THE POWER OF CLOTHES
One cannot always tell by a man’s coat what kind of a heart he has under it; still, his dress is apt to be the out-blossoming of his character, and is not to be disregarded.
Excessive fashion is to be charged with many of the worst evils of society, as it set up a false standard by which people are to be judged. First there were crests, shields, or escutcheon, to indicate one’s moral peerage. Titles of duke, lord, esquire, earl, viscount, or patrician, ought not to raise one into the first rank. Some of the meanest men I have ever known had at the end of their name M.D., PhD, D.D., LL.D., and F.R.S. Instead Truth, honor, charity, heroism, self-sacrifice, should win highest favor; but inordinate fashion says—
- “Count not a woman’s virtues; count her rings;”
- “Look not at the contour of the head, but see the way she combs her hair;”
- “Ask not what noble deeds have been accomplished by that man’s hand; but is it white and soft?”
- Ask not what good sense was in her conversation, but “in what was she dressed.”
- Ask not whether there was hospitality and cheerfulness in the house, but “in what style do they live. Was the house neat and well-arranged?”
Men die in good circumstances, but extravagant funeral expenses leave their families insolvent afterward. Many men would not die at all, if they had to wait until they could afford it
“My house is too small.” And the other answers, that they should Trade up. It does not matter that they are barely making ends meet now, instead they say to themselves “My friends have a better residence, and so will I, my children should make a grand splash.”
“A dress of that pattern I must have. I cannot afford it by a great deal; but who cares for that? My neighbor had one from that pattern, and I must have one.”
There are scores of men in the dungeons of the penitentiary, who risked honor, business,—everything, in the effort to shine like others. Though the heavens fall, they must be “in the fashion.”
The most famous frauds of the day have resulted from this feeling. It keeps hundreds of men struggling for their commercial existence. The trouble is that some are caught and incarcerated, if their larceny be small. If it be great, they escape, and build their castle on the Rhine. Men go into jail, not because they steal, but because they did not steal on a large enough scale.
Fashion is the greatest of all liars. It has made society insincere. You know not what to believe. When people ask you to come, you do not know whether or not they want you to come. When they send their regards, you do not know whether it is an expression of their heart, or an external civility.
We have learned to take almost everything at a discount. Word is sent, “Not at home,” when they are only too lazy to dress themselves. They apologize for their appearance, as though it were unusual, when always at home they look just so. They would make you believe that some nice sketch on the wall was the work of a master painter.
“It was an heir-loom, and once hung on the walls of a castle; and a duke gave it to grandfather.” People who will lie about nothing else, will lie about a picture. On a small income we must make the world believe that we are affluent, and our life becomes a cheat, a counterfeit, and a sham.
Few persons are really natural. When I say this, I do not mean to slur cultured manners. But instead social life has been contorted, and deformed, until, in some mountain cabin, where rustics gather to the quilting or the apple-paring, there is more good cheer than in all the frescoed ice-houses of the metropolis.
We want, in all the higher circles of society, more warmth of heart and naturalness of behavior, and not so many refrigerators.
Again: inordinate fashion is incompatible with happiness. Those who depend for their comfort upon the admiration of others are subject to frequent disappointment. Somebody will criticize their appearance, or surpass them in brilliancy, or will receive more attention. Oh! the jealousy, and detraction, and heart-burnings of those who move in this bewildered maze!
Poor butterflies! Bright wings do not always bring happiness. “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” Again: Excessive devotion to fashion is productive of physical disease, mental imbecility, and spiritual withering.
Apparel insufficient to keep out the cold and the rain, or so fitted upon the person that the functions of life are restrained; late hours, filled with excitement and feasting; free draughts of wine, that make one not beastly intoxicated, but only fashionably drunk; and luxurious indolence—are the instruments by which this unreal life pushes its disciples into valetudinarianism and the grave.
To-night, with swollen feet, upon cushioned ottoman, and groaning with aches innumerable, is the votary of luxurious living, not half so happy as his groom or coal-heaver surrounded with family and loved ones.
Fashion is the world’s undertaker, and drives thousands of hearses to Laurel Hill and Greenwood (Cemetery in Brooklyn).
While he who is genuinely refined will be useful and happy. But instead watch the career of one thoroughly artificial.
Through inheritance, or perhaps his own skill, having obtained enough for purposes of display, he feels himself thoroughly established. He sits aloof from the common herd, and looks out of his window to nothing, gated and protected, none come to his door.
On Sabbath days he finds the church, but mourns the fact that he must worship with so many of the inelegant, or worse that it is a waste of his time. He struts through life unsympathetic with trouble, and says, “It does not matter to me. “
He walks arm in arm the finest in town, and does not know his own brother except with scorn. He loves to be praised for his splendid house; and when told that he looks younger than ten years ago, says—”Well, really; do you think so!”
But the brief strut of his life is about over. Upstairs—he dies. No angel wings hovering about him. No gospel promises the kindling of the darkness;—but instead exquisite embroidery, elegant pictures, and a bust of Shakespeare, of whom he has never read but had heard much about, on the mantel. The pulses stop.
The minister comes in to read of the Resurrection, that day when the dead shall come up — both he that died on the floor, and he that expired under princely upholstery. He is carried out to burial. Only a few mourners, but a great array of carriages. Not one common man at the funeral. No befriended orphan to weep a tear upon his grave weeping, saying—”He is the last friend I have; I must see him” or tell of his care and concern for his loss.
What now? He was a great man they murmur: Shall not chariots of salvation come down to the other side of the Jordan, and escort him up to the palace? Shall not the angels exclaim—”Turn out! a prince is coming.” Shall not all exclaim his great loss?
No! No! And again No! Instead, there will be a shudder above. Standing on heaven’s battlement, a watchman will see something shoot past, a fiery downfall and shriek: “Oh a Wandering star (see Jude 1:13* for the analogy, i.e. a false teacher or asteres planhtai in originally written in the Greek) tonight – another has fallen, for whom is reserved the blackness of dark below!” Amen.
10 … what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals–these are the very things that destroy them.
11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. [see Numbers 16]
12 These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.