"A woman of light, garmented in light."
SHELLEY, The Witch of Atlas
"THE true ornament of a woman," writes Justin, "is virtue, not dress;" but the love of finery, whether rightly or wrongly, has always been held to be one of the inherent weaknesses of womankind, and an old proverb says that "'tis as natural for women to pride themselves on fine clothes as 'tis for a peacock to spread his tall," with which may be compared an Eastern proverb, "A woman without ornament is like a field without water." But, perhaps, there is some excuse for this love of vanity, especially as dress pleases the opposite sex, it being popularly supposed in Spain that "A well-dressed woman draws her husband from another woman's door." It is said in Japan that "An ugly woman dreads the mirror," and some allowance must, therefore, be made for her desire to make up, in some measure, by dress what she lacks in good looks, although the proverb runs in Italy that "ugly women finely dressed are the uglier for it." This, however, must not be regarded as the popular verdict, a Tamil aphorism being not far wrong when it recommends us to "put jewellery on a woman and to look at her, and to plaster a wall and to look at it," implying that both will be improved by care. This advice, says Mr. Jensen, is generally given by a mother to one who confesses that her daughter is not exactly a beauty. Even Ovid was forced to complain that "dress is most deceptive, for, covered with jewels and gold ornaments everywhere, a girl is often the least part of herself;" with which may be compared the expression of Euripides, which is to this effect, "She who dresses for others beside her husband, makes herself a wanton."
It has long, however, been a familiar adage in most countries that "fine feathers make fine birds"; for, as the Spanish say, "No woman is ugly when she is dressed;" and, according to the Chinese proverb, "Three-tenths of a woman's good looks are due to nature, seven-tenths to dress;" a piece of proverbial lore which holds good in most countries.
It is not surprising that woman's dress has been much caricatured by wits and satirists, and been made the subject of many a piece of proverbial lore. As Plautus observed of a certain young lady, "it's no good her being well dressed if she's badly mannered; ill-breeding mars a fine dress more than dirt"--in other words, he meant to imply that dress is oftentimes deceptive and creates a false appearance, which is not in keeping with the woman who wears it. Many of our old proverbs are to the same effect, an oft-quoted one affirming that "fine clothes oftentimes hide a base descent," with which may be compared the following: "Fine dressing is a foul house swept before the doors," an illustration of which Ray thus gives, "Fair clothes, ornaments and dresses, set off persons and make them appear handsome, which, if stripped of them, would seem but plainly and homely. God makes and apparel shapes." Extravagant dress has been universally condemned as emblematic of bad taste, and, among Hindustani proverbs on the subject, a woman too showily dressed is described as "yellow with gold and white with pearls." A Tamil proverb, speaking of an elaborately-dressed woman, says, "It is true she is adorned with flowers and gold, but she is beaten with slippers wherever she goes;" in other words, such a woman, however well dressed, is a bad character, and must be treated with scorn; a variation of this maxim being thus: "If you dress in rags and go out, you will be an object for admiration, but, if you dress up nicely and go out, people will speak ill of you," thinking that you are an overdressed woman, and, therefore, inclined to be fast. Among German proverbs we are reminded that "A woman strong in flounces is weak in the head."
In Hindustani proverbial lore an old woman extravagantly dressed is contemptuously described "as an old mare with a red bridle," and "a gay old woman with a mat petticoat," and, according to another proverb, when a young girl not gifted with good looks is seen elaborately dressed, it is said, "On the strength of what beauty do you deck yourself thus?"
The inconsistency of dress when the home is poor and shabby has been much censured, an Eastern proverb running thus--"Nothing in the house and she sports a topaz ring," with which may be compared another saying, "Nothing to eat or drink in the house, and the lady of it very proud."
But the chief charm of a woman's dress is consistency, as it is thus expressed in a Sindhi proverb--
As the face so the adornment."
Because his feathers are more beautiful?
Or is the adder better than the eel,
Because his painted skin contents the eye?"
She cometh to stick to me now in hir lacke."
Veiled in a simple robe, their best attire,
Beyond the pomp of dress; for loveliness
Needs not the foreign aid of ornament,
But is, when unadorn'd, adorn'd the most."
Though she be drest in silks and scarlet."
Another proverb, which, under a variety of forms, is found in our own and other countries, runs thus--"Let no woman's painting breed thy heart's fainting," because women who thus adorn themselves have always been subject to reproach; for, as the old adage says, "A good face needs no paint," or, as another version has it, "Fair faces need no paint."
Such a practice as that of rouging, too, has been generaIly discountenanced, since it has, from a very early period, been the recognised emblem of a fast woman, for it has long been said that "A harlot's face is a painted sepulchre," and as the Italian adage runs--"Women rouge that they may not blush." Hence we are told that "A woman who paints puts up a bill to let," with which we may compare the popular adage--"A woman and a cherry are painted for their own harm." The same idea exists in most countries, and there is a Chinese proverb to this effect--"I guess that a good-looking woman needs no rouge to make her pretty;" and it is further said that, "although the rouged beauty repudiates age, she cannot come up to the bloom of youth."
As "blemishes are unseen by night," according to an old Latin proverb, when dress, artfully arranged, presents most women in their most attractive form, their admirers were warned against falling into their meshes at such a time; for, as it is still commonly said by our French neighbours, "By candlelight a goat looks a lady," and on this account we are recommended by the Italians not to choose "A jewel, or a woman, or linen, by candlelight." It may be added that this idea has given rise to a host of proverbs much to the same effect, such as, "When candles be out all cats be grey," and "Joan is as good as my lady in the dark."
It has long been proverbial that the "smith's mare and the cobbler's wife are always the worst shod," a truism which, under one form or another, is found in most countries, a Sindhi adage running thus--"Her lover, an oilman, and yet her hair dirty;" and there is the Hindu proverb, "A shoemaker's wife with bursted shoes," with which we may compare the German proverb, "Anxious about her dress, but disregarding her appearance," in connection with which we may quote Heywood's couplet:--
With shops full of new shoes all her life?"
Woman's dress, again, has from time immemorial been strongly censured in our proverbial lore as productive of extravagance, and Ovid's words have long ago passed into a popular adage, "What madness it is to carry all one's income on one's back." Among modern poets Cowper, too, wrote in the same strain:--
And comforts cease. Dress drains our cellars dry,
And keeps our larder clean; puts out our fires,
And introduces hunger, frost, and woe,
Where peace and hospitality might reign."
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich;
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds
So honour peereth in the meanest habit."
At the same time, slovenly dress has been equally condemned, and, according to a popular adage, "A pretty girl and a tattered garment are sure to find some hook in the way," which is similar to the Italian expression, "A handsome woman and a slashed gown;" which coincide with the old English maxim--
Are disesteemed and held in scorn."
Snotty girl, slut of a woman"--
There is a very prevalent belief among women that, if they would secure luck with any article of dress, they must wear it for the first time at church. Equal attention is also paid by many of the fair sex to the way they put on each article of dress, as, in case of its being accidentally inside out, it is considered an omen of success. In our northern counties, again, if a young woman accidentally puts a wrong hook, or button, into the hole when dressing in the morning, it is considered to be a warning that a misfortune of some kind will befall her in the course of the day, and any mishap, however trivial, is regarded as a proof of her fears having been well founded.
Most of these childish fancies retain their hold on the fair sex, and where is the young lady to be found who is not mindflil of the admonition--
Or else be sure you will it rue."
Many, also, are the strange fancies relative to colour in dress, and the time-honoured rhyme is as much in force to-day as in years long ago which tell us that--
And yellow is forsworn,
But blue is the prettiest colour that's worn"--
According to a folk-rhyme current in the southern counties:--
Have lovers true,
In green and white,
Green's forsaken, Red's brazen,
White is love, and Black is death."
Send me a ribbon, and let it be blue;
If you hate me, let it be seen,
Send me a ribbon, a ribbon of green."
Blue, again, would appear to be in ill-favour for the wedding dress, as the bride--
She's sure to rue."
Something borrowed and something blue."
In a yellow petticoat and a green gown";
Says the poppy, I am king of the world;
But says the opium, I am a lady-love,
Who takes me once takes me for ever."
If a young woman's petticoats are longer than her dress this is an indication that her mother does not love her so much as her father; and, according to a Yorkshire belief, when a married woman's apron falls off it is a sign that something is coming to vex her; but should the apron of an unmarried girl drop down she is frequently the object of laughter, as there is no surer sign that she is thinking about her sweetheart. In Suffolk the big blue apron usually worn by cottage women is known by them as a "mantle," and it is considered an omen of ill-luck if their mantle strings some untied.
Odd beliefs of this kind might easily be enumerated, for even a pin is an object of superstition with most women, who invariably, on seeing one, pick it up for the sake of good luck, as, by omitting to do so, they run into imminent danger of incurring misfortune, a notion embodied in the subjoined familiar rhyme:--
All the day you'll have good luck;
See a pin and let it lie,
All the day you'll have to cry."
"But woe is me! such presents luckless prove,
For knives, they tell me, always sever love."
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