Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Importance of Feminine Dress

by Charles Boom, 1901

One obvious reason for a lady to dress femininely is the uplifting feeling it can give to others who see it.  It is a message  that you care enough about them to dress in a respectful way. It gives them a sense of order and well-being in the midst of a chaotic existence.  It has been said that the way a person dresses is a reflection of the way they feel about life. Sadly, I think some modern designers are sending a message of hopelessness and despair, with the the drab, shapeless and unfeminine clothing they produce.

I often use the paintings of the past to show how women used to dress, and it is possible to use these paintings as inspiration today.  The painting above, called "Sisters," shows a woman in a pink dress with black trim around the neckline, the yoke and the waist.  This can be quite easily reproduced, yet updated, keeping the same feminine elements by sewing a similar dress that might have a less full skirt. It could also be imitated by buying  a blouse and skirt with that color combination that has the same feminine features: square neckline with a border, front yoke, slightly puffed sleeves, gathered skirt, and wrap-around belt with black trim.

If  you will click on the painting for a larger view, you can see the artist went to a great deal of effort to paint the details in the folds of the white dress on the right. When you consider the overall shape, it is really quite a plain design, and, if you sew, you could use just about any collarless pattern and add a belt at the waist, to achieve this feminine look.  Notice  the soft fullness around the cuff of the long sleeve.  There are tucks near the neckline from the yoke of the dress, and tucks in the upper parts of the sleeves. 

Fresh Eggs
by Winslow Homer

The painting, above, depicts a woman with an apron over her dress, as she tends her family's chickens.  Today we tend to think that any domestic work requires us to dress in sports clothing. While there are some activities that require sportswear, the dress can be adapted to just about everything a woman at home needs to do.

These kinds of things make up the elements of feminine clothing:

Ladies skirts and dresses
Jackets and coats with seams and darts designed to fit women
Embroidered designs (stitched on flowers and designs)
Edges of clothing with lace and interesting trims like bias tape and fringes. Have a look in fabric stores at the trims and ribbons to see what kind of trims could be added to a garment to make it feminine.
Ruffles, fringes, ribbons, buttons
Clear colors that reflect nature: the blue of the sky, clouds, the ocean, flowers, birds, and all the shades in nature. Pastels are also very feminine.
Styles of your own culture. In many countries, feminine clothing consists of dresses and skirts, and in others, tunics, caftans, colorful cloaks, or bright silks.  Some of the most flattering clothing to females is historical clothing that seems to bring out their femininity, in contrast to the masculine clothing.
Looking in the Mirror
by Anna Kirstin Ancher

After viewing  the various elements of feminine clothing style, consider the effect that dressing like a lady can have on people:

Family members - Young children love looking at the pictures and patterns and textures of the long skirts of their mothers. Longer skirts give them something to grab on to and hide behind, which is quite charming and produces fond memories in both generations  A mother can have a great influence on the future of her sons just by the way she dresses because he will form his opinions and tastes during his upbringing. Her clothes will also have an effect on his attitude in the home and toward life in general. Girls growing up in a home where their mother cares about  fabrics and clothing, will develop an appreciation for dresses and will develop an eye for beauty.
The Brioche 
by Victor Gilbert

 A woman will set the mood in her home just by the way she dresses. She shows her children that they are important enough to warrant her dressing well.  Her husband will appreciate her feminine dress because it is quite the opposite of the way men dress, and it will make him feel more distinctly masculine.  Today, there is little for a man to feel distinctly different from women. Careers that were formerly run by men are now being shared with women, who dress in the same uniforms as men,  and there are few things left to make men feel unique.  If a wife will dress femininely at home, her husband will appreciate it.

Portrait of Miss Lloyd
by James Tissot

People you do not know, but who see you in public - In any given day, a homemaker goes to a grocery store, the post office, the hardware store, the farm supply store, the bank or favorite places of business. Employees often see uniforms and customers in drab clothing day after day. The sight of a woman dressed in a ladylike way can bring cheer to the hearts of those who work hard all day in repetitive jobs or in high pressured competition.  Sometimes such a woman is "a sight for sore eyes," and can remind others of a sweeter, more sublime side of life.  Somehow, without your telling it, these onlookers know that you believe something, and that belief is rooted in the Biblical differences between male and female. Your clothing says a lot more than you realize. It can say "I do not care what you have to look at," or, it can say, "I have respect for you."

Yourself - Dressing in an cheerful way can set the tone for your own day and have an effect on your mood at home.  A homemaker's mood has a large effect on others in the family. While most women at home are very conscientious about spending too much money on clothes, it is important that they have new clothes regularly and keep up their appearance, because they nurture and serve the  most important people in the world, in their home.

I have known of women who have been more isolated due to their location, and have still dressed up every day, just to respect their families and to encourage themselves.

Spring Flowers
by Myles Birket Foster

It is notable that all through the eras of great exploration and greater invention; through the pioneer periods in many countries, and during the time when people travelled extensively by train, boat, and car, women dressed in a similar manner as in these paintings.  More women were in agricultural areas  and the wilderness areas in the United States in the 1800's and yet were  dressed more femininely.

Those who are uncertain about God's plan for men and women- There are many impressionable people who may be living in confusion as to what their role in life is, and what a woman should look like in comparison to a man. Young people may be influenced to accept the sameness of men and women and not understand how to accentuate the differences. One of the easiest ways to bring clarity to the male and female purpose  is with clothing.  

When a woman dresses more femininely, it can have a great impact on the thinking of people who may be confused. Her clothing symbolizes her feminine role in life; that of wife, mother, homemaker, daughter, church member and all that is done in the home that make these roles essential to others. Those who have never been exposed to healthy male and female relationships can at least begin to understand through the avenue of feminine dress for women. 
Young Tarahumara Indians in Mexico

These colorful skirts and the coordinating shawls, blouses and buttoned cardigan sweaters are very functional and feminine garments.

Girls and young women who are getting interested in clothing and identity as females - When older women dress in a masculine look, with  jeans, sweatshirts and sports shoes, they do not inspire the younger women. It is no wonder the younger women are so easily influenced by the immodest styles made for the young. These styles often have the feminine elements that are attractive to them. You can have both femininity, comfort  and modesty, as seen in the above photograph, without looking masculine. Women at home need to show the younger women beautiful alternatives in clothing, by wearing the clothing that shows good taste and a good example. One of the scriptures that deals has the root meaning of "good taste." Every time you wear a dress to the grocery store or somewhere else, you are influencing and encouraging others to wear feminine clothing.

There is more power in feminine dress than in power-suits.   Women may discover that wearing feminine clothing enables them to behave more femininely.  They might also find  that they are  treated like ladies, and cause others in the home to be more gentle toward her.

Feminine dress can also show what you believe about the reason men and women are different. Your clothing can also indicate your beliefs and your way of life. Clothing has a powerful effect on those who see it and those who wear it, and the effect can be very good or very depressing. Dressing femininely can add to the memories you create for your family when attending certain events.

The most important reason to dress femininely is to please the Lord and be in compliance with His will. When the word of God addresses women about clothing, it actually describes the feminine clothing God desires in women: 

"... that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works."
 (1 Timothy 2:8-10)

The words in that passage describe what I have been saying: that clothing will show your profession, or your practice and your beliefs. The same passage describes the type of clothing women should wear and, despite the common belief that there is nothing specific about women's clothing in scripture, there are some specifics in those verses, found in the following words:

adorn - meaning "to drape" or decorate
modest - which means orderly, well-arranged, appropriately
apparel - a long, flowing covering or wrap
shamefacedness - a sense of reverence, and being able to blush when something is shameful or immodest
sobriety -good judgement, a sound mind, self control, moderation
professing godliness and good works

Although there are those who will claim that the Bible gives no specifics in the clothing that women should wear, there are at least 6 specifics in that verse. Those words all have meanings, and the meanings give the specific formula for women's dress. No, the verses do not describe the exact color or length or a dress, nor if it has long or short sleeves. Instead, the Bible describes principles of modesty that every woman in every culture can follow and adapt to.

While I am aware that this passage is used to emphasize modesty and the appropriate covering of nakedness, there is something that is often overlooked in the verses: that women should also decorate themselves in well-arranged clothing in good taste. I do not believe that clothing that is in good taste and is well arranged --- a good style that looks good on a person--has to be neglected in order to be modest. The real skill in choosing clothing is to find elements of modesty combined with all the things described in 1 Timothy 2:8-10.
A woman who dresses femininely has a great impact on her husband, her children, friends, church members and those who do not even know her. Clothing may seem like a superficial thing, but it has a profound effect on the community around her.

The is also from the Australian Myer, online, and costs quite a bit. I will try to make time to sketch a picture of ways I would change it if I were making one like it. The principle lines of the dress are very feminine.  The print looks like something casual and evokes summer picnic memories. It could be made in a different color. This pattern might be adequate for the fashions on that Australian site. The only thing I do not like about Simplicity 2174 is that you cannot sew it without the pockets, since they are built in to the pattern piece that makes one of the skirt sections.  I own this pattern but have not tried it yet.

Here is a photo of a dress I have made, recently:

This is a simple A-line dress with several sections in the skirt, to which I have added an obi belt. 

To print this post, go here.

Before women wore jeans:

If women could clean up rubble while wearing dresses, why is it that women in their lovely, warm and modern homes with all the conveniences, cannot dress femininely also?  Are we living in such a rude and rough world that we need to wear combat clothing in our homes and places of business? Women came out west in rough covered wagons in better clothing that women wear today to do less hard work.


suzannah said...

i have been trying to dress more femininely everyday for mymhusband. i think it cheers him up to see me in a girly top and flowing feminine skirt:-) he knows he is coming home to a clean house and happy wife.

sunnyskiesandsweettea said...

Hi Lady Lydia,

This article is very encouraging to me. I try to dress feminine every day. It is always so nice to know others are doing the same. I live in a big city in Florida and I rarely see a feminine woman. There is one particular older lady I see occasionaly at the store that does and you are right, it gives me such encouragement.

Amy Jo

lynn m said...

always so good to be reminded of how to dress...

anglow said...

I am 70 and unfortunately no longer have much of a waist ! Do you have suggestions for dresses for me? Thank you for this inspiring post!

anglow said...

Thank you for this inspiring post! Do you have any dress style suggestions for a 70 year old woman with very little waist definition left?

Lydia said...

If you are thick at the waist, avoid styles that have a tie or belt or any kind of waist line, unless it is designed in such a way as to make your waist look thinner. A belt or tie across the middle will only make you look wider and possibly be very uncomfortable.

Kristi said...

May I make only one addition? I would say that there is one thing that women, in particular, need to put on as an element of feminine dress and it is a smile. Walking through Wal-mart with a pretty dress and a grumpy face can be almost as depressing as the woman in sweats. I've been both women! And while our children surely love our pretty clothes, they will cherish our smiles most.

I am in a time of transition right now, as I await the birth of my fourth baby and find skirts almost utterly and completely uncomfortable, though I like them just fine any other time. I am learning that, at least for now, one of the best additions to my "wardrobe" I can make is with my demeanor.

I used to wear only skirts or dresses a few years back, but I always felt wrong, even after a year, and I've discovered lately that it is more with developing some feminine habits and ways of behaving that are a more direct contrast with masculine behaviors. The problem for me has been identifying them! I don't know how to act like a girl!!!

So, Lady Lydia, can you please give me some guidelines on behavior aspects to "dressing" femininely? My mom is about the most masculine woman that I know, and I know that she has often felt less comfortable around women because of that. I don't know how to reconcile my personality with my view of what feminine is.

So, to bring it all the way around, I'm simply trying to smile more. (It's hard to look masculine when you're nine months pregnant!)

Lydia said...


You are probably talking about feminine demeanor, or behavior and mannerisms. The subject would require a new post. It involves the speech, posture, listening, expressions, and more. You are right: feminine manners has to accompany feminine dress. However, since that takes more training and effort, there is no use waiting til you are feminine, to wear feminine clothing. Wear the clothing first and it can help alter your moods and temptation to act masculine.

Lydia said...

Feminine dress, whether you have mastered feminine ways, is still a good habit and a good example, which helps restore the old ways where women felt comfortable dressing in feminine clothing. Getting comfortable in a dress goes a long ways to behaving in a feminine way. The dress is an aid to that.

Finding Joy said...

I wear feminine skirts and dresses to work every day and I am not alone with this - I have noticed other young women doing the same. I am a particular fan of Laura Ashley and own quite a few of her dresses and skirts that are quite pretty and feminine. I do prefer the more classic cut rather than too flowing and I am not really into frills, but even without these, clothing can be found that is very pretty - especially at the moment with all the colourful summer dresses in the stores. But I will have to admit, to get really nice things you do need to pay more than the basic cost for clothes. Laura Ashley for example is not cheap. That one from Myer is lovely and I would certainly wear that to work.

My husband doesn't really see the point of dressing up etc... so he isn't overly interested in feminine attire, regardless I still do it as that is what I like to wear and I feel far more womanly.

Anonymous said...

To the 70yr young lady who believes she has no waist definition: I think if you wear an A-line dress with a longer hem that is not too tight you will look taller and shapely.

I'm thick also. I find that wearing an A-line skirt or dress in lengths below the calf or ankle length, gives a sleeker flow and avoids a choppy look.

Kaftans, shawls, and loose tunic tops over a long A-line skirt also gives a soft flowing look. Also use color and pattern to disguise the waist.

Look online for soft flowing garments from many different dress companies. Type in "soft flowing garments" on Google and see what appears.

Also if you go to the wedding or evening gown section of a sewing catalog, you will find many dresses for the mother of the bride.
The patterns usually let you know if the fabric should be stretch or not, and usually suggest using fine fabrics.
For the non-stretch patterns, I have used light weight denim, plain fashion twill or thin cotton to make those lovely long skirts and worn them for everyday wear.

The A-line garment gives freedom of movement and allows you to do most anything in a dress that you could do in jeans or slacks.

Mrs. J.

Sarah R said...

I also wear skirts or dresses every day. As I am now pregnant with my fourth child and am feeling quite tired and weary, I came out of my room the other day wearing nothing but a tank top and my yoga pants. My youngest son was absolutely shocked and said, "Mama! You came outside looking like that!" Never mind that I was still standing in my own kitchen! To him, me even walking outside my own bedroom without being "dressed" was just CRAZINESS. And he is not a little boy...he is 14 years old! But I've been doing this for so long, that I've made it a habit that Mama is dressed, and dressed nicely!

By the way...UGH to the designers of maternity clothes! I am due in July in Florida, I will NOT wear short shorts, jeans, or super short skirts. What is wrong with these people? Luckily, I have found a few maxi dresses online at JCP which I intend to purchase right after Christmas when everything is on sale. And nothing has a decent sleeve! Everything is either sleeveless or has that terrible cap sleeve which pinches your arm so bad I'm certain it must raise the blood pressure. I would love a cotton or knit blouse with a sleeve that goes to the elbow!

Anonymous said...

Someone recently told my mother that the way I dress is a reflection of my good upbringing, as a compliment to her. In fact, I learned to dress from reading your blog. I was raised without any religion and my mother encouraged me to show off my figure in tight, revealing clothes, and I honestly did not consider it an issue until I started reading this blog and attending church. I have completely changed the way I dress thanks to your writings, and YOU are the one who deserves the credit for any compliments I get!

Thank you! I still enjoy posts like this and I still learn from them.

Lydia said...

Ladies look the main article today sometime, as I will post a few more of the Australian summer dresses from Myers stores. They need more length and higher necklines for me, as most ready made clothing is just too skimpy in that area --it might be okay for the office if you aren't moving around a lot or bending over, etc, but for homemaking, I usually pick a style I like and think how I will alter in in sewing it by adding a sleeve and slightly raising the neckline. The idea of the design is good, though. SO, when I post these dresses, do not think I'm recommending them completely. They do need to be a little longer and have other features added, which can be done beautifully. I am working on imitating the floral dress in a previous sewing post, and will post it soon, also.

And, I do think that emphasising waistline is only good if you have a waistline. Otherwise, the garment has to skim over the waistline, and as a commenter said, the a-line is most flattering.

Think Loveliness said...

Thank you, LadyLydia! Truly a good reminder. One can always work on being more modest on a daily basis. God bless you richly.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Lady Lydia, a very good article. I hope readers will heed your advice about trying to dress all circumstances.

I like your recent creation; it's probably my favorite of the dresses you've shared with us! I'm such a pushover for red....maybe that has something to do with it. I hope you'll soon post a picture of yourself modeling it. :o)


Liora said...

Hello Lady Lydia,
I do like the floral dress you made. I have never in my life used a sewing machine. I want to take the plunge and learn how to sew. There is so much information on the internet that it gets overwhelming. In your opinion, is an electronic, manual, or computerized sewing machine best for a novice at this craft? Your opinion matters greatly to me on this matter.
Thanks so much

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing the blog. I am 23 and just came across it recently and it has had so many helpful things in it so far. I especially appreciate this article The Importance of Feminine Dress, as it has pointed out many things I hadn't considered before.

Janet said...

Lady Lydia,

It is always so good to read your missives on being feminine in all aspects of our lives. I agree that the women of yesteryear did look and act like ladies. I often wonder that without the hardships and trying times thos women faced why women of this modern age seem to think that flesh and tight clothes make one look more "female" and yet be comfortable to do the same physical movements and similar activities that yesteryear women did? It seems that pulling up top fronts and backs of pants is done everywhere! I tend to think the ladies of yesteryear allowed for movement in their outfits without embarrassment.
You send a wonderful light out in this dark day of dressing to encourage us to glorify our Lord and Savior in our actions and clothing choices.

Lydia said...

A very provoking thought! The women of yesteryear had worse hardships and yet wore the dresses which did not seem to hamper their work or diminish their femininity. Yet today women view housework as tantamount to digging ditches. They seem to think it is such grueling dirty work that they need to wear jeans and nike sports shoes and sweatshirts in order to do it unhampered. I suggest it is a mentality that needs to be overcome. Feminine clothing requires different types of movement and a different way of walking. Women of the past could even wash an outside window of the house while wearing the garments of the time. In spite of the thousands of diaries, letters, books, newspaper records, and other things left by them for our perusal, it is interesting there was never a complaint about the clothing, nor any suggestion they were feeling put down or discriminated against or forced to wear dresses. It took the 20th century moderns to put women almost exclusively in pants or very short skirts. I agree that some changes have to be made in the Victorian clothing if it were to suit our lives today, but the principles of femaleness can still prevail, even as the clothing styles change.

Lydia said...

There have been comments on past posts suggesting that the feminine clothing, i.e. dresses are not sturdy enough for housework. However one thing that can be done is to be more careful how you wear a dress. You do not have to get them dirty. In the days when it was harder to wash clothes, people protected their clothing so they could wear them again before a wash. They did this with aprons, and also by just being more careful and caring more about their clothing to prevent it from being soiled or damaged.

Mo said...

This subject is so important and so overlooked. Thanks for your encouraging information and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing on this subject!
The dress you sewed is lovely. I like the style and red fabric.

Anonymous said...

I had to make myself some dress-length aprons, and now I do not give a second thought to kneeling down and washing floors in my casual dresses because of this.

To the lady who said she wanted to learn to sew - It was a real encouragement to have Lady Lydia suggest that sewing be viewed as a homemaking skill that I would grow into over the years, and that should be practiced often. There really is a lot to it, and there is always a new technique to learn, more skill to build, etc. Beginning sewists often want to sew a certain item, and then get discouraged when that items seems harder than they thought, and doesn't turn out well. Give yourself time to enjoy it and stay with it.

I think high-waisted dresses or jumpers look nicer on chubbier figures, that helps a lot. A little gathering is nice too, but not too much, just a little.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be nice to have an article on feminine deportment and manners as you suggested.

SharonR said...

What a nice article. Tonight, I'm going to Bible study in jeans and a t-shirt, and I feel awful about it. Inside of me is this desire to dress more femininely, but I just can't seem to break the trend I've had since high school. Encouragement like this article really helps. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I really wish things had not changed, and that women wore skirts/dresses all the time, like they used to, but it is too late to go back, it seems; even for most of us Christian women, it is now too inconvenient because we're not used to it. It would take a real commitment. As far as nice clothes getting dirty, well, ALL clothes get dirty. If a housedress got dirty, the woman simply washed it. She probably wore an old housedress for heavy housework and then threw it in the wash and got out another and put it on. That's what my grandmother did. Even us slacks-wearers of today put on an old pair of jeans or slacks for heavy house or yard work, then throw them in the wash and put on a clean nice pair of jeans or slacks.

Teresa said...

I am always encouraged by your blog. I find it to be a real blessing, a breath of fresh air, a few moments to rest and appreciate what the Lord has for women who seek Him. Thank you.

texasmcvays said...

Thank you for this post! I am one of those women who deep clean house jeans & tshirt. As I was studying the pictures in your article I have been encouraged to change that habit. Also to those of you that feel uncomfortable in did I but then I began to wear them nearly exclusively and now I feel uncomfortable in public in anything but a skirt! It took a long time to regain that love of looking feminine but if a College Athlete that attended Berkeley can do it so can y'all. Remember we can do all things through Christ! Thanks for the post I'm glad I set it aside to read this evening after the children went to bed!

Lydia said...

Great comment. One reason to dress femininely in the home, is that it helps you combine homemaking with who you are. Instead of wearing something grubby for housework, and then changing into something better to go to the store in, just wear something better in the first place, because who you are at home is just as important as who you are away from home.