An undue attention to toilet is a dangerous rock for many women who, otherwise remarkable for their grave deportment, are sometimes greater slaves than the most frivolous women to dress and fashion. It is truly a great misery to be taken up with undue solicitude for the fragile and perishable part of our being; but more especially so, when such preference is given it by minds which are otherwise noble and elevated. It is painful to be obliged to confess that many women of high and cultivated attainments spend a considerable portion of their life in this futile occupation. It seems incredible that a ribbon-knot, the color of a robe, or the form of a head-dress, could become a capital matter for an intelligent creature destined to contemplate with the angels of heaven the majesty of God.
If there are so few women who enjoy all the advantages of their happy dispositions and attainments, it is because of their inordinate love for toilet and fashion; for nothing narrows the mind or contracts the heart so much as excessive care of the body. When they neglect the soul, the noblest part of man, she revenges herself of the insult by concealing all her brilliant qualities, which alone constitute woman's true beauty and adornment.
It is impossible for a vain or gaudy woman to converse on any serious matter, but she will talk for whole hours on the form or quality of a dress; should the conversation happen to turn on a serious subject, capable of engaging the attention of an elevated mind, her countenance will soon betray a sense of dissatisfaction and weariness.
Give befitting attention to the care of your body, because it is the temple of God, who has deposited therein a precious germ of immortality. But at the same time, keep it in its own place; and since it is the inferior part of your being do not allow it to infringe upon the rights and privileges of the soul, whose docile and obedient servant it should be. Avoid in your toilet all that savors of frivolity, which betray a desire to attract attention; but above all; avoid every thing that might in the least wound modesty. Do not forget that this virtue is one of the most beautiful ornaments of your sex, and that when woman is deprived of it she is like a faded flower, without eclat or perfume. You should conform to the customs of your country and condition without being in any way their slave, remembering that your soul is at all times in duty bound to soar above all those futilities, and conserve by a noble independence, her glory and her majesty.
Do not follow the example of those women who, slaves of the world, obey with blind docility all its caprices; seeking with avidity whatever is novel, in order to be the first in the fashion, and acquire by that, the vain reputation of a woman of good taste. Those who believe themselves obliged to have recourse to the seductions of fashion and dress in order to attract the attention of their would-be admirers, give a sad manifestation of the emptiness of their minds and the depravity of their hearts. Those who are distinguished for their noble qualities of head and heart attach their hopes, to loftier claims; by their modesty and reserve they are pleasing to all, and the sentiments which they inspire, being always noble and pure, never give the slightest annoyance to any one; on the contrary they arouse the holiest and most generous instincts of the soul.
One of the sweetest charms that adorns your age is that which arises from its simplicity and candor. The world itself, so liberal in its judgments, will not pardon in you whatever savors of egotism and ostentation. In these and similar things it will avail you naught to offer for excuse custom and usage, behind which so many aged women try to take refuge. Profit, then, by the truce which the world in a measure concedes in favor of your modesty, to acquire the habit of simplicity in your dress and whole exterior. This simplicity, once acquired, will be your guarantee, later on, against the examples and seductions of the fashionable world, which shows as little deference for the laws of good taste as for those of Christian modesty.
The beautiful and good are never in contradiction with each other. The same is true of what are perverse and depraved. And this is why the depravity of taste is in keeping with the standard of a people's moral life. Be assured that there is nothing beautiful except what is true and good; and that there is neither truth nor goodness in things devoid of simplicity. If you regulate your dress and whole exterior bearing according to these two principles you will stand irreproachable to your own conscience, and secure the respect and admiration of the most exacting worldlings, for simplicity of dress and manners possesses charms that win universal approbation.
Never lose sight of your glorious title of Christian. Remember that on the day of your baptism you renounced the pomps and vanities of the world, and, if you are allowed to conform to customs not contrary to the maxims of the Gospel, you ought at the same time manifest in your dress, as in the rest, the glorious character that God has stamped in your soul. You should show by your conduct the striking contrast that exists between the Christian woman and the woman who, being incredulous or indifferent, does not draw her rule of life from the precepts of the Gospel.
Your dress should be grave and modest: these are the characteristic marks by which it can be distinguished from that of women who are slaves of the world. St. Paul said to the Christians of his time: Let your modesty appear to all men, for the Lord is near you! What a profound lesson there is in these words, and how strongly they set forth the motives for which a Christian should be modest. To put in practice this counsel of the Apostle, you must accustom yourself to walk in the presence of God, representing to yourself by a lively faith that God is near you, that He sees you and will demand a strict account one day from you of all your actions. Frequently call to mind what St. Paul said to the Corinthians, namely: that we are a spectacle to men and angels. Let the true sense of those words sink deeply into your heart, and it will enable you to regulate soul and body.
The desire to attract attention, to draw the admiring gaze of fellow- beings is a weakness that lurks in every human heart; but with woman it seems to be the main-spring to all her actions, which is kept in motion alike by the applause and reproaches of spectators. In the light of faith all this is folly and vanity; for in that light we behold the whole court of heaven, God and His angels watching with an interest full of tenderness and solicitude not only our exterior actions, but even the secret movements of our souls. Could we have a better or more appreciative audience to witness what we do? The very thought of their presence should inspire us with a disgust for those vain desires that urge us to see and be seen by mankind in order to secure to our actions the approbation of the multitude. Regulate your conduct in this matter according to St. Paul's instruction to Timothy: Let women be clothed in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with platted hair, or gold or pearls, or costly attire. But, as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works.
Moreover, you labor under a great mistake if you think that gaudiness in dress is necessary to render you attractive and inspire those sentiments of esteem and affection which sometimes prepare the way to an advantageous alliance. Should you succeed by this means in securing such a marriage, be assured that you deceive yourself; for the man who, setting aside the qualities essential to woman, lets his affections be won by her outward charms only does her an injury, and prepares for her, as well as for himself, bitter regrets in the future. If you fully understand your true interest, both in this life and in the next, far from making your dress a means of attraction, you would tremble to owe to such vile contrivances the affection bestowed on you. You would not compel by your vanity those who love you for your own good to pander to your self-love and encourage your negligence.
The sentiments that a woman awakens in the hearts of her admirers draw their worth from the motives that inspire them, and this being the case, what value shall you set upon affections determined by empty show, and flattered by qualities purely exterior, unworthy of the attention of an intelligent being? Still, for some unaccountable or visionary reason, the greater part of women attach excessive importance to such puerile advantages, and neglect those that are capable of making a deep and lasting impression upon valiant and noble souls. If they are much depreciated in the esteem of those by whom they would like to be loved and admired, the cause may be traced to their own frivolity; let them labor with the same zeal to cultivate the heart and mind that they display upon external show, and they will more readily attract the attention of all who belong to refined and educated society.