Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last week I mentioned 17th century English Puritan divine, Richard Dent, and his book, A Poor Man's Pathway to Heaven. In it he describes a conversation between four men: Theologus (one who has knowledge of God), his old friend Philagathus (a lover of Good), Asunetus (one who does not understand), and Antilegon (the consumate skeptic). In his chapter on "Pride of Dress," Dent goes where few men dare to go: into an appraisal of women's apparel!

Philagathus laments: "(H)ow proud many be of baubles. For when they have spent a good part of the day in tricking and trimming, pricking and pinning, pranking (playing with) and pouncing (teasing hair), girding and lacing, and braving up themselves in most exquisite manner, then out they come into the streets, with their peddler's shop upon their back..."

Asunetas agrees: "What say you, (Theologus), to these doubled and redoubled ruffs (ruffles) which are now in common use, strouting (enlarged) fardingales (hoops) long locks, fore tufts, shag hair, and all these new fashions which are devised and taken up every day? It was never a good world since starching and steeling, busks (corset stays) and whalebones, supporters and rebatos (stiff, flared collars), full moons (circular collars) and hobby-horses (new fashions), painting and dying (came into vogue). And what say you to painting of faces, laying open of naifed (naïve or youthful) breasts, dying of hair, wearing of perriwigs, and other hair coronets and top-gallants? And what say you to our artificial women, which will be better than God hath made them?"[1]

Antilegon: "I marvel you (Theologus) should be earnest in matters of apparel. You know well enough that apparel is an indifferent thing; and that religion and the kingdom of God do not consist in these things."

Theologus. "Apparel in its own nature is a thing indifferent;[2] but immodest, and offensive apparel is not indifferent." Whereupon Philagathus, invites Theologus to, "set us down some directions out of God's holy book, concerning attire."

Theologus' answer is to quote St. Paul, who, "willeth that women should array themselves in comely apparel, with shamefacedness and modesty, as becometh women that profess the fear of God." St. Peter, he adds, "giveth like rules also: for he saith, speaking of Christian matrons, and professors of holy religion, that their apparel must be, 'inward, that the hidden man of the heart may be clothed with a gentle and quiet spirit, which is a thing before God much set by.' For after this manner, saith he, 'in times past, the holy women, which trusted in God, did attire themselves,' as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and such like ancient and grave matrons."

But, Philagathus is undeterred. "I pray you, sir, set down your judgment for outward attire.

Theologus, no legalist, refuses to go beyond scripture: "This is all that I will say, touching the point, that (clothing) must be as the apostle saith: comely, decent, handsome, neat and seemly."

Philagathus: "But who shall judge what is comely, decent, etc? For every man and women will say, their apparel is but decent and cleanly, how gallant, brave, and flauntingsoever they be."

Philagathus' question is well taken: Conventions and fashions change. How shall we judge what clothing is appropriate for our culture?

Theologus answers: "Herein the examples of the most godly, wise, grave, and modest men and women are to be followed: for who can better judge what is comely, and modest, than they."

In other words, propriety rises from within. Inner goodness shows itself outwardly in the way both men and women dress and is the pattern for others.

How eminently practical!


[1] I have a friend who used to say, "A little powder, a little paint, makes a gal what she ain't."
[2] Theologus, in another place, notes that there are occasions when fine attire is entirely appropriate (in the English court, for example) for the goal is to blend in and not be noticed for our clothes.

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