WOMAN AS DECORATION
New York Dodd, Mead and Company 1917 Copyright, 1917 By Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
DEDICATED TO V. B. G.
Madame Geraldine Farrar as Thais in the opera of that name. It is a sketch made from life for this book. Observe the gilded wig and richly embroidered gown. They are after descriptions of a costume worn by the real Thais. It is a Greek type of costume but not the familiar classic Greek of sculptured story. Thais was a reigning beauty and acted in the theatre of Alexandria in the early Christian era.
WOMAN AS DECORATION is intended as a sequel to The Art of Interior Decoration (Grace Wood and Emily Burbank).
Having assisted in setting the stage for woman, the next logical step is the consideration of woman, herself, as an important factor in the decorative scheme of any setting,—the vital spark to animate all interior decoration, private or public. The book in hand is intended as a brief guide for the woman who would understand her own type,—make the most of it, and know how simple a matter it is to be decorative if she will but master the few rules underlying all successful dressing. As the costuming of woman is an art, the history of that art must be known—to a certain extent—by one who would be an intelligent student of our subject. With the assistance of thirty-three illustrations to throw light upon the text, we have tried to tell the beguiling story of decorative woman, as she appears in frescoes and bas reliefs of Ancient Egypt, on Greek vases, the Gothic woman in tapestry and stained glass, woman in painting, stucco and tapestry of the Renaissance, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century woman in portraits.
Contemporary woman's costume is considered, not as fashion, but as decorative line and colour, a distinct contribution to the interior decoration of her own home or other setting. In this department, woman is given suggestions as to the costuming of herself, beautifully and appropriately, in the ball-room, at the opera, in her boudoir, sun-room or on her shaded porch; in her garden; when driving her own car; by the sea, or on the ice.
Woman as Decoration has been planned, in part, also to fill a need very generally expressed for a handbook to serve as guide for beginners in getting up costumes for fancy-dress balls, amateur theatricals, or the professional stage.
We have tried to shed light upon period costumes and point out ways of making any costume effective.
Costume books abound, but so far as we know, this is the first attempt to confine the vast and perplexing subject within the dimensions of a small, accessible volume devoted to the principles underlying the planning of all costumes, regardless of period.
The author does not advocate the preening of her feathers as woman's sole occupation, in any age, much less at this crisis in the making of world history; but she does lay great emphasis on the fact that a woman owes it to herself, her family and the public in general, to be as decorative in any setting, as her knowledge of the art of dressing admits. This knowledge implies an understanding of line, colour, fitness, background, and above all, one's own type. To know one's type, and to have some knowledge of the principles underlying all good dressing, is of serious economic value; it means a saving of time, vitality and money.
The watchword of to-day is efficiency, and the keynote to modern costuming, appropriateness. And so the spirit of the time records itself in the interesting and charming subdivision of woman's attire.
One may follow Woman Decorative in the Orient on vase, fan, screen and kakemono; as she struts in the stiff manner of Egyptian bas reliefs, across walls of ancient ruins, or sits in angular serenity, gazing into the future through the narrow slits of Egyptian eyes, oblivious of time; woman, beautiful in the European sense, and decorative to the superlative degree, on Greek vase and sculptured wall. Here in rhythmic curves, she dandles lovely Cupid on her toe; serves as vestal virgin at a woodland shrine; wears the bronze helmet of Minerva; makes laws, or as Penelope, the wife, wearily awaits her roving lord. She moves in august majesty, a sore-tried queen, and leaps in merry laughter as a care-free slave; pipes, sings and plies the distaff. Sauntering on, down through Gothic Europe, Tudor England, the adolescent Renaissance, Bourbon France, into the picturesque changes of the eighteenth century, we ask, can one possibly escape our theme—Woman as Decoration? No, for she is carved in wood and stone; as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven gleams in the jeweled windows of the church, looks down in placid serenity on lighted altar; is woven in tapestry, in fact dominates all art, painting, stucco or marble, throughout the ages.
If one would know the story of Woman's evolution and retrogression—that rising and falling tide in civilisation—we commend a study of her as she is presented in Art. A knowledge of her costume frequently throws light upon her age; a thorough knowledge of her age will throw light upon her costume.
A study of the essentials of any costume, of any period, trains the eye and mind to be expert in planning costumes for every-day use. One learns quickly to discriminate between details which are ornaments, because they have meaning, and those which are only illiterate superfluities; and one learns to master many other points.
It is not within the province of this book to dwell at length upon national costume, but rather to follow costume as it developed with and reflected caste, after human society ceased to be all alike as to occupation, diversion and interest.
In the world of caste, costume has gradually evolved until it aims through appropriateness, at assisting woman to fulfil her role. With peasants who know only the traditional costume of their province, the task must often be done in spite of the costume, which is picturesque or grotesque, inconvenient, even impossible; but long may it linger to divert the eye! Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia,—all have an endless variety of costumes, rich in souvenirs of folk history, rainbows of colour and bizarre in line, but it is costuming the woman of fashion which claims our attention.
The succeeding chapters will treat of woman, the vital spark which gives meaning to any setting—indoors, out of doors, at the opera, in the ball-room, on the ice—where you will. Each chapter has to do with modern woman and the historical paragraphs are given primarily to shed light upon her costume.
It is shown that woman's decorative appearance affects her psychology, and that woman's psychology affects her decorative appearance.
Some chapters may, at first glance, seem irrelevant, but those who have seriously studied any art, and then undertaken to tell its story briefly in simple, direct language, with the hope of quickly putting audience or reader in touch with the vital links in the chain of evidence, will understand the author's claim that no detour which illustrates the subject can in justice be termed irrelevant. In the detours often lie invaluable data, for one with a mind for research—whether author or reader. This is especially true in connection with our present task, which involves unravelling some of the threads from the tangled skein of religion, dancing, music, sculpture and painting—that mass of bright and sombre colour, of gold and silver threads, strung with pearls and glittering gems strangely broken by age—which tells the epic-lyric tale of civilisation.
While we state that it is not our aim to make a point of fashion as such, some of our illustrations show contemporary woman as she appears in our homes, on our streets, at the play, in her garden, etc. We have taken examples of women's costumes which are pre-eminently characteristic of the moment in which we write, and as we believe, illustrate those laws upon which we base our deductions concerning woman as decoration. These laws are: appropriateness of her costume to the occasion; consideration of the type of wearer; background against which costume is to be worn; and all decoration (which includes jewels), as detail with raison d'etre. The body should be carried with form (in the sporting sense), to assist in giving line to the costume.
The chic woman is the one who understands the art of elimination in costumes. Wear your costumes with conviction—by which we mean decide what picture you will make of yourself, make it and then enjoy it! It is only by letting your personality animate your costume that you make yourself superior to the lay figure or the sawdust doll.
I A FEW HINTS FOR THE NOVICE WHO WOULD PLAN HER COSTUMES 1
Rules having economic value while aiming at decorativeness.—Lines and colouring emphasised or modified by costuming.—Temperaments affect carriage of the body.—Line of body affects costume.—Technique of controlling the physique.—The highly sensitised woman.—Costuming an art.—Studying types.—Starring one's own good points.—Beauty not so fleeting as is supposed if costume is adapted to its changing aspects.—Masters in art of costuming often discover and star previously unrecognised beauty.—Establishing the habit of those lines and colours in gowns, hats, gloves, parasols, sticks, fans and jewels which are your own.—The intelligent purchaser.—The best dressed women.—Value of understanding one's background.—Learning the art of understanding one's background.—Learning the art of costuming from masters of the art.—How to proceed with this study.—Successful costuming not dependent upon amount of money spent upon it.—An example
II THE LAWS UNDERLYING ALL COSTUMING OF WOMAN 23
Appropriateness keynote of costuming to-day.—Five salient points to be borne in mind when planning a costume.—Where English, French, and American women excel in art of costuming.—Feeling for line.—To make our points clear constant reference to the stage is necessary.—Bakst and Poiret.—Turning to the Orient for line and colour.—Keeping costume in same key as its settings.—How to know your period; its line, colours and characteristic details.—Studying costumes in Gothic illuminations
III HOW TO DRESS YOUR TYPE 46
A FEW POINTS APPLYING TO ALL COSTUMES.—Background.—Line and colour of costumes to bring out the individuality of wearer.—The chic woman defined.—Intelligent expressing of self in mise-en-scene.—Selecting one's colour scheme
IV THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CLOTHES 54
Effect of clothes upon manners.—The natural instinct for costuming, "clothes sense."—Costuming affecting psychology of wearer.—Clothes may liberate or shackle the spirit of women, be a tyrant or magician's wand.—Follow colour instinct in clothes as well as housefurnishings
V ESTABLISH HABITS OF CARRIAGE WHICH CREATE GOOD LINE 66
Woman's line result of habits of a mind controlled by observations, conventions, experiences and attitudes which make her personality.—Training lines of physique from childhood; an example.—A knowledge of how to dress appropriately leads to efficiency
VI COLOUR IN WOMAN'S COSTUME 74
Colour hall-mark of to-day.—Bakst, Rheinhardt and Granville Barker, teachers of the new colour vocabulary.—PORTABLE BACKGROUNDS
VII FOOTWEAR 85
Importance of carefully considering extremities.—What constitutes a costume.—Importance of learning how to buy, put on and wear each detail of costume if one would be a decorative picture.—Spats.—Stockings.—Slippers.—Buckles
VIII JEWELRY AS DECORATION 94
Considered as colour and line not with regard to intrinsic worth.—To complete a costume or furnish keynote upon which to build a costume.—Distinguished jewels with historic associations worn artistically; examples.—Know what jewels are your affair as to colour, size, and shape.—To know what one can and cannot wear in all departments of costuming prepares one to grasp and make use of expert suggestions. How fashions come into being.—One of the rules as to how jewels should be worn.—Gems and paste
IX WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER BOUDOIR 111
Negligee or tea-gown belongs to this intimate setting.—Fortuny the artist designer of tea-gowns.—Sibyl Sanderson.—The decorative value of a long string of beads.—Beauty which is the result of conscious effort.—Bien soine a hall-mark of our period
X WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER SUN-ROOM 116
Since a winter sun-room is planned to give the illusion of summer, one's costuming for it should carry out the same idea.—The sun-room provides a means for using up last summer's costumes.—The hat, if worn, should suggest repose, not action.—The age and habits of those occupying a sun-room dictate the exact type of costume to be worn.—Colour scheme
XI I. WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER GARDEN 124
In the garden the costume should have a decorative outline but simple colour scheme which harmonises with background of flowers.—White, grey, or one note of colour preferable.—The flowers furnish variety and colour.—Lady de Bathe (Mrs. Langtry) in her garden at Newmarket, England
II. WOMAN DECORATIVE ON THE LAWN
One may be a flower or a bunch of flowers for colour against the unbroken sweep of green underfoot and background of shrubs and trees.—Chic outline and interesting detail, as well as colour, of distinct value in a costume for lawn.—How to cultivate an unerring instinct for what is a successful costume for any given occasion
III. WOMAN DECORATIVE ON THE BEACH
If one would be a contribution to the picture, figure as white or vivid colour on beach, deck of steamer or yacht
XII WOMAN AS DECORATION WHEN SKATING 134
Line of the body all important.—The necessity of mastering form to gain efficiency in any line; examples.—The traditional skating costume has the lead
XIII WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER MOTOR CAR 145
The colour of one's car inside and out important factor in effect produced by one's carefully chosen costume
XIV HOW TO GO ABOUT PLANNING A PERIOD COSTUME 154
Period.—Background.—Outline.—Materials.—Colour scheme.—Detail with meaning.—Authorities.—Consulting portraits by great masters.—Geraldine Farrar.—Distinguished collection of costume plates.—One result of planning period costumes is the opening up of vistas in history.—Every detail of a period costume has its fascinating story worth the knowing.—Brief historic outline to serve as key to the rich storehouse of important volumes on costumes and the distinguished textless books of costume plates.—Period of fashions in costumes developing without nationality.—Nationality declared in artistry of workmanship and the modification or exaggeration of an essential detail according to national or individual temperament.—Evolution of woman's costume.—Assyria.—Egypt.—Byzantium.— Greece.—Rome.—Gothic Europe.—Europe of the Renaissance,—seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century through Mid-Victorian period.—Cord tied about waist origin of costumes for women and men
XV THE STORY OF PERIOD COSTUMES 172
Woman as seen in Egyptian sculpture-relief; on Greek vase; in Gothic stained glass; carved stone; tapestry; stucco; and painting of the Renaissance; eighteenth and nineteenth century portraits.—Art throughout the ages reflects woman in every role; as companion, ruler, slave, saint, plaything, teacher, and voluntary worker.—Evolution of outline of woman's costume, including change in neck; shoulder; evolution of sleeve; girdle; hair; head-dress; waist line; petticoat.—Gradual disappearance of long, flowing lines characteristic of Greek and Gothic periods.—Demoralisation of Nature's shoulder and hip-line culminates in the Velasquez edition of Spanish fashion and the Marie Antoinette extravaganzas
XVI DEVELOPMENT OF GOTHIC COSTUME 192
Gothic outline first seen as early as fourth century.—Costume of Roman-Christian women.—Ninth century.—The Gothic cape of twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries made familiar on the Virgin and saints in sacred art.—The tunic.—Restraint in line, colour, and detail gradually disappear with increased circulation of wealth until in fifteenth century we see humanity over-weighted with rich brocades, laces, massive jewels, etc.
THE VIRGIN IN ART
Late Middle Ages.—Sovereignty of the Virgin as explained in "The Cathedrals of Mont St. Michel and Chartres," by Henry Adams.—Woman as the Virgin dominates art of twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries.—The girdle.—The round neck.—The necklace, etc.
XVII THE RENAISSANCE 214
SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES
Pointed and other head-dresses with floating veils.—Neck low off shoulders.—Skirts part as waist-line over petticoat.—Wealth of Roman Empire through new trade channels had led to importation of richly coloured Oriental stuffs.—Same wealth led to establishing looms in Europe.—Clothes of man like his over-ornate furniture show debauched and vulgar taste.—The good Gothic lines live on in costumes of nuns and priests.—The Davanzati Palace collection, Florence, Italy.—Long pointed shoes of the Middle Ages give way to broad square ones.—Gorgeous materials.—Hats.—Hair.—Sleeves.— Skirts.—Crinolines.—Coats.—Overskirts draped to develop into panniers of Marie Antoinette's time.—Directoire reaction to simple lines and materials
XVII EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 233
Political upheavals.—Scientific discoveries.—Mechanical inventions.—Chemical achievements.—Chintz or stamped linens of Jouy near Versailles.—Painted wall-papers after the Chinese.—Simplicity in costuming of woman and man
XIX WOMAN IN THE VICTORIAN PERIOD 241
First seventy years of nineteenth century.—"Historic Dress in America" by Elizabeth McClellan.—Hoops, wigs, absurdly furbished head-dresses, paper-soled shoes, bonnets enormous, laces of cobweb, shawls from India, rouge and hair-grease, patches and powder, laced waists, and "vapours."—Man still decorative
XX SEX IN COSTUMING 244
"European dress."—Progenitor of costume worn by modern men.—The time when no distinction was made between materials used for man and woman.—Velvets, silks, satins, laces, elaborate cuffs and collars, embroidery, jewels and plumes as much his as hers
XXI LINE AND COLOUR OF COSTUMES IN HUNGARY 252
In a sense colour a sign of virility.—Examples.—Studying line and colour in Magyar Land.—In Krakau, Poland,—A highly decorative Polish peasant and her setting
XXII STUDYING LINE AND COLOUR IN RUSSIA 265
Kiev our headquarters.—Slav temperament an integral part of Russian nature expressed in costuming as well as folk songs and dances of the people.—Russian woman of the fashionable world.—The Russian pilgrims as we saw them tramping over the frozen roads to the shrines of Kiev, the Holy City and ancient capital of Russia at the close of the Lenten season.—Their costumes and their psychology
XXIII MARK TWAIN'S LOVE OF COLOUR IN ALL COSTUMING 276
Wrapped in a crimson silk dressing-gown on a balcony of his Italian villa in Connecticut, Mark Twain dilated on the value of brilliant colour in man's costuming.—His creative, picturing-making mind in action.—Other themes followed
XXIV THE ARTIST AND HIS COSTUME 283
A God-given sense of the beautiful.—The artist nature has always assumed poetic license in the matter of dress.—Many so-called affectations have raison d'etre.—Responding to texture, colour and line as some do to music and scenery.—How Japanese actors train themselves to act women's parts by wearing woman's costumes off the stage.—This cultivates the required feeling for the costumes.—The woman devotee to sports when costumed.—Richard Wagner's responsiveness to colour and texture.—Clyde Fitch's sensitiveness to the same.—The wearing of jewels by men.—King Edward VII.—A remarkable topaz worn by a Spaniard.—Its undoing as a decorative object through its resetting
XXV IDIOSYNCRASIES IN COSTUME 292
Fashions in dress all powerful because they seize upon the public mind.—They become the symbol of manners and affect human psychology.—Affectations of the youth of Athens.—Les Merveilleux, Les Encroyables, the Illuminati.—Schiller during the Storm and Stress Period.—Venetian belles of the sixteenth century.—The Cavalier Servente of the seventeenth century.—Mme. Recamier scandalised London in eighteenth century by appearing costumed a la Greque.—Mme. Jerome Bonaparte, a Baltimore belle, followed suit in Philadelphia.—Hour-glass waist-line and attendant "vapours" were thought to be in the role of a high-born Victorian miss.—Appropriateness the contribution of our day to the story of woman's costuming
XXVI NATIONALITY IN COSTUME 296
When seen with perspective the costumes of various periods appear as distinct types though to the man or woman of any particular period the variations of the type are bewildering and misleading.—Having followed the evolution of the costume of woman of fashion which comes under the general head of European dress, before closing we turn to quite another field, that of national costumes.—Progress levels national differences, therefore the student must make the most of opportunities to observe.—Experiences in Hungary
XXVII MODELS 306
Historical interest attaches to fashions in woman's costuming.—One of the missions of art is to make subtle the obvious.—Examples as seen in 1917
XXVIII WOMAN COSTUMED FOR HER WAR JOB 313
The Pageant of Life shows that woman has played opposite man with consistency and success throughout the ages.—Apropos of this, we quote from Philadelphia Public Ledger, for March 25, 1917, an impression of a woman of to-day costumed appropriately to get efficiency in her war work
IN CONCLUSION 324
A brief review of the chief points to be kept in mind by those interested in the costuming of woman so that she figures as a decorative contribution to any setting
I MME. GERALDINE FARRAR IN GREEK COSTUME AS THAIS (FRONTISPIECE) vi Sketched by Thelma Cudlipp
II WOMAN IN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN SCULPTURE-RELIEF 9
III WOMAN IN GREEK ART 19
IV WOMAN ON GREEK VASE 29
V WOMAN IN GOTHIC ART 39 Portrait Showing Pointed Head-dress
VI WOMAN IN ART OF THE RENAISSANCE 49 Sculpture-relief in Terra-cotta: The Virgin
VII WOMAN IN ART OF THE RENAISSANCE 59 Sculpture-relief in Terra-cotta: Holy Women
VIII TUDOR ENGLAND 69 Portrait of Queen Elizabeth
IX SPAIN—VELASQUEZ PORTRAIT 79
X EIGHTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND 89 Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough
XI BOURBON FRANCE 99 Portrait of Marie Antoinette by Madame Vigee Le Brun
XII COSTUME OF EMPIRE PERIOD 109 An English Portrait
XIII EIGHTEENTH CENTURY COSTUME 119 Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
XIV VICTORIAN PERIOD (ABOUT 1840) 129 Mme. Adeline Genee in Costume
XV LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY (ABOUT 1890) 139 A Portrait by John S. Sargent
XVI A MODERN PORTRAIT 149 By John W. Alexander
XVII A PORTRAIT OF MRS. PHILIP M. LYDIG 159 By I. Zuloaga
XVIII MRS. LANGTRY (LADY DE BATHE) IN EVENING WRAP 169
XIX MRS. CONDE NAST IN STREET DRESS 179 Photograph by Baron de Meyer
XX MRS. CONDE NAST IN EVENING DRESS 189
XXI MRS. CONDE NAST IN GARDEN COSTUME 199
XXII MRS. CONDE NAST IN FORTUNY TEA GOWN 209
XXIII MRS. VERNON CASTLE IN BALL COSTUME 219
XXIV MRS. VERNON CASTLE IN AFTERNOON COSTUME—WINTER 229
XXV MRS. VERNON CASTLE IN AFTERNOON COSTUME—SUMMER 239
XXVI MRS. VERNON CASTLE COSTUMED A LA GUERRE FOR A WALK 249
XXVII MRS. VERNON CASTLE—A FANTASY 259
XXVIII MODERN SKATING COSTUME—1917 269 Winner of Amateur Championship of Fancy Skating
XXIX A MODERN SILHOUETTE—1917 279 TAILOR-MADE Drawn from Life by Elisabeth Searcy
XXX TAPPE'S CREATIONS 289 Sketched for Woman as Decoration by Thelma Cudlipp
XXXI MISS ELSIE DE WOLFE IN COSTUME OF RED CROSS NURSE 299
XXXII MME. GERALDINE FARRAR IN SPANISH COSTUME AS CARMEN 309 From Photograph by Courtesy of Vanity Fair
XXXIII MME. GERALDINE FARRAR IN JAPANESE COSTUME AS MADAME BUTTERFLY 319 Sketched by Thelma Cudlipp
"The Communion of men upon earth abhors identity more than nature does a vacuum. Nothing so shocks and repels the living soul as a row of exactly similar things, whether it consists of modern houses or of modern people, and nothing so delights and edifies as distinction."
"Whatever piece of dress conceals a woman's figure, is bound, in justice, to do so in a picturesque way."
From an Early Victorian Fashion Paper.
"When was that 'simple time of our fathers' when people were too sensible to care for fashions? It certainly was before the Pharaohs, and perhaps before the Glacial Epoch."
W. G. SUMNER, in Folkways.
A FEW HINTS FOR THE NOVICE WHO WOULD PLAN HER COSTUMES
There are a few rules with regard to the costuming of woman which if understood put one a long way on the road toward that desirable goal—decorativeness, and have economic value as well. They are simple rules deduced by those who have made a study of woman's lines and colouring, and how to emphasise or modify them by dress.
Temperaments are seriously considered by experts in this art, for the carriage of a woman and her manner of wearing her clothes depends in part upon her temperament. Some women instinctively feel line and are graceful in consequence, as we have said, but where one is not born with this instinct, it is possible to become so thoroughly schooled in the technique of controlling the physique—poise of the body, carriage of the head, movement of the limbs, use of feet and hands, that a sense of line is acquired. Study portraits by great masters, the movements of those on the stage, the carriage and positions natural to graceful women. A graceful woman is invariably a woman highly sensitised, but remember that "alive to the finger tips"—or toe tips, may be true of the woman with few gestures, a quiet voice and measured words, as well as the intensely active type.
The highly sensitised woman is the one who will wear her clothes with individuality, whether she be rounded or slender. To dress well is an art, and requires concentration as any other art does. You know the old story of the boy, who when asked why his necktie was always more neatly tied than those of his companions, answered: "I put my whole mind on it." There you have it! The woman who puts her whole mind on the costuming of herself is naturally going to look better than the woman who does not, and having carefully studied her type, she will know her strong points and her weak ones, and by accentuating the former, draw attention from the latter. There is a great difference, however, between concentrating on dress until an effect is achieved, and then turning the mind to other subjects, and that tiresome dawdling, indefinite, fruitless way, to arrive at no convictions. This variety of woman never gets dress off her chest.
The catechism of good dressing might be given in some such form as this: Are you fat? If so, never try to look thin by compressing your figure or confining your clothes in such a way as to clearly outline the figure. Take a chance from your size. Aim at long lines, and what dressmakers call an "easy fit," and the use of solid colours. Stripes, checks, plaids, spots and figures of any kind draw attention to dimensions; a very fat woman looks larger if her surface is marked off into many spaces. Likewise a very thin woman looks thinner if her body on the imagination of the public subtracting is marked off into spaces absurdly few in number. A beautifully proportioned and rounded figure is the one to indulge in striped, checked, spotted or flowered materials or any parti-coloured costumes.
* * * * *
Never try to make a thin woman look anything but thin. Often by accentuating her thinness, a woman can make an effect as type, which gives her distinction. If she were foolish enough to try to look fatter, her lines would be lost without attaining the contour of the rounded type. There are of course fashions in types; pale ash blonds, red-haired types (auburn or golden red with shell pink complexions), dark haired types with pale white skin, etc., and fashions in figures are as many and as fleeting.
Artists are sometimes responsible for these vogues. One hears of the Rubens type, or the Sir Joshua Reynolds, Hauptner, Burne-Jones, Greuse, Henner, Zuloaga, and others. The artist selects the type and paints it, the attention of the public is attracted to it and thereafter singles it out. We may prefer soft, round blonds with dimpled smiles, but that does not mean that such indisputable loveliness can challenge the attractions of a slender serpentine tragedy-queen, if the latter has established the vogue of her type through the medium of the stage or painter's brush.
A woman well known in the world of fashion both sides of the Atlantic, slender and very tall, has at times deliberately increased that height with a small high-crowned hat, surmounted by a still higher feather. She attained distinction without becoming a caricature, by reason of her obvious breeding and reserve. Here is an important point. A woman of quiet and what we call conservative type, can afford to wear conspicuous clothes if she wishes, whereas a conspicuous type must be reserved in her dress. By following this rule the overblown rose often makes herself beautiful. Study all types of woman. Beauty is a wonderful and precious thing, and not so fleeting either as one is told. The point is, to take note, not of beauty's departure, but its gradually changing aspect, and adapt costume, line and colour, to the demands of each year's alterations in the individual. Make the most of grey hair; as you lose your colour, soften your tones.
Always star your points. If you happen to have an unusual amount of hair, make it count, even though the fashion be to wear but little. We recall the beautiful and unique Madame X. of Paris, blessed by the gods with hair like bronze, heavy, long, silken and straight. She wore it wrapped about her head and finally coiled into a French twist on the top, the effect closely resembling an old Roman helmet. This was design, not chance, and her well-modeled features were the sort to stand the severe coiffure, Madame's husband, always at her side that season on Lake Lucerne, was curator of the Louvre. We often wondered whether the idea was his or hers. She invariably wore white, not a note of colour, save her hair; even her well-bred fox terrier was snowy white.
Worth has given distinction to more than one woman by recognising her possibilities, if kept to white, black, greys and mauves. A beautiful Englishwoman dressed by this establishment, always a marked figure at whatever embassy her husband happens to be posted, has never been seen wearing anything in the evening but black, or white, with very simple lines, cut low and having a narrow train.
Woman in ancient Egyptian sculpture-relief about 1000 B.C.
We have here a husband and wife. (Metropolitan Museum.)
It may take courage on the part of dressmaker, as well as the woman in question, but granted you have a distinct style of your own, and understand it, it is the part of wisdom to establish the habit of those lines and colours which are yours, and then to avoid experiments with outre lines and shades. They are almost sure to prove failures. Taking on a colour and its variants is an economic, as well as an artistic measure. Some women have so systematised their costuming in order to be decorative, at the least possible expenditure of vitality and time (these are the women who dress to live, not live to dress), that they know at a glance, if dress materials, hats, gloves, jewels, colour of stones and style of setting, are for them. It is really a joy to shop with this kind of woman. She has definitely fixed in her mind the colours and lines of her rooms, all her habitual settings, and the clothes and accessories best for her. And with the eye of an artist, she passes swiftly by the most alluring bargains, calculated to undermine firm resolution. In fact one should not say that this woman shops; she buys. What is more, she never wastes money, though she may spend it lavishly.
Some of the best dressed women (by which we always mean women dressed fittingly for the occasion, and with reference to their own particular types) are those with decidedly limited incomes.
There are women who suggest chiffon and others brocade; women who call for satin, and others for silk; women for sheer muslins, and others for heavy linen weaves; women for straight brims, and others for those that droop; women for leghorns, and those they do not suit; women for white furs, and others for tawny shades. A woman with red in her hair is the one to wear red fox.
If you cannot see for yourself what line and colour do to you, surely you have some friend who can tell you. In any case, there is always the possibility of paying an expert for advice. Allow yourself to be guided in the reaching of some decision about yourself and your limitations, as well as possibilities. You will by this means increase your decorativeness, and what is of more serious importance, your economic value.
A marked example of woman decorative was seen on the recent occasion when Miss Isadora Duncan danced at the Metropolitan Opera House, for the benefit of French artists and their families, victims of the present war. Miss Duncan was herself so marvelous that afternoon, as she poured her art, aglow and vibrant with genius, into the mould of one classic pose after another, that most of her audience had little interest in any other personality, or effect. Some of us, however, when scanning the house between the acts, had our attention caught and held by a charmingly decorative woman occupying one of the boxes, a quaint outline in silver-grey taffeta, exactly matching the shade of the woman's hair, which was cut in Florentine fashion forming an aureole about her small head,—a becoming frame for her fine, highly sensitive face. The deep red curtains and upholstery in the box threw her into relief, a lovely miniature, as seen from a distance. There were no doubt other charming costumes in the boxes and stalls that afternoon, but none so successful in registering a distinct decorative effect. The one we refer to was suitable, becoming, individual, and reflected personality in a way to indicate an extraordinary sensitiveness to values, that subtle instinct which makes the artist.
With very young women it is easy to be decorative under most conditions. Almost all of them are decorative, as seen in our present fashions, but to produce an effect in an opera box is to understand the carrying power of colour and line. The woman in the opera box has the same problem to solve as the woman on the stage: her costume must be effective at a distance. Such a costume may be white, black and any colour; gold, silver, steel or jet; lace, chiffon—what you will—provided the fact be kept in mind that your outline be striking and the colour an agreeable contrast against the lining of the box. Here, outline is of chief importance, the silhouette must be definite; hair, ornaments, fan, cut of gown, calculated to register against the background. In the stalls, colour and outline of any single costume become a part of the mass of colour and black and white of the audience. It is difficult to be a decorative factor under these conditions, yet we can all recall women of every age, who so costume themselves as to make an artistic, memorable impression, not only when entering opera, theatre or concert hall, but when seated. These are the women who understand the value of elimination, restraint, colour harmony and that chic which results in part from faultless grooming. To-day it is not enough to possess hair which curls ideally: it must, willy nilly, curl conventionally!
If it is necessary, prudent or wise that your purchases for each season include not more than six new gowns, take the advice of an actress of international reputation, who is famous for her good dressing in private life, and make a point of adding one new gown to each of the six departments of your wardrobe. Then have the cleverness to appear in these costumes whenever on view, making what you have fill in between times.
To be clear, we would say, try always to begin a season with one distinguished evening gown, one smart tailor suit, one charming house gown, one tea gown, one negligee and one sport suit. If you are needing many dancing frocks, which have hard wear, get a simple, becoming model, which your little dressmaker, seamstress or maid can copy in inexpensive but becoming colours. You can do this in Summer and Winter alike, and with dancing frocks, tea gowns, negligees and even sport suits. That is, if you have smart, up-to-date models to copy.
One woman we know bought the finest quality jersey cloth by the yard, and had a little dressmaker copy exactly a very expensive skirt and sweater. It seems incredible, but she saved on a ready made suit exactly like it forty dollars, and on one made to measure by an exclusive house, one hundred dollars! Remember, however, that there was an artist back of it all and someone had to pay for that perfect model, to start with. In the case we cite, the woman had herself bought the original sport suit from an importer who is always in advance with Paris models.
If you cannot buy the designs and workmanship of artists, take advantage of all opportunities to see them; hats and gowns shown at openings, or when your richer friends are ordering. In this way you will get ideas to make use of and you will avoid looking home-made, than which, no more damning phrase can be applied to any costume. As a matter of fact it implies a hat or gown lacking an artist's touch and describes many a one turned out by long-established and largely patronised firms.
A Greek vase. Dionysiac scenes about 460 B.C. Interesting costumes. (Metropolitan Museum.)
The only satisfactory copy of a Fortuny tea gown we have ever seen accomplished away from the supervision of Fortuny himself, was the exquisite hand-work of a young American woman who lives in New York, and makes her own gowns and hats, because her interest and talent happen to be in that direction. She told a group of friends the other day, to whom she was showing a dainty chiffon gown, posed on a form, that to her, the planning and making of a lovely costume had the same thrilling excitement that the painting of a picture had for the artist in the field of paint and canvas. This same young woman has worked constantly since the European war began, both in London and New York, on the shapeless surgical shirts used by the wounded soldiers. In this, does she outrank her less accomplished sisters? Yes, for the technique she has achieved by making her own costumes makes her swift and economical, both in the cutting of her material and in the actual sewing and she is invaluable as a buyer of materials.
THE LAWS UNDERLYING ALL COSTUMING OF WOMAN
That every costume is either right or wrong is not a matter of general knowledge. "It will do," or "It is near enough" are verdicts responsible for beauty hidden and interest destroyed. Who has not witnessed the mad mental confusion of women and men put to it to decide upon costumes for some fancy-dress ball, and the appalling ignorance displayed when, at the costumer's, they vaguely grope among battered-looking garments, accepting those proffered, not really knowing how the costume they ask for should look?
Absurd mistakes in period costumes are to be taken more or less seriously according to temperament. But where is the fair woman who will say that a failure to emerge from a dressmaker's hands in a successful costume is not a tragedy? Yet we know that the average woman, more often than not, stands stupefied before the infinite variety of materials and colours of our twentieth century, and unless guided by an expert, rarely presents the figure, chez-elle, or when on view in public places, which she would or could, if in possession of the few rules underlying all successful dressing, whatever the century or circumstances.
Six salient points are to be borne in mind when planning a costume, whether for a fancy-dress ball or to be worn as one goes about one's daily life:
* * * * *
First, appropriateness to occasion, station and age;
Second, character of background you are to appear against (your setting);
Third, what outline you wish to present to observers (the period of costume);
Fourth, what materials of those in use during period selected you will choose;
Fifth, what colours of those characteristic of period you will use;
Sixth, the distinction between those details which are obvious contributions to the costume, and those which are superfluous, because meaningless or line-destroying.
* * * * *
Let us remind our reader that the woman who dresses in perfect taste often spends far less money than she who has contracted the habit of indefiniteness as to what she wants, what she should want, and how to wear what she gets.
Where one woman has used her mind and learned beyond all wavering what she can and what she cannot wear, thousands fill the streets by day and places of amusement by night, who blithely carry upon their persons costumes which hide their good points and accentuate their bad ones.
The rara avis among women is she who always presents a fashionable outline, but so subtly adapted to her own type that the impression made is one of distinct individuality.
One knows very well how little the average costume counts in a theatre, opera house or ball-room. It is a question of background again. Also you will observe that the costume which counts most individually, is the one in a key higher or lower than the average, as with a voice in a crowded room.
The chief contribution of our day to the art of making woman decorative is the quality of appropriateness. I refer of course to the woman who lives her life in the meshes of civilisation. We have defined the smart woman as she who wears the costume best suited to each occasion when that occasion presents itself. Accepting this definition, we must all agree that beyond question the smartest women, as a nation, are English women, who are so fundamentally convinced as to the invincible law of appropriateness that from the cradle to the grave, with them evening means an evening gown; country clothes are suited to country uses and a tea-gown is not a bedroom negligee. Not even in Rome can they be prevailed upon "to do as the Romans do."
Apropos of this we recall an experience in Scotland. A house party had gathered for the shooting,—English men and women. Among the guests were two Americans; done to a turn by Redfern. It really turned out to be a tragedy, as they saw it, for though their cloth skirts were short, they were silk-lined; outing shirts were of crepe—not flannel; tan boots, but thinly soled; hats most chic, but the sort that drooped in a mist. Well, those two American girls had to choose between long days alone, while the rest tramped the moors, or to being togged out in borrowed tweeds, flannel shirts and thick-soled boots.
Greek Kylix. Signed by Hieron, about 400 B.C. Athenian. The woman wears one of the gowns Fortuny (Paris) has reproduced as a modern tea gown. It is in two pieces. The characteristic short tunic reaches just below waist line in front and hangs in long, fine pleats (sometimes cascaded folds) under the arms, the ends of which reach below knees. The material is not cut to form sleeves; instead two oblong pieces of material are held together by small fastenings at short intervals, showing upper arm through intervening spaces. The result in appearance is similar to a kimono sleeve. (Metropolitan Museum.)
That was some years back. We are a match for England to-day, in the open, but have a long way to go before we wear with equal conviction, and therefore easy grace, tea-gown and evening dress. Both how and when still annoy us as a nation. On the street we are supreme when tailleur. In carriage attire the French woman is supreme, by reason of that innate Latin coquetry which makes her feel line and its significance. The ideal pose for any hat is a French secret.
The average woman is partially aware that if she would be a decorative being, she must grasp conclusively two points: first, the limitations of her natural outline; secondly, a knowledge of how nearly she can approach the outline demanded by fashion without appearing a caricature, which is another way of saying that each woman should learn to recognise her own type. The discussion of silhouette has become a popular theme. In fact it would be difficult to find a maker of women's costumes so remote and unread as not to have seized and imbedded deep in her vocabulary that mystic word.
To make our points clear, constant reference to the stage is necessary; for from stage effects we are one and all free to enjoy and learn. Nowhere else can the woman see so clearly presented the value of having what she wears harmonise with the room she wears it in, and the occasion for which it is worn.
Not all plays depicting contemporary life are plays of social life, staged and costumed in a chic manner. What is taught by the modern stage, as shown by Bakst, Reinhardt, Barker, Urban, Jones, the Portmanteau Theatre and Washington Square Players, is values, as the artist uses the term—not fashions; the relative importance of background, outline, colour, texture of material and how to produce harmonious effects by the judicious combination of furnishings and costumes.
To-day, when we want to say that a costume or the interior decoration of a house is the last word in modern line and colour, we are apt to call it a la Bakst, meaning of course Leon Bakst, whose American "poster" was the Russian Ballet. If you have not done so already, buy or borrow the wonderful Bakst book, showing reproductions in their colours of his extraordinary drawings, the originals of which are owned by private individuals or museums, in Paris, Petrograd, London, and New York. They are outre to a degree, yet each one suggests the whole or parts of costumes for modern woman—adorable lines, unbelievable combinations of colour! No wonder Poiret, the Paris dressmaker, seized upon Bakst as designer (or was it Bakst who seized upon Poiret?).
Bakst got his inspiration in the Orient. As a bit of proof, for your own satisfaction, there is a book entitled Six Monuments of Chinese Sculpture, by Edward Chauvannes, published in 1914, by G. Van Oest & Cie., of Brussels and Paris. The author, with a highly commendable desire to perpetuate for students a record of the most ancient speciments of Chinese sculpture, brought to Paris and sold there, from time to time, to art-collectors, from all over the world; selected six fine speciments as theme of text and for illustrations.
Plate 23 in this collection shows a woman whose costume in outline might have been taken from Bakst or even Vogue. But put it the other way round: the Vogue artist to-day—we use the word as a generic term—finds inspiration through museums and such works as the above. This is particularly true as our little handbook goes into print, for the reason that the great war between the Central Powers and the Entente has to a certain extent checked the invention and material output of Europe, and driven designers of and dealers in costumes for women, to China and Japan.
Our great-great-grandmothers here in America wore Paris fashions shown on the imported fashion dolls and made up in brocades from China, by the Colonial mantua makers. So we are but repeating history.
To-day, war, which means horror, ugliness, loss of ideals and illusions, holds most of the world in its grasp, and we find creative artists—apostles of the Beautiful, seeking the Orient because it is remote from the great world struggle. We hear that Edmund Dulac (who has shown in a superlative manner, woman decorative, when illustrating the Arabian Nights and other well-known books), is planning a flight to the Orient. He says that he longs to bury himself far from carnage, in the hope of wooing back his muse.
If this subject of background, line and colour, in relation to costuming of woman, interests you, there are many ways of getting valuable points. One of them, as we have said, is to walk through galleries looking at pictures only as decorations; that is, colour and line against the painter's background.
Fashions change, in dress, arrangement of hair, jewels, etc., but this does not affect values. It is la ligne, the grand gesture, or line fraught with meaning and balance and harmony of colour.
The reader knows the colour scheme of her own rooms and the character of gowns she is planning, and for suggestions as to interesting colour against colour, she can have no higher authority than the experience of recognised painters. Some develop rapidly in this study of values.
If your rooms are so-called period rooms, you need not of necessity dress in period costumes, but what is extremely important, if you would not spoil your period room, nor fail to be a decorative contribution when in it, is that you make a point of having the colour and texture of your house gowns in the same key as the hangings and upholstery of your room. White is safe in any room, black is at times too strong. It depends in part upon the size of your room. If it is small and in soft tones, delicate harmonising shades will not obtrude themselves as black can and so reduce the effect of space. This is the case not only with black, but with emerald green, decided shades of red, royal blue, and purple or deep yellows. If artistic creations, these colours are all decorative in a room done in light tones, provided the room is large.
A Louis XVI salon is far more beautiful if the costumes are kept in Louis XVI colouring and all details, such as lace, jewelry, fans, etc., kept strictly within the picture; fine in design, delicate in colouring, workmanship and quality of material. Beyond these points one may follow the outline demanded by the fashion of the moment, if desired. But remember that a beautiful, interesting room, furnished with works of art, demands a beautiful, interesting costume, if the woman in question would sustain the impression made by her rooms, to the arranging of which she has given thought, time and vitality, to say nothing of financial outlay; she must take her own decorative appearance seriously.
Example of the pointed head-dress, carefully concealed hair (in certain countries at certain periods of history, a sign of modesty), round necklace and very long close sleeves characteristic of fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Observe angle at which head-dress is worn.
The writer has passed wonderful hours examining rare illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages (twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), missals, "Hours" of the Virgin, and Breviaries, for the sole purpose of studying woman's costumes,—their colour, line and details, as depicted by the old artists. Gothic costumes in Gothic interiors, and Early Renaissance costumes in Renaissance interiors.
The art of moderns in various media, has taken from these creations of mediaeval genius, more than is generally realized. We were looking at a rare illuminated Gothic manuscript recently, from which William Morris drew inspirations and ideas for the books he made. It is a monumental achievement of the twelfth century, a mass book, written and illuminated in Flanders; at one time in the possession of a Cistercian monastery, but now one of the treasures in the noted private collection made by the late J. Pierpont Morgan. The pages are of vellum and the illuminations show the figures of saints in jewel-like colours on backgrounds of pure gold leaf. The binding of this book,—sides of wood, held together by heavy white vellum, hand-tooled with clasps of thin silver, is the work of Morris himself and very characteristic of his manner. He patterned his hand-made books after these great models, just as he worked years to duplicate some wonderful old piece of furniture, realising so well the magic which lies in consecrated labour, that labour which takes no account of time, nor pay, but is led on by the vision of perfection possessing the artist's soul.
We know women who have copied the line, colour and material of costumes depicted in Gothic illuminations that they might be in harmony with their own Gothic rooms. One woman familiar with this art, has planned a frankly modern room, covering her walls with gold Japanese fibre, gilding her woodwork and doors, using the brilliant blues, purples and greens of the old illuminations in her hangings, upholstery and cushions, and as a striking contribution to the decorative scheme, costumes herself in white, some soft, clinging material such as crepe de chine, liberty satin or chiffon velvet, which take the mediaeval lines, in long folds. She wears a silver girdle formed of the hand-made clasps of old religious books, and her rings, neck chains and earrings are all of hand-wrought silver, with precious stones cut in the ancient way and irregularly set. This woman got her idea of the effectiveness of white against gold from an ancient missal in a famous private collection, which shows the saints all clad in marvellous white against gold leaf.
Whistler's house at 2 Cheyne Road, London, had a room the dado and doors of which were done in gold, on which he and two of his pupils painted the scattered petals of white and pink chrysanthemums. Possibly a Persian or Japanese effect, as Whistler leaned that way, but one sees the same idea in an illumination of the early sixteenth century; "Hours" of the Virgin and Breviary, made for Eleanor of Portugal, Queen of John II. The decorations here are in the style of the Renaissance, not Gothic, and some think Memling had a hand in the work. The borders of the illumination, characteristic of the Bruges School, are gold leaf on which is painted, in the most realistic way, an immense variety of single flowers, small roses, pansies, violets, daisies, etc., and among them butterflies and insects. This border surrounds the pictures which illustrate the text. Always the marvellous colour, the astounding skill in laying it on to the vellum pages, an unforgettable lesson in the possibility of colour applied effectively to costumes, when background is kept in mind. This Breviary was bound in green velvet and clasped with hand-wrought silver, for Cardinal Rodrigue de Castro (1520-1600) of Spain. It is now in the private collection of Mr. Morgan. The cover alone gives one great emotion, genuine ancient velvet of the sixteenth century, to imitate which taxes the ingenuity of the most skilful of modern manufacturers.
HOW TO DRESS YOUR TYPE
A Few Points Applying to All Costumes
Needless to say, when considering woman's costumes, for ordinary use, in their relation to background, unless some chameleon-like material be invented to take on the colour of any background, one must be content with the consideration of one's own rooms, porches, garden, opera-box or automobile, etc. For a gown to be worn when away from home, when lunching, at receptions or dinners, the first consideration must be becomingness,—a careful selection of line and colour that bring out the individuality of the wearer. When away from one's own setting, personality is one of the chief assets of every woman. Remember, individuality is nature's gift to each human being. Some are more markedly different than others, but we have all seen a so-called colourless woman transformed into surprising loveliness when dressed by an artist's instinct. A delicate type of blond, with fair hair, quiet eyes and faint shell-pink complexion, can be snuffed out by too strong colours. Remember that your ethereal blond is invariably at her best in white, black (never white and black in combination unless black with soft white collars and frills) and delicate pastel shades.
Fifteenth-century costume. "Virgin and Child" in painted terra-cotta.
It is by Andrea Verrocchio, and now in Metropolitan Museum. We have here an illustration of the costume, so often shown on the person of the Virgin in the art of the Middle Ages.
The richly-toned brunette comes into her own in reds, yellows and low-tones of strong blue.
Colourless jewels should adorn your perfect blond, colourful gems your glowing brunette.
What of those betwixt and between? In such cases let complexion and colour of eyes act as guide in the choice of colours.
One is familiar with various trite rules such as match the eyes, carry out the general scheme of your colouring, by which is meant, if you are a yellow blond, go in for yellows, if your hair is ash-brown, your eyes but a shade deeper, and your skin inclined to be lifeless in tone, wear beaver browns and content yourself with making a record in harmony, with no contrasting note.
Just here let us say that the woman in question must at the very outset decide whether she would look pretty or chic, sacrificing the one for the other, or if she insists upon both, carefully arrange a compromise. As for example, combine a semi-picture hat with a semi-tailored dress.
The strictly chic woman of our day goes in for appropriateness; the lines of the latest fashion, but adapted to bring out her own best points, while concealing her bad ones, and an insistance upon a colour and a shade of colour, sufficiently definite to impress the beholder at a glance. This type of woman as a rule keeps to a few colours, possibly one or two and their varieties, and prefers gowns of one material rather than combinations of materials. Though she possess both style and beauty, she elects to emphasise style.
In the case of the other woman, who would star her face at the expense of her tout ensemble, colour is her first consideration, multiplication of detail and intelligent expressing of herself in her mise-en-scene. Seduisant, instead of chic is the word for this woman.
Your black-haired woman with white skin and dark, brilliant eyes, is the one who can best wear emerald green and other strong colours. The now fashionable mustard, sage green, and bright magentas are also the affaire of this woman with clear skin, brilliant colour and sparkling eyes.
These same colours, if subdued, are lovely on the middle-aged woman with black hair, quiet eyes and pale complexion, but if her hair is grey or white, mustard and sage green are not for her, and the magenta must be the deep purplish sort, which combines with her violets and mauves, or delicate pinks and faded blues. She will be at her best in shades of grey which tone with her hair.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CLOTHES
Has the reader ever observed the effect of clothes upon manners? It is amazing, and only proves how pathetically childlike human nature is.
Put any woman into a Marie Antoinette costume and see how, during an evening she will gradually take on the mannerisms of that time. This very point was brought up recently in conversation with an artist, who in referring to one of the most successful costume balls ever given in New York—the crinoline ball at the old Astor House—spoke of how our unromantic Wall Street men fell to the spell of stocks, ruffled shirts and knickerbockers, and as the evening advanced, were quite themselves in the minuette and polka, bowing low in solemn rigidity, leading their lady with high arched arm, grasping her pinched-in waist, and swinging her beruffled, crinolined form in quite the 1860 manner.
Some women, even girls of tender years, have a natural instinct for costuming themselves, so that they contribute in a decorative way to any setting which chance makes theirs. Watch children "dressing up" and see how among a large number, perhaps not more than one of them will have this gift for effects. It will be she who knows at a glance which of the available odds and ends she wants for herself, and with a sure, swift hand will wrap a bright shawl about her, tie a flaming bit of silk about her dark head, and with an assumed manner, born of her garb, cast a magic spell over the small band which she leads on, to that which, without her intense conviction and their susceptibility to her mental attitude toward the masquerade, could never be done.
This illustrates the point we would make as to the effect of clothes upon psychology. The actor's costume affects the real actor's psychology as much or more than it does that of his audience. He is the man he has made himself appear. The writer had the experience of seeing a well-known opera singer, when a victim to a bad case of the grippe, leave her hotel voiceless, facing a matinee of Juliet. Arrived in her dressing-room at the opera, she proceeded to change into the costume for the first act. Under the spell of her role, that prima donna seemed literally to shed her malady with her ordinary garments, and to take on health and vitality with her Juliet robes. Even in the Waltz song her voice did not betray her, and apparently no critic detected that she was indisposed.
In speaking of periods in furniture, we said that their story was one of waves of types which repeated themselves, reflecting the ages in which they prevailed. With clothes we find it is the same thing: the scarlet, and silver and gold of the early Jacobeans, is followed by the drabs and greys of the Commonwealth; the marvellous colour of the Church, where Beauty was enthroned, was stamped out by the iron will of Cromwell who, in setting up his standard of revolt, wrapped soul and body of the new Faith in penal shades.
New England was conceived in this spirit and as mind had affected the colour of the Puritans' clothes, so in turn the drab clothes, prescribed by their new creed, helped to remove colour from the New England mind and nature.
Fifteenth-century costumes on the Holy Women at the Tomb of our Lord.
The sculpture relief is enamelled terra-cotta in white, blue, green, yellow and manganese colours. It bears the date 1487.
Note character of head-dresses, arrangement of hair, capes and gowns which are Early Renaissance. (Metropolitan Museum.)
But observe how, as prosperity follows privation, the mind expands, reaching out for what the changed psychology demands. It is the old story of Rome grown rich and gay in mood and dress. There were of course, villains in Puritan drab and Grecian white, but the child in every man takes symbol for fact. So it is that to-day, some shudder with the belief that Beauty, re-enthroned in all her gorgeous modern hues, means near disaster. The progressives claim that into the world has come a new hope; that beneath our lovely clothes of rainbow tints, and within our homes where Beauty surely reigns, a new psychology is born to radiate colour from within.
Our advice to the woman not born with clothes sense, is: employ experts until you acquire a mental picture of your possibilities and limitations, or buy as you can afford to, good French models, under expert supervision. You may never turn out to be an artist in the treatment of your appearance, instinctively knowing how a prevailing fashion in line and colour may be adapted to you, but you can be taught what your own type is, what your strong points are, your weak ones, and how, while accentuating the former, you may obliterate the latter.
There are two types of women familiar to all of us: the one gains in vital charm and abandon of spirit from the consciousness that she is faultlessly gowned; the other succumbs to self-consciousness and is pitifully unable to extricate her mood from her material trappings.
For the darling of the gods who walks through life on clouds, head up and spirit-free, who knows she is perfectly turned out and lets it go at that, we have only grateful applause. She it is who carries every occasion she graces—indoors, out-of-doors, at home, abroad. May her kind be multiplied!
But to the other type, she who droops under her silks and gold tissue, whose pearls are chains indeed, we would throw out a lifeline. Submerged by clothes, the more she struggles to rise above them the more her spirit flags. The case is this: the woman's mind is wrong; her clothes are right—lovely as ever seen; her jewels gems; her house and car and dog the best. It is her mind that is wrong; it is turned in, instead of out.
Now this intense and soul-, as well as line-destroying self-consciousness, may be prenatal, and it may result from the Puritan attitude toward beauty; that old New England point of view that the beautiful and the vicious are akin. Every young child needs to have cultivated a certain degree of self-reliance. To know that one's appearance is pleasing, to put it mildly, is of inestimable value when it comes to meeting the world. Every child, if normal, has its good points—hair, eyes, teeth, complexion or figure; and we all know that many a stage beauty has been built up on even two of these attributes. Star your good points, clothes will help you. Be a winner in your own setting, but avoid the fatal error of damning your clothes by the spirit within you.
The writer has in mind a woman of distinguished appearance, beauty, great wealth, few cares, wonderful clothes and jewels, palatial homes; and yet an envious unrest poisons her soul. She would look differently, be different and has not the wisdom to shake off her fetters. Her perfect dressing helps this woman; you would not be conscious of her otherwise, but with her natural equipment, granted that she concentrated upon flashing her spirit instead of her wealth, she would be a leader in a fine sense. The Beauty Doctor can do much, but show us one who can put a gleam in the eye, tighten the grasp, teach one that ineffable grace which enables woman, young or old, to wear her clothes as if an integral part of herself. This quality belongs to the woman who knows, though she may not have thought it out, that clothes can make one a success, but not a success in the enduring sense. Dress is a tyrant if you take it as your god, but on the other hand dress becomes a magician's wand when dominated by a clever brain. Gown yourself as beautifully as you can afford, but with judgment. What we do, and how we do it, is often seriously and strangely affected by what we have on. The writer has in mind a literary woman who says she can never talk business except in a linen collar! Mark Twain, in his last days, insisted that he wrote more easily in his night-shirt. Richard Wagner deliberately put on certain rich materials in colours and hung his room with them when composing the music of The Ring. Chopin says in a letter to a friend: "After working at the piano all day, I find that nothing rests me so much as to get into the evening dress which I wear on formal occasions." In monarchies based on militarism, royal princes, as soon as they can walk, are put into military uniforms. It cultivates in them the desired military spirit. We all associate certain duties with certain costumes, and the extraordinary response to colour is familiar to all. We talk about feeling colour and say that we can or cannot live in green, blue, violet or red. It is well to follow this colour instinct in clothes as well as in furnishing. You will find you are at your best in the colours and lines most sympathetic to you.
We know a woman who is an unusual beauty and has distinction, in fact is noted for her chic when in white, black or the combination. She once ventured a cerise hat and instantly dropped to the ranks of the commonplace. Fine eyes, hair, skin, teeth, colour and carriage were still hers, but her effectiveness was lessened as that of a pearl might be if set in a coral circle.
ESTABLISH HABITS OF CARRIAGE WHICH CREATE GOOD LINE
Woman's line is the result of her costume, in part only. Far more is woman's costume affected by her line. By this we mean the line she habitually falls into, the pose of torso, the line of her legs in action, and when seated, her arms and hands in repose and gesture, the poise of her head. It is woman's line resulting from her habit of mind and the control which her mind has over her body, a thing quite apart from the way God made her, and the expression her body would have had if left to itself, ungoverned by a mind stocked with observations, conventions, experience and attitudes. We call this the physical expression of woman's personality; this personality moulds her bodily lines and if properly directed determines the character of the clothes she wears; determines also whether she be a decorative object which says something in line and colour, or an undecorative object which says nothing.
Queen Elizabeth in the absurdly elaborate costume of the late Renaissance. Then crinoline, gaudy materials, and ornamentations without meaning reached their high-water mark in the costuming of women.
Woman to be decorative, should train the carriage of her body from childhood, by wearing appropriate clothing for various daily roles. There is more in this than at first appears. The criticism by foreigners that Americans, both men and women, never appear really at home in evening clothes, that they look as if they felt dressed, is true of the average man and woman of our country and results from the lax standards of a new and composite social structure. America as a whole, lacks traditions and still embodies the pioneer spirit, equally characteristic of Australia and other offshoots from the old world.
The little American girl who is brought up from babyhood to change for the evening, even though she have a nursery tea, and be allowed only a brief good-night visit to the grown-ups, is still the exception rather than the rule. A wee English maiden we know, created a good deal of amused comment because, on several occasions, when passing rainy afternoons indoors, with some affluent little New York friends, whose luxurious nurseries and marvellous mechanical toys were a delight, always insisted upon returning home,—a block distant,—to change into white before partaking of milk toast and jam, at the nursery table, the American children keeping on their pink and blue linens of the afternoon. The fact of white or pink is unimportant, but our point is made when we have said that the mother of the American children constantly remarked on the unconscious grace of the English tot, whether in her white muslin and pink ribbons, her riding clothes, or accordion-plaited dancing frock. The English woman-child was acquiring decorative lines by wearing the correct costume for each occasion, as naturally as a bird wears its feathers. This is one way of obviating self-consciousness.
The Eton boy masters his stick and topper in the same way, when young, and so more easily passes through the formless stage conspicuous in the American youth.
Call it technique, or call it efficiency, the object of our modern life is to excel, to be the best of our kind, and appropriate dress is a means to that end, for it helps to liberate the spirit. We of to-day make no claim to consistency or logic. Some of us wear too high heels, even with strictly tailored suits, which demand in the name of consistency a sensible shoe. Also our sensible skirt may be far too narrow for comfort. But on the whole, women have made great strides in the matter of costuming with a view to appropriateness and efficiency.
COLOUR IN WOMAN'S COSTUME
Colour is the hall-mark of our day, and woman decoratively costumed, and as decorator, will be largely responsible for recording this age as one of distinct importance—a transition period in decoration.
Colour is the most marked expression of the spirit of the times; colour in woman's clothes; colour in house furnishing; colour on the stage and in its setting; colour in prose and verse.
Speaking of colour in verse, Rudyard Kipling says (we quote from an editorial in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Jan. 7, 1917):
"Several songs written by Tommy and the Poilu at the front, celebrate the glories of camp life in such vivid colors they could not be reproduced in cold, black, leaden type."
It is no mere chance, this use of vivid colour. Man's psychology to-day craves it. A revolution is on. Did not the strong red, green, and blue of Napoleon's time follow the delicate sky-blues, rose and sunset-yellows of the Louis?
Colour pulses on every side, strong, clean, clear rainbow colour, as if our magicians of brush and dye-pot held a prism to the sun-beam; violet, orange and green, magentas and strong blue against backgrounds of black and cold grey.
We had come to think of colour as vice and had grown so conservative in its use, that it had all but disappeared from our persons, our homes, our gardens, our music and our literature. More than this, from our point of view! The reaction was bound to come by reason of eternal precedent.
Half-tones, antique effects, and general monotony,—the material expression of complacent minds, has been cast aside, and the blase man of ten years ago is as keen as any child with his first linen picture book,—and for the same reason.
Colour, as we see it to-day, came out of the East via Persia. Bakst in Russia translated it into terms of art, and made the Ballet Russe an amazing, enthralling vision! Then Poiret, wizard among French couturieres, assisted by Bakst, adapted this Oriental colour and line to woman's uses in private life. This supplemented the good work of le Gazette du Bon Ton of Paris, that effete fashion sheet, devoted to the decoration of woman, whose staff included many of the most gifted French artists, masters of brush and pen. Always irregular, no issue of the Bon Ton has appeared of late. It is held up by the war. The men who made it so fascinating a guide to woman "who would be decorative," are at the front, painting scenery for the battlefield—literally that: making mock trees and rocks, grass and hedges and earth, to mislead the fire of the enemy, and doubtless the kindred Munich art has been diverted into similar channels.
This Oriental colour has made its way across Europe like some gorgeous bird of the tropics, and since the war has checked the output of Europe's factories, another channel has supplied the same wonderful colours in silks and gauze. They come to us by way of the Pacific, from China and from Japan. There is no escaping the colour spell. Writers from the front tell us that it is as if the gods made sport with fate's anvil, for even the blackened dome of the war zone is lurid by night, with sparks of purple, red, green, yellow and blue; the flare of the world-destroying projectiles.
A Velasquez portrait of the Renaissance, when the human form counted only as a rack on which was heaped crinoline and stiff brocades and chains and gems and wigs and every manner of elaborate adornment, making mountains of poor tottering human forms, all but lost beneath.
The present costuming of woman, when she treats herself as decoration, owes much to the prophets of the "new" theatre and their colour scale. These men have demonstrated, in an unforgettable manner, the value of colour; the dependence of every decorative object upon background; shown how fraught with meaning can be an uncompromising outline, and the suggestiveness of really significant detail.
Bakst, Rheinhardt and Granville Barker have taught us the new colour vocabulary. Gordon Craig was perhaps the first to show us the stage made suggestive by insisting on the importance of clever lighting to produce atmosphere and elimination of unessential objects, the argument of his school being that the too detailed reproducing of Nature (on the stage) acts as a check to the imagination, whereas by the judicious selection of harmonics, the imagination is stimulated to its utmost creative capacity. One detects this creed to-day in certain styles of home decoration (woman's background), as well as in woman's costumes.
The staging of a recent play showed more plainly than any words, the importance of background. In one of the scenes, beautiful, artistic gowns in delicate shades were set off by a room with wonderful green walls and woodwork (mignonette). Now, so long as the characters moved about the room, they were thrown into relief most charmingly, but the moment the women seated themselves on a very light coloured and characterless chintz sofa, they lost their decorative value. It was lacking in harmony and contrast. The two black sofa cushions intended possibly to serve as background, being small, instantly disappeared behind the seated women.
A sofa of contrasting colour, or black, would have looked better in the room, and served as immediate background for gowns. It might have been covered in dark chintz, a silk damask in one or several tones, or a solid colour, since the gowns were of delicate indefinite shades.
One of the sofas did have a dark Chinese coat thrown over the back, with the intent, no doubt, of serving as effective background, but the point seemed to escape the daintily gowned young woman who poured tea, for she failed to take advantage of it, occupying the opposite end of the sofa. A modern addition to a woman's toilet is a large square of chiffon, edged with narrow metal or crystal fringe, or a gold or silver flexible cord. This scarf is always in beguiling contrast to the costume, and when not being worn, is thrown over the chair or end of sofa against which our lady reclines. To a certain degree, this portable background makes a woman decorative when the wrong colour on a chair might convert her lovely gown into an eyesore.
One woman we know, who has an Empire room, admires the lines of her sofa as furniture, but feels it ineffective unless one reclines a la Mme. Recamier. To obviate this difficulty, she has had made a square (one and a half yards), of lovely soft mauve silk damask, lined with satin charmeuse of the same shade, and weighted by long, heavy tassels, at the corners; this she throws over the Empire roll and a part of the seat, which are done in antique green velvet. Now the woman seated for conversation with arm and elbow resting on the head, looks at ease,—a part of the composition. The square of soft, lined silk serves at other times as a couvrepied.
Footwear points the costume; every child should be taught this.
Give most careful attention to your extremities,—shoes, gloves and hats. The genius of fashion's greatest artist counts for naught if his costume may not include hat, gloves, shoes, and we would add, umbrella, parasol, stick, fan, jewels; in fact every detail.
If you have the good sense to go to one who deservedly ranks as an authority on line and colour in woman's costume, have also the wisdom to get from this man or woman not merely your raiment; go farther, and grasp as far as you are able the principles underlying his or her creations. Common sense tells one that there must be principles which underlie the planning of every hat and gown,—serious reasons why certain lines, colours and details are employed.
Principles have evolved and clarified themselves in the long journey which textiles, colours and lines have made, travelling down through the ages. A great cathedral, a beautiful house, a perfect piece of furniture, a portrait by a master, sculpture which is an object of art, a costume proclaimed as a success; all are the results of knowing and following laws. The clever woman of slender means may rival her friends with munition incomes, if only she will go to an expert with open mind, and through the thoughtful purchase of a completed costume,—hat, gown and all accessories,—learn an artist-modiste's point of view. Then, and we would put it in italics; take seriously, with conviction, all his or her instructions as to the way to wear your clothes. Anyone can buy costumes, many can, perhaps own far more than you, but it is quite possible that no one can more surely be a picture—a delightfully decorative object on every occasion, than you, who knows instinctively (or has been taught), beyond all shadow of doubt, how to put on and then how to sit or walk in, your one tailored suit, your one tea gown, your one sport suit or ball gown.
An ideal example of the typical costume of fashionable England in the eighteenth century, when picturesqueness, not appropriateness, was the demand of the times.
This picture is known as THE MORNING PROMENADE: SQUIRE HALLET WITH HIS LADY. Painted by Thomas Gainsborough and now in the private collection of Lord Rothschild, London.
If you want to wear light spats, stop and think whether your heavy ankles will not look more trim in boots with light, glove-fitting tops and black vamps.
We have seen women with such slender ankles and shapely insteps, that white slippers or low shoes might be worn with black or coloured stockings. But it is playing safe to have your stockings match your slippers or shoes.
Buckles and bows on slippers and pumps can destroy the line of a shoe and hence a foot, or continue and accentuate line. There are fashions in buckles and bows, but unless you bend the fashion until it allows nature's work to appear at its best, it will destroy artistic intention.
Some people buy footwear as they buy fruit; they like what they see, so they get it! You know so many women, young and old, who do this, that our advice is, try to recall those who do not. Yes, now you see what we aim at; the women you have in mind always continue the line of their gowns with their feet. You can see with your mind's eye how the slender black satin slippers, one of which always protrudes from the black evening gown, carry to its eloquent finish the line from her head through torso, hip to knee, and knee down through instep to toe,—a line so frequently obstructed by senseless trimmings, lineless hats, and footwear wrong in colour and line.
If your gown is white and your object to create line, can you see how you defeat your purpose by wearing anything but white slippers or shoes?
At a recent dinner one of the young women who had sufficient good taste to wear an exquisite gown of silk and silver gauze, showing a pale magenta ground with silver roses, continued the colour scheme of her designer with silver slippers, tapering as Cinderella's, but spoiled the picture she might have made by breaking her line and enlarging her ankles and instep with magenta stockings. This could have been avoided by the use of silver stockings or magenta slippers with magenta stockings.
When brocades, in several colours, are chosen for slippers, keep in mind that the ground of the silk must absolutely match your costume. It is not enough that in the figure of brocade is the colour of the dress. Because so distorting to line, figured silks and coloured brocades for footwear are seldom a wise choice.
To those who cannot own a match in slippers for each gown, we would suggest that the number of colours used in gowns be but few, getting the desired variety by varying shades of a colour, and then using slippers a trifle higher in shade than the general colour selected.
JEWELRY AS DECORATION
The use of jewelry as colour and line has really nothing to do with its intrinsic worth. Just as when furnishing a house, one selects pictures for certain rooms with regard to their decorative quality alone, their colour with relation to the colour scheme of the room (The Art of Interior Decoration), so jewels should be selected either to complete costumes, or to give the keynote upon which a costume is built. A woman whose artist-dressmaker turns out for her a marvellous green gown, would far better carry out the colour scheme with some semi-precious stones than insist upon wearing her priceless rubies.
On the other hand, granted one owns rubies and they are becoming, then plan a gown entirely with reference to them, noting not merely the shade of their colour, but the character of their setting, should it be distinctive.
One of the most picturesque public events in Vienna each year, is a bazaar held for the benefit of a charity under court patronage. To draw the crowds and induce them to give up their money, it has always been the custom to advertise widely that the ladies of the Austro-Hungarian court would conduct the sale of articles at the various booths and that the said noble ladies would wear their family jewels. Also, that there be no danger of confusing the various celebrities, the names of those selling at each booth would be posted in plain lettering over it. Programmes are sold, which also inform patrons as to the name and station of each lovely vendor of flowers and sweets. It is an extraordinary occasion, and well worth witnessing once. The jewels worn are as amazing and fascinating as is Hungarian music. There is a barbaric sumptuousness about them, an elemental quality conveyed by the Oriental combining of stones, which to the western European and American, seem incongruous. Enormous pearls, regular and irregular, are set together in company with huge sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds, cut in the antique way. Looking about, one feels in an Arabian Nights' dream. On the particular occasion to which we refer, the most beautiful woman present was the Princess Metternich, and in her jewels decorative as any woman ever seen.
The women of the Austrian court, especially the Hungarian women, are notably beautiful and fascinating as well. It is the Magyar elan, that abandon which prompts a woman to toss her jewelled bangle to a Gypsy leader of the orchestra, when his violin moans and flashes out a czardas.
But the rule remains the same whether your jewels are inherited and rich in souvenirs of European courts, or the last work of Cartier. They must be a harmonious part of a carefully designed costume, or used with discretion against a background of costumes planned with reference to making them count as the sole decoration.
We recall a Spanish beauty, representative of several noble strains, who was an artist in the combining of her gems as to their class and colour. Hers was that rare gift,—infallible good taste, which led her to contribute an individual quality to her temporary possessions. She counted in Madrid, not only as a beautiful and brilliant woman, but as a decorative contribution to any room she entered. It was not uncommon to meet her at dinner, wearing some very chic blue gown, often of velvet, the sole decoration of which would be her sapphires, stones rare in themselves, famous for their colour, their matching, the manner in which they were cut, and their setting,—the unique hand-work of some goldsmith of genius. It is impossible to forget her distinguished appearance as she entered the room in a princess gown, made to show the outline of her faultless figure, and cut very low. Against the background of her white neck and the simple lines of her blue gown, the sapphires became decoration with artistic restraint, though they gleamed from a coronet in her soft, black hair, encircled her neck many times and fell below her waist line, clasped her arms and were suspended from her ears in long, graceful pendants. They adorned her fingers and they composed a girdle of indescribable beauty.
MARIE ANTOINETTE IN A PORTRAIT BY MADAME VIGEE LE BRUN, one of the greatest portrait painters of the eighteenth century. Here we see the lovely queen of Louis XVI in the type of costume she made her own which is still referred to as the Marie Antoinette style.
This portrait is in the Musee National, Versailles.
Later, the same night, one would meet this woman at a ball, and discover that she had made a complete change of costume and was as elegant as before, but now all in red, a gown of deep red velvet or some wonderful soft satin, unadorned save by her rubies, as numerous and as unique as her sapphires had been.
There were other women in Madrid wearing wonderful jewels, one of them when going to court functions always had a carriage follow hers, in which were detectives. How strange this seems to Americans! But this particular woman in no way illustrated the point we would make, for she had lost control of her own lines, had no knowledge of line and colour in costume, and when wearing her jewels, looked very much like the show case of a jeweller's shop.