The province of costume, which appeals to the sense of sight only, is the direction of the general construction, with due regard to the principles of taste, of the clothing necessary for our use, so as to render it not only serviceable but orna-mental, and its sight as agreeable to our mental perceptions and feelings, as its material is to our senses and emotions. In this respect it corresponds with, and stands in the same relation to dress, as architecture does to building.
The ultimate end aimed at by this art, appears therefore to be the adornment of the human figure in such a manner as by its form will best display its symmetry, and by its colours most completely harmonize with the natural complexion of the person by whom it is to be worn. Painting and sculpture here lend their aid; but it aids them, and is connected with them so far only as it serves as a subject of representation by them.
As the general object of art is not to counteract or to conceal, but to develope and to exhibit more perfectly the productions of nature; so in costume the object should be not to disguise or to distort the natural form or appearance, but to develope it more fully and more completely; to prevent that necessary covering of the body, which the inclemency of the weather renders necessary, from disfiguring or deforming the natural shape.
Costume, as an art, is limited, or nearly so, to two elements, form and colour. Certain of the principles of design, more especially those of harmony and contrast, are, moreover, as capable of being availed of in costume as in painting or music. The regulation of ornaments must also form a leading principle in this art.
Probably the most important and serviceable, as well as the most picturesque branch of costume, consists in armour, of which there was formerly, during the ancient and middle ages of the world, a very great variety, each description admitting, to a large extent, of the display of taste in its formation, but the use of which has, from various circumstances, at later periods, unhappily for art if not for the warrior, been almost entirely abandoned. Indeed, the costume of the Greeks and Romans, not only as regards their armour, but their ordinary dress, in the long flowing robes, disposed into graceful folds and varying in colour as well as form, was hardly less picturesque than their armour, and contrasted forcibly with the monotonous and tasteless style of modern days.
Of all the arts, costume is that which is the most universally resorted to ; and it is, as a necessary consequence, that which best serves to exhibit the immense variety of taste among the people of different countries, and the constant mutations of it in every kingdom, and in every society. And the more extensively and correctly art in general is cultivated in any nation, the more correct and tasteful will be the character of its costume. This, moreover, of all the arts, by its style and manner best reflects the character and feeling of a people ; and that not only as regards particular nations and periods, but individuals also. Of all the arts it is the most flexible, and admits of the greatest variations.
Perhaps, too, of all the arts, costume is that which affords the best and amplest illustration of the divisions of the arts into styles and schools, resulting from the various feelings, and characters, and condition of the people among whom they are cultivated ; inasmuch as costume of all the arts exhibits the greatest changes, and is the most directly and immediately influenced by each of these several causes. Thus, national costumes not only vary from each other, but exhibit moreover the characteristic peculiarity of the nation to which they belong.
So also of the costume of each age and of each rank; and even among individuals of the same class, the peculiarity of their costume is no doubtful indication of their character and disposition.