husband to the prison, the wife to the sewing machine, the children to be taken care of by those who were called poor relations. Oh, for some new Shakespeare to arise and write

THE TRAGEDY OF CLOTHES!

Act the first of the tragedy: A plain but beautiful home. Enter the newly married pair. Enter simplicity of manner and behavior. Enter as much happiness as is ever found in one home.

Act the second: Discontent with the humble home. Enter envy. Enter jealousy. Enter desire to display.

Act the third: Enlargement of expenses. Enter all the queenly dressmakers. Enter the French milliners.

Act the fourth: The tip-top of society. Enter princes and princesses of New York life. Enter magnificent plate and equipage. Enter everything splendid.

[107]Act the fifth and last, winding up the scene: Enter the assignee. Enter the sheriff. Enter the creditors. Enter humiliation. Enter the wrath of God. Enter the contempt of society. Enter death. Now, let the silk curtain drop on the stage. The farce is ended, and the lights are out.

Will you forgive me if I say in tersest shape possible, that some of the men in this country have to forge, and to perjure, and to swindle to pay for their wives' dresses? I will say it whether you forgive me or not.

CURTAILS BENEVOLENCE.

Again, extravagant costume is the foe of all Christian alms-giving. Men and women put so much in personal display that they often have nothing for God and the cause of suffering humanity—a Christian man cracking his Palais Royal gloves across the back by shutting up his hand to hide the one cent he puts into the poor box! a Christian woman at the story of the Hottentots crying copious tears into a twenty-five dollar handkerchief, and then giving a two-cent piece to the collection, thrusting it down under the bills, so people will not know but it was a ten-dollar gold piece! One hundred dollars for incense to fashion—two cents for God! God gives us ninety cents out of every dollar. The other ten cents, by command of His Bible, belong to Him. Is not [108]God liberal according to this tithing system laid down in the Old Testament—is not God liberal in giving us ninety cents out of a dollar when he takes but ten? We do not like that. We want to have ninety-nine cents for ourselves and one for God.

Now, I would a great deal rather steal ten cents from you than God. I think one reason why a great many people do not get along in worldly accumulation faster is because they do not observe this Divine rule. God says: "Well, if that man is not satisfied with ninety cents out of a dollar, then I will take the whole dollar, and I will give it to the man or woman who is honest with me." The greatest obstacle to charity in the Christian church to-day is the fact that men expend so much on their table, and women so much on their dress, they have got nothing left for the work of God and the world's betterment.

DISTRACTS ATTENTION.

Again, extravagant costume is distraction to a public worship. You know very well there are a good many people who go to church just as they go to the races, to see who will come out first. Men and women with souls to be saved passing the hour in wondering where that man got his cravat, or what store that woman patronizes. In many of our churches the preliminary [109]exercises are taken up with the discussion of wardrobes. It is pitiable. Is it not wonderful that the Lord does not strike the meeting-houses with lightning? What distraction of public worship! Dying men and women, whose bodies are soon to be turned into dust, yet before three worlds strutting like peacocks. People sitting down in a pew or taking up a hymn book, all absorbed at the same time in personal array, to sing:

"Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,
Thy better portion trace;
Rise from transitory things
Toward heaven, thy native place!"

I adopt the Episcopalian prayer, and say: "Good Lord, deliver us!"

MENTAL IMPOVERISHMENT.

Extravagant costume belittles the intellect. Our minds are enlarged or they dwindle just in proportion to the importance of the subject on which we constantly dwell. Can you imagine anything more dwarfing to the human intellect than the study of dress? I see men on the street who, judging from their elaboration, I think must have taken two hours to arrange their apparel. After a few years of that kind of absorption, which one of McAllister's magnifying glasses will be powerful enough to make the man's character visible? What will be left of a woman's intellect after giving years and [110]years to the discussion of such questions? They all land in idiocy. I have seen men at the summer watering-places through fashion the mere wreck of what they once were. Sallow of cheek. Meagre of limb. Hollow at the chest. Showing no animation save in rushing across a room to pick up a lady's fan. Simpering along the corridors the same compliments they simpered twenty years ago.

BARS HEAVEN.

Yet, my friends, I have given you only the milder phase of this evil. It shuts a great multitude out of heaven. The first peal of thunder that shook Sinai declared: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and you will have to choose between the goddess of fashion and the Christian God. There are a great many seats in heaven, and they are all easy seats, but not one seat for the devotee of costume. Heaven is for meek and quiet spirits. Heaven is for those who think more of their souls than of their bodies.

Give up this idolatry of fashion or give up heaven. What would you do standing beside the Countess of Huntingdon, whose joy it was to build chapels for the poor; or with that Christian woman of Boston, who fed fifteen hundred children of the street, at Fanueil Hall, one New Year's Day, giving [111]out as a sort of doxology at the end of the meeting a pair of shoes to each one of them; or those Dorcases of modern society who have consecrated their needles to the Lord, and who will get eternal reward for every stitch they take?

PERPETUAL ENVY.

Oh, men and women, give up the idolatry of costume! The rivalries and the competitions of such a life are a stupendous wretchedness. You will always find some one with brighter array, and with more palatial residence, and with lavender kid gloves that make a tighter fit. And if you buy this thing and wear it you will wish you had bought something else and worn it. And the frets of such a life will bring the crow's feet to your temples before they are due, and when you come to die you will have a miserable time.

I have seen men and women of excessive costume die, and I never saw one of them die well. The trappings off, there they lay on the tumbled pillow, and there were just two things that bothered them—a wasted life and a coming eternity. I could not pacify them, for their body, mind, and soul had been exhausted in the worship of costume, and they could not appreciate the Gospel. When I knelt by their bedside they were mumbling out their regrets, and saying: [112]"O God! O God!" Their garments hung up in the wardrobe never again to be seen by them. Without any exception, so far as my memory serves me, they died without hope, and went into eternity unprepared. The two most ghastly death-beds on earth are the one where a man dies of delirium tremens, and the other where a woman dies after having sacrificed all her faculties of body, mind and soul in the worship of costume.

JUDGMENT TO COME.

My friends, we must appear in judgment to answer for what we have worn on our bodies as well as for what repentances we have exercised with our souls. On that day I see coming in Beau Brummell of the last century without his cloak; Aaron Burr, without the letters that to old age he showed in pride, to prove his early wicked gallantries; and Absalom without his hair; and Marchioness Pompadour without her titles; and Mrs. Arnold, the belle of Wall Street, when that was the centre of fashion, without her fripperies of vesture.

And in great haggardness they shall go away into eternal expatriation, while among the queens of heavenly society will be found Vashti, who wore the modest veil before the palatial bacchanalians; and Hannah, who annually made a little coat for Samuel at the [113]temple; and Grandmother Lois, the ancestress of Timothy, who imitated her virtue; and Mary, who gave Jesus Christ to the world; and many of you, the wives, and mothers, and sisters, and daughters of the present Christian church who, through great tribulation, are entering into the kingdom of God. Christ announced who would make up the royal family of heaven when He said: "Whosoever doeth the will of God, the same is my brother, my sister, my mother."