The Influence of Christianity on Dress
1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word…

To lay down rules for the regulation of dress, applicable to all circumstances, all ranks, all ages, is impossible. To fix the cut of the coat, the shape of the bonnet, were a hopeless and, indeed, ridiculous task. All that we can do is to lay down certain principles, distinctly asserted in, or clearly deducible from, the gospel.

I. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FORBID ALL DRESS WHICH IS NOT HONESTLY PROCURED. That dress is dishonestly procured for which you know you cannot pay, or the payment of which is effected by dishonourable means, by falsehood, by embezzlement, or fraud. It is not in the higher circles only that temptations to obtain dress by dishonest methods occur. The servant maid must ape her mistress; but the wages she receives are not equal to the demands of her pride. But even if every tradesman's bill is punctually paid, still you are guilty of dishonesty if the money thus expended be drawn from other channels in which, in justice to yourselves, or to your families, it ought to flow. You are unjust to yourself if you starve either the body or the mind to decorate the person.

II. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FORBID THAT DRESS WHICH IS IMMODEST. The author of my text, in another Epistle, charges the women that they adorn themselves in "modest apparel." "A prudent woman," says Mr. Jay, "will avoid whatever would appear light and wanton. The apparel of a woman professing godliness should not be the attire of a woman of the world, much less the attire of a harlot. Females sometimes wear a label on which indecency and indelicacy are written, and then appear to be offended because observers can read. I would not always infer too much from these outward hints; but, in the name of a blush, on what principle can we explain the invention and adoption of certain modes? I describe nothing." Intimately connected with modesty in dress is health; and when it is considered how many thoughtless females have fallen the untimely victims of disease introduced into the frame by the general scantiness, or the partial distribution of their attire, I am persuaded the allusion will not be deemed improper.

III. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FORBID THAT DRESS WHICH IS UNBECOMING YOUR STATION. It is obvious, by a comparison of the text and parallel passages with the general scope of Scripture, that costly attire is not forbidden where the ability of the person is fully equal to its purchase, without injury to any other claims. The virtuous woman is highly commended in the Proverbs, who, through her industry, clothed all her household in scarlet, and herself with silk and purple. Moreover, the good of society requires persons to dress, in some degree, according to their rank and station. But it is excess that the apostle censures.

IV. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FORBID THAT DRESS WHICH REQUIRES AN UNDUE CONSUMPTION OF TIME. I will not recount the days and years of valuable time which some females spend in cutting, adjusting, adorning, altering, and improving the articles of their dress, till the world of novelties is ransacked and the invention at a stand: I will not number up the hours, or tell the years the aggregate would make, devoted to the toilette, with peevishness and impatience, till every ringlet is properly adjusted, every plait suitably apportioned, and every gem placed to the best advantage at the expense of religion and humanity, and to the ruin of both body and soul!

V. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES FORBID THAT DRESS WHICH, BY ITS SINGULARITY OR EXTRAVAGANCE ATTRACTS PECULIAR ATTENTION. The desire to court observation — the ambition to be singular — the hope of being admired, is the essence of pride, and in this vice both the extremes of finery and of plainness will be found to meet. "Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God." Surely, look well to thy attire is included in this injunction.

VI. THAT DRESS IS FORBIDDEN BY CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES WHICH SERIOUSLY OCCUPIES AND ABSORBS THE POWERS OF THE MIND. And yet how many females are there the range of whose information is bounded by these limits — the topics of whose discourse are derived from this subject — who understand no science but that of shapes and colours — are acquainted with no art but that of decoration and display — and are conversant in no history but that of modes and fashions. It yet remains that I should produce some considerations by which the observance of them may be enforced.


1. By a consideration of the sources whence your dress proceeds. As clothes cannot impart moral qualities or mental endowments to the wearer, so they are little to be gloried in on another account: they are derived from the lowest sources, and composed of the meanest materials. Nay, more than this, is not the dress on which you pride yourself the memorial of your shame? But for sin it had never encumbered the limbs, nor occupied for a moment's space the care of the unspotted mind.

2. By a comparative view of its intrinsic worth. In a time of universal famine how many jewels would you give for a single loaf of bread? In a raging fever how many diamonds would you sacrifice for a moment's ease? In a parched desert how many embroidered robes would you exchange for a cooling draught? Why, then, should such enormous sums be expended in glimmering pebbles and sparkling dust? Compare them with your books — your Bibles — your souls — all neglected for their sake! Arise to correcter sentiments and nobler aims. Make the Bible your looking glass, the graces of the Spirit your jewels, the temper of Jesus your attire.

3. Consider the estimation in which dress is held by the wise and good. With them it always occupies its proper place, which is an inferior one; and wherever it rises to excess and glare, indicating the vanity and pride of its possessor, it excites their pity and contempt.

4. The estimation in which you will hold dress in the hour of death and in an eternal world.

(T. Raffles, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

WEB: In the same way, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; so that, even if any don't obey the Word, they may be won by the behavior of their wives without a word;

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