Fashion and moral influence

It is said by some, that men will think and act for themselves; that none will disuse spirits or anything else, merely because his neighbors do; and that moral influence is not that powerful engine contended for. Let us examine this. Let me ask the man who would maintain this position most stiffly, what compensation he will accept to go to church some Sunday and sit during the sermon with his wife’s bonnet upon his head? Not a trifle, I’ll venture. And why not? There would be nothing irreligious in it: nothing immoral, nothing uncomfortable. Then why not? It is not because there would be something egregiously unfashionable in it? Then it is the influence of fashion; and what is the influence of fashion, but the influence that other people’s actions have?

—Abraham Lincoln: Address delivered before the Springfield Washington Temperance Society, 1842. Collected Works, vol. I, p. 277.

Comments

  1. how true

  2. Stephen J. says:

    Hm. I see Lincoln’s point but I would make one key distinguo (and I thank you for teaching me that word): It is not only the fashionable actions in themselves that are the influence Lincoln spotlights, but also — and I suggest more importantly — the penalty enforced for unfashionability. To be alone and look foolish in wearing a bonnet to church is one thing; to be made to feel alone and foolish by whispers, sly glances and stifled laughter, or worse, to be made to be alone by subsequent exclusion (however polite or delicate) from fellowship, is quite another. Many a man will willingly be the sole abstainer in a tavern, so long as his manhood or reputation is not deemed at stake for so abstaining.

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