First impressions are apt to be permanent; it is therefore of importance that they should be favorable. The dress of an individual is that circumstance from which you first form your opinion of him. It is even more prominent than manner, It is indeed the only thing which is remarked in a casual encounter, or during the first interview. It, therefore, should be the first care.
What style is to our thoughts, dress is to our persons. It may supply the place of more solid qualities, and without it the most solid are of little avail. Numbers have owed their elevation to their attention to the toilet. Place, fortune, marriage have all been lost by neglecting it. A man need not mingle long with the world to find occasion to exclaim with Sedaine, “Ah! mon habit, que je vous remercie!” In spite of the proverb, the dress often does make the man.
Your dress should always be consistent with your age and your natural exterior. That which looks outré, on one man, will be agreeable on another. As success in this respect depends almost entirely upon particular circumstances and personal peculiarities, it is impossible to give general directions of much importance. We can only point out the field for study and research; it belongs to each one’s own genius and industry to deduce the results. However ugly you may be, rest assured that there is some style of habiliment which will make you passable.
If, for example, you have a stain upon your cheek which rivals in brilliancy the best Chateau-Margout; or, are afflicted with a nose whose luster dims the ruby, you may employ such hues of dress, that the eye, instead of being shocked by the strangeness of the defect, will be charmed by the graceful harmony of the colors. Every one cannot indeed be an Adonis, but it is his own fault if he is an Aesop.
If you have bad, squinting eyes, which have lost their lashes and are bordered with red, you should wear spectacles. If the defect be great, your glasses should be colored. In such cases emulate the sky rather than the sea: green spectacles are an abomination, fitted only for students in divinity,--blue ones are respectable and even distingue.
Almost every defect of face may be concealed by a judicious use and arrangement of hair. Take care, however, that your hair be not of one color and your whiskers of another; and let your wig be large enough to cover the whole of your red or white hair.
It is evident, therefore, that though a man may be ugly, there is no necessity for his being shocking. Would that all men were convinced of this! I verily believe that if Mr.— in his walking-dress, and Mr.—in his evening costume were to meet alone, in some solitary place, where there was nothing to divert their attention from one another, they would expire of mutual hideousness.
If you have any defect, so striking and so ridiculous as to procure you a nickname then indeed there is but one remedy,--renounce society.
In the morning, before eleven o’clock even if you go out, you should not be dressed. You would be stamped a parvenu if you were seen in anything better than a reputable old frock coat. If you remain at home, and are a bachelor, it is permitted to receive visitors in a morning gown. In summer, calico; in winter, figured cloth, faced with fur. At dinner, a coat, of course, is indispensable.
The effect of a frock coat is to conceal the height. If, therefore, you are beneath the ordinary statue, or much above it, you should affect frock coats on all occasions that etiquette permits.
Before going to a ball or party it is not sufficient that you consult your mirror twenty times. You must be personally inspected by your servant or a friend. Through defect of this, I once saw a gentleman enter a ball-room, attired with scrupulous elegance, but with one of his suspenders curling in graceful festoons about his feet. His glass could not show what was behind.
If you are about to present yourself in a company composed only of men, you may wear boots. If there be but one lady present, pumps and silk-stockings are indispensable.
There is a common proverb which says, that if a man be well dressed as to head and feet, he may present himself everywhere. The assertion is false. Happy indeed if it were necessary to perfect only the extremities. The coat, the waistcoat, the gloves, and, above all, the cravat, must be alike ignorant of blemish.
Upon the subject of the cravat--(for heaven’s sake and Brummel’s, never appear in a stock after twelve o’clock)--We cannot at present say anything. If we were to say anything, we could not be content without saying all, and to say all would require a folio. A book has been published upon the subject, entitled “The Cravat considered in its moral, literary, political, military, and religious attributes.” This and a clever, though less profound, treatise on “The art of tying the Cravat,” are as indispensable to a gentleman as an ice at twelve o’clock.
When we speak of excellence in dress we do not mean richness of clothing, nor manifested elaboration. Faultless propriety, perfect harmony, and a refined simplicity,--these are the charms which fascinate here.
It is as great a sin to be finical in dress as to be negligent.
Upon this subject the ladies are the only infallible oracles. Apart from the perfection to which they must of necessity arrive, from devoting their entire existence to such considerations, they seem to be endued with an inexpressible tact, a sort of sixth sense, which reveals intuitively the proper distinctions. That your dress is approved by a man is nothing;--you cannot enjoy the high satisfaction of being perfectly comme il faut, until your performance has received the seal of a woman’s approbation.
If the benefits to be derived from cultivating your exterior do not appear sufficiently powerful to induce attention, the inconveniences arising from too great disregard may perhaps prevail. Sir Matthew Hale, in the earlier part of his life, dressed so badly that he was once seized by the press-gang. Not long since, as I entered the hall of a public hotel, I saw a person so villainously habited, that supposing him to be one of the servants, I desired him to take my luggage upstairs, and was on the point of offering him a shilling, when I discovered that I was addressing the Honorable Mr. * * *, one of the most eminent American statesmen.
This is taken from The Laws of Etiquette.
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