Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word. Psalm 119:9

Dress Reform

Seventh-day Adventist Dress Principles: Outdated Relic or God’s Requirement?

Secret Strategy

“As the people of God approach the perils of the last days, Satan holds earnest consultation with his angels as to the most successful plan of overthrowing their faith. He sees that the popular churches are already lulled to sleep by his deceptive power…. Therefore he directs his angels to lay their snares especially for those who are looking for the second advent of Christ and endeavoring to keep all the commandments of God….”

He says, “‘We will thus lead them to conclude that the requirements of Christ are less strict than they once believed, and that by conformity to the world they would exert a greater influence with worldlings. Thus they will separate from Christ; then they will have no strength to resist our power, and erelong they will be ready to ridicule their former zeal and devotion.’” (TM 472-474)

Satan will do whatever he can to overcome Seventh-day Adventists. And a major part of the strategy decided upon in secret consultation with his angels is to convince us that God’s requirements are not as strict as we once believed. In other words, a relaxing of the standards. Have you ever felt that way? “Well, I used to think I should not do such-and-such, but now I think it’s probably all right.” Have you seen the church around you moving in that direction? Why is that? Could it be because Satan knows that when we relax God-given standards, we “will have no strength to resist [his] power,” and eventually we will even find ourselves laughing at how strict we used to be?

Are Dress Standards Obsolete?

To convince us to gradually slip away from beliefs we once held as true, Satan uses varied strategies. In this way, dress standards among Seventh-day Adventists have gradually found themselves on a slippery slope.

One such strategy is the idea that the subject of dress is a side issue, and it is not good to give it much attention. Yet God says, “The subject of dress demands serious reflection and much prayer.” (4T 641) So an honest study of what God says about dress will not detract from the doctrinal themes God has given us. Nor is it a waste of time.

Another strategy is our natural tendency to conform to what others around us do. This is a good thing, of itself. Yet when it leads us to conform to sinful, worldly practices, it is not good. The fact is that dress styles that harmonize with inspired teachings are not at all popular today. It is so much easier to blend in than to feel that you are making a “statement” by your appearance, that most of us find ourselves doing it.

And it makes shopping so much easier too. Yet:
“The fact that worldliness and pride bear almost universal sway is no excuse for one Christian to do as others do. God has said: ‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.’” (4T 647)

Another strategy is the often-unspoken opinion that whatever was written by God’s prophetic messenger to the Seventh-day Adventist people, is less than fully applicable to us today. Yet:

“I have been shown that the principles that were given us in the early days of the message are as important and should be regarded just as conscientiously today as they were then.” (9T 158)

Is it safe to conclude that God used Sister White to condemn something in her day, but that if she were to see how well-accepted and common it is in respectable society today, she would have a totally different view? It does not seem so.

Another very successful strategy is the line that we must not dress too very differently from society, or people will think we are strange and not listen to the truths we want to share with them. Yet:

“Many dress like the world, to have an influence. But here they make a sad and fatal mistake. If they would have a true and saving influence, let them live out their profession, show their faith by their righteous works, and make the distinction great between the Christian and the world.” (1T 132)

“Conformity to worldly customs converts the church to the world; it never converts the world to Christ.” (2MCP 558)

The fact is that it takes courage to dress differently, courage which few have. “Few have the moral courage to wear a dress in opposition to fashion….” (HR, May 1, 1872) It takes no effort, however, to float along in the direction of the popular current. This is why Satan’s varied strategies to relax our standards have been so well-received.

History Repeats Itself

“Human reasoning has ever sought to evade or set aside the simple, direct instructions of the Word of God. In every age a majority of the professed followers of Christ have disregarded those precepts which enjoin self-denial and humility, which require modesty and simplicity of conversation, deportment, and apparel. The result has ever been the same–departure from the teachings of the gospel leads to the adoption of the fashions, customs, and principles of the world. Vital godliness gives place to a dead formalism. The presence and power of God, withdrawn from those world-loving circles, are found with a class of humble worshipers, who are willing to obey the teachings of the Sacred Word. Through successive generations this course has been pursued. One after another different denominations have risen and yielding their simplicity, have lost, in a great measure, their early power.” (CG 430)

So Satan’s attack on dress standards is nothing new. It has been tried before and has worked, over and over again. It has been largely responsible for the loss of power in whole denominations. Could this happen to us?

Has It Happened to Us?

“As I have seen many Sabbathkeeping Adventists becoming worldly in thought, conversation, and dress, my heart has been saddened. The people who claim to believe that they have the last message of mercy to give to the world, are attracted by worldly fashions, and make great exertions to follow them as far as they think their profession of faith allows them to go. Worldly dress among our people is so noticeable that unbelievers frequently remark, ‘In their dress you cannot distinguish them from the world.’” (3SM 243) This was written in 1901. Where are we now, well over a century later?

“Not a few of our people are backsliding. They are imitating the fashions of the world. Their spirituality is dying. Step by step they are approaching world-loving. Selfishness and pride are taking possession of them, and the love of God finds little room in their hearts. Some who were once zealous reformers are now indifferent. Sisters who were once plain in dress are now conforming to fashion. God expects his commandment-keeping people to be distinct from worldlings, but in many instances the line of demarcation is hardly discernible.” (RH, November 17, 1904)

Many Seventh-day Adventists were backsliding in 1904. They had once been zealous reformers, but became indifferent. They relaxed their ideas. The line between God’s people and worldlings was blurred. But even more concerning was the result: their spirituality was dying. Will the result be any different today if we continue in their footsteps?

Is Dress Such a Serious Issue?

The topic of dress is usually not given much attention in our churches, so it is easy to ask, “Can it really be so important?” “Does the way I dress have any significance for my salvation?” “Is it something we should even be talking about?”

“I saw that the outside appearance is an index to the heart. When the exterior is hung with ribbons, collars, and needless things, it plainly shows that the love for all this is in the heart; unless such persons are cleansed from their corruption, they can never see God, for only the pure in heart will see Him….

“It is these things that separate God from His people, that shut the ark away from them. Israel have been asleep to the pride, and fashion, and conformity to the world, in the very midst of them. They advance every month in pride, covetousness, selfishness, and love of the world.” (1T 136)

Thus the choices I make regarding my outside appearance could separate me from God. They could even cost me my place in heaven. Perhaps this is not commonly taught among Seventh-day Adventists. But God, in His mercy, has revealed it to us, so that we need not be lost.

The same statement continues: “God will have a people separate and distinct from the world. And as soon as any have a desire to imitate the fashions of the world, that they do not immediately subdue, just so soon God ceases to acknowledge them as His children. They are the children of the world and of darkness. They lust for the leeks and onions of Egypt, that is, desire to be as much like the world as possible; by so doing, those that profess to have put on Christ virtually put Him off, and show that they are strangers to grace and strangers to the meek and lowly Jesus. If they had acquainted themselves with Him, they would walk worthy of Him.” (1T 137, emphasis added)

Friends, I did not write that statement; God inspired it through His prophet. If it cuts and stings, know that it comes from One who loves you, and gave His life for you, one who wants to do whatever it takes to keep you from being lost.

“Sabbath-keepers, remember that the outside appearance is an index to the heart, and while you are so anxious to imitate the fashions of the world; while your heart is in these things, you are like them, you have their spirit, and have lost the truth out of your heart. While you study your appearance to look as near like the world as possible, remember your Redeemer. Upon his head was a crown of thorns. The greatest concern some Sabbath-keepers have is their outward appearance. They are fostering pride, and will perish with their pride unless they entirely reform.” (2SG 286, 287)

God’s Definition of Modesty

What is modest clothing for Christian women and what is not? Unfortunately, there are hundreds of varying opinions on this subject. So is the question left up to each one’s personal judgment, or does God have a standard?

First, God has not specifically addressed, in inspired writings, every detail of which clothing styles are, and are not, modest. However, He has given us enough very specific counsel that sincere seekers for truth will be able to make wise decisions in those details which are not revealed.
“Virtue and modesty are rare. I appeal to you as followers of Jesus Christ, making a high and exalted profession, to cherish this precious, priceless gem, modesty.” (PH011 27) “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.” (1Timothy 2:9) Modesty and shamefacedness are the opposite of boldness, revealing, and flaunting. A modest person has a proper, healthy sense of shame about revealing what is not proper to reveal.
The purpose of a Christian woman’s clothing is not to reveal or accentuate the body, but rather to conceal it. This one simple rule will help us choose clothing that draws attention to God rather than to our physical form. For example, consider a low-cut blouse. What is its purpose? Would a blouse with a neckline that reaches the base of the neck work just as well? It would. So what is the reason for the low-cut neckline? It has no real purpose other than to reveal part of the body that does not really need to be seen.

Clothing may completely cover all the skin, yet still be immodest, if it reveals the form by clinging to the body. Spandex tops are widely worn today, but wouldn’t a loose-fitting cotton shirt work just as well? It would. Why, then, are spandex tops so popular? They reveal the form. There is no logical reason for making a top skin-tight, other than to reveal the body. Even if that is not my purpose in wearing one, that is still what I am accomplishing.

“And I am decided that these close, skin-tight sleeves cannot be wise or healthful, and whether it be fashionable or unfashionable, I advise that they not be made after the tight order.” (DG 176)

How Short is Too Short?

“If women would wear their dresses so as to clear the filth of the streets an inch or two, their dresses would be modest… Such a dress would be in accordance with our faith.” (1T 424)

“If all our sisters would adopt a simple, unadorned dress of modest length, the uniformity thus established would be far more pleasing to God…. It consists of a plain sack or loose-fitting basque, and skirt, the latter short enough to avoid the mud and filth of the streets.” (4T 640)
The guidelines are sufficiently specific. A knee-length skirt could not be described as avoiding the filth of the streets by an inch or two. Nor, for that matter, could a mid-calf skirt. An ankle-length skirt seems to be the best embodiment of this counsel.

“My views were calculated to correct the present fashion, the extreme long dress, trailing upon the ground, and also to correct the extreme short dress, reaching about to the knees, which is worn by a certain class. I was shown that we should shun both extremes.” (1T 464)
It is interesting that Sister White classifies a dress reaching about to the knee as an “extreme short dress” and says we should “shun” this extreme.

Closely related to dress length is the question of whether or not it is modest to reveal the legs. Of course, in today’s society, this would be thought of as a ridiculous question. But we should not discredit it so quickly, in light of what God has said. “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.” (HR, May 1, 1872)

It seems from this that exposing women’s limbs is not proper. The statement continues: “We have traveled extensively the past twenty-five years, and have been eye-witnesses to many indecent exposures of the limbs.” (Ibid.)

What does God, as He has revealed through Inspiration, define as “indecent exposures of the limbs”? This is of utmost importance as we try to define God’s standard of modesty.

“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.” (Ibid.)

If God says, through Inspiration, that something is immodesty in the fullest sense, are we prepared to say that it is not really immodest today, but was simply inappropriate in another time and culture?

And what was it that was immodesty in the fullest sense? A dress raised 18 inches, and “an almost unclad ankle.” I am an average-height woman, and a dress 18 inches from the floor would be mid-knee-length on me. This is not thought to be immodest today, but if God has said “it is so in the fullest sense,” then there is widespread disregard of His revealed will in the church today.

“We advocate that the limbs of women should not be exposed, but sensibly, neatly, and comfortably, clad.” (HR, May 1, 1872)

According to Inspiration, bare legs are not modest. Thus shorts and fashionable-length skirts are ruled out. I should choose long skirts and modest stockings that do not reveal, but rather conceal, my legs.
Note: Some may recall that Sister White wrote about dresses 9 inches from the floor. This “reform dress,” adopted by Adventists for a while, included loose pants underneath. Thus, it did not reveal 9 inches of bare or nylon-clad leg.

What God Said About Pants

“There is still another style of dress which will be adopted by a class of so-called dress reformers. They will imitate the opposite sex, as nearly as possible. They will wear the cap, pants, vest, coat, and boots, the last of which is the most sensible part of the costume….

“In this style of dress God’s order has been reversed, and his special directions disregarded. Deut. xxii, 5. ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ This style of dress, God would not have his people adopt. It is not modest apparel, and is not at all fitting for modest, humble females who profess to be Christ’s followers. God’s prohibitions are lightly regarded by all who would advocate the doing away of the distinction of dress between males and females….

“God designed there should be a plain distinction between male and female dress, and has considered the matter of sufficient importance to give explicit directions in regard to it; for the same dress worn by both sexes would cause confusion, and great increase of crime. St. Paul would utter a rebuke, were he alive, and should behold females professing Godliness with this style of dress.” (2SM 477, 478)

When some women started wearing pants in Ellen White’s day, what did God inspire her to write about it?

1. This style reverses God’s order.
2. It disregards His special directions in Deuteronomy 22:5.
3. God would not have His people adopt this style.
4. It is not modest.
5. It is not at all fitting for Christians.
6. It would lead to confusion, and a great increase of crime.
7. Paul would rebuke us, were he alive to see us in this style.

But alas, it seems that neither Paul, nor many that have his courage and conviction regarding God’s dress standards, are alive today. For pants are now the pervasive dress style among Adventist women, yet inspired counsel on this subject is so rarely brought forth as to be well-nigh unknown.

“There is an increasing tendency to have women in their dress and appearance as near like the other sex as possible, and to fashion their dress very much like that of men, but God pronounces it abomination. ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.’ 1 Timothy 2:9.

“Those who feel called out to join the movement in favor of woman’s rights and the so-called dress reform might as well sever all connection with the third angel’s message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other.” (1T 421)

Women dressing “as near like the other sex as possible,” God describes as an abomination. And from what God has said, there is no point in trying to create a harmony between the pants fashion and the Seventh-day Adventist message.

God’s Last Word on a Style of Dress

Many will recall reading about the “reform dress,” a specific style of dress which God presented to Seventh-day Adventists in the 1860s. This was a healthful, modest dress about 9 inches from the floor, with loose pants underneath. Sister White encouraged its use for years, but in 1881, she wrote that this style had been laid aside. It had not been well received by Seventh-day Adventists, and the Lord removed the burden of advocating the reform dress style. Yet He did not leave Seventh-day Adventists with no direction on what would be pleasing to Him in their dress. He now presented “another style.”

“If all our sisters would adopt a simple, unadorned dress of modest length, the uniformity thus established would be far more pleasing to God…. As our sisters would not generally accept the reform dress as it should be worn, another, less objectionable style is now presented. It is free from needless trimmings, free from the looped-up, tied back overskirts. It consists of a plain sack [jacket] or loose-fitting basque [bodice], and skirt, the latter short enough to avoid the mud and filth of the streets. The material should be free from large plaids and figures, and plain in color. The same attention should be given to the clothing of the limbs as with the short dress.” (4T 640)

“The dress of our people should be made most simple. The skirt and sack I have mentioned may be used. — not that just that pattern and nothing else should be established, but a simple style as was represented in that dress. Some have supposed that the very pattern given was the pattern that all should adopt. This is not so. But something as simple as this would be the best we could adopt under the circumstances. No one precise style has been given me as the exact rule to guide in their dress.” (Spalding Magan Collection, 91)

This is the last word we have been given through Inspiration regarding a style of dress that would be pleasing to God. It is not a uniform, not one particular cut of dress, but rather guidelines which can be met by a number of modest styles.

1. It includes a skirt of modest length.
2. It is plain in print and color.
3. The bodice is loose-fitting.
4. The limbs are modestly clothed.

There are many jumpers, skirts, and dresses that could fit this description. Pants, shorts, swimsuits, stretchy or low-cut tops, and tank tops, all of which by their very nature are revealing, are not mentioned in this description of how God wants His daughters to dress. Skirts that reveal the legs through shortness, tightness, or slits, would also be ruled out.

Although sleeve length is not specifically addressed in the Spirit of Prophecy, today’s fashion is cap sleeves. With the emphasis God places on modest covering of the legs, it is hardly consistent to believe that these revealing sleeves are pleasing to Him. An elbow-length or three-quarter-length sleeve can be cool and comfortable and much more modest.

Another fashion of the day, especially in church, is open-toed, high-heeled sandals. Contrast with this modest stockings and shoes that conceal rather than display. Which can you picture the Adventist pioneer women wearing? Which looks more sensual?

Stylish or Plain?

“When the mind is fixed upon pleasing God alone, all the needless embellishments of the person disappear.” (4T 645) This includes not only jewelry attached to the ears or worn around the neck, but also jewelry clipped into the hair, and showy watches. Glasses serve a needed purpose, but some styles of glasses are also a fashion accessory. The same goes for belts, handbags, shoes, hair accessories, scarves, etc. Am I wearing it to serve a useful purpose, or to decorate myself?

Beyond simply avoiding gaudy ornamentation, God is calling us to be plain. “Self-denial in dress is a part of our Christian duty. To dress plainly, abstaining from display of jewelry and ornaments of every kind, is in keeping with our faith.” (3T 366) “Our faith, if carried out, will lead us to be so plain in dress, and zealous of good works, that we shall be marked as peculiar.” (1T 275)

Even the colors and prints of our clothes are not below the Lord’s notice, and He has expressed His will regarding them. “The material should be free from large plaids and figures, and plain in color.” (4T 640)

“I felt rather sad and ashamed when you stood upon the platform before the large crowd under the tent, with that light, large-figured dress…. We who claim to be in the light, and who take prominent positions to instruct others in children’s meetings, need to be severely plain, yet tidy and tasteful, in dress; we should not give a semblance of excuse to any for patterning after the worldly, changing fashions of this corrupt age…. Ever have your dress of good, durable material, and modest colors; let it be made plainly, without adornment. You certainly need to improve in your style of dress.” (MR926 23)

Does God really care about large or small prints on fabrics? It seems that He does. Why? Because He wants to cure us of our pride, and make us ready for heaven. It is safe to trust that He knows best how to do this.
When Silence is Not Golden

Preaching on dress standards is now basically taboo, and as a result, most Seventh-day Adventist women are taking their lead from society around them. There is the unspoken opinion that promoting Spirit of Prophecy dress standards is offensive and judgmental, and distracts from the gospel message. Yet:

“We are nearing the close of this world’s history. A plain, direct testimony is now needed, as given in the Word of God, in regard to the plainness of dress. This should be our burden.” (SpM 90, 91)

The resounding silence on dress standards today is a cause for alarm. “My heart is pained to see those who profess to be followers of the meek and lowly Saviour, so eagerly seeking to conform to the world’s standard of dress. Notwithstanding their profession of godliness, they can hardly be distinguished from the unbeliever….

“We see steadily gaining ground in the church an evil which the word of God condemns. What is the duty of those in authority, in regard to this matter? Will the influence of the church be what it should be, while many of its members obey the dictates of fashion, rather than the clearly expressed will of God? How can we expect the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit, while we suffer these things to exist among us? Can we remain silent while the teachings of Christ are set aside by his professed followers?” (RH December 6, 1881)

Those in authority in the church have a responsibility to teach and uphold God’s dress standards. These are not man-made ideas, but divinely inspired revelation of God’s will. If we fail to do this, we cannot expect God’s blessing in the church. If, as a church, we neglect this aspect of reformation because it steps on toes, we will never experience revival.

“All matters of dress should be strictly guarded, following closely the Bible rule. Fashion has been the goddess who has ruled the outside world, and she often insinuates herself into the church. The church should make the word of God her standard….

“When a church has been raised up and left uninstructed on these points, the minister has neglected his duty and will have to give an account to God for the impressions he allowed to prevail.” (5T 499, 500)

As calls for revival and reformation are going forward in our church, let us take careful notice of the one thing that is doing more than any other power to separate our people from God.

“Fashion is deteriorating the intellect and eating out the spirituality of our people. Obedience to fashion is pervading our Seventh-day Adventist churches and is doing more than any other power to separate our people from God. I have been shown that our church rules are very deficient. All exhibitions of pride in dress, which is forbidden in the word of God, should be sufficient reason for church discipline. If there is a continuance, in face of warnings and appeals and entreaties, to still follow the perverse will, it may be regarded as proof that the heart is in no way assimilated to Christ. Self, and only self, is the object of adoration, and one such professed Christian will lead many away from God.

“There is a terrible sin upon us as a people, that we have permitted our church members to dress in a manner inconsistent with their faith. We must arise at once and close the door against the allurements of fashion. Unless we do this, our churches will become demoralized.” (4T 647, 648)

These fearful warnings should rouse all of us. They have not been heeded. Church members continue to dress in a manner inconsistent with our faith, and the fact that, as a church, we permit it is called a terrible sin. It is time for us to accept the style of dress described by God. Although He removed the burden of the reform dress, no inspired word has ever been given that the simple, modest style described in Testimonies, volume 4, p. 640 has been laid aside. It is still God’s plan for our dress.

Time to Make a Decision

It may be easy to cast aside all that God’s messenger has written with one small excuse. “Oh, I know, but no one does this today. Surely it must not apply to our time.” Or, “I can’t possibly see how such-and-such article of clothing could be immodest. That must have been just for her time, when it wasn’t socially acceptable.” Or, “Well, these are general guidelines, but I don’t think we need to follow them that specifically.” Or, “I think dress is just a side issue, and we shouldn’t worry about it.”
The following statement is strong, yet God gave this warning in love, to save us from the deception of following our own hearts in opposition to His revealed will. “If you feel just as safe in following your own impulses as in following the light given by God’s delegated servant, the peril is your own; you will be condemned because you rejected the light which heaven had sent you.” (5T 688)

Dear reader, I do not want this condemnation to be yours or mine; that is why I felt the need to bring to our attention “the light given by God’s delegated servant” on dress. This light is being neglected, and if we continue in this course, we are in peril.

“Peter gives valuable instruction concerning the dress of Christian women… All that we urge is compliance with the injunctions of God’s word. Are we Bible readers and followers of Bible teachings? Will we obey God, or conform to the customs of the world?… Can we expect to enjoy peace of mind and the approval of God while walking directly contrary to the teachings of His word?” (4T 644)

May we each choose the path of surrender, is my prayer.


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"Take HEED therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness." Luke 11:35

"Study your Bible, HEED the testimonies that God has sent to you and be wise. {SpM 332.5}

"God calls upon His people, who have the light before them in the Word and in the Testimonies, to read and consider, and to take HEED. {2SM 38.1}

"I implore you to HEED the light which God has given, and reform." {4T 503.1}

"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest HEED to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." Hebrews 2:1