Young people sometimes feel that it makes very little difference how mothers and grandmothers dress as long as they themselves can make as fair a show as the family circumstances allow - a mistake which is unjust and prejudicial to all parties. It is a disgraceful, and in a great measure, a purely American notion, happily banished now from large cities, but still hanging about the country, that a young lady, even if her parents are not rich, must be gaily, and as far as possible, richly clothed, and be able to show soft jeweled hands, as white as the piano keys she touches deftly or otherwise, as the case may be, while mamma spends her overworked time in the meanest of clothes, and by reason of shabbiness is seldom seen by her daughter's friends, or by any one else except at church. Too often it is conscience rather than choice that takes her there, where the comfort of the service is swallowed in the consciousness of the utter forlornness and awkwardness of her appearance in obsolete dress and antiquated mantilla that were bought long before the daughters grew up to monopolize what little comfort and luxury life in narrow circumstances can give. The mother who allows herself to be set aside in this way, and brings up her daughters to feel that hers is the secondary place to theirs, fails dismally in her duty to them and reaps her reward in the want of respect rendered to her. But if the mother of a family is herself to blame for the want of nicety in her dress, the same can not always be said of the grandmother, whose failing strength takes her partially out of the active cares of life, and who ought to be the object of tender consideration from every one in the household; and it should be every one's care to have her comfortable and well-dressed - an object of pride, a sort of show-piece, instead of a poor, pushed-aside, forlorn object, to be kept out of sight. Some clever writer says that a highly-presentable and well-appointed grandmother in a family is a patent of respectability.
There is no arbitrary dictum requiring certain things, but custom restricts them to a narrow choice of color - brown, purple, black, and gray being the only ones allowed. Artistically considered, brown should be also excluded, on account of its unbecomingness to the dull tints of hair, eyes, and complexion. The ideal dress for an old lady - and one may as well know what the ideal is, even if there is but small hope of investing it in the real - is severely plain velvet, with soft tulle handkerchief folded across the breast, rich lace ruffles at the wrist to shade the withered hands, and a decorous cap, which makes no attempt to be a head-dress, but has protecting strings of lace or ribbon to tie loosely under the chin. We can not all dress our dear old grandmothers thus grandly and picturesquely, but we can make them comfortable, and fashion their clothes as tastefully as our means will allow, remembering that the love of pretty things to wear begins with a woman's life and generally lasts as long as she does - perhaps she is never too old to be gratified with a pretty cap or dress.
A black silk dress is not always a possible thing for an old lady, but if, by any economy the purchase can be made, it is a wise one, for it will last any length of time as a best dress, and be such a comfort to the owner as to repay any sacrifice incurred when it was bought. It should be made very plainly. If the lady is very stout, and likes the style, it can be made a close-fitting Gabrielle or princesse, but the usual style is preferable. The waist should fit comfortably, and, unless the wearer has delicate lungs, may be cut with the neck open down to the waist, and filled in with a lace or lawn handkerchief. An over-skirt is not too youthful, if it is not long and entirely unlooped, but many old ladies prefer single-skirted dresses. In that case the breadths are but little gored; the one in front may be shaped like an apron, and the others left straight and sewed upon the waistband in large plaits, except right in the center of the back, where they may be shirred for a short distance, to the depth of an inch or two. The bottom of the dress may be left plain, or may be bound with velvet instead of the usual braid, or may be trimmed with one or more wide flat bands or folds of the silk. The sleeves may be trimmed at the hand to correspond with the finish on the skirt; and if the waist is not open as suggested, a small square collar trimmed in the same way can be added. If circumstances do not allow the silk, black cashmere is certainly the next choice, and will be very handsome made up in the same way. It can be made to look richer by edging the folds and bias pieces with milliner's folds or narrow pipings of silk, Failing the cashmere, black alpaca of the best quality that can be afforded is the best substitute. Silk pipings are not so pretty upon this material, but their place may be taken by galloon, or the skirt may be set off by two groups, three or four in each, of narrow double folds of alpaca.
A comfortable and welcome fashion for old ladies, which was perhaps suggested by the rage for fichus of all kinds, is a shoulder cape, in shape like a Sontag, except that the fronts fasten like a dress with buttons, instead of being crossed. This is made of black silk, quilted in tiny diamonds over a single thickness of wadding, and edged with a double cord, or with a very narrow black lace plaited on. It can be worn with any dress, and is becoming so much adopted by old ladies in the East that they frequently have cloth or crocheted capes of the same shape made to wear in change with the more dressy one.
Circulars are frequently mentioned in fashion journals as being well adapted to old ladies, but they are really far from being the best shape for their wraps, as, having no sleeves, they drag heavily from the neck, and become very tiresome. A better style is a loose-fitting double-breasted sacque, rather long, but not enough so to be heavy and burdensome.
Caps and bonnets are delicate points, and the old lady whose means are too straightened to allow her to call professional skill to her aid (and even that is not always equal to the situation) is fortunate if she has a friendly relative with taste and capacity enough to undertake the critical task, which, to be successful, should be really a labor of love. The caps should be pure white, and the bonnets black. A well-defined border or ruche of white is pretty and becoming, but an indefinite mingling of black and white in either cap or bonnet is unbecoming. Small bonnets are out of the question for old ladies who need a shape that will amply protect the head, and even the back of the neck, where so many nerves center that embrace the slightest opportunity of exposure to ache remorselessly. Still the bonnet must not be too large, unless to shade a large fat face; a small head and delicate features in a great coal-scuttle of a hat look like a caricature, and the beauty of a bonnet lies in its fitness.
They say there are no old women in modern times, so it would not be safe to mention an age to which the plainness of attire advocated in this article belongs. But it was designed for those who honestly feel themselves beyond the period when
"One a charm from dress can borrow,'
Note - The article "Dress Making at Home," is chiefly condensed from a series of articles which appeared in that excellent monthly," Andrews' Bazar." published by W. R. Andrews, New York.