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LETTERS ON POLITENESS AND ETIQUETTE.–V.
great part. I need not in this article go into details, which “ Sylvia" deals with so effectively, but a few general observations on this point are within my province. Dr.
“Man is the only animal born without being provided with a necessary costume ; plants die that man may live, and animals are skinned that the lords of the creation may be covered ;” and this is so true that the greatest philosopher is obliged to think about his shirts. Of course, I do not pretend to give here any hints upon fashion, for
"Our dress still varying,
Nor to forms confined.
Of every wind." Each age has a toilette of its own, and each face and each physiognomy requires to be studied when dress is in question. The great art of dressing is to set off our good points, and to do it whilst adhering to fashion without being its slave. I must simply try to show the style and character of dress suitable for different occasions.
It cannot be denied that character has an influence on dress, and dress upon character; we cannot do better than reproduce a few lines of George Eliot's upon this subject. They occur in the opening chapter of “ Middle. march." The author says that the heroine, Miss Brooke, “had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrists were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters, and her profile, as well as her stature and bearing, seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which, by the side of provincial fashion, gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible or one of our elder poets, in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper." ... Her sister Celia“ wore scarcely more trimmings, and it was only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade of coquetry in its arrangements, for Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies had something to do with it. ... Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church, hardly larger than a parlour, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter."
One of the great arts of dressing well is to know that what is appropriate to a morning négligé would be out of place in an afternoon, and would not do at all for the evening.
Except the very prettiest, all women require the charms of dress, and even those who are beautiful in a
nightcap ought to be doubly so in a ball dress. Perhaps the morning toilette is the one most neglected in Eng land, and yet it is of the same importance as the rest. Every woman cannot afford an embroidered muslin dressing-gown lined with pink taffetas, but everyone can have a simple morning dress of irreproachable taste; all that is necessary is a good housewife's care and economy.
“ Best rooms,” company manners, and “ company dress, stamp their owners with vulgarity. The habit of being particular in dress only when you expect company, is a bad one, and an “ill habit has the force of an ill fate."
If you wish to appear a well-bred woman, never let anyone see you till you have made a complete toilette after rising from your bed; whether young or old, the bad consequences are the same. If you are young you lose your advantages, and you deprive yourself of your most powerful charms.
It is all very well for a woman to say, "I ought to please my husband by the qualities of my mind, and not by the charms of my appearance," but human nature was not made upon any such theoretical foundation. I remember once reading that some man said to Goethe that he was upon the point of falling in love with a beautiful girl, only he could not affirm that she had a very brilliant intelligence.
“Bah!" said Gæthe, “as if love had anything in common with intelligence! In a girl we love everything except her mind. We love, in her, her beauty, her youth, her teasings, her abandon, her character, her defects, her caprices, and many things which it is impossible to express.
But her mind ? Not a bit of it. When it is brilliant we appreciate it, and on its account a girl may gain considerably in our eyes. I agree that her intelligence may keep us in her chains when we lore her already, but of itself it cannot influence us nor inspire us with a passion."
If you are no longer young, any negligence of attire adds another injury to those of time. An old lady who respects herself, and who wishes still to keep the pleasures and affections suitable to her age, ought to be more careful in the details of her toilette than if she were only twenty, not to beautify herself, but to make herself more agreeable.
In this particular Englishwomen have much to learn from their French sisters. I have seen Frenchwomen of fifty who managed to make themselves more charming than many Englishwomen of thirty. Englishwomen are too much in the habit of thinking that, once married and mothers of a family, nothing more is expected them, and they can be as untidy or dowdy as they please.
In a morning, Frenchwomen generally cover their tion to be noticed between these and ball toilettes. hair with a cap, which, if not always elegant, is always Elderly ladies should wear light silks and lace and dressy exquisitely white; all that is white round the face suits, bonnets, but not hats. the physiognomy and complexion, and makes it look. It is a great mistake to go to a pic-nic in a dress that younger.
will spoil by contact with the ground, or that prevents its Nothing is more vulgar than to wear untidy slippers wearer having complete ease in all her movements. or boots in the house ; have your slippers made as large Nothing looks worse either for pic-nics, excursions, or as you like if you are fond of your ease, but never wear seaside wear, than a thin, flimsy fabric, or a shabby untidy ones. Remember, and I cannot repeat it too silk; they are out of keeping with nature, which is often, that a woman's distinction is revealed in the always fresh and strong. The best dresses are of some slightest details, and a well-bred person will judge you strong washing material, or otherwise; the best are those in five minutes by them alone.
that will look as well as the end as at the beginning of Frenchwomen excel, too, in the assortment and a day's wear. harmonising of colours. They never dream of decking Sailor blue, or other coloured serges or tweeds, are themselves in all the colours of the rainbow; if they the best things for a trip by sea, as they do not spoil go to the rainbow at all it is to see how the delicate under the action of sea air and water. shades fade into one another, and to choose those that A dinner dress should be made of silk, satin, velvet, best suit the colour of their hair and complexion. Alas or moiré, and trimmed with lace. Completely low and alack ! for most English women in these matters. bodies have gone out for dinner dresses, though they are How often do we see a drab face and a drab dress, or usually open in front. have our teeth set on edge by the proximity of colours Young ladies wear a spray of flowers, others caps or that have no connection in nature. Again, they will put lappets, with flowers and feathers. I nee on all the contents of their jewel-box at once, and they enlarge upon ball-room toilettes, tarlatane, tulle, or someoften make themselves look like Juggernaut idols, they thing as light for young people; silks for their chapéare so bedizened and bedecked!
rons. They are all low cut; the elders cover their But we must go on with our enumeration of the shoulders with an opera cloak or a lace shawl, etc. different styles of dress suitable for different occasions. Dark women should never wear mauve, nor light The dress worn by a mother at her child's christening ones yellow. The true colours for the brunette are and her own churching should be handsomely plain and cerise, orange, currant, and pink. Blondes have blue, richly neat. A silk or velvet dress will always do; a lilac, green, black; but their greatest triumph is white muslin would be entirely out of place.
muslin, especially Indian muslin: it forms admirable Costumes for calls, when you are obliged to pay them drapery, and gives another charm to a beautiful comon foot, should be different to those donned if your plexion. carriage is at the door. Dr. Johnson once said that he Precious stones suit few people. I know I shall be was sure some lady was well dressed, because he could thought eccentric for saying so, but it is artistically true. not remember what she had on; and the impression of a Diamonds, especially, never look well near the skin. walking toilet should always be the same as that left by Steele said of them, “They may indeed tempt a man to his visitor upon the worthy doctor. It may be light or steal a woman, but never to love her.” The only gems dark, according to the season, but it must not be liable that help to set off nature are pearls, and even false to attract attention.
ones if you are not rich enough to wear others. Nothing is more ridiculous or much dirtier, to speak Unless you are sure of your success, never try to plainly, than a long dress in the street. A long dress is outshine another by the richness of your dress. Dispute elegant and graceful in a room, it gives charming lines to the palm of elegant simplicity if you like. The greatest the toilette, whereas a short dress often breaks off those merit of a toilette is to seem natural, improvised, even lines too abruptly, but any woman who goes out in a when it has cost hours of study and preparation. long dress except in a carriage, seems to be aping the If you are rich there is nothing easier than to spend fine lady; and as Voltaire says, “all affectation is a vice.” a good deal of money, and buy very expensive things ;
Carriage dresses have much more licence than walk but it is not so easy to choose them as to wear them. ing costumes. Light-coloured silks, elaborately trimmed The greatest merit of all is to be able to do without them, and sweeping skirts, feathery bonnets and lace para- and yet to dress better than their possessors, and this is sois, would look quite out of place out of a carriage. quite possible. Light gloves are always worn for calls except in Brides are dressed entirely in white, unless they are mourning.
widows, when some delicate silk is chosen. The dress Costumes for lawn parties, bazaars, flower-shows, is made of silk or satin, trimmed with lace, and a lace and occasions of that sort, should be of fresh light ma- or tulle veil falls equally back and front. terials and colours. Muslins are there in their place, Bridesmaids generally wear white, trimmed with and light bonnets and hats; still there is a great distinc- colours, with white bonnets or veils; but bridesmaids'