The modern stage is not only the mirror of the manners of the age: it may be said also to hold up for the public the glass on which fickle Fashion throws the reflection of the mode of the moment. In this office, as is natural, the actress reigns supreme, and one of our greatest exponents of dramatic art is at the same time one of the best-dressed women of the day. Miss Violet Vanbrugh, versatile and accomplislied creator of many unforgettable roles, discloses for readers of "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia," in this article, specially contributed, some of the vital principles which, when acted upon, differentiate the well-dressed woman from her undistinguished or dowdy sister. We realise, under her able guidance, the importance of dress, and see clearly wherein success consists, and gratefully acknowledge our debt towards this consummate mistress of her art.
There is not a woman - pretty or plain - who has not thrilled with the joy of wearing a new costume, and of knowing that it is "right," and that she is "right" in it. None of the female sex can afford to despise dress, and its influence on the world - meaning chiefly men.
Though men are popularly supposed to see no difference between canvas and charmeuse, there are many men who do. In addition, a man knows what is "right"; and the art of being "right" from head to heel is the secret of dressing well.
To be "right" does not always mean to be "smart" so much as to be suitable." To know the dress that suits a mood, a moment, and yourself is to be always smart, though perhaps not fashionable.
A man sees a woman looking neat and suitable in every way, and he puts her down as well dressed. Her hat may be cheap, her coat and skirt may lack the cut of a master hand, but if it is worn in the right way, by the right woman, it looks perfectly charming. But women look at the cut, finish, and style of clothes, not at the woman.
It never strikes some women that the outlay of large sums of money on dress does not always spell success. Success, in the world of dress, is far more a matter of personality than of pence; and that is where "men" score, for they have the intuition that allows them to discriminate.
Some of the greatest modistes and milliners in the world are men. In many cases where a woman's name appears a man is the moving spirit - the genius in the car. Where tailor-made garments are concerned men stand supreme, of course; for a feminine tailor-made is inconceivable.
The difference between the dress of yesterday and of to-day is remarkable. Not only have styles changed, but essentials also. Dress occupies - and rightly - a higher place than formerly. It enjoys the undivided care and attention of master minds in all its branches; and though it is more costly than in the mid-victorian era, for example, surely the end justifies the means.
The departure of the hobble skirt, the reintroduction of softer lines and graceful curves, the revival of the frill, all these tend to place the dress of to-day at the highest point of luxury, beauty, and grace.
In speaking of dress as a predominant factor in every woman's life, 1 should say the greatest essential is "good taste." Without good taste, though possessing unlimited wealth, a woman is liable to be very badly dressed; for dressmakers sometimes advise costly garments that are totally unsuitable.
On the other hand, good taste enables a girl with a moderate dress allowance to choose her few dresses with such care, and wear them with such skill, that she appears always well dressed. Almost as important as good taste is a knowledge of what suits you personally; and on the stage this knowledge must be extended to what suits the part you happen to be playing.
Money really counts for comparatively little in dress. It is so easy to be a thoroughly badly dressed woman in a beautiful frock. Girls imagine that if they could afford £50 for a dress they would look charming, but that is a fallacy, for they would probably appear over-dressed and ill at ease. Of course, money spent on cut is never wasted; but, unfortunately, when a woman can afford to spend money on cut, she spends it on other things as well, not realising that simplicity is a primary virtue in dress.
On the modern stage dress plays a great part in an actress's success. Never has so much money been spent on stage dresses; never have actresses enjoyed such chances of exercising individual taste in their stage clothes; and for this very reason, unless restrained by good taste and a knowledge, not only of what suits them, but the part they are playing, they are apt to come to grief.
Many a clever actress has spoiled a part by dressing it badly. Ill-chosen costumes can detract enormously from the sympathy and pathos of a part. It always seems to me - and I try to follow this line in dressing a new part - that an actress on her first entrance should give the audience a keynote to degree the success of a part. Since the resources at the disposal of most modern actresses are practically unlimited, stage dress should be a help, not a hindrance, with the addition of a little good taste.
Miss Violet Vanbrugh as Claire Forster in "The Woman in the Case." The dress repre-sented is that worn by Claire on her first entrance, and strikes an unmistakable and emphatic note, typical of the woman Photos, Foulsham & Banfield her character before she speaks a word. Dress can do this if it is the right dress. Such adjuncts as bags, shoes, gloves, jewellery, too much or too little, and, above all, hats, can help or hinder to a considerable
When I first went on the stage, good dressing was considered far less important than to-day. Managers did not supply dresses, save for costume plays, and not always then. We were not given carte blanche with the best dressmakers, but bought or made our own frocks. In those days a leading lady considered herself rich on £5 or even £3 a week, especially on tour. And for that we found all our own frocks, hats, shoes, and stockings, often playing a repertoire of five or six plays.