Friday, November 6, 2015

Dressing For One's Station, 1859

Detail of nurse and child from James Cameron's "Colonel and Mrs. James A. Whiteside" c. 1858-1859
Servant and charge, from a painting by James Cameron, 1858-9
"The youngsters of the present day, both male and female, seem to think themselves very much on a par with their superiors, and have little notion of giving them that deference which is due to them. And as the present race of servants have first been taken out of the position in which the Lord has placed them, by the super-education which has been given them at the city or village school, so do they mount up in the ever-ascending scale of pride and arrogance by the dress which they assume. The servants of the last generation, who had been properly educated for their after life, dressed themselves according to their station: their gowns were neatly, made without any attempt at fashion or finery; their hair was put simply in bands on their forehead, and the neat cap which they wore, was made to cover the head; they dressed simply according to the station which they occupied, and their mistresses respected them for so doing. 
 But such is the change which has come over them in this our day, that now it never enters into their minds to dress themselves as servants. Their bonnets must be trimmed with lace, their cloaks made with hoods, their dresses with hanging sleeves, most unsuitable and inconvenient for household work, their petticoats trimmed with edging, their bonnets and caps made to come only on the very back of their heads for fear of hiding their hair, which must of course be dressed in the very tip-top of the fashion... They would surely think it strange beyond measure if they were to hear of their mistress going to the Queen's mantua maker, and saying to her--"I wish to have my dress made in every respect like Her Majesty's; and although I cannot afford the same costly materials that the Queen has, yet be sure to let the style of the dress be an exact imitation of hers." Servants would have discernment enough to see the folly of their mistress thus aping the Queen; but they have not discernment enough to see their own folly in thus aping their mistress....A servant with all her fine attire and mimicry of the dress of her mistress, can never succeed in making herself appear like a lady. Her walk, her manners, her mode of speaking prove what her position is; and in spite of all her outside show, she is known to be just Clara B., the servant girl at Mrs H's. Nobody mistakes her for one moment for being one of the family though she aims to be so like them in her style of dress. Then what is the object of it? What is the result? Simply this that she exposes herself to the contempt of all right minded persons who now despise her for the foolish attempt to appear what she is not by dressing above her station and who would greatly respect her did she simply keep the position in which God has placed her by dressing according to it."
--Introduction to Why Do The Servants of the Nineteenth Century Dress As They Do? (1859)

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