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How to Dress Well
No one disputes the fact that, when our first parents were placed in the garden of Eden, they wore no clothes. It was not until after they had acquired the knowledge of good and evil that they turned their attention to the subject of dress, which is now the engrossing thought and care of the majority.
There are still to be found amongst the uncivilized races those who are contented with as small an amount of clothing as satisfied the first inhabitants of Eden. Yet many of these show that they study personal appearance quite as much as the most fashionable of Parisian belles; for they bestow much labor, time, and thought, and endure much actual suffering in the elaborate patterns with which they tattoo, and, as they vainly suppose, embellish their faces and persons. The ancient Britons, who painted themselves in various devices, also bore witness to the natural craving after personal adornment, which seems to be inherent in the whole human race.
The particular modes in which this craving exhibits itself seem to depend upon climate and civilization. Climate prescribes what is absolutely necessary; civilization, what is decent and becoming. In some countries it is necessary to protect the body, and especially the head, from the power of the sun; in others, to guard it against extreme cold; while many of the savage tribes, inured to the scorching rays of the sun, almost entirely dispense with clothing, and yet have certain conceits and vanities which show that personal appearance is not disregarded. The most hostile intentions have been averted, and imminent peril escaped, by the timely present of a few rows of bright-colored beads, or a small piece of looking-glass; and the most trumpery European gewgaws have elicited more admiration, afforded greater pleasure, and effected more goodwill, than the most costly treasures could purchase among civilized nations. A love of finery seems to belong to human nature. There is an attraction in bright and showy colors which the uncivilized cannot resist, and which is equally powerful among those who are civilized, though education and other causes may qualify it.
When we hear persons loudly declaiming against dress as a needless waste of time and money--when we hear them sighing for the return of the good old times when it was not so much considered, we are tempted to inquire at what period in the history of the world those times occurred; for we cannot learn that it was, at any time, considered to be an unimportant item of expenditure or thought. We do not by any means affirm that it may not occupy too much care; that there may not be instances in which it is suffered to engross the mind to the detriment of other things more worthy of consideration; that it may not lead to frivolity and extravagance. All this may be, and no doubt often is, true. It is quite possible, and more than probable. But we also maintain that it is a great mistake to come down upon it with a sweeping denunciation, and, in Quaker fashion, avow it to be all vanity, and assert that it must be trodden out of thought and eye. Even the Quakers themselves, who affect such supercilious contempt for dress, are very particular about the cut of their headgear, about the shade of their grays and their drabs and their browns, and, in their scrupulous neatness, show that they think as much of a grease-spot or a stain as many a damsel does of the ribbon in her cap or the set of her collar and cuffs. So that, after all, whatever professions people may make, human nature and human wants are always the same.
It by no means follows that a person who is well dressed thinks a great deal about it, or devotes much time to it. To some persons it comes quite naturally. They look well in whatever they wear; and the probability is that it occupies less of their time and thoughts than many who arrive, with infinite more labor and pains, at a less pleasing result.
In submitting this manual to the public, we do not presume to do more than offer such suggestions as may promote a better style of dress, consistent with a due regard to economy. No doubt many of our suggestions will have occurred to some of our readers, and it may seem almost needless to have made them, but we know by experience in other things that maxims are often forgotten and laid aside till something occurs to revive them.
It is easy enough for the rich to be in harmony with the prevailing fashion. They have but to open their purse-strings, and pay for any of those freaks of fancy which are called fashion. To combine a good style with economy requires judgment and contrivance, or, what is generally called, management.
There are certain points which may be considered as fundamental, without which the most rigid attention to matters of dress will go for nothing. For instance, cleanliness, which according to the old proverb, is rated so high as to be placed next to godliness, is one of these, and of primary importance. The most costly attire, if unaccompanied by it, is not only valueless, but may become a positive disfigurement, while the simplest dress, combined with cleanliness, may be absolutely refreshing. There is no reason whatever why the most menial occupation should be admitted as any excuse for want of personal cleanliness. It is always easy to distinguish between accidental dirt which cannot always be avoided, and that which is habitual.
When it is considered that the object of nine-tenths of womankind is that they may marry and settle in life, as their fathers and mothers have done before them, it is very natural that they should endeavor to make themselves as captivating as they can; only let them all bear this in mind,--let their rank and station be what it may,--that no man is caught by the mere display of fine clothes. A pretty face, or good figure, may captivate; but fine clothes, never. Though it is said that fine feathers make fine birds, yet no mail will be caught by a trimming or a flounce.
To what end then should attention be given to dress? Why should it be made of so much consequence as to write a manual upon it? Because it is one of beauty's accessories; because as dress of some kind is absolutely necessary and indispensable, it is better that people of all classes should dress well rather than ill, and that, when it is done, it should be done sensibly and reasonably; without carelessness on the one hand, and without extravagance on the other. When we may, why should we not choose the best and most becoming? Why are we to mortify ourselves and annoy our friends by choosing something because it is especially hideous? No law, human or divine, enjoins us to disfigure ourselves.
II.--TASTE IN DRESS.
In dress, as in most other things, there are two kinds of taste; good taste and bad taste. We use the word "taste" in a sense quite distinct from "style." It is a disputed point whether really good taste can ever be acquired, or whether it is only inherent. We are disposed to think that, in its most perfect form, it is inborn; but that education, association, familiarity with it may, and often does, arrive at the same result. For instance, a person who has always lived on close and intimate terms with those who are conspicuous for their good taste, becomes so familiarized with certain expressions of thoughts and ideas, habits of mind, and standard of life, that he unconsciously adopts them, views things from the same point, and walks in the same groove, quite irrespective of the natural tendencies of his own mind. Persons who have no natural gift or talent for painting, may acquire a knowledge of the art so as to pronounce with tolerable correctness of judgment upon the works of the old masters, from merely associating with those who are conversant with the subject, living amongst the pictures themselves, or from hearing discussions upon their respective merits. In fact, man is an imitative animal, and can adapt himself very readily to the circumstances by which he is surrounded, as well as acquire from others the results of their deeper research and greater experience. Living in an atmosphere where good taste prevails, it is not wonderful that he should acquire that power of discrimination by which the selection of what is becoming and harmonious is made easy.
There is no doubt that dress is a very fair index of the mind of the wearer. Who but a Widow Barnaby would wear a bright emerald green satin dress in the morning, and a bonnet profusely ornamented with large and brilliant scarlet flowers? Yet we have ourselves seen a lady, of ample dimensions and advanced years, similarly attired, and could think of nothing but one of those large gaudy macaws which are to be met with in every zoological garden. Who that had any regard for his own liberty would marry such a strong-minded, pretentious dame? Who could endure for life the vulgarity of mind that suggested such a costume for a fete in the country on a hot summer's day? There are some persons who think to overpower their neighbors by the splendor of their attire.
It is much easier to point out what offends against good taste than to say in so many words in what it consists.
Harmony of color is essential to being well dressed. There are colors which "swear" so awfully, that no one with any pretension to good taste would wear them; yet we not infrequently find instances of them. A yellow gown has been worn with a bright green bonnet; red and green, like our friend a-la-macaw; salmon color and blue; yellow and red; green and blue. Two ill-assorted shades of the same color, such as a dark and light blue; or a red lilac and a blue lilac; or a rose pink and a blue pink; or drab and yellow. Instances might be multiplied without end of incongruous inharmonious blending of colors, the mere sight of which is enough to give any one a bilious fever. There are colors which, in themselves, may be inoffensive, but of which only particular shades assort well together. Blue and pink was a very favorite combination at one time; but in order to be both pleasing and effective, it must be one particular shade of each, and these softened and blended by the addition of white. Again, shades of scarlet and blue harmonize well together. Black has a wonderful power in softening down any intrusive brilliancy. It tones down scarlet and pink, blue and yellow, and gives them an indescribable charm, suggesting all kinds of pleasant things--the Cachuca and castanets, and the mantilla worn with such inimitable grace and coquetry by the Spanish ladies. Black and white is also a pleasing combination. White has generally the opposite effect of black. It adds to the brilliancy of the colors, and smartens rather than subdues. Many of those who aim at being well dressed, rarely give sufficient attention to this harmony of color. One little thing will upset the whole. The choice of jewels or the head dress may destroy all the effect which has been admirably conceived by an experienced dressmaker. It is on this account that some milliners prefer to supply all that is requisite for a particular costume. The man-milliner at Paris is said to be very dictatorial on this subject, and to decide very peremptorily as to what shall or shall not be worn. In morning costumes, a pair of gloves badly chosen will mar the effect of the whole. Imagine a lady dressed in mauve silk, with a mauve bonnet, and _emerald green kid gloves_! or vice versa, in green silk, with a bonnet to match, and _mauve-colored gloves_! Dark green, dark mauve, or plum colored, dark salmon, or dark yellow gloves, are enough to spoil the most faultless costume; because they interrupt the harmony of color; like the one string of a musical instrument, which, being out of tune, creates a discord throughout all the rest.
Variety in color is another great defect in dress, quite apart from the question of their harmony. A multiplicity of colors, though not in themselves inharmonious, is never pleasing. It fatigues the eye, which cannot find any repose where it is disturbed by so many colors. A bonnet of one color, a gown of another, with trimmings of a third, a mantle of a fourth, and a parasol of a fifth color, can never form a costume that will please the eye. It is laid to the charge of English people, that they are especially fond of this kind of dress, whereas a French woman will dress much more quietly, though, by no means, less expensively; but in her choice of colors she will use very few, and those well assorted. For instance, a gray gown and a white bonnet, relieved by a black lace shawl or velvet mantle, indicate a refinement which may be looked in vain where the colors of the rainbow prevail. Among well-dressed persons it will be found that quiet colors are always preferred. Whatever is gaudy is offensive, and the use of many colors constitutes gaudiness. Birds of gay plumage are sometimes brought forward to sanction the use of many bright colors. They are indeed worthy of all admiration; so also are flowers, in which we find the most beautiful assortment of colors; but nature has shaded and blended them together with such exquisite skill and delicacy, that they are placed far beyond the reach of all human art; and we think they are, to use the mildest terms, both bold and unwise who attempt to reproduce in their own persons, with the aid of silks or satins, the marvelous effect of colors with which nature abounds. And yet it may be observed in nature, how gay colors are neutralized by their accessories; how the greens vary in tone and tint according to the blossoms which they surround. The infinite shades and depths of color with which nature is filled render it impossible for anyone to attempt to imitate it beyond a certain point of general harmony. This is now more generally understood than it used to be; but still we often stumble across some glaring instance in which a gaudy eye and taste have been allowed to run riot, and the result has been the reproduction of something not very unlike a bed of tulips.
It is in a host of little things such as these that good taste lies, and shows itself. We remember an instance of a lady, who was conspicuous among her fellows for her exquisitely good taste in dress, being severely commented upon by two showily-dressed women, who were the wives of wealthy merchants in one of our great seaport-towns. This lady appeared in church quietly dressed in black, with a handsome Indian shawl, of which the colors were subdued and wonderfully blended. The two representatives of the "nouveaux riches" looked at the lady and then at each other; they turned up their noses, and shrugged their shoulders, and gave vent to their feelings, as they came away from church, in loud exclamations of disdain: "Well! did you ever? No! I never did; and she a lady too! For their part they would be ashamed to wear such a shabby old shawl." The shawl was worth about its weight in gold; but because it was not showy, it found no favor in their eyes.
As it is so intricate a matter, and one of which a very slight thing can turn the scales, it is not easy to lay down rules by which good taste may be acquired. But there are instances of bad taste which can be avoided, and among them there is one which is self-evident, and does not relate either to harmony or to variety of colors. We allude to the good taste of dressing according to our means and station.
There is an impression in the minds of some persons, that fine feathers make fine birds, and that the world in general thinks more or less of them according to the dress they wear. Therefore, in order that they may impose upon their neighbors by their outward appearance, and, as children say, make-believe that they are richer than they really are, they dress beyond their means, and, at the cost of much privation of even the necessaries of life, make a display which they are not warranted in making. We have known those who have pinched themselves till they have brought on actual illness, or have laid the foundation of a fatal disease, in order that they might dress themselves in a style beyond their position in life. In France this is often the case. A lady who, in her ordinary attire, is as slovenly and as shabbily dressed as almost the very beggar in the street, will appear at some evening party most exquisitely dressed, and will carry on her back the savings acquired by months and years of penurious self-denial.
We respect those who struggle hard to maintain their hereditary position, and reverence within certain limits the spirit of endurance which bears in privacy the changes of fortune in order to keep up a becoming appearance in the eyes of the world. But we have no sympathy for those who, having no such excuse, having no high lineage, and to whom fortune has not been unkind, stint and screw that they may impose upon their neighbors with the notion that they are better off than they really are,--better off in money, and better off in position. Imposture of this kind we confess we have no patience for. We are very intolerant of it. It is a vulgarity which, wherever it may be found, is most offensive. We go even further still, and are disposed to blame all who, whatever their circumstances or condition may have been or may be, dress beyond their means. It is possible that some relics of past grandeur may yet remain to be worn on state occasions. With that no one can quarrel; but it is a mistake to make great and unwarrantable sacrifices in order to replenish the exhausted wardrobe on its former scale of magnificence. It is better far to accept fate, to comply with the inevitable, and not waste time and strength in fighting against the iron gates of destiny. No one, whose esteem is worth having, will respect us less because we dress according to our means, even if those means should have dwindled into insignificance. But if we toil unduly to make ourselves appear to be something that we are not, we shall earn contempt and reap disappointment. It is far more noble-minded to bid farewell to all our greatness, than to catch greedily at any of the outlying tinsel that may remain here and there. This indicates good taste more than anything. To be what we are, really and simply, and without pretension, is one of the greatest proofs of good feeling which, in matters of dress, resolves itself into good taste.
There is nothing more hateful than pretension. The fable of the "Frog and the Bull" illustrates the absurdity of it. Yet it is of every-day occurrence, and we continually meet with instances of it. Persons in humble class of life will often ape their betters, dressing after them, and absolutely going without necessary food in order to get some piece of finery. Fine gowns of inconvenient length, expanded over large crinolines--silk mantles richly trimmed,--often conceal the coarsest, scantiest, and most ragged underclothing. We have seen the most diminutive bonnets, not bigger than saucers, ornamented with beads and flowers and lace, and backed up by ready-made "chignons," on the heads of girls who are only one degree removed from the poor-house. Servant-girls who can scarcely read, much less write,--who do not know how to spell their names,--who have low wages,--and, as little children, had scarcely shoes to their feet,--who perhaps never saw fresh meat in their homes, except at Christmas, when it was given them by some rich neighbor,--spend all their earnings on their dress, appear on Sundays in hats and feathers, or bonnets and flowers, and veils and parasols, and long trailing skirts, which they do not care to hold up out of the dirt, but with which they sweep the pavement. Can it be said that this is good taste? Assuredly not. It could not well be worse.
The question of station and of means does not seem to rule the world in general. Everything is considered to be suited to every body; and the maid-of-all-work does not hesitate to copy, to the utmost extent of her power, the dress of the greatest lady in the land. She does not see why she should not dress as she likes, and is not restrained in her wish by good taste. We do not wish to argue in favor of any monopoly, but we confess that we should like to see people of all classes regulated by good taste in matters of dress.
On the Continent we find the evils we complain of partially remedied by national costumes; but these are fast diminishing, and are only to be found in all their perfection in those parts into which the railways have not yet penetrated. Yet, who does not look with pleasure upon the clean white cap of the French servant, or bonne, who goes to market and to church without a bonnet, and with only her thick snow-white cap? Who does not delight in the simplicity of dress which the French, Norman, and Breton peasants still preserve? Contrast it with the dress of our servant-girls, with their crinoline and absurd little bonnets, and say which is the best taste.
After all that can be said there is no doubt that one of the objects of dress should be to enable people to do what they have to do in the best, the most convenient, and the most respectable manner. At all events it should not interfere with their occupation. Did our readers ever see a London housemaid cleaning the doorsteps of a London house? It is a most unedifying sight. As the poor girl kneels and stoops forward to whiten and clean the steps her crinoline goes up as her head goes down, and her person is exposed to the gaze of policemen and errand-boys, who are not slow to chaff her upon the size and shape of her legs. Can this be called dressing in good taste? Would it not be wiser to discard the crinoline altogether till the day's work is done, and the servants make themselves tidy for their tea and their evening recreation. In some families this is insisted on. But, on the other hand, it is complained against as an infringement upon the liberty of the subject, which is an unreasonable complaint, as the subject may go elsewhere if she dislikes to have her liberty so interfered with.
Good taste in dress is a question which is, by no means, above the consideration of old and elderly women. There are some who never can imagine themselves old. Whether it is owing to the eternal youth of their mind and spirits, or to their vanity, we do not pretend to say; but one thing is certain that again and again have we been both amused and disgusted by the way in which old women dress themselves. A lady with whom we were acquainted used to dress in blue or white gauze or tarlatan, or any light material she could lay her hands on, when she was past _eighty_, and she vainly imagined that, with an affectation of youth in her gait, and with the aid of the rouge-pot, she could conceal her age. She would trip into the room like a young girl, with her light gossamer dress floating around her as if she were some sylph in a ballet. She was a wonderful woman for her age, and, no doubt, had been so accustomed to the remarks that were continually made upon her agility and appearance, that she had at last grown to think herself almost as young as she was _sixty years_ ago. It was but the other day that we saw an old woman with gray hair wearing a little hat placed coquettishly upon her head, with a large chignon of gray hair filling up the back! Sometimes we have seen old women spurning the sober tints which accord with their years, and coming out dressed like Queens of the May in garlands and flowers; and wearing bonnets that would be trying even to a belle of eighteen. But when people resolutely refuse to accept the fact that they are no longer young, it is not surprising that they should run into some extremes, and offend against good taste by dressing in a style utterly unsuited to their years. And yet there is no more pleasing sight than a good-looking old woman, who is neither afraid or ashamed to recognize the fact of her age, and wears the quiet and sober colors which belong to her years, modifying the fashion of the day to suit herself, that she may neither ape the young nor affect to revive in her own person the fashions of by-gone days. Affectation of all kinds is detestable.
So also there are rules for the young, which, if attended to, will prevent their offending against good taste. The young are, of all people, without excuse. The freshness of youth has a beauty of its own which needs but little outward adornment. The ravages of time have not to be repaired. Youth has charms of its own, and the more simply it is attired the better. Everything is in favor of the young. When they adopt elaborate or rich toilets, when they make flower-gardens of their heads, or wear strong and glaring colors, the chances are that they disfigure themselves. A young girl should never make herself conspicuous by her dress. Let it be as good as she pleases, as costly as she can afford, still let it be simple and unobtrusive. Let the general effect be pleasing and grateful to the eye; but at the same time let it be impossible to say in what it consists, or to remember her on account of any peculiarity in it. If she is beautiful, let her dress aid her beauty by not drawing away the attention from it. If she is plain, let her not attract all eyes to her plainness. Let not people say of her, "Did you see that ugly girl with that scarlet feather in her hat?" or, "with that bonnet covered with pearl beads, contrasting with her dark and sallow complexion?" or, "with that bright green gown, which made her look so bilious?"
It is in small things, as well as in great, that good taste shows itself. Well-fitting gloves and boots, things of small moment in themselves, tell of a neat and refined taste. Quiet colors, well assorted; an absence of glare and display, nothing in extremes, betoken a correct eye and good taste.
It is, then, in the harmony of color; in the use of a few colors at one and the same time; in dressing according to their means, according to their station, as well as according to their age, that people may be said to show their good taste in dress. There are, doubtless, other points of detail which will suggest themselves to the minds of our readers; but we are confident that, if attention is given to the points which it has been our wish to place prominently before them, there will be fewer of those startling peculiarities and eccentricities which offend against good taste.
III.--FASHION IN DRESS
It is very difficult to say what constitutes Fashion. We allow our French neighbors to prescribe what we shall wear, and at certain seasons of the year, English milliners of any pretension flock to Paris to learn their lesson, and on their return to London, announce to the public and to their customers that they are prepared to exhibit the greatest novelties in style, form, and color, which they have been able to procure. The variety that is presented, as having been just imported from Paris, convinces us that there exists everywhere, even in the great French capital itself, the greatest possible diversity of taste; and, if we may judge from the extraordinary specimens which are introduced to our notice, we should infer that the Parisian taste is by no means faultless.
We do not mean to insinuate that a really well-dressed Frenchwoman is not better dressed than most English women, or that the French have not a peculiar knack of putting on their clothes to the best advantage; for there is no doubt upon the matter. But, if we maybe allowed to judge from the examples brought over to us in the shape of bonnets and head-dresses, and other articles of a lady's toilette, we should say that there must be a considerable inclination among our foreign neighbors to what is both gaudy and vulgar.
When anyone complains to a milliner of the style of any of the articles she has on sale, she replies that she is obliged to provide for all kinds of taste; that it would not answer her purpose to limit her supply to those who have a faultless eye; that, in order to make her business succeed, she must be prepared to accommodate all persons, and cater for them all alike, studying to please each individual in whatever way she may be disposed to be pleased, and never presuming to do more than merely suggest some slight improvement or modification. Ladies are apt to take offence at their taste being too severely criticized, and dressmakers do not always find it the easiest possible task to steer clear between securing their own reputation as "artistes" of fashion and good taste, and avoiding giving offence to their patronesses. It is the public who are to blame. When some one remonstrated with Braham for his florid and vulgar style of singing, he replied, it was the people and not he who was at fault. It was alike his duty and interest to please the public, and not to instruct it. He sang to be listened to and encored, not to be hissed and snubbed. It does not answer for any tradesman not to be able to supply what his customers demand.
It is the public who are to blame. If they insist upon being supplied with certain articles of consumption or of dress, the shopkeepers have no alternative but to supply them. If ladies prefer what is ugly and misbecoming, the dressmakers have to make it. It is the old story over again of the demand creating the supply.
There will always be persons who do not know how to dress well; who have ideas of their own to which they are determined to give expression. When they think they are doing their best, and are bent upon astonishing the world, they somehow appear to the worst advantage. They endeavor to rival their neighbors in strength and variety of colors; and, if they see a beautiful woman becomingly dressed, they at once copy that woman, quite regardless of their personal appearance, which may be the least fitted to the style which has taken their fancy. It reminds us of the story of a fashionable shoemaker, who, having made a pair of shoes for a lady who was remarkable for the beautiful shape of her foot, was applied to by another lady to make her a pair exactly similar to Lady So and So's. The shoemaker looked with dismay at his new customer's foot, which bore no resemblance whatever to that of her friend. At last he looked up at the lady, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and said: "Madam, it is impossible; you must bring me a foot like her ladyship's before I can make a shoe like hers." The rebuke was well deserved: but his honesty lost him a good customer.
The assortment and choice of colors, though chiefly a matter of taste, is yet under the direction of fashion. At one time one color predominates, at another time another; while two colors may be used together at one time, which at another are almost interdicted.
There is nothing more capricious, more inexplicable, more wayward, than fashion. It is true that, taken as a whole, there is a certain conformity in the rules it prescribes. For instance, as the crinoline diminishes in size and the area which petticoats cover in their circumference is lessened, so also bonnets have grown smaller, and the enormous plait of hair which has taken the place of the chignon, keeps in countenance the extraordinary length of ladies' trains.
If any one cares to be amused she might investigate the fashions of by-gone days. The transitions are wonderful, and do not appear to be guided by any rule. Those of the gentlemen are simply absurd. Since the days of Vandyck, there has been nothing attractive in their dress; nothing picturesque. It has been as ugly as possible, and continues to be so. The nearest approximation to anything less hideous than the present fashion is in the "knicker-bockers," which are generally worn by sporting men and pedestrians--men who shoot, or who are addicted to walking tours. There was an attempt on the part of one or two individuals to introduce them, by means of velvet and silk hose, for evening wear; but the example was not followed, and the swallow-tailed coat still prevails.
In order to dress strictly according to fashion, and to comply with the ever-changing caprice, it is necessary to have a large and well-filled purse, and a wardrobe that is not too extensive; because, as the fashion varies with almost every season, a large number of dresses involves either a great and needless waste of money, or the necessity of always being a little behind the fashion of the day. Besides which, as this capricious goddess has prescribed what shall be worn for driving, for walking, for morning, noon, and night; and demi-toilettes and full-dress toilettes have each their own peculiarities, it really becomes a very serious item of expenditure for such ladies as make it the business of their lives to follow the fashions of the day.
Fashion prescribes rules for all. All classes of society bow, more or less, to her decrees. The fine lady who frequents the Court, as well as the servant-girl who sweeps out the area of a London lodging-house, and all the intermediate classes, are guided by Fashion. Crinolines and bonnets prove this, as well as the length of the skirts which are suffered to trail along in all the dirt and dust of pavement and crossings. It always takes some time before a fashion which has been adopted by the higher orders prevails among the lower; but, if it is a fashion which survives beyond the moment, it invariably finds its way downward in the course of time. Fashion prescribes the size and shape of bonnets, the make of gowns, their length and their size--the number of breadths and gores--the trimmings, the petticoats, which have become like a second gown, and all the other paraphernalia of a lady's toilette. There is no part of a lady's dress too minute for her inspection and care and legislation. The color of gloves, the dye of hair, the application of false hair, the make of boots and shoes, the choice of ornaments, are all ordered and arranged. Fashion is a sort of "act of uniformity," which would bring all flights of fancy within certain prescribed limits. It defines the boundaries within which ladies may safely indulge their own conceits.
The best-dressed persons are not always those who are led blindfold by the prevailing fashion, nor by any means those who are strong-minded enough to defy it, and set it at naught. Any one who defies the fashion of the day, and, when long skirts and small saucer-like bonnets prevail, dares to walk abroad with very short petticoats, which she holds up unnecessarily high; displaying a foot and ankle that had better be hidden out of sight; who spurns a crinoline, and therefore looks like a whipping post; who wears a many-colored shawl because cloaks and mantles are the rage; who adorns her head with a bonnet that is of the coal-scuttle cut, over which she fastens a large, colored gauze veil, because she desires to protest, as far as she can, against the innovations of fashion; such a one will never attract, nor influence the public mind. She will provoke a smile, but will never recommend her own peculiar and independent style of dress. And she who follows fashion like a slave, wears what is prescribed without regard to her own personal appearance; who considers neither her age, nor her figure, nor her station, nor her means; who simply allows herself to be an advertisement for the milliner she employs, will often appear eccentric, and generally ill-dressed.
It is never sufficiently considered that every one has her "points," and that nothing so much offends as discrepancies. We remember a discussion upon female beauty, when instances were brought forward of persons who were conspicuous for their good looks, but who could not boast of one really perfect feature. The effect of the "tout ensemble" was good, and most attractive, but when the faces were pulled to pieces, it was impossible to say in what the beauty consisted. One of the critics wisely said, that it was to be found in the perfect harmony of feature and expression. All the features were on the same scale; no one feature overpowered the other, and the expression called into activity all features alike, so that there was perfect unity and harmony throughout. To compare small things with great, we should say that this supplies a good rule for dressing well. There should be no discrepancies. It should be harmonious, not only in itself, but harmonious with the person whom it is intended to adorn. It should be in keeping with face and figure. No two persons are exactly alike. Every one has her "points," which constitute her beauty and her charm; and these "points" have to be attended to carefully. A woman who does this, with due regard to the rules of fashion, will always be well dressed. She will not buy or wear a thing simply because it has "just come from Paris," nor be influenced by milliners and shopmen who assure her that the ugly article they exhibit is original in shape and style. Though fashion dictates, and she follows, yet she follows in a way of her own. She is never behind fashion, and never in advance of it. Perhaps her most admired "toilette" has been made at home, under her own eye, which has directed how far a compliance with the prevailing fashion suits her. She does not startle the world with a combination of strange colors, nor entertain her friends with a peculiarity of style and make. What she wears is prettily arranged, well made and well put on, and the effect is both pleasing and refreshing, and people inquire what house in Paris she patronizes. She is prudent; and, keeping her own secret, does not offend the fastidiousness of her fashionable friends by letting the truth eke out, that her much-admired Parisian "toilette" is, in every sense, of home-produce, but smiles at their approval, and follows her own plan, which is so successful in its results. Her costume is not expensive, and she contrives that, whatever she wears shall not offend against the laws of Fashion, while she declines to be its slave. She is not addicted to sham jewelry; she has no weakness for tinsel. What she wears is good of its kind, even when it is not costly. Wherever she goes, she impresses everyone with the fact that she is a true gentlewoman. She knows what is suited to her station and age, and, without conceit, understands what are her "points." She is well aware that no woman can afford to be indifferent to her personal appearance, and that no law, human or divine, requires her to disfigure herself. A married woman has to bear in mind that she must dress not only to please her husband, but also to reflect credit upon his choice. The unmarried to impart to herself as prepossessing an appearance as will be likely to attract the opposite sex. Neither before or after marriage can any woman neglect her person with impunity. Nor can she set her face entirely against the fashions of the day. She may modify them to suit herself, and to bring out her "points;" but she cannot safely disregard or defy them.
Fashion gives, as it were, the key-note--supplies the hint, which is taken and followed as people can. It is absurd to suppose that its laws are stringent, and not elastic, or that all persons must conform exactly to its "dicta." Who shall say that all must dress alike? Tall and short, fat and lean, stout and scraggy, cannot be made equally subject to the same rule. In such a matter as dress there must be some margin allowed for individual peculiarities. Nature has not made us all in the same mould; and we must be careful not to affront nature, but must accept her gifts and make the best of them.
There is one point connected with the following of fashion which requires some attention, and which, if attended to, will preserve us from incongruities. We allude to the disposition of some persons to use various fashions together. They are inclined to be "_eclectic_." They select from by-gone fashions, and endeavor to blend them with those which prevail. The result is a painful incongruity. Who would dream of placing a Grecian portico to an Elizabethan building? Why then endeavor to combine old fashions with new? Why attempt to wear a bonnet of almost primitive form with dresses of modern dimensions and style? or why wear flounces when they are out of fashion, and full skirts when everything is _"gored"_ into plainness? It is necessary to pay some attention to the present style of dress, if ladies desire to avoid peculiarities and wish to please. But it, of course, requires a certain sense of propriety and of fitness. A bonnet of diminutive form which suits to perfection a young girl with a small oval face and slender throat, is quite misapplied when adopted by a woman of a certain age, whose figure has escaped beyond the limits of even "embonpoint," whose throat is not perceptible, and whose face and head are large. She requires something of more ample dimensions, that bears some affinity in size with the head and face it is intended to ornament; something which will modify, if not conceal, the imperfections which time has developed. A dress of a light and airy kind does not become a matron; nor can that which suits a slight and elastic figure be worn with impunity by what is called a "comely dame."
Fashion prescribes all sorts of rules about breadths, gores, flounces, and such like, and these are the hints which she gives, and which ladies must take and apply to themselves to the best advantage. There is ample margin allowed for each one to adopt what is best suited to her own particular style of beauty. Perhaps there never was a time when so much liberty was allowed to ladies to dress according to their own fancy. Of course we mean within certain limits. If any one will consent to keep within those limits, and not do actual violence to the decrees of fashion, she may, to a considerable degree, follow her own fancy. If the general idea which fashion has submitted to society as the sine qua non of being well dressed is borne in mind, she is very tolerant of the various modifications which ladies, for the most part, wisely adopt, that they may not make "guys" of themselves. Nothing illustrates this more than the hats and bonnets which are worn. Their variety is so great that their names might be termed "legion;" and a pretty woman may adopt all kinds of conceits, providing she neither offends the eye nor defies the prevailing fashion. One may come out as a shepherdess, another like a Spanish cavalier in the time of Charles the Second, another with a three-cornered hat such as state-coachmen wear on "drawing-room days," only of course a very small edition of it; another with a little coquettish hat that suggests one of Watteau's most successful pictures; but no one may wear one of those large mushroom bonnets which were worn some five-and-thirty years ago, and which were ornamented by large bows of ribbon stiffened with wire, and by great nosegays of flowers which resembled a garden flower-pot. It is only on condition that no violence is done to the decrees of fashion or to the ideas she would suggest, that so much liberty is allowed. We think that the result is most satisfactory, as there is an infinite variety to please the eye, and there are abundant opportunities for every one to attend to her own comfort and ease. Of course there have been, and still are, certain fashions which are quite "derigueur" among the really fashionable world, and which are annoying to the public generally, such as large crinolines and long skirts, and more especially the long trains which are now in vogue. Crinolines, though reduced in size, are not discarded, except in some instances which, as our eyes are not yet accustomed to their absence, present a scarcely decent appearance.
One word more before we close this division of our subject. If persons are inclined to rail against Fashion and denounce it, let them remember that there is a fashion in everything. In thought, in politics, in physic, in art, in architecture, in science, in speech, in language, and even in religion we find fashion to have a guiding and governing power. How can we otherwise account for the change which has taken place in language, which is not the same that it was fifty years ago? There are phrases which have become obsolete; there are words which have been almost lost out of our vocabulary, which have changed their meaning, or which fashion has tabooed. And in other matters we find alterations which can only be accounted for by the fact that fashions change. They are not the result of development simply, which may and must frequently occur in sciences; but they are the result of those variations in custom and usage for which it is impossible to find any more expressive word than that of Fashion. Why then should not dress have its fashions also, and why should not those fashions change as time advances, and why should not fashion rule in this as in other things?
IV.--EXPENSE OF DRESS.
This is a portion of our subject which awakens the liveliest interest in persons of both sexes. It is the complaint of many men of our times that the dress of women is a very costly affair. The complaint is often made apparently under a sense of wrong, as if they had been made to suffer from it. Some time ago considerable attention was directed to the subject by some letters which appeared in one of the leading journals of the day, in which grave reflections were made upon the exceeding costliness of dress at the present time. It was said to exceed that of any former age, and to be the reason why so many young men flinch from the idea of matrimony. Among these requirements dress occupies a prominent place. The style and variety of dress which is affirmed to be necessary for young ladies in the highest grade of society renders it no easy matter for them to find men both qualified and willing to afford them sufficient funds to procure what custom had created into a necessity. It may be owing to the quantity of material which the dressmakers require in order to make a dress, as well as to the variety which fashion has prescribed. At all events, let people say what they may, we believe that there is no doubt whatever that the expense of dress has become very much greater than it was thirty years ago. A dressmaker could then make a very first-rate gown, suited to any function at Court or elsewhere, for ten or twelve pounds, whereas now the most ordinary gown, suitable to wear only at a family dinner-party, cannot be made for less than fourteen or fifteen pounds. A ball gown will cost eighteen or twenty pounds; and in Paris a thousand francs, (forty pounds,) is considered nothing out of the way; and evening and ball dresses often cost two thousand francs each. It is not surprising then that, if this is the ordinary expense of a lady's dress, men should hesitate before they embark in matrimony, and add so large an item to their expenditure. We remember to have heard it said that five hundred a year pin-money was a very small allowance for a young married woman; that it would require the most wonderful management to enable her to dress well and keep within her income. Of course every one knows that there are many women who dress upon infinitely less; but we are speaking of those who profess to dress well, and whose position in society requires them to be well dressed.
What then is the reason why dress has become so expensive? Is it because the materials which are in use are costly, or is it because the needlewomen are better paid, and, wages being higher, dressmakers' charges are also higher in proportion? We do not believe that either of these are the cause; but simply that a larger quantity is required, and that variety has become a "sine-qua-non." Some years ago the cost of a silk dress was about half what it is now,--not because the price of silk has increased, but because a much larger quantity is required. Perhaps of the two, silk is cheaper than it used to be; but where ten and twelve yards sufficed, twenty and twenty-three are scarcely sufficient. Then the variety that is considered indispensable adds to the cost of dress. Where three or four dresses constituted the wardrobe of many, three times that number are now considered a scanty supply. Some ladies do not like to wear the same dress twice at the same place; and, if they visit in the country, take with them luggage enough for a twelvemonth, and appear daily, and, in some instances, three times a day, in some fresh costume. It may perhaps be said that these are exceptional cases, but they are not so. Ladies-maids, servants, and even village girls have more gowns now than persons of the same class had formerly. This adds to the cost of dress, and makes it altogether a more expensive affair than it used to be. Our fore-mothers who rejoiced in farthingales had, no doubt, the most costly attire, but it lasted longer, and became the inheritance of children and children's children; besides which their wardrobes were not by any means so expensive as that of a "grande dame" of 1875.
Materials are an important element in the matter of dress, and we propose, in the few remarks we shall make on the subject of expense, to offer some suggestions which shall tend to make it less.
In the first place every _young_ lady is without excuse who spends a large sum annually upon her dress, for she possesses in her youth that which makes the most simple and inexpensive attire the most suitable and becoming. Everything is appropriate to youth. The freshest flowers of the garden, the plainest muslins, tarlatans and tulles do not come amiss. In the country fresh flowers are more admissible than those that are artificial. In London it is the reverse. The heat of a crowded ball-room soon makes the brightest flowers wither; besides which there would be an affectation in a young lady's making her appearance in a London ball-room decked, like the goddess Flora, with real flowers; while all the world prefer the artificial as the least troublesome and the most enduring.
For the young, cheap and inexpensive materials are often the most effective. Heavy silks and satins are out of place. It is more a question of color and make than material. How often a bright green and white muslin, or even cotton, well made and well put on, worn by a pretty girl with a good complexion and graceful "tournure," puts to shame and thoroughly eclipses a more costly and elaborate "toilette!" How often we have been charmed by the appearance, at the breakfast table, of a young fresh looking girl, who in her simple and unpretending, but well-selected attire, suggests all that is most beautiful in nature, the early sunrise, the opening rose-bud, encased in its calix of tender green! Such a sight has refreshed while it has gratified the eye, and if the young only knew how very little is required to add to those charms which are the property of youth, they would not be at so much pains to copy those elaborate "toilettes" which seem to be invented only to repair the inroads and damages of years, and to enrich the dressmakers, and which are quite "de trop," quite out of place with the young. Many are the materials which suit the young and which are inexpensive. Alpacas of various shades, muslins, foulards, tarlatan, tulle, light silks, light in texture as well as colors. These are not expensive materials. We remember at this moment an exceedingly effective costume, made of white alpaca with a narrow green stripe, which was worn with a crinoline bonnet trimmed with mauve. The bonnet and dress did not cost more than _L2 10s_., and scarcely as much. It was made at home, and all that was required for the gown was nothing when compared to the bills which the most ordinary dressmaker would have run up for tapes and buttons, and hooks and eyes.
But dressmakers have their fortunes to make, and it is well for them that there are people in the world who are rich enough to employ them. Some dressmakers refuse to make up what is called "the lady's own materials,"--that is, they require their customers to buy the materials of them, and therefore it is by no means difficult to understand that, under such circumstances, a dressmaker's bill may reach any amount, and their profits become enormous.
Compared with the supplies of thirty years ago there is no doubt that the materials out of which ladies may make their selection have increased very considerable. The variety of foulards, of gauzes, of alpacas, of camlets, of poplins, poplinettes, and Japanese silks, and even of silks themselves, which vary from three shillings to eight and nine shillings the yard, of satins, of velvets, and velveteens, have brought dress within the scope of moderate incomes. Each year some novelty is introduced, and a clever hit in the name given to it makes it popular; just as that of "Japanese silk" made people run eagerly after a material of home manufacture, which is made of silk and cotton. There are a host of other materials cheaper still, which may be obtained for a few shillings the dress, some of which are not by any means to be despised. With so great a supply, it is strange that dress should be so costly; but the fact is, that this is an age in which people are more disposed to ape their betters than to dress according to their means. If, however, they desire to spend only a small sum, they must take some trouble about it, and must contrive how to produce a good result with simple and even common materials.
The great improvement in muslins and in calicoes--the good patterns which are printed on common linens--have made it quite inexcusable for people to dress ill. Some of the prettiest costumes that we have seen have been made in cheap materials, and persons who have admired them have been quite astonished to find that they have bestowed their admiration upon an "inferior article."
For autumn wear there are camlets, alpacas, and serge of all colors, which are designated "Yachting and Sea-side Costumes," but which are suitable for all places. Their effect is exceedingly good, braided or otherwise. They may be got anywhere, though Cowes boasts of having the best assortment. We have seen white braided with black, or with a pattern printed on it in black; blue, light and dark; brown; green braided in white, the effect of which has been good; and we have seen scarlet, which is very trying, and more suited for winter. It is effective when toned down with black velvet, but it looks rather heavy and overpowering.
For winter, there are droguets, reps in worsted and in silk, merinos, tweeds, linseys, and velveteens. We do not mention silk, because it is universally acknowledged that there is nothing so well suited to all seasons. It looks better than anything else, is the pleasantest to wear, and may be procured of almost any substance. Velveteens have a very good effect--better than most materials; and when they are braided well, they are very effective. The black looks the best, and is the most serviceable; and when worn with a mantle, or cloak, or jacket to match, it makes one of the best costumes for walking or driving. The brown velveteen is effective. It is considered warm and light,--two most important qualities for clothing; for, with the amplitude of modern skirts, it is absolutely essential that materials should be light as well as warm.
For spring and summer it is needless to specify more materials than have been already named. The only point to be considered is that in spring, dress should be, in our uncertain climate, suited to changes of weather, and temperature, and should be in harmony with the season when nature is putting on her best apparel, and woods and fields become hourly more green and full of vegetation. In summer, dress should be light and cool and quiet; because, beneath a glowing sun, bright colors do not please, unless they harmonize with the blue sky or green earth.
The second important point in matters of dress is the make or cut. Upon this depends the question whether cheap materials can be worn. An ordinary stuff or calico well made, fashionably made, and well put on, is never out of place. It, not infrequently, puts to shame many richer materials which are not so well made nor so well selected.
This question of make or cut (call it which you please) is not sufficiently considered, especially by the young.
Some people think no one can be well dressed who is not expensively dressed, whose gown is not richly trimmed; but it is a great mistake. Many persons are absolutely ill-dressed who spend a fortune upon their clothes.
The young should bear in mind that simplicity is what harmonizes best with youth, but care must be taken to avoid the simplicity of the school-room and of a "miss in her teens." We can call to mind a young lady who made her appearance at an evening party in London, where "all the world and his wife" were collected together, and when it was necessary to be somewhat smart, in a rather skimp spotted muslin, with a black belt and a few black cherries in her hair. She looked, as the reader will easily believe, like a young lady in her teens, who, as Byron said, "smells of bread and butter." She was much on the wrong side of twenty. By her side stood a young girl who had not passed nineteen summers, dressed in the freshest costume of plain white tulle, with bright turquoise blue flowers in her hair, the very impersonation of youth and loveliness. The cost of the dress of these two young ladies was about the same, but the appearance of the two was by no means the same. The one was fresh and simple; the other simple but unfresh. The one attracted; the other repelled. At the same time we saw two sisters, one a blonde and the other dark, dressed unadvisedly alike in dark blue tarlatan, with an infinite number of beads round the body, peplum, and sleeves. It was in the height of summer, and the costume looked fusty and oppressive; while not far off stood a young girl in a white and green tarlatan dress prettily trimmed with old lace and green ribbon, with one large white flower in her hair--the very type of spring and early summer. None of these costumes were expensive, but they had widely different results.
We return to our former assertion that it is the _make_ which renders a common material wearable in any,--even the very best society.
It requires, of course, a knowledge of the prevailing fashion, which may easily be arrived at by the simple process of taking in "Le Follet," or some good monthly publication on fashions. It requires also a correct eye and a good taste to select such materials as shall harmonize well with the style which is in favor. It requires, above all, a good workwoman, who knows how to cut out, how to put in the gores, how to arrange the breadths, where to put the fullness; where to make the dress full, and where tight, how to avoid creases, how to cut the sleeves, and how to put them in, how to give the arm sufficient room so that the back shall not pucker, how to cut the body so that short waisted ladies shall not seem to have too short a waist, nor long-waisted ladies too long a one. This important question of a good lady's-maid is one upon which depends the probability of being well dressed and economically dressed. It is absolutely necessary for a person of moderate means, to whom the needless out-lay of a shilling is of real importance, to make her things at home. If she cannot make them herself, she must find a clever needle-woman who has learned her business, and knows milliner's phraseology and the meaning of terms, and how to cut out to the best advantage. She will then be able to use common material, buy smaller quantities of them, and will always look well dressed. Her gown will always be ironed when it wants ironing; it will be mended whenever a stitch has broken loose; the collars and cuffs will always be clean and of the right shape and size; and no one will enquire into the quality and cost of the material of which the effect is so pleasing.
A lady's-maid that is quick and efficient is the best friend a lady can have who wishes to be well dressed and at a small expense. She saves her wages again and again. But not so with a lady's-maid who does not understand her business. If she is always requiring assistance, and cannot make the simplest gown without a needle-woman to help her, and will not attempt a smart dress at all, or who makes it so slow that either the occasion for which it is required slips by, or a much longer notice is necessary than the most fashionable dressmaker would demand in the very height of the London season, instead of being useful, she is an encumbrance. The dressmaker's bill is not avoided. A steady lady's-maid who is quick at her needle and quick with her eye, can always command good wages and a good place, and they who possess such a treasure will never be willing to part with her. Any one who has not thoroughly gone into the question would not believe what a saving it is to "make at home." It is not only that the milliner's bill is saved, but the materials which are used do not cost so much. Nor is this all, an efficient lady's-maid can clean and turn and re-make dresses so as to give them the look of new. To those who have but small incomes, it is of great importance not to be under the necessity of making frequent additions to their wardrobes, and anyone who can, by good management, enable them to wear a dress longer than they otherwise would, saves them, in the end, considerable outlay.
We have heard ladies say that nothing has provoked them more than the way in which their maids can make up for themselves dresses which they have laid aside. They can, by dint of sponging and washing, and pressing, and ironing by turning, and many other ways known to them, make their ladies' cast off clothes look as good as new, and many a lady has, before now, looked with envy upon an old dress which reappears in a new character, looking quite as fresh and attractive as ever, under the magic hand of a clever and practical needle-woman.
We maintain then, that, though the present style of dress may be expensive on account of the enormous quantity of material which is required, there is no real reason why it should be so costly as it is supposed to be. If ladies will give some attention to the make or cut and style of their dresses, the most simple materials will look exceedingly effective. It only requires judgment, good taste, and some forethought and contrivance.
We recommend as of primary importance, in order to be well and economically dressed, that people of slender means should have their dresses made at home, and should secure the services of a clever needle-woman who knows how to cut out and make, and has learned the mysteries of the art of dressmaking. With her assistance there is no reason why a home-made dress should not bear comparison with those of Madame Descon of London, or of Mr. Wirth of Paris. It is in the style, that first-class dressmakers excel. It is not in the actual needlework, which is often a very inferior affair. If, with the help of "Le Follet," ladies will give some attention to the subject of dress, and will assist their maids with suggestions and approval, they will find themselves amply repaid, not only by their own personal appearance, but also by the small outlay of money.
There are an infinite variety of things which are necessary in order to make a woman thoroughly well dressed, which do not come under the category of dresses. Some of these must be discussed, as they are of great importance.
To begin with bonnets. How much of a lady's toilette depends upon her bonnet!--upon its make, its shape, its style, and the materials it is made of!
In these days, bonnets are much less ugly than they formerly were. They are not set at the back of the head as they used to be, when they made every woman look as if her neck had been broken. They offered no advantage. They did not screen the face from sun and wind, and no ladies could keep them on their heads without the help of long pins like skewers. The bonnet, as now worn, scarcely deserves the name of a bonnet. It is more like a cap than a bonnet; but, such as it is, it is exceedingly becoming to the young--more especially the style which has most recently come into fashion, in which, while it ties behind, below the chignon or large plait of hair, long ends of tulle, or lace, or blonde fall round the cheek, and fasten under the chin with a brooch or a flower. The effect of the lace against the face is very preferable to that of the fold of hard ribbon which was generally worn, and which was utterly devoid of all grace. Besides which, we have heard ladies praise the last fashion as being the most comfortable, because the absence of strings fastened under the chin enables them to eat, and sing, and talk without the necessity of taking off the bonnet, or of untying it. The extreme lightness of the modern bonnet is in itself a great recommendation. But if a bonnet is intended as a protection to the head from sun, wind, and rain, then, indeed, it must be allowed that the present fashion does not fulfill any of those intentions. A small saucer of tulle, or three-cornered bit of lace ornamented with a few flowers, which fits on the head in the small space that intervenes between the front hair and the beginning of the chignon, where it stops in order that the huge mass of hair now worn at the back of the head may be fully exhibited, does not do more than make a very pretty toilette. Useful and serviceable as a protection, it is not. But when it is contrasted with bonnets which were worn a few years ago, or with those which our mothers and grandmothers wore, we confess that we are glad of the change.
No lady ought to be indifferent about her bonnet. It is to her face what the setting is to a jewel. The arrangement of the lace or blonde; the way it accords with the countenance; the harmony of color with the rest of the dress, which in some instances it tones down by its quietness, and in others brightens and freshens by its contrast; all these are points to be considered. It is impossible not to be guided by fashion in the selection of a bonnet, and the same fashion will prescribe how it is to be trimmed, but, as a rule, we protest against beads and tinsel of all kinds. If beads must be used, they should be used sparingly. We saw a bonnet this year which was nothing but black beads, which were designated by the high-sounding name of "black pearls." The bonnet was heavy, and very ugly; and when we remonstrated against it, we were assured it had just arrived from Paris--as if the announcement of such a fact was, in itself, enough to silence all objections. But it had no effect upon us, for the bonnet was objectionable on every ground--on account of its weight and appearance.
In London, as it is necessary to have a succession of bonnets, which soon become discolored and spoilt by the soot and dirt of our great metropolis, all that really signifies is that they should look fresh and clean, and in harmony with the dresses with which they are worn; and therefore it is important they should be cheap. To give three guineas and even more, and perhaps five, for a bonnet which will last for only one month is an expensive proceeding; and when it is considered that really pretty bonnets can be bought for eighteen shillings, which look quite as well as those which are more costly, they are without excuse who do not manage to have always one nice-looking bonnet for special occasions.
We have known some ladies who are clever and wise enough to make their own bonnets, and then the cost of them is about five or six shillings each. If the lady's maid is clever and handy, and knows how to make them, she will probably make them quite as well as any professed milliners. All that is required is to understand what fits and suits the person for whom the bonnet is intended. Every one finds that one shape suits her better than another. The next point in making a bonnet is that the "artiste" should have a light hand, and should make it "off-hand," without letting it lie about to get soiled or tumbled. Things which are not expensive, but are made of common materials, should look fresh. If they have that merit, no one will examine them very closely to see whether the lace is real, or the flowers of the first quality. Satisfied with the general effect and style, no inquiries will be instituted into the cost of the materials. People are not so particular where their eye is pleased. On the contrary, where the effect is good, cheapness increases its value in the estimation of those who know that one and one make two.
No one can make bonnets, or indeed any kind of headgear, without one of those hideous figure-heads called "blocks," upon which the bonnet or the cap is made, without risk of injury. This is the only way in which the milliner can form any idea of the effect of her handiwork. She can turn it about to get the full, side, and back view of her performance, without touching the article in question, which, if it is mauled about ever so little, soon loses its freshness.
As we have long ago discarded the picturesque from bonnets, and the famous "chapeau de paille" has been laid aside, there is an advantage in the fact that the present style is unobtrusive; and strong-minded women who cling tenaciously to their beloved old coal-scuttle shape, and deride the present fashion, indignantly exclaiming against it, "Call that thing a bonnet, indeed?" certainly tempts us to reply to their prejudiced and absurd reflections, "Physician, heal thyself;" for if there is one thing more ugly than another, it is the old-fashioned bonnet with crown, curtain, and poke, to which a few old maids rigidly adhere--just as Quakeresses do to their hideous and antiquated style. There is a kind of self-righteousness in the protests of these ladies, with which we confess that we have no sympathy. We do not mean to recommend them to adopt the bonnet of a girl of eighteen, but we do advise them to conform to the fashion of the day, and wear a modified edition of the present and prevailing costume.
It is remarkable how straw always retains its hold as a material for bonnets. A straw bonnet, is, however, a more expensive article than one of tulle; but then it is more enduring, and better suited for country wear. There is also another advantage in straw: it never looks vulgar. A country lass in a bonnet of silk, or lace, or tulle, does not look one-half as well as one in a straw bonnet, neatly trimmed. Straw is becoming to persons of all ages and of every station. It makes a vulgar woman look less vulgar, and the lady more refined. Though common, it is never so in an offensive sense.
Caps have become an important item, from the fact that women of all ages wear something of the kind. The young girl who has passed from girlhood into matrimony, considers it necessary that some of those little caps made of lace and ribbons and which have such a coquettish look about them, should form part of her trousseau. She is as glad to exercise her new privilege of wearing a cap as an undergraduate is of wearing his cap and gown. It is a sign that she has passed to what she considers the higher state, although she knows that there are many high authorities for the contrary; but she remembers that "doctors differ," and she hails her privilege as one to which she has been always taught to look forward.
What can be more becoming than some of those jaunty caps which seem to mock at age? Here, again, we have a manifest improvement in the head-gear of ancient times.
Think of the turbans, the gigantic hats and caps of blonde which were made to stand erect by means of wire, and which surrounded the face like fans at full stretch, or (more gracious simile) like the nimbus round the head of a mediaeval saint.
Contrast these with the little caps which ornament the head with lace, as only lace can ornament it, and you will see at once how superior the present fashion is. It is not only that these pretty and mysterious fabrics of lace and ribbon are an ornament to the loveliest and most youthful; but they have worked a revolution in the caps of elderly ladies. Instead of the cap with its frill of blonde intermixed with narrow ribbon or small flowers, fitting close to the face like a fringe and tying under the chin, we see small and becoming head dresses of lace, which sufficiently furnish the cheeks and cover the hair. Where it can be done, the cap of the most elderly woman should appear to dress and furnish her head rather than her face, though, if need be, it can be made to soften the asperities of age where they have marked the countenance.
Mantles or cloaks are a difficult question.
When everybody of every station wears a cloak or mantle we are disposed to recommend shawls, especially as a really good Indian shawl cannot be imitated, and denotes the quality and condition of the wearer. Every servant girl, every maid of all work, has her Sunday cloak. None but the rich can sport an Indian shawl. It requires falling shoulders and a tall and graceful figure. It should not be fastened round the throat as if the wearer suffered from a severe cold in her throat; but it should have the appearance of being loosely put on; neither fastened tightly on, nor falling off. Square shawls are always more ugly than not. If the wearer has not a very erect carriage, and if her shoulders are not well thrown back, the chances are that the effect of a square shawl will be anything but pleasing. If the lady stoops, or is at all round-shouldered, the shawl will have the effect of a window that has been cracked by a stone--it will look starred--it will not be smooth and even, but will present the appearance of lines radiating from the defective shoulders. For grace there is nothing like a scarf shawl, but only a few can, or know how to, wear it.
Under these circumstances a cloak or a mantle are safer. There is an infinite variety to choose from, but as the names and the fashion vary year by year it is useless to specify any. For the same reason, this constant change, it is best not to invest much capital in the purchase of one. Young people can wear smaller and shorter mantles than their elders, who require something larger and more imposing.
In winter there is nothing to compare to a seal skin; so much so that even an imitation is not to be despised. Velvets are ladylike, but they are expensive, and have not the durability of a seal skin. Velveteen cloaks are good and reasonable. Blue cloth or serge, braided with black, look well, and have been in favor for some time. We have seen a gray cloth cloak braided with black which has been much admired; also one of dark green cloth lined with gray, and, vice versa, of gray lined with green. For winter, the effect of lining a cloth cloak with another color in good contrast is decidedly good. But everything depends upon the shape and cut of the cloak. It is the shape that tells far more than the material.
In France we find gloves and shoes have a prominent place among the accessories of a lady's toilette. To be "bien chaussee et bien gantee" is essential to being well dressed. Good, well fitting gloves and shoes tell more than most other things among the French. At least a somewhat shabby and unpretending gown and bonnet, if accompanied by gloves that are of a good quality and color and that fit well, and by shoes or boots that also fit well, and are of good style and make, will pass muster anywhere, while the reverse will fail.
It is remarkable that there is nothing which distinguishes a foreigner from an Englishwoman more than her gloves. They "fit like a glove;" they are of a good color, according well with the rest of the costume, neither too light nor too dark, but rather light than dark. There are no ends or corners of the fingers which are not well filled; there are no creases indicative of the gloves being of a wrong size, nor are they put on crooked with a twist given to the fingers, so that the seams of the glove do not appear straight. In short, a Frenchwoman does not put on her glove anyhow as an Englishwoman does. To her it is a matter of great importance; to our country-woman it is a matter of indifference. We think the Frenchwoman right, because it is by what are called trifles that good and also great effects are produced.
We come now to an accessory of considerable importance--the hair. As a great amount of time is expended upon hair-dressing, and as no one ever thinks of wearing it in its natural state, and as nothing is more under the influence of fashion than the hair, it has become by consent of all an accessory of great importance. Will any one affirm that it is a matter of indifference how the hair is dressed? Whether in plaits or bows? Whether in a crop, or twisted up in a coil? There is nothing which affects a lady's personal appearance more than the style in which she dresses her hair. We confess that we have a strong prejudice against a too submissive following of the fashion. Because in the first place we deny that fashion is always in the right, and in the second it rarely happens that the same style exactly suits two persons alike.
Nothing requires more consideration than the hair. It is one of a woman's greatest ornaments. We have high authority for saying this. Hair should always have the appearance of being well cared for. It should set off the shape of the head if it is good, and not aggravate any of its defects. A small head, well set on, is a great beauty. It tends more than anything else to that distinguished look which enhances all other beauty. Beauty, if accompanied by a look of refinement, is worth more than mere animal beauty, and nothing is more indicative of refinement and noble birth as a well-shaped head. It is the head which gives the impression of intellectual power. The well formed brow should not be demoralized by ringlets, which are suggestive only of a wax doll, nor should it be disfigured by being surmounted by a kind of cushion or roll of hair which gives the idea of weight and size. Nor should the hair have the appearance of a bird's nest, and look tumbled and untidy. This was lately the "beau ideal" of a well dressed head. It was desired that it should appear unkempt and uncombed, as if it had been drawn through a quickset hedge. The back of the head, if well shaped, has a beautiful appearance, reminding one of a stag, which is so graceful in look and motion. But when it is disfigured by a large mass of hair, resembling a large pin-cushion, all that peculiar native grace which we so much admire is lost sight of. When all heads are made to look alike and equally large, there is no advantage in having a small and well shaped head. It seems as if the study of the present day were to make the head look large, and to conceal all its points. We miss the smooth braids of hair which set off the expanse of forehead, and the coils of plaits of hair, which ornamented, but did not conceal the back of the head. We miss the glossy look of the hair which indicated care, and prefer it infinitely to that which simulates neglect. It is perfectly true that one style does not suit all persons alike, any more than that the powder which was worn by our great-grandmothers was equally becoming to all. A low forehead, if the points of the brow are good, should have the hair drawn off it, whereas a high forehead which does not betoken any great intellectual power is disfigured by the same process. Smooth braids will not become a long face, nor puffs a broad one. A forehead which is already too high cannot bear to be heightened by coronets and cushions of hair, nor a countenance which indicates weakness to be made weaker still by limp luxurious curls. A stern face requires to be softened, while a weak one requires strength. The hair can generally do this. It depends upon how it is dressed.
They who are no longer young endeavor to impose upon the world by the use of wigs and fronts. These are an abomination, and in every instance they are easy of detection. There is something in the way in which false hair protests against the face and the face against it, which infallibly exposes it to be false. A lady with all the signs of years about her face makes her age the more apparent by the contrast of glossy dark hair which belongs to youth. Why is she afraid to wear her own gray hair? Grey hairs are no reproof, and we are quite sure they would harmonize better with the other marks of age than the wigs and fronts which prevail. There is something in the white hair of age which has a charm of its own. It is like the soft and mellow light of sunset. But unfortunately an old woman is not always inclined to accept the fact that she is old. She would rebel against it, but rebellion is useless. The fact remains the same. She is old notwithstanding her "rouge" pot and her front, and she is growing older day by day.
Jewelry is another accessory. Jewels, real jewels, are in the possession of only a few. They are so costly that only millionaires or the heirs of heirlooms can have them. They are very beautiful, and have this one merit, that a few jewels, judiciously selected and worn, make a person well dressed at once. A diamond necklace and brooch, diamond earrings, and a few diamond stars glittering in the hair, will make almost a shabby dress pass muster at Court. But jewelry is a term that is applied to ornaments generally, and not to jewels only.
Sham jewelry is an abomination. It is a lie, and a pretension. At no time was so much sham jewelry made and worn. Every damsel has her brooches and her earrings. In nine cases out of ten they are mere trumpery, but, such as they are, no maid of all work will go out for her Sunday walk without her brooch and earrings and chain. She must have her locket too, fastened round her throat with black velvet, but it is all, with the exception of the velvet, a sham.
Ladies too have a weakness for sham jewelry. They will wear massive bracelets, cameo brooches of target dimensions, earrings, chains, all of what they pleasantly call French manufacture. It is called _French_ in the shops in order to soften down its imposture, and to play upon the weakness of our country women who are apt to think that whatever is French must be good. But in many cases they are of Birmingham manufacture.
We enter our protest very strongly against the use of sham jewelry, though we must own without much hope of success, for, it must be admitted, that a great quantity of it is exceedingly pretty. We are not surprised that it should be popular, for who can resist the opportunity of making herself fine and "beautiful for ever" at the cost of a few shillings, which is all that is necessary to lay in a fair stock of jewelry.
This sham jewelry is continually mistaken for real, so good is the resemblance.
If a duchess were to wear it everyone would take for granted that it was real, because she would not be supposed to wear anything that is unreal. We have heard of a lady who, possessing but very few jewels, always makes up for the deficiency by wearing sham diamonds. They are good of their kind, and no one ever suspects them to be false, simply because there is no reason why she should not have real diamonds, but, on the contrary, so far as the world knows, every reason why she should.
In the use of jewelry more than in anything else we maintain that all persons should dress according to their station and their means. If they can afford it--let them--but we recommend them not to act too much upon the old saying, that "fine feathers make fine birds," but to bear in mind that being well dressed means something more than well-fitting, well-selected clothes.
VI.--"A FEW WORDS MORE."
It is very difficult, we might say impossible, to give any definite rules about dress. Fashions change so continually, that if we were to write a dissertation upon peplums, and trains, and gores, or give directions how to cut them out or make them, almost by the time this manual should come into circulation, they would have become portions of the past, and our hints would seem absurd and out of place. All that has seemed feasible to us we have done, which has been to give certain hints that the rocks upon which so many split, who make great endeavors to be well dressed, might be avoided by our readers.
There is no doubt that every one wishes to dress well, whatever her means may be; and that no one thinks she dresses ill, whatever the world may think of her performance. We look at ourselves through colored glass, and are apt to take the most favorable view of our own peculiarities--
"O, wad some power the giftie gie us,
To see ourselves as others see us."
There are rules in dress, as there are in painting, which, if observed, will prevent our making "frights" of ourselves. Anyone who starts for herself on a new line, and, throwing to the wind the received laws, adopts and carries out some crude theory of her own, however much she may entertain herself by her experiments, runs a great chance of making a figure of herself, and will infallibly obtain a reputation for conceit and affectation. No woman, unless she is a star of great magnitude, or a belle of note, can with impunity set at naught the received customs. She is by no means bound to follow fashion so implicitly and subserviently as to mar her own beauty. But a clever woman will always be able to avoid affronting fashion while she takes a line of her own. We use this phrase with a certain limitation, because if a woman were to take a line of her own unrestricted by certain "conveyances" of society and of fashion, she would certainly fall into the very error which we should be the first to declaim against, namely--the error of eccentricity. A due regard for these "conveyances" will ensure that sense of propriety in dress which will make everyone remember both her station and her means. The fine lady will not effect the simplicity of the village girl, nor the village girl aspire to be mistaken for the fine lady. Both will maintain their own positions, and will be respected while they maintain them.
Let it also be borne in mind that a bonnet or cap, mantle or gown, may be very pretty in itself and very becoming to some persons, but not necessarily to everyone; generally to only a few. The young and the old have each their privileges. The one must not dress like the other. Though we have seen some who have been foolish enough to forget the years that have passed, and cannot realize the fact that they are no longer young, and vie with the youngest in the youthfulness of their attire, we do not, we admit, often find the young endeavoring to make themselves look older than they are. One who has thought much and written well on this subject says, "Doubtless if there were any way of making old people young, either in looks or anything else, it would be a delightful invention; but meanwhile juvenile dressing is the last road we should recommend them to take."
In conclusion, let every woman bear in mind that dress denotes character, that there is a symbolism in dress which they who have studied the matter can read without difficulty.
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