ALL kinds of suggestions have been made during the past few weeks to women and girls on the subject of "dress," and it remains to be seen whether English manufactures and English fashions will be benefited by them. One letter to the daily press says that "Englishmen are the best dressed men in Europe, and they do not go to France either for their fashions or their materials, and Englishwomen might be the best dressed women in the world if they would only trust to their own sense and judgment, and adopt a style of dress suitable to the English climate and the character of the people. What we have to guard against in our climate are sudden changes of temperature, damp, and east winds. Thick and warm fabrics, such as are best suited to our looms and to the wool grown in this country, are also best suited to the women of this country." Having read thus far, I paused to think the subject over, and was not long in coming to the conclusion that, not only do English women make use of the woollen fabrics of their own country, but that they have been singularly happy in originating fashions where they can be used. The waterproof first, and the ulster afterwards, bear witness to this fact, and in both of these garments the Englishwoman has set the fashion to the world. For their manufacture no cloth but the English is good, and no makers are so highly thought of. The same is the case with regard to tailor-made jackets and dresses, and the much-maligned Englishwoman was undoubtedly the original inventor of the famous "Jersey," which gave employment and brought wealth to so many within the last few years. In a similar way I can recall that the Gainsborough hat, which brought straw head-gear back to favour was originated in England, and perhaps my readers will remember other instances of the same kind.
As to the desire for "perpetual change," of which we all stand accused, I think in this perhaps we have something to learn from the Americans, who are singularly conservative in many ways; and when a shape or material has been found to be really good, they use it for years, without ever changing. In fact, as regards underclothes, we do not change much ourselves, and the chief alterations lie in the outer-dress.
While writing on this subject I must not forget to say that many people cannot wear the thick tweeds, cloths, and heavier textiles which are so easily carried by others. They are not physically capable of carrying them, nor would they be either suitable or economical wear for a middle-aged or married woman in London, though excellent for the country and for the use of young people. Heavy clothing is not always warm, nor does it wear the best; and while cashmere continues to be the excellent material for use which it always has been, it is hopeless for anyone to preach against its use. The English manufacturers must learn to make it, as well as their French neighbours.
The real dress reforms that are needed are the entire abolition of tightlacing, the adoption of better underclothing by everybody, which should be so arranged as to ensure an even temperature all over the surface of the body, and a great decrease of weight and bulk. Nothing better than the merino woven "combination garments" has ever been introduced which achieves both purposes, and armed and defended by them we can afford to reduce our weighty petticoats to one only, which should be of some material like felt, which can be closely gored to abolish gathers at the waist. The gored chemise is also an excellent revival of an old shape which our grandmothers wore; and in cutting out drawers we should adopt their plan also of making them with a yoke-top and as few gathers as possible. The needful under-garments are thus reduced to five, and much comfort and health will result from this diminution.
For these early spring days the tweed and light cloth tailor-made cashmeres are in universal favour for young ladies. They are simply made with coat bodices, and worn with either kilted skirts or box-plaited ones, and a plainly-folded scarf-like drapery. They do not require a mantle over them, and on chilly days many young ladies cling to the fur cape, to add to their warmth. One of the simplest and prettiest of these dresses was made of dark blue cloth, with three box-plaited flounces lined with crimson. The folded panier-like scarves, extending from the front to the back, were of blue, lined with crimson, and the bodice of dark blue with facings of crimson. A small muff like the dress, and a small "Princess" bonnet of blue velvet or silk, with bunches of leafless crimson roses, finished the costume.
The embroidered dresses have become so ropular now, especially in Paris, that no doubt we shall see many of them in England, and as they are easy of manufacture and charming in wear, I must tell "our girls" all about them. The material generally used is a fairly good cashmere or French merino, and the nature of the patterns to be worked is seen by our illustration of the pretty girl caught in the shower. The work is really English embroidery, and the same that we have done for so many years on mull muslin, cambric, and calico. The holes are cut, and sewn over and over with silk or filoselle of the same colours as the dress, and the edges of flounces, over-skirts, and basque trimmings are all buttonholed round. The effect is pretty, and the work on the soft material is quickly done. The hat worn by the figure in the oval shows the best shape of the larger spring hats. It is of felt, trimmed at the side with a looped knot of cord, and round the crown with an ostrich feather.
The large illustration, with its three figures, nearly explains itself. The figure in the background is dressed in a walking costume, consisting of a light cloth jacket, tile skirt being made of kilted flounces and gathers. The hat worn by this figure is one of the pretty round Spanish hats which are so fashionable this spring. It has no trimmings save the two silk pompons in the front. The standing figure wears a dress made of black satin and silk, trimmed with black Spanish lace. This dress will be found a very useful one to those who have an old one to re-make up, or who have two impossible old ones which they cannot join. Although given as a long dress, the petticoat is short and instead of a train, a drapery at the back is easily added to the basque. The kneeling figure wears a well-cut princess costume made plainly, with puffed sleeves and a striped scarf.
A very pretty new style for a bodice has been introduced, which is a compromise between the full bodice of last year and the plain bodice with basques. The back is tight fitting, and has a basque, which may be cut in tabs or tails, as desired. The front is cut rather longer than ordinary, and is made without any plaits or fitting. It is confined to the waist by a waistband, which comes from the side seams, under the arms. The extra fulness and the absence of any defined lines are very becoming to the figure of a young girl.
Striped materials are much in favour, and, when well arranged, nothing can be more artistic and pretty. When made in two colours, they form the most elegant of kilted skirts. Checked woollen stuffs have returned to us with the spring, and they, either with the stripes or the spots, come and go continually amongst us, each year or so ringing the changes on some of them. They appear to suit everyone, and have done so from the time that figured textiles were made. The colours worn in these materials are generally browns, russets, and golden browns, with crossed lines of buff, bronze, yellow, and dull red. In other materials neutral tints prevail, and bronze and mahogany are great favourites for general use.
The sateens and cambrics are perfect works of art, which might have been expected. judging from the beautiful show made of them at the grand entertainment at the Manchester Town Hall.
The patterns are, as usual, floral, but the pencil of the designer has
been dipped in magic, so lovely are the forms and colours. Those with black
grounds are very economical for wear, and as the flowers on them are singularly
pretty, they will be great favourites. The advantage to those who patronise
them will be the manner in which they will wear without soiling, thus saving
the labour of the laundress; indeed, they should be sent to a cleaner's
instead, who will do them far more justice. The lace trimming render them
very pretty, and if we make our purchase of lace carefully, we shall be
amply rewarded. With a little care in washing the lace when soiled, our
lace may be made "as good as new" many times during our summer's campaign.
These dresses need careful wear, and should be ironed on the wrong side
when tumbled. Sometimes a little extra stiffness may be imparted to them
by ironing them on a towel or cloth dipped in starch and wrung partly dry.
In our two smaller illustrations we show the new way of making a petticoat, and the method of putting on the flounces at the back. These petticoats are peculiarly suited to the tall, slight figures of some young girls, as they give a more substantial appearance, and take away the look of thinness which is often painful to see. The dress shows a very pretty way of making a spring dress, viz three kilted flounces and. a polonaise, plain in front; gathered behind, and drawn back into a single puff, the pocket being added between the panier scarf and the puff at the back.