. Having chosen her wardrobe, she proceeds to learn how to put it on, and in this matter pays great attention to detail. Her skirt is set straight and fastened close at the waist, her blouse is arranged so that no open gap between it and the skirt can appear, and her placket-hole, if she has one, is carefully fastened. One afternoon, in Hyde Park, a well-dressed woman was seen with her waist-belt hanging down from the back of her bodice. By this means a charming dress was spoilt, and the wearer became a dowdy, if not a disgrace. Attention to small details makes for success.
There are two other reasons which help to produce the smart effect made by Americans. First, they have a horror of second-rate and tawdry articles. Cheap lace, cheap silks or velvets, cheap artificial flowers, and sham jewellery are to them anathema. They one and all value cut above material, and a well-planned coat and skirt means much more to them than a couple of badly made gowns in silk, satin, or brocade. Their rule is to have a few garments, but to have these perfect and complete in every detail. Their few gowns are worn right through one season, are worn out, and in due course replaced by new purchases. Hence, no shabby clothes are stored up, which, when worn next year, give their wearer a look of fatal dowdiness.
It must be admitted also that both Parisians and Americans carry themselves far better than the average Englishwoman. In Paris or New York one seldom sees rounded backs or sloping shoulders. And the women walk well, are upright, and hold themselves with easy grace and a certain assurance.
This in itself gives an "air," which in a woman helps to show off her clothes to the best advantage. A candid critic must confess that, as a rule, Englishwomen lack grace of carriage and dignity of bearing. They do not know how to walk, carry their skirt, use their arms, hold their heads, get out of a train, or step into a motor. There is little or no harmony in their movements.
I once watched some women who were walking in Piccadilly carrying muffs. Out of ten, five held the muff in front of them, in the way one carries a heavy parcel; one held her muff, and skirt with the same hand-; two kept their muffs against their lips; one swung it in her hand as a child swings a toy; and the tenth carried the big bundle of precious skins like a true Parisian. In her the rule found its usual exception. Then, as gowns are made without pockets, most of us carry a handbag, which holds a purse, a powder-puff, a mirror, and a handkerchief. But how many of us carry that bag with grace, or even with ease and neatness ?
Every woman cannot afford costly clothes, but let the possessor of small means take heart, and realise that the number of rich women who can buy beautiful gowns is far greater than the number Of those who know how to put them on properly. Taken collectively, most of us seem to wage war with our garments. We attempt a colour harmony, and arrive at a shrieking discord. We often own' valuable jewels, but wear them strangely mixed, or on wrong occasions, or with obviously unsuitable garments. For instance, an Eastern robe turned into a tea-gown should by no means be worn with modern ornaments. On the other hand, masses of barbaric stones and coins are out of place on a Parisian toilette. And, to my mind, a string of fine pearls or a pair of pearl or diamond earrings are at variance with a cotton frock, a serge gown, or a shooting costume.
Dress offers great possibilities to women. At all times there have been those who to every garment they wore have given grace and individuality. This is the true wearing of clothes, and an art that influences and marks eras in history. Think of the dignity invested in brocades and ruffles ! Such things as these could not be put on carelessly. Imagine a grande dame of olden days donning a ruffle or a Flemish point collar in the off-hand way in which we adjust the tulle bow of 1911. If our forebears could see us now they would accept our careless way of dress as a sure sign of decadence. But even yet there are a few gifted women who are as careful in every detail of their toilettes as were the social leaders of former centuries.
These, however, will be the exception rather than the rule so long as the average woman believes that money, and money alone, can secure success in dress and personal decoration. There is something hopelessly vulgar in giving a silk frock precedence over a stuff one merely because the former is richer and more difficult to purchase. And an expensive gown should never be worn when a simpler one would answer the purpose. Nothing is more vulgar than to be overdressed.
Remember that in the adjustment of a simple frock very much depends upon the accessories. This last remark brings us back to the subject of dowdiness. As I said, some dowdies are born and not made, and these are often capable of improvement. The humble dowdy might ask the advice of a useful friend who knows the science of smartness. She should have few gowns and many shoes, gloves, veils, and etceteras; and wear nothing shabby, however much her constant soul clings to her well-worn garments.