Art education should bring to every girl a greater appreciation of beauty and a sufficient knowledge to enable her to beautify her home and to dress herself becomingly. This is the real "applied art" or "applied design" of which we have heard much but seen little.
The power and skill necessary to originate an intricate and artistic design, and a technical knowledge of color-blending are worth something to the individual, but the ability to apply this knowledge later to the decoration of her home and to the selection of her own clothes is of vastly greater importance.
An artist who paints the human figure, draws and erases and draws again, and yet again, that the contour of the form he creates may be right in proportion and graceful in line. He studies his coloring, he compares, rejects and blends for a particular shade or tint that makes for complete harmony. No discordant note of color nor turn of line that detracts from the beauty of the whole is allowed. And there are artistic makers-of-garments who put into the costumes they create the same thought and care that the artist spends upon his canvas, but the prices of both are within the reach of very few. Nearly every woman must plan her own wardrobe and choose the furnishings for her home and this is what "Art" and "Domestic Art" in the public schools should train the girl of to-day - the woman of the future - to do.
Clothing was first designed in the early ages, no doubt, as a covering and protection to the body; it has come, however, to mean something more than this. It is an expression of the character, the nicety of taste - or lack of it - the discrimination and judgment of the individual. In the selection of one's garments there are a number of points which must be taken into consideration, such as health and comfort, cost, fitness, color and style, as well as beauty. And above all, the average woman must pause and consider last season's garments, that are too good to be discarded and must form a part of this year's wardrobe. It is quite disastrous to plunge ahead and buy a blue dress, because blue happens to be stylish, if the hat to be worn with it is a green or brown "left over."
While a due regard to the opinions of others demands a certain conformity to the customs of the time and place in which one lives, there is always a latitude allowed which enables one to exercise individual needs, taste and preference.
Health and comfort should take rank before everything else. A style which interferes with either is an absurdity which anyone of good sense will avoid.
Neatness should be considered above beauty or style. A soiled collar, hooks, eyes and buttons missing, gloves out at finger ends, shoes dusty and unpolished, braid hanging from the skirt, the waist and skirt separated are all accidents which may befall anyone, but are most deplorable when they become chronic.
It has been wisely said that the best dressed woman is she of whose clothing one is unconscious, whose dress is neither conspicuous from extreme style nor too noticeable from a total disregard to the custom of the times. Good taste demands that one be not overdressed. Street and business suits and young girls' school dresses should be plain, well made and neat, of subdued and becoming color.
"Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy," wrote Shakespeare, and the advice still holds good. Economy does not consist, however, of buying cheap, shoddy material. Trimming can be dispensed with to the improvement of the average garment, but a dress made of good cloth will outwear, look better, give greater self-respect, and in the end cost less than several dresses made of cheap stuff, as the cost of making is no more for the one than the other. This is a principle that applies as well to underwear. Simple garments, well made of firm fine cambric are much to be preferred to those overtrimmed with cheap lace and sleazy embroidery.
Some colors and styles are becoming to certain complexions and forms and are quite the reverse to others. A short stout person should avoid plaids, while one overly tall should never select stripes. The lines of the garment are equally important - any method of trimming that gives length, the long lines of the "princess" and the "empire" styles are a boon to the short figure, while the overskirt, the deep flounce, and the bands of trimming running around the skirt, all help to break the long lines for the tall woman. Belts that by contrast divide the figure are not good unless one wishes to shorten the height. Waists and skirts of the same color usually have more style and give better form.
Give careful heed to the selection of color, not only to the dress but to the accessories, hat, gloves, collar, belt and shoes, as well. In fact, consider the costume as a whole made up of parts, each one of which must harmonize with every other.
Before sewing machines were to be found in every home and ready made clothing in the stores styles did not change so rapidly. Commercial conditions now make it to the advantage of a great army of people that the styles in dress change often and radically. The manufacturers of cloth, the wholesale merchants with their agents, the retailers and their numerous clerks, wholesale garment-makers and their many employes, pattern-makers, dress-makers, milliners and the manufacturers of all minor articles of clothing are all benefitted by this oft recurring change in style. This condition has come about so gradually that we hardly realize to what extent we are victims of trade-tricks. It is not necessary nor desirable that woman should enslave herself to follow all the vagaries of style.