AMONG the various influences to which we may attribute the decline of artistic taste and of art manufacture during the present century, the ugliness of modern dress stands pre-eminently forward. On the painter and sculptor its effect is lamentable, compelling them, as it necessarily does, either totally to forego all representation of the age in which they live - a state of things which has never existed and could never exist in any healthy condition of art - or to undertake a difficult and thankless task, the result of which if well executed is barely interesting, and if indifferently executed is ludicrous. The subject, although rarely considered in its aesthetic relations, has met with some degree of popular attention, and indeed may be described as one of those questions of social reform which are, from time to time, brought before the public, discussed with more or less ability, and having afforded ample scope for ingenious suggestions, are again allowed to drop into oblivion. It is the fate of our national costume - or rather of European costume (for it contains but little element of nationality) - to be treated in this manner. Male attire in this country is not only unbecoming, but frequently inconvenient to the wearer, and in some respects unhealthy.

It is, however, much more easy to censure the follies of modern dress than to propose a remedy for them, or even to assign a cause for their existence. Take, for example, that recently abandoned but once favourite article of ladies' attire - crinoline. Under the names of hoop and farthingale, it was twice in vogue in this country before it was revived for a third time in 1857. We have abundant proof that it was both ridiculed and seriously condemned by our ancestors. Yet neither satire nor sermons seem to have affected its use. All that we know is the fact that women wore it as long as it pleased them, and left it off when it ceased to do so. But the old hoop, it will be urged, seemed appropriate to the custom which accompanied it; it went well with patches, high-heeled shoes, and powdered hair. Besides, it was a more honest and less complicated affair than the modern one, and not requiring so much stuff to cover it, involved less danger to be apprehended from fire. But is it probable that these reasons, or any similar reasons, ensured a popularity for the hoop or farthingale which the crinoline could not command ? Is it not a fact that, in spite of many petty inconveniences which it occasions - in spite of its being utterly unsuitable to the rest of a lady's toilette - in spite of the charges of indelicacy and extravagance which have been so frequently brought against it - in spite of the terrible and untimely deaths which have ensued from its use, this wretched invention continued in full favour with women for a full decade of years in the nineteenth century ?

Take another instance - the modern gentleman's hat, of which the beaver prototype was introduced here about the time of the French revolution. Could anything more ugly, more incommodious, more unhealthy, more generally objectionable, be devised as a covering for the head ? Yet, so far from its use being discontinued, as was thought probable during the year of the first Great Exhibition, no part of a man's dress appears to be further removed from all chance of improvement than this. No one who values his position in society - no one who cares for the public recognition of his friends - would venture to wear any substitute for it in the streets of London. Men go on enduring this evil with aching brows - just as women have endured and will again endure similar martyrdom - simply for the sake of appearances, and because, as civilised life is now constituted, singularity of dress would be considered, in most cases, a vulgar affectation.

Hopeless as reform seems to be, in certain details of modern costume, it is satisfactory to think that some slight improvements in dress have been made during the latter half of the present century. If the Exhibition of 1851 had not the effect of exterminating the 'chimneypot,' it brought over thousands of foreigners, who had long eschewed the use of the razor. Englishmen began to ask themselves whether the prejudice against beards, which had existed in the days of the 'great unwashed' - our forefathers - should be allowed to extend to our own time, when every gentleman takes his morning bath. Was it not absurd that we should continue day by day, with no little pains and inconvenience, to rasp our faces for the purpose of removing an appendage which Nature had given us for use if not for ornament ? The 'beard movement' rapidly became popular - the newspapers took up the cause, and said what they could in its favour. In the course of a few years, a clean-shaved man became the exception in a crowd. Thenceforth the hideous and uncomfortable vater-morder - the stand-up collars, which had for more than a quarter of a century prevented us from freely turning our heads to the right or left, were banished from young England's wardrobe. Even the thick silk handkerchief, which succeeded to the stock, gave place at last to that light and comfortable tie or scarf which is now almost universally used with a turn-down collar.

A few other recent changes in men's dress may be noted which, without being what might be desirable in an artistic sense, are at least calculated to promote convenience. Wellington boots were, after all, only a modification of the old 'Hessian' type, which, however convenient when pantaloons were worn, became unnecessary under the folds of the modern trouser. Accordingly the ankle-boot was adopted. At first it was fastened with buttons, and this led to the invention of the button-hook - an article which was perpetually being mislaid and which generally tore out more buttons than it helped to fasten. But the later manufacture of 'Balmorals' for country wear, and the 'side spring' for ordinary use, left nothing to be desired in this respect.