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ance. It is a varnish that gives a lustre to every action, a passe-par-tout that introduces us into all polite assemblies, and the only certain method of making most of the youth of our nation conspicuous.
There was formerly an absurd notion among the men of letters, that to establish themselves in the character of wits, it was absolutely necessary to show a contempt of dress. This injudicious affectation of theirs flattened all their conversation, took off the force of every expression, and incapacitated a female audience from giving attention to any thing they said. While the man of dress catches their eyes as well as ears, and at every ludicrous turn obtains a laugh of applause by way of compliment.
I shall lay down as an established maxim, which hath been received in all ages, that no person can dress without a genius.
A genius is never to be acquired by art, but is the gift of nature; it may be discovered even in infancy. Little master will smile when you shake his plume of feathers before him, and thrust its little knuckles in papa's full-bottom; miss will toy with her mother's Mechlin lace, and gaze on the gaudy colours of a fan; she smacks her lips for a kiss at the appearance of a gentleman in embroidery, and is frighted at the indecency of the housemaid's blue apron : as she grows up, the dress of her baby begins to be her care, and you will see a genteel fancy open itself in the ornaments of the little machine.
We have a kind of sketch of dress, if I may so call it, among us, which, as the invention was foreign, is called a dishabille: every thing is thrown on with a loose and careless air; yet a genius discovers itself even through this negligence of dress, just as you may see the masterly hand of a painter in three or four swift strokes of the pencil. The most fruitful in geniuses is the French nation;
we owe most of our janty fashions now in vogue, to some adept beau among them. Their ladies exert the whole scope of their fancies upon every new peto ticoat; every head-dress undergoes a change; and not a lady of genius will appear in the same shape two days together; so that we may impute the scarcity of geniuses in our climate to the stagnation of fashions.
The ladies among us have a superior genius to the men; which have for some years past shot out in several exorbitant inventions for the greater consumption of our manufacture. While the men have contented themselves with the retrenchment of the hat, or the various scallop of the pocket, the ladies have sunk the head-dress, inclosed themselves in the circumference of the hoop-petticoat ; furbelows and flounces have been disposed of at will, the stays have been lowered behind, for the better displaying the beauties of the neck; not to mention the various rolling of the sleeve, and those other nice circumstances of dress upon which every lady employs her fancy at pleasure.
The sciences of poetry and dress have so near an alliance to each other, that the rules of the one,
with very little variation, may serve for the other.
As in a poem all the several parts of it must have a harmony with the whole; so to keep to the propriety of dress, the coat, waistcoat, and breeches must be of the same piece.
As Aristotle obliges all dramatic writers to a strict observance of time, place, and action, in order to compose a just work of this kind of poetry ; so it is absolutely necessary for a person that applies himself to the study of dress, to have a strict regard to these three particulars.
To begin with the time. What is more absurd than the velvet gown in summer? and what is more
agreeable in the winter? The muff and fur are preposterous in June, which are charmingly supplied by the Turkey handkerchief and fan. Every thing must be suitable to the season, and there can be no propriety in dress without a strict regard to time.
You must have no less respect to place. What gives a lady a more easy air than the wrapping gown in the morning at the tea-table? The Bath countenances the men of dress in showing themselves at the pump in their Indian night-gowns, without the least indecorum.
Action is what gives the spirit both to writing and dress. Nothing appears graceful without action; the head, the arms, the legs, must all conspire to give a habit a genteel air. What distinguishes the air of the court from that of the country but action ? A lady, by the careless toss of her head, will show a set of ribands to advantage: by a pinch of snuff judiciously taken will display the glittering ornament of her little finger ; by the new modelling her tucker, at one view present you with a fine turned hand, and a rising bosom. In order to be a proficient in action, I cannot sufficiently recommend the science of dancing: this will give the feet an easy gait, and the arms a gracefulness of motion. If a person have not a strict regard to these three above-mentioned rules of antiquity, the richest dress will appear stiff and affected, and the most gay habit fantastical and tawdry.
As different sorts of poetry require a different style; the elegy, tender and mournful; the ode, gay and sprightly; the epic, sublime, &c. so must the widow confess her grief in the veil ; the bride frequently makes her joy and exultation conspicuous in the silver brocade; and the plume and the scarlet dye is requisite to give the soldier a martial air. There is another kind of occasional dress in use among the ladies ; I mean the riding-habit, which some have not injudi
ciously styled the hermaphroditical, by reason of its masculine and feminine composition; but I shall rather choose to call it the Pindaric, as its first institution was at a Newmarket horse-race, and as it is a mixture of the sublimity of the epic with the easy softness of the ode.
There sometimes arises a great genius in dress, who cannot content himself with merely copying from others, but will, as he sees occasion, strike out into the long pocket, slashed sleeve, or something particular in the disposition of his lace, or the flourish of his embroidery. Such a person, like the masters of other sciences, will show that he hath a manner of his own.
On the contrary, there are some pretenders to dress who shine out but by halves ; whether it be for want of genius or money. A dancing master of the lowest rank seldom fails of the scarlet stocking and the red heel ; and shows a particular respect to the leg and foot, to which he owes his subsistence; when at the same time perhaps all the superior ornament of his body is neglected. We may say of these sort of dressers what Horace says of his patchwork poets ;
Purpureus latè qui splendeat unus et alter,
Ars Poet. ver. 15.
Others, who lay the stress of beauty in their face, exert all their extravagance in the periwig, which is a kind of index of the mind; the full-bottom formally combed all before, denotes the lawyer and the politician; the smart tie.wig with the black riband shows a man of fierceness of temper; and he that burthens himself with a superfluity of white hair, which flows
down the back, and mantles in waving curls over the shoulders, is generally observed to be less curious in the furniture of the inward recesses of the skull, and lays himself open to the application of that censure which Milton applies to the fair sex,
of outward form Elaborate, of inward, less exact. A lady of genius will give a genteel air to her whole dress by a well-fancied suit of knots, as a judicious writer gives a spirit to a whole sentence by a single expression. As words grow old, and new ones enrich the language, so there is a constant succession of dress; the fringe succeeds the lace, the stays shorten or extend the waist, the riband undergoes divers variations, the head-dress receives frequent rises and falls every year; and in short the whole woman throughout, as curious observers of dress have remarked, is changed from top to toe, in the period
A poet will now and then, to serve his purpose, coin a word, so will a lady of genius venture at an innovation in the fashion; but as Horace ad. vises, that all new-minted words should have a Greek derivation to give them an indisputable authority, so I would counsel all our improvers of fashion always to take the hint from France, which may as properly be called the fountain of dress, as Greece was of li. terature.
Dress may bear a parallel to poetry with respect to moving the passions. The greatest motive to love, as daily experience shows us, is dress. I have known a lady at sight fly to a red feather, and readily give her hand to a fringed pair of gloves. At another time I have seen the awkward appearance of her rural humble servant move her indignation ; she is jealous every time her rival hath a new suit; and in a rage when her woman pins her mantua to disadvantage.
of five years,