Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 32 Character Shown in Dress

It is surprising how much we can tell about a person's character by his dress. I think it is very seldom that we cannot tell whether a person is ignorant or educated, simply by his dress; and there are some few, plain facts about dress that l am going to mention to you tonight. While it is hard to lay down any rules as to how we must dress, I think there are some well-defined principles of dress to which all well-educated persons will conform.

I think we will all agree that our dress should be clean. There is little excuse for persons wearing filthy clothes- I think we all will agree as to that. It is disgraceful for a man to go about with ragged clothes or with clothes fastened together with pins where buttons ought to be. It is disgraceful for a girl to go about with a soiled apron, or with her clothes pinned together. Our clothes should be kept clean and in good repair. Thus far, I think, we shall have no disagreement.

But there are some people who make the mistake of giving their whole mind to the subject of dress. From the very beginning of the week you will find that a great part of their thought and attention is given to planning what they are going to wear the next Sunday. Some people will go in rags all through the week, in order to have something showy to wear on Sunday. I think we should respect Sunday by putting on something different from what we wear during the week if we can-although of course these things are largely governed by our station in life-but even then it certainly is inappropriate to wear our most showy clothes on that day.

Dress in the way that your pocket will allow. There are some persons who not only employ all their thoughts in considering what they shall wear, but also spend all their money on their clothes.

There are some persons who live for the sake of dress. These persons are usually denominated "fops." I think the people in the Northern cities are the worst in this respect. If you go through Sixth Avenue, in New York, or Cambridge Street, in Boston, you will see many of these fops, who perhaps earn about twenty dollars a month, standing on the street corners with kid gloves on, cigars between their lips, and high hats. Now that kind of a person is a foolish fop, and one whom we do not care to have in this institution. There is no more foolish person than the one who spends all he makes, and sometimes more, on dress.

Then, too, I think there are persons who make mistakes in the matter of ornaments-what we call jewelry. You will find many a man whose, income is not twenty dollars a month wearing a great brass watch chain with so much brass in it that you can almost smell it. You will see men and women with three or four brass finger rings, or women with brass ear-rings. Do you know that one of the most common mistakes among the masses of our people in, the country is throwing away their money on cheap jewelry? Do, you know that they will come in to town to the stores, and spend their money on jewelry worth about ten cents apiece, jewelry that you actually can get for six dollars and a bushel seven dollars at wholesale? Our people spend thousands of dollars every year for this cheap jewelry. If there is a young man or a young woman here who likes jewelry, and is going to indulge in it, be sure to get that which is modest.

Another mistake that some of our people make is in wearing flashy or loud dressy clothing. Dress in which bright colors and red ribbons predominate, our dress should be modest; with few colors.

We often make a mistake in getting shoes about two sizes too small. I saw a girl this morning in perfect misery, simply because she had bought, and was trying to wear, a pair of shoes about two sizes too small. Such people simply punish their feet to make people think they have small feet, though it is just as honorable to have a large foot as a small one; there is no difference. Then we make another mistake in buying cheap, showy shoes simply because they have a gloss on them. Such shoes are made to attract attention, and not for comfort or durability. When you are spending your money for shoes, be sure that you get something good, something that will last you. Do not buy those worthless things, which, when they come in contact with water, will shrivel up because they are made of cheap material. A man cannot respect a girl who punishes her feet in-order to make them look small.

Then, another thing some of us think we can improve our color. Some get flour, and others get other kinds of mixtures which are called face powders. There is no use for this. Any man will lose respect for a girl who abuses herself in this way. Only get something into your head, and then you will find that these matters of dress will adjust themselves. While some of you do not dress so well as you might, yet, if you will give the contents of your heads the proper attention, you will find that the matter of dress will not trouble you. You can get dresses and clothes after you have secured your education, but now is the only time that you have in which to secure the education.