A Conversation on Dress
An Excerpt from Beautiful Girlhood By Margaret Hale
"Mother, said Jennie Vane one day as the two sat together sewing. Why do you not want me to wear my necklines low?"
"What do you call a low necked dress?" asked her mother.
"You know how the girls mostly wear them low like this," said Jennie, with her finger making on her bosom a line that she called low. Mrs. Vane looked to God for wisdom to rightly answer, and to equip Jennie with enough Christian sense to dress modestly despite the popular trend and fashion.
"I do not require you to make your dresses with close fitting necks, Jennie, but I have reasons which I am only too glad to explain to you why I do not approve such necklines as you've described."
"I want to know just why Mother, for sometimes I feel a little odd that none of my dresses are made that way."
"One of the first evidences of a real lady, is that she should be modest. By modesty we mean that she shall not say, do, nor wear anything that would cause her to appear gaudy, ill-bred, or unchaste. There should be nothing about her to attract unfavorable attention, nothing in her dress or manner that would give a man an excuse for vulgar comment. When we dress contrary to the rule of modesty we give excuse for unwholesome thoughts in the mind of those who look upon us, and every girl who oversteps these bounds makes herself liable to misunderstanding and insult, though she may be innocent of any such intention."
"Shouldn't men learn to guard their thoughts?" asked Jennie.
"There," replied her mother, "is the very question, put in a little different form, that Cain gave to God about his brother: 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Yes, Jennie, to a great extent we are responsible to our brother's thoughts. But I would not have you think that all men are so weak. There are strong, true, pure-minded men and boys to whom these weaknesses of women are not a temptation. But there are the weaker also, and for them we are partly responsible. Let us suppose that upon the streetcorner there stands a group of men and boys among them being two boys whose minds are pure. You and another girl are dressed with very low necks, very thin blouses and your skirts are quite short. The scantiness of your dress attracts attention to your person. You may behave as perfect ladies, but as you pass the corner your appearance causes worldly minded to think and say vulgar things about you. The pure-minded boys hear, and their minds are defiled. You girls are as much to blame for what has happened as the impure man or boy who said the evil things."
"I never thought of it that way, Mother, never!" said Jennie, looking up with a new understanding in her eyes.
"Your necklines should be high and close fitting enough that at no angle does your bosom show, and your skirts should always be long enough so that you can sit without appearing very unlady-like or showing too much flesh. Also, very shear clothing cannot be called appropriate dress for the modest girl."
"But Mother, they wear nice undergarments with those kinds of dresses," said Jennie quickly.
"Yes, Jennie, but does a really modest woman want to publicly display her undergarments?"
The two sewed on in silence for a while, then Jennie spoke again. "Mother, I know many nice women who do not think as you do about dress. Many church members dress the very way you have been condemning. Do you think they're not nice women or not Christians? I cannot think that."
"That is entirely another side of the question, Jennie. I must answer for myself before God, and so must they. But it remains a fact that many nice women dress in a way that is not strictly modest. Many do not think just as the rest do. It is the same with some women who profess to love the Lord. Their minds and hearts are not awake on this line. They follow where the present fads lead them with no thought of the consequences. I cannot say to you that nice women do not dress as I have been condemning for you and I both know nice women who often do. Nor can we say that Christians never wear such things. For we have seen examples where those who profess to be Christians through lack of proper understanding did wear them. So we cannot look around at others for examples. We must have a conscience for God ourselves and answer these questions before Him in our own hearts. As for myself, I cannot wear what I know is not becomingly modest for a Christian to wear."
"But I am not a Christian yet, I have not been converted yet," said Jennie, as if she had now found an excuse.
"But you should be Jennie. That does not change your responsibility before God. If it is not right for a Christian to do it, it is wrong for anyone to do it." Mrs. Vane sat still a little while thinking, then continued. "It is not merely a matter of opinion, but of principle. Do startling clothes cause unfavorable attention and comment? Are they modest? Should modest women wear them? Am I discharging my duty as a Christian either to wear them or permit my daughter to do so? Is my daughter safe with them on, from the insults of base men?"
"Of course, if you put it that way, Mother, is certainly looks as though wearing such things is wrong. But it seems odd to me that we should need to be so different from other people."
"That is all owing to the direction you look Jennie. If you will look in the right direction, you will find many, many women and girls who are not overstepping the boundaries of womanly modesty and they do not look odd either."
"Is it the same reason that you want me always to do my hair simply?" asked Jennie.
"Partly. The manner of dressing the hair will give a girl a modest or a bold exaggerated look. And then many of the extravagant hairstyles are unbecoming to most faces. I cannot see why you should make yourself look outlandish by your hairstyle just because many of your friends are doing it. It is far better to choose a mode of hairstyle that becomes your face and stick to it, than to be changing from one thing to another. Besides, we should wish to take good care of your hair that you may preserve it's beauty."
"But Mother, I like to do as the rest do. I hate to be different from the other girls," persisted Jennie.
"Be frank with me Jennie: Are you so different from others? Are there not many of your school friends who dress just as modestly as you do? Are there not a number of girls yet who are not extravagant in their hairstyles? Be honest with me: Are there not many girls like you?"
"Oh yes, for that matter. But they are not the ones we look at. Some of the girls have a new way of dressing their hair each week."
"But the quiet, sensible girls run a far greater chance of coming to pure, wholesome womanhood. Jennie dear, sometime you'll be thankful that you are one of them."