This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Dress. A garment or the assemblage of garments used as a covering for the body or for its adornment; clothes; apparel; skill in selecting, combining, and adjusting articles of clothing. Dress is only one of the countless forms of fashion. Its super-importance is evidenced at every turn, whether dictating the arrangements of the christening, the marriage, or the funeral. The standard of good dressing varies much in different parts of the world. The king of Tahiti thinks himself well dressed in a belt and necklace, or possibly a wrap of cloth or a coat, regardless of his nether extremities, while his queen struts in countless strings of gaudy beads, enveloped in dirty wraps wound in disorder about her body. The fashionable heathen miss of the Fiji islands is satisfied with a fringe of colored grass about the loins, while her sister, the Christian belle, cares nought but for a cloth reaching from the waist to the knee, decorated with delicate creeping ferns or bright golden croton leaves, cunningly fastened so as to overlap each other and form a short petticoat. The Indians of both sexes are contented with the ornamented furs and skins of wild animals, supplemented occasionally with a crimson blanket of wool. The Roman matron considered herself gorgeously arrayed in her purple tunic of silk, while her noble husband held a similar opinion enveloped in the flowing folds of his toga. The East Indian woman winds herself up in her chudder, as the Scotch shepherd does in his shawl, each happy in the thought that their form of dress is the best. Among all nations and all peoples the objects and origin of dress are the same - comfort and adornment.
Among civilized peoples the primary object of dress is, of course, to protect the body from extremes of climate. But another object is to beautify, or perhaps to emphasize beauty is a happier way to express it. The problem of good dressing, which is so seldom solved, is to discover a person's two or three fine points, bring these into relief and conceal the many deficiencies. Happy is that woman who, acknowledging her deficiencies, constructs her dress to emphasize her finest points. She will make the most profound impression, and unconsciously and unintentionally become the merchant's best advertising medium.
The first thing to be considered by a woman of taste in selecting a dress, is the general effect as a whole, and this can only be secured properly by the study of the form, height, breadth, length of waist, carriage of the head, gait and general deportment. After this follow color, line, mass, trimmings, ornaments, etc. Many women dress as if the face was the only consideration, yet we see the face once where we see the whole person twenty times, as across a room or the street. Again, some dress as if they were a half-length portrait, not considering what is below the waist. A short woman too often thinks she looks taller for wearing a very long waist. So she does in her short mirror, forgetting that what she adds above she cuts off below, and were she to look into a long glass, she would see that by apparently shortening her limbs she loses far more height than she gains by lengthening her waist, The shorter the woman, the shorter should be her waist.
It does not take an artist to see that the natural form is beautiful, with its graceful curves, its perfect proportions and its flexibility of motion. It is always a mistake or a blind and willful disregard of the laws of nature, when a woman dresses in defiance of the laws of beauty. The loose, soft waist which the "dress reformers" urge, is no less hideous than the French corset which ruins the figure. It does not serve its ends, as it conceals all the beautifully rounded curves which should be emphasized. The present close-fitting dresses, defining the graceful lines of the hips and falling in slightly below the knees, are strictly in accordance with the natural lines of the body, and are far from ugly on a well proportioned figure. Dress should not alter the natural shape, nor the general effect of the physique; it must only seize upon the prominent beauties of figure, complexion, carriage, style, and by dexterously making the dress harmonize with these an effect is produced which is marvelous. But this is one of those subtle truths which requires a delicacy of comprehension possessed but by few. It is probable that Charles Frederick Worth, the man-milliner of Paris, has this faculty developed to a greater degree than any other person living. Worth was born in 1834, and is consequently now but little past middle age. He is a stout, genial, pleasant-looking gentleman, with a peculiarly low-toned voice and very quiet manner. He is not only the head of that vast establishment in Paris, but its soul and brain as well. He creates the pattern dresses, orders materials and trimmings to be manufactured from his own designs, and superintends in person all the delicate finishing details of a toilette, such as shaping and trimming of a corsage, the tying of scarfs or of ribbons, to the placing of artificial flowers on the skirt. He excels in combining colors, sweeping aside piece after piece of silk till the exact union of hues that is at once the most effective and most artistic has been reached.
In selecting a dress pattern the buyer should first consider height and rotundity of the figure, how it may be apparently increased or lessened by judicious arrangements of drapery. A general rule may be given to this effect: Division lessens the appearance of size either in width or height. The repetition of upright lines gives the effect of added height, because it divides the rotundity. The repetition of horizontal lines gives the appearance of greater rotundity, because it divides the height. In the art of dress, fulness produces an esthetic effect which tends to give size, but it must not change the natural shape; it must simply increase it apparently in the size of the dimension either way. Thus the line is of great importance in arranging a dress. Long lines from the shoulder to the foot, in the arrangement of draperies, will have the effect of making a short, stout woman appear taller, and thinner, while vice versa lines extending around the figure will increase the rotundity. As an illustration: if stout ladies would only be content to give themselves the advantage of their roundness, and not, by lacing, attempt to disguise themselves as slender women (a most apparent subterfuge) they might pass for artistically dressed persons, The beautiful arms and hands and neck, which always accompany stoutness, being the finest points, should be advantageously displayed by wearing close-fitting garments, but with the long lines of grace prevailing from the shoulder to the foot.