This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
Hungarian Peasant Costume: a Transyl-vanian Bride
Sketched at Banffy Hunyad, Transylvania
Hungarian Peasant Farmer Sketched at Banffy Hunyad, Transylvani
Therefore, it seems to me that, though highly valuable and educational, we must not rely entirely upon conscious cultivation and conscious effort to lift the question of dress above vulgarity and affectation.
Modern society encourages the ideal of donothingness, so that it becomes an object to get rid of the outward signs of your particular occupation as soon as you cease work, if you are a worker, and to look as if you never did any if you are not.
This notion, combined perhaps with the gradual degradation of all manual labour under the modern system, has combined with business habits and English love of neatness, and perhaps prosaic and Puritan plainness, to produce the conventional costume of the modern "gentleman" - really the business man or bourgeois citizen.
The ruling type always prevails, and stamps its image and superscription upon life everywhere.
Thus the outward and visible signs of the prosperous and respectable, the powerful and important, have come to be the frock-coat and tall hat - gradually evolved from the broad-brim and square cut jerkin of the Puritan of the seventeenth century.
Even the modern gentleman, when he takes to actually doing something, or playing at something, becomes at once more or less picturesque.
The flannels of the cricketer, and the boating man, the parti-coloured jerseys of our football teams - the modern equivalent, I suppose, of the knightly coat heraldry of the lists - all have a certain character and expressiveness. The costume of the cyclist again is another instance of adaptation to pursuit allied to picturesque-ness, since it acknowledges at least the form of figure, and especially the legs, lost in ordinary civilian costume. In the various forms of riding-dress, again, we get a certain freedom and variety in costume through adaptation, both in men and women's dress.
What modern costume really lacks is not so much character and picturesqueness, as beauty and romance - a general indictment which might be brought against modern life. We are really ruled by the dead weight of the prosaic, the prudent, the timid, the respectable, over and above the specializing adaptive necessities of utility before mentioned.
When we turn from the prosaic picturesque-ness of such specialized dresses to the region of pure ornament, as in the modern full or evening dress of men and women, what do we find?
As far as men are concerned pure convention, the severest simplicity, without beauty, and almost without ornament, and, except in the case of those entitled to wear orders, confined to studs, watch-chain, etc. The clothes, the negation of colour - black, enlivened only by white linen and white waistcoat, and patent leather.
I have here drawn a contrast between a gentleman's dress of the present time and one of the fourteenth century.
Both are extremely simple in design; but the mediaeval one alone can claim beauty of design, as it is true to the lines of the figure, and does not cut it up by sharp divisions and contrasts.
In the repression of ornament we may detect another influence, that of monarchical and aristocratic institutions. Since if ornaments were freely worn by ordinary citizens, what would become of the doubtful distinction of ribbons and stars. The ordinary citizen, in the exercise of his individual taste, might have finer jewellery and better design upon him than the courtier and the diplomatist. That would never do, of course.
The same rock ahead will be found, I think, in the case of trousers.
Knee breeches, silk stockings, and buckled shoes are obviously more elegant and becoming than tubes of black cloth; but if the ordinary citizen takes to them what becomes of the official dignity of the golden footman, or of the cabinet minister at court, my Lord Mayor, Mr. Speaker, and other notabilities?
Men's dress having been reduced to the extreme of plainness in ordinary life, any relics of antiquity are used to denote official position, and the very plainness of evening dress is made use of to set off the decorations of courtly persons.
These are a few of the complexities which attend any serious attempt to reform men's dress. They serve to convince one that costume is really controlled by the forms of social life, condition, occupation, rank, general tradition,
A Contrast sentiment, and sense of fitness, so that we can only reasonably expect great changes in the outsides of life when corresponding changes are affecting the inside - the economic foundations, constitution, and moral tone of society.