The wasp-waist was okay, as long as the lady had an otherwise well-rounded body. The mother of a really skinny girl would be force-fed by mama with rich eggnogs down her throat. She had a choice: she could be skinny as a snake and wear a camisole with lace and ten petticoats… or, if she got plump, she wore a corset and suffered the tortures of the damned. Mothers warned their daughters often, ‘No man wants to marry a bag of bones.’
The ladies of Lake County were not only beautiful and charming, but they were also, in matters of personal grooming and personal conduct, a cut above the ladies of most other counties. In 1879 they outdid themselves, and the rules described next explain why.
The first of all rules to be observed with regard to articles of dress are these. Let the hair be always smooth, the collar and sleeves neat. Shoes and stockings must be tidy. The simplest dress will appear well. A soiled or torn dress will ruin the effect of the costliest of dress. A costly lace over a thin, flimsy silk will only make the dress appear poorer. It will not hide, as some suppose, the defects. A rich trimming on a cheap dress looks as bad as a mean trim on expensive fabric (or a sow’s ear pretending to be a silk purse).
A walking dress, to be in good taste, should be in quiet colors and never conspicuous. An ill-fitting corset with wrinkles in it will make a dress set badly. A stocking too large will make the boot uncomfortably tight. The prettiest boot is dearly paid for by the pain a tight boot entails. Also, a tight boot will not prevent suffering from the cold. Furs should be kept in a box, alone. In summer, protect from moths with a lump of camphor.
It is bad taste to receive your caller in an elaborate evening dress. It is equally offensive to receive a caller in your morning wrapper.
Rules of Conduct in the Street
Wear no jewelry except your watch and a brooch. Mock jewelry is utterly detestable.
Do not suck the head of your parasol. To follow that unladylike habit will make one to question whether you have breakfasted. To suck it is not lady-like. And, let me tell you, it is excessively unbecoming.
Do not walk fast. Walk slowly and gracefully. Oh, also, do not drag one foot after the other as if you were fast asleep.
Your parasol takes one hand. Hold up your dress a little with the other hand. No lady should raise her dress above the ankle.
Do not run across the street. Do you want to be thrown by the horses? Indeed. Wait until the way is clear.
Loud talking and laughing in the street is excessively vulgar.
If you walk with a gentleman, when he reaches your door, invite him in…. but if he then declines, do not urge him.
How to Behave at Places of Amusement
Unless another lady is invited, do not appear at any place of amusement with a gentleman with whom you are but slightly acquainted.
If you are getting into your escort’s carriage, the manner of entering is of less importance than getting out of the carriage as you may step on your dress and fall from the coach to the ground. Descend slowly with grace and dignity. Show only the point of your shoe.
Avoid handling the playbill as it will leave ink and soil your gloves.
This special admonition was important to avoid scandal, or worse; ‘At the theater it is excessively vulgar and not lady-like to flirt with a fan, converse in whispers, indulge in extravagant gestures of merriment or admiration, laugh loudly, or clap your hands together… and never turn your head to look at those seated behind you or near you‘.
Next episode; Boats of Clear Lake
© 2017 PAL PUBLISHING/USED BY PERMISSION
To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/