Philosophers say that when a man is intoxicated his real nature may easily be discovered. Carlyle, in his great and thoughtful work on clothes, did not give the lounging garb of woman the serious consideration it deserves. He wandered off into the realms of the abstruse and came to no such conclusions as these:
- Whoever would know a woman thoroughly must have a chance to know her in a wrapper.
- The colors that she chooses, the style that she affects, and, above all, the way that she wears it, will be such commentaries on her taste and character as are nowhere else visible.
In the street every woman is perforce garbed much like every other woman. The tailors, the ready made departments of the shops, and the inherent feminine distaste for appearing different from other women, arrange that. even if one has wild yearnings after primrose or crimson, and aspires to originality of cut, one has to be very wealthy to gratify this taste in public. The ready made departments do not cater to would-be esthetes, and the tailors permit no rebellion against their dictates.
But the negligee, the little home made affair, the two days’ work of the seamstress or of the clever needlewoman herself! That is another matter. In fashioning that there is no hard and fast law of cut or color to follow. Though drab be the prescribed street colors, one may riot in red indoors. Every woman may be herself—and that is why the negligee is to woman the same involuntary confession that inebriety is sometimes to man.
There are women, of course, to whom negligee is unknown, and while they may be wise so far as their failure to provide possibly damaging biographical notes of themselves is concerned, they are the most short sighted of mortals so far as comfort, economy, and health go.
The lounging gown is of course a comfort. That needs no elucidation. Its economy is equally plain. To lounge in tailor made attire is distinctly extravagant. To lounge in half undress is a short sighted, cold inviting policy, profitable to no one but the doctor.
The woman who provides herself with enough comfortable lounging gowns is a wise one. The one who has a warm flannel wrapper in which to infold herself when she comes in tired and in need of a few minutes’ sleep; who has a soft silk affair in which to lean back luxuriously in a steamer chair in her own room while she reads or has a late breakfast; who has short bed jackets to cover her shoulders when she indulges in a sybaritic breakfast in bed, or even spends a day there; who has warm, soft slippers by her bed to slip her bare feet into the instant she arises: who has pretty little matinées in which to make a comfortable, ungirt, and yet respectable appearance at the family luncheon table in an emergency–this woman is wise in her day and generation She is pleasing not only to her household, but she is a pleasure to herself as well; for the woman who does not take a youthful delight in such possessions is no true woman. The little luxuries of life do as much to keep the spirits of women fresh and young as anything except love and religion, and she is fortunate who realizes this in time.
The materials of which these gowns and sacks are made are inexpensive, especially in the spring and summer. The eider down and cashmere lined silk of winter may be dear enough to bar their use, but in the spring, when Japanese silks, lawns, and dimities may be had at prices ranging from twelve cents a yard up, there is no reason why any woman of moderate means should fail to have plenty of negligees.
For the summer bath robe–that shapeless, comfortable garment which no wardrobe should be without—there is no better material than terry. Originally and strictly, terry was a silk or woolen fabric with loops uncut. Probably most of the terry seen in bath robes has had little acquaintance with the silkworm or the sheep. But however cottony the cheap varieties are, they are admirably adapted to the summer bath robe. It comes in all colors and combination of colors. There are delicious yellows, pale blues, tender pinks, stripes as admirably blended as the rainbow’s, to say nothing of pure white. All of these wash well, as every one knows who has seen the borders of Turkish bath towels come clear and unclouded from many scaldings. The goods cost from thirty cents a yard up, according to width and quality. Six yards of the wide variety or eight of the narrower will make a bath robe.
In gowns that are less openly utilitarian, the Japanese ideal still prevails. You may spend fifty dollars on a kimono of peach bloom silk crape, with silver traceries upon it; or you may expend seventy five cents upon a blue and white cotton crape a size or so too large for you—or for any normal woman—and therefore reduced in price. Half an hour given to turning up the hem and shortening the loose sleeves will make it wearable.
Between these two extremes, the kimono may be had in every conceivable fabric, no matter how far removed from the Japanese. There are figured lawns and organdies made up in the loose, flowing style. There are white mull kimonos and blue gingham kimonos. There are figured kimonos trimmed with bands of plain goods, and, conversely, there are plain kimonos adorned with figured edges.
Next in popularity to this style, which has a certain quaint prettiness and a great deal of comfort to recommend it, comes the “student’s gown ” style. No mortar board young woman upon a college campus would admit the resemblance between her dignified academic robe and this negligee, but nevertheless there is one.
The student’s gown wrapper is as guileless of fit as the kimono, except at the neck. It is gathered around the neck and half way down the shoulder seams in the back and front, and falls in straight
It has sleeves put into an armhole of more conventional size than the kimono’s, and the sleeves themselves are considerably more modest in their dimensions.
The bath robe crosses in front and is tied in place by a cord around the waist. The kimono also laps one side of the front over the other and holds itself together, if its wearer is orthodox, by a broad sash, and by a brooch or button if she is not. The student’s gown wrapper fastens down the front with a succession of ribbon bows.
All of these, however, are for the inmost privacy of one’s room. One of the ways, it may be mentioned, by which a negligee reveals its wearer’s character is the time and place where it is worn. The woman who is not able to resist its allurements when she emerges into the public part of her house, or who receives in it, has written herself down as unmistakably as the woman who comes into a hotel dining room wearing the garment known as a tea gown.
This tea gown has, however, its place in the well-regulated wardrobe. It is not a garb, as the initiated have sometimes supposed, for receiving guests at teas or for wearing on one’s day at home, but it is a cross between the bedroom gown and the regular skirt and bodice in which one fronts the world. If one is very tired, one’s family will forgive a tea gown if it is pretty and the dinner is strictly a family affair—at the dinner table. One‘s intimate friends, calling at an unexpected hour, may be received in it in one’s own rooms. It is the half way gown.
It must fit more closely than the less formal negligees, but it is still easier to wear than a skirt and waist because it has no bands, and as a usual thing it makes no attempt to fit tightly at the waist. The back may be plain or full. The front is almost always full. There is generally a loose girdle fastening the front down.
A particularly pretty gown of this sort was made of striped Japanese silk, in pale lavender and green. There was a pointed yoke of coarse white lace laid over lavender silk in both back and front. In the back a triple Watteau pleat started from the point of the yoke. The sides of the gown fitted smoothly to the figure, and the front was gathered fully into the yoke. A girdle of lavender velvet, starting under the Watteau pleat in the back, crossed the sides and front, and fastened on the left side with a large upright how. The yoke, the belt, and the bow gave almost the effect of a waist, without any of its discomforts.
Simpler and even more effective in this regard was a gown of old rose China silk. In this the fullness in the back began at a high, Empire waist line, while the sides were fitted and the front fell loose from the neck. An Eton jacket of cream lace covered the back down to the fullness and came far enough across the front to give the effect of a folded vest to the drapery there. A girdle of cream lace, crossed in two bands, confined the fullness at the waist.
The lace Eton jacket, either sleeveless or sleeved, is admirably adapted to transforming a loose silk wrapper into a garment of some dignity and formality.
A white lawn wrapper with insertions of black lace in the front and across the deep flounce which finished the gown was rendered extremely chic by a sleeveless bolero of black lace, while a bolero made of alternate stripes of white lace insertion and blue ribbon gave a touch of formality to an otherwise extremely simple blue lawn robe.
The matinée is the tea gown cut off a little below the waist line. It fits about the shoulders; it has a close back or a Watteau back; it has a jabot of lace, or a hand of insertion, or a bunch of ribbons down the front. Sometimes it is an abbreviated kimono, though this is really more of a combing jacket than a breakfast sack.
A really charming matinée was made of “ all over ” white embroidery. It had a fitted hack and a full front, fastening on the left side. There were short under arm seams, so that the front had the bolero effect. These were edged with a double frill of white footing. The neck was cut off sharp in front
And edged with footing, while in the back a graduated Elizabethan collar rose. This was of doubled material, wired, so that the proper flare was obtained, while the wire was removable, so that there was no trouble with proper laundering.
Some exquisitely pretty morning sacks are made very simply of lawn or organdy. They have groups of fine tucks down the half fitting back, while the front is tucked ear the top instead of being gathered. The neck is slightly sloped in front, and a double ruffle of the lawn, edged with narrow Valenciennes, outlines the neck and the front.
Very plain jackets of white lawn are made to seem elaborate by fastenings of ribbon bows and by fichus of net draped around the neck.
In the realm of bedroom shoes there are all sorts of fascinations. There are cool sandals of woven straw, lacing in true Greek style between the ties and strapping around the ankle. These, except for the faddists who believe in bare feet, are only to make the morning journey to the bathroom.
There are heelless slippers, and slippers which are half heels. There are shoes that come well over the instep, and shoes that barely cover the toes. There are Turkish slippers barbarically embroidered and felt slippers Puritanically plain.
If a woman is extremely fastidious and has plenty of money or of time, she may have her bedroom shoes to match her bedroom gowns. Plenty of time is said advisedly, for it is as possible for the possessor of this valuable commodity to make her own slippers of quilted silk or satin or terry as it was for her to crochet the pink and blue slippers of a decade ago. The soles, either with or without heels, may be bought, and for the rest, time, patience, and a good pattern are all that are necessary.
In winter the best shoes are those which are lined and bordered with fur, and which come up well over the instep.
In summer, smooth silk, quilted or plain is better, and lower vamps are of course in order. Indeed, for summer nothing prettier can be imagined than the shoe which consists only of a heel and sole with a small upper in front only, into which the toes may be thrust rather for the purpose of keeping the shoe on than for protecting the feet. These may be bought in leather of every color and in several colors of silk; or they may be made to order to match any silk negligee.
The fur border which is such an attractive part of the winter bedroom shoe loses its charm in the spring, when the severe finish of a heavy silk cord, or the frivolous one of a pleated satin ribbon, becomes more seasonable.
The Puritan, Vol. 8 1900: pp. 363-368
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing to add to this exhaustive excursus except to applaud the notion that the negligee reveals the character and to shudder at the depravity of the “woman who comes into a hotel dining room wearing the garment known as a tea gown,” that garment noted for its acquaintance with the hurly-burly of the chaise-longue…
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.