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Oscar Wilde on Dress Reform Articles from The Woman

FashiondressImagesWilde.jpg"One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art."'Oscar Wilde on Fashion and Dress Reform

Articles from The Woman's World 1888-1890

"Fashion is what one wears oneself, and

what is unfashionable is what other people wear"

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e-Texts)

SLAVES OF FASHION

WOMAN'S DRESS

MORE RADICAL IDEAS UPON DRESS REFORM

COSTUME

ManifestoHistory#MORE RADICAL IDEAS UPON DRESS REFORM

SLAVES OF FASHION

Miss Leffler-Arnim's statement, in a lecture delivered recently atSt. Saviour's Hospital, that "she had heard of instances whereladies were so determined not to exceed the fashionable measurementthat they had actually held on to a cross-bar while their maidsfastened the fifteen-inch corset," has excited a good deal ofincredulity, but there is nothing really improbable in it. Fromthe sixteenth century to our own day there is hardly any form oftorture that has not been inflicted on girls, and endured by women,in obedience to the dictates of an unreasonable and monstrousFashion. "In order to obtain a real Spanish figure," says Montaigne, "what a Gehenna of suffering will not women endure,drawn in and compressed by great coches entering the flesh; nay,

sometimes they even die thereof!" "A few days after my arrival atschool," Mrs. Somerville tells us in her memoirs, "althoughperfectly straight and well made, I was enclosed in stiff stays,with a steel busk in front; while above my frock, bands drew myshoulders back till the shoulder-blades met. Then a steel rod witha semi-circle, which went under my chin, was clasped to the steelbusk in my stays. In this constrained state I and most of theyounger girls had to prepare our lessons"; and in the life of MissEdgeworth we read that, being sent to a certain fashionableestablishment, "she underwent all the usual tortures of back-boards, iron collars and dumbs, and also (because she was a verytiny person) the unusual one of being hung by the neck to draw outthe muscles and increase the growth," a signal failure in her case.Indeed, instances of absolute mutilation and misery are so commonin the past that it is unnecessary to multiply them; but it isreally sad to think that in our own day a civilized woman can hangon to a cross-bar while her maid laces her waist into a fifteen-inch circle. To begin with, the waist is not a circle at all, butan oval; nor can there be any greater error than to imagine that anunnaturally small waist gives an air of grace, or even ofslightness, to the whole figure. Its effect, as a rule, is simplyto exaggerate the width of the shoulders and the hips; and thosewhose figures possess that stateliness which is called stoutness by

the vulgar, convert what is a quality into a defect by yielding tothe silly edicts of Fashion on the subject of tight-lacing. Thefashionable English waist, also, is not merely far too small, andconsequently quite out of proportion to the rest of the figure, butit is worn far too low down. I use the expression "worn"advisedly, for a waist nowadays seems to be regarded as an articleof apparel to be put on when and where one likes. A long waistalways implies shortness of the lower limbs, and, from the artisticpoint of view, has the effect of diminishing the height; and I amglad to see that many of the most charming women in Paris arereturning to the idea of the Directoire style of dress. This styleis not by any means perfect, but at least it has the merit ofindicating the proper position of the waist. I feel quite surethat all English women of culture and position will set their faces

against such stupid and dangerous practices as are related by Miss Leffler-Arnim. Fashion's motto is: Il faut souffrir pour etrebelle; but the motto of art and of common-sense is: Il faut etrebete pour souffrir.

SLAVES OF FASHION

The Importance of Being Earnest

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Talking of Fashion, a critic in the Pall Mall Gazelle expresses hissurprise that I should have allowed an illustration of a hat,

covered with "the bodies of dead birds," to appear in the first

number of the Woman's World; and as I have received many letters onthe subject, it is only right that I should state my exact positionin the matter. Fashion is such an essential part of the mundusmuliebris of our day, that it seems to me absolutely necessary thatits growth, development, and phases should be duly chronicled; andthe historical and practical value of such a record dependsentirely upon its perfect fidelity to fact. Besides, it is quiteeasy for the children of light to adapt almost any fashionable formof dress to the requirements of utility and the demands of goodtaste. The Sarah Bernhardt tea-gown, for instance, figured in thepresent issue, has many good points about it, and the giganticdress-improver does not appear to me to be really essential to themode; and though the Postillion costume of the fancy dress ball isabsolutely detestable in its silliness and vulgarity, the so-calledLate Georgian costume in the same plate is rather pleasing. Imust, however, protest against the idea that to chronicle thedevelopment of Fashion implies any approval of the particular formsthat Fashion may adopt.

WOMAN'S DRESS

The "Girl Graduate" must of course have precedence, not merely forher sex but for her sanity: her letter is extremely sensible. Shemakes two points: that high heels are a necessity for any lady whowishes to keep her dress clean from the Stygian mud of our streets,and that without a tight corset the ordinary number of petticoatsand etceteras' cannot be properly or conveniently held up. Now, itis quite true that as long as the lower garments are suspended fromthe hips a corset is an absolute necessity; the mistake lies in notsuspending all apparel from the shoulders. In the latter case acorset becomes useless, the body is left free and unconfined forrespiration and motion, there is more health, and consequently morebeauty. Indeed all the most ungainly and uncomfortable articles of

dress that fashion has ever in her folly prescribed, not the tight

corset merely, but the farthingale, the vertugadin, the hoop, the

crinoline, and that modern monstrosity the so-called "dress

improver" also, all of them have owed their origin to the same

error, the error of not seeing that it is from the shoulders, and

from the shoulders only, that all garments should be hung.

And as regards high heels, I quite admit that some additional

height to the shoe or boot is necessary if long gowns are to be

worn in the street; but what I object to is that the height should

be given to the heel only, and not to the sole of the foot also.

The modern high-heeled boot is, in fact, merely the clog of the

time of Henry VI., with the front prop left out, and its inevitable

effect is to throw the body forward, to shorten the steps, and

consequently to produce that want of grace which always followswant of freedom.

Why should clogs be despised? Much art has been expended on clogs.They have been made of lovely woods, and delicately inlaid withivory, and with mother-of-pearl. A clog might be a dream ofbeauty, and, if not too high or too heavy, most comfortable also.But if there be any who do not like clogs, let them try someadaptation of the trouser of the Turkish lady, which is loose roundthe limb and tight at the ankle.

The "Girl Graduate," with a pathos to which I am not insensible,

entreats me not to apotheosize "that awful, befringed, beflounced,and bekilted divided skirt." Well, I will acknowledge that thefringes, the flounces, and the kilting do certainly defeat thewhole object of the dress, which is that of ease and liberty; but Iregard these things as mere wicked superfluities, tragic proofsthat the divided skirt is ashamed of its own division. The

principle of the dress is good, and, though it is not by any meansperfection, it is a step towards it.

Here I leave the "Girl Graduate," with much regret, for Mr.

Wentworth Huyshe. Mr. Huyshe makes the old criticism that Greekdress is unsuited to our climate, and, to me the somewhat newassertion, that the men's dress of a hundred years ago waspreferable to that of the second part of the seventeenth century,which I consider to have been the exquisite period of Englishcostume.

Now, as regards the first of these two statements, I will say, to

begin with, that the warmth of apparel does not depend really onthe number of garments worn, but on the material of which they aremade. One of the chief faults of modern dress is that it iscomposed of far too many articles of clothing, most of which are ofthe wrong substance; but over a substratum of pure wool, such as issupplied by Dr. Jaeger under the modern German system, somemodification of Greek costume is perfectly applicable to our climate, our country and our century. This important fact hasalready been pointed out by Mr. E. W. Godwin in his excellent,though too brief handbook on Dress, contributed to the HealthExhibition. I call it an important fact because it makes almostany form of lovely costume perfectly practicable in our cold climate. Mr. Godwin, it is true, points out that the Englishladies of the thirteenth century abandoned after some time theflowing garments of the early Renaissance in favour of a tightermode, such as Northern Europe seems to demand. This I quite admit,and its significance; but what I contend, and what I am sure Mr.Godwin would agree with me in, is that the principles, the laws ofGreek dress may be perfectly realized, even in a moderately tightgown with sleeves: I mean the principle of suspending all apparel from the shoulders, and of relying for beauty of effect not on the

stiff ready-made ornaments of the modern milliner--the bows wherethere should be no bows, and the flounces where there should be noflounces--but on the exquisite play of light and line that one getsfrom rich and rippling folds. I am not proposing any antiquarianrevival of an ancient costume, but trying merely to point out theright laws of dress, laws which are dictated by art and not byarchaeology, by science and not by fashion; and just as the bestwork of art in our days is that which combines classic grace withabsolute reality, so from a continuation of the Greek principles ofbeauty with the German principles of health will come, I feelcertain, the costume of the future.

And now to the question of men's dress, or rather to Mr. Huyshe'sclaim of the superiority, in point of costume, of the last quarterof the eighteenth century over the second quarter of the

seventeenth. The broad-brimmed hat of 1640 kept the rain of winterand the glare of summer from the face; the same cannot be said ofthe hat of one hundred years ago, which, with its comparativelynarrow brim and high crown, was the precursor of the modern"chimney-pot": a wide turned-down collar is a healthier thing thana strangling stock, and a short cloak much more comfortable than asleeved overcoat, even though the latter may have had "three capes"; a cloak is easier to put on and off, lies lightly on theshoulder in summer, and wrapped round one in winter keeps oneperfectly warm. A doublet, again, is simpler than a coat andwaistcoat; instead of two garments one has one; by not being openalso it protects the chest better.

Short loose trousers are in every way to be preferred to the tight

knee-breeches which often impede the proper circulation of the

blood; and finally, the soft leather boots which could be worn

above or below the knee, are more supple, and give consequentlymore freedom, than the stiff Hessian which Mr. Huyshe so praises.I say nothing about the question of grace and picturesqueness, forI suppose that no one, not even Mr. Huyshe, would prefer amaccaroni to a cavalier, a Lawrence to a Vandyke, or the thirdGeorge to the first Charles; but for ease, warmth and comfort thisseventeenth-century dress is infinitely superior to anything thatcame after it, and I do not think it is excelled by any precedingform of costume. I sincerely trust that we may soon see in Englandsome national revival of it.

MORE RADICAL IDEAS UPON DRESS REFORM

I have been much interested at reading the large amount of

correspondence that has been called forth by my recent lecture onDress. It shows me that the subject of dress reform is one that isoccupying many wise and charming people, who have at heart theprinciples of health, freedom, and beauty in costume, and I hopethat "H. B. T." and "Materfamilias" will have all the realinfluence which their letters--excellent letters both of them--

certainly deserve.

I turn first to Mr. Huyshe's second letter, and the drawing that

accompanies it; but before entering into any examination of the

theory contained in each, I think I should state at once that I

have absolutely no idea whether this gentleman wears his hair longor short, or his cuffs back or forward, or indeed what he is likeat all. I hope he consults his own comfort and wishes in

everything which has to do with his dress, and is allowed to enjoythat individualism in apparel which he so eloquently claims forhimself, and so foolishly tries to deny to others; but I reallycould not take Mr. Wentworth Huyshe's personal appearance as anyintellectual basis for an investigation of the principles whichshould guide the costume of a nation. I am not denying the force,or even the popularity, of the "'Eave arf a brick" school ofcriticism, but I acknowledge it does not interest me. The gamin inthe gutter may be a necessity, but the gamin in discussion is anuisance. So I will proceed at once to the real point at issue,the value of the late eighteenth-century costume over that worn inthe second quarter of the seventeenth: the relative merits, thatis, of the principles contained in each. Now, as regards theeighteenth-century costume, Mr. Wentworth Huyshe acknowledges thathe has had no practical experience of it at all; in fact he makes apathetic appeal to his friends to corroborate him in his assertion,which I do not question for a moment, that he has never been"guilty of the eccentricity" of wearing himself the dress which heproposes for general adoption by others. There is something sonaive and so amusing about this last passage in Mr. Huyshe's letter

that I am really in doubt whether I am not doing him a wrong in

regarding him as having any serious, or sincere, views on the

question of a possible reform in dress; still, as irrespective of

any attitude of Mr. Huyshe's in the matter, the subject is in

itself an interesting one, I think it is worth continuing,particularly as I have myself worn this late eighteenth-centurydress many times, both in public and in private, and so may claimto have a very positive right to speak on its comfort andsuitability. The particular form of the dress I wore was verysimilar to that given in Mr. Godwin's handbook, from a print of Northcote's, and had a certain elegance and grace about it whichwas very charming; still, I gave it up for these reasons:- After afurther consideration of the laws of dress I saw that a doublet isa far simpler and easier garment than a coat and waistcoat, and, ifbuttoned from the shoulder, far warmer also, and that tails have noplace in costume, except on some Darwinian theory of heredity; from

absolute experience in the matter I found that the excessive

tightness of knee-breeches is not really comfortable if one wearsthem constantly; and, in fact, I satisfied myself that the dress isnot one founded on any real principles. The broad-brimmed hat andloose cloak, which, as my object was not, of course, historicalaccuracy but modern ease, I had always worn with the costume inquestion, I have still retained, and find them most comfortable.

Well, although Mr. Huyshe has no real experience of the dress heproposes, he gives us a drawing of it, which he labels, somewhatprematurely, "An ideal dress." An ideal dress of course it is not;"passably picturesque," he says I may possibly think it; well,passably picturesque it may be, but not beautiful, certainly,simply because it is not founded on right principles, or, indeed,on any principles at all. Picturesqueness one may get in a varietyof ways; ugly things that are strange, or unfamiliar to us, forinstance, may be picturesque, such as a late sixteenth-centurycostume, or a Georgian house. Ruins, again, may be picturesque,but beautiful they never can be, because their lines aremeaningless. Beauty, in fact, is to be got only from theperfection of principles; and in "the ideal dress" of Mr. Huyshethere are no ideas or principles at all, much less the perfectionof either. Let us examine it, and see its faults; they are obviousto any one who desires more than a "Fancy-dress ball" basis forcostume. To begin with, the hat and boots are all wrong. Whateverone wears on the extremities, such as the feet and head, should,for the sake of comfort, be made of a soft material, and for thesake of freedom should take its shape from the way one chooses towear it, and not from any stiff, stereotyped design of hat or bootmaker. In a hat made on right principles one should be able toturn the brim up or down according as the day is dark or fair, dryor wet; but the hat brim of Mr. Huyshe's drawing is perfectlystiff, and does not give much protection to the face, or thepossibility of any at all to the back of the head or the ears, incase of a cold east wind; whereas the bycocket, a hat made inaccordance with the right laws, can be turned down behind and atthe sides, and so give the same warmth as a hood. The crown,again, of Mr. Huyshe's hat is far too high; a high crown diminishesthe stature of a small person, and in the case of any one who istall is a great inconvenience when one is getting in and out ofhansoms and railway carriages, or passing under a street awning:in no case is it of any value whatsoever, and being useless it isof course against the principles of dress.

As regards the boots, they are not quite so ugly or so

uncomfortable as the hat; still they are evidently made of stiff

leather, as otherwise they would fall down to the ankle, whereas

the boot should be made of soft leather always, and if worn high atall must be either laced up the front or carried well over the

knee: in the latter case one combines perfect freedom for walkingtogether with perfect protection against rain, neither of whichadvantages a short stiff boot will ever give one, and when one isresting in the house the long soft boot can be turned down as theboot of 1640 was. Then there is the overcoat: now, what are theright principles of an overcoat? To begin with, it should becapable of being easily put on or off, and worn over any kind ofdress; consequently it should never have narrow sleeves, such asare shown in Mr. Huyshe's drawing. If an opening or slit for thearm is required it should be made quite wide, and may be protectedby a flap, as in that excellent overall the modern Inverness cape;secondly, it should not be too tight, as otherwise all freedom ofwalking is impeded. If the young gentleman in the drawing buttonshis overcoat he may succeed in being statuesque, though that Idoubt very strongly, but he will never succeed in being swift; his super-totus is made for him on no principle whatsoever; a super- totus, or overall, should be capable of being worn long or short,quite loose or moderately tight, just as the wearer wishes; heshould be able to have one arm free and one arm covered or botharms free or both arms covered, just as he chooses for hisconvenience in riding, walking, or driving; an overall again shouldnever be heavy, and should always be warm: lastly, it should becapable of being easily carried if one wants to take it off; infact, its principles are those of freedom and comfort, and a cloakrealizes them all, just as much as an overcoat of the patternsuggested by Mr. Huyshe violates them.

The knee-breeches are of course far too tight; any one who has wornthem for any length of time--any one, in fact, whose views on thesubject are not purely theoretical--will agree with me there; likeeverything else in the dress, they are a great mistake. Thesubstitution of the jacket for the coat and waistcoat of the periodis a step in the right direction, which I am glad to see; it is,however, far too tight over the hips for any possible comfort.

Whenever a jacket or doublet comes below the waist it should beslit at each side. In the seventeenth century the skirt of the

jacket was sometimes laced on by points and tags, so that it couldbe removed at will, sometimes it was merely left open at the sides:in each case it exemplified what are always the true principles ofdress, I mean freedom and adaptability to circumstances.

Finally, as regards drawings of this kind, I would point out that

there is absolutely no limit at all to the amount of "passably

picturesque" costumes which can be either revived or invented forus; but that unless a costume is founded on principles and

exemplified laws, it never can be of any real value to us in the

reform of dress. This particular drawing of Mr. Huyshe's, for

instance, proves absolutely nothing, except that our grandfathersdid not understand the proper laws of dress. There is not a singlerule of right costume which is not violated in it, for it gives usstiffness, tightness and discomfort instead of comfort, freedom andease.

Now here, on the other hand, is a dress which, being founded onprinciples, can serve us as an excellent guide and model; it hasbeen drawn for me, most kindly, by Mr. Godwin from the Duke ofNewcastle's delightful book on horsemanship, a book which is one ofour best authorities on our best era of costume. I do not ofcourse propose it necessarily for absolute imitation; that is notthe way in which one should regard it; it is not, I mean, a revivalof a dead costume, but a realization of living laws. I give it asan example of a particular application of principles which areuniversally right. This rationally dressed young man can turn hishat brim down if it rains, and his loose trousers and boots down ifhe is tired--that is, he can adapt his costume to circumstances;then he enjoys perfect freedom, the arms and legs are not madeawkward or uncomfortable by the excessive tightness of narrowsleeves and knee-breeches, and the hips are left quite untrammelled, always an important point; and as regards comfort,his jacket is not too loose for warmth, nor too close forrespiration; his neck is well protected without being strangled,and even his ostrich feathers, if any Philistine should object tothem, are not merely dandyism, but fan him very pleasantly, I amsure, in summer, and when the weather is bad they are no doubt leftat home, and his cloak taken out. THE VALUE OF THE DRESS IS SIMPLYTHAT EVERY SEPARATE ARTICLE OF IT EXPRESSES A LAW. My young man isconsequently apparelled with ideas, while Mr. Huyshe's young man isstiffened with facts; the latter teaches one nothing; from theformer one learns everything. I need hardly say that this dress isgood, not because it is seventeenth century, but because it isconstructed on the true principles of costume, just as a squarelintel or pointed arch is good, not because one may be Greek andthe other Gothic, but because each of them is the best method ofspanning a certain-sized opening, or resisting a certain weight.The fact, however, that this dress was generally worn in Englandtwo centuries and a half ago shows at least this, that the rightlaws of dress have been understood and realized in our country, andso in our country may be realized and understood again. As regardsthe absolute beauty of this dress and its meaning, I should like tosay a few words more. Mr. Wentworth Huyshe solemnly announces that"he and those who think with him" cannot permit this question ofbeauty to be imported into the question of dress; that he and thosewho think with him take "practical views on the subject," and soon. Well, I will not enter here into a discussion as to how farany one who does not take beauty and the value of beauty intoaccount can claim to be practical at all. The word practical isnearly always the last refuge of the uncivilized. Of all misusedwords it is the most evilly treated. But what I want to point outis that beauty is essentially organic; that is, it comes, not fromwithout, but from within, not from any added prettiness, but from the perfection of its own being; and that consequently, as the bodyis beautiful, so all apparel that rightly clothes it must bebeautiful also in its construction and in its lines.

I have no more desire to define ugliness than I have daring to

define beauty; but still I would like to remind those who mock at

beauty as being an unpractical thing of this fact, that an ugly

thing is merely a thing that is badly made, or a thing that does

not serve it purpose; that ugliness is want of fitness; thatugliness is failure; that ugliness is uselessness, such as ornamentin the wrong place, while beauty, as some one finely said, is thepurgation of all superfluities. There is a divine economy aboutbeauty; it gives us just what is needful and no more, whereasugliness is always extravagant; ugliness is a spendthrift andwastes its material; in fine, ugliness--and I would commend thisremark to Mr. Wentworth Huyshe--ugliness, as much in costume as inanything else, is always the sign that somebody has beenunpractical. So the costume of the future in England, if it isfounded on the true laws of freedom, comfort, and adaptability tocircumstances, cannot fail to be most beautiful also, becausebeauty is the sign always of the rightness of principles, themystical seal that is set upon what is perfect, and upon what isperfect only.

As for your other correspondent, the first principle of dress that

all garments should be hung from the shoulders and not from thewaist seems to me to be generally approved of, although an "OldSailor" declares that no sailors or athletes ever suspend theirclothes from the shoulders, but always from the hips. My ownrecollection of the river and running ground at Oxford--those twohomes of Hellenism in our little Gothic town--is that the bestrunners and rowers (and my own college turned out many) wore alwaysa tight jersey, with short drawers attached to it, the wholecostume being woven in one piece. As for sailors, it is true, Iadmit, and the bad custom seems to involve that constant "hitchingup" of the lower garments which, however popular in transpontinedramas, cannot, I think, but be considered an extremely awkwardhabit; and as all awkwardness comes from discomfort of some kind, Itrust that this point in our sailor's dress will be looked to inthe coming reform of our navy, for, in spite of all protests, Ihope we are about to reform everything, from torpedoes to top-hats,and from crinolettes to cruises.

Then as regards clogs, my suggestion of them seems to have arouseda great deal of terror. Fashion in her high-heeled boots hasscreamed, and the dreadful word "anachronism" has been used. Now,whatever is useful cannot be an anachronism. Such a word isapplicable only to the revival of some folly; and, besides, in theEngland of our own day clogs are still worn in many of ourmanufacturing towns, such as Oldham. I fear that in Oldham theymay not be dreams of beauty; in Oldham the art of inlaying themwith ivory and with pearl may possibly be unknown; yet in Oldhamthey serve their purpose. Nor is it so long since they were wornby the upper classes of this country generally. Only a few daysago I had the pleasure of talking to a lady who remembered withaffectionate regret the clogs of her girlhood; they were, accordingto her, not too high nor too heavy, and were provided, besides,with some kind of spring in the sole so as to make them the moresupple for the foot in walking. Personally, I object to alladditional height being given to a boot or shoe; it is reallyagainst the proper principles of dress, although, if any suchheight is to be given it should be by means of two props; not one;but what I should prefer to see is some adaptation of the dividedskirt or long and moderately loose knickerbockers. If, however,the divided skirt is to be of any positive value, it must give upall idea of "being identical in appearance with an ordinary skirt";it must diminish the moderate width of each of its divisions, andsacrifice its foolish frills and flounces; the moment it imitates adress it is lost; but let it visibly announce itself as what itactually is, and it will go far towards solving a real difficulty.I feel sure that there will be found many graceful and charminggirls ready to adopt a costume founded on these principles, inspite of Mr. Wentworth Huyshe's terrible threat that he will notpropose to them as long as they wear it, for all charges of a wantof womanly character in these forms of dress are reallymeaningless; every right article of apparel belongs equally to bothsexes, and there is absolutely no such thing as a definitelyfeminine garment. One word of warning I should like to be allowedto give: The over-tunic should be made full and moderately loose;it may, if desired, be shaped more or less to the figure, but in nocase should it be confined at the waist by any straight band orbelt; on the contrary, it should fall from the shoulder to theknee, or below it, in fine curves and vertical lines, giving morefreedom and consequently more grace. Few garments are soabsolutely unbecoming as a belted tunic that reaches to the knees,a fact which I wish some of our Rosalinds would consider when they

don doublet and hose; indeed, to the disregard of this artistic

principle is due the ugliness, the want of proportion, in theBloomer costume, a costume which in other respects is sensible.

COSTUME

Are we not all weary of him, that venerable impostor fresh from thesteps of the Piazza di Spagna, who, in the leisure moments that hecan spare from his customary organ, makes the round of the studiosand is waited for in Holland Park? Do we not all recognize him,when, with the gay insouciance of his nation, he reappears on thewalls of our summer exhibitions as everything that he is not, andas nothing that he is, glaring at us here as a patriarch of Canaan,here beaming as a brigand from the Abruzzi? Popular is he, thispoor peripatetic professor of posing, with those whose joy it is topaint the posthumous portrait of the last philanthropist who in hislifetime had neglected to be photographed,--yet he is the sign ofthe decadence, the symbol of decay.

For all costumes are caricatures. The basis of Art is not the

Fancy Ball. Where there is loveliness of dress, there is no

dressing up. And so, were our national attire delightful in

colour, and in construction simple and sincere; were dress the

expression of the loveliness that it shields and of the swiftness

and motion that it does not impede; did its lines break from the

shoulder instead of bulging from the waist; did the inverted

wineglass cease to be the ideal of form; were these things broughtabout, as brought about they will be, then would painting be nolonger an artificial reaction against the ugliness of life, butbecome, as it should be, the natural expression of life's beauty.Nor would painting merely, but all the other arts also, be thegainers by a change such as that which I propose; the gainers, Imean, through the increased atmosphere of Beauty by which theartists would be surrounded and in which they would grow up. ForArt is not to be taught in Academies. It is what one looks at, notwhat one listens to, that makes the artist. The real schools should be the streets. There is not, for instance, a singledelicate line, or delightful proportion, in the dress of theGreeks, which is not echoed exquisitely in their architecture. Anation arrayed in stove-pipe hats and dress-improvers might havebuilt the Pantechnichon possibly, but the Parthenon never. Andfinally, there is this to be said: Art, it is true, can never haveany other claim but her own perfection, and it may be that theartist, desiring merely to contemplate and to create, is wise innot busying himself about change in others: yet wisdom is notalways the best; there are times when she sinks to the level ofcommon-sense; and from the passionate folly of those--and there aremany--who desire that Beauty shall be confined no longer to the bric-a-brac of the collector and the dust of the museum, but shallbe, as it should be, the natural and national inheritance of all,--from this noble unwisdom, I say, who knows what new lovelinessshall be given to life, and, under these more exquisite conditions,what perfect artist born? Le milieu se renouvelant, l'art se renouvelle.

Product Links

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Books: Mallarme on Fashion : A Translation of the Fashion Magazine La Derniere Mode, with Commentary

Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England : From 1811-1901 (Writer's Guide to Everyday Life) The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England : From 1811-1901 (Writer's Guide to Everyday Life)

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew : From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew : From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England

Corsets and Crinolines Corsets and Crinolines

White Satin Steel boned, back lacing over bust corset dress shirt 18" White Satin Steel boned, back lacing over bust corset dress shirt 18"

Clotheslines: A Collection of Poetry & Art Clotheslines: A Collection of Poetry & Art

Henry James and the Art of Dress Henry James and the Art of Dress

The Hidden Consumer : Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914 (Studies in Design and Material Culture) The Hidden Consumer : Masculinities, Fashion and City Life 1860-1914 (Studies in Design and Material Culture)

Man of Fashion: Peacock Males and Perfect Gentlemen

A History of Men's Fashion A History of Men's Fashion

Victorian Costume for Ladies Victorian Costume for Ladies

Complete Works of Oscar Wilde : Stories, Plays, Poems and Essays Complete Works of Oscar Wilde : Stories, Plays, Poems and Essays

The Importance of Being Earnest The Importance of Being Earnest

Importance of Being Earnest (Dover Thrift Editions) Importance of Being Earnest (Dover Thrift Editions)

The Oscar Wilde Collection (The Importance of Being Earnest / The Picture of Dorian Gray / An Ideal Husband / Lady Windermere's Fan) The Oscar Wilde Collection (The Importance of Being Earnest / The Picture of Dorian Gray / An Ideal Husband / Lady Windermere's Fan)

"The Costumer's Manifesto"
by Tara Maginnis