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Chapter Two of Florence Hartley’s “Ladies’ Book of Etiquette” delves into the art of dressing gracefully and elegantly, offering valuable insights such as achieving elegance through subtlety, balancing fashion trends with personal style, maintaining impeccable grooming, coordinating colors and materials, prioritizing quality over cheapness, embracing comfort alongside style, paying attention to well-fitted garments and meticulous details, dressing appropriately for various occasions, and providing guidelines for mourning attire. Hartley’s wisdom is a timeless guide for those seeking to present themselves with sophistication in diverse social settings.
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Chapter Two – Dresses
A LADY is never so well dressed as when you cannot remember what she wears. No truer remark than the above was ever made. Such an effect can only be produced where every part of the dress harmonizes entirely with the other parts, where each color or shade suits the wearer’s style completely, and where there is perfect neatness in each detail. One glaring color, or conspicuous article, would entirely mar the beauty of such a dress. It is, unfortunately, too much the custom in America to wear any article, or shape in make, that is fashionable, without any regard to the style of the person purchasing goods. If it is the fashion it must be worn, though it may greatly exaggerate a slight personal defect, or conceal or mar what would otherwise be a beauty. It requires the exercise of some judgment to decide how far an individual may follow the dictates if fashion, in order to avoid the appearance of eccentricity, and yet wear what is peculiarly becoming to her own face or figure. Another fault of our fair countrywomen is their extravagance in dress. No better advice can be given to a young person than to dress always according to her circumstances. She will be more respected with a simple wardrobe, if it is known either that she is dependent upon her own exertions for support, or is saving a husband or father from unnecessary outlay, than if she wore the most costly fabrics, and by so doing incurred debt or burdened her relatives with heavy, unwarrantable expense. If neatness, consistency, and good taste, preside over the wardrobe of a lady, expensive fabrics will not be needed ; for with the simplest materials, harmony of color, accurate fitting to the figure, and perfect neatness, she will always appear well dressed.
This is the first of all rules to be observed with regard to dress. Perfect cleanliness and careful adjustment of each article in the dress are indispensable in a finished toilet. Let the hair be always smooth and becomingly arranged, each article exquisitely clean, neat collar and sleeves, and tidy shoes and stockings, and the simplest dress will appear well, while a torn or soiled collar, rough hair, or untidy feet will entirely ruin the effect of the most costly and elaborate dress. The many articles required in a lady’s wardrobe make a neat arrangement of her drawers and closets necessary, and also require care in selecting and keeping goods in proper order. A fine collar or lace, if tumbled or soiled, will lose its beauty when contrasted with the same article in the coarsest material perfectly pure and smooth. Each article of dress, when taken off, should be placed carefully and smoothly in its proper place. Nice dresses should be hung up by a loop on the inside of the waistband, with the skirts turned inside out, and the body turned inside of the skirt. Cloaks should hang in smooth folds from a loop on the inside of the neck. Shawls should be always folded in the creases in which they were purchased. All fine articles, lace, embroidery, and handkerchiefs, should be placed by themselves in a drawer, always laid out smoothly, and kept from dust. Furs should be kept in a box, alone, and in summer carefully packed, with a quantity of lump camphor to protect from moths. The bonnet should always rest upon a stand in the band-box, as the shape and trimming will both be injured by letting it lie either on the face, sides, or crown.
Let each dress worn by a lady be suitable to the occasion upon which she wears it. A toilet may be as offensive to good taste and propriety by being too elaborate, as by being slovenly. Never wear a dress which is out of place or out of season under the impression that ” it will do for once, ” or ” nobody will notice it.” It is in as bad taste to receive your morning calls in an elaborate evening dress, as it would be to attend a ball in your morning wrapper.
To appear well dressed without harmony, both in color and materials, is impossible. When arranging any dress, whether for home, street, or evening, be careful that each color harmonizes well with the rest, and let no one article, by its glaring costliness, make all the rest appear mean. A costly lace worn over a thin, flimsy silk, will only make the dress appear poorer, not, as some suppose, hide its defects. A rich trimming looks as badly upon a cheap dress, as a mean one does upon an expensive fabric. Observe this rule always in purchasing goods. One costly article will entirely ruin the harmony in a dress, which, without it, though plain and inexpensive, would be becoming and beautiful. Do not save on the dress or cloak to buy a more elaborate bonnet, but let the cost be well equalized and the effect will be good. A plain merino or dark silk, with a cloth cloak, will look much better than the most expensive velvet cloak over a cheap delaine dress.
Do not be too submissive to the dictates of fashion ; at the same time avoid oddity or eccentricity in your dress. There are some persons who will follow, in defiance of taste and judgment, the fashion to its most extreme point ; this is a sure mark of vulgarity. Every new style of dress will admit of adaptation to individual cases, thus producing a pleasing, as well as fashionable effect. Not only good taste, but health is often sacrificed to the silly error of dressing in the extreme of fashion. Be careful to have your dress comfortable and becoming, and let the prevailing mode come into secondary consideration ; avoiding, always, the other extreme of oddity or eccentricity in costume.
STYLE AND FORM OF DRESS
Be always careful when making up the various parts of your wardrobe, that cach article fits you accurately. Not in the outside garments alone must this rule be followed, an ill-fitting pair of corsets, or wrinkles in any other article of the under clothes, will make a dress set badly, even if it has been itself fitted with the utmost accuracy. A stocking which is too large, will make the boot uncomfortably tight, and too small will compress the foot, making the shoe loose and untidy. In a dress, no outlay upon the material will compensate for a badly fitting garment. A cheap calico made to fit the form accurately and easily, will give the wearer a more lady-like air than the richest silk which either wrinkles or is too tightly strained over the figure. Collars or sleeves, pinned over or tightly strained to meet, will entirely mar the effect of the prettiest dress.
And by economy I do not mean mere cheapness. To buy a poor, flimsy fabric merely because the price is low, is extravagance, not economy ; still worse if you buy articles because they are offered cheap, when you have no use for them. In purchasing goods for the wardrobe, let each material be the best of its kind. The same amount of sewing that is put into a good material, must be put into a poor one, and, as the latter will very soon wash or wear out, there must be another one to supply its place, purchased and made up, when, by buying a good article at first, this time and labor might have been saved. A good, strong material will be found cheapest in the end, though the actual expenditure of money may be larger at first.
Many ladies have to trace months of severe suffering to an improper regard of comfort, in preparing their wardrobe, or in exposure after they are dressed. The most exquisite ball costume will never compensate for the injury done by tight lacing, the prettiest foot is dearly paid for by the pain a tight boot entails, and the most graceful effects will not prevent suffering from exposure to cold. A light ball dress and exquisite arrangement of the hair, too often make the wearer dare the inclemency of the coldest night, by wearing a light shawl or hood, to prevent crushing delicate lace or flowers. Make it a fixed rule to have the head, feet, and chest well protected when going to a party, even at the risk of a crushed flower or a stray curl. Many a fair head has been laid in a coffin, a victim to consumption, from rashly venturing out of a heated ball room, flushed and excited, with only a light protection against keen night air. The excitement of the occasion may prevent immediate discomfort in such cases, but it adds to the subsequent danger.
Be careful always that the details of your dress are perfectly finished in every point. The small articles of a wardrobe require constant care to keep in perfect order, yet they will wofully revenge themselves if neglected. Let the collar, handkerchief, boots, gloves, and belts be always whole, neat, and adapted to the dress. A lace collar will look as badly over a chintz dress, as a linen one would with velvet, though each may be perfect of its kind. Attention to these minor points are sure tests of taste in a lady’s dress . A shabby or ill fitting boot or glove will ruin the most elaborate walking dress, while one of much plainer make and coarser fabric will be becoming and lady-like, if all the details are accurately fitted, clean, and well put on. In arranging a dress for every occasion, be careful that there is no missing string, hook, or button, that the folds hang well, and that every part is even and properly adjusted. Let the skirts hang smoothly, the outside ones being always about an inch longer than the under ones ; let the dress set smoothly, carefully hooked or buttoned ; let the collar fit neatly, and be fastened firmly and smoothly at the throat ; let shoes and stockings be whole, clean, and fit nicely ; let the hair be smooth and glossy, the skin pure, and the colors and fabric of your dress harmonize and be suitable for the occasion, and you will always appear both lady-like and well-dressed.
The most suitable dress for breakfast, is a wrapper made to fit the figure loosely, and the material, excepting when the winter weather requires woolen goods, should be of chintz , gingham, brilliante, or muslin. A lady who has children, or one accustomed to perform for herself light household duties, will soon find the advantage of wearing materials that will wash. A large apron of domestic gingham, which can be taken off, if the wearer is called to see unexpected visiters, will protect the front of the dress, and save washing the wrapper too frequently. If a lady’s domestic duties require her attention for several hours in the morning, whilst her list of acquaintances is large, and she has frequent morning calls, it is best to dress for callers before breakfast, and wear over this dress a loose sack and skirt of domestic gingham. This, while protecting the dress perfectly, can be taken off at a moment’s notice if callers are announced . Married ladies often wear a cap in the morning, and lately, young girls have adopted the fashion. It is much better to let the hair be perfectly smooth, requiring no cap, which is often worn to conceal the lazy, slovenly arrangement of the hair. A few moments given to making the hair smooth and presentable without any covering, will not be wasted. Slippers of embroidered cloth are prettiest with a wrapper, and in summer black morocco is the most suitable for the house in the morning.
DRESS FOR MORNING VISITS
A lady should never receive her morning callers in a wrapper, unless they call at an unusually early hour, or some unexpected demand upon her time makes it impossible to change her dress after breakfast. On the other hand, an elaborate costume before dinner is in excessively bad taste. The dress should be made to fit the figure neatly, finished at the throat and wrists by an embroidered collar and cuffs , and, unless there is a necessity for it, in loss of the hair or age, there should be no cap or head dress worn. A wrapper made with handsome trimming, open over a pretty white skirt, may be worn with propriety ; but the simple dress worn for breakfast, or in the exercise of domestic duties, is not suitable for the parlor when receiving visits of ceremony in the morning.
The home evening dress should be varied according to circumstances. If no visitor is expected, the dress worn in the morning is suitable for the evening ; but to receive visitors , it should be of lighter material, and a light head-dress may be worn. young ladies, at home, ribbon or velvet are the most suitable materials for a head-dress. Flowers, unless they be natural ones in summer, are in very bad taste, excepting in cases where a party of invited guests are expected. Dark silk in winter, and thin material in summer, make the most suitable dresses for evening, and the reception of the chance-guests ladies in society may usually expect.
Walking dresses, to be in good taste, should be of quiet colors, and never conspicuous. Browns, modes, and neutral tints, with black and white, make the prettiest dresses for the street. Above all, avoid wearing several bright colors. with perfect propriety to take off the One may be worn sombre effect of a dress of brown or black, but do not let it be too glaring, and wear but little of it. Let the boots be sufficiently strong and thick to protect the feet from damp or dust, and wear always neat, clean, nicely fitting gloves. The entire effect of the most tasteful costume will be ruined if attention is not paid to the details of dress. A soiled bonnet cap, untidy strings, or torn gloves and collar will utterly spoil the prettiest costume. There is no surer mark of vulgarity than over dressing or gay dressing in the street. Let the materials be of the costliest kind, if you will , but do not either wear the exaggerations of the fashion, or conspicuous colors. Let good taste dictate the limits where fashion may rule, and let the colors harmonize well, and be of such tints as will not attract attention.
FOR MORNING CALLS
The dress should be plain, and in winter furs and dark gloves may be worn.
FOR BRIDAL CALLS
The dress should be of light silk, the bonnet dressy, and either a rich shawl or light cloak ; no furs, and light gloves. In summer, a lace or silk mantle and white gloves should be worn.
Should be of such material as will bear the crush of a crowded store without injury, and neither lace or delicate fabrics should ever be worn. A dress of merino in winter, with a cloth cloak and plain velvet or silk bonnet is the most suitable. In summer, a dress and cloak of plain mode-colored Lavella cloth, or any other cool but strong fabric, with a simply trimmed straw bonnet, is the best dress for a shopping excursion.
A lady who is obliged to go out frequently in bad weather, will find it both a convenience and economy to have a storm dress. Both dress and cloak should be made of a woolen material, varying of course with the season, which will shed water. White skirts are entirely out of place, as, if the dress is held up, they will be in a few moments disgracefully dirty. A woolen skirt, made quite short, to clear the muddy streets, is the proper thing. Stout, thick- soled boots, and gloves of either silk, beaver-cloth, or lisle thread, are the most suitable. The bonnet should be either of straw or felt, simply trimmed ; and, above all, carry a large umbrella. The little light umbrellas are very pretty, no doubt, but to be of any real protection in a storm, the umbrella should be large enough to protect the whole dress.
Here a dress of the most inexpensive kind is the best. There is no surer mark of vulgarity, than a costly dress in the market. A chintz is the best skirt to wear, and in winter a dark chintz skirt put on over a delaine dress, will protect it from baskets, and the unavoidable soils contracted in a market, while it looks perfectly well, and can be washed if required.
Traveling dresses should be made always of some quiet color, perfectly plain, with a deep mantle or cloak of the same material. When traveling with a young babe, a dress of material that will wash is the best, that it should be dark and plain. A conspicuous traveling dress is in very bad taste, and jewelry or ornaments of any kind are entirely out of place. Let the dress be made of dark, plain material, with a simple straw or felt bonnet, trimmed with the same color as the dress, and a thick barege veil. An elastic string run through a tuck made in the middle of the veil, will allow one half to fall over the face, while the other half falls back, covering the bonnet, and protecting it from dust. If white collars and sleeves are worn, they should be of linen, perfectly plain. Strong boots and thick gloves are indispensable in traveling, and a heavy shawl should be carried, to meet any sudden change in the weather. Corsets and petticoats of dark linen are more suitable than white ones, as there is so much unavoidable dust and mud constantly meeting a traveler.
Must be governed by the number of guests you may expect to meet, and the character of the entertainment to which you are invited. For small social companies, a dark silk in winter, and a pretty lawn, barege, or white muslin in summer, are the most appropriate. A light head-dress of ribbon or velvet, or a plain cap, are the most suitable with this dress. For a larger party, low-necked, short-sleeved silk, light colored, or any of the thin goods made expressly for evening wear, with kid gloves, either of a color to match the dress or of white ; black lace mittens are admissable, and flowers in the hair. A ball dress should be made of either very dressy silk, or light, thin material made over silk. It should be trimmed with lace, flowers, or ribbon, and made dressy. The coiffure should be elaborate , and match the dress, being either of ribbon, feather, or flowers. white kid gloves, trimmed to match the dress, and white or black satin slippers, with silk stockings, must be worn.
There is such a variety of opinion upon the subject of mourning, that it is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules upon the subject. Some wear very close black for a long period, for a distant relative ; whilst others will wear dressy mourning for a short time in a case of death in the immediate family There is no rule either for the depth of mourning, or the time when it may be laid aside, and I must confine my remarks to the different degrees of mourning. For deep mourning, the dress should be of bombazine Parramatta cloth, delaine, barege, or merino, made up over black lining. The only appropriate trimming is deep fold, either of the same material or of crape. The shawl or cloak must be of plain black, without border or trimming, unless a fold of crape be put on the cloak ; the bonnet should be of crape, made perfectly plain, with crape facings, unless the widow’s cap be worn, and a deep crape veil should be thrown over both face and bonnet. Black crape collar and sleeves, and black boots and gloves. The next degree is to wear white collar and sleeves, a bow of crape upon the bonnet, and plain white lace facings, leaving off the crape veil, and substituting one of plain black net. A little later, black silk without any gloss, trimmed with crape, may be worn, and delaine or bombazine, with a trimming of broad, plain ribbon, or a bias fold of silk . The next stage admits a silk bonnet trimmed with crape, and led color, dark purple, or white figures on the dress. From this the mourning passes into second mourning. Here a straw bonnet, trimmed with black ribbon or crape flowers, or a silk bonnet with black flowers on the outside, and white ones in the face, a black silk dress, and gray shawl or cloak, may be worn. Led color, purple, lavender, and white, are all admissible in second mourning, and the dress may be lightened gradually, a white bonnet, shawl, and light purple or lavender dress, being the dress usually worn last, before the mourning is thrown aside entirely, and colors resumed. It is especially to be recommended to buy always the best materials when making up mourning. Crape and woolen goods of the finest quality are very expensive, but a cheaper article will wear miserably ; there is no greater error in economy than purchasing cheap mourning, for no goods are so inferior, or wear out and grow rusty so soon.