What the stage wears to-day society will wear to-morrow. That fact most people recognise, for it is behind the footlights that one invariably first sees forthcoming fashions. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that the stage is a natural dictator of fashions. Every actress appreciates the value of dress on the stage, and it cannot be denied that she, above all women, understands the art of looking her best, a fact which is fully borne out by the following confessions of some of our leading actresses regarding what they consider their prettiest modern stage dress.
"But perhaps," she continues, "my most successful stage dresses were those I wore in ' Raffles,' made by Mme. Hayward, and in ' The Crisis,' with Miss Evelyn Millard, at the New Theatre, made by Mme. Handley Seymour. In the latter play the gown named the ' Acolyte ' which I wore was perhaps the prettiest. It was composed of an under-dress of Venetian red, most handsomely embroidered with gold, the over-dress being of cream muslin, also embroidered with gold, and with a magnificent flounce of wonderful Venise lace falling to the bottom at the back. The bodice was also composed of the same wonderful Venetian red, veiled with cream muslin and Venise lace falling over the sleeves."
"It is rather difficult," confesses Miss Lilian Braith-waite, "to select among the many beautiful modern dresses that I have worn on the stage one to be called 'my prettiest stage dress.' There were many pretty dresses that I wore while playing under Sir George Alexander's management at the St. James's, ranging from Lady Windermere's beautiful gowns to the fresh, dainty muslin worn by the little Kathie of 'old Heidelberg.' Recently, perhaps, the two dresses that have given me most pleasure were a grey charmeuse which the repentant Mrs. Frampton wore in the last act of 'nobody's Daughter,' and the black velvet gown worn by Mrs. Panmure in two acts of Sir Arthur Pinero's comedy ' Preserving Mr. Panmure.'
A charming dress worn by Miss Sarah Brooke in "Raffles" Dover Street Studios
"They were both specially designed for me by Lady Duff-gordon, and were both, I think, extraordinarily beautiful gowns. I am very keen on line in dress, and, of course, the fashions of the last two years have allowed us to approach very near the long straight lines of the ideal Greek costume. Both these dresses were, I think, very smart, very chic, and up to date, and both were certainly artistic. That is surely high praise, the highest possible for a beautiful gown. I only hope the audiences admired them as much as the wearer did."
It is generally agreed by fashion experts that some of the most beautiful dresses seen on the stage for a considerable time were those worn by Miss Kate Cutler and Miss Violet Vanbrugh at the Garrick in Mr. Alfred Sutro's play "The Fire Screen." Miss Kate Cutler thinks, to quote her own words, "that of all the beautiful dresses I have worn on the stage, the best of all is that in which I appeared in the last act of this play. It was of blue chiffon over flesh-pink satin, and veiled with grey chiffon draperies with touches of green and rose-colour. It had a silver girdle with an end and a big tassel of all the colours mixed. I thought it was quite lovely, and so did everyone who saw it."
Another dress which Miss Cutler thinks almost as charming, and which she wore in the same play, was of vieux rose chiffon over white chiffon, edged with a wide band of silver embroidery and blonde lace. The corsage was cut a little low, and opened down the front to show a chemisette of lace studded with tiny blue bows. Pink satin outlined the edges as well as the kimono-shaped elbow sleeves. A wide folded band of Chinese brocade, fastened with a large flat bow, adorned the waist. The skirt was draped at the back to form an oval-shaped train, and was also draped at the sides over an under-petticoat of lace, which rested on a band of pale blue satin.
In the same play Miss Violet Vanbrugh wore an elaborate dress, which she considered exceedingly becoming.
It was of putty-coloured charmeuse, arranged with a corsage fastened at one side and drawn in at the waist beneath a band composed of cords in blue, red, orange, and silver, other cords of the same colours falling from the belt in front. The corsage, cut out a little at the neck, was edged with a cording of black and orange, and these colours were repeated in the buttons on the sleeves. "I am inclined to single out," said Miss Compton (Mrs. R. C. Carton), when approached for her opinion of her prettiest stage dress, "the gown I wore as the Duchess of Bracebridge in ' Mr. Hopkinson.' During the second act I was compelled to wear a good many diamonds, and I took a hint from the jewellers' shop windows, and wore a perfectly plain dress of dark blue velvet. That the combination proved unusually effective was confirmed by public and private opinion."
Miss Lilian Braithwaite in a wonderful velvet gown, designed for her by Lady Duff-gordon and worn in "Preserving Mr. Panmure" Foulsham & Banfield
Happening to mention, however, that many ladies had been impressed with the dresses she wore in her husband's latest play, "The Bear Leaders," Miss Compton agreed that an exceedingly handsome dress was the one in which she appeared in the ballroom scene. This dress was of violet satin, arranged on the corsage with white net, sewn with tiny beads, and with motifs of silver embroidery. The sleeves fitted on the shoulders with straps of beads, while folds of the purple satin were carried from the sides to the waist, where they were held by a silver motif, giving the corsage a very becoming line. The satin skirt was cut up one side to show an under - petticoat of white beaded lace, while a square diamond buckle held the draperies of the satin together.