Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XII.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN GIRL.

Α'

LTHOUGH, as Judge Haliburton remarks in "Sam Slick," women always look out for the becoming, it should be admitted that they do not always find it. They are, it is true, through organization and education, more generally desirous to please than are men, and therefore they are on that account more anxious to adopt the becoming in dress, but that they have any higher sense of and liking for the becoming, as some women think, is a claim that can be disproved by numerous facts. The autocrat of the world in feminine attire has been for decades a man, represented the world over by minor masculine potentates within their humbler domains, and the universal cry of well-dressed women is that they find among female mantuamakers so little taste and skill.

As women dress, in the adornment sense, either directly to please men, or, indirectly, in rivalry of each other with reference to pleasing men, as one would be blind not to see at a wateringplace, who observes the change that takes place in the dress of women as soon as the men begin to appear in numbers, it is conclusive that men are pleased with form and color as having functions in the natural attractions of the sexes, and that women well know and utilize the fact.. It is therefore certain, also, that women of sense recognize men as having discernment in form and color equal to that possessed by themselves. The statement about women being gifted with finer taste than men is belied by the history of every decorative as well as higher art. Physiologically, the sexes ought to be, and experience shows that they are, adapted to each other in mind and taste,—in every physical and mental attribute. The society condition and aspect of men and women in all civilized countries are the joint product

of individuals of both sexes, more attention to dress appearing in women than in men solely because such is the wish of the men as well as of the women themselves. The day was when men were quite as fastidious, fanciful, and fantastic as women in their dress. Now they otherwise satisfy their pride and vanity by making birds of paradise of their mates, and taking to themselves some of the credit for their choice and taste. The London Daily News said, not long ago, when discussing late attempts in England to change the costume of gentlemen for dress occasions, "Black makes a suitable background for anything. It is characteristic of the abdicated lordship of man that he now dresses only to show off his wife's clothes."

The standard of the day in taste in dress, no matter what the era of the world, represents little beyond love of variety. Being, up to a certain point, imperative, it introduces, on account of the existence of ill-adapted physical traits, an immense amount of incongruity with every change. But, accepting it for what it is, with its greater than of old but still small latitude, it is only just to say that American women are given by the fashionable centre of the world the palm among foreigners for general good dressing. It must be remembered, however, that for every thousand who go abroad a million stay at home; that of the thousand less than a hundred may enter circles of society competent to judge of what they speak; and that a still further allowance must be made for the influence of the late undisguised foreign opinion of American feminine charms in money. But, with all these allowances, taking in sum the expression of opinion abroad, the expression of opinion by foreigners traveling in this country, and the opinion of our own countrymen, who travel in Europe as well as over the length and breadth of our own land, the female population in this country is better dressed than any other in the world, and the dressing of its female fashionable society compares with any to be seen in Europe.

One thing, even if there were no other, would, after making all due allowance for the imperiousness of fashion, confound with men the claim of unthinking women to greater taste for their sex as compared with the taste of men,-that multitudes of women do not take advantage of even the little latitude allowed by the mandates of fashion, in adaptation to the demands of individual requirement of what must in the main be accepted. A girl is tall and narrow, let us say, as well as square in the shoulders; then, if the fashion be high-shouldered, many such will wear excessively epauletted puffs on seal-skin and other coats, and what is wrong in nature is thus made doubly wrong by art. If they are long-waisted,-one of the greatest blemishes in female form,— then thousands of girls exaggerate the exaggeration of the fashion, until, from armpit to hip, the body looks like a post. Given a dumpy or a fat woman, whether tall or short, and she will be often found caparisoned in seal-skin or in velvet of the deepest pile. Let some one be framed by nature to move with elephantine mien and tread, and she will often wear, drawn in at the waist, with consummate assurance of superlative grace, an India shawl or gauzy fabric at eventide that would make bewitching the figure of a willowy girl. Why do they not see, if feminine taste is universal, that back of design, execution, and richest fabric must lie a profound sense of congruity, if one would secure the effect of dress? Suitableness to station, place, occasion, age, weather, and other conditions cannot be ignored.

As Paris accords to American women of society a rank equal to that of the native Parisian in the art of dressing, and the justness of the view is confirmed by other evidence, we are entitled to plume ourselves on account of this exalted praise, from which Englishwomen are rigidly excluded as representing the lowest grade of refined inelegance. But the question here arises,-and it is the important one for which we set out to speak upon eventually, whether there are not, for beauty, better things than its

accessories. In the fundamental attributes of attractiveness
American women far excel the French. Where American women
excel the French is in beauty and greater breadth of mind, and
where Frenchwomen excel the American is in elegance and grace.
The American has the better part, for elegance and grace will
grow in her, but the Frenchwoman is distanced beyond recovery
in the field of beauty. Beauty in the Frenchwoman of the cen-
tury is as rare as it is common in the American during the last
twenty years. Modern observers, with one accord, note the de-
ficiency of both male and female beauty in France.
The men
are generally short and hirsute, and the women rarely handsome,
their charm consisting in their elegance and vivacity. Mark
Twain long ago put on record his opinion of the beauty of the
renowned grisette. But, perhaps, of all plainness in France,
that of the middle-aged Parisian bourgeoise is the most marked.
Brought up in a social atmosphere where the idea of sexuality
lies less dormant than anywhere else in the world, finding it next
to impossible rénoncer à plaire, as she calls it, she frequently
makes herself to unaccustomed eyes hideous in her antique
youthfulness. To grow old gracefully is not given to any one
who tries to seem, not younger than one is, but younger than one
feels in body and mind, for age is not strictly conformable to
years. The verses in which Béranger describes the frisky grand-
mother, enlivened with a glass of wine, and become confidential
to her minx of a granddaughter on the subject of her youthful
love-passages, is not so far-fetched as it might appear to the in-
experienced. At least, an old Frenchman with whom we were
acquainted must have thought the picture life-like, as he once glee-
fully recited to us a verse of the song, ending with its refrain:

Combien je regrette
Mon bras si dodu,

Ma jambe bien faite,

Et le temps perdu.

It is, then, to be concluded, if we have so far written to any

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

purpose, that in the person of the wearer there is something more admirable than in mere clothes themselves. The kernel ought to be more valuable and attractive than the husk or shell. Sensible women seek to make more than clothes-racks of themselves; but, alas! how many there are who care not what lies beneath, and are oblivious, if they ever knew, that the Queen of Sheba's wealth of attire would not compensate for a carriage which makes its richness grotesque! The most seductive of drygoods, even though they be supported by the shaping of the finest cotton-wool, do not represent female grace and beauty. The wise matrons and virgins will not be provoked if we speak feelingly in the interest of the whole of the adorable sex. Especially would it be ungrateful to hold us responsible for plain speaking, when our whole intent and aim are to indicate ways and means by which the results generally desired, and never successfully sought otherwise, are the likeliest of attainment.

Before the glance of an anatomist, or even of a connoisseur in female beauty, all art of dressing not based on natural gifts, is the flimsiest artifice, the most transparent disguise. The cotton-fields of the world have not within their bursting pods the witching grace and beauty that lie in the individual moods of nature in the female form. Suppose, for a moment, that an artist were to fill out every lacking roundness, and the best Parisian corset-shapes were to compel too great exuberance to yield, still standing in the way would remain the stalwart fact that artificial figure and constraint to the explosive point cannot imitate the subtle lines of beauty, or, more than all, impart to movement the slightest grace. No stern mentors we, or we should be moralizing on the dangers of female beauty, instead of seeking to improve it. We do not forget the sound observations of the Herr Professor Teufelsdröckh, when he says, "Thus in this one pregnant subject of clothes, rightly understood, is included all that men have thought, dreamed, done,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »