Over-Dressing (From the Rural)

Moore’s Rural New-Yorker
January 5th, 1861
“The over-dressing of American ladies in the streets, at hotels, and in the churches, is a subject remark among travelers from abroad, as well as sensible people at home.” Rural New Yorker
There is a foreign savor about your discourse, Mr. Celebs. The true sons of “Uncle Sam” do not sit in judgment against the wives and daughters of their own country. Hav’nt [sic] you been taking a jaunt in the Queen’s dominions, and been accustomed to the sight of those somber-colored satin dresses that last from one generation to another, and from thence drawn your conclusions? Doubtless you have encased yourself in an armor of impenetrable reserve while the “conflict of” charms is viewed afar off, and while good care is taken that your position is beyond the reach of “Cupid’s darts.” Who are the sensible people you speak or? Are there any who do not make obeisance to keeping up appearances , especially in dress? A few prodigies of excellence and economy may exist; but the torch of Diogenes would evidently be required to find them. Suppose the American Ladies are somewhat in advance of those on the other side of the “big pond,” is there any rule by which they can be judged? Is there any judging in matters of dress? Surely nothing is more capricious than taste.
But if fault exists in matters of dress, where does it originate? For what purpose do they array their dear little selves in the most becoming style? Is it for their own gratification alone? On whom do gentlemen lavish their unceasing attention at “the Springs,” at Newport, at the ball, and, if you please, at the little private party in your own circle? To whom do gentlemen solicit introductions? Is it the plainly-dressed, unpretentious young lady? Or is it that little butterfly of a coquette, made radiantly beautiful by silks and laces? If I am not mistaken, men seldom value a jewel unless it be handsomely set. Dress, or over-dress, has a semblance of wealth, and husbands are not unfrequently bought with the lustre of money alone, and the conclusion of the matter sometimes is, that they find themselves beautifully “sold.”
Personal beauty is worshiped next to mammon, but is rarely appreciated except it be assisted with elegance of dress, and often the chief attraction of the handsome face is dependent on some peculiarity of style, or shade of color in dress, which is made the subject of study by those who know the secret of their power in society. Indeed, the great wonder is that so much attention is paid to mental culture and general intelligence. Goodness and intelligence must receive the homage that is due for their sakes alone, before a reform in dress can be expected. Newspaperdom is not the path to this field of reform. Honestly, Mr. Celebs, does not an American woman possess more attractions for a better-half with her great fault of over-dressing, or, rather, her fault of trying to please, than any of those English ladies who possess such a keen relish for roast beef and porter? Would you like to be taken captive by any of those German beauties whose liking for lager bear is equal to that exhibited by Artemas Ward’s musician – or would you prefer a French lass to serve up frogs in your dish of fricassee, and keep you spending half your life at a “café?” – instead of a neat little American home, where the vine and shrubbery grow undisturbed, and where the sunshine can play hide and seek, and the dear wife, arrayed in the becoming dress you so dearly love to see, is ever ready to welcome you. Linda Bennett. Hammondsport, N.Y., 1860
We wonder if Linda is not indulging in a sly hit at the occupants of the Rural sanctum, – administering her castigation over the shoulders of the devoted “Celebe?” At all events, she comes to the defense of American ladies with true spirit and courage, – genuine feminine grit, – and while we must, with the most profound respect, acknowledge the ardor displayed, we beg leave to enter our protest at being thus summarily read out of either the Union Federal, or Union Matrimonial, For the first, – and we include that naughty little sister, Miss S. Carolina, – we cherish a devotion that will last while pulse beats or heart throbs, and latter, bless your dear heart, Linda, we love with all our powers of body and soul. We speak knowingly, too; for instead of “keeping beyond the reach of Cupid’s arrows,” one of the aforesaid weapons touched us delicious years agone, as those who compose “our own circle” at home, – the little ones who clamber upon our knees and dally with locks where the frosts of winter are somewhat thickly sown, – could testify. In Linda’s remarks relative to the male race, there is unfortunately, too much of truth; we think, however, that the cause of this moral delinquency is not rightly judged. As to the question of dress, and the modes of styles thereof, we do not consider ourselves competent critics, and will take the advice of witty writer she mentions: – “Never don’t do nothin’ which it isn’t your Fort.” Our correspondent has broached the subject, – the ladies have the matter in charge, – and we will be glad to have them discuss its influence upon their sex, in a philosophical and hygienic point of view, through the columns of the Rural.


For the continued disucssion of dress and over-dress, please click: Following the question

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