Silhouettes And High Spots
( Originally Published 1928 )
SO we look back over the long procession of body coverings used in all ages, our attention is arrested here and there by some, at the time, new and striking form. Every period of the world's history has a certain style of dress, either all its own or borrowed from some previous fashion. It may be unique and notable and used but once. It is frequently transitional. Again, it may be climactic. Something originates in a modest way and, being seized upon by the dandies, the sirens or the mob, develops into huge pro-portions like an inflated balloon, doomed to ultimate col-lapse and obliteration, or shrinkage to a tiny souvenir of a gorgeous past. Because the idea is simply exhausted, or, occasionally, as a reaction of war, what follows is a plain or sober fashion, the very simplicity of which takes the world by storm.
This constant change of fashion has created a procession of silhouettes, a glimpse at any one of which should indicate some particular period. While to most of us the form may be familiar, we do not know to what exact date it properly belongs. Any one who aspires t be a director in the theatre, however, should be well informed on such a point. At the dress rehearsals of a costume play he should know, the instant an actor steps out on the stage, whether his silhouette is correct, for there the glaring faults will appear. Mistakes in detail can be adjusted on close scrutiny.
Costumers are not infallible; running short of what is absolutely correct, they may substitute a style unheard of until perhaps fifty years after the period of the play. An Empire coat with three or four little shoulder capes is most certainly out of place in the play of "Little Women," the first act of which is dated 1863, yet a New York costumer took a chance on director, actors and public not knowing any better. Often, gowns of 184o are made to take the place of those of 186o; and the eighteenth-century coat is subjected to much fanciful handling.
In the study of costuming, consider history, for the two walk hand in hand. Famous rulers have done much to influence fashion; the whims of kings, queens, famous beaux and belles, actresses and courtesans, have had more to do with changes in the mode than all of the tailors and modistes.
A Spanish princess has a goiter on her neck ; to cover it she wears a little ruffle about her throat—and lo! the ruff. A French coquette is thrown from her horse and her hair falls down; she ties it up with the aid of her garter—and all the world of women is soon wearing a huge headdress called the Fontange, after the beauty with her first-aid garter. We can no more separate clothes from history than salt from seasoning.
Reviewing the subject in detail, its most arresting forms —or may we call them high spots ?—seem to have been as follow's :
Tunics, dating from the very Dark Ages.
Togas, mantles of magnificent proportions and class distinction.
Cross-garterings of leather thongs, rope, straw or golden cords.
Trousers, from the curious open-work, pajama-like affairs which Paris is portrayed in on Mount Ida, the Oriental suggestion of those worn by the Amazons, and the baggy, ruffled "bracae" of the Gauls, through their various disguises to the snugly fitting trousers of Beau Brummel, slashed over the instep, later fastened under it, and of various degrees of fullness, the greatest amplitude being manifested in those known as Oxford Bags, a re-version to the loose ones of the Gauls.
Tights, trunk-hose, bombasted breeches, petticoat breeches and the skin-tight black satin breeches of George III, to don which men were obliged to climb upon some-thing and then step down.
Wimples, covering all of the hair, to which were added gorgets, concealing all of the throat.
Chin-bands, the best invention for routing double-chins ever known.
Cases, contrivances placed on the end of the natural braid and linking strands of false hair, which fell to the ladies' knees or farther, according to their pleasure.
Enormous headdresses of the fifteenth century, known as horned, hearts, steeples and hennins.
Ruffs, at their largest in 1582, when the term "cart-wheels," as applied, was descriptively appropriate.
Cracowes, wooden soles with raised portions under the ball of the foot and the heel, and a projecting point de-signed to support the extremely long toe of the shoe (these were later forbidden by proclamation, as traffic, even in those days, presented problems).
Chopines, shoes with cork soles varying from three to eighteen inches in height, a fashion of Constantinople copied by the ladies of Venice.
Chaperons and roundlets, headdresses and hats respectively, evolved from the hood with its hanging liripipe.
Surcoats and their offspring, the cote-hardie, a dainty jacket ermined and jeweled.
Houppelandes, long, all-enveloping garments with wide sleeves, gaily foliated.
Drapes, those one-arm holed wraps of the Middle Ages used by all Romeos.
Lacing, introduced on the outside of the gown in the eleventh century, transferred in the sixteenth to instruments of torture called busks, that reduced the waist, by overlapping the ribs, to thirteen inches.
Age of draperies, when, in the twelfth century, men and women loaded themselves down with voluminous apparel of all kinds.
Parti-colored age, so named because a vagary of fashion decreed that costumes should have a sharply marked color line through the center, thus one leg might be red and the other black.
Heraldic age, when the coat of arms of the wearer was emblazoned on the surcoats worn over armor (shown with stunning effect in a recent production of "Henry IV," by the Players' Club).
Age of satin and ribbons, lasting through the period of the Stuarts and immortalized in Sir Peter Lely's portraits of the court beauties, veritable poems in satin, hanging in Hampton Court Palace.
Dagged fashion, with the edges of garments cut out to represent leaves.
Cauls, open networks of gold wire, pearls, or jewels forming caps, which have cropped up in all ages and are especially endeared to us as the most favored head-covering of all Juliets.
Farthingales, huge wheels of bone suspended about the hips, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, and over which the stomacher gown was hung, combining to create one of the ugliest costumes of all time.
Panniers, broad and tilting, providing a resting place for Madame's elbows.
Hoop skirts, wide spreading, tipping, requiring an ex-pert touch in the act of sitting to prevent their rising in a scandalous arch.
Simarres, graceful Florentine gowns.
Milan bonnets, jauntily perched and gaily feathered, inseparable from any visualization of Henry VIII.
Doublets, originally practical jackets of two thicknesses, doomed to much slashing and even bombasting to the weight of five pounds, when, as the "pease-cod-bellied," they were worn by the laced dandies of 1583.
Virago sleeves, large open ones of the sixteenth century.
Engageants, those frivolous lace ruffles hanging flirtatiously from the elbow of the eighteenth-century sleeve.
Solitaires, black ribbons laid in gracefully negligent fashion around the necks of gentlemen at the court of Louis XV.
Watteau or sack-back dresses, immortalized in the eighteenth century by Watteau and numerous court painters.
Fontanges, absurd headdresses of tower-like proportions which necessitated lowering the head when passing through a door.
Cavalier costumes, the most debonair of all time for men.
Coats, long, short, side-pleated, buckram skirted, laced, cuffed, uncuffed, cutaway and "swallow-tailed."
Cocked hats, whose tilt had a language all their own.
Periwigs, achieving distinction when they imitated the luxuriant locks of the Grand Monarque, later taking on every conceivable size and form.
Empire gowns, their grace of line a flashback to the ancient Greek.
Stocks, bandages for the throat resembling surgical dressing, worn by gentlemen during the early nineteenth century.
Leg-o'-mutton sleeves, atrocious affairs of 183o. Pantalettes, little modesty pieces for feminine ankles in the bashful forties.
Poke bonnets, charming frames for pretty faces.
High hats, the most pompous and dignified of all head-gear.
Chignons or "waterfalls," which cascaded from the crown of women's heads in the justly ridiculed seventies.
Bustles, hideous, fashionable and considered modest by some in the seventies and eighties.
Large sleeves of the nineties, immortalized by Charles Dana Gibson in his cartoon of the suddenly surprised couple on the sofa, when the girl's sleeve is flattened on the side nearest her beau.
Trains, graceful through all the ages, ever suggestive of the regal, and in the early twentieth century worn on all street dresses.
Pompadours, named for the Marquise de Pompadour and revived by the Gibson girls and their mothers early in this century.
Merry Widow hats, cocked on the pompadour and loaded with plumes.
Hobble skirts, freakish, dangerous and but a passing fad in 1910.
Slit skirts, sensational but sensible, since they made walking possible in garments measuring less than a yard around at the bottom.
Rainy day skirts, sponsored by a woman's club and predecessors of the "trotteur" and the knee-length skirt of today.
Bobs and short skirts, making the present one of the most remarkable and revolutionary periods in the history of fashion.