There are many women who spend but a small sum yearly on dress, but only a few on that little contrive to dress neatly, and closely enough to the prevailing fashion to make a ladylike appearance. Some are so mistaken as not to care how +hey look. This is a serious mistake, for a well-dressed person not only commands respect and consideration from others, but, from the consciousness of being becomingly dressed, feels better, has better command of all her faculties, and makes a much better appearance in any circle. It is worth while for a man even to take special note of his dress when he has any important business on hand, and a thousand times more so for women whose success depends in a larger degree on an attractive exterior. In a man, genius may cause slovenly garments and habits to be overlooked but no genius can make a slovenly or even carelessly attired woman attractive or successful. There is, among people of small means, too much neglect of personal appearance. The happiest people are those who make the best of adverse circumstances, instead of magnifying trouble and brooding over small miseries until they become mountains of tribulation. Because one can not afford the richest fabrics is no reason for dressing shabbily, or even out of taste. Taste costs no money, only a little study, a little exercise of the brain.
It is a great mistake to suppose that economy in dress means shabbiness; the one is commendable, the other odious. It is unpleasant to see elegant dresses worn after they have reached a point beyond neatness, but it is positively disgusting to see dresses which were poor in the beginning continued in service after they have become ragged and dirty. Ragged is a hard word to use in connection with ladies' apparel, but it is unfortunately true, that with some the dresses worn in home-life are far from neat and whole. Worn sleeves, torn breadths, and a fringe of ragged braid upon the bottom ought to condemn a dress. But when it reaches that state, some women think it is in just the condition to wear when there is no risk of its been seen by any other than the members of the family. Wise matrons, it is said, advise their sons to select rainy evenings for calling upon their young lady friends, so that they may find out who are fit to be seen when not expecting visits. The visitors who find a charmer who is, on state occasions, beautifully clothed, wearing a slouchy, dirty wrapper, with trimmings half torn off and pinned up in places, no collar or ruffle, but a tumbled lace handkerchief knotted around the throat, and hair still in the torture of crimping-pins, and slipshod boots, with missing buttons, may be excused if they make a short call and never repeat it. Many a slatternly girl has lost a lover by allowing careless habits to fasten upon her. The time spent in keeping garments in perfect order, and thus preventing shabbiness, is well bestowed, for besides the comfortable self-respect conferred upon the wearer, the clothes reward the effort by lasting twice as long.
Gratifying good taste in dress does not necessarily involve a great expendi ture of money, for good effects depends less upon costliness of materials than (598) on the graceful and becoming designs into which they are wrought and the pleasing way in which colors are combined.
Women should make a study of the art of dress. Instead of extravagance it would promote economy. If each would study her individual style she would make few mistakes in buying, and find less temptation in the passing novelties and fleeting fashions that constantly ensnare shoppers with whom dress is a matter of experiment rather than a science. Mistakes in dress consume a great deal of money, and purchases made without careful study are seldom satisfactory, and are sooner thrown aside than an article of dress which gratifies the sense of fitness in both wearer and beholder.
Fitness is the foundation of correct taste, and dress should always be in harmony with its surroundings and with the age and condition of the wearer. A velvet dress with rich lace trimmings might be elegant and becoming upon a wealthy young lady at a reception, but a dress of the same kind would look strangely out of place at a country sewing society, worn by a young lady whose ordinary dresses were of calico. Its inconsistency at such a time and upon such a person, would be striking enough to hinder its exciting admiration.
Poverty has no more galling sting than the fancied necessity for keeping up appearances; in other words, for sailing under false colors, and presenting an appearance which imitates that of richer acquaintances. It is pitiful to see women, whose good sense in other matters is unquestionable, wearing out brain and muscle in the agonizing struggle to give themselves and their families a look of ease and style that comes naturally to their richer neighbors. It takes not a little courage to say, "I can not afford it;" but it is nobler and truer to say it than to hide behind subterfuges, or more cowardly still, to incur unwarrantable expense rather than confess to poverty.
"Put the best foot foremost," but never do it at the cost of self-respect. One who is poor should not degenerate into carelessness and shiftless ways; for if ever thrift and good management is needed, it is where money is scarce. There are some people who can make a dollar go twice as far as others, and this faculty, though natural to many, is as often an acquirement as a gift. It is the result of care, thoughtfulness, and an unceasing watchfulness, which is irk-some enough until it is looked at in its right light and set down as a duty. Economy is not parsimony, although it has fallen into disrepute by being falsely so called. That there is no disgrace in saving and no merit in wastefulness is a fact that should never be forgotten, and wise mothers who wish to fit their daughters for any sphere should carefully inculcate that idea. In older countries economy is a most commendable virtue. It is only here, where large fortunes are won with such magical rapidity, that a few weak-minded people pretend to despise it.