Senza categoria

fashion – on the philosophy of dress

28 Luglio 2015 at 20:44 By


The Philosophy of Dress, with a few Notes on National Costumes
London 1864, pp. 24

The Philosophy of History is a familiar phrase, and can be objected to by
no one; but the Philosophy of Dress may sound, perhaps to some ears, a
little strange and pretentious. Yet the philosophy of dress is a very
comprehensive philosophy indeed;— it is a philosophy of external things
as emblematic of things internal. Even in the very commencement of
„When wild in woods the noble savage ran;“
when tailors and milliners were yet unknown, the human race,
recognizing the value of some artificial badge or decoration, were not
satisfied with the only covering which Nature had provided for all
without distinction.
It does not appear that mere comfort or convenience was the first
object aimed at in man’s primitive condition. Even then human vanity,
exhibited in a love of ornament, was the pre-dominant instinct. Our
remotest forefathers did not think, as Thomson the poet thought, that
„Nature when unadorned’s adorned the most.“
They could defy the cutting wind or burning sun; they could exist
without Pilot-coats, or Chesterfields, or „Indispensables,” or
„Unmentionables,” or even the blanket with a hole in it for the head, still
worn by the South American Indians;—but when they had no garments
to dye they dyed their skins; or as elaborately tattooed their limbs as a
South Sea fisherman still carves and embellishes his oars.
A sense of shame, a disposition to conceal the greater portion of the
human figure, and rude attempts to increase the comforts and
accommodations of life are the earliest signs of the advance of mankind
from mere brute life towards civilization and refinement. The history of
costumes embraces, therefore, a large and important department of .the
history of the human race; and dress, contemplated philosophically,
becomes more and more emblematical and significant as society
When the novelist or biographer desires to assist the reader to
a clear and complete conception of the character of his hero, he thinks it
essentially necessary to describe his dress, even to the most minute
details. Sir Walter Scott is peculiarly felicitous in thus making the
external appearance of his dramatis personae familiar to the
We find, even in holy writ, repeated characterizations of men by their
costume. How animated, picturesque, and expressive is the sudden
question of, „Who is this that cometh from Edom with dyed garments
from Bozrah?“ To give a more homely and less poetical illustration, who
that has read anything of the biography of the learned Dr. Parr can forget
his wig? We have a much clearer recollection of his costume than of his
writings. The name at once readily suggests the head-gear. In fact, we
think more of the strange ornament of the capital than of the character of
the whole column. It was disproportionately important. It reminds us of
the preposterous hat and too predominant saying —“Here comes a hat
with a man under it.“
By his merely physical nature man is a naked animal; by his rational
nature he is a clothed animal. The creatures of the lower world cannot
choose their clothing; its quality and shape are not left to their discretion;
they come ready clad into the world, in a covering precisely suited to
their condition in life; and they are thus saved indeed from the adoption
of fantastical monstrosities of fashion which seem at times so great a
discredit to the superior animal—“the lord of the creation.“ The
difference, nevertheless, between the two-legged animal without
feathers—the uncovered man of savage life—and the comfortably and
emblematically clothed and decorated man of civilized life, is almost as
marked as between man in his original condition and the animals that he
hunts and eats. It must be
confessed then, that men in an advanced state of society may owe not a
little to their tailor—something more than his mere bill. Shakespeare,
who knew all qualities, with a learned spirit of human dealing, rarely
omits an opportunity of indicating how thoroughly he understood the
philosophy of clothing, „The apparel,” he says, „oft proclaims the man.“
Though the famous Lord Chesterfield, the author of the well known
“Letters to his Son,“ was not a great genius or a profound philosopher,
he was a singularly shrewd man of the world, and was well fitted to
pronounce a judgment or to offer advice on this subject. „I confess,“ he
says, „that I cannot help forming some opinion of a man’s sense and
character from his dress, and I believe most people do so as well as
myself.“ He gives excellent instructions to his son.—“Take care
always,“ he says, „that your clothes are well made, and fit you, for
otherwise they will give you an awkward air. „When you are once well
dressed for the day, think no more of it afterwards; and, without any
stiffness for fear of discomposing that dress, let your motions be as easy
and natural as if you had no clothes on at all.“ „So much for dress,“ he
adds, „which I maintain to be a thing of consequence in the polite
world.“ Scarcely any human dignity could stand the ridicule of an absurd
and unsuitable garment, and the loftier and more solemn the occasion the
more irresistibly provocative of laughter. We can easily conceive into
what a state of obstreperous and tumultuous merriment the whole House
of Lords or Commons would be thrown if the Prime Minister entered in
the costume of Punch, or in any sort of dress preposterously out of
keeping with his age, character, or condition, or disproportioned to his
It has been noticed as a remarkable illustration of the power of Garrick
over his audience, that once in the middle of the mad scene in Lear, his
crown of straw fell off; „which circumstance,“ remarks Hazlitt, „though
it would have been fatal to a common actor, did not produce the slightest
interruption or even notice in the house.“ The solemn John Kemble, with
all his fine powers, would hardly have escaped a laugh on such an
occasion. Carlyle notices that luckless courtier who, having seated
himself on a chair with a projecting nail in it, on rising to pay his devoir
on the entrance of majesty, instantly emitted several pecks of bran, and
stood horror-stricken and abashed, and reduced to a spindle, his galoons
and slashes dangling sorrowfully and flabbily about him. It would have
been all in vain if that unhappy courtier had endeavoured his best to keep
up an air of self-conceit and satisfaction, when his enormous trousers,
according to the fashion of his day, swollen out on the broader parts of
the body, had so suddenly contracted and covered the floor with so much
of their contents.
Though it be quite true that we may sometimes be deceived in judging
of men’s inward characters from their mere habiliments, such mistakes
are hardly more common than what may occur from our perusal and
study of the human face. We may generally predicate of the inner lining
by the outer garment; but all mortal knowledge is uncertain, and we are
continually liable to be most thoroughly mistaken when we are most sure
of being right. Our reason itself is often indeed a false guide, but then it
is our only guide, imperfect though it be. It is the last resort of the human
mind in its greatest perplexities—even in matters of religious belief—for
it is the reason after all that tells us what to trust to, even when it submits
its own authority to a higher one, and allows us to adopt an
unquestioning faith. So in the matter of emblematical appearances—and
all appearances are more or less emblematical—we cannot, it is true,
always read them rightly—but then there is really nothing else for us to
read at all. The spiritual is not palpable to the sight. We have no eyes for
the inner world. We must therefore judge of the inward man by the
outer. Not only do men’s aspects occasionally deceive us, and their
words also, but their very acts.
„Judge we by Nature ? Habit can efface,
Interest o’ercome, or policy take place:
By actions? These uncertainty divides:
By passions ? These dissimulation hides.“—Pope.
We are therefore driven to make the most we can of the emblematical
language of dress :—
„For the apparel oft proclaims the man.“
The clothes of Lord Nelson, the greatest of England’s naval heroes,
are still, we believe, exhibited to curious observers at Greenwich
Hospital; and what high fees of admission would be readily paid by their enthusiastic admirers for a sight of a suit of clothing that had once enveloped the living frame of a Shakespeare or a Milton ? The proprietors of Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition of Waxwork
understand at least one phase of human nature when at large prices they
purchase the clothes once worn by the heroes and heroines of society,
and of all who have become peculiarly famous or notorious.
But clothes often represent the man or his qualities in higher places
than Madame Tussaud’s crowded halls. A naval or military uniform in
the House of Lords or Commons entitles a senator to be designated, by
courtesy, „the gallant officer”—a legal gown entitles him to be called
„my learned friend.“ In the Church
„ A saint in crape, is twice a saint in lawn.“
“Clothes,” says Thomas Carlyle, in his Sartor Resartus, „gave us
individuality, distinctions, social policy—clothes made men of us.“
„A tailor make a man?“ asks Cornwall, in the tragedy of King Lear.
”A tailor, sir,“ is the answer. „ Sophisticated” man —civilized man—is
properly defined “a clothed animal.“ His habiliments are an essential
part of him. The newspaper reporter in a police court describes the
prisoner at the bar as „a respectable looking man,“ that is, if he be well
clad. If in rags, he is a „suspicious character,“ and can hardly be too
severely or contemptuously treated. Thus even in a court of justice,
where all conditions are supposed to be equalized, clothes make marked
distinctions. „The apparel proclaims the man.“ Poverty and rags are
crimes even before the law. A man who pretends to be independent in a
shabby garment is regarded as a brazen-faced varlet.
“Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all.“—Lear.
Some, even of the most intellectual of mankind; have shown themselves
by no means insensible of the importance of dress. Dr. Johnson, though
generally a sloven, professed that he had an unusual feeling of elation
when he put on a scarlet waistcoat with gold lace and a gold-laced hat,
and every one, familiar with literary biography, remembers poor
Goldsmith’s pride in his bloom-coloured coat, and his making himself a
walking advertise ment for his tailor.* Napoleon, on state occasions, dressed himself with
great exactness, and he took care that his suite were as careful as himself
on this point. On the morning of his interview with Alexander of Russia,
on the Niemenn, when General Dorsenne appeared in that elegant and
simple costume, which made him the model of the army, Napoleon
greeted him with a smile; but when Murat made his appearance, terribly
overdressed, „Go,“ said Napoleon to him in anger—“go and put on your
marshal’s dress; you have the air of Franconi.“† The reception a stranger
was to meet from the famous Göethe is said to have depended very
materially upon his dress.
The best authorities on dress have thought with Beau Brummel, that a
man cannot be well dressed if people in the street stop to stare at him. A
person of taste avoids extremes. Pope seems to have thought that there
was a happy medium in costume, the avoidance of extremes and
novelties, and he maintained that there was a similar excellence to be
aimed at in literary composition:—
„In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold,
Alike fantastic, if too now or old.
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to throw the old aside.“
Irregularities of dress, as they are more palpable, are generally more
noticeable than irregularities of mind—
“You laugh, half beau, half sloven, if I stand,
My wig all powder, and all snuff my band;
You laugh if coat and breeches strangely vary,
White gloves, and linen worthy Lady Mary;‡
But when no prelate’s lawn with, hair shirt lined,
Is half so incoherent as my mind;
* „Let mo tell you,“ said Goldsmith, „that when my tailor brought home my bloomcoloured
coat, ho said, ‘Sir, I have a favour to beg of you: when anybody asks you who
made your coat, be pleased to mention John Filby, at the Harrow, in Water Lane.’ “
„Why, sir,“ said Dr. Johnson, „that was because he knew that the strange colour would
attract crowds to gaze at it, and thus they might hear of him, and see how well he could
make a coat, even of so absurd a colour.“ We could give many similar anecdotes of
poets; but we have not room for them. We may mention that Byron was anxious that he
should not be married in a blue coat with brass buttons. Thomas Moore, when he was
first introduced to the Prince Regent, afterwards George the Fourth, told his mother that
the honor cost him a new coat—“for the introduction was unfortunately deferred ‘til
my former one was grown confoundedly shabby, and I got a coat made up in six hours:
however, it cannot be helped. I got it on an economical plan by giving two guineas and
an old coat, whereas the usual price of a coat hero is near four pounds.“
† A famous riding master—a sort of Astley.
‡ Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who is said to have been by no means particular
about her linen.

When each opinion with the next at strife
(One ebb and flow of follies all my life);
I plant, root up; I build and then confound;
Turn round to square, and square again to round;
You never change one muscle of your face,
You think this madness but a common case,
Nor once to Chancery or to Hale apply,
Yet hang your lip to see a seam awry,
Careless how ill I with myself agree,
Kind to my dress, my figure, not to me.“
Shakspeare makes Kent, who is upon the whole a good and generous
fellow, abuse the steward as „a three-suited worsted stocking knave.“* If
the tailor makes the man, the milliner makes the woman. Can we
exaggerate the importance of dress to the female sex? The labours of the
toilet necessarily occupy a very large portion of the life of a lady in the
upper circles, and it is but too often „the ruling passion.“ Pope makes
Mrs. Oldfield, the actress, (Narcissa) exclaim in her dying hour against a
woollen shroud—the ruling passion being strong in death.
“ ‘Odious! in woollen! ‘T would a saint provoke,’
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke.
‘No; let a charming chintz and Brussels lace,
Wrap my cold limbs, and shade my lifeless face;
One would not, sure, be frightful when one’s dead—
And -Betty—give this cheek a little red.’”†
But is it at all strange that a pretty woman should think so much of
dress, and occupy so many hours at the toilet, when men make so much
of her mere externals, and so much of her influence in society is
dependent on them—when the stronger sex, physically, so often let her
understand, in a thousand ways, that all mental powers in a female are
quite secondary in their estimation, to the personal appearance, and are
often quite distasteful? Madame de Stäel, amidst all her literary fame, of
which she was by no means unconscious or regardless, confessed that
she would cheerfully resign all pretensions to intellectual superiority for
* A man who had but three suits of clothes in his wardrobe, at a time when people
were disposed to be extravagant in their attire. Silk stockings in the reign of Elizabeth
were very expensive, but as they were all the fashion, pretenders to high life strained
their means to procure them, and only the very poor wore worsted stockings.
† The corpse of Mrs. Oldfield in its coffin was really decorated, in obedience to her
dying wish, with a Brussels lace head-dress, a holland shift with tucker, and double
ruffles of the same lace, and a pair of new kid gloves. This was in defiance of the
statute which imposed a penalty of five pounds upon every burial where any material
but woollen was used. The statute was passed in 30th of Charles II. It was often
enforced, and not repealed till the 54th of George III. A very few years ago a famous
Court Milliner left directions in her will that her corpse was to be enveloped in the
costliest point lace.

triumphs and the power of great personal charms. A Quarterly Reviewer,
in alluding to the received opinion that the French ladies excel all their
sex in all countries in taste in dress, observes—“And no wonder, for
their souls are in the cause, and the best part of every day is spent in
choosing, trying, comparing, criticising—a cap, a bonnet, or a gown.“
This is not a little discourteous, and not quite true; for if the French
ladies generally spent such a disproportionate time at the toilet, they
would have no opportunity to dress their minds, and would resemble the
„unidead girls” of whom Dr. Johnson spoke so contemptuously; whereas
they are distinguished for wit and vivacity, and are both brilliant
conversationalists and charming letter writers. When, too, there is
anything to be done in which womanly tenderness and devotion can be
of service, we know how readily the fair sex, French or English, or of
any country in the world, can „lay their costly robes aside,“
„Suspend the soft solicitudes of dress,“
and give up their whole hearts to a nobler duty. Besides, „the soft
solicitudes of dress” have not been confined to one sex only; men have
been as fantastic and as earnest in their toilet as the women, and quite as
much the slaves of fashion.
„Name not the belles, since modern times can show,
That ape of female foppery called a beau.“
A Beau Brummel or a Samuel Pepys is by no means a rarity. If the
souls of the French ladies could be said to be in the cause of dress, what
should be said of the soul of Samuel Pepys, F.R.S., and Secretary to the
Admiralty, whose famous Diary from 1659 to 1669, is as full as it can
hold of “critical and affectionate notes of doublets, cloaks, beavers,
perriwigs, and sword-belts?“ In the very first month of this Diary we
have such entries as the following:—
„January 1st. (Lord’s day).—I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not
lately worn any other clothes but them.
„10th.—This day I put on my new silk suit; the first that ever I wore in my life.
„13th – Up early, the first day that I put on my black camlett coat with silver buttons.
„14th.—To the Privy Scale, and thence to my lord’s; where Mr. Pin, the tailor, and I
agreed upon his making me a velvet coat and cape, the first that ever I had.
“22nd.—This morning, hearing that the queen grows worse again, I went to stop the
making of my velvet dress till I see whether she lives or dies.
“30th—To my great sorrow, find myself 43l. worse than I was last month; which was
then 760l., and now it is but 717l. But it hath chiefly arisen from my laying out in
clothes for myself and my wife, viz.: for her about 12l. and for myself 55l., or
“Having made myself a velvet cloak, two new cloth skirts, black, plain both, a new
shag gown trimmed with gold buttons and twist, with a new hat, and silk tops for my
legs, and many other things; being resolved hence forward to go like myself. And also
two perriwigs, one whereof cost me 3l. and the other 40s. I have worn neither yet, but
will begin nest week, God willing.
“20th. (Lord’s day).—This morning I put on my best black suit, trimmed with scarlet
ribbon, very neat, with my cloak lined with velvett, and a new beaver, which,
altogether, is very noble, with my black silk knit canons I bought a month ago.
“30th.—Up and put on a new summer black bombazin suit; and being come now to an
agreement with my barber to keep my perriwig in good order at 20s. a year, I am like to
go very spruce, more than I used to do.
“31st.—This day I got a little rent in my fine camlet coat with the step of Sir George
Carteret’s door; but it is darned up at my tailor’s, that it will be no great blemish to it;
but it troubled me.“
Did any woman ever exhibit such an irrepressible passion for dress, or
talk so much of it, as this F.R.S. and Secretary to the Admiralty? The
cost of costume is sadly disproportionate between his pretty wife and
himself. He spends in dress, it will be seen, £55 to her £12. While he was
spending £55 on his own dress, his royal master, King Charles the
Second and his suite had but a miserable wardrobe between them—their
clothes not worth forty shillings!
“This afternoon Mr. Edward Pickering told me in what a sad poor condition for clothes
and money the king was, and all his attendants, when he came to him first from my
Lord; their clothes not worth forty shillings—the best of them.“—Pepy’s Diary.
With such a feeble-minded coxcomb as Pepys, the love of dress may
become an all-absorbing passion; but a man of sense may fully estimate
the utility of some attention to his outer garments, without thinking it
necessary to neglect the dressing of his head or heart. A man of genius is
not always a sloven, nor is every learned lady neglectful of the graces. It
does not, in every case, necessarily follow that those who are of
„outward form elaborate,“ are „of inward less exact!“ There are both
beaux and belles of the living literary world who are models in dress as
well as models in mind. The literary lady has not always ink-spotted
fingers and “linen worthy Lady Mary.“*
* This is one of Pope’s many spiteful allusions to Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who
was a very pretty and very clever woman. She wrote charming letters

At different periods, and in different countries, if the women have
encroached upon the dress of the men (with waistcoats, and round hats,
and long trousers), the men have worn stays, stomachers, and
petticoats,* a superabundance of ruffles and ribands, and laced
handkerchiefs, and other articles of feminine attire, and long bodies, in
spite of the injunction in Deuteronomy: „The woman shall not wear that
which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s
garment, for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.Ҡ
The men in the earliest part of the twelfth century wore their hair of „a
monstrous length,“ so that they looked more like women than men.
Camden quotes an anonymous book which describes a garment of
Richard II.’s time, reaching to the heels, so that at the back it made men
seem like women, and „this they call by a ridiculous name, gowne.“ It is
said that when Henry I. was in Normandy, a priest preached so
eloquently against so womanly a robe, that the monarch and his courtiers
were deeply moved; and the prelate, observing the effect of his sermon,
improved the occasion, whipped a pair of scissors out of his sleeve, and
cropped the congregation. The natives of Bengal and other Orientals,
have often an effeminate aspect, with their shawls and necklaces.
descriptive of her travels, but was not, it seems, very particular about the cleanliness or
neatness of her attire. Horace Walpole says of her, that when a child “she was a dirty
little thing,“ and that the habit continued with her. Dirty as she was, however, she had
hosts of admirers, and Pope is said to have fallen desperately in love with her, and it is
supposed that it was the rejection, of his suit and some allusion of her’s to his deformed
person, that made him turn against her with so much severity. One of his savage attacks
upon her is too indecent to quote. Yet he had once made quite „a goddess“ of her, as
she says in some of her writings. The exquisitely tender lines on his garden and grotto
introduce her name,-
„Joy lives not here, to happier scats it flies,
And only dwells where Wortley casts her eyes.“
* “At the close of the 15th century,“ says Strutt, “the dress of the English was
exceedingly fantastical and absurd, insomuch that it was even difficult to distinguish
one sex from, the other.“
Holmes, under date 1659, gives the following description of a gentleman’s dress:—“A
short-waisted doublet and petticoat breeches, the lining, being lower than the breeches,
is tied above the knees; the breeches are ornamented with ribbands up to the pocket,
and half their breadth upon the thigh, and the skirt hanging out over them.“
† Chapter 22, verse 5.

Dr. Johnson once observed, „I have often thought that if I kept a
seraglio, the ladies should all wear clean linen gowns or cotton—I mean
stuffs made of vegetable substances. I would have no silk; yon cannot
tell when it is clean; it will be very nasty before it is perceived to be so.
Linen detects its own dirtiness.“ And yet this nice critic on dress, when
alluding on another occasion to clean linen, confessed that he had no
great fancy for it himself for his own use. We may as well in this place
give Boswell’s sketch of the Doctor’s usual dress:—“He wore a full suit
of plain brown clothes, with twisted hair buttons of the same colour, a
large bushy greyish wig, a plain shirt, black worsted stockings, and
silver buckles. Upon his tour (in Scotland) when journeying, he wore
boots and a very wide brown cloth great coat, with pockets which might
have almost held the two volumes of his folio Dictionary, and he carried
in his hand a large stick. Let us not be censured for mentioning such
minute particulars. I remember Dr. Adam Smith in his rhetorical lectures
at Glasgow, told us ‘he was glad to know that Milton wore latchets in his
shoes instead of buckles.’“ Johnson’s wigs were generally very shabby.
Owing to his short-sightedness he held his head too near the candle, and
often had their foreparts burnt or singed. When he went into the dining
room at Mr. Thrale’s, the butler usually provided him with a more
decent wig than the ordinary one.
Addison has prettily suggested he commercial importance of dress in
his allusion to a lady’s toilet. „The single dress,” he observes, „of a lady
of quality, is often the product of a hundred climates: the muff and the
fur come together from the different ends of the earth; the scarf is sent
from the torrid zone, and the tippet from beneath the pole; the brocade
petticoat rises out of the mines of Peru, and the diamond necklace out of
the bowels of Hindostan.“ Pope, in his „Rape of the Lock,“ has taken a
hint from Addison, and has given a more elaborate description of a
„Where awful Beauty puts on all its arms.-“
where the inferior priestess, Betty, Belinda’s maid, „trembling, begins
the sacred rites of pride.“
“Unnumbered treasures ope at once, and hero
The various offerings of the world appear;
From each she nicely culls with curious toil,
And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil.
This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box;
The tortoise hero and elephant unite,
Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white.“
Hero files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
If we gather so much from other lands, the obligation is repaid. “The
Mahomedans are clothed in our British manufactures, and the
inhabitants of the frozen zone are warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.”
Fashion may tyrannize, to a certain extent, over the majority of the
inhabitants of Great Britain, who are justly proud of their political
freedom; yet even in dress, an eccentric and self-willed Englishman may
follow his own fancies, and be as whimsical as he pleases. But in some
countries people cannot even dress as they like, and find the Magistrate
more potent than Fashion. Under the Emperor Paul, of Russia, people
were compelled to wear a dress regulated .by the police. The male dress
consisted of a cocked hat, a long queue, a single breasted coat and
waistcoat, knee buckles instead of strings, and buckles in the shoes.
Orders were given to arrest any one seen in pantaloons. A man was
taken out of his sledge, and caned in the streets, for wearing too thick a
neckcloth; and if it had been too thin he would have met with a similar
punishment. A lady at court wore her bodice too low upon the neck, and
was ordered into close confinement on a bread and water diet. A
gentleman’s hair fell a little over his forehead while dancing at a ball; a
police officer told him that if he did not instantly cut his hair, he would
find a soldier who could shave his head. Even so late as 1838 an
Autocrat of all the Russias prescribed the national costume of his Polish
subjects, and every Pole who disobeyed the decree, whatever his rank,
was threatened with a public flogging. But a national dress is as much
connected with patriotic associations as the national flag; and even the
Czar, in this case, threatened in vain.
The subject of national costumes is full of interest, and if we had more
space at our command, we should enter at some length
upon the varieties of dress which are more or less characteristic of the
people of different lands. We shall now confine ourselves to a few brief
allusions to certain national dresses, and shall perhaps treat the subject
more fully in a future pamphlet.

A British King, in his coronation robes, or a Queen with her long
train, would be awkward personages in a race, but in a slow procession
their costume is majestic. The robes of a peer of the realm are not
inelegant. They are well colored and full and flowing. The English
farmer boy or clod-hopper, with his high waisted loose sack-like coarse
linen frock, stitched or plaited in front, is a clown indeed—heavy,
sluggish, and ungainly; but what a pantomimic transformation is at once
effected if he be transferred from the ploughed field to the parade, and
all his movements are regulated by the drill sergeant! A waterman at a
cab-stand with hay or straw bands about his legs, like the leaden water
spouts in winter, thickly bandaged to prevent their freezing, is an odd
looking animal; but the drill sergeant might produce a strange
metamorphosis even in him also, if not too old and stiff.
No Englishman who knows and appreciates what we owe to the seaservice,
can look on the quaintly dressed Greenwich pensioner without a
kindly feeling towards him.
The Royal Hospital at Greenwich, the most sumptuous of charitable
edifices, originally intended for a palace by the luxurious Stuarts, and
turned by William the Third and Queen Mary into a Hospital, is the
pride of the country. It is a truly noble institution. It provides, within its
walls, 3,000 pensioners, disabled by age or wounds, with clothes, diet,
lodging, and tobacco; 170 nurses are appointed to attend them. It
provides also for 32,000 out-pensioners.* Their blue old-fashioned long
coats and waistcoats, and three-cornered caps are not very graceful, but
they are emblems of true British merit.
We may say the same of the costume of the Chelsea Pensioner— his
red coat, and blue waistcoat, and short breeches, and cocked hat. There
are about 300 inmates at Chelsea Hospital,
* The in-pensioners receive, besides every necessary, from Is. to 2s. 6d. per week; the
out-pensioners from £4 14s. 3d., to £27 7s. 6d. a year, according to their age, services,

The dress of a British Knight of the Garter (an order founded in 1350,
by Edward III.) is magnificent. The order consists of the Sovereign and
twenty-five knights companions; also a dean and twelve canons, and
twenty-six poor knights. There is also a prelate and a chancellor of the
order. (The former is always a Bishop of Winchester, the latter a Bishop
of Salisbury.) The costume consists of an embroidered garter round the
left knee, a surcoat of crimson velvet, a mantle and hood of purple
velvet, all lined with white taffeta. On the left shoulder of the mantle is
an escutcheon of St. George’s Cross, embroidered with the garter, a
collar of the order of pure gold, enamelled with red and white roses, a
cap of black velvet, with a plume of white feathers with a heron sprig in
the middle.
We must not give way to the old prejudice against Orientals. They are
not all cowards, as we have sometimes found to our cost, when in
contempt for our enemy we have underrated his resources. This Chinese
watchman is at least equal to the old London watchman, all heavy coat
and hoarse voice, superseded by Peel’s admirable police, once
nicknamed scarlet runners, because a scarlet waistcoat was a portion of
their original costume. Though a Chinese cold season is often as severe
as an English winter, the poor Chinese night-guard is but thinly clad in
all weathers. He has a light short tunic with no shirt under it. His blue
cotton breeches reach no lower than his knee. He is bare-headed, barelegged,
and bare-footed. A gate is placed at each end of the cross streets
of a town. These cross streets are generally in straight lines, and at right
angles with the main streets. From each gate a watchman proceeds till he
meets his brother watchman about the middle. At every half hour,
instead of calling the hour like the old English watchman—“Eleven
o’clock, and a cloudy night!“—he beats the hollow bamboo tube in his
left hand with a small mallet, resembling a life-preserver; in his right
hand striking the same number of blows as there may be half-hours
elapsed since nine o’clock, when the watch was set. He carries a
transparent oiled paper lantern, ornamented with black letters and
figures. Every tenth housekeeper in every street is made responsible for
the orderly conduct of his nine neighbours. The day is noisy enough but night is as still as the grave. When the watchman is not striking his bamboo tube, a Chinese city at night is like a city of
the dead.

The women of China, in the upper ranks, have often very delicate and
pretty features, although to an European eye their pale copper
complexion may not, as a novelty, be altogether pleasing. It becomes
agreeable enough to persons to whom it is familiar. It always looks
cleanly. The dress of a Chinese lady certainly does not set off her figure.
It is as shapeless, and hangs as loosely about her as an English bathing
woman’s sea-garments; but instead of being of a dull blue, it is almost
always composed of several gay colors, in strong contrast, and is usually
very richly ornamented. These ladies cannot be said to exhibit much
taste at the toilet. Naturally small feet in a woman with small hands are
piquant and pretty, but the compressed feet of the Chinese lady cause a
painful sensation to the European observer, and make the fair possessor,
apparently club-footed, hobble like a cripple, and in fact, a cripple she
really is. One would rather see the substantial and ponderous, but useful
foot of an English cook or housemaid, than the mutilated foot of a
woman of rank in China.

All children, in all parts of the world, are more or less objects of
interest to a kindly nature; but babyhood and childhood are undoubtedly
more charming in some countries than in others. In China we see a little
child playing with his toys, as innocently and with the same sweet
abandon, as in the other parts of the world, but the unnatural habit of
shaving the head of a child, gives it a prematurely aged aspect. It is a
barbarous custom. We find the same barbarous custom amongst the
Hindoo and Mahomedan children, which, even without reference to their
bald heads, have a precocious, sometimes a knowing look—more like
men and women in miniature than innocent full grown childhood,
charmingly ignorant. No children in the world are so thoroughly children
as the children of the English, particularly of the aristocracy, who, for
long generations, have never known want or hard labour. These children do not suggest to us future cares or future crime. Their features are rarely strongly defined. Their sweet little faces
are usually fair, smooth, and well-rounded, and the expression is that of
perfect frankness, and confiding affection, and unconscious grace and
loveliness. Nor is there any country in the world in which children are
more naturally and becomingly dressed. The English mother always
allows her child’s hair a free growth, rightly regarding it as one of
Nature’s sweetest ornaments. The natives of India, whatever may be
their feelings towards European manhood, always look upon our fair
complexioned children with their innocent looks and long flaxen hair, as
something more like young fairies or angels, than ordinary human
Certainly our English tailors and milliners know how to clothe our
children, nor do we think that our neighbours, the French, however
skilful and tasteful in the fashions for womanhood, excel us in the modes
of dress adopted to “juveniles“ of both sexes. We do not wonder to see
fond English mammas going out holiday-making, in fine weather, with
their well-dressed young ones; but while they must be permitted to feel
justly proud of the natural charms of their own offspring, they ought not
to forget how much they owe to the tasteful artisans who have set off
those natural charms to the highest possible advantage.
The dress of the Mandarin is not very different from that of the
Chinese lady: it is just as bulgy and shapeless—his outer garment is little
more than a loose wrapper, as ungraceful as an English gentleman’s
dressing gown. In his court costume he wears an embroidered petticoat,
and long necklaces of coral or agate, and all this, with a fan in the hand,
gives him a very effeminate aspect. Even the military, when drawn out
on parade, make use of fans. When they, wear spectacles, the glasses are
round, and of extraordinary size, resembling glasses of the old English
fashion, of which we suppose Dr. Johnson’s huge artificial eyes,
exhibited as a curiosity by a spectacle-seller near the Royal Exchange, is
a fair specimen.

The Turks are fond of bright colours, rich and elaborate
ornamentation, .and flowing robes. A handsome Turk, well dressed, is a
very picturesque specimen of humanity.
A sultana of the royal seraglio is prettily enough dressed, with her skyblue
pelisse edged with fur, and her scarlet gown with gold embroidery;
but then the Turkish ladies have some of the oddest head-dresses in the
world, hardly surpassed in absurdity and bad taste by the English horned
head-dresses, hung with drapery spread out on either side like the
stunsails of a ship before the wind. Some of their preposterous headdresses
remind us of those worn by our ancestors in the days of the fifth
Henry, and others of the high fools’ caps of Edward the Fourth. The
head of the sultana is surmounted with a very lofty sort of red cap,
precisely of the shape of a crookedly-grown double pumpkin, the one
half of the lower pumpkin, being cut off, and the remaining half of it
being scooped out so as to make it fit tightly upon the head, the upper
part of the pumpkin projecting over the face. The sultana’s face is
uncovered by cloth or veil, but the common Turkish women in general
seen in the streets wear a large white sheet, the folds of which leave
nothing but the eyes and the upper part of the nose exposed. They look
as if they had caught a cold, or had got a toothache, or were afflicted
with neuralgia. The Turkish ladies sometimes ride through the streets on
donkeys, and then they are usually muffled up in a dark silk wrapper
round the head and body, with a strip of white cloth that crosses the face
just below the eyes. They sit astride on a soft saddle. They look all
clothes—an awkward heaped-up shapeless bundle.
The ladies at Constantinople regard the slightest exposure of the
bosom as a most unpardonable indecency, and when Lady Mary Wortley
Montague erred in this particular, and endeavoured to defend the
custom, one of the turbaned ladies exclaimed, “Oh, my sultana, you can
never defend the manners of your countrywomen, with all your wit.“
When she was undressing for a Turkish bath, one of her female friends,
on seeing her stays, exclaimed to the others, „Come hither, and see how
cruelly the poor English ladies are used by their husbands.“ „You need
not,” said she, turning to Lady Mary, „boast of the superior liberties
allowed you, when they lock you thus up in a box!“ When the lady of Sir
Peter Wych, the ambassador to the Grand Seignior in James the First’s
reign, accompanied her husband to Constantinople, and appeared in her
vast fardingale (or vardingale), resembling the modem crinoline, the
sultaness seriously inquired, on beholding the apparent extension of the
hip, whether that was the natural formation of all Englishwomen.
It is not fashion, but etiquette, that rules the wardrobe in Turkey. The
days of change of toilet are fixed by the Sultan. When he makes any
change in his dress he goes to the mosque; he then sends formal notice
of it to the Grand Vizier, when the whole Court adopts the novelty.
There are women among the Tschatskes, in Siberia, who tattoo their
limbs, but who are so little civilized, that in summer, when engaged in
preparing sheepskins for dress, they sit in public places in the open air
without any other costume than Nature has supplied. They are literally in
puris naturalibus. In the winter they wear the skin of deer prepared with
the hair on. They wear their hair at the back of the head, parted into two
plaits, very much in the fashion in which children in England wore their
hair a year or two ago. Among the Aleutian Isles, on the southern point
of Kamschatka, is an island with the name of which Thomas Campbell
has made us familiar by one fine line—*
„The wolf’s long howl on Oonolaska’s shore.“
There, too, the women are often naked, and not ashamed. In their short
summers, men, women and children, appear together in a state of nudity
without the slightest sense of impropriety. They are heavily enough
dressed in the winter, and it seems that it is a luxury to them to strip
themselves in the summer as if for an air-bath.
It is difficult in this country in the present high state of civilization,
when we are all what Lear calls „sophisticated,“ to understand how any
class of people can be “Adamites“—can be content to “owe the worm no
silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool,“ and with no other covering
but the skin feel neither shame nor discomfort. But custom is as strong
as nature.
When an almost naked North American Indian, in the depth of winter,
was asked how he could endure the exposure, his reply was “I am all
face“ Very few gentlemen, however hardy, would dare to uncover their
chest and shoulders as the most delicate ladies do. As late as the
commencement of the 17th century our neighbours, the Irish, even in the
first circles, were „unsophisticated.“ When a Bohemian nobleman
visited O’Kane, a great chieftain of Ulster, he was “met at the door with
sixteen women naked, except their loose mantles,“ and O’Kane himself
sat naked by the fire with a naked company. These must have been bad
times for tailors and outfitters, if there were any. The Saxons, on their
arrival in England, tattooed their skins like the primitive Britons.
According to Herodotus, the Scythians clothed themselves with the
skins of men. Lacedemonian maidens wore clothes so transparent, that
they were like cobwebs. They were called by the Latins, “glassy
vestments.“ They are made of green cloth; (from the Island of Cos*).
The Hindoo ladies of the present day wear garments of such light
transparent texture, that it is one reason why they are not permitted to
mix in promiscuous male society; but at the Bethune School, in Calcutta,
for Hindoo girls, the pupils are compelled to clothe themselves more
decently. The fine Dacca muslin is like woven air.
“More subtle web Arachne could not spin.”—Spenser.
The textile fabrics of Hindoo weavers are like the garments of sylphs in
the Rape of the Lock—
„Loose to the winds their airy garments flew,
Thin glittering textures of the filmy dew.“
The weavers of Paisley and Manchester cannot even now produce
anything so exquisite as the best Dacca muslin of the olden time. It was a
perfect miracle of workmanship—light as gossamer—lucid as the air.
When laid on the dewy grass and saturated with moisture, it was scarcely
visible, and might have been taken for the dew itself. It was indeed
sometimes called by the natives „evening dew,“ and sometimes „flowing
water.“ From various causes the manufacture of the best muslin at Dacca
* Cos, or Kos, an Island in the Grecian Archipelago. It is now called Stancho. It was
the birth-place of Apollos. It was once celebrated for its manufacture of silk and cotton.

has been discontinued. It was originally chiefly supported by demands
for the royal wardrobe at Delhi. The operation of spinning the thread,
fine as the line of a spider’s web, was one of extreme delicacy and
difficulty. The artisans were chiefly female, and they could only work
while the dew was on the ground, for such was the extreme tenacity of
the fibre, that it would not bear manipulation after the sun had risen. One
ruttee or roti (a weight of eight barleycorns) of cotton could be spun into
a thread eighty cubits long. The cotton used for this thread was grown
near Dacca.* The cashmere shawl, so light and warm, is also yet
unrivalled by any manufacturers of Europe. It is superbly coloured.
„Dipped in the richest tinctures of the skies,
Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes.

In almost all countries, amongst the poorer or lower orders, the young
women seem elevated by an intuitive taste and the gifts of Nature above
the condition of the males of the same age and grade. We often see a
sprightly and neatly-dressed sister or sweetheart by the side of some
dirty, coarse-looking vulgar man, in humble life, and can hardly help
fancying that the two parties must belong to quite different spheres of
life. The mechanic, or ploughman, even when dressed in his Sunday
costume, rarely looks quite so respectable as the females of his family.
Speaking generally, there is a natural refinement in woman that lifts her
above her artificial condition, when that is a low one. How graceful and
even lady-like is many a peasant girl in Austria, in her grey felt hat, her
brightly-coloured kerchief for a head dress, her short petticoat, and
lightly-made shoes! The woollen gown she wears she has manufactured
herself; it is called hauszeug, or household stuff. She spun the flax of
which her head and neck handkerchief were made, and she also dyed it.
An Austrian peasant woman sometimes wears a knit cotton cap of the
exact shape of a slop-basin bottom upwards. A Hungarian peasant has a
felt hat like a pail with the bottom upwards. A Sclavonian peasant in the
country of Neutra, or Neytra, in
* It is related of a Hindoo king that he one day rebuked his daughter for coming into
his presence half-naked. She excused herself with the assertion that her person was
enveloped in twenty yards of Dacca muslin.

Upper Hungary, wears bright blue pantaloons with stripes down the
sides (quite á la militaire), with Hessian or Hungarian boots trimmed
with a scarlet binding; he has a white jacket with red seams, and a round
hat with gay ribands. He does not look as if he were dressed for hard
work in the open fields, but rather as if he had just stepped from the
boards of a theatre. „When his pipe is not in his mouth, it is stuck in his
boot, as he has no pocket.
As we have now reached the limits we proposed to ourselves, and are
anxious not to try too far the patience of the reader, we shall bring our
little pamphlet to a close. But we shall not lay down the pen until we
have explained that, in spite of all that we have said of the importance of
dress, we are far from being disposed so to overrate externals as to set
them above the virtues of the inner man. No doubt dress is often strongly
emblematical of something of far higher value; but when, as it
sometimes happens, it indicates the reverse of moral worth, or good
taste, or conceals the real character, as language is made to conceal the
thoughts and feelings it was meant to express, we should join with those
who make dress in such cases a very secondary consideration, or even
condemn it actively as a false and misleading emblem. In such cases,
indeed, it is not an emblem at all, and then we echo the sentiment of the
“Honour and fame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.
Fortune in men has some small difference made,
One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade;
The cobbler aproned, and the parson gowned,
The friar hooded, and. the monarch crowned.
‘What differs more,’ you cry, ’than crown and cowl?’
I’ll tell you, friend! a wise man and a fool.
You’ll find, if once the monarch acts the monk,
Or, cobbler-like the parson will be drunk;
Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow,
The rest is all but leather and prunello.“ *
The philosophy of dress, then, is in no degree opposed to the
philosophy of morals, for dress is only so far to be regarded with
consideration as it is really what it is generally supposed to be—an index
to the condition and character of the wearer, and a proof of taste and
good sense, and a proper respect for the prevailing customs of civilized
* A kind of woollen stuff of which the clergymen’s gowns were formerly made, and
which is still used for the uppers of ladies’ boots. In most editions of Pope the word is
erroneously printed prunella, which is a wrong spelling, and a bad rhyme. Prunella is a
plant used medicinally as an astringent; the same word stands for a preparation of
purified nitre.

* Sir Walter Scott was wonderfully accurate generally in his costumes; but Göethe, the
famous German author, “criticises a passage of the great Scottish novelist, regarding
dread, with some severity. When Isaac of York, in „Ivanhoe,’’ enters Cedric’s Hall, his
dress is described with great minuteness, even to the clothing of the feet—his „large
boots lined -with fur.“ „This,“ Göethe says, “is a mistake; for you are to suppose
yourself in the position of Cedric and his guests, who are sitting at a table -with lights;
and by persons so placed, the details of the lower limbs of one who enters the room are
not remarked, and. are, hardly distinguishable.“ We confess that this seems to us
somewhat hypercritical. If the room was large and well lighted, the company at table
might naturally turn round and scan a stranger, on his entrance, from head to foot, and
observe his “boots lined with fur.”

Please follow and like us:

Lascia un commento