Below is the first chapter from "FASHION: The Power that Influences the World" by George Fox ©1871 I find it insightful to read the way in which people thought at that time about fashion.
THE PHILOSOPHY OP MODERN DRESS AND FASHION.
" Only because I wore a threadbare suit,
I was not worthy of a poor salute.
A few good clothes put on with small ado,
Purchase your knowledge and your kindred too."
—Heywood's Royal King.
A Great modern writer has no less profoundly than pointedly observed that " In the one universal subject of clothes, rightly understood, is included all that men have thought, done and dreamed. The whole external universe and all that it contains is but clothing ; and the essence of all science lies in the philosophy of clothes.'"
We regard dress not merely as an envelope of broadcloth,
cassimere, silk, satin, or velvet, wrought up in more or less
taste after the model of a prevailing pattern, but as one of
the most significant expressions of character, and sustaining
an intimate relation with manners and morals.
It is universally admitted that nothing marks the gentleman more than the style of his dress. The elegance, propriety and good taste which are conspicuous in that, at once create a presumption in his favor. They form a perpetual letter of recommendation whose validity is everywhere acknowledged. A rich and becoming costume answers as a passport to the traveller; opens the door of hospitable courtesy to the stranger ; gives the citizen a free ticket to the best places in society; forms a decorous ornament to wealth, and where wealth is wanting, in many respects supplies its place. You notice the well dressed gentleman in the streets; in the most crowded thoroughfares he is conspicuous above the throng; he challenges your admiration even at a distance. " Far off his coming shines."
As he approaches, you are struck with the exquisite contour of his dress, the tasteful harmony of its colors, the charming smoothness and supple undulation of its fit; and you instinctively pronounce its wearer to be a gentleman. He has received justice at the hands of his tailor, and you cannot mistake the seal of his gentility.
Nor is the dress a less important indication of the personal taste of the wearer. It often marks the distinction between vulgarity and refinement; it shows the disposition no less clearly than language or conduct A mind imbued with a love of elegance, devoted to the beautiful harmonies of form, of color, of motion; inspired with a passion for the becoming, the lovely, and the graceful, will not fail to manifest itself in selection and arrangements of dress. You see its innate love in its outward surroundings. Good taste is, in fact, like good music—it harmonizes and marks the whole man. It extends to the cut of a garment, no less than to the construction of an epic. We have always noticed that a polished mind was attached to graceful and elegant attire. We judge of the good taste of a man, not merely by his air and bearing, his speech and gesture, or his love of art and literature, but also and in a great measure by his dress. We have often been deceived by the one, seldom or never by the other. The character of the dress, moreover, is important as a sign of social position. The moralists say, a man is known by the company he keeps. We say he is better known by the clothes he wears. The air of good society cannot be given except by education, aided by the artistic hand of a genuine tailor.
The relation of dress to manners and morals is too obvious to be insisted on. The first condition of good manners is ease and self-confidence. If you have no self-respect, your manners cannot win the respect of your associates. If you are not easy with yourself, you can never make them easy with others. But can a man be at ease in a coat out at elbows, a coat which hangs like a meal-bag upon his shoulders, a coat which reminds you of a specimen of fossil remains, or an heirloom from one of the company in the ark, a coat which is a badge of contempt, a sign of. vulgarity, an expression of a dilapidated purse, a careless disposition or an uncultivated and barbarous taste ? No, an ill-dressed man must be ill at ease. His manners must be forced and ungraceful. He never can show that delightful suavity, that fascinating union of spirit and sweetness, that enchanting harmony of expression and movement which distinguish the finished gentleman unless he feels perfectly at home in his clothes, unless they have been fitted to his person, his character, and his physiognomy, with that exquisite skill , which is essential to the style of manners, so finely described by the great orator Edmund Burke as the " unbought grace of life."
Our great American statesman, the late Daniel Webster, was no less distinguished for the graceful and imposing dignity of his manners than for his diplomatic skill and his commanding eloquence. But as he was the most able of constitutionalists, so was he one of the best dressed of gentlemen.
In the favorite costume, blue and buff, of an illustrious namesake of the author, the British commoner, Charles James Fox, no man appeared to more trandscendent advantage in a legislative hall or a fashionable drawing-room, than did the eminent expounder of the constitution; while on more solemn occasions these colors were doffed, to give place to the more sombre black mingled with white. We will not undertake to say in what degree he was indebted to the perfection of his dress for his imposing presence; but we do say that his dress gave an additional power to the majesty of his demeanor, and the weight of his eloquence.
We may quote his own words to this effect, when on donning a suit from the once celebrated emporium of Milton's (a retired tailor) he exclaimed, "Ah, I now breathe easier than I have done for a long time; indeed, I feel as if I were in Milton's Paradise regained."
The influence of dress on morals presents a theme for the pen of a philosopher; a merchant-tailor, however experienced, can scarcely hope to do it justice. We will, however, venture to submit, that no civilized man is apt to commit a crime in a good suit of clothes. An easy and graceful garment is incompatible with a deed of violence. The serenity produced by a perfect fitting suit puts one in good humor with all mankind. Arrayed in a fine and elegant costume,. with the consummate polish of appearance which it isequally the duty and the pride of the conscientious artist tailor to impart, a man feels his responsibilities as a citizen, is inspired with a love of order, becomes refined and elevated in his tastes, is filled with respect for law, decorum and propriety, and finds in his own character a guarantee against temptation. Indeed, out of the immense number of customers who have honored the author with their patronage, we do not know of one who has ever been convicted of a crime.* Many we have seen raised by that influence to exalted stations. Not one has been brought before a court of justice ; not one but who sustains a fair and estimable character, as an American citizen. Is it not evident that the secret of virtue is often found in the wardrobe—that a good dress is a great preservative of good morals ?
But we must not omit to mention the connection of dress with commerce, the importance of which cannot be overlooked in our mercantile community. The tailor and the dressmaker are indispensable media between the importing merchant and the consumer. They distribute the commodities which are furnished by commerce. Until the goods of the merchant have passed iihrough their hands, their value is in a dormant state, and they contribute nothing to the embellishment or the utility of life. Patronize the tailor, you give an impulse to commerce; you help to keep open the great highway of nations ; you lend your support to the most efficient and most indispensable agency of civilization. In seeking the taste and elegance of your own personal appearance, you not only contribute to the interests of the profession, but promote the welfare of our common country and universal fashion.
Such, fellow-citizens, is the importance of a wise devotion to this branch of social economy. We maintain that you cannot overrate the value, and hence you perceive the necessity of availing yourselves of the aid of such artists as you can rely on for strength and fineness of fabric, elegance of fashion, color, perfection of fit and of finish.
We are actuated, by a noble ambition, to elevate the uniform dress and costume of the age to its true place, in the unfathomed interest of the world of fashion; to make the American citizen as renowned for his garment as for his institutions; to cause Paris, London and Berlin to hide their diminished heads as arbiters of gentility ; and to adorn the Doric simplicity of American principles by the inimitable grace and elegance of an appropriate cosmopolitan costume. While in no way anxious to curtail, but, on the contrary, wishing to increase the business of our fellow-citizens, our sole desire is to establish a style of fashion commensurate with the growing importance and dignity of this national Union.