The Dress of Women: A Critical Introduction to the Symbolism and Sociology of Clothing

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
Decorative Art, Trimmings,
and Ornament

THE IMPULSE to decorate the work of one's hands is a human one, not peculiar to either sex. So long as the primitive woman monopolized creative industry, making all the things that were made, she also monopolized decorative art. Hers were the designs in pottery, in basketry, in beadwork, leatherwork, and needlework. But when man began to make things he also felt that racial impulse to adorn his work, and to carve on tool, or weapon, an added ornament.

This human impulse is to be traced in costume, quite aside from the original masculine impulse to increase his impressiveness by external splendors, or the transplanted unnatural appearance of that masculine impulse in the female of our species.

No slightest observation of modern woman's dress can overlook the preponderance of ornament. It is not enough that she be clothed, that her clothing in texture, in color, in pattern, and in craftsmanship shall be, to her mind, beautiful; but she adds to the clothing, decoration; and, still further, to her decorated clothing, she adds distinct articles, not in the least garments, but mere ornaments—or things so considered.

The normal growth of decorative art in textiles is a beautiful study. From simple patterns in weaving to the intricate glories of lace and brocade; from the first crude dyes to the blended loveliness of Orien-

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