Montreal Daily Star, 24 October 1896, page 4
How to dress a debutante
It is very discouraging to the mothers who want to have their daughters as well gotten up as their daughters’ friends to be told that it is quite impossible for a girl to get through her first winter without twenty, or certainly fifteen, gowns. There is no doubt but that any girl is fully capable of wearing out fifteen or twenty gowns in the course of a season, provided she goes in for society in the healthy, whole-souled way out American girls go in for everything—with the charming disregard their clothes and good times generally.
Women who understand the subject are very firm in maintaining that it is a great mistake to dress a girl too much. By this is meant to dress her in too expensive materials or too fussily made gowns. Simplicity, above all things, should be regarded in dressing a young girl satisfactorily. The beaute de diable, which is the French for the freshness and roundness of youth, is to be seen in nearly every young girl, and it is quite the exception whit it is not. The soft pretty roundness of throat and cheeks and of shoulders and arms does far more to make a girl look attractive than silks and satins, laces and jewels, which are sorely needed when the first freshness of youth is past, but which, like cosmetics, are not to be thought of for a young girl.
It has been very much the fashion the past season for debutantes to wear silks and satins, and at their coming-out receptions and their first balls they have been dressed quite like brides. Because one does it, it seems to be necessary for the next one to follow suit until they remind one of a flock of sheep through its all and the girl who has worn a simple frock has been noticeable from her very simplicity. Three ball gowns ought to carry a girl well through the winter. With one walking costume very simple, and one more elaborate for wear at receptions, they comprise a wardrobe that, if care be taken to keep it in spick-and-span order, is all that is needed.
Absolute neatness is the point to be most regarded in a debutante’s costume. The mother—or the maid, if the girl be fortunate enough to have one—must see to it that ruffles and laces are absolutely fresh and spotless, boots and gloves in apple-pie order, clothes carefully brushed, and above all things, hair smooth and well arranged. Attention to these details has often made a girl look far handsomer than her naturally better endowed sister. The trouble is, young girls, as a rule, are very heedless, and it means a great deal of trouble and constant watching to see that they look “fit” at every point before they start out. Tuile and net have from time immemorial been considered fabrics especially suited to young girls’ wear, but chiffon and mousselin de soie have taken their places of late years, through there are rumours that the former will be in use again next season. A ball gown of tuile or net with a satin waist always looks extremely well. The silks and satins for girls, while of very handsome material undoubtedly, are not so heavy in weight as those made up for older women, and the girls are allowed the brighter shades. A bright rose-pink silk or satin gown is extremely effective in the evening, and one or two of those made up this autumn have really been stunning. The skirts are moderately full and quite plain. The waists are very simple, tight-fitting and have a folded effect not showing where they fasten, either in the back or front of the waist. Sometimes a bertha of sheer white lace is used, but more often ruffles of chiffon. The sleeves of these gowns are always of chiffon, either puffs of the material bought by the yard, or ruffles. There should be nothing worn around the neck, unless a girl’s neck is very thin, when a string of pearls is permissible. But jewels, and an ornament in the hair unless it be a small bow of ribbon, are strikingly inappropriate. A white French faille makes a most charming ball gown for a young girl, and is a very good investment, because it can easily be made over and renovated. The balayeuse of every skirt must be absolutely spick and span before the girl starts for a ball. It would seem as if this constant reiteration of attention to detail were unnecessary, but it is such an ill-important point that it seems as if there could not be enough said about it.
A girl’s walking costume should be severely plain as far as skirt and jacket are concerned. But the fancy silk shirtwaists to be worn with the cloth skirts and under the jacket can be as elaborate as heart might wish for, and the very fussiness of them seems only to make them more becoming. The cloth for these costumes can be of serge cheviot, ladies’ cloth, or best of all, some of the numerous novelties. The simplicity need exist only in the making and in the lack of trimming. It fortunately is no longer the fashion for girls to lace at the expense of their complexions and health. And the American girl of the present day has, as a rule, a well-proportioned figure, and carries herself well, so a plain cloth jacket is quite certain to be becoming and, in the case of older women, it will be found a good investment to spend more money on it than on the skirt of the costume. A becoming had is also very necessary, and here comes one of the principal difficulties. Nothing is so becoming to a fresh young face as feathers, and a hat with feathers is never cheap. But most women will find some way to economize in order to indulge themselves in this luxury. Here again care must be taken that a hat with feathers is thorough order, for nothing looks more poverty-stricken than feathers uncurled and dirty.
Gloves and shoes are dreadful items, and it is well to lay aside as much as possible of the allowance to meet these expenses. Cleaned gloves are not very satisfactory, and yet if a girl goes out a great deal it is almost impossible, it there is not a long purse, to provide her with sufficient to carry her through the season satisfactorily. If gloves must be cleaned, it is best not to wait until they are very dirty. If only a little soiled, they clean very satisfactorily, but if really dirty, require such an amount of cleaning that never by any possibility that they look the same. By watching the sales, great bargains in gloves, can be had, but the best plan of all is to send abroad for a dozen pairs by some kind friend, for the expense then is just about one-half.
A girl must have a good pair of walking boots, always well polished, no buttons off, and with no run down heels; a pair of thinner boots and one or two pairs of slippers are not a large allowance, but can be made sufficient. This number of well-made and well-fitting boots and shoes is better than ten pairs of more fancy styles that do not fit the feet and are of a bad cut.
A pretty evening wrap is a positive necessity for every debutante, but this need not cost a great deal. A cloth or camel’s hair cape of light blue or gray trimmed with Thibet fur is always becoming, and looks quite as appropriate.