The Well-dressed Christian

SHEPHERDESS: The Well-dressed Christian

The Ministerial Family—Part III

Minister's Wife, Atlantic Union College


1. The dress problem is as old as the history of sin. If time and space permitted, it would be interesting and profitable to trace the efforts of past generations in Bodily adornment.

2. This ever-present urge arises from the conscious or unconscious sense of the need for a covering that the human family has known since Adam and Eve lost the glorious covering provided by their Father. AH nature has its natural covering, whether trees, flowers, insects, animals, or birds. Stripped of their covering, they lose their external beauty.

3. Looking again into the past, we find even today in pagan lands, crude, un becoming garments, grotesque ornaments, and uncleanness. Also in more civilized countries attempts to attract attention are made through weird and laboriously wrought adornment.

4. This was particularly true among the ruling and wealthy classes of the Dark Ages and into the early part of the twentieth century. Many of these garments were health destroying. The heavy, awkward garments, tight lacing, skirts dragging the ground in days when swept sidewalks and pavements were still unknown, the long hours required to produce each garment, often by candlelight, finally caused a rising rebellion against such tyranny of custom.



1. The early years of the nineteenth century saw repeated efforts toward reform. The shorter "walking dress," the looser "stays," etc. (see History of American Costume, McClellan, and other sources), found some favor both in Europe and America. 

2. More drastic ideas were introduced by Mrs. Amelia Bloomer (Ibid., p. 423} and Dr. Harriet Austin. The costume designed by Dr. Austin was decidedly masculine. Neither of these costumes became very popular, although a modified form of the latter was adopted as the approved dress of a spiritistic sect called the "Shakers." (Ibid., pp. 553, 552. See also Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 457.)

3. In contrast, these years also brought the extravagant and extreme styles of French influence as introduced by the Empress Eugenic. The hoop skirt again came into vogue, also profuse trimmings and head ornaments.

4. The Watson's Annals give us an idea of the extravagance of the era:

"At this time a fashionable dry goods store advertises a lace scarf for 1,500 dollars! Another has a bridal dress for 1,200 dollars. Bonnets at 200 dollars are also sold. Cash meres from 300 dollars and upwards are seen by dozens along Broadway. And 100 dollars is quite common for a silk gown. Think of such a scale of prices for 'unideaed' American women. Can the pampering of such vanities elevate the character of our women?" Quoted in History of American Costume, p. 468.



1. Protestant practice. A trying time for Christian leaders. The standards were trailing and church discipline was difficult. Instruction to the leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church, from The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1844 edition:

Question: "Should we insist on the rules concerning dress?" Answer: "By all means. This is no time to give encouragement to superfluity of apparel. Therefore receive none into the Church till they have left off superfluous ornaments. In order to do this, 1. Let everyone who has charge of a circuit or station read Mr. Wesley's Thoughts upon Dress, at least once a year in every society. 2. In visiting the classes, be very mild, but very strict. 3. Allow of no exempt case: better one suffer than many. 4. Give no tickets to any that wear high heads, enormous bonnets, ruffles, or rings." Page 94.

2. Adventist practice.

a. Admonitions toward carefulness and simplicity in dress and warnings against conformity to the world came early to the Advent believers. (See Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 134-137, writ ten in 1856.)

b. In the early sixties some members, perhaps disturbed by the extremes in dress, urged the adoption of the American costume. Some were hesitant and wrote to Sister White for guidance. (Ibid., p. 424, written in 1864.)

c. It was in this period that a suggested mode of dress, more feminine than the American costume, was set before our churches, known as the reform dress. This was not, as some would have us believe, a peculiar, unbecoming garment. It was, in fact, almost identical with a very youthful style of the decade. (See Figure 205, History of the American Costume, p.465.) No doubt this costume, if fully accepted, would have been modified to conform to present-day styles even as men's suits have known change. (Read Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 456-466. "Reform in Dress"; and vol. 4, pp. 628-648, "Simplicity in Dress.")



1. God's standards for His people are the same in all generations. (See 1 Peter 3: 3-5; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; Deut. 22:5.) Cus toms often run to great extremes, but principles remain steady. (Num. 15: 37-40; Ibid., vol. 3, p. 171.)

2. God's standard, applicable to our day, is summarized in two brief statements in Ministry of Healing, pages 288, 289, 293:

"But our clothing, while modest and simple, should be of good quality, of becoming colors, and suited for service. It should be chosen for durability rather than display. It should provide warmth and proper protection. . . . Our dress should be cleanly. ... In all respects the dress should be healthful. ... It should have the grace, the beauty, the appropriateness of natural simplicity. Christ has warned us against the pride of life, but not against its grace and natural beauty." "In order to secure the most healthful clothing, the needs of every part of the body must be carefully studied. The character of the climate, the surroundings, the condition of health, the age and the occupation must all be considered. Every article of dress should fit easily, obstructing neither the circulation of the blood, nor a free, full, natural respiration."

If these statements are carefully studied, we will find here a guide that any well- dressed person would gladly follow.

3. From Goldstein's Art in Everyday Life, quoted in The Bible Instructor, by L. C. Kleuser, we read:

"The well-dressed woman may be said to wear inconspicuous clothing, her dress and hat are simple in design, yet they have an individual note that expresses her personality . . . and while not calling attention to themselves, they serve to make the wearer and the costume a perfect unit."

4. While cautioned against extravagance and mere display on the one hand, we are cautioned, even rebuked, if indifferent, careless, or lacking in good taste in our manner of dress.

"When we lose taste for order and neatness in dress we virtually leave the truth, for the truth never degrades, but elevates." Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 275. "There should be no carelessness in dress. For Christ's sake, whose witnesses we are, we should seek to make the best of our appearance." Ibid., vol. 6, p. 96.

5. Aaron's robes were symbolic. "So the dress of Christ's followers should be symbolic." Ibid., p. 96. (See also Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 130, 131.)

6. Mothers in Israel would do well to study the instruction given regarding the clothing for children. (See Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 531, 532; vol. 4, pp. 142, 143; Ministry of Healing, p. 382.)



1. Definite instruction to ministers and their wives in their choice of dress is recorded in Testimonies to Ministers, p. 180. (See also Gospel Workers, p. 172- 174; Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 630; vol. 2, p. 610.)

2. William Penn wrote in 1693:"Choose thy cloaths by thine own eye, not another's. The more simple and plain they are, the better. Neither unshapely nor fantastical, and for use and decency, not for Pride."

3. We do well to become informed concerning modern textiles, in order to buy intelligently. Buying from recognized firms will safeguard us, as they are more likely to "handle guaranteed quality. Avoid materials with "filling," mixtures that cannot be cleaned or laundered safely.

4. When buying ready-made clothes, avoid fads, "loud" plaids and patterns, because these are never in good taste. It is well to seek the better shops. This we can do, especially if we recognize the present-day practice of offering merchandise at great discounts at the end of the season.

"Those who travel in the narrow way are talking of the joy and happiness they will have at the end of the journey. Their countenances are often sad, yet often beam with holy, sacred joy. They do not dress like the company in the broad road, nor talk like them, nor act like them. A pattern has been given them. A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief opened that road for them, and traveled it Himself. His followers see His footsteps, and are comforted and cheered. He went through safely; so can they, if they follow in His footsteps." Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 127, 128. 

(Concluded next month}



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Minister's Wife, Atlantic Union College

May 1952

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