Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fashion and Class

The Delineator, a thick magazine full of fashion plates, made its money selling patterns.  The Grecian Effect: Hmm. Classical Beauty.

There was hardly any advertising in the magazine, just many heavy-duty articles about social issues. Theodore Dreiser, the author of Sister Carrie, would soon become Editor.  There are many more pretty delineator dresses and fashion drawings in my ebook School Marms and Suffragettes

"There are two kinds of beauty," wrote Madame de Giraudin, "that which is given and that which one takes."

Dress is a frame to the picture of beauty, nothing less, but nothing more, and the mistake is made when a woman forgets that her 'frame' must be subordinate all the time to her personality. Or, dress is to beauty what an accompanist should be to a singer, scenery to an actor, frames to an artist.

A true artist never frames his picture in such a way the onlooker remarks, "What a handsome frame!" And in the same breath, "It is too good for the picture."

This would be an inartistic proceeding, yet it is the kind of thing a good many women do with the framework to their personality, their dress.

The suitably dressed woman will never appear an absolutely plain woman. This does not seem at first sight to be a repetition of the dictum that the dress must be subordinate to the personality, yet it is so.

The wise woman never loses sight of the fact that dress is first meant to be useful and second to be ornamental.

When it is first ornamental, and its use is dubious or misapplied then is attention detracted from the personality to the rest is disparaging to the personality.

Always, then, must the first essential of dress be its utility and this satisfied, one can pass on to a survey of dress as a means to enhancing beauty.

To make dress a hand-maiden of beauty is no easy task, and the only means of inducing dress to serve this is by art.

Always is a becoming dress becoming, because a deft art has designed it.

Fashion, on the other hand, often defies art. She is never subtle, never diplomatic, or failing the living model, she draws figure to fancy with a face made up of perfect and humanly impossible curves and this she dresses according to caprice - or perhaps, according to the wishes of the crowd of artificers waiting to spin, to dye, to cut and to sew.

The average woman very seldom fully realizes that in her striving to be fashionable she is merely striving to be that never-allowed-to-rest  'good for trade' peg which is all she appears in those who make a business of dress.

The artist first regards the picture as a harmonious whole, and then gives the personality the foreground."
This is from Everywoman's Encyclopaedia 1910-1912 and it makes a good point, once you de-code the stilted  language. I'm sure Coco Chanel, who was just starting out as a hat-maker in Paris would have agreed with this. Hence her little black dress, suitable for almost any woman for almost any occasion with the right jewellry.

Still, by claiming that a dress must be useful first, then ornamental, the author is making it next to impossible for poor and middle class women to rival upper class women without looking tacky.

 After all, rich women didn't  have ANYTHING to do, like lower and middle class women, so it is a given that their dress style could be more ornamental and prettier.

Any working girl dressing too pretty would be seen as dressing 'above her station'. Female clothing workers in the US it is written often dressed above their lowly station, because they could sew their own clothes and because they had access to cheap remnants of material.

Many middle class women still made their own clothes in 1910. The Nicholsons of Richmond sure did. And rich women had their dresses 'tailor- made' for them by couturiers.  But by 1907 the Eaton's catalogue was beginning to fill with women's ready-made clothing.  The catalogue doubled in size from 1908-1913.

Funny, in School Marms and Suffragettes I have Edith Nicholson spout this same philosophy but with respect to hats - and I just made it up... Educated guess, I guess. I also have Miss Gouin the pretty milliner's apprentice, run around in an expensive hat which makes Margaret Nicholson remark that she is wearing a hat far above her station in life.

The 1907 Eaton's Catalogue had some women's fashions, but the 1913 edition had far more.

 IN 1912, the Eaton's workers in Toronto and Montreal went on strike. As they were all Jewish workers, only the Jewish Community supported their cause.

Today, A New York Times Article, today suggests (despite what their spokespersons claim) Walmart is not that concerned with conditions in its factories.