Lady Lydia speaks on ...

Dressing Everyday

The subject today is one which I learned from my children's piano teacher, a woman who was born around 1911. Until the day she died, she presented herself to others as a dignified lady. She was never seen in a tacky tank top or shorts. No one ever saw her knees or the veins in her legs. Don't get me wrong: she was not wearing the styles of the early 1900s, either. The week before she died, in her late 80s, she went shopping for a new dress for her next student recital. She kept her wardrobe fairly new, and although her styles were current, she was always modestly dressed in tea-length dresses and pretty hats. She always tried to be an example and an inspiration to the young. Although her students sometimes came to their lessons in awful clothing, she dressed up for them. This is a difficult thing to do in this society, since we tend to relax our standards around people who do not care. While her husband was alive, she dressed beautifully for him every day. She believed you were a bride every day of your life, even if you were not married, so she dressed as though she was a very special person with a special purpose in life. The latter decades of her life were spent as a widow, but she did not forget how important it was to dress as though she was just married. It was this way of dressing that kept her spirits high. She was here to live and work the work that God had given her, and she wasn't going to shirk that responsibility.

I have here a wedding photograph of the past century. The bride of that time did not look much different on her wedding day as she would on subsequent days. In other words, she did not "let down" her standards of dress. She respected her husband enough to want to make him happy that he married her and never to have any regrets on that score. Clothing was extremely important in those days. It was individually measured, sewn and fitted for each person. Women loved chiffon and lace, velvet, satin, flowers, buttons, color, tucks and trims. Men often bought their wives the dresses they longed for as an expression of their love. Women and men dressed in stark contrast to each other. The feminine clothing of women complimented the masculine clothing of the men. The women of this era did not want to look like the men but enjoyed their feminine status. It isn't nice to have won the heart of your husband only to let down around him once you begin to live together. How would you like to be given a beautiful gift, perhaps a lovely piece of furniture, but within a few months of having it in your home, it disintegrated? It may have deteriorated through your own neglect. While it is understandable that she will be more relaxed and casual at home during the evenings or early mornings, she should dress as though she were expecting someone important (her husband) to come to the door. The day she decides to just sluff around in her robe and slippers will be the day practically everyone she knows will drop by to see her. There was a time in history when a married woman dressed as carefully each day as she did on her wedding day. This applies to single women also, who can dress beautifully for their fathers, siblings and friends, making the world a lovelier place by example.

To those of you who are having a struggle changing over to more feminine dressing, just pretend you are a bride every day, whether you are married or not, or at least on your honeymoon, visiting a very special place. Make sure you have proper foundations that will cause your feminine dress to drape gracefully and hang nicely on your body. In winter, instead of wearing a hooded sweatshirt, wear a Spencer jacket or long-sleeved dresses. This is more streamlined and allows more freedom in your household motions. Even if you are wearing a cotton dress, you can make sure it is fresh, clean and pressed. You can use perfume, and you can fix your hair the most flattering way for your face. You can wear colors that suit you.

If you want to find out what styles and colors are best for you in dresses, try this experiment: wear a different dress each day and note how you functioned and felt while wearing it. Did one item of clothing make you feel more cheerful or depressed? Then begin to build a wardrobe of the clothing that you function best in. Don't wear the same dress every day, but rotate your clothing so that your favorites do not wear out. Beautiful outfits are more important than the latest technical gadget, more important than a vacation, and more important than ornaments for your home. When you go somewhere else, such as the grocery store or the new tea room, people can only guess about the way you live. Your clothing will send a strong message about your father, your husband and your home. Your clothing tells what kind of woman you are, whether careful or careless, thoughtful or thoughtless, diligent or lazy. If you have children, your children are going to be either very proud of you, or sullen and rebellious toward you, and your clothing can make a big difference. A woman's dress is a large partof the respect she receives as a woman.

And now a word about age dressing. There shouldn't be a huge generation gap with women's clothing. Too many times the youth are separated from the aged, giving them the idea that they cannot be consulted on proper dressing. Most stores now have separate teen sections, and the girls never see the dresses of the regular women; in fact, they never see a dress. Both age groups leave a lot to be desired in the way they dress. The clothing on the older and elderly women is not feminine or interesting, and the young women do not want to grow up to dress like them. Is it any wonder they gravitate to the styles of the stars? Older women must take upon themselves the personal responsibility to inspire the young women to dress beautifully and femininely, and they cannot do that if they remain in the knit pants and the unfeminine shirts and tops. There is no use saying "tsk, tsk" when you see a young person with spiked hair, green lipstick, black leotards and a top with holes in it, if you, yourself, are not dressed femininely enough to be imitated. You will not have credibility as a teacher if you do not dress well every day.

Some school teachers say that high school girls they have known have never been seen in a dress and have never owned one. This is all the more reason why you should do everything in your power to bring your teen daughters home to study and plan to be homemakers, alongside their own mothers. Once at home, away from powerful peer influences, they can be exposed to movies like "Wives and Daughters," "Anne of Green Gables," "Persuasion," and other classical stories. As they learn from the past, these young women naturally will want to dress femininely. If you will study the Victorian photographs carefully, you will see that there was hardly any difference between teen girls and the grown women. Little girls looked forward to growing up and putting up their hair and wearing longer dresses. They wanted to be respectable.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci
by Sir Frank Dicksee

Lest you think that our teaching on feminine dress is "living in the past," let me assure you that, although our values are pictured in the past, they are practiced in the present and focused on the future. All three eras work in harmony, as we glean the best in clothing styles from all the previous centuries we have a record of. Do not be discouraged if you have days of disorganization, illness, and interruptions and you can't quite dress as well as you would like. Just keep the picture in your mind of what you'd like to be. Do a little each day to increase your femininity. Find good teachers and mentors who will coach you in your quest to dress femininely. Look at catalogs, and circle the things you think are the most feminine. Write letters to those you feel could give you some help. The first step in real change is to have a strong desire. The next step is to change that desire into reality. Part of the Biblical way of life is to look for ways to do better. We do not have to continue to follow failure patterns. We have the opportunity to restore society to modesty and femininity, just by doing it ourselves. One person can influence many.

First Evening in Their Own Home
by Harrison Fisher
Along with the changes in the way you dress, you must expect a negative reaction. There is an element of society that does not want women to "go back" to real feminine dress. These people will cast discouraging remarks up to you. When you answer your door in the morning, they will say "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were going somewhere." Or, "I won't keep you long. It looks like you were ready to go out." Just say, "Oh, no. I dress like this every day."

While living overseas many years ago, I was introduced to another American woman whose husband was with a company that had transferred him to their office over there. The wife invited me up to their apartment to visit her, at nine in the morning. When she greeted me, she was all dressed up; not in formal evening wear, mind you, but not in pants and a sweatshirt, as many women did. I asked her about it, and she said she wanted to always be ready if her husband called and said he was bringing someone home for lunch, or if he wanted to meet her somewhere.

In a makeover magazine recently, a husband sent in pictures of his young wife, to see if this particular magazine staff would do a makeover for her. He showed them pictures of the three young children and the wife in sweat pants, tee-shirt and slippers and the totally demolished living room in the morning. He told the staff that she was a beautiful woman, but he had not seen that beauty in a long time. He stated that the outfit in the pictures was the one she wore every day at home. The makeover people dressed her in a dress and pulled her hair back out of her face. She said she felt alive because the clothing cheered her up. The "after" pictures showed her house looking much better. For some reason, dressing up gave more energy and optimism and creativity. Her baby had grown so used to her in her grungy day-to-day wear that when he first saw her made over, he refused to go to her because he did not know her.

No matter what your size or your nationality or skin color or income, it is possible to dress femininely. Feminine dress transcends borders, language and culture.

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Contents copyright 2002 Lydia Sherman. Please do not reproduce without permission!