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The Art Of How To Dress

( Originally Published 1902 )

The fashion of attire is a question of the passing day; its esthetics is a question of the ages. Persons of taste will avoid the ridiculous, whatever may be the demands of fashion, yet will not vary so far from the prevailing custom in dress as to expose themselves to ridicule from singularity.

Dress has in it some of the essentials of the fine arts, and to be well dressed requires other requisites than the possession of wealth and a good figure. Good taste and refinement stand first; all other essentials come second. To dress well, the qualities of color, harmony, and contrast need to be observed, and a trained and artistic eye is as essential as a sensible and well-balanced mind. Dress, to be in good taste, by no means needs to be costly. Fit, proportion, and harmony in shade and color are the objects to be observed, and while there should be a reasonable consideration of the dictates of fashion, no person of sense will follow fashion blindly, to the neglect of the essentials of adaptation to figure, face, and occupation.

A Well Dressed Woman.

Some one says that "as a work of art a well-dressed woman is a study." The toilette of such a person is always well-chosen, with consideration of its purpose, and is always adapted to the situation, whether it be breakfast-room or ball-room, promenade or reception. If she loves bright colors, and they agree with her complexion, they will be as harmoniously arranged as the tints of an artist. If subdued colors are demanded, she will not let any desire for display lead her into the use of garish tints. If she is young, her dress will be youthful ; if she is old, it will avoid showiness. She will always rather follow than lead the prevailing fashion, and in no event will permit the costume of the day to lead her into violation of good taste and common sense.

The golden rule in dress is to avoid extremes. To affect peculiarities of costume shows a lack of good taste, while it is not less unwise to follow fashions which are unbecoming to the special person. Ladies who are neither very young nor very attractive in appearance will do best to wear quiet colors and simple styles ; while those who are not rich can always appear tastefully dressed, if they exercise care in the choice, and display skill and judgment in the arrangement of materials. A dressmaker of good taste is an essential to good dressing. The dressmaker is a woman's good or evil genius, and may do much to make or mar her position in social circles.

Dress for Various Occasions.

Morning dress should be faultless in its way. For young ladies, whether married or single, there is no prettier summer morn ing wear than white or very light dresses of washing materials. Yet those must be always fresh and clean, and the collars and cuffs irreproachable. For morning wear simplicity in attire is imperative. Silk should not be worn. Cotton and woolen are the proper materials.

The walking-dress should be quiet. A rich or showy dress in the street is apt to attract more attention than is desirable or always agreeable. For the carriage, however, a lady may dress as elegantly as she wishes.

Elderly ladies should dress as richly as their means permit. A thin old lady may wear delicate colors, while one of stout person or florid complexion will look best in black or dark grey. But for young and old alike the complexion and figure have much to do with determining the suitable colors. Rich colors harmonize well with brunette complexions, but for blondes and those of delicate tints of face the desir-able colors to be worn are those of more delicate hue.

At dinner parties, unless they be small and familiar in kind, only the fullest dress is appropriate. But at unceremonious dinners demi-toilette can be worn, and high dresses if the material be sufficiently rich. Real flowers may be worn at dinner parties, but it is better to wear artificial ones at balls, since the heat and dancing are apt to cause real flowers to droop and shed their petals.

Gloves, shoes, and boots must always be faultless. Gloves cannot be too light for the carriage, or too dark for the streets. A woman with ill-fitting gloves lacks one of the essentials of suitable dress. It may be remarked, by the way, that perfumes should be used only in the evening, and with the strictest moderation, and that perfumes to be tolerable must be of the most delicate kind.

There has never been a more telling and sensible criticism than that made by Dr. Johnson on a lady's dress. " I am sure she was well dressed," he said, "for I cannot remember what she had on."

Suitability of Apparel.

Suit your dresses to the occasions upon which they are to be used. In the morning, at home, a lady may wear a loose, flowing dress, made high in the neck, with a belt at the waist, and with loose sleeves fastened at the wrist. On the street a walking-costume should be worn, and the dress should clear the ground. There is nothing more disgusting than to see a rich dress sweeping up the dirt and filth of the street.

Fashion seems to decree this at the present time, with the ungraceful result of seeing nine women out of ten awkwardly holding up their skirts. The tenth sensibly ignores fashion in favor of comfort.

The shoes for the street should be high, warm, and easy to the feet, with a low, broad heel, and should be always neatly blackened. For ordinary street wear a lady may use either a hat or a bonnet. This is a matter of taste. In the dress of ladies great latitude is allowed ; but the aim of all who aspire to be well dressed should be simplicity and taste, the character of the occasion being always carefully considered. Latitude or great variety in dress is no longer thought original, and startling innovations are dangerous experiments. With artistic taste they may prove a success, but are much more likely to be a failure.

It is important that a lady should always dress neatly at home. She is then ready to receive a morning caller without having to change her dress. She should change her dress for the evening. Some neat and dainty costume should be worn, according to her taste, for it is in the evening that she is thrown most with the male members of her family, and is most likely to have visitors. In making evening calls upon her friends, a lady should wear a hood, or some light head-wrap easily laid aside. A bonnet should always be removed at the commencement of such a visit.

Public Occasions.

The fashion of the time must govern the evening dress for public occasions. Full dress must always be worn, but it is impossible to give any fixed rule regarding it, in view of the frequent changes in the demands of fashion. A competent dressmaker, or the fashion publications of the time, will give the necessary information. In Europe, the evening dress requires the exposure of the arms and neck; but in this country the more sensible plan of covering these parts of the body is widely the fashion, and should be observed except on very special occasions.

The dress for balls and soirees should be of the richest within the lady's means. Yet a certain degree of repression is important, if one would avoid seeming overdressed. White kid gloves and white satin or kid boots are most suitable to a ball dress. If the overdress is of black lace, black satin shoes are worn. Hints and directions, however, are of little need to ladies for occasions of this kind. Example and experience, either of themselves or their friends, will prevent them from going far wrong.

The richest full dress should be worn at the opera. The head should be bare, and dressed in the most becoming style. Jewelry may be worn, according to taste, as there is no place where it shows to better advantage. A light or brilliant colored opera cloak will add greatly to the lady's appearance and comfort. Gloves of white, or delicately tinted, kid only are to be worn. The ordinary walking-dress, however, is suitable for other places of amusement. A rich and elegant shawl may be worn, as it can be thrown off when uncomfortable. The sensible fashion is now making its way to remove the hat at theatres and lectures, out of due regard for those whose view of the stage may be obstructed. This being the case, there is no need to spoil the hair by wearing hat or bonnet on the way thither.

Plain and simple dress should be worn for church, with very little jewelry. The costume should be of quiet colors. It is a mark of bad taste for ladies to attend church elaborately or conspicuously dressed. It shows a disregard for the solemnity of the sanctuary, and is calculated to draw off the attentions of others from the duties of the place.


Much display of jewelry is out of place for young ladies, and the kind of jewelry to be worn demands as careful consideration as that of the dress itself. Diamonds, pearls, and transparent precious stones generally belong to evening costume, and are always in taste at night; but they should not be worn in the earlier parts of the day. In the morning, indeed, only a simple ring or two are admissible, ':with, perhaps, a gold brooch, and a watch and chain.

As regards cost of jewelry, it is by no means the best criterion of taste. A simple and inexpensive jewel may occasionally have the effect of an exquisite work of art, while a large and showy brilliant may give the impression of vulgar display or showy overdress. To wear much jewelry in the streets is in very bad taste, while in large cities it may subject the wearer to danger from robbery.

In traveling it is inadvisable to make a display of jewelry. It is particularly undesirable if a lady is traveling alone, for the reason just given.

Traveling Dress.

Traveling costume should be simple in style and quiet in color, materials that will not show dirt being preferable. A water proof cloak is a very desirable addition, as it may be at any time suddenly needed. In summer travel a long linen duster, belted at the waist, should be worn over the dress.

For the country or sea-side, simple and inexpensive dresses should be provided for ordinary wear. The bonnet should give place to a hat with a brim sufficiently wide to shield the face and neck from the sun. Bathing dresses should be made of blue or gray flannel. The skirt should come down to the ankles, and the sleeves should be long. An oil silk or India-rubber cap, fitting tightly around the head, will protect the hair from the salt water.

It is impossible to prescribe an exact style or mode of dress for ladies in all places and on all occasions. Fashion will change, and, it must be confessed, in the matter of female costume, its changes have often been for the better.

In regard to "overdressing," it is not easy to draw a line, customs in different localities varying so much that what is permissible in one place might be utterly out of place in another. The usual thing for winter dress is a stuff dress-a " cloth suit," it is usually called-worn with a fancy bodice. For elderly women, with money enough to afford it, costumes of silk, with elaborate trimming, are often worn. With toilettes of this kind the custom of wearing lace is on the increase ; but these are matters which the dressmaker is most competent to decide upon at any fixed period. As a general rule, however, loud colors should be avoided, and it is best never to risk extremes of costume, whether in or out of the line of fashion, if one wishes to escape the verdict of vulgarity.

A Well-Dressed Man.

Buffon has remarked that a man's clothes are a part of himself, and enter into our conception of his character. And cer tainly no man who is experienced in the ways of the world and has any regard for social opinion can consider the question of dress as unimportant. We may excuse a man who dresses very negligently, but we rarely hold him in any high regard. Our conception of the interior qualities of a person is influenced, more than we are ordinarily aware, by his exterior appearance, Walpole truly says: "We must speak to the eyes, if we wish to affect the mind."

In paying a visit, or in mingling in good society, it is complimentary to our hosts to be well dressed, and shows disregard of their wishes to be slovenly in attire. Even in a casual meeting, or in cases where the costume is likely to be of minor consideration, neat and careful dressing is very likely to be of advantage. A negligent attire indicates that a man is heedless of the opinions of others, and indifferent to their good will or respect.

A careful and neat attire, on the contrary, indicates a man who has a regard for himself and for the sentiments of others, one who finds pleasure in social intercourse, and loves to mingle in the society of his fellows. It is a kind of general offer of acquaintance, and proves a willingness to be accosted. Dress is the livery of good society, and he who would advance in the profession of pleasing must pay due regard to his outward aspect.

Dress is also significant of inner feeling, and expresses qualities of mind which are likely to affect the outward conduct. That courtier was not far astray who dated the beginning of the French Revolution from the day when a nobleman appeared at Versailles without buckles on his shoes.

Fashion is called a despot; but if men are willing to be its slaves, we cannot, and ought not, to upbraid fashion. In truth, the man who rebels against fashion is often more open to the imputation of vanity than he who obeys it, because he makes himself conspicuous, and practically announces that he is wiser than his kind. Affectation is always the essence of vulgarity. Between the two it is left to the man of sense and modesty to follow fashion only so far as not to make himself peculiar by opposing it, and in whatever he does or whatever he wears to let good taste, common sense, and a proper regard for the opinion of his fellows be the guides of his conduct.

A prime requisite in dress is its simplicity, with which may be coupled harmony of color. This simplicity is the only distinction which a man of taste should aspire to in the matter of dress, for simplicity in appearance must proceed from a nicety in

reality. One should not be simply illdressed, but simply well-dressed.

All extravagance, all over display, and all profusion must be avoided. The colors, in the first place, must harmonize both with our complexion and with one another; perhaps most of all with the color of our hair. All bright colors should be avoided, even in gloves and neck-ties. The deeper colors are, somehow or other, more manly, and are certainly less striking. The same simplicity should be studied in the avoidance of ornamentation.

Appropriate Costume.

You should dress according to your. occupation and means. If you are a salesmail, you would not think it appropriate to appear in the regulation garb of a bishop. Good sense and good taste form the first rule, and about the only one to be considered.

In the shifting climate of our country, gentlemen of late years have very sensibly adopted the mode of dressing especially for comfort. They have to brave all kinds of weather, sometimes wade through mud and slush, sometimes face a summer shower or cyclone, and they find it more essential to be protected against these climatic changes than to appear in elegant costume.

Their dress does not undergo so many modifications as that of ladies, and it is comparatively easy for them to wear apparel that will be simple and serviceable, and at the same time in good taste.

There is much less to be said about the dress of men than of women, as it is not subject to such extreme changes or susceptible of such great diversity in color, cut, and material. For the day the business suit is the usual costume, black or dark in color, with shoes of black or tan leather, and a derby or a soft hat. Those who desire a reputation for dressing well will scarcely appear in a high hat and tan shoes together.

Sack coats or cutaways can be worn with tweed or any rough cloth trousers and waistcoat, the weight and color being varied to fit the season. As evening approaches the sack coat and business suit should be replaced by a cutaway or frock coat. In the country rough tweed suits, fancy flannels and any kind of hat may be worn, unless the gentleman is going to some special social entertainment, when he should dress much as in the city.

The Shirt Waist.

In the summer of 1900 the shirt-waist, which was worn almost universally by women, was emulated by men, many of whom assumed, during business hours, unstarched colored shirts worn without vests, while a waist belt replaced the usual braces. Often the coat: was discarded. The comfort of this attire during the heated term was so great that the `- shirt-waist man" promises to become a recognized summer institution.

As for evening dress, a considerable latitude of opinion concerning this prevails. During the warm season-from June to October-comfort demands much laxity in

this respect. As evening dress is never seen in city streets without an overcoat, and as few care to swelter at the dictum of fashion, many men of sense content themselves with

a neat ordinary dress. There is a variety of usage in this respect also at the theatre, and it is coming to be imperative to wear evening attire only at formal dinners or at certain fashionable assemblages which make it a requisite. In general, except during the summer, it is a safe rule for the denizen of fashionable circles to change his dress every evening, so as to be prepared for dinner or any other formal occasion. But as the denizens of fashionable circles compose a limited section of the community, an island in the sea of the multitude who claim no such exclusive honor, evening dress, as a general rule, is kept for special occasions, and men at home consider comfort and convenience far more than fashion.

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