Here is the next chapter in our turn-of-the-last-century course in courtesy and refinement for the young girls of the church who had grown up in rough pioneer conditions. Before reading this entry on dress, take a moment to imagine what you expect it to be. What would a lesson on clothing address if it were written for today’s Young Women program?
We are told that the outer clothing does not always bespeak the lady or the gentleman. This may be true to a certain extent. The clothing may be poor or mean; but if the person who wears it is cultured and well-bred, no matter how poor, his clothing will be clean and neat, and at the same time simple and unostentatious. It is the height of ill-breeding to appear on the street or in the church or at any other inappropriate place clothed in gaudy raiment, and clad in such a way that the eyes of passers-by are attracted and offended.
What are some of the requirements of beautiful and tasteful dress for the woman who would appear as a lady, wherever she may be?
In the home, if she has the usual house duties to attend to, her clothing should be of the simplest character. All authorities agree that house dresses should be short – two inches at least above the floor – and plainly made. Wrappers are going out of fashion, even for house dresses, although tea-gowns are worn by fashionable women.
A most comfortable garment for a mother who is obliged to get up in the night, is a loose robe made of outing flannel, or some woollen material.
The house dress, where one is able to afford several costumes, is preferably made of cotton material so that it can be washed frequently. The economical and labor-saving apron made to the bottom of the dress and going well around towards the back, should never be forgotten as a part of the house outfit; not one, but several aprons should be provided. With those who cannot afford special dresses for house-work, the woollen skirts that have finished their career for street dresses can be washed and made short enough for use. These with washable shirt-waists can take the place of the cotton dress, if the skirt be well covered with aprons.
Nothing so betrays a lack of refinement as to find a woman bedecked with tattered finery while busy with her household cares. It is better to rip trimming from ball room dresses, dye and press the material, and make it into a simple housegown; or else cut out all the good pieces with which to make a best dress for some child and put the rags in the rag-bag. It is genuine economy as well as true refinement to have a perfectly plain, serviceable dress to wear in the house and never by any chance to wear Sunday costumes one moment while at work in household cares.
Where we cannot afford a street dress, a housedress, an afternoon and an evening dress, the convenient, and perennial shirt-waist affords a cheap and useful substitute for these various costumes. Therefore, let the skirt, which must thus do duty on numerous occasions, be carefully selected and tastefully made. Cheap woollen goods are never satisfactorily used for this purpose. The home-made light wools, cashmeres and alpaca goods are the most satisfactory.
A hint worth remembering in home-made dress-making is that no skirt pattern should be used which calls for any except a bias seam down the middle of the back; such a pattern always makes the skirt sag on the sides and draw up in the back.
Particular attention must be paid in all costumes to the joining of the waist and skirt at the waistband. Where skirts have bodices of the same material, they should be fastened together on the inside with hooks and eyes. Where shirt-waists are used, a ver comfortable device is to have button-holes made on separate pieces of cloth and sewn on the inside of the skirt-band to match a like number of buttons which are to be sewn on to the shirt-waist at the waist line. A stout piece of cloth, doubled three times, should be sewn on the shirt-waist, preferably on the inside, to hold the buttons firmly. Five buttons are used for this purpose, three in the centre of the back, and one on each side seam of the waist. Make the waist line short in the back.
Ball dresses are not often a separate part of the wardrobe for our young girls and yet, with a very moderate expense, if a girl has been properly trained to use her needle, she can make pretty ball costumes of lawn, muslin, nun’s veiling and albatross cloth, all of which wash beautifully.
There is one thing that must be mentioned in connection with ball costumes and for thin materials. There is a tendency among our young girls to have dresses made quite low in the neck and with short sleeves or no sleeves at all; sometimes it is the dress and again the underwear they use with the dress that is thus made low, showing the neck and arms through the delicate covering of muslin or other thin material to a somewhat shocking degree. This fashion is creeping in rapidly. Where the girl has not received her blessings in the temple, a very modest cutting away of the neck with the sleeves shortened to the elbow is not, perhaps, immodest or unbecoming. But the woman, be she young or old, whether she has been in the Temple or not, who exposes too much of her neck and shoulders and all of her arms to the public gaze is lost to a sense of modesty if not decency. The young girls of the Mutual Improvement Associations should take a stand which will command the respect of their parents and associates. This practice, when carried too far, becomes a positive menace to the morals of good society; and mothers will accept this statement and verify it to their daughters if they are questioned on the matter. These remarks apply especially to summer and ball dresses as well as wedding dresses and to graduating costumes.
Wedding dresses should be made, preferably, of material which will be of some service afterwards, although a neat, pretty muslin, simply made to wear in the Temple, becomes a choice heirloom to pass down from mother to daughter. A wedding dress as the afternoon dress of the bride is called here, of some light cashmere and even of silk, makes a nice gown for the young wife for months after her marriage, if sensibly made and properly chosen.
Graduating dresses are becoming a feature of our school life. The ridiculous custom of making them of expensive material and elaborate fashion is a tax upon the strained purses of parents which should not be encouraged. A gentleman of great wealth, and equally great good sense, insisted that his daughter, in graduating, should have a plain white muslin dress, thus setting the example to the rest of the girls in the class. The results of this denial have been lasting, for, while this incident occurred several years ago, the consequence is that no one has gone to the extravagant lengths in this matter that had been the custom previously in the graduating dresses of the school. The girls have followed the excellent example thus set.
Jewelry has its time and place and use. Diamond rings and brooches are not suitable to be worn with calico dresses or cheap costumes. Nothing so marks the ill-breeding of a woman as the extensive use of jewelry, be it good or bad. The women of the world who possess jewels, possess as a rule the good breeding that teaches them never to wear them except on state occasions or at formal functions. Heavily ringed hands with torn and soiled gloves or frowsy costumes bespeak the mind uncultured and ill-regulated.
In choosing the colors of one’s costume, care should be taken not to produce inharmonious results. As a rule, the color of the eyes and the hair, preferably the former, may be taken as the basis of the color scheme of a costume. Tints and shades (see Mrs. Widtsoe’s article on Color) are much safer to choose than the primary colors. The law of colors should be studied by any woman who desires to have her home suitably decorated and her costumes harmonious and tasteful, for in no way can we offend good taste more than by choosing inharmonious colors. A simple rule for ascertaining the complementary or contrasting color, is to look steadily at the centre of the piece of color to be contrasted for about thirty seconds, then quickly shift the eyes to a fixed point on a white background; the exact shape of the object gazed at will appear on the white background in the complementary or contrasting color.
Some of our girls are wearing large hats. The laws of Utah and the express wish of the presidency of the Church and of the General Board of the Young Ladies’ Associations, require the members of the Mutual Improvement Associations to remove their hats in all public places, and especially in church. The true lady will be found obedient to the wishes of those who have a right to speak on such a matter, particularly in this case, as the laws pertaining to others’ rights and privileges require her to remove her hat or bonnet, if not for her own sake, for the comfort and convenience of those who sit behind her. She thus becomes an example to all her associates.
1. Why and to what extent does the outer clothing bespeak the lady or the gentleman?
2. What are some of the requisites of tasteful dress.
3. What can you say about a house dress? A ball dress? A graduating dress?
4. What is your idea of wearing low-neck dresses, etc.?
5. What are your ideas of appearing in public places in highly colored dress?
6. What would you do with a ball dress out of fashion? What with a wedding dress?
7. What should you do to make the color scheme of your costumes most effective?
8. What is a complementary or contrasting color?
9. What can you say of hats? When, where and how should they be worn?