Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Gentlewoman's Companion: or, A Guide to the Female Sex, an electronic edition

by Hannah Woolley [Woolley, Hannah, fl. 1670]

date: 1675
source publisher: Printed by A. Maxwell for Edward Thomas
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

Table of Contents

<< Section Section >>

Display page layout

Of Habit, and the neatness and property thereof. Of Fashions, and their ridiculous apish imitation.

The nearness and property of your Clothes, may be said to shew a great part of your breeding. Property, I call a certain suitableness and convenience, betwixt the Clothes and the Person; as Civility is the framing and adapting our actions to the satisfaction of other People. And indeed | | 55 the suitableness and comeliness of your Habit, makes the greatest discovery of your virtue and discretion; for it must consequently follow, that a ridiculous Garb is the most certain indicium of a foolish person.

Now if you desire to be exact, you ought to proportion your Clothes to your shape, condition, and age; and not to run into excesses, stimulated thereunto by too much exactness, or an overvalu'd conceit. And indeed it is a great fault in our Sex, being very much inclin'd to pride it in sin with what our merciful Creator bestow'd upon us to cover our shame. The fruit of a Tree made Woman first to sin, and the leaves thereof made her first covering.

How careful ought you to be in your Habit, since by it your modesty is best expressed, your dispositions best discovered? As none can probably imagin such to have modest minds, who have immodest eyes; so a Maid cannot be accounted modest whose attire openly proclaims arguments to the contrary. It matters not whether the quality of your Habits be Silken or Woollen, so they be civil and not wanton.

Pardon me, I am not of that Cynical and morose temper of some, who affirm all gorgeous apparel is the attire of sin; but if it be a sin, I am perswaded the quality of the person extenuates the quality thereof: For I read, that noble and eminent persons were in all times admitted to wear them, and to be distinguished by them; neither indeed is the sumptuousness of the Habit so reprehensible, as the phantasickness in respect of form and fashion, which of late hath been so much affected, | | 56 that all fashion is in a manner exiled.

I shall not trouble myself with what the glittering Bona Robv of our times think, but I am confident it is Civility which adds most grace, Decency which expresseth best state, and Comeliness in attire, which procures most love. These misconceived ornaments are meer deformities to virtuous minds. Foreign fashions are no baits to catch them; nor phantastick, rather phanatick dressings, to delude them. Decency is their choicest livery, which sets them forth above others gaudy pageantry.

Those whose erected thoughts sphere them in an higher Orb than this Circle of frailty; those whose spotless affections have devoted their best services to goodness, and made modesty the exact mold of all their actions, will not easily be induced to stoop to such worthless brain sick lures.

Now such of you whose generous descent as it claims precedence of others, so should your vertuous demeanor in these four things which I have already spoken of, viz. Gesture, Look, Speech, and Habit, improve your esteem above others. In Gesture, by appearing humbly where ever you are, in Look, by disposing it demurely; in Speech, by delivering it moderately; in Habit, by attiring your self modestly.

Frown not on me, Ladies, that I seem to be thus severe in reproving the excess of Apparel; yet I do not deny, there is a kind of priviledg in youth for wearing fashionable Clothes, Jewels and Diamonds, which Nature (who doth nothing in vain) hath provided; and whatsoever some maliciously | | 57 may whisper to the contrary; the use of Apparel is to dignifie the Wearer, and add more beauty to the Creature, provided the Apparel be not above the dignity of her that weareth it, nor doth exceed the Arithmetick of her Revenues.

But whilst I seem to give you (young Gentlewomen) some allowance of liberty in your Clothing; for indeed it is impossible there should be youth without some vanity; yet I know not how to excuse the vain custom now so much in fashion, to deform the face with black Patches, under a pretence to make it appear more beautiful. It is a riddle to me, that a blemish should appear a grace, a deformity be esteemed a beauty: I am confident were any of them born with those half-Moons, Stars, Coach and Horses, and such like trumperty, by which a Lady becomes a stranger to her self, as well as others, she would give more money to be freed from them, than a seven years costly expence, in following the fashion, would amount to.

It must not be denied but that the indulgence of Nature hath left a greater liberty to Women, than unto Men, in point of curiosity in Apparel. A priviledg which men ought not to envy them, because whatever imbellishment she bestows on her own beauty, is to be supposed an effect of that great love she would shew to man, by endeavouring and studying how to shew her self most complaisant, grateful, and acceptable to man. And yet Nature hath limited this priviledg of Women with strict Laws. The dictate of this natural Law, is, ,That no Woman use any Habit | | 58 or form of attire but that which contribureth to her truest beauty. For since the Fall of their first Parent hath subjected them to the necessity of apparel, they must ever remember to wear it as an ornament of decency, and not of vanity. But if we shall examine the present fashions by the standard of this rule, we shall find, to the amazement of sober thoughts, a new-born Law of Custom to have defaced the reverend old Law of Nature.

I cannot imagine whence our Ladies borrowed that monstrous and prodigious custom of patching their faces; if they did borrow it from the French, they did ill to imitate such, who it may be made use of the fashion out of pure necessity, and not novelty; having French-pimples, they needed a French-plaister. Meer need taught us at first to build Houses, and wear Clothes, which afterwards were used for Ornameent: Who then can tax their witty-pride (although justly we may the imitation of the English Gentry therein) which could so cunningly turn botches into beauty, and make ugliness handsome? I know not but that the fashion of wearing Farthingals of old, were politickly invented to hide the shame of great Bellies unlawfully pust up; and of late the large-topt flockings with supporters to bear them up, were a good excuse for some hot Gallants, in that they stradled so much when they walkt the streets; whereas, poor Gentlemen, they could do no otherwise.

I have read, that the Indians did accustom themselves to paint the volume of their bodies all | | 59 over with Apes, Monkies, and other Beasts. I know not whether our Laides have endeavoured to epitomize their Works, and abridg them into the narrow compass of the Title-page of their own faces. But sure I am, that they are much beholding to the ingenious Artist, whose skillful hand much exceeded his who writ the Ten Commandments and Pater noster (to be legibly read) within the compass of a penny. Such a one is able to vie with Wonder it self, since he can pass a Camel through the eye of a Spanish Needle without a Miracle; and contract a Coach and Horses into the narrow dimension of four Gnats.

By the impertinent pains of this curious Facespoiling-mender, the Exchanges (for now we have three great Arsenals of choice Vanities) are furnished with a daily supply and variety of Beautyspots (with many other things, whose names are only known to the Inventer and Buyer); and these Patches are cut out into little Mons, Suns, Stars, Castles, Birds, Beasts, and Fishes of all sorts, so that their Faces may be properly termed a Landskip of living Creatures. The vanity and pride of these Gentlewomen hath in a manner abstracted Noah's Ark, and exprest a Compendium of the Creation in their Front and Cheeks. Add to this the gallantry of their Garb, with all the Ornamental appurtenances which rackt Innvention can discover, and then you will say; there wanted nothing except it be that which a Roman Writer said was wanting to the accomplishments of Poppea Sabina (Mistris to bloody Nero), That she was defective in nothing but a vertueus mind.

| | 60 Mediocrity in most things is the best rule for your observation: As in mode and fashion you are to avoid prosusion, so you are to shun singularity: The one, as well as the other, will render you ridiculous. I would not advise you to be obstinate, and altogether oppose the torrent of the fashion then in being: for example, should you now wear a Farthingal, or narrow-brim'd Hat with a long crown, and a strutting Ruff (it is not long since such things were in fashion), a Jack-pudding could not attract more Boys after him, than would follow you. Or should you always keep in one fashion, you would be laught at for our singularity, almost as much as others for their profuseness.

To avoid this incommodious extravagancy, incline somewhat to the Mode of the court, (which is the source and foundation of fashions); but let the example of the most sober, moderate, and modest, be the pattern for your imitation.

Those who are too remote in the Country, or hindred by any other impediment to resort to Court, let them acquaint themselves (if they can) with some prudent person who is frequently there, and by her pattern and direction order your Habit with reference, as near as may be to your quality, age, and estate. Your own wit and ingenuity may so contrive your Clothes, as to retrench a great part of the luxury of a fashion, and reduce it to suit with your convenience, modesty, and Christian deportment.

I have already declared, your Habits ought to be adapted to your conditions; it is easie to judg | | 61 of the truth of this Rule, if you consider how preposterous you would appear (being nobly born) drest in the Habit of a Dairy-maid, or for a Scullion to be arry'd in the dress of a Ladies daughter; this would be looked on as no other than a Masquerade, or a Christmass Mumming. As it is very unfit to suit your selves unsuitably to your ocndition, so 'tis likewise as to your age. For an old Woman to habit her self as youthfully as a Gentlewoman of fifteen, is as improper as to sing a wanton song at a Funeral. For a young Woman to clothe her self in the Habit of a grave and aged Matron is as preposterous as to weep and mourn at a merry Gossipirg.

Proportion therefore your Clothes to your bodies, and let them be proper for your persons. I could not forbear to laugh heartily, when heretofore I saw a little man lost in a great Band; nor can I now abstain from laughter, when I see a man of small stature with a monstrous broad brim'd Hat; I have often thought the Hat hath walkt alone, and that the narrow Breeches and short Coat shrunk, for fear of the Hats greatness, into an exact fitness for an overgrown Mondy or Baboon.

Agreeableness therefore ought to be exact, and adequate both to age, person, and condition, avoiding extremities on both sides, being neither too much out, nor in the fashions.

Now lest I have been too rigid concerning Apparel, and so have justly incur'd the displeasure of some Ladies I am ever bound to respect for those singular favours they have from time to time confer'd on their poor Servant; I shall endeavour to make them amends for it, without wronging my Conscience, in this ensuing Chapter.

<< Section Section >>