Ellen G. White Writings

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The Health Reformer

February 1, 1877

The Follies of Fashionable Dress

By Mrs. E. G. White

Indifference and ignorance in regard to the laws which govern our being are sins so common that we have learned to look upon them with undue tolerance. But when we reflect that we are under obligation to God to care for the soul's habitation, that in order to properly fulfill the duties he has assigned us we should preserve ourselves in the best possible condition of health, then we begin to realize that attention to our physical health is a sacred duty which we owe to our Creator. If we pursue a course that weakens our strength, either physically or mentally, we cannot render perfect service to God; we fall short of the duties required of us by him, and thus rob him of his due.

The violation of nature's laws results in disease; and the greater share of the ills of life might be avoided by conforming the habits to those divinely appointed rules. Women especially are the victims of various maladies which might be lessened, if not entirely prevented, by right habits of life. Half their sufferings may be attributed to their manner of dress, and the insane desire to conform to the fashions of the world, introduced as a system of speculation and profit, or for other and baser reasons. Every Christian woman should dress neatly, simply, and healthfully, whether the world approve or disapprove. This cannot be done in adopting the present style of dress. The full back skirts are burdensome, create undue heat in that portion of the body which they cover, and, together with the ridiculous fashion of pinning or tying back the outer drapery, impede the movements of the limbs, make it an impossibility to walk easily or naturally, or to engage with any degree of comfort in any active exercise or useful labor.

The beauty of simplicity is lost and the graceful fall of the drapery broken up by manifold puffs, ruffles, plaits, and sashes.

Time and money are thus expended, not to add to the convenience and healthfulness of the dress, but to render it ungraceful, untidy, cumbersome, and injurious; and all this is for the express purpose of conforming to a senseless fashion. The useless trimming and arranging of these dresses take a vast amount of time. This may not seem of so much consequence to the wealthier class, who hire all their sewing done, but to those of limited means it is a serious consideration. Yet, nevertheless, most of them endeavor as far as possible to meet the demands of fashion, and impose upon themselves a rigorous task in forming with their own hands the useless trimming and appendages thought necessary to complete a “stylish” costume. The purse is pinched, things needed for the comfort of the home are dispensed with, time which should be given to the family is wasted, poverty creeps in with extravagance and neglect; and wretchedness follows this blind, unreasoning effort to keep pace with the fashionable world. Happiness, health, and often life itself, are sacrificed on the altar of fashion.

Even those who profess to be reformers in the matter of dress have imbibed narrow views of the subject and fail to consider it in the broadest and fullest sense. Many conceive of dress reform as consisting alone in a shortening of the dress to escape the floor by several inches, and, having effected this, they flatter themselves that they have done all that is necessary. Although the shortening of the skirts is well enough so far as it goes, yet their dress may still be unhealthful in many respects. The lungs may be compressed by tight-fitting bands, waists or corsets, which hinder the free flow of blood through the system. It is essential to health that the chest should have room to fully expand, so that the lungs may be enabled to take full inspirations of air. Many who have died of consumption might have lived their allotted term of life had they dressed in accordance with the laws of their being. The strength of the system is, in a great degree, dependent upon the amount of pure fresh air breathed. If the lungs are restricted, the quantity of oxygen received into them is also limited, the blood becomes vitiated, and disease follows. Confinement in-doors and consequent deprivation of the invigorating sunlight and the exhilaration of exercise in the pure open air, complete the ruin begun by wrong habits of dress; feebleness and premature death are the result.

The dangers resulting from a compression of the waist are not realized by the majority of women, though many able pens have treated upon the subject. Many claim that tight lacing is now nearly or quite abandoned, and such may think these remarks are uncalled-for; but it is true today that the corsets and dresses of most women are worn too tight for the proper action of the vital organs. The lungs, heart, and liver are burdened in their work. Every article of clothing upon the person should be worn so loose that, in raising the arms, the clothing will be correspondingly lifted by the action.

This brings us to another error in the dress of women at the present day: The under clothing is usually sustained by the hips alone. This heavy weight, pressing upon the bowels, drags them downward, and causes weakness of the stomach and a sense of lassitude which leads the sufferer to incline forward; this tends to farther cramp the lungs and prevent their proper action. The blood becomes impure, the pores of the skin fail in their office, sallowness and disease set in, beauty and health are gone. Ladies may resort to cosmetics to restore the tint of the complexion, but they cannot thus bring back the glow of healthful feelings to the heart. That which darkens and dinges the skin also clouds the spirits and destroys the cheerfulness and peace of the mind. Every woman who values health should avoid hanging any weight upon the hips. The shoulders should be made to sustain the weight of every article of clothing worn upon the person. This will relieve the bowels from undue pressure, and prevent that weakness of the stomach and bowels which is prevailing to an alarming extent.

Every wrong habit which injures the health of the body, reacts in effect upon the mind. Many care-worn, nervous, anxious women are so because they cheat themselves of the pure air that makes pure blood, and the freedom of motion which sends that blood coursing through the veins and gives life, health, and energy. Women, of all persons, need strength of mind and body to grapple with the ills and anxieties of life; but most of them are so weak and nerveless that they are conquered and crushed by them instead.

Thousands of women are today suffering from a painful relaxation of the system for want of vigorous physical exercise. They are rusting out their lives in inaction. Their present style of dress proves a hindrance to the free use of their limbs, and they gradually, almost unconsciously, give up healthful exercise, and surrender to a life of inactivity: Many of the women of the present time are only able to arrange their dresses, put them on and carry them about with their burden of over-skirts, puffing, plaiting, ruffling, trimming, bows, and buttons. After the dressing, ornamenting, and frizzling are accomplished, they feel wholly unable to go out in the open air and engage in exercise that would expand their lungs and give elasticity to their limbs; besides, such exercise would be likely to spoil their fine dresses. Therefore they indulge in sedentary habits at the expense of health, happiness, and even life. They are abject slaves to the tyrant, fashion. They deform the human form divine by the many inventions decreed by this monster.

Jesus requires of none of his followers the sort of slavery that fashion demands. He would free them from this self-imposed thralldom. He pities them as he sees them sacrificing health and the best interests of life upon this unholy altar. He invites them: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He presents his yoke in contrast with the galling one they have placed upon their own necks, and says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Here is the secret of content and peace and happiness: obedience of the laws of nature and of God. The true Christian, possessing the meekness and lowliness of Christ, is content with plain, convenient, healthful garments, and seeks to live a life of usefulness and conform his habits to the example of Jesus. Such a one will find the truest happiness, the reward of well-doing. Such a one will be lifted above the slavery of an artificial life into the freedom and grace of Christ-like simplicity.

But what account can those who follow the fashions and follies of the present day render to God for the use they have made of the time and abilities given them for wise improvement? Their minds, instead of being developed and strengthened by proper cultivation, have been dwarfed and crippled by being devoted almost entirely to the arrangement of the dress in accordance with the demands of fashion. This is the crying evil of our sex, and lies at the bottom of many of the failures and miseries of life. Many women who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ are servants to the fashions of the world, and delight to adopt new inventions in styles, constantly appearing out in new costumes and new deformities of dress.

It would be well if a pledge of temperance in dress could be presented for our women to sign and to observe. The intoxicating influence of extravagance and display in dress has so degrading an effect upon the minds of many women that such a measure would seem justifiable and reasonable. Thousands are unfitted for the every-day duties of domestic life because of this mania for dress. Their children, who are a precious trust to them from God, are neglected, and grow up without proper care and attention, obtaining too often an education in vice. Prayer in the closet is abandoned, the Word of God is left unread, and there is no time nor aptitude for religious meditation. Said Christ, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Those who are attracted to Christ and who live for the future immortal life, will not be slaves of fashion.

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