S. Paul expresses his desire that all Christian women should wear “modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety;” (1) –and for that matter he certainly meant that men should do so likewise.
Now, modesty in dress and its appurtenances depends upon the quality, the fashion and the cleanliness thereof. As to cleanliness, that should be uniform, and we should never, if possible, let any part of our dress be soiled or stained. External seemliness is a sort of indication of inward good order, and God requires those who minister at His Altar, or minister in holy things, to be attentive in respect of personal cleanliness.
As to the quality and fashion of clothes, modesty in these points must depend upon various circumstances, age, season, condition, the society we move in, and the special occasion. Most people dress better on a high festival than at other times; in Lent, or other penitential seasons, they lay aside all gay apparel; at a wedding they wear wedding garments, at a funeral, mourning garb; and at a king’s court the dress which would be unsuitable at home is suitable.
A wife may and should adorn herself according to her husband’s wishes when he is present;–if she does as much in his absence one is disposed to ask in whose eyes she seeks to shine? We may grant somewhat greater latitude to maidens, who may lawfully desire to attract many, although only with the view of ultimately winning one in holy matrimony.
Neither do I blame such widows as purpose to marry again for adorning themselves, provided they keep within such limits as are seemly for those who are at the head of a family, and who have gone through the sobering sorrows of widowhood. But for those who are widows indeed, in heart as well as outwardly, humility, modesty and devotion are the only suitable ornaments. If they seek to attract men’s admiration they are not widows indeed, and if they have no such intention, why should they wear its tokens? Those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard. So, again, every one laughs at old women who affect youthful graces,– such things are only tolerable in the young.
Always be neat, do not ever permit any disorder or untidiness about you. There is a certain disrespect to those with whom you mix in slovenly dress; but at the same time avoid all vanity, peculiarity, and fancifulness. As far as may be, keep to what is simple and unpretending–such dress is the best adornment of beauty and the best excuse for ugliness. S. Peter bids women not to be over particular in dressing their hair. Every one despises a man as effeminate who lowers himself by such things, and we count a vain woman as wanting in modesty, or at all events what she has becomes smothered among her trinkets and furbelows. They say that they mean no harm, but I should reply that the devil will contrive to get some harm out of it all.
For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in the company, but the least fine or splendid, and adorned, as S. Peter says, with “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” (2) S. Louis said that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say they are over-dressed, or younger gayer ones that they are under-dressed. But if these last are not satisfied with what is modest and seemly, they must be content with the approbation of the elders