S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I cannot conclude my paper without observing that Virgil has very finely touched upon this female passion for dress and show, in the character of Camilla; who, though she seems to have shaken off all the other weaknesses of her sex, is still described as a woman in this particular.
I would desire the fair sex to consider how impossible it is for them to add anything that can be ornamental to what is already the masterpiece of nature. The head has the most beautiful appearance, as well as the highest station, in the human figure. Nature has laid out all her art in beautifying the face; she has touched it with vermilion, planted in it a double row of ivory, made it the seat of smiles and blushes, lighted it up and enlivened it with the brightness of the eyes, hung it on each side with curious organs of sense, given it airs and graces that cannot be described, and surrounded it with such a flowing shade of hair as sets all its beauties in the most agreeable light. In short, she seems to have designed the head as the cupola to the most glorious of her works; and when we load it with such a pile of supernumerary ornaments, we destroy the symmetry of the human figure, and foolishly contrive to call off the eye from great and real beauties, to childish gew-gaws, ribands, and bone-lace.
It would not be an impertinent design to make a kind of an old Roman wardrobe, where you should see togas and tunicas, the chlamys and trabea, and all the different vests and ornaments so often mentioned in the Greek and Roman authors.
It is not every man that can afford to wear a shabby coat: and worldly wisdom dictates to her disciples the propriety of dressing somewhat beyond their means, but of living somewhat within them: for every one sees how we dress, but none see how we live, except we choose to let them. But the truly great are, by universal suffrage, exempted from these trammels, and may live or dress as they please.
I understand that in France, though the use of rouge be general, the use of white paint is far from being so. In England, she that uses one commonly uses both. Now, all white paints, or lotions, or whatever they may be called, are mercurial; consequently poisonous, consequently ruinous in time to the constitution. The Miss B above mentioned was a miserable witness of the truth, it being certain that her flesh fell from her bones before she died. Lady Coventry was hardly a less melancholy proof of it; and a London physician perhaps, were he at liberty to blab, could publish a bill of female mortality of a length that would astonish us.
A French woman is a perfect architect in dress: she never, with Gothic ignorance, mixes the orders; she never tricks out a squabby Doric shape with Corinthian finery; or, to speak without metaphor, she conforms to general fashion only when it happens not to be repugnant to private beauty.
The English ladies, on the contrary, seem to have no other standard of grace but the run of the town. If fashion gives the word, every distinction of beauty, complexion, or stature ceases. Sweeping trains, Prussian bonnets, and trollopees, as like each other as if cut from the same piece, level all to one standard. The Mall, the gardens, and the playhouses are filled with ladies in uniform; and their whole appearance shows as little variety of taste as if their clothes were bespoke by the colonel of a marching regiment, or fancied by the artist who dresses the three battalions of guards.
But not only the ladies of every shape and complexion, but of every age too, are possessed of this unaccountable passion for levelling all distinction in dress. The lady of no quality travels first behind the lady of some quality; and a woman of sixty is as gaudy as her grand-daughter.
Nothing can be better calculated to increase the price of silk than the present manner of dressing. A ladys train is not bought but at some expense, and after it has swept the public walks for a very few evenings, is fit to be worn no longer; more silk must be bought in order to repair the breach, and some ladies of peculiar economy are thus found to patch up their tails eight or ten times in a season. This unnecessary consumption may introduce poverty here, but then we shall be the richer for it in China.
Love, in modern times, has been the tailors best friend. Every suitor of the nineteenth century spends more than his spare cash on personal adornments. A faultless fit, a glistening hat, tight gloves, and tighter boots proclaim the imminent peril of his position.
Declining ladies, especially married ladies, are more given, I think, than men, to neglect their personal appearance, when they are conscious that the bloom of their youth is gone. I do not speak of state occasions, of set dinner-parties and full-dress balls, but of the daily meetings of domestic life. Now, however, is the time, above all others, when the wife must determine to remain the pleasing wife, and retain her John Andersons affections to the last, by neatness, taste, and appropriate variety of dress. That a lady has fast-growing daughters, strapping sons, and a husband hard at work at his office all day long, is no reason why she should ever enter the family circle with rumpled hair, soiled cap, or unfastened gown. The prettiest woman in the world would be spoiled by such sins in her toilette.
I do not speak of the time dear to the hearts of patriotic Englishmen, when King Stephen resided here, and probably provided himself in his native capital with those expensive habiliments which Shakspeare has not disdained to celebrate. And what a fine touch of character it is, to make that gross and coarse rival of Matilda break forth into such vulgar reflections on the tradesman who supplied the clothes!
His best waistcoat (which I remember, poor fellow, to have been the same for a long course of years) retained to the last a brilliancy of which words can give but a feeble idea; it represented, by sprigs and threads formed of the precious metals, upon a satin ground, the firmament,sun, moon, and stars competing upon it altogether with an equal fervency; and this celestial waistcoat was Mr. Jantys pride. One of the few ushers whom I ever saw assert his personal dignity was this gentleman, on the occasion of an insult being offered to his favourite garment. A boy of the name of Jones pointed out this miracle of art, one Sunday, with his finger, to the rest of us, as not being altogether the sort of pattern that is worn for morning costume; and Mr. Janty knocked him down with a box upon his right ear, picking him up with a box upon his left immediately, observing that he hoped he (Mr. Janty) knew how to dress himself like a gentleman.
Some years ago, we, the writer, not being in Griggs and Bodgers, took the liberty of buying a great-coat which we saw exposed for sale in the Burlington Arcade, London, and which appeared to be in our eyes the most sensible great-coat we had ever seen. Taking the further liberty to wear this great-coat after we had bought it, we became a sort of Spectre, eliciting the wonder and terror of our fellow-creatures as we flitted along the streets. We accompanied the coat to Switzerland for six months; and, although it was perfectly new there, we found it was not regarded as a portent of the least importance. We accompanied it to Paris for another six months; and, although it was perfectly new there too, nobody minded it. This coat, so intolerable to Britain, was nothing more nor less than the loose wide-sleeved mantle, easy to put on, easy to put off, and crushing nothing beneath it, which everybody now wears.
As the index tells us the contents of stories, and directs to the particular chapter, even so does the outward habit and superficial order of garments (in man or woman) give us a taste of the spirit and demonstratively point (as it were a manual note from the margin) all the internal quality of the soul; and there cannot be a more evident, palpable, gross manifestation of poor, degenerate, dunghilly blood and breeding, than a rude, unpolished, disordered, and slovenly outside.
Mens apparel is commonly made according to their conditions, and often governed by their garments; for the person that is gowned is, by his gown, put in mind of gravity, and also restrained from lightness by the very unaptness of his weed.
To this end, nothing is to be more carefully consulted than plainness. In a ladys attire this is the single excellence; for to be what some people call fine, is the same vice in that case, as to be florid is in writing or speaking. I have studied and writ on this important subject, until I almost despair of making reformation in the females of this island; where we have more beauty than any spot in the universe, if we did not disguise it by false garniture and detract from it by impertinent improvements.
It is an assertion which admits of much proof, that a stranger of tolerable sense, dressed like a gentleman, will be better received by those of quality above him, than one of much better parts whose dress is regulated by the rigid notions of frugality. A mans appearance falls within the censure of every one that sees him; his parts and learning very few are judges of; and even upon these few they cannot at first be well intruded; for policy and good breeding will counsel him to be reserved among strangers, and to support himself only by the common spirit of conversation.
I fancied it must be very surprising; to any one who enters into a detail of fashions to consider how far the vanity of mankind has laid itself out in dress, what a prodigious number of people it maintains, and what a circulation of money it occasions. Providence in this case makes use of the folly which we will not give up, and it becomes instrumental to the support of those who are willing to labour.
Let women paint their eyes with tints of chastity, insert into their ears the word of God, tie the yoke of Christ around their necks, and adorn their whole persons with the silk of sanctity and the damask of devotion; let them adopt that chaste and simple, that neat and elegant style of dress which so advantageously displays the charms of real beauty, instead of those preposterous fashions and fantastical draperies of dress which, while they conceal some few defects of person, expose so many defects of mind, and sacrifice to ostentatious finery all those mild, amiable, and modest virtues by which the female character is so pleasingly adorned.