To dress well requires something more than a full purse and a pretty figure. It needs taste, good sense, and refinement. Dress may almost be classed as one of the fine arts. It is certainly one of those arts, the cultivation of which is indispensable to any person moving in the upper or middle classes of society. Very clever women are too frequently indifferent to the graces of the toilette; and women who wish to be thought clever affect indifference. In the one case it is an error, and in the other a folly. It is not enough that a gentlewoman should be clever, or well-educated, or well-born. To take her due place in society, she must be acquainted with all that this little book proposes to teach. She must, above all else, know how to enter a room, how to perform a graceful salutation, and how to dress. Of these three important qualifications, the most important, because the most observed, is the latter.
Let your style of dress always be appropriate to the hour of the day. To dress too finely in the morning, or to be seen in a morning dress in the evening, is equally vulgar and out of place.
Light and inexpensive materials are fittest for morning wear; dark silk dresses for the promenade or carriage; and low dresses of rich or transparent stuffs for the dinner and ball. A young lady cannot dress with too much simplicity in the early part of the day. A morning dress of some simple material, and delicate whole color, with collar and cuffs of spotless linen, is, perhaps, the most becoming and elegant of morning toilettes.
Never dress very richly or showily in the street. It attracts attention of no enviable kind, and is looked upon as a want of good breeding. In the carriage a lady may dress as elegantly as she pleases. With respect to ball-room toilette, its fashions are so variable, that statements which are true of it to-day, may be false a month hence. Respecting no institution of modern society is it so difficult to pronounce half-a-dozen permanent rules.
We may, perhaps, be permitted to suggest the following leading principles; but we do so with diffidence. Rich colors harmonize with rich brunette complexions and dark hair. Delicate colors are the most suitable for delicate and fragile styles of beauty. Very young ladies are never so suitably attired as in white. Ladies who dance should wear dresses of light and diaphanous materials, such as tulle, gauze, crape, net, &c., over colored silk slips. Silk dresses are not suitable for dancing. A married lady who dances only a few quadrilles may wear a décolleté silk dress with propriety.
Very stout persons should never wear white. It has the effect of adding to the bulk of the figure.
Black and scarlet, or black and violet, are worn in mourning.
A lady in deep mourning should not dance at all.
However fashionable it may be to wear very long dresses, those ladies who go to a ball with the intention of dancing and enjoying the dance, should cause their dresses to be made short enough to clear the ground. We would ask them whether it is not better to accept this slight deviation from an absurd fashion, than to appear for three parts of the evening in a torn and pinned-up skirt?
Well-made shoes, whatever their color or material, and faultless gloves, are indispensable to the effect of a ball-room toilette.
Much jewelry is out of place in a ball-room. Beautiful flowers, whether natural or artificial, are the loveliest ornaments that a lady can wear on these occasions.
At small dinner parties, low dresses are not so indispensable as they were held to be some years since. High dresses of transparent materials, and low bodices with capes of black lace, are considered sufficiently full dress on these occasions. At large dinners only the fullest dress is appropriate.
Very young ladies should wear but little jewelry. Pearls are deemed most appropriate for the young and unmarried.
Let your jewelry be always the best of its kind. Nothing is so vulgar, either in youth or age, as the use of false ornaments.
There is as much propriety to be observed in the wearing of jewelry as in the wearing of dresses. Diamonds, pearls, rubies, and all transparent precious stones belong to evening dress, and should on no account be worn before dinner. In the morning let your rings be of the more simple and massive kind; wear no bracelets; and limit your jewelry to a good brooch, gold chain, and watch. Your diamonds and pearls would be as much out of place during the morning as a low dress, or a wreath.
It is well to remember in the choice of jewelry that mere costliness is not always the test of value; and that an exquisite work of art, such as a fine cameo, or a natural rarity, such as a black pearl, is a more distingue possession than a large brilliant which any rich and tasteless vulgarian can buy as easily as yourself. Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and least commonplace. No vulgar woman purchases an opal. She invariably prefers the more showy ruby, emerald, or sapphire.
A true gentlewoman is always faultlessly neat. No richness of toilette in the afternoon, no diamonds in the evening, can atone for unbrushed hair, a soiled collar, or untidy slippers at breakfast.
Never be seen in the street without gloves; and never let your gloves be of any material that is not kid or calf. Worsted or cotton gloves are unutterably vulgar. Your gloves should fit to the last degree of perfection.
In these days of public baths and universal progress, we trust that it is unnecessary to do more than hint at the necessity of the most fastidious personal cleanliness. The hair, the teeth, the nails, should be faultlessly kept; and a muslin dress that has been worn once too often, a dingy pocket-handkerchief, or a soiled pair of light gloves, are things to be scrupulously avoided by any young lady who is ambitious of preserving the exterior of a gentlewoman.
Remember that the make of your corsage is of even greater importance than the make of your dress. No dressmaker can fit you well, or make your bodices in the manner most becoming to your figure, if the corsage beneath be not of the best description.
Your boots and gloves should always be faultless.
Perfumes should be used only in the evening, and then in moderation.
Let your perfumes be of the most delicate and recherché kind. Nothing is more vulgar than a coarse ordinary scent; and of all coarse, ordinary scents, the most objectionable are musk and patchouli.
Finally, every lady should remember that to dress well is a duty which she owes to society; but that to make it her idol is to commit something worse than a folly. Fashion is made for woman; not woman for fashion.
This is taken from Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved