Appearance and Civility

We speak. We speak always and in many ways. Words are only one of the many methods we use to communicate. Mary Eliza Haweis, who wrote The Art of Beauty in 1878, concluded that “Dress bears the same relation to the body as speech does to the brain; and therefore dress may be called the speech of the body.” We reveal much by the way we dress, always communicating our attitude toward those around us. We tell others by this language that we respect ourselves and we respect them – or not. Either way, the message comes through loud and clear. Any observer can read us at first glance.

The only problem is that as a culture, we have lost the connection between this non-verbal language and civility, forgotten that this is a means to add to or detract from the general welfare, a means of elevation or debasement. This language is a gift, an opportunity, to speak grace and favor to our families, our neighbors and our community, but often we squander it, and in the language of dress say, “It is only Me, Myself, and I; you are of no consequence.”  Our personal appearance speaks volumes, especially about self-respect and mutual-respect.

Even in our homes, we have forgotten this grace we have to offer. Are our children only worthy of tattered sweat pants and slippers, and our husbands or wives only deserving the sloppiest attire? At our places of employment, do we represent our companies well? When we attend a wedding or symphony or go to church do we take the time to say clearly by our appearance, “This is an honor for me and I have great respect for this occasion”?


The St. James has a motto, which we consider in all we do, from the way we set each place to the visual impression we want to make. ‘Duty makes us do things well, but Love bids us do them beautifully.’ As St. James Girls, we feel we are called to a higher standard, beyond duty, a standard with respect and honor at its heart. It has nothing to do with size, shape, or age. It has nothing to do with budget. It has to do with our CARE, and our HEART. We respect and honor our guests, our company, our co-workers, and ourselves when we dress and present ourselves from Love.

As a society, we may need a little reminder that we have a responsibility to one another. We are not totally independent, but live together, work together, drive on the same streets together. We are a city, a group, a people, each individual important, and so we offer each other civility in the way we speak, in the way we drive, in the way we dress. In so doing, together, we lift the individual, and we lift the whole. After all, civilization itself is a product of civility – individuals, working together in proximity, in the certain knowledge that all actions and communications affect the others.

We mustn’t get discouraged by what we see, but must become all the more determined and resolute to use any language we possess, of dress and otherwise, to send a message of consideration and respect to all we come in contact with.

We speak. We speak always and in many ways. Let us speak grace and honor.

Yours, for a more graceful and genteel way,

Mary Alice Higbie