Thursday, September 08, 2005

Distinctive Dress

From Mary Brooks Picken's book, written in 1918:

"In giving instructions to classes of young women interested in knowing dress in its highest sense, I have frequently found it helpful to suggest hat they dress up their friends, and you may do the same with profit. Take some member of your own family for instance, your mother, and design for her a dress that expresses her motherliness--her type. Then, choose a color that will help make her hair appear the softest and her eyes the kindliest.

Try this. You will find it easy to think of the color and plan the fabric, for, usually, the material most suitable for one's mother has a smooth surface, is soft in texture, and is subdued in color.

When you begin to consider her figure, you may find that the bust and hips are large in proportion to the height, that the hips are large in proportion to the bust, or that the back length is long in proportion to the front length. Then you have a problem of lines.

For many years, mothers who have acquired a little more flesh than is becoming have found it difficult to procure appropriate clothes.

Manufacturers of stout women's apparel have frequently said: "Camouflage the stout woman"; that is, get materials that have large figures and indistinct colorings in patches so that the silhouette of the body will not be in evidence and that the optic nerve will not be able to conceive how large the figure actually is.

But few would like to camouflage their mothers as regards dress. They would rather have a dress simple in color and design and plan it to hang from the shoulder--a dress that has a soft belt coming around in a way that will give length to the waist line and not tell every one precisely within one-fourth inch where the waist line begins and where it ends.

One girl who tired this method fo learning lines designed some dresses for her mother, who weighed nearly one hundred and eighty pounds and was only five feet three inches in height.

One of the most successful dresses that she made was of silk, a maroon-and-taupe stripe. The stripes were irregular, and there were two maroon stripes to every one of taupe. The dress was made in Russian-blouse effect, with a simple straight skirt, the Russian blouse coming almost to the knees. A long collar of flesh-color crepe was used for the front, coming down in a V. The sleeves were close-fitting, with a little plain cuff of crepe. The waist line was finished with a belt, the stripes encircling the waist, a maroon stripe in the center and a taupe one on each side. The belt, which was narrow, crossed in the back and looped at the left side front. It went around the figure twice--at the normal waist line and below it--and thus gave length to the waist line. Its crossing in the back took away the severe plainnes of the back, and yet did not interefere with the length.

The plain, straight sleeves did not emphasize the heaviness in the arm, and the crepe collar gave just enough coloring on the face. The line of the collar gave a long neck line, which helped avoid emphasizing the roundness of the face.

When this woman sat down in this costume, it was graceful and comfortable. The lower skirt fell gracefully down to her ankles, making it much more pleasing than if she had had a tight skirt that would draw up around her figure. This girl--this designer--knew that a dress should be as beautiful when the wearer is sitting as when she is standing.

So becoming was this dress for the mother that the daughter made some house dresses of chambray, gray-and-white stripe for one and blue-and-white for another. But she clung almost slavishly to this one design of dress. She gave as her reason, "I know it is best."

She did not cling to stripes, however, because I once saw her mother wearing a very dark-blue silk that was just as pretty as the stripes, but the lines of the dress were almost identical with the one I had seen made of the striped material."

Comment: If anyone will take the trouble to research the daily costume of Queen Victoria, they will observe that, although she was quite stout, she never resorted to sloppy clothing equivilant to the sweatpants, tee shirts, and flip-flops that many overweight women use as their uniform today. It is possible to dress well, no matter what your size. We need not add to society's woes by becoming lazy in our choice of clothing.

I recently learned from a friend, the story behind the "trains" that you see attached to the dresses in many of the paintings of women in previous centuries. The train is now usually only seen on wedding dresses. It was originally designed for the women in the nursing profession, so that they could bend over the beds of the patients, and do their various tasks, with modesty. That way, their legs would not be exposed when they leaned over. Interesting.

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