If you’ll take some time just to look at old photographs in antique shops or on the web, you’ll see women who spent their lives wearing dresses. No one ridiculed them. Everyone wore dresses or skirts, and they were able to do a wide variety of work, even farming, in them. The few who dared to dress like men were considered unfeminine. Today we have strayed so far from feminine dressing that women who have grown up in pants and sports shoes feel awkward in dresses. In this confused modern society, women feel uncomfortable wearing dresses in public and even at home. Who would have thought that a woman in a dress would be such an unusual sight that people would stop and stare? How far we haven’t come!!
One of our problems is that we have been convinced that our first priority is to be comfortable. We hear that said over and over in the name of slovenly, immodest and unattractive dressing. One thing we can learn from our Victorian forebears is the attitude of putting others first and avoiding embarrassing or shocking behaviour. Our forebears were more concerned about appearing rude than almost anything. They were concerned about how people would remember them.
These days we are supposed to be so politically correct that when older people like myself see something totally shocking and inappropriate, we are forced, in the name of politeness, to act like we didn’t notice. Girls can come to church in their pyjamas–or less–and no one has the nerve to say anything for fear of being accused of something untoward. If our great-grandparents saw what we are seeing today, they would certainly speak up about it, and it wouldn’t always be pleasant. We need to think of how our way of dressing is affecting others, and work to dress in a non-offensive, yet pleasing, manner.
Modernists mock the old Victorian stays and corsets, while wearing spandex and jeans that are just as form-fitting and even tighter than the undergarments of the past. One reason women feel uncomfortable in dresses is that they are used to wearing these tight clothes and feel rather unprotected and cold when they wear a dress. Their tight jeans make their figures feel pulled together, well-shaped, and firm. If you have difficulty feeling trim and neat in a dress, invest in foundations that will make you feel well-dressed and comfortable.
You won’t enjoy dresses if they are uninteresting, uninspiring and dull to you, so don’t wear fabrics and styles that make you feel depressed. It wasn’t too many years (or decades) ago that a new dress helped lift women from a bad day, sadness, or depression. New clothes, if they are the right color, pattern, print, or style for you, can make you feel energetic, optimistic, and creative. And you don’t have to spend a fortune!
One helpful thing you can do to find out what is best for you is to take a trip to a fabric store. Get a shopping cart and put some bolts of fabric in it. Choose prints and colors from the collection on the walls that interest you. If you like roses or pinks, put the bolts that remind you of them in the cart. If you just love yellows and reds, find some prints with both in them and put the bolts in the cart. Then wheel your shopping cart to the full-length mirror in the fabric store. (By the way, someone needs to ask Wal-Mart to put up some full-length mirrors in their fabric department.)
Now push the cart aside and stand in front of the mirror with one bolt of fabric. Let a length of fabric unroll to your ankles and see what it looks like. Check to see if it makes your complexion bright or dull. Does the color or print delight you? Does it make you smile? Can you imagine it draped into a dress? What does it remind you of: a summer’s day, a cozy winter evening in front of the fireplace, or a walk on the beach? How do you think it would look made into a dress?
If you don’t care to sew, this little excursion will give you some ideas of what is best for you in the dress department. After what you have seen, you might know exactly what to avoid and what to look for in the department stores.
Another thing you can do that is not expensive is to go to the Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul’s or any used clothing store and put a lot of dresses in the shopping cart. Go to the changing room and try them on. If you don’t want to do this, go ahead and buy them. They don’t cost very much (sometimes as little as $2 each), even if you get half a dozen of them. If, after getting them home, washing them in a sweet scented laundry soap, drying them, and pressing them to perfection, some of them still don’t look right on you, you have lost very little money by donating them back to the stores.
You might also be able to re-sell them to a friend, especially after touching them up and adding a missing button or pressing them. It is great fun to buy a dozen dresses in one of these places. You can experiment with styles by wearing them for a while and keeping the ones that just seem to be perfect for you. You haven’t been too extravagant, so if some of them don’t work out, you needn’t feel guilty. You can donate them back to Goodwill or give them away.
Actually, you can often get nicer dresses in the used stores than in the department stores, because they tend to be more feminine. They have been discarded by people who want to go more with the modern designs, which are less feminine. The used dresses tend to have a little lace on the collars and be longer in length.
People who sew have the advantage over the fashion world. They aren’t at the mercy of elitist designers who think they know what is best for all women. Those who sew are free to take a sleeve from one pattern, apply it to a bodice from another pattern and a skirt from another. They can choose their own colors and trims. How many times have you seen a dress and said, “That would be nice if only the trim were a different color?” or “It would suit me, but I prefer the A-line shape?”
Dresses are an ideal garment, in my opinion, because they require so little preparation to wear. All you have to do is take one off the hanger in your closet and put it on. Skirts and tops are more complicated. You can end up with a dozen tops and skirts and then you have the problem of matching them up. You may also end up with a very messy closet. I like a dress because the top is already coordinated with the skirt. Designers have cleverly devised a way to get girls to show their midriff by making the tops shorter and the skirts low-waisted. A dress can never separate like that when you lean over. I believe dresses are a lot more modest. There will be occasions for skirts, so do include some in your wardrobe planning.
It isn’t necessary for all women to like the western “Cattle Kate” styles that are included here. These pictures show you how a dress should drape and how well it should fit. I’ve included these pictures, because they look like they would be suitable for all the things you have to do if you are a homemaker, yet you could still go out to the grocery store, post office, visiting, or church in them.
If you are trying to get used to wearing dresses, try something conservative, in a darker color, to begin with. When you’ve begun to feel more confident in dresses, you can start adding some to your collection that have a little more color and detail to them. Start your little girls in dresses, and they will never feel uncomfortable in them. For running and playing, you can dress them in bloomers or pantaloons underneath the dresses.
Wearing dresses instead of skirts can be more slimming to your waistline. Consider what all goes into wearing a skirt and blouse. You have several layers of elastic, from your undergarments to your waistbands to your blouse. Each little bit adds more thickness at the waist. That is one reason a dress is so beautiful. It elongates your figure and is more comfortable to sit in, especially after a meal!
It is very important to wear a petticoat or slip under your dress and to don appropriate shoes and accessories. One of the worst sights you can see is a woman in a pretty dress with heavy sports shoes sporting thick soles and dirty shoe laces. There are many nice dress shoes or charming little boots with non-skid soles that you can wear with dresses. Try dressing up for one day, and then the next, and, eventually, you will feel more comfortable in these clothes than in your old jeans and tee-shirts. Notice that you stand, sit, and move differently in a dress. There is something about a dress, especially if it is flowing and long, (and if you wear feminine shoes and accessories), that will make you feel more graceful. By “feminine,” I simply mean delicate and special.
It isn’t just important to be “comfortable” in your clothes, but to be presentable. Other people have to look at you, so, please, have mercy on them! Don’t depress them or jolt their senses by looking like you just emerged from a mud-slide. Don’t wear dull, depressing, worn-out dresses. Wear something pretty that improves your mood, and others will compliment you. Consider the compliments your “report card.”
If you have grown up in jeans and pants, it may take a while to discover the type of feminine outfit that is right for you. That is why I strongly suggest you begin with a dress. If you aren’t used to coordinating skirts and blouses, a one-piece dress makes things much easier.
Would you say that you are sending the right message to your loved ones and the public by your appearance? We are a disgrace when we travel to other countries, and we are the objects of ridicule among visitors to our nation. If you despair of the way things look today and the way women dress and act, you can actually change things quite a bit by altering your own mode of dress. We aren’t advocating going back to the Victorian era, but we are saying we can learn a lot from how these women lived. They wore their dresses with pride, they loved beautiful fabrics, and they were interested in pleasing others.
How much longer are we going to allow talentless fashion designers and mindless movie stars to give us our standard of dress? There are now many alternatives to the dresses you see in stores. You don’t have to wear those dull, uninteresting jeans and tee-shirts anymore. I’ve heard many young women sigh wistfully that they were born in the wrong era, and that they wished they could wear lovely dresses in public the way people used to in the 18th and 19th centuries. Life is too short to wait for good fashions to come into style. You can make them come in to style by wearing them. Do you want to go through life just wishing things were different? To quote an old book, “Life is a banquet, but most people are starving to death.” There are people today who have had the gumption to change the way they dress, and they say they feel like they have come alive. So why do you wait? No matter what age you are, you can start dressing femininely. The longer you put it off, the longer it will take to get used to wearing feminine things. There are a lot of things that ail the modern woman that could be solved just by changing the way she dresses. After you’ve worn beautiful, feminine clothes for a while, you will no longer feel self-conscious in them, and you won’t be bothered by the stares of others. (This might seem utterly superficial to some, but so much of our mental and spiritual life is affected by how we conduct ourselves on the outside — and this includes how we dress our bodies, which are the Temple of the Holy Spirit!)