Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Art of Frederick Morgan: Examples of 19th Century Modest, Feminine Dress

"Me Too"
To order these posters for your home, go to and look for the Frederick Morgan art.
Frederick Morgan was a British painter who lived from 1847 until 1927. He loved portraying women with children, but sometimes had other artists, such as Arthur Elsely, and other painters, paint the dogs or other animals in his paintings.
"Day on the River"

His father, John Morgan, was also an artist, who took his son out of school in order to teach him to paint. Frederick said of his own father, "He taught me how to make a picture."
"Mother's Darling"

"Enough, And More to Spare"

"Picking Apples"

"Dancing Bear"


"Won't You Have Some?"

You can see more of the excellent paintings of Frederick Morgan here

The women in these paintings are portrayed in soft, flowing garments, accented with collars, ribbons and lace. The eye is drawn toward the sweet expressions of the women and children.
The Victorian era was the last time women wore such long garments and pretty hats of that type. At that time, little girls looked forward to growing up, so that they could put their hair up and wear long skirts and dresses. Mothers did not believe in pushing their little girls into being too grown up too soon, so they did not allow them to wear long skirts or put their hair up til they became young ladies. Until then, their shorter dresses and bloomers could allow them to run and play .
I find this very interesting, in view of the fact that we are such a backwards society today. Women are taught to believe that they cannot do anything in a dress, yet for centuries before us, women did everything in a dress. Today, little girls are so pretty in their frills and sweet dresses, and mothers are always trying to put their hair up, yet when they reach the age of being young ladies, their clothing becomes more alluring and immodest.
A few years ago, I observed that the summer VBS teachers often taught small children while wearing shorts and t-shirts, both which are obviously immodest, and not very pretty. I wrote about this in an earlier article, challenged teachers to wear something pretty for the children.
I reminded them of just how tall some of those children are, and how their eye-level is sometimes just at the knees of their teachers. Wouldn't it be nice to wear pretty skirts, long, with animal prints or some pretty flowers on them, that would delight the children? Think , too, of what the child's eye-view is, and avoid giving them an eye full of the wrong thing. Tight clothing is not appropriate for children to see on women, and it is not a good way to develop their appreciation of beauty and of clothing.
It is so charming to see a young mother wearing a pretty skirt, with her child hanging on to the edge of that skirt, or hiding behind the skirt. I believe women and children have been cheated out of these wonderful experiences and memories, when they left the Biblical mandate to wear clothing that is flowing and modest.
My opinion of jeans is not very high, because if you have seen one pair, you have seen them all. If you saw one pair 50 years ago, you have seen them all, and if you find a new pair that you have never seen before, you have seen them all. They have never been able to make a pair of jeans look pretty, and they do not hide the woman's privacy, which is what modesty is all about. If you will study these pictures, you will see women and children doing many active things wearing the feminine garment called a dress. I have adapted sewing patterns to some of these paintings, particularly "Playtime" and "A Day on the River." All you have to do, is take any sewing pattern (a dress) for wovens (cottons and linens) and lengthen it, adding a collar or lace in appropriate places.
I appreciated the comments on the previous posts, which were very informative. Please continue to comment anonymously! I especially appreciate the insights on the problem of modesty, so I hope people will continue to post their honest opinions.
We have just experienced a very mutually edifying week and week end of the 4th of July, which included a VBS and an old time gospel meeting.
Many young men preached fine sermons about passing on their faith to their families. It was interesting to watch the men who were called on to speak, hand their babies back to their wives, when they got up to speak or pray. My husband had to make a few announcements, and since his granddaughter was planted firmly on his lap, he just carried her to the pulpit and held her while he made his announcements. I do not know if he even noticed that he was still holding her while he faced the audience. It was truly a family celebration this weekend, and the young ladies and young men were freely mingling with one another, while their parents visited. I enjoyed the multi-generational atmosphere so much.
When it was time for the meeting to close, and those who had come from other towns and states prepared to go back to their homes, my son inlaw, who offered the closing prayer, stated to the audience, " Thank you for coming to see us. You came to edify us and you did. I wish you were not going back where you came from."
This meeting felt a lot like the atmosphere that we once had in churches in the 1940's and 1950's, with a lot of down-home humor and good natured friendship between people of all ages. The singing, which was acapella, sounded as though a throng of angels in heaven had joined us. The children really enjoyed old time hymns and being allowed to sing as loudly as they liked.
A gospel meeting certainly makes people appreciate their house work. We all got behind on it and are looking forward to getting everything back in order. House work seems easy compared to the work that goes into a gospel meeting.
Please remember that you are welcome to comment anonymously, and it is in fact, preferable!


Linda said...

I love these post you're doing on art and modesty.. and isn't it just true that people tend to have their kids 'grow up' (or at least their appearance!) wayyyy too fast. I'm appauled when I see the 'dress up' costumes in toy stores nowadays. Whatever happened to ladies, princesses and nurses? All I see these days is belly dancers, fairies (with no coverage) and worst of all.. bratz!

I started wearing dresses/skirts most of the time for some years now, and one thing that really surprised me was the fact (like you say) that you can do almost anything in them. We've been fed a lie that pants are more practical..

They are only in very few situations.. In Holland, we all ride our bikes a lot and when it's a windy day, THEN it's more practical to wear a pair of jeans, and maybe even more modest, because skirts (no matter how heavy the fabric) do have a tendency of going up when you're on a bike. When I wear jeans, I make sure to wear a short dress on top (like: a dress that 'worldly' people would wear without pants, but we find way too immodest) - together, those two garments will make a modest outfit, something they'd never be alone ;)

Greetings from the netherlands!

Lydia said...

Linda, that sounds similar to the look of a tunic over pants, that is worn in some countries. I met a woman who was wearing the same thing, over jeans and she told me her top was a dress. She had figured out that it was just perfect to wear over pants, because it provided a lot of modesty.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia, I love all the posts and comments on modest, beautiful, feminine dress! It has inspired me greatly. I love what you said about the children having something pretty to look at--that is a point one never hears.

Recently at a church meeting, a lady bent over in front of me to talk to a child. She was wearing low rise jeans, which exposed half her whole bottom as she bent over. She is a dear sweet lady, who probably doesn't realize how she looks. I think a lot of women just wear what is found on the racks and shelves, not realizing there is a choice. All my life, I've wished that women wore beautiful dresses like "the old days", but reading at this blog has shown me it can still be done.

I love what was said about tunics and mini-dresses being used to wear over pants! I recently saw a lady who was wearing an outfit like this and wondered where I could get something like this. She looked modern, attractive, feminine, and modest. Although I've been dresses-only off and on throughout my life, I've never liked my bottom showing and sought out long blouses for this. Now, I generally wear skirts only in town and pants at home, because I work hard and I'm rough on clothes, getting ink and bleach on them, and because tennis shoes look awful with most skirts. I truly want to look just beautiful at home though!

I have found that you can get some modest skirts and blouses at Catos, but I do have a hard time finding dresses for my teen daughters. My girls don't even have dresses--just skirts and blouses. We all are longing for real dresses!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

last time, I wrote, where I find long skirts here in Europe (actually in Switzerland).

This time, I would like to list up some dress patterns, which are feminine and easy to sew, because they have no zippers. They are mostly pull-on dresses and at the waist, there is a sash, so that one can adjust the size of the dress according to one's actual weight. Isn't this practical!

So, here's what I have found:
Simplicity patterns:
Nr. 5193, 4220, 7964, 3557, 2619, 5756, 4602, 3827.
New Look patterns:
Nr. 6887.
McCall patterns:
Nr. 5578,5316, 9456
Butterick patterns:
4103, 4181, 4125, 5007, 4127.

One might have to make the neck higher at some pattens or make the dress longer. But I really like them, because the don't have to fit snugly and can be adjusted with a sash.

It's always a good idea to look up the historical dress patterns, especially at simplicity.

I also wanted to thank you so much, Lydia, that you keep encouraging us all the time. You can't imagine, how much I appreciate this. Your tips on how one can get inspired by the old paintings are so good! I have often looked at these paintings and wondered, how one manages to sew a pretty dress, similar to those in the paintings. Your remarks are so helpful.

Thank you so much and have great day!

Lydia said...

I will try to get my "line" of clothing put out on the line and snap a picture, and include two zipperless patterns I used.

To tighten the looser dresses that have no zips, I will get a picture of the piece of wide elastic I sew into the back waistline. the front, I leave lose. It turns out to be a very shapely garment but not too tight.

Women need to realize that since their weight will fluctuate each month, the need a slightly looser garment that will fit them all the time, that perhaps ties in the back, which they can pull more snugly if they wish.

Thanks for allthese catalog numbers.I will try to find them and post a picture of them, also. In the US we get our patternws for 99 cents when the fabric stores run a sale. I iron my favorite patterns onto interfacing so that they will last longer.

Lydia said...

Where I live, are mostly farmers, laborers, construction workers, plumbers, etc. and so they do not have a need for formal clothing and do not dress for the office. THe men did not wear ties or any formal clothes for the preaching at the meeting. My daughter and I made cotton dresses that would withstand the heat, be pretty and still seem country. Cottons work best and women can still be pretty in dresses at home.

Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh, because it reminded me of my grandfather. He was the pastor of a church for as long as I can remember. In the early 70's I remember he was preaching and he stated,"It's a shame that little children can't hide behind their mother's skirts anymore. Most little children can't even reach their mother's skirts!" It was such a funny statement. I had forgotten it until I read this post!

Anonymous said...

One of the reason's that I decided to Homeschool was that almost every teacher in my son's school wore very low cut, clinging tops to school. When they bent over, their entire chest was visible. My young son expressed his disgust, by saying he really didn't like it when the teacher helped him, because her chest showed too much. I was going to complain, but the principle was wearing clothing that was much the same. They seem to have no clue of the inappropriateness of their attire. I get weary trying to get through to them - they just blindly follow hollywood, happily making fools of themselves.

Lydia said...

when I took mine out of school, the low cut tops had not hit yet, but there was an awful, dowdy look worn by female teachers, of stretch pants with ugly tops, usually in browns and grays. I heard once that these colors and designs were made to match the office buildings that women would be inside of most of the day. They certainly do nothing to inspire children or bring them any kind of hope or delight!

Lydia said...

..not just that, but the women had such short hair and were so masculine looking and it was just a negative effect for what I wanted regarding my children. We need to bring them up with strong male or female identities and examples.

Kathie Truitt said...

Miss Lydia,
I'm just curious - are you a member of the church of Christ by any chance? I am, and some of the things I read on your indication, give me an inkling that maybe you are, too. If you'd rather not answer this on your post, you're welcome to e-mail me.

I love your blog, and it has inspired me to take a look at how I dress and look at my appearance from a different perspective. Thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for exposing me to the art of Fredrick Morgan !! The contented faces and "good ' feeling that these pictures give out is wonderful!!

I enjoy your blog immensely. I find it to be incouraging and water for a thirsty garden.

Your post on your clothing will certainly be a treat. Finding dresses, which I prefer to wear, is very hard to find in delightful fabrics.Since I sew , this will be especially fun to see.

Your description of your church meeting sounded peacful and welcoming. Trying to find a place to worship with fellow believers where modesty is practiced is very frustrating. The clothing distracts from the real purpose of attending.

From sunny California.

Lydia said...

Katie, yes, I am. You can read more about what I believe on the post on the theme articles "What I believe" on the side bar.

I must explain about these yearly 4th of July meetings, which are shared by many families, and how exciting it is for us.

We have the IRS to thank for it.

Yes, we have to thank the exhorbitant tax system for nearly putting our little tiny country congregations dotted all over the United States,, for nearly shutting us down.

In my part of the country, our association with these wonderful families began when a little tiny church was fined by the IRS (through a member who worked for them) because they had not paid into the social security and workers compensation, required for hired personnel of any company. Since this tiny church just gave a small amount to any preacher that was preaching that day, they were not able to afford a full salary, and did not pay into this program.

They were fined a huge amount of money and put into debt by the IRS , so much so that they decided that in order to avoid any more trouble with them, they would just never ever hire a full time preacher again.

As these tiny churches never really generate enough money to provide salaries for evangelists or preachers, it works out better just to let the men of the church take turns delivering the messages and sermons.

The contribution then gets sent to missionary work somewhere.

Dissolving the clergy/laity system has saved these tiny struggling congregations and given them new life! All of a sudden, everyone, even the children, are learning to serve and to teach,, and every member is needed!

It is interesting to see the light in everyone's faces when we get together for a special July the 4th gospel meeting. There are also many children, and most families are home schooling, although not all of them, b ut they all blend in well together without friction.

Without the focus being on the minister, it equalizes everyone and there is not the clique-ness that has formeraly gone on. They lack the typical attitudes of conceit that sometimes accompanies the positions that some imagine themselves to be in. For example, there was not just one song leader. Everyone called out the songs they wanted sung, and different fathers and husbands and young men would get up and choose the song from the chalk board and lead it. Then they would erase it and let someone else lead a song.

People brought their rvs and campers and camped around, and enjoyed a wonderful barbecue contributed by a family from another county of this state. This sort of thing was also happening in other areas of the country. It is a short enough distance between these little country churches that most people could go home at night.

I taught on Wed., thurs. and Fri about the important function of the family to build strong churches and a strong nation. My Thurs. topic was on modesty, and I gleaned a lot of tips from your comments, y'all! I wish I had some of the recent ones that were sent in today; they were clever and truthful.

Lydia said...

We are reading a book about the Christians on the ORegon Trail. There was a congregation of the Lord's church every 7 miles, where the horses had to stop for drink and food. This is where people would gather to hear a circuit preacher. This book recorded a lot of the letters and church bulletins, of the 1800's. One preacher wrote that he had travelled around to check on some of the little churches (which often numbered less than 40, yet were scattered around in small groups everywhere), and he said in a letter that he was dismayed to find some of them adopting the practice of hiring only one man to preach, and said that it took away some of the enthusiasm from the brethren.

The women work really hard at these meetings, because it usually is a small country church. That leaves the work to just a few able bodied people--providing meals for the visitors and boarding some of them for the week.

I have been to meetings before, and gave them up long ago bec ause they did not encourage or include the family. I entered in to this one with some doubts but was soon at ease.

My son in law preached a sermon (in his jeans and plaid shirt,fitting for the country setting) about passing on the faith to our children.

In this sermon he included quotes from John Dewey, the father of American education, that would chill your soul. This man believed that children should be taken from their parents to be educated for the state, and that parents were too narrow minded to teach their own children. He especially had a prejudice against farming families.

I will be happy to post that sermon, if anyone is interested. I will put it on the theme article section. It might also be available on a disc soon.

After he delivered that talk, a lot of men , young an old, lined up to talk to him. A woman told us that it was good to hear someone who talked the same way they did at home amongst themselves and reinforce the family rather than working against it.

we meet on the Lord's day in our own little churches, but it is always nice to see other people when they host one of these events, and know there are others like us.

These small family churches are what will offer personal strength and show good examples. It was through the tiny little country churches that many preachers were trained, in the old days.

Anonymous said...

I to enjoy your modesty and art posts. They inspire me in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

It brought tears of joy to my eyes reading of our church and its people. I am so glad your family has this close Bible lead community. If there was a network throughout this and other countries of such people in love with doing right what a difference it would make! My children were raised in public schools and they did not understand what a subtle influence the feminist alliances had on their thinking. They later told us they did not hear any of this at home but their thinking was slanted by it through school. They didn't think about how different God made man and women in talents and disposition and rolls even though at home we taught and lived it. At school they heard the only thing different in man and women are their bodies. Women can do anything just as good as a man etc etc. Later as I said, they confessed to us apon being away from these people they thought deeper and realized how wrong the teaching was. They have discussed and we have talked and they have studied on now what is right since. You Lady Lydia were one of the main sorces they went to before I could ever tell them to do so. Somehow the dear Lord found a way to link them to your site and your thoughts on marriage and the rolls of men and women etc got them to thinking and turned them around even before they talked to us. I can say they have good marriages. They said they would have been fighting and such if they had not learned the truth. Now they relax in their rolls of marriage and they say it is all so natural now to them. Before they felt restless and not right in their souls. Now their children are learning the right way all the way and we have stopped this chain of false thinking. Thankyou again. I know these writings must take time out of your days. God has blessed you with a talent for writing it is evident. You do not hide our talent but use it wisely. Still you have to find the time and write it. Mrs French

Lydia said...

There were a few women who were not modestly dressed but I believe it is a learning process for some people. Others can hear a lesson and come to a quick understanding, which they will adapt into their lives.

Anonymous said...

Part of the article amused me to read today as I just this morning had a lady comment about how sweet (and convenient)it was that my 3 year old daughter was hiding behind my skirt and peeking out at her and how unusual it was to see that anymore!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the lovely paintings which do encourage me to be more modest.

I work in an office and do wear hose. I don't like the bare leg look at all.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous paintings you're showcasing in this post, Mrs. Sherman! :o) As usual, very inspiring too. And isn't it amazing how the painters really capture the look of flowing fabric, the folds & softness in the garments? I would love to be able to paint.

Yesterday, I put on a dress (that I don't usually wear around the house, I might add) & it surprised my family a bit, although they are accustomed to seeing me in skirts & other dresses. But for some reason, as it was Sunday & my activities for the day were lighter I suppose, I put on this was a particularly beautiful day & I felt that by wearing it I "matched" the day, if that makes any sense. I was in the kitchen doing something & when my husband walked by he smiled & said "You look pretty." A girl can't complain about that, eh? :o)

For Anon. 6:48 I have a couple of suggestions. Try wearing an apron to protect your clothing from stains, & wear & tear. They really do work, & I wouldn't be without mine. I prefer the full coverage type (like a butcher, or bib, style), but I also have a couple simple around-the-waist ones that do fine if the job at hand isn't too strenuous or messy. The second thing I'd like to suggest is to choose a top or blouse that looks tidy even when worn untucked. Or perhaps buying or making tops that are a little longer so there's a bit more "give" for your movements.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

These paintings are so lovely and inspiring! I too have a Frederick Morgan print (hanging above my Mantel) called "The Coming Nelson - from the Pears Annual." I love how the mothers in his paintings are so engaged with their children and not too distracted or "busy" to pay attention to them. What an example to us all.

As for modest dress, I decided a few years ago to only wear skirts or dresses primarily because I was offended by all the exposed bodies I had to look at out in public or the too tight pants on overweight women. Being overweight myself, I sure didn't want to be looking that way to others. Also, I didn't feel anyone would really appreciate looking at my rear and with the tight pants or clingy material they would be forced to.

Another thing I wanted was to emphasize my femininity. I wasn't sure I could wear dresses all the time as I never had (I am in my 50's). I was SO SURPRISED by what I discovered.

First of all, you CAN do anything in a dress/skirt after all. The only thing I don't do in a skirt is ride a horse. I do groom our horses, etc. in a skirt no problem. I work in my garden in a skirt, do all housework in a skirt. They are much more comfortable, much cooler, much more free. I encourage anyone reading this who hasn't tried it, to give it a go.

Another surprise was how I was treated by men in public. I was treated much more like a lady and received better service.

Finally, my husband comments frequently on how nice I always look and even though he changes out of his dressy work clothes when he gets home, he has been wearing a collared casual shirt with his shorts or jeans instead of a t-shirt. He says he wants to look better because I always do!

I can't recommend feminine dressing enough. I have been wearing dresses/skirts about 95% of the time for about 4-5 years now and will not go back. My teenage daughter is also very good about modest dress and doesn't want to dress in a revealing way. Much of what our daughters perceive as acceptable comes from our teaching and example. We can counter this culture we live in!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you particularly on two points you made here. One is that cotton works well around the house, the other is that modest dressing is a learning process for some. I am still getting used to this and it took me 1/2 hour today to put together a modest outfit that is pretty. I've got several skirts and so on but many of the combinations I came up with looked dowdy. It took me two minutes to pick out a pretty dress for my daughter, though, so that is progress!

One thing I am figuring out is that some tatseful accessories can keep a modest outfit from being dull or frumpy. I put on an "illusion" necklace with some purple beads in it that matched my skirt and some small silver hoops and the whole outfit came together.

I am glad I took the trouble today to get dressed up even though I am not going anywhere. I am having some unexpected company in an hour and I am ready for once, at 10 am!

I am Catholic and while modesty is certainly a virtue we believe in, we do not have any real attire guidlines I know of. I see women with headcovers (mantillas) in church and women with short-shorts, with everything in-between. Coming from this, I find your guidance helpful. It is something all women can benefit from, and your advice is given in a spirit that does not alienate those of us from other faiths. In fact, it is enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Anon @8:12am
If your looking for some Catholic guidelines on modesty, there is a wonderful priest in the Kansas City area who just preached a sermon called "Precious Things are Always Veiled."
I have been dresses only for about ten years now, but still picked up some insights from it.
Hope that helps.
Mrs. C

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mrs. C. I did see some guidelines once that were issued by a bishop long ago, if I recall correctly. He called the following modest:

Long skirts, below the knee.
Shirts with collars and sleeves below the elbow, with no more than two finger-widths below the neck exposed if the top was not buttoned
(A top like this can be hard to find, but not impossible.)

It is my understading there are Catholic Churches in other countries that will not allow women to enter without a long skirt or dress and that they will give female visitors in shorts these garments to wear while visiting.

I think the guidelines issued by the bishop are very accurate and while I do not follow them to the letter, I keep them in mind, especially when I go to Church. You really cannot go wrong with these guidelines and they are not so strict as to leave no room for variations, such as different colors, cuts, fabrics.

Anonymous said...

I know that your post is on feminine dress, and I certainly appreciate that to no end. However, I wanted to point out a different, also beautiful aspect, of Mr. Morgan's work which struck me as I looked it over. How well the artist captures the bond between mother and child on canvas! There are the moments of close quiet cuddling, moments of activity...but the painting which nearly brought tears to my eyes was, oddly enough, "Playtime". To me that depicts the relationship between my daughter and I (and many parents and children) so very well. We hold our children close, but we hold them UP, and we show them this glorious Creation of the Lord's. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you to the lady who posted the Catholic link on modesty.

Also, I would be very interested in reading your son-in-law's sermon on the educational system, Dewey, etc.

I am enjoying this series of articles.

~ Ann