BEAUTY OF DRESS
The majority of my sex understands the art of dress no further than that “fine feathers make fine birds;” and hence the women dress more or less in bad taste. Washington Irving says, “In all ages the gentle sex have shown a disposition to infringe a little upon the laws of decorum, in order to betray a lurking beauty, or an innocent love of finery.”
This is certainly stating the thing very modestly; but seeing Mr. Irving is a bachelor, it is perhaps going as far as he has any right to do in this direction. It is the “love of finery,” however, which is the great source of the corruption of female taste in dress. It is this which loads “the lovely form of woman” without adorning it.
The first thing to be done in instructing a woman to dress well is to impress upon her that profusion in not grace. A lady may empty a merchant’s counter upon the person, and yet produce no other effect than to give herself the appearance of a porters baggage-wagon, loaded with all manners of trinkets.
A lady who dresses in such a manner as to attract attention to her dress is always badly dressed. A well-chosen dress so harmonises with the figure and the natural style of the lady as to leave the dress measurably unobserved. The object of dress should be to show off an elegant woman, and not elegantly dressed woman. And therefore, in simplicity, and a certain adaptation to your figure and complexion, all the secrets of good dressing lie.
But as beauty of form and complexion varies in different woman, and is still more various in different ages, so the styles in dress should assume characters corresponding with all these circumstances. Woman may take a lesson on dress from the garments which nature puts at the various seasons of the year. In the spring of youth, when all is lovely and gay, and the soft green, sparkling in freshness, bedecks the earth. The light and transparent robes, of brilliant color, may adorn” the limbs of beauty.” Especially if the maid posses the airy form of Mebe, a lightly flowing drapery is best suited to show such loveliness of her charms. This simple garb leaves to beauty all her empire. Let no furbelows, no heavy ornaments, load the figure, or distract the attention in its admiration of the lovely outlines.
The young woman of graver mien and more majestic form should select her apparel with reference to her different style of beauty. Her robes should always be long and more ample than those of her gayer sister. Their substance should be thicker and of a more sober color. White is considered becoming to all characters; but when color are worn, the lady majestic style should choose the fuller shades of purple, crimson, scarlet, or black. The best school to teach a woman taste in dress is the Pantheon of ancient Rome. First behold the lovely Hebe; her robes are like the air, her motion is on the zephyr’s wing. That may be woman’s style until she is twenty. Then comes the beautiful Diana. The chaste dignity of woman hood and intelligence pervades the whole form, and the very drapery which enfolds it, harmonizes with the modest elegance, the buoyant strength of ripened health, which gives elastity and grace to every limb. That is woman from twenty to thirty. Then comes Juno or Minerva, standing forth on the combined power of beauty and wisdom. 2At this period she gradually lays aside the flowers of youth, and arrays herself in the majestic of sobriety, or in the sober beauty of simplicity. Long ought to be the reign of this commanding epoch of woman’s age, for from thirty to fifty she may be respectably maintain her station on the throne of matron excellence,” and still be lawfully admired as a beautiful woman. But beyond this age, it becomes her to lay aside all her pretentions, and, by her” mantle of grey,” gracefully acknowledge her entrance into the “vale of years.” What can be more disgusting than a painted and be powered old woman,” just trembling on the brink of the grave, and yet a candidate for the flattery of men?”
Not only is it true that there is propriety in adapting a lady’s dress to the different seasons of her life, and the peculiar character of her figure, but there is a very great propriety in adapting the costliness of her dress to her pecuniary position in life. I know that in America all artificial distinctions of classes are happily laid aside; but the necessities which attach to pecuniary disabilities are not, and never can be overcome. Though it may be the right of every woman to dress as expensively as she can afford, yet is it good taste, is it consistent with her own self-respect, for the wife, or the daughter of a poor man to dress expensively, and imitate all the wasteful extravagances of the rich? Let every woman be forewarned that she cannot do it without drawing upon herself the inevitable suspicion that must cause a husband and a father to blush, even though the purple tinge never visits her own cheeks. Though she may be innocent, it is still bad taste to affect expenditures beyond her known means or income. There is fitness, and an inexpressible charm, in the sight of a woman who adapts her neat and modest attire to the circumstances of her life.