THE wan sun of February was beginning to sink behind the campus trees when Merrilee reached Aunt Anne's house and spread her papers and magazines out on the dining-room table.
"Look, Aunt Anne. I can't make up my mind which one I like best. This one with the sweetheart neckline is nice, but I just love this one with the full skirt."
"They are all beautiful wedding dresses, Merrilee. I always favor the ones with the bouffant skirts, myself, but it's you who have to wear it."
"Yes, I like that one too. I think that's the one I want. Do you think Marc will like it?"
"Oh, I'm sure he will. Men usually don't give as much attention to what the bride wears as we women do. They are more interested in the bride than in the dress. I unpacked my wedding dress once and shook it all out and showed it to Uncle Lan, and he didn't remember ever having seen it before!"
"Men are funny," mused Merrilee.
"Yes, but just wear something they don't like, and they'll tell you soon enough," laughed Aunt Anne. "As long as you look sweet and modest and inconspicuous, Marc won't even seem to notice that you have anything special on, but let it be too short, too long, too bright or faddish, and he'll tell you right away that he doesn't like it."
"Look, Aunt Anne. This is going to be my going-away suit. Do you like it? It will be blue (that's Marc's favorite color), and I'll wear pale-pink accessories with it."
"Oh, that will be darling. I'm sure Marc will like that."
"And now, Aunt Anne, tell me. What kind of wardrobe should I have to start out as a minister's wife. Of course, there won't be too much of a change from what I have right now, but I will be getting a suit this spring and a dress or two before school is out, and I want to get something practical enough for me to wear in the churches and not be criticized."
"That's very smart, my dear. Too few youth worry about what others think of them. Some say, 'Oh, well, let them criticize. I have a right to wear what I want to.' But it often is a great hindrance to a minister, and especially to a young one starting out in the work. Your congregations will expect their shepherdess to look neat and trim and in good taste. But they will not want her to be a fashion model or the best-dressed woman in the church. You don't have to be tacky or out of style—indeed, some of our ministers' wives do more harm than good by not caring how they look. You have to be able to meet all classes of people at all times."
"That's just it, Auntie. And how are you going to be dressed for the country people who never wear hats and gloves and at the same time be able to feel at home with the banker's wife?"
"Well, dear, it is possible. You know, just because your congregation is a country church doesn't mean you can't dress up. Wear your hat and gloves. They expect you to be more proper than they in those things. But keep your suits and dresses conservative. Dark blue or black is always smart, and you can wear those colors again and again without people noticing what you wear."
Aunt Anne continued. "Just remember that to be above criticism that may harm your husband's reputation or hinder the work he is trying to accomplish, you cannot afford to overlook the ones who are a bit old-fashioned and queer when it comes to dress. Extremely short sleeves and low necklines are not becoming anyway, and there are many who will be offended by them. Be careful not to offend anyone if you can help it."
"And what about cosmetics, Auntie? Everybody wears them nowadays. You look really out of place without some kind of make-up."
"Yes, I suppose so." Aunt Anne sighed. "It is too bad that God's people cannot bear to be peculiar people any more. Oh, I don't mean that they should be conspicuous," Aunt Anne hastened to add. "But most of our young people today think they have to dress like the world, eat like the world, and most of them want to act like the world. They have completely forgotten that we are to be in the world but not of the world.
"Adventists should be the best-groomed people in the world. Their skin should be the fairest and the freest from blemishes, for we are supposed to eat right and keep scrupulously clean. Their nails should be clean and well filed. Their figures should be finely proportioned through exercise and diet. Their hair should be neat, well-groomed, and attractively arranged, whether long or short. Who says we are not allowed to use creams to keep the skin soft and lovely? Or lotions and powders? Cosmetics are not necessarily wrong. But when girls think they must wear artificial color on their hair, lips, cheeks, and fingernails, that is extreme, unbecoming to a Christian, and unnatural."
"Yes, I see what you mean. I would feel verv conspicuous wearing lipstick or red fingernail polish, and I know Marc doesn't like it."
"You will find, my dear, that most men prefer their women sweet, natural, and inconspicuous. If you are fresh and well-groomed, you will fit in anywhere."
"Well, I won't have to worry about having too many clothes on a minister's salary, I guess," Merrilee laughed.
"No, I'm sure you won't. But remember that the most important thing about clothes is not how much you pay for them or how many you have. The most important thing is the way you take care of the ones you do have. An inexpensive dress or suit or coat that is.kept pressed and clean and mended always looks nicer than something expensive that is not cared for properly."
"I've found that out here in school. I've never had all the clothes I wanted."
"Yet you always look sweet and well dressed," said Aunt Anne.
"Do I? Well, I hope I don't look too bad."
"You don't, dear. Uncle Lan and I have often spoken of your thrift and good sense and------"
"Not because I want to, though," sighed Merrilee.
"No, maybe not, but it is good training. Especially for the work you are going to be in."
"Yes, and with this wedding coming up I surely have to be careful from now on."
"I'm sure you do. But the wedding need not break you up, you know. It is possible to have a sweet, lovely wedding without bankrupting your parents."
"I think so too," Merrilee said. "I'd rather have more nice things to begin married life with than to have it all spent on the wedding. Tell me about Joyce's wedding. Did it cost you a lot?"
"Well, I thought it was a real nice wedding, and it was the way Joyce wanted it. It cost enough, but we tried to keep it simple. The flowers for the decorations were from my garden, and Joyce and I arranged them ourselves. Everyone said they were lovely, and they seemed more personally beautiful because we had tended them and picked them ourselves. Then we had the reception in our garden, and we didn't have to do any decorating—the flowers were already there. It was at the time the roses were the nicest, and we had only the tables to think about decorating.
"Her dress was rather expensive. She wanted such a full skirt, and it did take a lot of material. The bridesmaids bought their own dresses, and Joyce gave them each a tiny patent leather bag to match their dresses. The corsages and boutonnieres we bought, and of course Charles bought her bouquet. It was white rosebuds and tiny white carnations. We have a tradition in our family that the flower of the wedding bouquet is the flower that is used for all anniversaries and occasions where flowers are called for. So on their anniversary she got white roses. I always get red ones, and my sister yellow ones. Shirley always gets white carnations, for that was her bouquet, and Beth gets big white chrysanthemums."
"Oh, isn't that interesting!" Merrilee exclaimed. "I haven't decided what kind of bouquet I want. In fact, Marc hasn't asked me. Maybe he won't."
"No, but he'll probably ask me, so you'd better decide and let me know soon." Aunt Anne laughed.
"Oh, it's nearly suppertime, Auntie. I'll have to run. Where's that old, conservative, simple, threadbare thing I call a coat? Do you think they would criticize this old thing, Aunt Anne?"
"Now, Merrilee, that is a very good coat yet, and although it is simple and conservative, it is still pretty and becoming to you."
"Hope Marc's salary can stand a new one before this one falls to pieces. 'Bye."
" 'Bye, Merrilee. And it's not going to be as bad as you think," smiled Aunt Anne as Merrilee ran down the driveway and crossed the street to the campus.
Part 5 of an eight-chapter story of a young minister's wife.