Harpers Bazaar - Victorian Fashion Magazine

November 2, 1867



Victorian Fashions




HARPER'S BAZAR:  November 2, 1867


SUITABLE DRESS. [Victorian Servants' Clothing]

THE uniformity of dress is a characteristic of the people of the United States. The man of leisure and the laborer, the mistress and the maid, wear clothes of the same material and cut. Political equality renders our countrymen and countrywomen averse to all distinctions of costume which may be supposed to indicate a difference of caste. The uniformity which results is not favorable to the picturesque, and our everyday world in America has, in consequence, the shabby look of being got up by the Jews in Chatham Street and turned out in a universal suit of second-hand clothing.

Our working-people, in vindicating their claims to social equality, by putting on their heads the stove-pipe hat and flimsy bonnet, and clothing their bodies in tight-fitting coats and flowing robes, not only interfere with the pictur­esque, which is of minor importance, but make, we think, an unwise sacrifice of comfort, con­venience, and economy. What could be more unfavorable to that free movement of the muscles essential to those trades and occupations requiring the exercise of physical force than the scant coat and tight-fitting trowsers now in vogue? It would be as well to put Hercules in a strait-jacket, and set him thus accoutred to slay the hydra, as for our muscular sons of labor to clothe themselves in suits of fashionable cut, and so to strive at their mighty work. It is surprising that the blouse of the French workman is not generally adopted. Nothing can be more graceful, convenient, and economical. Its lines are flowing, its form admits of perfect freedom of movement, and it can be made of a material both cheap and lasting. Artists generally adopt the blouse for work in their studios, and thus guarantee its tastefulness as well as utility. The free American citizen has no reason to scorn it as a symbol of slavery. The French blouse has vindicated its title to the drapery of a freeman in many a bloody encounter with tyranny on the barricades and in the streets of Paris.

As for the suitableness of the female dress of fashion to working-day purposes no one will venture, we suppose, to hold that crinoline is convenient in the china-closet or safe in the proximity of a red-hot stove, and that a flowing train of silk is the most appropriate broom for the kitchen floor. Crinoline and train, however, are constantly found in these inappropriate places and dangerous proximities. We can not for the world see why Bridget and Katarina, and their mistress too, indeed, when the occasion requires, should not dress appropriately — to their spheres we do not say, but to their occupations. They would be gainers in every respect — in taste, comfort, convenience, and economy. It is quite a mistake for the female servant to suppose that by spending her money in gaudy dress and mock finery she advances her social position, though with her rustling silk she may pass in the dark, or, coming out of the front door on a Sunday, be taken at a distance for her mistress. She may spend a half year's wages on a flimsy bonnet, it will not avail her — the sham lady will still be manifest. If she has personal charms of her own and desires that they should be appreciated, let her take the advice of the tasteful, who will tell her that the rude freshness of natural beauty appears to the greatest advantage in a plain setting.

A white cap, a close-fitting jacket, with sleeves neither so tight as to hinder movement nor so loose as to lap up the gravy or sweep off the sherry glass, and a short skirt of simple stuff — plain or many-colored as it may be — make an appropriate costume for the household servant. Scraps of cotton lace, bits of bright ribbon, and collars and cuffs of linen, may be added accord­ing to the taste. Any one who has seen the picture of the Chocolate Girl of the Dresden Gal­lery will not doubt of the picturesque capabili­ties of a dress which was so effective in this particular instance that it procured a rich and titled husband for the original of the portrait.

The female cap should be insisted on as an essential to cleanliness by those who are not so sentimental as to prefer to receive daily pledges of the cook's affection in the shape of locks of hair in the soup.


How To Cite This Article:

"Suitable Dress", November 2, 1867 [electronic edition]. Harper's Bazaar, Nineteenth Century Fashion Magazine, http://harpersbazaar.victorian-ebooks.com (2005).









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