Fashion, in all its tyranny,
has made its appearance; if you wish, we will devote some of our
time to the subject, attempt to explain it as best we can. From
the very first, it is easy to let ourselves be persuaded that the
changes it brings in this year are of minimal importance; that
last year's dress could, if absolutely necessary, hold its head
up alongside the one that is newly appeared this season; oh, if
there were no subtle differences! but there are so many! You must
notice them, feel them, disown the past; open your eyes, and even
more so your purse, to whatever our designers summon up with such
A wool or vicuna dress for the daytime; dark green, violet, navy blue, are the correct things to wear. The dark and simple style of this fashion justifies its name, riding wear, if the length of the dress doesn't make it somewhat restrictive. I would quite willingly call it the sweeper.
The straight skirt maintains its place, but it has further increased its fullness, cut more and more on the bias. This fullness thus driven back to its furthest entrenched position, has become a problem that only our greatest dressmakers know how to resolve.
The blouse is in complete revolution. It doesn't want to let itself stop at the hip; it calls to mind its grandest incarnation under the glorious reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV. The great basque is no longer a fugitive vision, but truly a very happy adaptation of our blouse, a refuge for questionable hips. This authorized dissimulation is a great step forward.
The blouse itself is subject to every possible variation; but above all it is called upon to follow the shape of the bust, if necessary to improve its gracefulness and reduce its size.
Silk muslin - not the holy muslin of our mothers - is always the order of the day - along with expensive and precious lace around the decolletage, more square than pointed.
Don't hold back on ornamentation in delicate gem stones; emeralds, rubies, opals, turquoises; and don't go and mislead yourself with false moral conclusions; your sincerity will not be damaged, your finery risks nothing by being seen beside its false sisters.
The hat delights in excess: large fedora, with huge plumes, blocking the horizon, displeasing your neighbour in the theatre! microscopic mantle; a little bit more and it will only be a walk on part on the bill; but your head will not show a trace of it. No matter! for the moment, a fabulous bird, emerald in colour, gold or blue azure, delicately unfolding its long wings in the middle of a medley of pearled tulle.
Mantle in black chenille, strewn with dark stones, tucked up at the back by a clasp in black diamonds, allowing a few curls of hair to escape, triumphant rivals of the tuft of little feathers, already worn so much. A simple little bow of a delicate shade, sky blue in preference, cast into this rather severe ensemble like a livelier, more cheerful thought in the middle of a serious dissertation: so much for the hat.
The most important question of all, the dress! Great anxiety: the short jacket abandoned. Where would you want the great basques to take refuge, if not beneath a long dress, in the form of a round cloak or large jacket in the Louis XV style? You gasp, madam; for the last year you have had a jacket in otter fur; it cost you an arm and a leg; and now this vile fashion is forcing you to abandon it! The short jacket banished, Romeo banished! No, my dear Juliet, don't worry. The situation is not as bad as you think; "he has made his peace with God"; we have agreed to leave the matter to the aristocrats, in otter fur, in astrakhan, their usual cut and their relative length. The great pelisse in wool is all the rage; it is garnished with gold lace, with jet; Medici collar, decorated with feathers, so that the edge of the dress, which is lined with shot silk, brings to mind those fabulous dull coloured insects which, when they open their wings, suddenly hit you with sparkling reflections. This dress then is both sober and serious; but the way you wear it changes the character, the effect; and if I may be so bold as to offer some advice to the imprudent fisher who is approaching this Lorelei, I would say...
Nothing today; we will come back to it next time, and then we shall tackle the ball gown: that is to say the infinite!
Le Mensuel no 3, Dec 1890. From Proust, Écrits sur l'art, GF Flammarion, 1999.
By promising you the other day
to speak about the ball gown I have put myself, I think, in a
difficult position. An article entitled "Fashion" must,
above all, aim for what is relevant; it must to some extent
anticipate the age. Well the ball gown is, nowadays, fully
functional, and anything I might say about it would be of no
consequence. Wouldn't it be wiser to confess that I am behind the
times? The frank confession of my badly chosen words will no
doubt excuse me for not keeping my word; but if I don't duly talk
to you about ball gowns and the snows of yesteryear, could I be
permitted by the way to express a regret on the subject? It is
about young girls' ball gowns. A young girl had a privilege that
she should never have had to give up: she could be simple. She
could wear tulle, flowers at a ball. Tulle, with its fragile
appearance, gracefully covered her and formed a barrier, so to
speak, against too close contact with her neighbours; one would
approach her with less assurance, with less boldness, for fear of
crumpling that delicate covering. Today that obstacle has been
removed: the young girl has almost become the young woman, and
that I deplore. It is, it seems, the Americans who have brought
about this change in us; would we not have been able, left to our
own devices, to manage better without them sending us this
import? But here I am far away from my subject, and I am almost
forgetting that "Prince Charming", spring, with all his
favours is upon us. For some time now he has been retiring under
his tent, giving free rein to wind and showers; but he is not
there so much any more because of it, and has left me free to
search among his treasures. There are so many that it is
difficult to know where to start, and to lose one's head over it.
Let's start there then - with the hat.
Getting smaller and smaller, the hat perches itself on the curls like a circumflex accent. Sometimes it's a butterfly, an aigrette in jet, sometimes wings of gold lose themselves in tulle or in a bouquet of flowers.
The round hat is still waiting for the most blazing rays of the sun to brighten it up; but we can already predict that its brims will be large, the crown shallow and with boundless imagination in its positioning of feathers and flowers.
- Below that the clothing.
The large jacket is always preferable for the elegant figure; it can be worn long, in the style of Louis XV with lapels, in simple wool or richly adorned with a mixture of jet and matt embroidery.
The half-length cape is still all the rage; but, the shops supplying the latest fashions having taken over this creation, the mission of our dressmakers has become more and more delicate: to triumph over banality, that is everything! they have succeeded. - The cape in fine wool or in Sicilian with its Mephistophelean shape or, if you prefer, Henri II, with its trimmings a mixture of jet and gold, its fringes of jet or large sections of lace; its Medici collar but cut lower to allow greater freedom of movement for the neck, lined with a smooth fabric, either light or dark, that is "the last word". Above all avoid clothing embroidered with jet cabochons, the carbuncle of the season! it has fallen into vulgarity; it is yesterday's star attraction, as Sarcey said.
The spring dress has not yet made its appearance felt; but the few specimens I have seen from our great dressmakers give me license to talk to you about them with some conviction. Above all let us be joyful for the freedom that prevails there. One can wear anything; everything is acceptable in the name of elegance and taste, also good the large, flapped skirt with waistcoat embroidered with stylish designs, but the bodice with embroidered or plain waist band leaving it to the same material to play its little games in the form of pleats and frills.
I have seen a grey dress of impeccable taste. Where? How? I'll give you four guesses, I'll give you ten, I'll give you a hundred! I shall restrain myself simply to giving you a detailed description of it.
The dress in question is in a shade of light grey; the fabric of fine wool recalls the velvetiness of corduroy, so sought after this winter, and yet at the same time as light to wear as a headscarf. The skirt, with a short train, is lined with taffeta; this latest innovation avoids the bottom of the skirt and simplifies matters for those who have not been given the task of caring for the municipality and sweeping the streets.
Lace that imitates old Venetian trims the bottom of this skirt, the stuff of which is cut entirely on the bias, which adds much to its elegance. The trimming of ribbon that moderates the lace calls to mind that of the corsage all strewn with embroidered steel pearls, the front of which ends in pleats on a waistcoat of Venetian lace, which then continues around the waist in the form of a basque.
A dress in black was able to charm me equally. But wouldn't it be better to stop at the grey note? "Perhaps". It is on this word that one of Alexander Dumas' comedies ends (A Woman's Torment). Why say anything more but release you from
Le Mensuel no 6, March 1891. From Proust, Écrits sur l'art, GF Flammarion, 1999.
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