Friday, 25 March 2016

27 March 1880 - 'The Dress of the Month' by Dora de Blaquiere

Although reckoned amongst the months of spring, March certainly seems to belong, by its low temperature, rightly to winter; the winds are cold and piercing, the rain is even more chilly than the wind, and the sky is usually dull; while clouds of dust add to the general discomfort. The warm winter garments cannot be discarded without great danger to health and life, and numberless are the accounts of dangerous illnesses which accrue from this cause alone.

But on its few bright days how shabby we all feel, both in our houses and our apparel; and how we long for something new and fresh in our surroundings. The custom of wearing new dresses and bonnets at Eastertide has very much passed into oblivion, but most of our mothers can remember that their mothers thought that to wear a white bonnet and veil on Easter Sunday was absolutely necessary. So our winter costumes and dresses may be worn throughout March, unless the season be much altered this year from its usual type, although this fact must not make us the less busy, for we have many preparations to commence, and many stitches to set in, if we be our own dressmakers and needlewomen, as I trust many of us are.

In the first place there are the underclothing and the stockings to be kept in constant repair. And those girls who have to make the most of a modest allowance will find that the simplest and most economical way of replacing under-linen will be to have always a new garment in hand to work upon in spare moments. Thus the expense of purchasing a large number is avoided, and the addition of the new garment at intervals keeps the stock in fair and presentable order. The calico should be, without dress, 36 inches in width, and of good quality, without uneven and large threads in it. An expenditure of from fivepence to sixpence a yard will ensure the acquisition of an excellent wearing quality. The amount required for a nightdress is four yards, for a chemise two yards and three quarters, for a pair of drawers two yards, while a yard is sufficient for a petticoat-bodice, and three yards of flannel for an ungored petticoat.

Scarlet has very much gone out of favour for flannel petticoats, as it is liable to be so spilt in the hands of an incompetent laundress, and I do not know anything so ugly as badly-washed red flannel, with large discoloured blotches in it, and the original colour changed to an unhealthy hue of repulsive-looking red. Pink, blue, violet and grey have been adopted in its stead, and the two latter are quite as pretty as the red when new, and wash and wear well. Of course, in the country, white can still be worn, but in our foggy London it has to be relinquished entirely.

The next thing, after the underclothes, which we should examine, is our stock of thinner dresses for the summer; for just at this moment there is plenty of time to make up our minds as to what we shall need, and to use our money when the spring goods come in to the best advantage. Last summer the cooler garments in our wardrobes had a rest, and perhaps will need but slight alterations. I hear that large quantities of our old friend, the "Galatea" stripes, and uni-coloured materials to wear with them as trimmings, are being prepared by the wholesale trade. This will be good news to many people, who had discovered the worth of this material, in its washing and waring, especially for children and younger girls. It required such plain making-up, too, and neither flounces nor kiltings looked well, only flat bands to match the predominating colour of the stripe. We are fortunate, too, in the fact that polonaises and princesse dresses are both as much worn as they were, though the drapery at the back must be a little modified and rearranged, and perhaps some fullness taken out.

Those of our readers who have patronised velveteen this winter will find that the skirts will be most useful this spring, and will be much used with over-dresses and polonaises of the new "all-wool homespuns" which are beautifully light in texture and moderate in price. I have inspected some manufacturers' patterns, which will be sold in the shops at about a shilling a yard. The colours most worn in them will be the various shades of "old gold", a very pretty and becoming colour for girls. Velveteen will both dye and clean well, and if it were good when purchased it will y and by appear in the spring costumes "quite as good as new".

White dresses of all materials will be very much in favour, and white serge is especially mentioned, as forming a charming spring costume. White cashmere is pretty, also a good white alpaca, both of which would answer for a best dress at any time.

The illustration below is a pretty evening dress, of a brocaded material of a grey colour. The trimmings are of grey or black linen-backed satin. Folds of satin are laid in front, and it has elbow-sleeves, with bows of satin at the sides. The necklace is of coral beads, and the hair is simply coiled and held up with a comb, the rose being worn or not, as required or liked. This dress is inexpensive, and might be made with long sleeves and closed at the neck if preferred. The jacket is intended to show - what has been several times inquired for by our correspondents - a simple method of trimming that can be accomplished at home. The material is a black cloth, with a basket pattern on the surface. The trimming consists of bands of black watered silk and velvet laid straight and flat all round; the edges have a thick cord laid on. Of course, these materials could be changed to suit the purse or the taste of each person. For instance, velveteen might be adopted instead, and edged with cord or bands of satin and plush. An old jacket cleansed and re-trimmed in this simple way would, I think, look very well.

There is little change in the fashion of dressing the hair, except that back-combs, so long banished, appear likely to come into favour again. They have ornamental tops, and the hair is, as I have observed, simply coiled, both back and front hair being placed together. Grecian fillets - two or three bands of ribbon of graduated lengths - are placed at equal distances, in the hair, or a wide band of coloured ribbon is tied in a bow at the top of the head. A few soft curls on the forehead in front can be suitably worn, but none of these ideas are very novel, although they are the most so of any that have yet appeared, and nothing really new seems likely to come in just yet.

Very pretty and jaunty little aprons are worn, which add exactly the needful touch of prettiness to a girl's costume, and brighten up the dullness of the winter dress. They may be made of mull-muslin and lace, like our example, Fig.1, and have a bright-coloured ribbon at the back; or they may be of the now fashionable pocket-handkerchiefs, which, although they are of such small price, composes the favourite apron of great people. The ordinary spotted cotton handkerchiefs are used, and three of them are required to make one apron. The first is used  for the middle, and has the top cut off it at the waist part, which (top) is used for a band. Number two is cut in two, one half being used for a bib, and the other is sewn along the lower edge of the middle one, making two borders at the bottom. The third handkerchief is cut diagonally from corner to corner, and the bias side sewn on to the sides of the middle already prepared. Then strings are sewn on to the points, which tie at the back, over the dress. The apron and bib are both simply gathered and sewn to the band above and below. I hope I have described this quaint-looking apron so that my readers may understand how it is made. The handkerchiefs can be purchased at as low a cost as threepence, and of course when this is the case this apron is a most economical investment. I must not forget to say that, if desired, it can be edged with the coarse Greek lace, now to be procured in every shop at a cheap rate. Aprons of linen and unbleached crash, embroidered in crewels, are likewise much worn; also some of dark blue French linen, which are particularly suitable for young girls, as they do not show either stain or soil, and, if decorated with pretty sprays of crewel work, are quite ornamental, as well as decidedly workmanlike and useful.

The most elegant of the new trimmings are those which go by the name of "cashmere", which does not convey any idea of what they are, as cashmere is a material, and in this sense it only appears to indicate a mixture of colour. Cashmere beads, for instance, which form the most charming decoration for a bonnet, are mixtures of red, green, gold and black beads. Cords and galloons are also made in the same way, but the beads are certainly the best decoration and trimming that I have seen for a long time. They may be worn with any colour, and look well with all.

Silk neckerchiefs are now quite revived, and very useful they are. They are large, square handkerchiefs, folded cornerwise, and tied round the neck open, without folding, and as loosely as possible. Bright colours are in favour, but especially those Indian and Persian-looking materials which can often be bought by the yard in sops where Indian fabrics are sold. Sometimes, too, people have stores of this kind lying by which they have never known how to use, but which, having been brought home as a remembrance by some dear soldier or sailor relative, they have carefully hoarded. Now is the time to make them of use and wear them as neckerchiefs, to the admiration of all beholders.

Fig.2 is one of the new large linen collars, and a cuff to match, which are much liked in the morning by some young ladies.

Fig.3 is a pretty evening fichu and cuffs, which I do not think my readers will have much difficulty in copying. It may be made in Swiss muslin, with Breton lace; or, if thin India silk be preferred, it would look equally well. This fiche would brighten up a dull day dress for evening wear.

Amber necklaces are now used by many young ladies, and it is quite a pleasure to see this dear old fashion again. I have always thought it a pity that this favourite of the earliest times had been so utterly discarded, and the pretty old necklaces of coral, cornelian and amber - some of which had passed through several generations - should have been laid aside. It is a simple and old-time ornament, more suitable to girls than any other they could wear. Very few ornaments there are which one would recommend to girls, for in truth they need none, while they have the fair beauty and the rounded outlines of youth.

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