Dress and Address,” by Nathan Sargent, points up that peer pressure concerning clothing is not a new concern; it also reiterates The Youth’s Companion’s emphasis on the importance of education.


http://www.merrycoz.org/yc/DRESS.xhtml
[Moral Tales] “Dress and Address, ‘A true story’ ”, by Nathan Sargent (from The Youth’s Companion, December 30, 1847; p. 137)

“Mother,” said Emily Churchill, as she came home from school, one day in the month of December, 1834, “I wish you would take me from school, or send me to another?”

“Why, my dear child? I am surprised to hear you say so. I thought you were fond of your teacher, Mrs. Amanull?”

“And so I am; I love her dearly, she is so kind and amiable.”

“Why, then, do you wish to leave the school?”

“Because I am so unhappy there.”

“Why are you unhappy? You get your lessons well, stand at the head of your class, have the approbation of your teacher, and I know you are learning fast. I should think you would be very happy, and very unwilling to leave the school. Tell me the reason why you are unhappy!”

“I do not like to tell you, mother; I know I ought not to be so, and I will try not to be any more, and say nothing about it.”

“But I wish you to tell me, my dear; I do not think you unreasonable; there must be some cause for your complaint. Tell me what it is.”

“You will think me very foolish, I am afraid, mother, but indeed I cannot help feeling so.”

“Perhaps I may think you foolish, but I must insist on knowing the cause of your feelings.”

“You know Arabella Goldfinch, Elizabeth Manners, Eliza Ann Pardow, and several other girls whose parents are very wealthy and live in great style, are in the same class with me.”

“Yes, I have heard you speak of it before; but what has that to do with the matter?”

“Their parents are very rich and dress them very elegantly.”

“Yes, but I hope you do not make yourself unhappy because you cannot vie with them in fine clothes. You are well dressed—quite as well as we can afford to dress you, and your clothes, my daughter, are much more expensive than those I wore when I went to school, although my parents were in better circumstances than we are. I hope you are [n]ot so silly as to wish to wear clothes which we cannot afford, because other girls dress better than yourself.”

“No, no, mother, you misunderstand me; I do not wish so; I know you do all you can for me, and more than I ought to expect; but these girls endeavor to make fun of my dress, and ridicule me because I wear the same frocks so often, and because I, also, wear leather shoes. They jeer at me, and ask me how many dresses I have, what they cost, and wonder if the shoes I wear are not very expensive? So, too, with my bonnet, shawl, and every thing I wear. I know I ought not to mind them, but I cannot help feeling very uncomfortable when they thus try to ridicule me, and especially when so many of my school-mates join in the laugh they raise against me. I cannot help crying, and wish I could get away from them.”

“I do not at all wonder at your feelings, my dear child; few can stand the ridicule of others unmoved, where, as in the present case, it is without cause; and to a sensitive mind, it is like the application of vinegar to a fresh wound. Your clothes, though not so rich and costly as those worn by the girls who thus attempt to ridicule you, are as good as our circumstances will permit us to give you, and they are good enough for any one to wear at school, no matter how rich her parents may be. To dress as those girls do, is, I think, great folly, and much more deserving of reproach than to dress as you do. I regret that you are thus circumstanced, and liable to have your feelings hurt daily, but cannot help it. The school is a good one, and you are learning fast, and we cannot think of taking you away. You must fortify yourself against the ridicule of the girls you speak of, by recollecting that the dress is really of very little consequence; that it is the mind and the disposition, which, after all, constitute the real worth of a woman. Suppose you were to dress up a monkey in silks and laces and jewelry, and send it to school every day in a carriage, with a footman to let down the steps and open the door; would it be anything but a monkey still? After all, the girls who ridicule your dress are more to be pitied than yourself, and are much less deserving of blame than their mothers. They are taught, if not by precept, at least by example, at home, that one’s importance depends entirely upon wealth, dress, and furniture; and that the only merit one can have is money. I presume they care very little for their books, and scarcely ever know their lessons, when they come to recite.”

“That is the case, mother; they say they will not study; and that they have not time to do so at home, they have to go out so much, and have so much company.”

“Poor girls, I pity them. Suppose, my dear Emily, that their parents should by some chance lose their property and become poor; (and the wealthiest are liable to lose all in this country, ‘as riches take unto themselves wings, and fly away,’ often when least expected;) what would they do? How they would then regret that they had neglected the opportunities they are now throwing away, of obtaining an education which might enable them to secure a handsome support, and save themselves the mortification of being a burden to their parents or friends. Depend upon it, Emily, those who thus throw away the advantages which good fortune gives them, will one day look back upon their folly with regret and sorrow. A full purse may make amends with some for an empty mind; but what compensation, or consolation, has such a mind when the contents of the purse are gone? None whatever. We are endeavoring to give you a good education, because we have little else to give you, and because it is an investment that is more secure than real estate, and is always sure to yield a good interest. Money may be stolen, property burned up, and bank stock become valueless; but a good education is permanent—it can be neither stolen by robbers, destroyed by fire, nor wasted by the fraud of others. If you should be poor, it will be a bank upon which you can always draw for a handsome support, and should you be so fortunate as to have wealth, it will be to you a never failing fountain of rational enjoyment, and enable you to look upon the fripperies of fashion with that contempt which they deserve. Continue then, my child, as you have heretofore done, to devote yourself to your studies, and pay as little regard to the ill-natured and unkind remarks of your school-mates as you can. Remember that we have all to bear our crosses, and we should do so without murmuring or repining at our lot. It may be the best thing for you that you have thus to suffer; it may teach you humility, and cause you to respect the feelings of others, should you ever enjoy the sunshine of prosperity. I do not expect you to disregard entirely the ridicule of your school-mates, but I hope you will strive not to let it affect you—to raise yourself above it; and the best way to do so is to think of other and more important things.”

“I will try to do so, mother; I know it is foolish to be affected by it, and I will not be any more.”

Since this conversation took place, nearly seven years have rolled around; and what changes in the condition of individuals and families have they not made,—what lessons of morality have they not taught? Thousands who then rolled in wealth, real or fancied—who lived in a style of splendor better befitting princes than plain republican citizens—who gave expensive parties, sported carriages and blooded bays, and dashed away from some weeks every season at Saratoga, the Falls, or Virgin[i]a Springs; or, perhaps, scattered their money, as though it was dross, over the continent of Europe, are now gone like the leafy honors of the forest before the driving blast of winter. The places that knew them, in the fashionable circles of our cities, shall know them no more forever. And when some old fashionable acquaintance condescends to ask where they are, “Echo answers, where?”

Emily, who was then in her thirteenth year, is now a happy wife and mother. With wealth enough to command all the rational enjoyments of society; with a cultivated mind and an amiable disposition; and above all, having been taught in the school of adversity, lessons of humility, she is the pride of her husband, the mild but admired star of her circle of acquaintance, [a]nd the object of love to the poor. With some of her school-mates, she has exchanged positions; but she remembers not their jibes at her dress. She only remembers that they have been unfortunate, and are therefore entitled to her sympathy; and though her house and furniture are better than they can now afford, she does not consider that circumstance any reason why she should drop their acquaintance and pass them in the street as though they were strangers. It may be presumed that sometimes they think of their school days; but to which the recollection gives the greatest pleasure, we leave our young readers to decide, hoping they will follow the example of the one whose conduct they most approve.

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