Art In Wearing Clothes
( Originally Published 1924 )
"'Tis not a lip, or eye, we beauty call,
CHARM, GRACE, AND BEAUTY
A FAMOUS designer of women's clothes once said that after years of experience he had decided that there were no really homely women in the world; that every woman had at least one quality which, if properly brought out, could be enthroned, and all other qualities be-come handmaidens to her command of charm.
But before we go on to discuss the relation of dress to charm, we should first distinguish between the pretty and the beautiful woman. The pretty woman is one whose looks are entirely superficial; she goes frequently around the corner to use her vanity case (in these modern days she does not even take the trouble to go around the corner). The beautiful woman cultivates health, which is the fountain head of sweet disposition, and spontaneity. She has the natural beauty of sparkling eyes, clear skin, and glistening hair.
All women wish to be beautiful and to possess that illusive, yet most potent, something which we call charm. But what is charm, and whence is it?
We all agree that it is an inner quality, and perhaps it may be defined as a graciousness from within which finds expression without, in a manner most pleasing to the world. Charm is the grace which compels a desired response from others, and because it is a from-within quality every woman may possess it, and every woman by cultivating charm may become beautiful. There is a subtle bond between charm of person and charm of costume, and we are going to try to understand their relation.
"Dress should be more than a covering or an ornament. It should express character. It should be a picture painted by the wearer with her own hands for public exhibition, showing herself as she would wish to be."
If it were possible to cull from each nation that which is most charming and distinctive in its dress and combine such knowledge in a text-book of practical application, what a millenium in harmonious beauty we should have attained.
If one could select that quality of smartness which the English woman puts into her clothes, accompanied by the sincerity and decisiveness which we associate with her character, add to it the chic vivaciousness, the perfection of detail with which the Parisienne graces her frocks, what an alluring picture we should have ! To this colorful portrait we might add a touch of the picturesque languor of old Spain, or the romantic charm of the Neopolitan.
Perhaps, after all, this strange and delightful composite may be but a vision of the American woman as she stands today, the Foster Mother of all nations, her face a blended portrait of them all.
The girls and women of today are fortunate in living in an age when clothes are more beautiful than they have ever been before in the world's history, because the key-note of design in clothes is tending more and more toward simplicity. Every style magazine is emphasizing this quality and sounding taps to extremes and ugliness in dress. This stressing of simplicity must inevitably lead to the ultimate of art in dress. The quality is recognized immediately as sincerity, which is the essence of charm.
The reader must remember that charm is not dependent upon clothes, that it is a quality from within; but it can be expressed in clothes, just as all inner life is expressed through the outward self. It manifests itself in one's ability to express her personality through her clothes. It is a genuine compliment when some one says, "That hat looks just like you," or, "I knew that coat was yours the moment I saw it." A gingham dress, the best of its kind, makes no pretense. It is just gingham. It has a charm which a cheap silk dress that is trying to imitate its richer sister could not possibly possess.
If, when you have selected your costume, people look at you and think, "What a pretty dress ! I wonder how much it cost," you have failed. But if they think instead, "So, this is Mary Jane ! Isn't she a vital, beautiful personality?" you have succeeded in your expression through clothes. You have achieved sincerity, simplicity, and the charm that is so irresistible in woman.