Reform in Dress

Dear Brethren and Sisters: My apology for calling your attention again to the subject of dress is that some do not seem to understand what I have before written; and an effort is made, perhaps by those who do not wish to believe what I have written, to make confusion in our churches upon this important subject. Many letters have been written to me, stating difficulties, which I have not had time to answer; and now, to answer the many inquiries, I give the following statements, which it is hoped will forever put the subject at rest, so far as my testimonies are concerned.

Some contend that what I wrote in Testimony for the Church No. 10 does not agree with my testimony in the work entitled, How to Live. They were written from the same view, hence are not two views, one contradicting the other, as some may imagine; if there is any difference, it is simply in the form of expression. In Testimony for the Church No. 10 I stated as follows:

“No occasion should be given to unbelievers to reproach our faith. We are considered odd and singular, and should not take a course to lead unbelievers to think us more so than our faith requires us to be. Some who believe the truth may think that it would be more healthful for the sisters to adopt the American costume, yet if that mode of dress would cripple our influence among unbelievers so that we could not so readily gain access to them, we should by no means adopt it, though we suffered much in consequence. But some are deceived in thinking there is so much benefit to be received from this costume. While it may prove a benefit to some, it is an injury to others.

“I saw that God’s order has been reversed, and His special directions disregarded, by those who adopt the American costume. I was referred to Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ God would not have His people adopt the so-called reform dress. It is immodest apparel, wholly unfitted for the modest, humble followers of Christ.

“There is an increasing tendency to have women in their dress and appearance as near like the other sex as possible, and to fashion their dress very much like that of men, but God pronounces it abomination. ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.’ 1 Timothy 2:9.

“Those who feel called out to join the movement in favor of woman’s rights and the so-called dress reform might as well sever all connection with the third angel’s message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other. The Scriptures are plain upon the relations and rights of men and women. Spiritualists have, to quite an extent, adopted this singular mode of dress. Seventh-day Adventists, who believe in the restoration of the gifts, are often branded as spiritualists. Let them adopt this costume, and their influence is dead. The people would place them on a level with spiritualists and would refuse to listen to them.

“With the so-called dress reform there goes a spirit of levity and boldness just in keeping with the dress. Modesty and reserve seem to depart from many as they adopt that style of dress. I was shown that God would have us take a course consistent and explainable. Let the sisters adopt the American costume and they would destroy their own influence and that of their husbands. They would become a byword and a derision. Our Saviour says: ‘Ye are the light of the world.’ ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ There is a great work for us to do in the world, and God would not have us take a course to lessen or destroy our influence with the world.”

The foregoing was given me as a reproof to those who are inclined to adopt a style of dress resembling that worn by men; but at the same time I was shown the evils of the common style of woman’s dress, and to correct these, also gave the following found in Testimony for the Church, No. 10:

“We do not think it in accordance with our faith to dress in the American costume, to wear hoops, or to go to an extreme in wearing long dresses which sweep the sidewalks and streets. If women would wear their dresses so as to clear the filth of the streets an inch or two, their dresses would be modest, and they could be kept clean much more easily, and would wear longer. Such a dress would be in accordance with our faith.”

I will now give an extract from what I have elsewhere said upon this subject:

“Christians should not take pains to make themselves a gazing-stock by dressing differently from the world. But if, when following out their convictions of duty in respect to dressing modestly and healthfully, they find themselves out of fashion, they should not change their dress in order to be like the world; but they should manifest a noble independence and moral courage to be right, if all the world differ from them. If the world introduce a modest, convenient, and healthful mode of dress, which is in accordance with the Bible, it will not change our relation to God or to the world to adopt such a style of dress. Christians should follow Christ and make their dress conform to God’s word. They should shun extremes. They should humbly pursue a straightforward course, irrespective of applause or of censure, and should cling to the right because of its own merits.

“Women should clothe their limbs with regard to health and comfort. Their feet and limbs need to be clad as warmly as men’s. The length of the fashionable dress is objectionable for several reasons:

“1. It is extravagant and unnecessary to have the dress of such a length that it will sweep the sidewalk and street.

“2. A dress thus long gathers dew from the grass, and mud from the streets, and is therefore unclean.

“3. In its bedraggled condition it comes in contact with the sensitive ankles, which are not sufficiently protected, quickly chilling them, and thus endangering health and life. This is one of the greatest causes of catarrh and of scrofulous swellings.

“4. The unnecessary length is an additional weight upon the hips and bowels.

“5. It hinders the walking, and is also often in other people’s way.

“There is still another style of dress which is adopted by a class of so-called dress reformers. They imitate the opposite sex as nearly as possible. They wear the cap, pants, vest, coat, and boots, the last of which is the most sensible part of the costume. Those who adopt and advocate this style of dress carry the so-called dress reform to very objectionable lengths. Confusion will be the result. Some who adopt this costume may be correct in their general views upon the health question, but they would be instrumental in accomplishing vastly more good if they did not carry the matter of dress to such extremes.

“In this style of dress God’s order has been reversed and His special directions disregarded. Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ God would not have His people adopt this style of dress. It is not modest apparel, and is not at all fitting for modest, humble women who profess to be Christ’s followers. God’s prohibitions are lightly regarded by all who advocate doing away with the distinction of dress between males and females. The extreme position taken by some dress reformers upon this subject cripples their influence.

“God designed that there should be a plain distinction between the dress of men and women, and has considered the matter of sufficient importance to give explicit directions in regard to it; for the same dress worn by both sexes would cause confusion and great increase of crime. Were the apostle Paul alive, and should he behold women professing godliness with this style of dress, he would utter a rebuke. ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.’ The mass of professed Christians utterly disregard the teachings of the apostles, and wear gold, pearls, and costly array.

“God’s loyal people are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and they should ever remember that their influence is of value. Were they to exchange the extreme long dress for the extreme short one, they would, to a great extent, destroy their influence. Unbelievers, whom it is their duty to benefit and seek to bring to the Lamb of God, would be disgusted. Many improvements can be made in the dress of women in reference to health without making so great a change as to disgust the beholder.

“The form should not be compressed in the least with corsets and whalebones. The dress should be perfectly easy that the lungs and heart may have healthy action. The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot, but should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street without being raised by the hand. A still shorter dress than this would be proper, convenient, and healthful for women when doing their housework, and especially for those who are obliged to perform more or less out-of-door labor. With this style of dress, one light skirt, or two at most, is all that is necessary, and this should be buttoned on to a waist, or suspended by straps.

“The hips were not formed to bear heavy weights. The heavy skirts worn by some, and allowed to drag down upon the hips, have been the cause of various diseases which are not easily cured. The sufferers seem to be ignorant of the cause of their sufferings, and continue to violate the laws of their being by girding their waists and wearing heavy skirts, until they are made lifelong invalids. When told of their mistake, many will immediately exclaim, ‘Why, such a style of dress would be old-fashioned!’ What if it is? I wish we could be old-fashioned in many respects. If we could have the old-fashioned strength that characterized the old-fashioned women of past generations, it would be very desirable.

“I do not speak unadvisedly when I say that the way in which women clothe themselves, together with their indulgence of appetite, is the greatest cause of their present feeble, diseased condition. There is but one woman in a thousand who clothes her limbs as she should. Whatever may be the length of the dress, their limbs should be clothed as thoroughly as are the men’s. This may be done by wearing lined pants, gathered into a band and fastened about the ankle, or made full and tapering at the bottom; and these should come down long enough to meet the shoe. The limbs and ankles thus clothed are protected against a current of air. If the feet and limbs are kept comfortable with warm clothing, the circulation will be equalized, and the blood will remain pure and healthy because it is not chilled or hindered in its natural passage through the system.”

The principal difficulty in the minds of many is in regard to the length of the dress. Some insist that “the top of the boot,” has reference to the top of such boots as are usually worn by men, which reach nearly to the knee. If it were the custom of women to wear such boots, then these persons should not be blamed for professing to understand the matter as they have; but as women generally do not wear such boots, these persons have no right to understand me as they have pretended.

In order to show what I did mean, and that there is a harmony in my testimonies on this subject, I will here give an extract from my manuscripts written about two years ago:

“Since the article on dress appeared in How to Live, there has been with some a misunderstanding of the idea I wished to convey. They have taken the extreme meaning of that which I have written in regard to the length of the dress, and have evidently had a very hard time over the matter. With their distorted views of the matter they have discussed the question of shortening the dress until their spiritual vision has become so confused that they can only see men as trees walking. They have thought they could see a contradiction in my article on dress, recently published in How to Live, and that article on the same subject contained in Testimony for the Church, No. 10. I must contend that I am the best judge of the things which have been presented before me in vision; and none need fear that I shall by my life contradict my own testimony, or that I shall fail to notice any real contradiction in the views given me.

“In my article on dress in How to Live I tried to present a healthful, convenient, economical, yet modest and becoming style of dress for Christian women to wear, if they should choose so to do. I tried, perhaps imperfectly, to describe such a dress. ‘The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot, but should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand.’ Some have contended that by the top of the boot, I meant the top of such boots as men usually wear. But by ‘the top of the boot,’ I designed to be understood the top of a boot, or gaiter shoe, usually worn by women. Had I thought I should be misunderstood, I would have written more definitely. If it were the custom for women to wear high-topped boots like men, I could see sufficient excuse for this misunderstanding. I think the language is very plain as it now reads, and no one needs to be thrown into confusion. Please read again: ‘The dress should reach somewhat below the top of the boot.’ Now look at the qualification: ‘But should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand. A still shorter dress than this would be proper, convenient, and healthful for women when doing their housework, and especially for those who are obliged to perform more or less out-of-door labor.’

“I can see no excuse for reasonable persons misunderstanding and perverting my meaning. In speaking of the length of the dress, had I referred to high-topped boots reaching nearly to the knee, why should I have added, ‘but [the dress] should be short enough to clear the filth of the sidewalk and street, without being raised by the hand’? If high-topped boots were meant, the dress would most certainly be short enough to keep clear of the filth of the street without being raised, and would be sufficiently short for all working purposes. Reports have been circulated that ‘Sister White wears the American costume,’ and that this style of dress is generally adopted and worn by the sisters in Battle Creek. I am here reminded of the saying that ‘a lie will go around the world while truth is putting on his boots.’ One sister gravely told me that she had received the idea that the American costume was to be adopted by the Sabbathkeeping sisters, and that if such a style of dress should be enforced, she would not submit to it, for she never could bring her mind to wear such a dress.

“In regard to my wearing the short dress, I would say, I have but one short dress, which is not more than a finger’s length shorter than the dresses I usually wear. I have worn this short dress occasionally. In the winter I rose early, and putting on my short dress, which did not require to be raised by my hands to keep it from draggling in the snow, I walked briskly from one to two miles before breakfast. I have worn it several times to the office, when obliged to walk through light snow, or when it was very wet or muddy. Four or five sisters of the Battle Creek church have prepared for themselves a short dress to wear while doing their washing and house cleaning. A short dress has not been worn in the streets of the city of Battle Creek, and has never been worn to meeting. My views were calculated to correct the present fashion, the extreme long dress, trailing upon the ground, and also to correct the extreme short dress, reaching about to the knees, which is worn by a certain class. I was shown that we should shun both extremes. By wearing the dress reaching about to the top of a woman’s gaiter boot we shall escape the evils of the extreme long dress, and shall also shun the evils and notoriety of the extreme short dress.

“I would advise those who prepare for themselves a short dress for working purposes to manifest taste and neatness in getting it up. Have it arranged in order, to fit the form nicely. Even if it is a working dress, it should be made becoming, and should be cut after a pattern. Sisters when about their work should not put on clothing which would make them look like images to frighten the crows from the corn. It is more gratifying to their husbands and children to see them in a becoming, well-fitting attire than it can be to mere visitors or strangers. Some wives and mothers seem to think it is no matter how they look when about their work and when they are seen only by their husbands and children, but they are very particular to dress in taste for the eyes of those who have no special claims upon them. Is not the esteem and love of husband and children more to be prized than that of strangers or common friends? The happiness of husband and children should be more sacred to every wife and mother than that of all others. Christian sisters should not at any time dress extravagantly, but should at all times dress as neatly, modestly, and healthfully as their work will allow.”

The above-described dress we believe to be worthy of the name of the reform short dress. It is being adopted at the Western Health Reform Institute and by some of the sisters at Battle Creek and other places where the matter is properly set before the people. In wide contrast with this modest dress is the so-called American costume, resembling very nearly the dress worn by men. It consists of a vest, pants, and a dress resembling a coat and reaching about halfway from the hip to the knee. This dress I have opposed, from what has been shown me as in harmony with the word of God; while the other I have recommended as modest, comfortable, convenient, and healthful.

Another reason which I offer as an apology for calling attention again to the subject of dress is that not one in twenty of the sisters who profess to believe the Testimonies has taken the first step in the dress reform. It may be said that Sister White generally wears her dresses in public longer than the dress she recommends to others. To this I reply, When I visit a place to speak to the people where the subject is new and prejudice exists, I think it best to be careful and not close the ears of the people by wearing a dress which would be objectionable to them. But after bringing the subject before them and fully explaining my position, I then appear before them in the reform dress, illustrative of my teachings.

As to the matter of wearing hoops, the reform in dress is entirely in advance of them. It cannot use them. And it is altogether too late to talk about wearing hoops, large or small. My position upon that question is precisely what it ever has been, and I hope not to be held responsible for what others may say on this subject, or for the course pursued by those who put on hoops. I protest against the perversion of my private conversations on this subject, and ask that what I have written and published be regarded as my settled position.

— E.G. White, 1 Testimonies, pp. 456-466

E.G. White

This is a republished article or book excerpt from Sister Ellen G. White.

2 thoughts on “Reform in Dress

  • 2022-08-20 at 11:23 am

    “The very many miscarriages that now occur may generally be traced to fashionable dress.” HR, November 1, 1871.

    “The amount of physical suffering created by unnatural and unhealthful dress cannot be estimated. Many have become lifelong invalids through their compliance with the demands of fashion. Displacements and deformities, cancers and other terrible diseases, are among the evils resulting from fashionable dress.” 4T 634

    “Simple, plain, unpretending dress will be a recommendation… In no better way can you let your light shine to others than in your simplicity of dress and deportment.” MYP 343.

    “My sisters, your dress is telling either in favor of Christ and the sacred truth or in favor of the world. Which is it?” CG 420.

    “Perhaps no question has ever come up among us which has caused such development of character as has the dress reform.” 4T 636.

    “So the dress of Christ’s followers should be symbolic. In all things, we are to be representatives of Him. Our appearance in every respect should be characterized by neatness, modesty, and purity.” 6T 96.

    • 2022-08-24 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you for sharing those additional quotes! We intend to have more material on dress reform and these quotes will help with that.


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