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DRESS IN HARMONY WITH SURROUNDINGS
INFLUENCE OF CLOTHES ON THE MIND
AVOIDING THE LABEL OF "TOURIST'
THE AMERICAN GIRL AND THE SHIRTWAIST
INDIVIDUALITY OF THE FOREIGN WOMAN
THE HAT A EUROPEAN CLASS DISTINCTION
AMERICAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS THINGS FRENCH
THE CLOSE FRENCH CUT
UNECONOMIC BLUE SERGE
DELICATE MATTER OF LINGERIE
PROFITABLE TRADE OF THE CORSET-MAKER
CLOTHES AND THE GERMAN WOMAN
THE FRENCHWOMAN'S METHODS
EXPENSE ACCOUNT OF A PARISIENNE
SOME FRENCH ECONOMIES
DISTINCTION OF THE AUSTRIAN WOMAN
WHERE STYLES ORIGINATE
BERLIN ADAPTS PARIS MODELS
HATS IN SPAIN
SPANISH LENTEN DRESS
ARISTOCRATIC DRESSMAKERS OF LONDON
CLOTHES AND THE WOMAN
THERE was once an American woman with a temperament who made a point of dressing as nearly as was practicable in the style of the particular country through which she happened to be travelling, declaring that by putting oneself as nearly as possible in a mental and outward harmony with one's surroundings, that then only could one arrive at a just estimate of values and get to know intimately a foreign country and its people.
Acting on this theory she went to Redfern's in London for the severest of tailor-mades, while for Scotland the same house turned her out a travelling dress of shepherd's plaid, with which she wore a jaunty Scotch cap, ornamented with a pheasant's feather and a cairngorm buckle. In Ireland she wrapped herself in the long red cloak of the peasant woman, and only regretted that she could not carry a shillalah, but made up for the lack of it with evening gowns of Irish lace and silk poplin. Paquin designed her a trottoir of the approved French scantiness that fitted like a glove and was a size too small, but in which she could cultivate the chic air of the Parisienne, carrying at the same time a toy terrier under her arm.
She turned sportswoman and hunted in the Austrian forests with skirts to her knees, long leather boots, and an eagle's feather stuck in a green Tyrolean hat. It was all her friends could do to keep her from embarrassing them by going about Holland looking like a "Baker's Chocolate" girl, so she compromised by collecting silver wire buttons from the natives and sewing them on her coat and wearing as many extra petticoats as she could comfortably get about in.
She plaited her hair in braids in Germany, wore a military, visored cap, and a woollen blouse, and discarded her Parisian corsets. In Switzerland her Alpine hat was always wreathed in eidelweiss, and she never went out without an alpenstock, though she never climbed higher than the embroidery shops in the village. In Italy she hung herself about with coral chains, and in Spain dressed in discreet black, with a black lace scarf in place of a hat, and discarded her Baedeker for a fan.
With no mean ability as a linguist and much dramatic instinct she was thus able to project herself into sympathetic relations, to her own satisfaction at least, with those with whom she came in contact. Naturally much of the lady's time was spent in tailor and dressmaking establishments, but some modified scheme on these lines might be of real assistance to the tourist.
Aside from the scientific deduction that dress does influence the mind, it is well, if possible, not to emphasise the fact that one is a tourist any more than can be avoided. The fact is patent enough and the American woman will find it to her advantage to modify, when she goes abroad, any pronounced style of dress tending to stamp her with too much individuality and unduly blazon her nationality abroad. This is not by desire to discount her patriotism and undervalue her national pride, but simply in her own interests. It is not either that she should dress like the foreign women en tour – the patron saint of fashion (if there is one) forbid! No nation can send out into the world women so correctly and appropriately dressed for the journey as can America. The American woman's shoes, belts and neckwear are an object lesson to feminine Europe. But by studying the little differences that exist between one's own taste and that of the foreigner, adopting accessories of toilet that mean both much and little and eliminating any marked mannerisms of dress, the American woman can save herself from many little side annoyances that breed those complaints so often made against foreign manners and foreign looks especially. If expense is any object, to give the native as little chance to classify the traveller as possible does away with much of the overcharge and accusations of extortion that are beginning to embitter the American in his relation with the foreigner.
An observing Scotchman remarked once that the reason the American girls looked so much alike must be because they all wore shirtwaists. Certain it is that the American woman is less individual in her dress than the rest of femininity, and the catch phrase of shop-clerk and dressmaker alike in America is: "Everybody is wearing it" – this is the first, middle and last argument in favour of any newly-launched article of wearing apparel.
No woman keeps closer in touch with the changes in fashions than does the Frenchwoman, but she can always give them a turn that is best suited to her personality, and no matter how pronounced the mode she invariably stamps it with her individuality. So does the German and English and Italian woman, though not always to their advantage, not having the discriminating taste of the Frenchwoman to begin with.
When the American woman gets on the other side, this trait of dressing like everybody else becomes more apparent. If it is the season for green veils, a verdant streamer flies from every hat; if it is the cult of the velvet bow, every girl's chin nestles in one. The hats are all tipped at the same angle, all ornament is of the same family design, – with the strongest individuality of all feminine creation the American woman shows it least in her outward appearance.
The blue serge suit is almost a uniform for the travelling American woman. Thoughtfully considered, it is one of the most uneconomical and unsuitable of materials for hard wear, which fact the automobile is demonstrating, and incidentally is giving it a hard knock by bringing into favour mixed goods of indeterminate colours. The soft greenish-greys that the English affect so much for outing clothes, the kind that one could fall into the water with and come out looking all right with a little brushing off, are fast catching on among fervents of the automobile of both sexes.
Nothing attracts more attention than the recent fad of the bare head. When the American woman breezily motors through the towns or along the country roads, carries her hat in her hand in the train and bares her head to cooling mountain breezes on an outside seat on the top of an Alpine diligence, it provokes not a little comment and not a few smiles by the way.
A Frenchwoman explained the situation. "Mon amie, never go without a hat, or you will be taken for a peasant woman, not even does a lady go across to a neighbour's without putting on a hat, she does not even sit in her own garden bareheaded – outside the house the chapeau est toujours de rigueur."
So the wearing of a hat is a class distinction, evidently to be rigidly observed if one does not want to lose caste, but Americans have introduced many things abroad and they may be successful with this craze if their fickle fancy doesn't meanwhile turn to something more novel.
The prevailing attitude of the feminine world is towards all things French in dress. That it is French necessarily implies always something a little overgay, something that is outré – not to say wicked – and this is a fact which often biases the usually discriminating American woman in selecting her Paris dresses. Unless things are decidedly "loud" or bizarre she feels that they may not be sufficiently "Frenchy" in style to be unmistakably genuine.
The keen Parisian milliner and dressmaker, knowing this, fosters this spirit, or rather delusion, and fits out his American patrons in costumes and toilet accessories that are only affected by the people of the stage and the "queens of the left hand," and while the American is getting wiser in this respect, and the sharp-witted Parisian will not be slow to follow, it is true that a certain class of spendthrift Americans has for long been a profitable joke to those plungers in the Bourse des Chiffons.
Genuine French dressing is distinguished by a carefully studied sobriety and an exquisite and harmonious blending of colour. These are its real characteristics, and any combination that "hits one in the eye," to use their own phraseology, too vividly, may be set aside as being a spurious trashy thing. A lot of poor and unworthy stuff is sent out – even from Paris; there are even plenty of genuine antiques that are bad art, so it is not strange that all Parisian clothes are not in good taste.
The Englishwoman has an air of "full dress" about her evening costume that is never so noticeable in the American; the latter is still averse to baring her head and shoulders in public places, while the Englishwoman goes to the theatre, to public restaurants as well as those in hotels, in a décolleté evening gown and no hat. She does the same thing on the Continent and gets stared at, for while low-neck is universal, where society goes at least, the women of other countries make a point of wearing a hat – only called so by courtesy sometimes, but still the head is covered. Under the same circumstances the American may wear richer clothes but will be more puritanically veiled, although she may' too discard the hat.
Paris is the woman's city through this same question of clothes. Paris still makes the fashions. Breathlessly do all makers and wearers of feminine garments await the edict and laws of this despotic queen who reigns by the banks of the Seine, but wisely is the American adapting them to her own style. The broad-shouldered, deep-chested American woman realises that what is suitable for the slight, small-boned Frenchwoman does not become her athletic lines. Fewer dresses are being made in Paris, though their workrooms are being haunted more and more if but for the snippings that fall from the scissors of those artists of the needle. And though the Parisian dressmaker is trying to give the desired American cut, sleeves are still too short, armholes too tight and backs too narrow. The tradition of the Paris woman is a question of line. The lines of the form must be accentuated, not hidden, hence everything is close-fitting; also the motive of economy enters into it and, as in most things French, cloth is scrimped to the closest possible margin. This makes for trimness and chicness it is true, and with her well-coiffed hair, slightly gummed to stay in place, the Frenchwoman does produce a harmonious whole, beside whom the best-groomed woman of other lands at times is apt to look the least bit frowsy.
But it is to the dessous that belongs the real credit of the elegance of the Frenchwoman. This delicate matter of lingerie is her peculiar heritage, and in the goût des déshabillés she rightly declares lies the whole secret of the fine art of dress.
A Frenchwoman spends more money on her undergarments than on her dress, and she never economises on her corsets. From the woman of society down the scale to the little shop-girl, all equally recognise the importance of the dessous, and French lingerie has become the standard set for the well-dressed woman.
This taste in lingerie comes not only from an innate elegance, but is made possible through the education and ability of the Frenchwoman with her needle. Her school-work is largely the science of embroidery, and rarely is the Frenchwoman, at home or abroad, without a bit of needlework in her hands, and in odd moments she makes herself much of the laces and embroideries for her garments. Even the most uncouth French peasant girl is taught the art of embroidery of an elementary kind. The undergarments of the French working-woman are, as to quality and garniture, a revelation in comparison with those of the same class elsewhere.
The Frenchwoman would as soon think of buying a ready-made dress as a stock corset; both are equally repugnant to her taste, a feeling that runs down the entire scale of feminine France. The modish woman will willingly spend as much as fifty to five hundred francs on a pair of corsets and have one for each costume, while the petty bourgeoise will pay from twenty to thirty-five francs for corsets made to order, though she will make her own dresses and skimp on the children's food to do it.
This practice is responsible for the trade of the corsetière, one of the most lucrative professions open to women in France. Paris suburbs are full of the comfortable little homes of retired corsetières and their husbands who have retired also on the fortunes made in the manufacture of these "les armoiries des femmes."
Corset shops abound all over France and in the provincial towns the general stores often do not stock corsets at all. They can be made as cheaply as the ready-made. The French department store corset, however, is more expensive than the same grades in America, and is very often either of American or German make.
As one leaves France behind, the elegance of the corset diminishes. Whether to the practice of not wearing corsets, so general in Germany, is due the shapelessness of the German article of commerce, or whether it is that the inartistic lines of the homemade product have discouraged the wearing of them, the fact is that the corset has been largely discarded, a fact which puts the last accent on the unfortunate lack of taste of the German woman, and is responsible for that national institution – the German waist line.
The Frenchman has expressed his disapproval of the heavy calf-skin American shoe: "Pas pour les dames," he says, and the Frenchwoman listens. The eye of man is the mirror in which she gauges her attractiveness; above all does he admire femininity. All the same, the American shoe, or a fairly good French imitation of it, is deposing the Louis Quinze heel and unnaturally long vamp shoe that has made every one wonder how the French footwear ever got its reputation for grace and beauty.
Another shattered tradition is that of the heavy English walking-boot. The English wear most generally a thinner-soled shoe than the American. The American shoe is gaining in favour, though the Englishwoman complains it does not stand up under the strain of getting wet most days in the year as does the more acclimatised British article.
The Frenchwoman may have lost her feet to a foreign shoe, but she has kept her head. The French hat is made an integral part of the coiffure and is not simply an inverted basket of bizarre ornament. The secret of the Frenchwoman's hat lies really in the care which she gives to the arrangement of her hair and the accuracy with which she poses the hat upon her head.
If the Frenchwoman is the fashion mannequin who promenades the world's stage before an international audience of buyers, it is well to study her methods nevertheless. She spends less on her dress and gets better results than woman of any other nationality. How does she do it? Economy alone won't accomplish it, though she is past mistress in the art.
To begin with, dress to the chic woman is a business, not an amusement or the excitement of merely "buying something" regardless of its suitableness or use. Then she follows the injunction of the ancient philosopher: "Know thyself." No vagaries of fashion can possibly lead her to fall in the pit of unbecomingness. She has catalogued her good points, and knows how to accentuate them. Like all her people she is at heart an artist, which she combines with a financial sagacity that is remarkable. The chic Parisienne does not always patronise the "grands faiseurs," but by a system of shopping around finds out when a "premiere" or head-saleswoman of one of the big couturiers is about to set up in business for herself. As often happens, such a one will give astonishing reductions to attract the clientele of her former employers. This is one of the ways by which feminine Paris dresses as well and more economically than the stranger who comes without a road-map to the heart of this land of fashions. Just here may be put in a word of warning. Don't trust too implicitly to that class of Parisian woman who, for a money consideration, or a friendly interest, guides the footsteps of the tourist through the shops and offers to take them to her own dressmaker, or her special little modiste whom she can influence to let one have things so cheaply. The stranger stands a better chance of getting fair treatment at the well-known shops. The petty graft of the "Commission," which always in the end comes out of the client, taints the attitude of Paris towards the stranger with a full purse and a meagre knowledge of the language. The true Parisienne is not anxious to give away her secret economies.
A Frenchwoman would commit most of the sins in the calendar rather than be demodé, and one way in which she keeps keyed up to the latest harmonies of fashion is by using cheap material and following closely in the wake of new models. It is thus that she is able to appear at the correctly ordained intervals required by fashion in the requisite number of new costumes throughout the year. She prefers to do this rather than buy costly and good material which could not be lightly discarded, thus being obliged to wear them after the first bloom of style had faded. Neither has the made-over any attraction for her; "it can always be detected," she will tell you.
She does though understand the art of the "ressert" – of utilising old stuff. A gown may be sold, or even exchanged, or a ball déclassé dress serve as a jupon, but the remodelled dress plays no part in her wardrobe. In this she scores over the economies of her sisters of other nations.
A Parisian journalist of renown has recently compiled, after a careful study of the question, what may be considered a fair expense account of a wealthy Parisienne. It totals seventy-five thousand francs, say fifteen thousand dollars, but its purchasing power, as compared to what the American could do in Paris, may well be estimated at double that figure.
Her tailor, milliner and coiffeur use up forty thousand francs of this sum, the remainder being devoted to the accessories of the toilet; she is wise enough to know that nearly half of her expenditure is none too much for minor articles. Naturally this cannot be made to include jewels, other than slight ephemeral novelties.
The capable Parisienne again can often accomplish on twenty thousand francs what an American would usually have to spend twenty thousand dollars to duplicate at home. But to be a thorough Parisienne on this amount requires a knowledge of values that the American must spend years, not months only, in Paris to acquire, beside being possessed of a no mean financial ability.
The Parisian woman plans out a campaign years ahead, replenishing certain parts of her wardrobe each year, and an intelligent system is set into operation for remaking, redying and renewing other articles with each season and demi-season. One year she will buy a costly set of furs, another year it will be a handsome costume trottoir from the Maison Worth instead of a new ball gown, which has served but once or twice at the opera and can thus be considered as new for the ball this year. It's a game that the capable Frenchwoman plays and plays well, for it is her real passion. She has Napoleonic ability when it comes to money matters in spite of her naïveté. Any extravagance is only on the surface; she buys nothing because she "can't do without it;" she gets full value according to her tastes, at least, for all she spends.
Still further down the scale is the pseudo-chic Paris woman who makes a wonderfully good imitation of a queen of society on four or five hundred dollars a year. The stranger cannot hope to compete with this. The fashionable dressmaker or milliner is not on her shopping list. She gets a "working out" seamstress to come to her home at from six to ten francs a day, two meals included. Together they work side by side and turn out a pale copy of one of those creations that bear on their labels, in letters of appropriate gold, the great names of the Faubourg Saint Honord or the Rue de la Paix. She makes in the same way a satisfactory substitute for twenty or thirty francs a hat that would cost five or six hundred on the Boulevards, and with the exception of the obvious inferiority of material she looks as well when she promenades in the Bois as one of the vrai chic monde.
The custom of "making-up" is universal among Frenchwomen, hence the most effective and complicated battery of aids to beauty originate in Paris. Such is their reputation that a French label sells anything.
The Frenchwoman makes no concealment; there is no furtive "touching up" for her. She dyes her hair with henna, plasters her face and paints her lips as if she is making-up for the glare of the footlights. She takes not less than an hour for her coiffure. It is carefully given a lustre with one liquid and a glossy smoothness with another preparation. She conceals nothing. She considers her person as an artist does his picture – a work of art, and cares not at all that the brush-marks are visible so long as the artistic ensemble is satisfactory, no matter how artificial it may be.
Dress elsewhere in Europe is a colourless and spiritless imitation of Parisian style spoiled by local peculiarities. A notable exception is that of the Austrian woman, the most distinguished feminine personality in Europe.
The Viennese wear Parisian modes plus a distinction of their own. When the foreigner wants to pay a genuine compliment to the American woman abroad he says, "Dear Madame, I thought you must be Austrian." The Austrian women in their build and style of carrying their clothes more nearly resemble the American. They are the feminine aristocracy of Europe.
Berlin, Madrid, St. Petersburg, all the European capitals follow meekly the lead of Paris in styles, while the dressmakers of Paris in turn are as cosmopolitan a guild as their world-wide clientele. Belgians, Austrians, English and Americans; such is the varied nationality of those that go to make up the Paris tailor and dressmaker world – the aristocrats of the profession. Do others of the countries of Europe originate any styles? Apparently not. Berlin does an enormous trade in ready-made clothing. But how? She imports Paris models, bowdlerises them, adapts them to suit her own trade and then exports them to all points of the compass – to South America – and – let it be understood – to the United States as well.
In one country the hat might be, and frequently is, discarded to advantage, and that is Spain. In place of a hat the Spanish woman wears a small black lace scarf over her head, or only a piece of black net; invariably is this the case when she goes to Mass, and as the upper-class woman when seen out of doors is either going or coming from church this sombre headdress seems universal. If the stranger woman arrives in one of the big Spanish cities in Holy Week before Easter she will feel as conspicuous in her hat as she would in a bathing costume. It is the equivalent of having a label with the words, "I am a foreigner," bound across her brow, and passersby are not shy in letting her know how eccentric they consider her taste by remarks as well as looks.
Religious etiquette prescribes the wearing of black during this week and every woman of every grade of society is garbed in unrelieved black with the black lace head-scarf. As the week is spent visiting all the churches the effect of the streets is an unending procession of these mourning gowns, and powder-whitened faces which have much to do with heightening the effect of the señoritas' black eyebrows. Society wears rich black satins, frequently lined with stuff of another colour, a soft rose or blue. This is an ingenious way of serving both God and the World, and produces a charming effect when skirts are lifted, though it seems rather symbolical of the idea that penitence has not penetrated very deeply.
In London what are known as the "West End" Court dressmakers are the aristocracy of the profession, and not infrequently are members of the aristocracy itself, pushed into business by necessity and often bringing with them their impecunious lady friends as assistants.
This society dressmaking sometimes makes up in style what it lacks in business ability, but if one wants the right kind of dress in which to be presented at Court, it may be well to overlook an inflated bill for the advantage of being fitted out for this important occasion by one who has been through the ceremony herself, and can thus supply hints on etiquette as well as feathers for the hair.
Indeed, it is quite a business, this making of the Court costume for the democratic American woman, anxious to bow before Royalty, but then, as every one knows, woman is an aristocrat at heart. The expense of one of these costumes is of course anything one wishes to make it, but the Englishwoman will place the estimate not far from $1,000 for the long Court train of just so many yards, the three white feathers, and the long floating veil. Now the aspirant must be coached for her difficult part, and this means usually a Godmother quite unlike the fairy Godmothers of old, inasmuch as she does not bestow gifts herself, but expects a substantial return for her assistance.
It is said that there are not a few of the reduced nobility who have gone into the business of presenting the wealthy American woman at Court, selling their names and position for American dollars.
All shopwomen wear black, and as black is really the badge of the serving class, the Englishwoman herself keeps away from it. It is very rarely that one sees it used, unless in case of mourning, and then it is even considered in good form for the friends of the family to put on black; the servants dressing in the same hue at the expense of their masters.
In London one can dress as elaborately for the street in the afternoon as one wishes, but this comes from the habit of driving rather than walking and this is the result of cheap cabs. When one can get about for twenty-five cents a time it is economy on clothes to take a cab. The same holds good in Paris, and though the Parisian is not so prodigal in cab-fares, she is most careful of her clothes, which is the underlying secret of the fresh appearance at all times. She never wears a street dress in the house, and as she lives in her peignoir until noon, her clothes get just half the wear of the ordinary woman's. The Frenchwoman has adopted half-heartedly the tailor-made – the trottoir – but she only wears it when it can't be avoided – in her rare morning outings and for travelling.
In London, too, the tailor-made is not considered the proper thing after luncheon, any more than it would be after six in the evening.
Credit in England is too facile; it is easy to fall into the habit of running accounts for as long as one may wish, when it is actually difficult to get a bill presented. The usual method when an account is presented is to pay something on account only. "Why," says the Englishman, "a tailor doesn't want his bill paid up in full; he would think he was going to lose his customer's patronage if you paid him up; what he wants is only a few pounds paid on account and another large order put in." This is unquestionably so. This system of holding custom reacts on both sides – the customer is charged more to cover the accommodation and the firm is often unable to meet expenses in spite of big outstanding accounts for which they fear to dun.
Women will keep themselves in debt to their dressmakers not only in the matter of clothes, but will borrow money from them. The question of clothing oneself in England is a problem in more ways than one.