No one disputes the fact that, when our first parents were placed in the garden of Eden, they wore no clothes. It was not until after they had acquired the knowledge of good and evil that they turned their attention to the subject of dress, which is now the engrossing thought and care of the majority.
There are still to be found amongst the uncivilized races those who are contented with as small an amount of clothing as satisfied the first inhabitants of Eden. Yet many of these show that they study personal appearance quite as much as the most fashionable of Parisian belles; for they bestow much labor, time, and thought, and endure much actual suffering in the elaborate patterns with which they tattoo, and, as they vainly suppose, embellish their faces and persons. The ancient Britons, who painted themselves in various devices, also bore witness to the natural craving after personal adornment, which seems to be inherent in the whole human race.
The particular modes in which this craving exhibits itself seem to depend upon climate and civilization. Climate prescribes what is absolutely necessary; civilization, what is decent and becoming. In some countries it is necessary to protect the body, and especially the head, from the power of the sun; in others, to guard it against extreme cold; while many of the savage tribes, inured to the scorching rays of the sun, almost entirely dispense with clothing, and yet have certain conceits and vanities which show that personal appearance is not disregarded. The most hostile intentions have been averted, and imminent peril escaped, by the timely present of a few rows of bright-colored beads, or a small piece of looking-glass; and the most trumpery European gewgaws have elicited more admiration, afforded greater pleasure, and effected more goodwill, than the most costly treasures could purchase among civilized nations. A love of finery seems to belong to human nature. There is an attraction in bright and showy colors which the uncivilized cannot resist, and which is equally powerful among those who are civilized, though education and other causes may qualify it.
When we hear persons loudly declaiming against dress as a needless waste of time and money—when we hear them sighing for the return of the good old times when it was not so much considered, we are tempted to inquire at what period in the history of the world those times occurred; for we cannot learn that it was, at any time, considered to be an unimportant item of expenditure or thought. We do not by any means affirm that it may not occupy too much care; that there may not be instances in which it is suffered to engross the mind to the detriment of other things more worthy of consideration; that it may not lead to frivolity and extravagance. All this may be, and no doubt often is, true. It is quite possible, and more than probable. But we also maintain that it is a great mistake to come down upon it with a sweeping denunciation, and, in Quaker fashion, avow it to be all vanity, and assert that it must be trodden out of thought and eye. Even the Quakers themselves, who affect such supercilious contempt for dress, are very particular about the cut of their headgear, about the shade of their grays and their drabs and their browns, and, in their scrupulous neatness, show that they think as much of a grease-spot or a stain as many a damsel does of the ribbon in her cap or the set of her collar and cuffs. So that, after all, whatever professions people may make, human nature and human wants are always the same.
It by no means follows that a person who is well dressed thinks a great deal about it, or devotes much time to it. To some persons it comes quite naturally. They look well in whatever they wear; and the probability is that it occupies less of their time and thoughts than many who arrive, with infinite more labor and pains, at a less pleasing result.
In submitting this manual to the public, we do not presume to do more than offer such suggestions as may promote a better style of dress, consistent with a due regard to economy. No doubt many of our suggestions will have occurred to some of our readers, and it may seem almost needless to have made them, but we know by experience in other things that maxims are often forgotten and laid aside till something occurs to revive them.
It is easy enough for the rich to be in harmony with the prevailing fashion. They have but to open their purse-strings, and pay for any of those freaks of fancy which are called fashion. To combine a good style with economy requires judgment and contrivance, or, what is generally called, management.
There are certain points which may be considered as fundamental, without which the most rigid attention to matters of dress will go for nothing. For instance, cleanliness, which according to the old proverb, is rated so high as to be placed next to godliness, is one of these, and of primary importance. The most costly attire, if unaccompanied by it, is not only valueless, but may become a positive disfigurement, while the simplest dress, combined with cleanliness, may be absolutely refreshing. There is no reason whatever why the most menial occupation should be admitted as any excuse for want of personal cleanliness. It is always easy to distinguish between accidental dirt which cannot always be avoided, and that which is habitual.
When it is considered that the object of nine-tenths of womankind is that they may marry and settle in life, as their fathers and mothers have done before them, it is very natural that they should endeavor to make themselves as captivating as they can; only let them all bear this in mind,--let their rank and station be what it may,--that no man is caught by the mere display of fine clothes. A pretty face, or good figure, may captivate; but fine clothes, never. Though it is said that fine feathers make fine birds, yet no mail will be caught by a trimming or a flounce.
To what end then should attention be given to dress? Why should it be made of so much consequence as to write a manual upon it? Because it is one of beauty’s accessories; because as dress of some kind is absolutely necessary and indispensable, it is better that people of all classes should dress well rather than ill, and that, when it is done, it should be done sensibly and reasonably; without carelessness on the one hand, and without extravagance on the other. When we may, why should we not choose the best and most becoming? Why are we to mortify ourselves and annoy our friends by choosing something because it is especially hideous? No law, human or divine, enjoins us to disfigure ourselves.
Original text by George Routledge, edited and revised by D. J. McAdam - this text © 2005. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
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