The Child's Dress
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AMERICAN extravagance nowhere so runs riot as in the way our children are clothed. Not even on the boulevards of Paris does one see such beautifully dressed, and such extravagantly overdressed, little ones, as are met everywhere in the streets and parks of our cities. Our shop windows are full of exquisite bonnets of tulle and rose-buds for little heads, and tiny silk petticoats, embroidered gowns, white silk coats and a thousand other lovely, expensive, and foolish things. The very immigrants who land on our shores are infected, and it is no uncommon sight to see a mother in peasant costume with a shawl over her head, carrying a child in a dress of soiled white openwork, with a hat gay with fragile flowers-things undreamed of in her home.
Our common sense seems to vanish when we shop for our children. We rarely hesitate over a fashion, no matter how extreme it is; when large hats are in vogue, we buy the largest ones we can find for our little girls, or when Eton collars are spread out for small boys, we never wonder whether they will be comfortable or becoming, but at once take half a dozen home because they are to be worn by all the small boys in town. We are tempted by each new season to some fresh absurdity or new extravagance; we do not ask for the sensible thing any more, but only for the very latest.
Comfortable Dress for Boys.-In dressing a little boy, at any rate, one cannot afford to dispense with the simple things he likes. There are always corduroys and tweeds to be had, and tam-o'-shanters, or some other easy sort of cap for his head, and shirt-waists, knickerbockers, and other things he approves of. Of course he must have a "best" suit, but at least it can be something not too conspicuous. The Little Lord Fauntleroy styles have gone out, forever let us hope, and velvet and lace and long curls are things of the past. White piqué suits for very small boys and something equally good and simple for the older ones are far less exasperating to boyish feelings.
Clothing for boys should certainly be comfortable, whether it is fashionable or not. A certain judge was recently asked, "What is your most vivid recollection of your childhood?" "The seams in my trouser-legs," he ruefully answered. A boy's shoes should be large enough and of good shape, his collars well fitted, his suit neither too heavy nor too light for the weather, and his sleeves long enough to look well. Fashion should have little or nothing to say to his everyday clothes, and the mother who demands that one season he shall wear leather leggings from hip to ankle and another that kilts and bare knees shall be the rule, makes a serious mistake. He should wear what he can play ball in with ease to his mind and body; some-thing which mud will not ruin, and fences will not too-easily tear. A boy suffers more from being over-dressed than a grown person sometimes guesses, and it is better to preserve his temper in good shape than his raiment. If sometimes, at church or a party or dancing school, he must be made uncomfortable by having on clothes which he despises for being too good, at least on everyday occasions he should not be tormented by being unnecessarily fussed over.
Tasteful Clothes for Little Girls.-Dressing a little girl, how-ever, is no such simple matter. Of course, first of all her clothing must be healthful; warm enough, light enough, and not too tight anywhere for perfect ease; but quite aside from this, it should be attractive. A girl's dress is a means of education to her, and her good taste in any direction in after life depends largely upon her being dressed appropriately and daintily in her early girlhood. This does not mean that her clothing need be expensive. It costs no more to buy a winter dress of soft, dull green and blue plaids, than one of scarlet and yellow, but the difference is vast on the mind of the child. Her ribbons of colors which harmonize with her gowns are quite as easy to get as those in violent contrast with them. One girl whose mother always told her that nothing mattered in her clothing provided it was whole and neat, and who wore dresses of hideous colors, sashes of rainbow hues, and ginghams with stripes where tucks had been let down, said when a woman, "I simply have no taste in dress; I blush to see myself in the glass to-day, and my mother did me an injustice when she let me grow up so indifferent to everything of the kind."
Cultivating Good Taste.-A mother owes her child a duty in such ways. She should train her eye to see and enjoy beautiful colors and artistic cuts quite as much as she should teach her to be tidy and clean. It is not necessary to let a child become over-careful in such ways, or vain of her pretty things; if clothing is not spoken of except incidentally, and good, appropriate things are chosen as a matter of course, she will simply accept them and her taste will be educated without her knowledge. There is far less harm in following this course than the other. A child becomes painfully self-conscious when she sees the difference in her own dress and that of other children; if she is over-dressed and conspicuous in any way, she suffers from it. Loud colors and startling effects first give a child the effect of vulgarity and then, too often, make her vulgar. There is a distinctly refining influence in quiet, well-chosen clothing. It does not follow that such dressing is necessarily economical; it may be or it may not be. One can put more money in a sheer lawn trimmed with hand embroidery than in a dress covered with lace ruffles. But a child may be distinctly well dressed on a small sum; it is not the cost of the materials or work which makes them tasteful, but the choice of goods and cut.
As to the ethics of dress, here too, one may well stop and consider. If it is immoral to put too much money in clothes, as it surely is, how about the time a mother often spends on making them? If her health suffers from long hours over the sewing machine, have her children any right to elaborate clothes? Should she sacrifice both time and money foolishly merely to stimulate their vanity or her own? Certainly she has a duty to them in this respect. They must be taught that there are things more important than clothes, the health and time of their mother, and that these must not be sacrificed needlessly. It is better to wear a frock out of season than to have a mother sit up at night to get it done for some special occasion.
Simplicity in Clothing.-Fortunately, as a solvent to these problems of dress comes in the new fashion of simplicity for children. Even the very rich do not overload their little ones to-day as they did recently. One millionaire in showing his lovely new home to a friend opened a hall door on a playground where half a dozen children were making mud-pies and climbing fruit-trees, and all of them, boys and girls alike, were dressed in blue denim bloomers. The day of what has been well called "the white plague," is rapidly going, let us hope. Nothing could be more painful to a lover of children than to see them all dressed in snowy coats, dresses and hats, forbidden to run or play lest they tumble or soil their spotless clothes.
One of the signs of good breeding is an absolute unconsciousness of what one has on. If a boy or girl habitually wears simple, but appropriate clothing to school or play or church, and if little or nothing is said about it, this sign should not be lacking in later years. To be dressed with due regard to the prevailing fashion but never with regard to its extremes; to be simply, comfortably, prettily gowned, in good taste if not in costly materials, is to grow up without that intense interest in clothes which we deprecate in so many to-day. To be over-dressed is never to be well dressed, and to teach one's children how to follow the golden mean of good taste is well worth the thought of mothers.