The Health Reformer


May 1, 1872

The Reform Dress


We are aware that as we speak and write upon the subject of woman's dress we have to stem the current of custom. HR May 1, 1872, par. 1

It is manifest that most women do not think and act in reference to dress from reason and reflection. They accept, without questioning, that which society and fashion imposes upon them. Few have the moral courage to wear a dress in opposition to fashion, although it be modest and healthful. Christian women, with thoughtless indifference, encourage by their example dress that is not only extravagant, but destructive to health and life itself. They yield principle, sacrifice health, and bow in submission to the decree of fickle fashion, as though it were a crime to assert their independence in dressing physiologically. Practical, independent, reasoning minds are greatly needed to lead out in the work of dress reform. Women of Christian fortitude and becoming independence are wanted to stimulate others to break away from the slavery and oppression of fashion. HR May 1, 1872, par. 2

Health cannot be enjoyed where there is not an equal circulation of the blood; therefore, the clothing should be so arranged upon the body that the blood will not be obstructed in its course from the heart and lungs to the extremities. But what is there in the reform dress which would shock the modesty of the most delicate and sensitive mind. We advocate that the limbs of women should not be exposed, but sensibly, neatly, and comfortably, clad. Is this immodest? Many say they have no objections to the length of the dress, but they could never put on the pants. HR May 1, 1872, par. 3

They do not blush to witness the exposure of the almost naked limbs. But the limbs thoroughly dressed with warm pants shock their modesty. Such opposition to the pants, which are positively modest, and which protect the limbs from exposure and chilliness, should be supported by sensible reason. Many say, Oh! the pants look so singular! Everybody stares, and women nudge one another, and look so comical, and some laugh outright. Weighty reasons, these! It is not among the possibilities to get up anything so deforming and uncomfortable as the hump fashion places on the backs of women. This, and the looped, puffed, and ruffled overskirts are devoid of taste and beauty. But these things are tolerated because they are fashionable. How could these slaves of such hideous fashions reasonably laugh at any manner of dress they should behold? Our work shall be, by the grace of God, to preserve simplicity of dress, and stand with moral independence in defiance of fashions that have no regard for natural beauty or physical law. Home and Health well says: HR May 1, 1872, par. 4

“Although I have never wished to be eccentric, or wear what is absolutely tabooed, I have been able in my retirement to be more compact in my dress, less beflounced and befurbelowed, less heeled and less trained, than those whom fashion (Circe as she is) thoroughly intoxicates. HR May 1, 1872, par. 5

“Purposing to visit a friend in New York, I was advised by Mrs. Modish (a friend just returned from Europe) to have a costume made according to custom, and obligingly directed by her to a new dressmaker, Mrs. Trim, who had just opened an establishment in our village. I was obliged to delay going for a fortnight, as the innumerable ruffles required so much time. When the bill was sent, my heart died within me, for, in order to discharge it, I was obliged to spend nearly all my quarterly allowance and deny myself the pleasure I had anticipated of buying presents in New York for my brothers and sisters. The Sunday before I left home, I put on my new dress and went to church. Having always appeared in a simple costume, I must have presented a ridiculous appearance, for the boys of the place used me as a whet-stone to sharpen their wits upon. As we neared the school-house, they rushed out from sunday-school, one calling out, ‘humpty dumpty;’ another, ‘tag, rag, and bobtail.’ One asked if I had escaped from the menagerie, where dromedaries and zebras were exhibited; and Tom Smith sang in a low voice, for fear of his teacher, the ‘cam[pb]ells are coming,’ with a world of mischief in his eye. HR May 1, 1872, par. 6

“When I returned, my cousin asked why I chose a quiet Sunday for being in a bustle; what animal was most accustomed to bearing paniers, and why I should go on a bender. Grandmamma did not even smile at his vulgarity, but said gravely, ‘my dear Silicia, why should women follow expensive, absurd, and unwholesome customs? A dress takes twice as much material and more than twice the time to make now as when I was young. The small, high heels cramp the movement, injure the carriage of the person, and often deform the feet. The bend given to the body by the extreme fullness of the skirt behind is very ungraceful. There is no beauty in the present style, and leaving aside the awkwardness of the design, one would suppose the shackling of the limbs and the oppressive heaviness of the dress, on so delicate a part of the body as the spine, would deter women from such fatuity.’ Grandma is rather Johnsonian. She took from her writing desk a paper, saying, ‘while you have been listening to a sermon, from which I was deprived by indisposition, I have been writing one which was, my dear, suggested by your appearance.’ This I will not subscribe, for I was very much mortified, particularly when she rang the bell for Betty, and told her to sweep up the dust. ‘Look at your train, Silicia; you have brought more dirt into the house than I have seen for months.’ I retired to shake my skirts, ease my feet, and make myself comfortable. My old dress seemed by comparison quite charming. When I came down to dinner, my dear old relative looked at my swollen eyes with compassion, and said, ‘do not be unhappy, my dear—you are not to blame for wishing to be in fashion, but I think you will acknowledge the inconvenience of going to extremes,’ then taking out her purse (which was much more welcome than her sermon), she gave me the amount of the dress, and advised me to leave it for the French maid of my cousin in New York, when I had finished my visit. I gave her a hearty kiss, and told her I should write a short account of my adventure and leave it with her to put in shape for your magazine. Please oblige by publishing this. HR May 1, 1872, par. 7

Your friend and reader,

Silicia Marsh.

P.S.—Finding this not sent on my return, I will add that my dress was not thought at all fashionable in New York, and compared so ill with my cousin's French dresses that I was ashamed to offer it to her maid. I heard while there the ex-empress, and the man milliner, Worth, continually quoted. Would Pope now say, HR May 1, 1872, par. 8

“Worth makes the man”?

In order to maintain equal circulation, there should be an equal distribution of clothing, which will bring equal warmth to all parts of the body. The limbs that are the farthest from the vital organs, should be more thoroughly protected with warm coverings. The extremities should be carefully guarded from cold and chilliness by an additional amount of clothing. It is impossible for women to have, habitually, chilled limbs and cold feet, without some of the internal organs being congested. There is usually worn over the chest, where is the greatest amount of heat, from six to eight thicknesses. Over the lower part of the waist there is, in addition to the many coverings, bands and plaits which induce heat. Over the hips and back, fashion has introduced paniers and overskirts puffed and arranged in every conceivable shape to destroy the graceful beauty of woman's form, and to all these is added the sash, while the lower limbs are only furnished with one or two thicknesses of light material. The feet are frequently covered with cotton stockings and cloth shoes. HR May 1, 1872, par. 9

With the present style of woman's dress, it is impossible to preserve an equal circulation of the blood. The limbs being left nearly naked, the cold contracts the minute blood-vessels, and the life-current is chilled back from its natural channel, while the many extra coverings over the chest and back, and lower part of the body, induce the blood to these parts, and the animal heat, thus retained, weakens and debilitates these delicate organs and congestion and inflammation is the result. HR May 1, 1872, par. 10

We recommend to our sisters a reform dress that is in accordance with the laws of health, and which is becoming. This dress is from nine to ten inches from the floor, and when neatly and properly fitted is modest and becoming. We inquire, Why should not women clothe their limbs as thoroughly as men do theirs? Health and comfort are objects of sufficient importance to make a trial to gain. Artificial decorations can never take the place of the natural beauty health imparts. HR May 1, 1872, par. 11

In order for women to be protected against the sudden changes of our variable climate, the feet and limbs must be equally clothed as other portions of the body. The arms and hands being near the heart will better take care of themselves, for they are not in as much danger as the lower limbs. The feet and limbs need especial care. With many, they have been so long neglected that the blood-vessels have not been filled, and because the circulation has been so feeble they have contracted and cannot contain the due proportion of blood nature designed they should, therefore they are always chilly. HR May 1, 1872, par. 12

The limbs should be clothed with pants, always cut after an approved pattern, made tapering to meet the instep of the shoe. Custom and fashion will have their false standard of modesty, and will feign to blush and appear horrified to see women's limbs sensibly and healthfully dressed. We wish to have a sensible reason, if it can be given, for this blind opposition to the reform dress. Sneers, ridicule, and contempt, with some may be such convincing arguments that after they have adopted the modest and healthful short dress, when they meet opposition in this form, will retire from the ranks of dress reform, and no more advocate it, or have the courage to wear the reform dress. Sneers should be taken by sensible health reformers, who move from principle, for what they are worth. Ridicule and contempt cannot make one hair white or black. We want reason and intellect to take the field, and the will to be subjected to the control of enlightened conscience. We design to be true to God and to the right. If there are sensible and strong reasons which can be produced against the reform dress, we have yet to meet them. We are open to conviction. Until we see better arguments than, “Oh! it looks so to see women with pants!” “What will people say!” “I would die before I would wear them!” we shall continue to wear the reform dress. HR May 1, 1872, par. 13

We do not adopt this style of dress to be odd, that we may attract notice. We do not differ from the common style of fashionable dress for any such object. We choose to agree with others in theory and in practice, if we can do so, and at the same time be in harmony with the law of God, and with the laws of our being. We believe it wrong to differ from others, unless it be necessary to differ in order to be right. In bearing the cross of adopting the reform dress, we are led by a sense of duty. And although it may appear objectionable to those who are governed by fashion, we claim that it is the most convenient, the most truly modest, and the most healthful style of dress worn by woman. HR May 1, 1872, par. 14

We have counted the cost of appearing singular in the eyes of those who feel compelled to bow to fashion. And we decide that in the end it will pay to try to do right, though for the present we may appear odd in the eyes of those who will sacrifice convenience, comfort, and health, at the altar of fashion. HR May 1, 1872, par. 15

It is not conducive to health to have many coverings over the abdomen and small of the back, while the extremities are left almost destitute of clothing. Reason teaches that the parts of the body which have the most clothing will have the greatest amount of heat. At every pulsation of the heart, the blood should be propelled to the extremities quickly and easily in order to have health. We plead for the warm, lined pants in winter, that the blood may be induced to the extremities, that they may not by scanty clothing be robbed of their due proportion of blood. The current of human life is struggling to go its accustomed rounds and should not be hindered in its circuit through the body by the imperfect manner in which women clothe their limbs. We cannot see wherein the reform dress we recommend is unbecoming. True, it is not fashionable. But what of that? Fashions do not always come from Heaven. Neither do they always come from the pure, the virtuous, and the good. HR May 1, 1872, par. 16

It would indeed be a wonderful thing, if fashion would invent anything as modest, simple, and sensible, as the reform dress which is in harmony with physical law. Some say we do not think it is modest to expose the feet and the limbs as they must be exposed in wearing the short dress. This is the very thing we seek to guard against in adopting the reform dress. It is true that this style of dress exposes the feet. And why should woman be ashamed of her well-clad feet any more than men are of theirs? It is of no use for her to try to conceal the fact that she has feet. This was a settled fact long before the use of trailing skirts. HR May 1, 1872, par. 17

We cannot, if we would, conceal the fact that women have feet and limbs that were made for use. But in regard to the exposure, this is on the other side of the question. We have traveled extensively the past twenty-five years, and have been eye-witnesses to many indecent exposures of the limbs. But the most common exposure is seen upon the streets in light snow, or wet and mud. Both hands are required to elevate the dress, that it may clear the wet and filth. It is a common thing to see the dress raised one-half of a yard, exposing an almost unclad ankle to the sight of gentlemen, but no one seems to blush at this immodest exposure. No one's sensitive modesty seems shocked for the reason that this is customary. It is fashion, and for this reason it is endured. No outcry of immodesty is heard, although it is so in the fullest sense. HR May 1, 1872, par. 18

But does the popular style of woman's dress always hide her feet from the public gaze? See that lady passing over the muddy street, holding her skirts nearly twice as far from the ground as ours, exposing, not only her feet, but her nearly-naked limbs. Similar exposures are frequent as she ascends and descends the stairs, as she is helped into, and out of carriages. These exposures are disagreeable, if not shameful; and a style of dress which makes their frequent occurrence almost certain, we must regard as a poor safeguard of modesty and virtue. But we did not design an exposure of this false modesty in relation to woman's feet, but simply a defense of the style of dress which we regard, in every way, truly modest. HR May 1, 1872, par. 19

No arguments are needed to prove that our style of dress is most convenient in the kitchen. In passing up and down stairs, the hands are not needed to hold up the skirts of our dresses. Being of a convenient length, they take care of themselves, while our hands are better employed. HR May 1, 1872, par. 20

We can go out into the untrodden snow, or after a fall of rain, and, if our feet and limbs are entirely protected, all is dry and comfortable. We have no fears of taking cold as we trip along, unburdened by trailing skirts, in our morning walks. We can, in spring and summer, walk and work among our flowers without fear of injury from the dews of early morning. And then, the lower portions of our skirts, not having been used as a mop, are dry, and clean, and comfortable, not compelling us to wash and clean them, which is not always convenient when other important matters demand time and attention. HR May 1, 1872, par. 21

In getting into, and out of, carriages, in passing old trunks, boxes, and other ragged furniture, and in walking over old, broken sidewalks, where nails have worked up an inch or two above the surface of the plank, our dresses are not exposed to a thousand accidents and rents to which the trailing dresses are fated. To us, this is a matter of great convenience. HR May 1, 1872, par. 22

Our skirts are few and light, not taxing our strength with the burden of many and longer ones. Our limbs being properly clothed, we need comparatively few skirts; and these are suspended from the shoulders. Our dresses are fitted to sit easily, obstructing neither the circulation of the blood, nor natural, free, and full respiration. Our skirts being neither numerous nor fashionably long, do not impede the means of locomotion, but leave us to move about with ease and activity. All these things are necessary to health. HR May 1, 1872, par. 23

Our limbs and feet are suitably protected from cold and damp, to secure the circulation of the blood to them, with all its blessings. We can take exercise in the open air, in the dews of morning or evening, or after the falling storm of snow or rain, without fears of taking cold. Morning exercise, in walking in the free, invigorating air of heaven, or cultivating flowers, small fruits, and vegetables, is necessary to a healthful circulation of the blood. It is the surest safeguard against colds, coughs, congestions of the brain and lungs, inflammation of the liver, the kidneys, and the lungs, and a hundred other diseases. HR May 1, 1872, par. 24

If those ladies who are failing in health, suffering in consequence of these diseases, would lay off their fashionable robes, clothe themselves suitably for the enjoyment of such exercise, and move out carefully at first, as they can endure it, and increase the amount of exercise in the open air, as it gives them strength to endure, and dismiss their doctors and drugs, most of them might recover health, to bless the world with their example and the work of their hands. And if they would dress their daughters properly, they might live to enjoy health, and to bless others. HR May 1, 1872, par. 25

E. G. W.