Dress design An Account of Costume for Artists & Dressmakers

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The designing and making of Costume is a craft—sometimes artistic—with which we are all more or less concerned. It is also, in its own way, one of the living arts, that is, it is still carried forward experimentally by experts directly attached to the "business." It has not yet been subjected to rules of good taste formulated by Academies and Universities; but when Inigo Jones, the great architect, was asked to make some designs for fancy dress, he based them on the Five Orders of Architecture, and ponderous fancies they were.

            If we look for the main stem of principle on which modern Costume develops, we seem to find it in the desire for freshness, for the clean, the uncrushed, and the perfectly fitted and draped. Probably a modern lady's ideal would be to wear a dress once, and then burn it.

            A correlative of the ideal of freshness is the delight in perfect "cut," and the rapidly changing fashions are doubtless conditioned in part by the desire for the new and unsullied. "Novelty" is a guarantee of newness.

            In such ephemeral productions it would be vain to seek for certain fine types of excellence which were once common when dresses were not so lightly cast aside. So it is necessary that we should understand what the ruling principle is, for it is one which will not be set aside at the bidding of well-meaning reformers. I will only venture to say that it would be desirable to make the attempt to separate in some degree the more constant elements of dress from those which are more variable. It will seem a pity to more than outsiders that a "well-dressed" person need wear so little which deserves to have been made by human hands, and nothing which deserves to be preserved. Fine laces and jewels are allowed to be antique—could not the circle of such things be a little broadened? A properly groomed man carries about on him literally nothing worth looking at. We might surely look for a watch-chain with some delicacy of handiwork—something beyond mechanical reductions of iron cables. Fine buttons might conceivably be made to go with the studs, or be made of crystal, amethyst, and silver or gold. Women might allow of the transfer of fine embroidered applications from one dress to another, or make more use of clasps and the like. I am confident that when it is pointed out, it will be felt as a shortcoming that no part of a fine lady's dress need now be too good to throw away. Although the present volume is cast into the form of a history, it is also intended to be a book of suggestions; and the hope is held that modern dressmakers may refer to it as much as, or more than, those who are interested in dress from the historical point of view.

            In any case the author's accurate knowledge of the facts, and his many bright sketches—which are often drawn from examples in his own remarkable collection—make the present volume an admirable handbook of English Costume. The more technical "patterns" which are included amongst the illustrations will be found most valuable to all who wish to go deeper than the first glance reveals.

            W. R. LETHABY.

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