Metropolitan Museum of Art Woman on Greek Vase
The only satisfactory copy of a Fortuny tea gown we have ever seen accomplished
away from the supervision of Fortuny himself, was the exquisite hand-work of a
young American woman who lives in New York, and makes her own gowns and
hats, because her interest and talent happen to be in that direction. She told a group
of friends the other day, to whom she was showing a dainty chiffon gown, posed on
a form, that to her, the planning and making of a lovely costume had the same
thrilling excitement that the painting of a picture had for the artist in the field of
paint and canvas. This same young woman has worked constantly since the
European war began, both in London and New York, on the shapeless surgical
shirts used by the wounded soldiers. In this, does she outrank her less accomplished
sisters? Yes, for the technique she has achieved by making her own costumes
makes her swift and economical, both in the cutting of her material and in the
actual sewing and she is invaluable as a buyer of materials.
THE LAWS UNDERLYING ALL COSTUMING OF WOMAN
HAT every costume is either right or wrong is not a matter of general
knowledge. "It will do," or "It is near enough" are verdicts responsible
for beauty hidden and interest destroyed. Who has not witnessed the mad
mental confusion of women and men put to it to decide upon costumes for some
fancy-dress ball, and the appalling ignorance displayed when, at the costumer's,
they vaguely grope among battered-looking garments, accepting those proffered,
not really knowing how the costume they ask for should look?
Absurd mistakes in period costumes are to be taken more or less seriously
according to temperament. But where is the fair woman who will say that a failure
to emerge from a dressmaker's hands in a successful costume is not a tragedy? Yet
we know that the average woman, more often than not, stands stupefied before the
infinite variety of materials and colours of our twentieth century, and unless guided
by an expert, rarely presents the figure, chez-elle, or when on view in public places,
which she would or could, if in possession of the few rules underlying all
successful dressing, whatever the century or circumstances.
Six salient points are to be borne in mind when planning a costume, whether for a
fancy-dress ball or to be worn as one goes about one's daily life:
First, appropriateness to occasion, station and age;
Second, character of background you are to appear against (your setting);
Third, what outline you wish to present to observers (the period of costume);
Fourth, what materials of those in use during period selected you will choose;
Fifth, what colours of those characteristic of period you will use;
Sixth, the distinction between those details which are obvious contributions to the
costume, and those which are superfluous, because meaningless or line-destroying.
Let us remind our reader that the woman who dresses in perfect taste often spends
far less money than she who has contracted the habit of indefiniteness as to what
she wants, what she should want, and how to wear what she gets.
Where one woman has used her mind and learned beyond all wavering what she
can and what she cannot wear, thousands fill the streets by day and places of
amusement by night, who blithely carry upon their persons costumes which hide
their good points and accentuate their bad ones.
The rara avis among women is she who always presents a fashionable outline, but
so subtly adapted to her own type that the impression made is one of distinct
One knows very well how little the average costume counts in a theatre, opera
house or ball-room. It is a question of background again. Also you will observe that
the costume which counts most individually, is the one in a key higher or lower
than the average, as with a voice in a crowded room.
The chief contribution of our day to the art of making woman decorative is the
quality of appropriateness. I refer of course to the woman who lives her life in the
meshes of civilisation. We have defined the smart woman as she who wears the
costume best suited to each occasion when that occasion presents itself. Accepting
this definition, we must all agree that beyond question the smartest women, as a
nation, are English women, who are so fundamentally convinced as to the
invincible law of appropriateness that from the cradle to the grave, with them
evening means an evening gown; country clothes are suited to country uses and a
tea-gown is not a bedroom negligée. Not even in Rome can they be prevailed upon
"to do as the Romans do."
Apropos of this we recall an experience in Scotland. A house party had gathered for
the shooting,--English men and women. Among the guests were two Americans;
done to a turn by Redfern. It really turned out to be a tragedy, as they saw it, for
though their cloth skirts were short, they were silk-lined; outing shirts were of
crêpe--not flannel; tan boots, but thinly soled; hats most chic, but the sort that
drooped in a mist. Well, those two American girls had to choose between long days
alone, while the rest tramped the moors, or to being togged out in borrowed tweeds,
flannel shirts and thick-soled boots.
Greek Kylix. Signed by Hieron, about 400
B.C. Athenian. The woman wears one of the
gowns Fortuny (Paris) has reproduced as a
modern tea gown. It is in two pieces. The
characteristic short tunic reaches just below
waist line in front and hangs in long, fine
pleats (sometimes cascaded folds) under the
arms, the ends of which reach below knees.
The material is not cut to form sleeves;
instead two oblong pieces of material are held
together by small fastenings at short intervals,
showing upper arm through intervening
spaces. The result in appearance is similar to
a kimono sleeve. (Metropolitan Museum.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art Woman in Greek
Art about 400 B.C.
That was some years back. We are a match for England to-day, in the open, but
have a long way to go before we wear with equal conviction, and therefore easy
grace, tea-gown and evening dress. Both how and when still annoy us as a nation.
On the street we are supreme when tailleur. In carriage attire the French woman is
supreme, by reason of that innate Latin coquetry which makes her feel line and its
significance. The ideal pose for any hat is a French secret.
The average woman is partially aware that if she would be a decorative being, she
must grasp conclusively two points: first, the limitations of her natural outline;
secondly, a knowledge of how nearly she can approach the outline demanded by
fashion without appearing a caricature, which is another way of saying that each
woman should learn to recognise her own type. The discussion of silhouette has
become a popular theme. In fact it would be difficult to find a maker of women's
costumes so remote and unread as not to have seized and imbedded deep in her
vocabulary that mystic word.
To make our points clear, constant reference to the stage is necessary; for from
stage effects we are one and all free to enjoy and learn. Nowhere else can the
woman see so clearly presented the value of having what she wears harmonise with
the room she wears it in, and the occasion for which it is worn.
Not all plays depicting contemporary life are plays of social life, staged and
costumed in a chic manner. What is taught by the modern stage, as shown by Bakst,
Reinhardt, Barker, Urban, Jones, the Portmanteau Theatre and Washington Square
Players, is values, as the artist uses the term--not fashions; the relative importance
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