Ellen G. White Writings

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The Health Reformer

April 1, 1872

Dress of Women

We object to the popular style of woman's dress because it is neither healthful nor convenient. The skirts generally rest upon the hips, which were not designed to sustain weights. Every article of clothing should be suspended from the shoulders. The habit of fastening the skirts about the body with bands, allowing the weight to rest upon the hips to keep them from slipping off is decidedly injurious to health. For exactly where these bands girt are nerves, and large blood-vessels, which carry the blood into the limbs. These veins and nerves should not be pressed, but allowed the most perfect freedom to fulfill the purpose for which nature designed them.

I have heard young ladies complain of pain in the side when in a sitting position. I have found upon examination that the only cause was the tight bands pressing upon the tender nerves and veins, impeding the free circulation of blood. When the under clothing, as well as the dress waist, was made loose, and all the garments were suspended from the shoulders by straps, the pain disappeared. The skirts dragging upon the hips hinder the blood from being conducted freely to and from the limbs, and also prevent active exercise by impeding locomotion. The clothing should be worn so loose as to give the most perfect freedom of circulation, respiration, and the exercise of every portion of the body.

The long dress skirt which fashion prescribes for women, is neither convenient nor healthful. The wearer is obliged to expend much more vitality than is necessary in performing her household labor. Her long dress is exceedingly inconvenient in passing up and down stairs, especially when her hands are not at liberty to hold up her dress, and she stumbles at almost every step by treading upon her long skirts. The fashionable dress hinders locomotion. For this reason, many women choose sedentary employment rather than to do house work, or to exercise in the open air in walking, or working among the flowers, or in necessary labor in taking care of small fruits. To be much in the open air is positively essential for health.

There is no exercise that will prove so beneficial to every part of the body as walking. Active walking in the open air will do more for women to preserve them in health if well, than any other means. Walking is also one of the most efficient remedies for the recovery of health to the invalid. The hands and arms are exercised as well as the limbs, unless they are confined in a muff, which should never be. No lady can walk naturally and gracefully with her hands in a muff, for the hands need to be exercised in walking as well as the feet. If the hands are confined in holding a shawl together, or by being placed in a muff, the gait is not free and easy, but constrained and wriggling. My sisters, if necessary, wear fur mittens to keep the hands warm, but lay aside your muff to be used only when you are obliged to ride some distance.

Hours should be spent each day in walking or in working in the open air when the weather will admit. I know not of one woman that can call herself perfectly healthy. Why is this general debility? I answer, The habits of women are in conflict with natural law. Women generally deprive themselves of the blessings which Heaven has richly provided for them in the precious, free gift of the glad sunshine, and the healthful breezes, and have exhausted their vitality by confinement in-doors, and are frequently engaged in sewing or fancy work, that they may meet the standard of fashion. They take upon themselves burdens that God has not laid upon them, which make life a weariness. These not only sustain great loss themselves, but they dishonor their Creator, in that they fail to answer the purpose of God in their lives. God gave them life for some valuable purpose—not to be sacrificed upon the altar of fashion.

Many, in order to keep pace with absurd fashion, lose their taste for natural simplicity, and are charmed with the artificial. They sacrifice time and money, the vigor of intellect, and true elevation of soul, and devote their entire being to the claims of fashionable life. The more they indulge their pride and ambition in this direction, the more they are cultivating qualities of mind of a low order, which should be continually restrained and depressed, instead of strengthened by exercise. Pride and fashion, if not restrained, will finally become the overruling passion, controlling the entire being, bringing into abject slavery all the noble qualities of the mind.

The long skirts, that fashion binds upon women, are inconvenient in walking or exercising. In the garden, they are decidedly in the way. The hands, which nature designed should be exercised when walking, or in useful labor, are required to take care of the dress, that she may not tread upon it, or that it shall not destroy the flowers, or that it shall not become fastened to bushes and rubbish. The mind, which might be meditating upon the glorious works of a divine Hand, as seen in nature, and that should be elevated to contemplate high and holy things, can scarcely rise higher than the inconvenient skirts, which she is obliged to hold up with both hands, to prevent their dragging and drabbling in the dirt and dew. The present style of fashionable dress, inclines women to prefer remaining in-doors, rather than to subject themselves to the inconvenience to which they are exposed, in spending a portion of their time out of doors, as God designed they should. Exercise in the open air, even in winter, is necessary for the healthful circulation of the blood. The pure, invigorating air of heaven is God's free gift to men and women, and it is impossible for them to be cheerful, healthful, and happy, unless they appreciate these rich bounties and allow them to answer the purpose for which they were designed.

The long dress is very inconvenient in walking upon the streets in crowded villages and cities. The long skirts sweep up the tobacco spittle, and all manner of filth. In this case, fashion attaches to women cloth used as a mop. If she goes out after a shower, when all nature is refreshed and smiling in gladness, and the birds seem to be having a grand jubilee, and everything in nature is gloriously attractive, her thoughts are upon her dress. Both hands are required to elevate the dress, lest it becomes drabbled. And with her very best efforts, this is not prevented altogether. The wet clothing comes in contact with the sensitive ankles that are not suitably clothed, and the blood is chilled back from its natural course, and colds are taken, frequently attended with serious results, if not loss of life.

It may be said that she can reserve her walks till the sun has gathered up all this dampness. True, she may, and feel the languor produced by the scorching heat of a midday summer's sun. The birds go forth with their songs of praise to their Creator, and the beasts of the field enjoy with them the early freshness of the morning; and when the heat of the sun comes pouring down, these creatures of nature and of health retire to the shade. But this is the very time for woman to move out with her fashionable dress!

When they go forth to enjoy the invigorating air of the morning, she is deprived of this rich bounty of Heaven. When they seek the cooling shade and rest, she goes forth to suffer from heat, fatigue, and languor. The slavery of fashionable dress robs her of that protection from cold and dampness which the lower extremities must have to secure a healthful condition of the system. In order to enjoy a good state of health, there must be a proper circulation of the blood. And to secure a good circulation of the current of human life, all parts of the body must be suitably clad.

Fashion clothes woman's chest bountifully, and in winter loads her with sacks, cloaks, shawls, and furs, until she cannot feel a chill, excepting her limbs and feet, which, from their want of suitable clothing, are chilled, and literally sting with cold. The heart labors to throw the blood to the extremities, but it is chilled back from them in consequence of their being exposed to cold, for want of being suitably clothed. And the abundance of clothing about the chest, where is the great wheel of life, induces the blood to the lungs and brain, and produces congestion.

The limbs and feet have large arteries, to receive a large amount of blood, that warmth, nutrition, elasticity, and strength may be imparted to them. But when the blood is chilled from these extremities, their blood-vessels contract, which makes the circulation of the necessary amount of blood in them still more difficult. A good circulation preserves the blood pure, and secures health. A bad circulation leaves the blood to become impure, and induces congestion of the brain and lungs, and causes diseases of the head, the heart, the liver, and the lungs. The fashionable style of woman's dress is one of the greatest causes of all these terrible diseases.

The long, trailing skirts are frequently seen upon the streets wiping up the light snow mixed with dirt, until several inches of a dress of perhaps costly material are soiled and ruined. They endure all this trouble and waste to make a show. They weary themselves in carrying about these garments, made heavy with damp and dirt, because it is fashionable. To prevent this she may remain shut up in the house, and become so delicate and feeble that when she is compelled to go out she is sure to take cold. The long skirts are inconvenient in weight, they impede locomotion, and are always in the way going up and down stairs in a crowd. In walking the streets, they are liable to be trod upon by gentlemen and ladies, and frequently the wearer experiences great mortification in walking in the thoroughfares in a crowd.

What I Saw In Boston

While passing through Washington Street, in Boston, I observed a lady dressed in the most fashionable style. Her dress was of expensive material. She carried her head erect, proudly trailing her long skirt, which reminded us of a peacock spreading his beautiful feathers. This lady's manners seemed to say: Just look at me. Please admire me. She walked very leisurely, switching her long trail from side to side. People were hurrying to and fro, crowding and jostling each other. Presently I heard angry exclamations from the fashionably dressed lady: “Careless, ridiculous; you have ruined my dress.” The gentleman addressed was apologizing whenever he could get an opportunity to put in a word amid her indignant censuring. He accidentally stepped on her beautiful trail, and tore the dress badly. I had an opportunity to learn how gentlemen standing near regarded this peculiar fashion. They expressed themselves freely, saying: “Good! I wish all ladies who thus impose upon the public by walking the crowded streets with a trail dragging behind them would be served in a similar manner.” This misfortune was certainly trying to the lady, for her dress was hopelessly ruined. It is not always convenient to mend and cleanse soiled and torn garments. But these inconveniences are endured with a heroism worthy a better cause. The devotees of fashion will endure any taxation upon purse and strength rather than to be out of fashion.

“A young Russian recently had the misfortune, while promenading the street of St. Petersburg, to step upon a lady's dress, which was trailing before him upon the walk. The woman turned, and in language more striking than elegant, applied the terms ‘clumsy,’ ‘loutish,’ to the young man. The latter preserved his politeness, and sought as best he could to appease her wrath, but in vain. She waxed more and more angry, and applied such epithets that he felt at last obliged to reply to her in her own language, and remarked that if animals persist in dragging their tails upon the ground, they must expect to have them trodden upon. This inflamed the woman to such an extent that she demanded the way to the justice court, and compelled the unwilling criminal to accompany her. Once there, she demanded one hundred roubles for the injury done to her dress. It was observed, however, that the dress was not very new, and that fifty roubles would cover the original cost, and this amount the young man was sentenced to pay. The woman was walking off in triumph, when doubtless a remembrance of portia and shylock flitted across the young man's mind, and he said:

“‘Wait a moment, young lady; you have my fifty roubles in pay for your dress, but the article itself you have not yet delivered. Will you have the goodness to hand over one part or the other of my property?’

“Blushes of shame now overspread the countenance of the female shylock, and she turned again to the justice for advice. There was no help for her there; the young man's claim was good, and the money or the dress belonged to him.

“With courage worthy of a better cause, the woman sent for a hackney coach, went into an adjoining room, removed her dress, and again attempted to leave amid the shouts of the spectators. But her opponent was remorseless. He now indicted her on the charge of foul and abusive language on the street; the facts were proved by witnesses, and the unhappy and mortified creature was sentenced to pay a fine of one hundred roubles. She gave back the fifty lately received in triumph, and all the money and valuables she had with her, withholding only enough to pay her coach-fare home.”

I was once sitting in the depot with a large number of persons waiting for the cars. When the sound of the whistle was heard, there was a general rush. I observed a lady with a trailing dress making her way also to the cars. Both her hands were full, making it impossible to raise her dress. Several times her dress was stepped upon, pulling her back, and hindering her progress. I expected to hear some freedom of speech, censuring her tormentors as they apologized, but was surprised and pleased to hear her make an apology like a sensible woman. Said she, “I beg pardon of you, sir, for wearing a dress in a crowd which causes so much annoyance to others, as well as myself. My hands are engaged, and I cannot raise my dress.” In traveling upon the cars, and getting in and out of coaches, these fashionable dresses are very inconvenient for the wearer, and were it not for the controlling power of fashion, women would feel that it was a burden grievous to be borne.

Fashionable torture

An exchange says:—“it must be candidly confessed that this light, shallow emptiness of life has really no charms for a sensible mind; and even to those vanity-loving butterflies who regard flattery and nothingness as entertaining, what delight can there be in passing an evening in real physical pain? Of course, fashion is the all-important object to be attained, and in compliance with the caprice of the day deprive the body of all case and freedom. The uncomfortable arrangement of a stylish wardrobe is too well understood to require mentioning. The long, graceful trail is, of course, always uppermost in the mind, fearing every moment lest some rude boot should press the delicate fold; or the evening is passed in awful suspense for fear the damp air will take the crimp from the hair, while all the while the face must wear its most charming smile, and the weary, anxious mind be exerted to the uttermost to seem agreeable.

“This is what I consider, from experience, torture. Think a moment, and I know you will decide with me. Remember that, owing to the style of dress, you are in the most uncomfortable situation possible, with your mind filled with anxiety for the welfare of your toilet, and perhaps made more uncomfortable by the knowledge that a.’s trail exceeds yours in length about half an inch; and then, in the place of a frown (which under the present circumstances would be far more natural), you must compel yourself to smile, and talk very prettily on some subject in which you have not the slightest interest, all for appearance’ sake.

“And when all has past, of what avail is the ‘social gathering?’ Why not all appear natural, converse on some interesting topic, and speak your honest thoughts? There is quite enough deception practiced in the world without the aid of all this vain show.”

E. G. W.

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