Costume

In every nation one of the earliest efforts to which civilization prompts mankind is to provide themselves with clothing. However rude or uncouth the articles used for this purpose may be, consisting probably of the skins of wild beasts, or the leaves of certain plants, on the preparation of which for this object but little care is bestowed; yet some attention to the ornamental speedily follows the discovery of the useful, and hence we have the invention of the art of costume, of which mere clothing constitutes the sustaining medium.

Very slender attempts only at ornament would probably be made at first, not perhaps extending beyond a gaudy feather, or a gay flower, stuck in the hair. The people would, however, in course of time be disposed to select for dress those furs which were marked in the most tasteful manner. After a while they would learn to tan the skins which they originally wore with the hair on ; and they might be led to dye with different colours, extracted from the juices of berries and leaves, the raw hides, from observing the stains made by accident. More-over, from seeing the dresses of strangers, they would be induced to vary and improve their own style of costume. And as different orders of architecture are thought to have been in-vented from the imitation of the different original elements, whether rocks or trees, out of which the first buildings were constructed; so may the different styles of costume have been in a corresponding manner invented from imitation of the materials, whether the skins of animals or the products of the vegetable world, out of which the first garments were formed.

And both in architecture and in costume, the imitation in several ways of their primary original elements appears to have been kept in view, and subsequently followed up with numerous variations and adaptations.

As regards costume, it has occasionally happened to me while engaged in sketching some of the quaint and picturesque costumes worn by the natives in remote and out-of-the-way districts on the Continent, eagerly looking out for each object of this kind that was novel and striking, that I have flattered myself that I had discovered an entirely new pattern or fashion, one too of great beauty as well as ingenuity; when a closer inspection has convinced me that what I saw and had begun to draw was merely a common form which had become accidentally and temporarily varied by the blowing of the wind, or some casualty of this kind. By accidents of this nature, I have no doubt that it frequently happens that new styles are originated, and fresh patterns invented, not only in costume, but in architecture, music, and each of the other arts.

It may, however, perhaps, be objected that costume has no right to be ranked as a separate art of itself, but that it is only a vehicle or medium, such as furniture or house decoration, for the exhibition or carrying out of the principles of other arts. To this I would reply that costume is as independent a pursuit of itself as is either sculpture, or painting, or architecture, and so may fairly rank as a separate art. Indeed, it is independence as a pursuit combined with this susceptibility of imbibing the principles of art, which entitle it completely to the distinction of being so considered. Furniture and house decoration are not classed as separate arts, because they are, in reality, not independent pursuits themselves, but are merely branches of sculpture and architecture.

Costume or dress, so far as this is rendered ornamental as well as useful, may therefore fairly claim to be ranked as an art. Indeed, as already stated, that which determines whether any pursuit of this nature is entitled to be so regarded, appears to me to be this :—whether taste is employed to regulate it, and whether it appeals to the mind or only to the senses. If costume is of this intellectual order, it certainly deserves to be thus dignified, and to be exalted to this high and noble rank. And surely if the decoration of our dwellings, and regulating their construction correctly, according to the principles of taste, is acknowledged to be an effort worthy of being regarded as an art ; the decoration of our persons, which are the dwellings or temples of the immortal parts of our being, and setting them off to due advantage, displaying to the full the many beauties and graces which nature has bestowed in their formation, is no less a subject worthy of being thus treated, and of being classed among those pursuits which are entitled to this distinction. Moreover, by adopting costume as an art, we at once reduce to certain principles a most important branch of the economy of life, and as it were bring down to everyday use the noblest occupations in which the mind is engaged. We do not derogate from art by this means, but we render it practical ; and, as was the case with the Greeks of old who advanced it to such high perfection, we make it a matter of domestic economy, and of study for all.