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But to return to our immediate subject. Having thus explained the final cause of dress as an instinct implanted in man, and exercised by woman solely for his good, let us endeavour with all due humility to say something about the experimental department.
We are inclined to think that the female attire of the present day is, upon the whole, in as favourable a state as the most vehement advocates for what is called Nature and simplicity could desire. It is a costume in which they can dress quickly, walk nimbly, eat plentifully, stoop easily, loll gracefully ; and, in short, perform all the duties of life without let or hindrance. The head is left to its natural size—the skin to its native purity—the waist at its proper region—the heels at their real level. The dress is one calculated to bring out the natural beauties of the person, and each of them has, as far as we see, fair play. In former days, what was known of a woman's hair in the cap of Henry VIII.'s time,-or of her forehead under her hair in George III.'s time, -or of the slenderness of her throat in a gorget of Edward I.'s time,-or of the fall of her shoulders in a welt or wing in Queen Elizabeth's time,--or of the shape of her arm in a great bishopsleeve even in our own time? Now-a-days all these points receive full satisfaction for past neglect, and a woman breaks upon us in such a plenitude of charms that we hardly know where to begin the catalogue. Hair light as silk in floating curls, or massive as marble in shining coils. Forehead bright and smooth as mother-of-pearl, and arched in matchless symmetry by its own beautiful drapery. Ear, which for centuries had lain concealed, set on to the side of the head like a delicate shell. Throat, a lovely stalk, leading the eye upward to a lovelier flower, and downward along a fair sloping ridge, undulating in the true line of beauty, to the polished precipice of the shoulder; whence, from the pendent calyx of the shortest possible sleeve, hangs a lovely branch, smooth and glittering like pale pink coral, slightly curved towards the figure, and terminating in five taper petals, pinker still, folding and unfolding “ at their own sweet will,” and especially contrived by Nature to pick your heart clean to the bone before you know what they are about.
And plenty more of similar charms, dealing destruction's devastating doom” to all who are not fireproof. Nor need you even despair of seeing the feet, which at this our happy era lie in ambuscade only the more securely to wound, and “like little mice peep in and out” beneath the skirt's deep and plentiful folds. Nor is the ankle even hopeless, if you are sufficiently attentive, and if it be worth showing
The present dress has some features worth dwelling on more minutely. The gown is a good thing, both in its morning and evening form, and contains all necessary elements for showing off a fine figure and a graceful movement. Till lately it was cut down in a sharp angle low in front, with the collar running down it, which made the throat look long;
now it is closed up quite high with the collar sprouting round it, which makes the throat look round. There is something especially beautiful too in the expanse of chest and shoulder, as seen in a tight plain-coloured high dress -merinos or silk-like a fair sloping sunny bank-with the long taper arms, and the slender waist so tempting and convenient between them, that it is a wonder they are not perpetually embracing it themselves. Nor is this effect lost in the evening dress; but, on the contrary, increased, by the berthe's carrying out that fair sunny bank still deeper, or rather environing it with a rich ring fence, of which we admire the delicacy and beauty, though it impedes our view of what is beyond. Far be from us to attempt to describe the mystery of the berthe-except as the cestus of Venus transferred from the waist to the shoulders. We have worn almost
of a woman's dress, so that scarcely one sex has been known from the other; but, thank Heaven, this at all events has remained sacred. No man ever wore a berthe.
And then, to let our eyes fall lower, if they will, the long full folds of the skirt, which lie all close together above, like the flutings of an Ionic column, as if loth to quit that sweet waist, but expand gradually below, as if fearing to fetter those fairy feetand the gentle swinging of the robe from side to side, like a vessel in calmest motion, and the silver whisper of the trailing silk as that dear one slowly approaches, the hem of whose garment we long to kiss. Low that hem and close to the ground, but we would not
have it higher." Let the foliage sweep the earth, rather than grow, as with a grazing line above it. And if there be portions of this vile world-streets, and squares, and crossings--too impure for that drapery to touch, are they not doubly so for those feet?
Flounces are a nice question. We like them when they wave and flow, as in a very light mate rial-muslin, or gauze, or barége, when a lady has no outline and no mass, but looks like a receding angel, or a “dissolving view;" but we do not like them in a rich material where they flop, or in a stiff one where they bristle ; and where they break the flowing lines of the petticoat, and throw light and shade where you don't expect them to exist. In short, we like the gown that can do without flounces, as Josephine liked a face that could do without whiskers; but in either case it must be a good one.
The plain black scarf is come of too graceful a parentage-namely, from the Spanish and Flemish mantilla-not to constitute one of the best features of the present costume. It serves to join the two parts of the figure together, enclosing the back and shoulders in a firm defined outline of their own, and flowing down gracefully in front, or on each side, to mix with that of the skirt. That man must be a monster who could be impertinent to a woman in any dress, but especially to a woman in a black scarf. It carries an air of self-respect with it which is in itself a protection. A woman thus attired glides on
way like a small close-reefed vessel-tight and
trim--seeking no encounter, but prepared for one. Much, however, depends upon the wearing-indeed, no article of dress is such a revealer of the wearer's character. Some women will drag it tight up their shoulders, and stick out their elbows (which ought not to be known to exist) in defiance at you+beneath. Such are of the independent class we described, with strong sectarian opinions. Others let it hang loose and listless like an idle sail, losing all the beauty of the outline-both moral and physical. Such ladies have usually no opinions at all, but none the less a very obstinate will of their own.
Some few of what are now-a-days called mantillas, which are the cardinals or the capucins of a century ago, are pleasing and blameless. A black velvet one, turned up with a broad dull black lace, like bright metal chased with dead, is very good. Also, when made of plain silk, black or light-coloured, with no other trimming than, in milliner's language, “the own.” But too often these articles, of which an endless variety exists, are merely made the vehicle for indulging in a weakness for fringe, gimp, and other such trumpery, with which they are overloaded. Arm-holes too are a part of them to which we particularly object. The lady behind them looks as if she were sitting in the stocks for a public misdemeanor, or seeking a customer, and offering her hand through.
Nor is a shawl a recommendable article. We mean a common square one.
Some are beautiful in quality, and others too unpretending in pattern to