You have limited your observation of the sway of fashion if you have considered it only as it decides individual and national costumes. It makes the rules of behavior. It wields an influence in artistic spheres—often deciding what pictures shall hang in the house, what music shall be played, what ornaments shall stand upon the mantle. The poor man will not have on his wall the cheap wood-cut that he can afford, because he cannot have a great daub like that which hangs on the rich man’s wall, and costing three hundred dollars.
Fashion helps to make up religious belief. It often decides to what church we shall go, and what religious tenets we shall adopt. It goes into the pulpit, and decides the gown, and the surplice, and the style of rhetoric.
It goes into literature and arranges the binding, the type, the illustrations of the book, and oftentimes the sentiments expressed and the theories evolved.
Men the most independent in feeling are by it compelled to submit to social customs. And before I stop I want to show you that fashion has been one of the most potent of reformers, and one of the vilest of usurpers. Sometimes it has been an angel from heaven, and at others it has been the mother of harlots.
As the world grows better there will be as much fashion as now, but it will be a different fashion. In the future life white robes always have been and always will be in the fashion.
There is a great outcry against this submission to social custom, as though any consultation of the tastes and feelings of others were deplorable; but without it the world would have neither law, order, civilization, nor common decency.
There has been a canonization of bluntness. There are men and women who boast that they can tell you all they know and hear about you, especially if it be unpleasant. Some have mistaken rough behavior for frankness, when the two qualities do not belong to the same family. You have no right, with your eccentricities, to crash in upon the sensitiveness of others. There is no virtue in walking with hoofs over fine carpets. The most jagged rock is covered with blossoming moss. The storm that comes jarring down in thunder strews rainbow colors upon the sky, and silvery drops on orchard and meadow.
There are men who pride themselves on their capacity to “stick” others. They say “I have brought him down: Didn’t I make him squirm!”
Others pride themselves on their outlandish apparel. They boast of being out of the fashion. They wear a queer hat. They ride in an odd carriage. By dint of perpetual application they would persuade the world that they are perfectly indifferent to public opinion. They are more proud of being “out of fashion” than others are of being in. They are utterly and universally disagreeable. Their rough corners have never been worn off. They prefer a hedge-hog to a lamb.