Accessories Of Dress
( Originally Published 1924 )
ARTISTRY in clothes is most important, and in this era of emphasing the utilitarian, care must be taken lest we lose sight of the other. The love of adornment is a heritage from our most primitive ancestors. It is probable that Eve added a bright garland of pomegranates to her somber garment of fig leaves. We all have an instinctive feeling that our natural charms are not sufficient in themselves. This seems to be a universal opinion. Decoration, however, is one of the most dangerous pitfalls for the woman who is untrained in the art of correct dressing. Her danger lies in unharmonious and inartistic attempts at adornment where careful distinction is vital.
To illustrate : a girl of distinct beauty was dressed for an afternoon reception. She was wearing a velvet gown of an unusual green. The material was correct for the occasion; the color was just suited to the wearer, for it brought out the delightful green of her eyes and enhanced her blonde loveliness. The lines of the dress were artistic—the draperies falling from the shoulders and hips followed the Grecian idea of art. There was even a bit of dull gold embroidery. Thus far the costume was harmonious. But, the little lady didn't have sense enough to stop right there. Instead, she put about her neck a strand of nondescript beads and a lace collar ! Thus was the charm of the costume ruined. For unless there is a definite need for a certain ornament, the art quality is lost.
For all art begins in need. We form an idea of what is going to satisfy that need, then we mentally picture an expression of that idea. We visualize the creation we are to make with our own hands, or as a selection of something some one else has made. If what we make or select truly satisfies a need, we have something which is artistic; but the need must come first.
Suppose you feel the need of a certain costume—one which is not only designed to protect you but one whose purpose is to express your ideals of fitness and beauty. If you are wise, you are going to create or select for your complete costume only those things which fit into your mental picture to complete the visualization of your idea.
Women select things which appeal as separate parts, without giving any thought as to whether they "belong" in the completed picture. The result is not one definite idea enhanced and harmonized by modifying ideas, but a conglomerated mass of unrelated ones. Art is expressed only in perfect harmony between color, line, and proportion. In Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher," every word and every sentence go to emphasize the fundamental idea of the story. It is this characteristic in Poe's stories which has made him such an artist in short-story writing.
One August day, I noticed a woman entering a fashionable hotel. She wore a huge, black picture hat trimmed with paradise feathers—and a silk sweater and sport skirt ! Her scattered mentality was reflected in the heterogeneous attire. Her feet were shod for an evening party; her head for an afternoon reception; the rest of her was probably attired for the golf links, but no one could have definitely said where it was she was going ! She made one think of one of Portia's suitors who "bought his round hose in Germany, his doublet in Italy, his bonnet in France, and his behavior everywhere."
In dress, as in every other work of art, there must be the quality of unity. If the suit expresses durability, the hat, shoes, blouse, gloves, in fact, every part of the costume must express durability too. A chiffon evening gown should not be worn with calfskin brogans. Dress and shoes would not be in unity. Then why should one wear a wool dress or a suit which expresses durability with the high-heeled satin slippers which express anything but that? A transparent, flower-trimmed hat would be out of harmony with a heavy wool suit ; just so would white French kid gloves, a dainty lace-trimmed blouse, a beaded purse, or a pearl necklace be out of harmony with a riding habit Observe the girls who lack good taste in their dress and you will find that the quality of unity is generally lacking.
An apt parallel may be found in the instance of a young lady who plays "by ear." She may entertain us for a time, but she will never become a real artist unless she masters the technique of music, unless she understands the laws which control harmony, the effects of shading and accent, and all the things which give refinement and expression to the combinations of beautiful sounds. The more one understands of music, the greater will be her joy in music. Dress has technique, too. One can express herself in dress so that it becomes one of the most influential of all arts, because of its effects upon all who see. As one grows to know the art language of Dress, one is going to proclaim herself so clearly and beautifully that she awakens Beauty where for her it had not previously, existed.
The designers of inexpensive ready-to-wear apparel seldom seem to appreciate the beauty of an unadorned surface. They needs must attach a tassel here, or a row of unnecessary buttons there, and thereby give a mark of mediocrity to the whole costume. There are many women whose purses are by no means elastic who would appreciate simplicity, but they are unable to secure it in their clothing.
The most expensive garments have the quality which every one should desire in dress—simplicity, which means freedom from meaningless ornamentation.
It is not the purpose of this chapter dealing with accessories to discuss the dress accompaniments of any definite period, but instead to explain certain rules that may serve as guides for the good taste which distinguishes both the costume and the occasion.
No woman is entirely responsible for her features and form, but all owe to themselves and their friends unremitting efforts to understand good and bad points that even the plainest—tho she may never resemble a Venus—may at least display that pleasing appearance which is a 'combination of smartness and trimness from head to toes.