Dressed Like A Lady - A Challenge for Us This Week
I watched a marathon of several episodes of the six seasons of Downton Abby at the end of December. I love much about this series: witty repartee, outstanding actors and actresses, beautiful English countryside, gorgeous costuming, and a real live look at history as it was.
One of the things I noted in several of the last episodes I watched related to the dress of the Ladies of the manor. I thought,"I could be well dressed, too, if I had a lady's maid!" Well I can be well dressed without a lady's maid if I just pay attention to the things I noticed while watching the program.
They planned ahead what they would wear the next day. When the Dowager lady Grantham discovered she'd be having a caller the next day she told her lady's maid Danke that she'd wear something else instead of the dress chosen. I was less concerned with what was said after that because I was too busy going "Huh! She'd planned her wardrobe already!"
A couple of years ago I was desperate to make my wardrobe 'do' for another season when I found myself in tight finances. One way I insured I didn't wear the same thing over and over again was to take some time to set up an outfit complete with accessories. I still do this. I base these outfits upon known weather, plans, etc. I always have one or two outfits for the unexpected things that might come up. I set up both dressy and casual outfits so I'm always prepared. The bonus for doing this: I save plenty of time in getting dressed instead of standing there pulling on a dozen things and discarding them. I also save money. I found that I wore more of my wardrobe more often and if I find something is seldom used, I soon remove it and place in a giveaway/donation bag.
Putting clothes away properly keeps them looking nice. The lady's maid was expected to dress the lady as well as to help her undress. In undressing, the clothing was always put away immediately. You did not find dresses tossed carelessly over chairs nor a pile of clothes on the floor of the room. This kept clothes looking nice and prevented wrinkling.
Clothing was routinely inspected. Spots and stains were treated, clothing was cleaned (only as needed NOT after each wearing), and pressed, buttons and snaps checked. A loose bead or a bit of embroidery unravelling was repaired. In that day and age, dress shields would have been used to prevent stains from perspiration so fresh ones would have been tacked into the dresses and blouses so they were ready to wear. Hems were checked and repairs made as needed. Shoes would have been polished or brushed and heels would have been wiped free of dirt and grime.
Alterations were made too, so if shoulders were a bit wider than needed, or if sleeves were a bit long, these details were tended to by the lady's maid.
Honestly it takes only moments to tack up a hem or sew on a button if you notice it's loose. I spent a day last week hemming a new pair of jeans, increasing the waist band of a pair of jeans that were always a bit snug for comfort, replacing a button on a sweater. I promise you it all took me less than 30 minutes!
Details of an outfit were checked carefully. In one episode, one of the lady's maids is sitting at the servants' table polishing jewelry pieces. These small details were just as important to the overall look of the well dressed woman and the maid was well aware of it. Not only was her ladyship at risk of losing her reputation as well dressed, the state of her ladyship's wardrobe was a reflection upon the maid. It served the maid well to insure that her lady looked her very best when she stepped into a room or went into town. A lady's maid skilled in making her mistress look good could earn a high salary and so her reputation was in those details.
I went over my costume jewelry recently and removed some pieces that were beyond well worn. I also cleaned a few pieces and set a few pieces aside to repair.
And it's not just jewelry. It's just as important to check your glasses if you wear them. I still recall my embarrassment many years ago when Katie and I visited John at his work place. He leaned toward me and whispered quietly "Terri, please clean your glasses." I was so shocked at how dirty they were and embarrassed that everywhere I'd been that morning (a long list of errands attended to!) those dirty glasses were likely one of the details people noted as they greeted me.
Belts and purses should be checked for need of spot cleaning, wear and needed repairs. Nothing can kill an otherwise nice outfit quicker than a dingy bag or tattered straps. I have a perfectly lovely purse that I've tried to replace the straps on several times now. The bag is perfectly good but the straps are too worn and ragged. I think I have found a source of chain that is accessory quality and I plan to try to get this repair made shortly.
For some of you older women, I will make a gentle suggestion. It's something I commonly see among the elderly: if you're leaving home be sure to brush your hair. Often the back of the head rests against the back of the reclining chair and musses the hair. I can't name the number of older people I see in our largely elderly community with that flat mussy hair on the back of their heads! It's a shame to see a woman who has taken care to look nice when she left the house, with flattened hair.
She stayed 'fashion forward'. A lady's maid knew the most attractive way to dress her lady's hair. She also made sure that her ladyship stayed current with the trends. She would have taken time to study magazines and news reports about which designs were most current and knew her employer well enough to know which of these new styles would best suit her. She would have practiced with current hair styles until she was able to execute it perfectly on her ladyship as well. She would have known what was appropriate wear at different events the lady would attend.
In one episode Danke asked the Dowager if she'd wear her fur to an outdoor event. The event was a country house picnic and the Dowager quickly informed Danke that her thick country tweeds were the most appropriate wear. Had Danke been well versed in dressing a lady she'd have known this and not made that mistake! Fortunately the Dowager was a little softer at this stage than she'd been in the beginning of the series.
Here is the wonder of the internet. It's not at all hard to find a blog of a woman from age 18-70 who is fashion forward and can inspire any of us with hair, makeup or clothing appropriate to our age in life. Take advantage of this and USE it. It's as valuable a tool as Godey's Lady's Book was to our ancestors. Look online for eyeglass styles as well to see what might suit your face shape. Some allow you to 'try on' a pair of new frames if you upload a current photo. Ditto for some of the hair style sites as well. Often a radical change isn't needed to be more up to date, just a small tweak of your current look.
Challenge: What can you do this week to improve your wardrobe? Mending? Simple alterations? Cleaning? Have you checked your jewelry, shoes, purses to see how they are holding up? Carefully look over all of the pieces you're currently wearing and determine what your 'lady's maid' needs to do to present you at your best.
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