[This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.]
There are an infinite variety of things which are necessary in order to make a woman thoroughly well dressed, which do not come under the category of dresses. Some of these must be discussed, as they are of great importance.
To begin with bonnets. How much of a lady’s toilette depends upon her bonnet!--upon its make, its shape, its style, and the materials it is made of!
In these days, bonnets are much less ugly than they formerly were. They are not set at the back of the head as they used to be, when they made every woman look as if her neck had been broken. They offered no advantage. They did not screen the face from sun and wind, and no ladies could keep them on their heads without the help of long pins like skewers. The bonnet, as now worn, scarcely deserves the name of a bonnet. It is more like a cap than a bonnet; but, such as it is, it is exceedingly becoming to the young—more especially the style which has most recently come into fashion, in which, while it ties behind, below the chignon or large plait of hair, long ends of tulle, or lace, or blonde fall round the cheek, and fasten under the chin with a brooch or a flower. The effect of the lace against the face is very preferable to that of the fold of hard ribbon which was generally worn, and which was utterly devoid of all grace. Besides which, we have heard ladies praise the last fashion as being the most comfortable, because the absence of strings fastened under the chin enables them to eat, and sing, and talk without the necessity of taking off the bonnet, or of untying it. The extreme lightness of the modern bonnet is in itself a great recommendation. But if a bonnet is intended as a protection to the head from sun, wind, and rain, then, indeed, it must be allowed that the present fashion does not fulfill any of those intentions. A small saucer of tulle, or three-cornered bit of lace ornamented with a few flowers, which fits on the head in the small space that intervenes between the front hair and the beginning of the chignon, where it stops in order that the huge mass of hair now worn at the back of the head may be fully exhibited, does not do more than make a very pretty toilette. Useful and serviceable as a protection, it is not. But when it is contrasted with bonnets which were worn a few years ago, or with those which our mothers and grandmothers wore, we confess that we are glad of the change.
No lady ought to be indifferent about her bonnet. It is to her face what the setting is to a jewel. The arrangement of the lace or blonde; the way it accords with the countenance; the harmony of color with the rest of the dress, which in some instances it tones down by its quietness, and in others brightens and freshens by its contrast; all these are points to be considered. It is impossible not to be guided by fashion in the selection of a bonnet, and the same fashion will prescribe how it is to be trimmed, but, as a rule, we protest against beads and tinsel of all kinds. If beads must be used, they should be used sparingly. We saw a bonnet this year which was nothing but black beads, which were designated by the high-sounding name of “black pearls.” The bonnet was heavy, and very ugly; and when we remonstrated against it, we were assured it had just arrived from Paris—as if the announcement of such a fact was, in itself, enough to silence all objections. But it had no effect upon us, for the bonnet was objectionable on every ground—on account of its weight and appearance.
In London, as it is necessary to have a succession of bonnets, which soon become discolored and spoilt by the soot and dirt of our great metropolis, all that really signifies is that they should look fresh and clean, and in harmony with the dresses with which they are worn; and therefore it is important they should be cheap. To give three guineas and even more, and perhaps five, for a bonnet which will last for only one month is an expensive proceeding; and when it is considered that really pretty bonnets can be bought for eighteen shillings, which look quite as well as those which are more costly, they are without excuse who do not manage to have always one nice-looking bonnet for special occasions.
We have known some ladies who are clever and wise enough to make their own bonnets, and then the cost of them is about five or six shillings each. If the lady’s maid is clever and handy, and knows how to make them, she will probably make them quite as well as any professed milliners. All that is required is to understand what fits and suits the person for whom the bonnet is intended. Every one finds that one shape suits her better than another. The next point in making a bonnet is that the “artiste” should have a light hand, and should make it “off-hand,” without letting it lie about to get soiled or tumbled. Things which are not expensive, but are made of common materials, should look fresh. If they have that merit, no one will examine them very closely to see whether the lace is real, or the flowers of the first quality. Satisfied with the general effect and style, no inquiries will be instituted into the cost of the materials. People are not so particular where their eye is pleased. On the contrary, where the effect is good, cheapness increases its value in the estimation of those who know that one and one make two.
No one can make bonnets, or indeed any kind of headgear, without one of those hideous figure-heads called “blocks,” upon which the bonnet or the cap is made, without risk of injury. This is the only way in which the milliner can form any idea of the effect of her handiwork. She can turn it about to get the full, side, and back view of her performance, without touching the article in question, which, if it is mauled about ever so little, soon loses its freshness.
As we have long ago discarded the picturesque from bonnets, and the famous “chapeau de paille” has been laid aside, there is an advantage in the fact that the present style is unobtrusive; and strong-minded women who cling tenaciously to their beloved old coal-scuttle shape, and deride the present fashion, indignantly exclaiming against it, “Call that thing a bonnet, indeed?” certainly tempts us to reply to their prejudiced and absurd reflections, “Physician, heal thyself;” for if there is one thing more ugly than another, it is the old-fashioned bonnet with crown, curtain, and poke, to which a few old maids rigidly adhere—just as Quakeresses do to their hideous and antiquated style. There is a kind of self-righteousness in the protests of these ladies, with which we confess that we have no sympathy. We do not mean to recommend them to adopt the bonnet of a girl of eighteen, but we do advise them to conform to the fashion of the day, and wear a modified edition of the present and prevailing costume.
It is remarkable how straw always retains its hold as a material for bonnets. A straw bonnet, is, however, a more expensive article than one of tulle; but then it is more enduring, and better suited for country wear. There is also another advantage in straw: it never looks vulgar. A country lass in a bonnet of silk, or lace, or tulle, does not look one-half as well as one in a straw bonnet, neatly trimmed. Straw is becoming to persons of all ages and of every station. It makes a vulgar woman look less vulgar, and the lady more refined. Though common, it is never so in an offensive sense.
Caps have become an important item, from the fact that women of all ages wear something of the kind. The young girl who has passed from girlhood into matrimony, considers it necessary that some of those little caps made of lace and ribbons and which have such a coquettish look about them, should form part of her trousseau. She is as glad to exercise her new privilege of wearing a cap as an undergraduate is of wearing his cap and gown. It is a sign that she has passed to what she considers the higher state, although she knows that there are many high authorities for the contrary; but she remembers that “doctors differ,” and she hails her privilege as one to which she has been always taught to look forward.
What can be more becoming than some of those jaunty caps which seem to mock at age? Here, again, we have a manifest improvement in the head-gear of ancient times.
Think of the turbans, the gigantic hats and caps of blonde which were made to stand erect by means of wire, and which surrounded the face like fans at full stretch, or (more gracious simile) like the nimbus round the head of a mediaeval saint.
Contrast these with the little caps which ornament the head with lace, as only lace can ornament it, and you will see at once how superior the present fashion is. It is not only that these pretty and mysterious fabrics of lace and ribbon are an ornament to the loveliest and most youthful; but they have worked a revolution in the caps of elderly ladies. Instead of the cap with its frill of blonde intermixed with narrow ribbon or small flowers, fitting close to the face like a fringe and tying under the chin, we see small and becoming head dresses of lace, which sufficiently furnish the cheeks and cover the hair. Where it can be done, the cap of the most elderly woman should appear to dress and furnish her head rather than her face, though, if need be, it can be made to soften the asperities of age where they have marked the countenance.
Mantles or cloaks are a difficult question.
When everybody of every station wears a cloak or mantle we are disposed to recommend shawls, especially as a really good Indian shawl cannot be imitated, and denotes the quality and condition of the wearer. Every servant girl, every maid of all work, has her Sunday cloak. None but the rich can sport an Indian shawl. It requires falling shoulders and a tall and graceful figure. It should not be fastened round the throat as if the wearer suffered from a severe cold in her throat; but it should have the appearance of being loosely put on; neither fastened tightly on, nor falling off. Square shawls are always more ugly than not. If the wearer has not a very erect carriage, and if her shoulders are not well thrown back, the chances are that the effect of a square shawl will be anything but pleasing. If the lady stoops, or is at all round-shouldered, the shawl will have the effect of a window that has been cracked by a stone—it will look starred—it will not be smooth and even, but will present the appearance of lines radiating from the defective shoulders. For grace there is nothing like a scarf shawl, but only a few can, or know how to, wear it.
Under these circumstances a cloak or a mantle are safer. There is an infinite variety to choose from, but as the names and the fashion vary year by year it is useless to specify any. For the same reason, this constant change, it is best not to invest much capital in the purchase of one. Young people can wear smaller and shorter mantles than their elders, who require something larger and more imposing.
In winter there is nothing to compare to a seal skin; so much so that even an imitation is not to be despised. Velvets are ladylike, but they are expensive, and have not the durability of a seal skin. Velveteen cloaks are good and reasonable. Blue cloth or serge, braided with black, look well, and have been in favor for some time. We have seen a grey cloth cloak braided with black which has been much admired; also one of dark green cloth lined with grey, and, vice versa, of grey lined with green. For winter, the effect of lining a cloth cloak with another color in good contrast is decidedly good. But everything depends upon the shape and cut of the cloak. It is the shape that tells far more than the material.
In France we find gloves and shoes have a prominent place among the accessories of a lady’s toilette. To be “bien chaussee et bien gantee” is essential to being well dressed. Good, well fitting gloves and shoes tell more than most other things among the French. At least a somewhat shabby and unpretending gown and bonnet, if accompanied by gloves that are of a good quality and color and that fit well, and by shoes or boots that also fit well, and are of good style and make, will pass muster anywhere, while the reverse will fail.
It is remarkable that there is nothing which distinguishes a foreigner from an Englishwoman more than her gloves. They “fit like a glove;” they are of a good color, according well with the rest of the costume, neither too light nor too dark, but rather light than dark. There are no ends or corners of the fingers which are not well filled; there are no creases indicative of the gloves being of a wrong size, nor are they put on crooked with a twist given to the fingers, so that the seams of the glove do not appear straight. In short, a Frenchwoman does not put on her glove anyhow as an Englishwoman does. To her it is a matter of great importance; to our country-woman it is a matter of indifference. We think the Frenchwoman right, because it is by what are called trifles that good and also great effects are produced.
We come now to an accessory of considerable importance—the hair. As a great amount of time is expended upon hair-dressing, and as no one ever thinks of wearing it in its natural state, and as nothing is more under the influence of fashion than the hair, it has become by consent of all an accessory of great importance. Will any one affirm that it is a matter of indifference how the hair is dressed? Whether in plaits or bows? Whether in a crop, or twisted up in a coil? There is nothing which affects a lady’s personal appearance more than the style in which she dresses her hair. We confess that we have a strong prejudice against a too submissive following of the fashion. Because in the first place we deny that fashion is always in the right, and in the second it rarely happens that the same style exactly suits two persons alike.
Nothing requires more consideration than the hair. It is one of a woman’s greatest ornaments. We have high authority for saying this. Hair should always have the appearance of being well cared for. It should set off the shape of the head if it is good, and not aggravate any of its defects. A small head, well set on, is a great beauty. It tends more than anything else to that distinguished look which enhances all other beauty. Beauty, if accompanied by a look of refinement, is worth more than mere animal beauty, and nothing is more indicative of refinement and noble birth as a well-shaped head. It is the head which gives the impression of intellectual power. The well formed brow should not be demoralized by ringlets, which are suggestive only of a wax doll, nor should it be disfigured by being surmounted by a kind of cushion or roll of hair which gives the idea of weight and size. Nor should the hair have the appearance of a bird’s nest, and look tumbled and untidy. This was lately the “beau ideal” of a well dressed head. It was desired that it should appear unkempt and uncombed, as if it had been drawn through a quickset hedge. The back of the head, if well shaped, has a beautiful appearance, reminding one of a stag, which is so graceful in look and motion. But when it is disfigured by a large mass of hair, resembling a large pin-cushion, all that peculiar native grace which we so much admire is lost sight of. When all heads are made to look alike and equally large, there is no advantage in having a small and well shaped head. It seems as if the study of the present day were to make the head look large, and to conceal all its points. We miss the smooth braids of hair which set off the expanse of forehead, and the coils of plaits of hair, which ornamented, but did not conceal the back of the head. We miss the glossy look of the hair which indicated care, and prefer it infinitely to that which simulates neglect. It is perfectly true that one style does not suit all persons alike, any more than that the powder which was worn by our great-grandmothers was equally becoming to all. A low forehead, if the points of the brow are good, should have the hair drawn off it, whereas a high forehead which does not betoken any great intellectual power is disfigured by the same process. Smooth braids will not become a long face, nor puffs a broad one. A forehead which is already too high cannot bear to be heightened by coronets and cushions of hair, nor a countenance which indicates weakness to be made weaker still by limp luxurious curls. A stern face requires to be softened, while a weak one requires strength. The hair can generally do this. It depends upon how it is dressed.
They who are no longer young endeavor to impose upon the world by the use of wigs and fronts. These are an abomination, and in every instance they are easy of detection. There is something in the way in which false hair protests against the face and the face against it, which infallibly exposes it to be false. A lady with all the signs of years about her face makes her age the more apparent by the contrast of glossy dark hair which belongs to youth. Why is she afraid to wear her own grey hair? Grey hairs are no reproof, and we are quite sure they would harmonize better with the other marks of age than the wigs and fronts which prevail. There is something in the white hair of age which has a charm of its own. It is like the soft and mellow light of sunset. But unfortunately an old woman is not always inclined to accept the fact that she is old. She would rebel against it, but rebellion is useless. The fact remains the same. She is old notwithstanding her “rouge” pot and her front, and she is growing older day by day.
Jewelry is another accessory. Jewels, real jewels, are in the possession of only a few. They are so costly that only millionaires or the heirs of heirlooms can have them. They are very beautiful, and have this one merit, that a few jewels, judiciously selected and worn, make a person well dressed at once. A diamond necklace and brooch, diamond earrings, and a few diamond stars glittering in the hair, will make almost a shabby dress pass muster at Court. But jewelry is a term that is applied to ornaments generally, and not to jewels only.
Sham jewelry is an abomination. It is a lie, and a pretension. At no time was so much sham jewelry made and worn. Every damsel has her brooches and her earrings. In nine cases out of ten they are mere trumpery, but, such as they are, no maid of all work will go out for her Sunday walk without her brooch and earrings and chain. She must have her locket too, fastened round her throat with black velvet, but it is all, with the exception of the velvet, a sham.
Ladies too have a weakness for sham jewelry. They will wear massive bracelets, cameo brooches of target dimensions, earrings, chains, all of what they pleasantly call French manufacture. It is called French in the shops in order to soften down its imposture, and to play upon the weakness of our country women who are apt to think that whatever is French must be good. But in many cases they are of Birmingham manufacture.
We enter our protest very strongly against the use of sham jewelry, though we must own without much hope of success, for, it must be admitted, that a great quantity of it is exceedingly pretty. We are not surprised that it should be popular, for who can resist the opportunity of making herself fine and “beautiful for ever” at the cost of a few shillings, which is all that is necessary to lay in a fair stock of jewelry.
This sham jewelry is continually mistaken for real, so good is the resemblance.
If a duchess were to wear it everyone would take for granted that it was real, because she would not be supposed to wear anything that is unreal. We have heard of a lady who, possessing but very few jewels, always makes up for the deficiency by wearing sham diamonds. They are good of their kind, and no one ever suspects them to be false, simply because there is no reason why she should not have real diamonds, but, on the contrary, so far as the world knows, every reason why she should.
In the use of jewelry more than in anything else we maintain that all persons should dress according to their station and their means. If they can afford it—let them—but we recommend them not to act too much upon the old saying, that “fine feathers make fine birds,” but to bear in mind that being well dressed means something more than well-fitting, well-selected clothes.
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