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Woman as Decoration

CHAPTER XI

I. WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER GARDEN

N your garden, if you would count as decoration, keep to white or one colour; the flowers furnish a variegated background against which your costume of colour, grey or white stands out. The great point is that your outline be one with pictorial value, from the artist's point of view. If merely strolling through your garden to admire it, keeping to the well-made paths, a fragile gown of sheer material and dainty shoes, with perishable hat or fragile sunshade, is in order. But if yours is the task to gather flowers, then wear stout linen or pretty, bright ginghams, good to the eye and easily laundered, while resisting the briars and branches.

Smocks, those loose over-all garments of soft-toned linens, reaching from neck half-way to the knees and unbelted, are ideal for garden work, and to the young and slender, add a distinct charm, for one catches the movement of the lithe form beneath.

You can be decorative in your garden in a large enveloping apron of gingham, if you are wise in choosing a colour which becomes you. One lover of flowers, who has an instinct for fitness and colour, may be seen on a Summer morning, trimming her porch-boxes in snowy white,—shoes and all,—over which she wears a big, encircling apron, extending from neck to skirt hem; deep pockets cross the entire front, convenient for clippers, scissors and twine. This apron is low-necked with shoulder straps and no sleeves. The woman in question is tall and fair, and on her soft curling hair she wears sun hats of peanut straw, the edges sewn over and over with wool to match her gingham apron, which is a solid pink, pale green or lavender.

Dark women look uncommonly well in khaki colour, and so do some blonds. Here is a shade decorative against vegetation and serviceable above all.

Garden costumes for actual work vary according to individual taste and the amount and character of the gardening indulged in.

Lady de Bathe (Mrs. Langtry) owns one of the most charming gardens in England, though not as famous as some. It is attached to Regal Lodge, her place at Newmarket. The Blue Walk is something to remember, with its walls of blue lavender flanking the blue paving stones, between the cracks of which lovely bluebells and larkspur spring up in irrelevant, poetic license.

Lady de Bathe digs and climbs and clips and gathers, therefore she wears easily laundered garments; a white linen or cotton skirt and blouse, a Chinese coat to the knees, of pink cotton crêpe and an Isle-of-Jersey sun-bonnet, a poke with curtain, to protect the neck and strings to tie it on. So while she claims never to have consciously considered being a decorative note in her own garden, her trained instinct for costuming herself appropriately and becomingly brings about the desirable decorative effect.

PLATE XIV

Madame Adeline Genée, the greatest living exponent of the art of toe dancing. She wears an early Victorian costume (1840) made for a ballet she danced in London several seasons ago. The writer did not see the costume and neglected, until too late, to ask Madame Genée for a description of its colouring, but judging by what we know of 1840 colours and textures as described by Miss McClellan (Historic Dress in America) and other historians of the period as well as from portraits, we feel safe in stating that it may well have been a bonnet of pink uncut velvet, trimmed with silk fringe and a band of braided velvet of the same colour; or perhaps a white shirred satin; or dove-coloured satin with pale pink and green figured ribbon. For the dress, it may have been of dove-grey satin, or pink flowered silk with a black taffeta cape and one of black lace to change off with.

Victorian Period about 1840
Mme. Adeline Genée in Costume

II. WOMAN DECORATIVE ON THE LAWN

When on your lawn with the unbroken sweep of green under foot and the background of shrubs and trees, be a flower or a bunch of flowers in the colour of your costume. White,—hat, shoes and all, cannot be excelled, but colour has charm of another sort, and turning the pages of memory, one realises that not a shade or artistic combination but has scored, if the outline is chic. Since both outline and colour scheme vary with fashion we use the word chic or smart to imply that quality in a costume which is the result of restraint in the handling of line, colour and all details, whatever the period.

A chic outline is very telling on the lawn; gown or hat must be appropriate to the occasion, becoming to the wearer, its lines following the fashion, yet adapted to type, and the colour, one sympathetic to the wearer. The trimming must accentuate the distinctive type of the gown or hat instead of blotting out the lines by an overabundance of garniture. The trimming must follow the constructive lines of gown, or have meaning. A buckle must buckle something, buttons must be used where there is at least some semblance of an opening. Let us repeat: To be chic, the trimming of a hat or gown must have a raison d'être. When in doubt omit trimming. As in interior decoration, too much detail often defeats the original idea of a costume. An observing woman knows that few of her kind understand the value of restraint. When turned out by an artist, most women recognise when they look their best, but how to achieve it alone, is beyond them. This sort of knowledge comes from carefully and constantly comparing the gown which is a success with those which are failures.

Elimination characterises the smart costume or hat, and the smart designer is he or she who can make one flower, one feather, one bow of ribbon, band of fur, bit of real lace or hand embroidery, say a distinct something.

It is the decorative value gained by the judicious placing of one object so that line and colour count to the full. As we have said in Interior Decoration, one pink rose in a slender Venetian glass vase against a green silk curtain may have far more decorative value than dozens of costly roses used without knowledge of line and background. So it is with ornaments on wearing apparel.

III. WOMAN DECORATIVE ON THE BEACH

With a background of grey sand, steel-blue water and more or less blue sky, woman is given a tempting opportunity to figure as colour when by the sea. That it is gay colour or white which makes decorative effects on the beach, even the least knowing realise. Plein air artists have stamped on our mental visions impressions of smart society disporting itself on the sands of Dieppe, Trouville, Brighton, and where not. Whatever the period, hence outline, white and the gay colours impress one. Most conspicuous is white on woman (and man); then each colour in the rainbow with its half-tones, figures as sweaters, veils, hats and parasols; the striped marquise and gay wares of the venders of nosegays, balloons and lollypops. The artist picks out the telling notes when painting, learn from him and figure as one of these.

On the beach avoid being a dull note; dead greys and browns have no charm there.

What is true of costuming for the beach applies equally to costumes to be worn on the deck of a steamer or yacht.



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