Dress is the Frame of Beauty - The Definition of "Well-Dressed " - The Distinction between Art and Fashion - Rules of Ornamentation - How to Deceive the Eye by Ornamentation - How to Appear Tall - Or Short - How to Acquire Dignity - The Use of the Train - How Stout People may
Appear Slim - A Rule for the Plain Woman
"'there are two kinds of beauty," wrote Madame de Giraudin, "that which is given, and that which, one takes."
Dress is a frame to the picture of beauty, nothing less, but nothing more, and the mistake is made when a woman forgets that her "frame " must be subordinate all the time to her personality. Or, dress is to beauty what an accompanist should be to a singer, scenery to an actor, frames to an artist. A true artist never frames his picture in such a way that the onlooker remarks "What a handsome frame ! and in the same breath, "It is too good for the picture." This would be an inartistic proceeding, yet it is the kind of thing a good many women do every day with that framework to their personality, their dress.
The suitably dressed woman will never appear an absolutely plain woman. This does not seem at first sight to be a repetition of the dictum that the dress must be subordinate to the personality, yet it is so. The wise woman never loses sight of the fact
396l Beauty that dress is first meant to be useful, and secondly ornamental. When it is first ornamental, and its use is dubious or misapplied then is attention detracted from the personality to the dress, and the result is disparaging to the personality.
Always, then, must the first essential of dress be its utility, and this satisfied, one can pass on to a survey of dress as a means of enhancing beauty. To make dress a good hand-maiden of beauty is no easy task, and the only means of inducing dress to serve this is by art. Always is a becoming dress becoming because deft art has designed it.
Fashion, on the other hand, often defies art. She is never subtle, never diplomatic. But she takes a beautiful model, or failing the living model, she draws a figure to her fancy with a face made up of perfect and humanly impossible curves, and this she dresses according to her caprice - or, perhaps, according to the wishes of a crowd of artificers waiting to spin, to dye, to cut, and to sew.
The average woman very seldom fully realises that in her striving to be fashionable she is merely striving to be that never-allowed-to-rest, "good-for-trade" peg which is all she appears to be in the eyes of those who make a business of dress.
The artist first regards the picture as a harmonious whole, and then gives the personality the foreground.
Now we come to a consideration of dress so chosen and arranged that it shall enhance the good points of the personality and minimise the inharmony of the bad points.
To do the first well is often to accomplish the second. It sometimes happens that an artist has a more difficult task than this.
Bad points must be minimised so as to allow a few good points to gain some position.
The wise woman, who must on a limited income be her own artist, will have to view herself in a mirror as an artist about to paint his own portrait would view himself, and she must, if she wants to make her dress an aid to whatever beauty she may possess, ruthlessly put herself in the more difficult position of the artist in dress, and from this no whim of fashion must cajole her.
She may consider and use fashion - indeed she must, or otherwise she will defeat her own object and make her dress disagreeably and inartistically conspicuous - but she must never forget to modify a fashion where it may be likely to prove cruel to her defects, and to do this she must know some of the general rules of ornament. These are five : repetition, alternation, symmetry, progression, and confusion.
The simplest mode of decoration is repetition. An ornament or trimming composed of a repetition of simple lines (as in "the key pattern ") is suitable when the object to be decorated is beyond criticism. The classical head, with perfect and regular features, can be successful with repetition in ornament.
Alternation is less trying. It is a succession of two different shapes or colours.
Symmetry is the idea of proportion, and must be particularly studied in dress because the human form is symmetrical. A cunning use of symmetry in dress will hide a want of symmetry in the form, and it is upon this idea that the good tailor " builds " a costume.
Progression is a rule used to enhance a good point, or lead away from a bad to a good. Series of lines or forms or colours are used in progression.
Confusion is a rule unconsciously indulged in by many women, who thus seek to bewilder the eye so that it avoids comparisons, and the mind fails then to notice the want of symmetry in figure or face. Such confusion is, of course, deliberate and orderly.
Let us now see how these rules may be used as an aid to beauty.
In the first place, the obvious is not always the real, because it is so easy to deceive the eye.
To test this, take a piece of plain paper and draw six horizontal lines six inches in length and half an inch apart. Beside this group place another series of six, exactly the same in length and distance apart, but placed perpendicularly. Not only will the horizontal lines appear shorter than the perpendicular, but probably they will appear to be thicker. It is thus proved that a tall woman must not wear stripes running in a vertical direction, whilst a short woman must not wear horizontal lines.
Unity (repetition, alternation, and, in a degree, symmetry) gives an idea of size, and the small woman should dress plainly in one colour, with lines as little broken as possible. A small woman in a loose-fitting robe falling in straight lines from neck to heel acquires a dignity she needs. Dress her, on the contrary, in a dress of two or more contrasts of colour, put on it a sash, a polonaise, or the upturned dress of an Irish colleen or a milkmaid, and the lady looks diminutive. By further cutting the perpendicular lines by shortening the skirt, an actress can appear on the stage like a little girl, provided, of course, that she never challenges reason by allowing the observers to make comparison between her own height and that of other people or objects in the stage picture.