Dressed For A
Party by T. S.
A LADY sat reading. She was so absorbed in her book as to be nearly
motionless. Her face, in repose, was serious, almost sad; for twice a
score of years had not passed without leaving the shadow of a cloud or
the mark of a tempest. The door opened, and, as she looked up,
pleasant smile lay softly on her lips. A beautiful girl, elegantly
attired for an evening party, came in.
"All ready?" said the lady, closing her volume, and looking at the
maiden with a lively interest, that blended thoughtfulness with
"All ready," aunt Helen. "And now what do you think of me? What is
the effect?" Tone, expression, and manner, all gave plainly enough
speaker's own answer to her questions. She thought the make up
splendid—the effect striking.
"Shall I say just what I think, Alice?"
A thin veil of shadows fell over the bright young countenance.
"Love will speak tenderly. But even tenderly-spoken things, not
moving with the current of our feelings, are not pleasant to hear."
"Say on, aunt Helen. I can listen to anything from you. You think
me overdressed. I see it in your eyes."
"You have read my thought correctly, dear."
"In what particular am I overdressed? Nothing could be simpler than
a white illusion."
"Without an abundance of pink trimming, it would be simple and
becoming enough. Your dressmaker has overloaded it with ribbon; at
least, so it appears to me. But, passing that let me suggest a
thought touching those two heavy bracelets. One, on the exposed arm,
is sufficiently attractive. Two will create the impression that you
are weakly fond of ornament; and in the eyes of every one who feels
this, the effect of your dress will be marred. Men and women see down
into our states of feeling with wonderful quick intuitions, and read
us while we are yet ignorant in regard to ourselves."
Alice unclasped, with a faint sigh, one of the bracelets, and laid
it on her aunt's bureau.
"Is that better?" she asked.
"I think so."
"But the arm is so naked, aunt. It wants something, just for
"To me the effect would be improved if arms and neck were covered.
But, as it is, if you think something required to draw attention from
the bare skin, let one ornament be the most simple in your jewel box.
You have a bracelet of hair, with neat mountings. Take that."
Alice stood for a while pondering her aunt's suggestion. Then, with
half-forced cheerfulness of tone, she answered,—
"May be you're right, I'll take the hair bracelets instead. And
now, what else?"
"The critic's task is never for me a pleasant one, Alice. Least
pleasant when it touches one I love. If you had not asked what I
thought of your appearance, I would have intruded no exceptions. I
have been much in society since I was very young, and have always
been an observer. Two classes of women, I notice, usually make up the
staple of our social assemblages: those who consult taste in dress,
and those who study effect; those who think and appreciate, and those
who court admiration. By sensible people,—and we need not pay much
regard to the opinion of others,—these two classes are well
understood, and estimated at their real value."
"It is quite plain, aunt Helen," said Alice, her color much
heightened, "that you have set me over to the side of those who study
effect and court admiration."
"I think you are in danger of going over to that side, my dear,"
was gently answered, "and I love you too well not to desire something
better for my niece. Turn your thought inward and get down, if
possible, to your actual state of mind. Why have you chosen this very
effective style of dress? It is not in good taste—even you, I think,
will agree with me so far."
"Not in good taste, aunt Helen!"
"A prima donna, or a ballet—"
"How, aunt!" Alice made a quick interruption.
"You see, my child, how I am affected. Let me say it out in plain
words—your appearance, when, you came in a few minutes ago actually
"Indeed, indeed, aunt Helen, you are too severe in your tastes! We
are not Friends."
"You are not going in the character of a May queen, Alice, that you
should almost hide your beautiful hair in ribbons and flowers. A
stiff bouquet in a silver holder is simply an impediment, and does
not give a particle of true womanly grace. That necklace of pearls,
if half hidden among soft laces, would be charming; but banding the
uncovered neck and half-exposed chest, it looks bald, inharmonious,
and out of place. White, with a superfluity of pink trimming, jewelry
and flowers, I call on the outside of good taste; and if you go as you
are, you will certainly attract all eyes, but I am sure you will not
win admiration for these things from a single heart whose regard is
worth having. Don't be hurt with me, Alice. I am speaking with all
love and sincerity, and from a wider experience and observation than
it is possible for you to have reached. Don't go as you are, if you
can possibly make important changes. What time is left?"
Alice stood silent, with a clouded face. Her aunt looked at her
"There is a full half hour. You may do much in that time. But you
had best refer to your mother. Her taste and mine may not entirely
"O, as to that, mother is on your side. But she is always so plain
in her notions," said Alice, with a slight betrayal of impatience.
"A young lady will always be safest in society, Alice—always more
certain to make a good impression, if she subordinate her love of
dress and ornament as much as possible to her mother's taste. In
breaking away from this, my dear, you have gone over to an extreme
that, if persisted in, will class you with vain lovers of admiration;
with mere show girls, who, conscious of no superior moral and mental
attractions, seek to win by outward charms. Be not of them, dear
Alice, but of the higher class, whose minds are clothed in beautiful
garments whose loveliest and most precious things are, like jewels,
shut within a casket."
Alice withdrew, silent, almost hurt, though not offended, and more
than half resolved to give up the party. But certainly recollections
checked this forming resolve before it reached a state of full
"How will this do?" She pushed open the door of her aunt's room
half an hour afterwards with this sentence on her lips. Her cheeks
were glowing, and her eyes full of sparkles. So complete was the
change, that for a brief space the aunt gazed at her wonderingly. She
wore a handsome fawn-colored silk, made high in the neck, around which
was a narrow lace collar of exceeding fineness, pinned with a single
diamond. A linked band of gold, partly hidden by the lace
undersleeve, clasped one of her wrists. A small spray of pearls and
silver formed the only ornament for her hair, and nestled,
beautifully contrasted among its dark and glossy braids.
"Charming!" replied aunt Helen, in no feigned admiration. "In my
eyes you are a hundred times more attractive than you were, a little
while ago, and will prove more attractive to all whose favor is worth
the winning." And she arose and kissed her nice lovingly.
"I am not overdressed." Alice smiled.
"Better underdressed than overdressed, always, my dear, If there is
any fault, it is on the right side."
"I am glad you are pleased, aunt Helen."
"Are you not better pleased with yourself?" was asked.
"I can't just say that, aunt. I've worn this dress in company
several times, and it's very plain."
"It is very becoming, dear; and we always appear to best advantage
in that which most accords with our style of person and complexion.
To my eyes, in this more simple yet really elegant apparel, you look
charming. Before, you impressed me with a sense of vulgarity; now,
the impression, is one of refinement."
"Thank you for such flattering words, aunt Helen. I will accept the
pictures in your eyes as justly contrasted. Of one thing I am sure, I
shall feel more at ease, and less conscious of observation, than would
have been the case had I gone in my gayer attire. Good evening. It is
growing late, and I must be away."
The maiden stooped, and kissed her aunt affectionately.
"Good evening, dear, and may the hours be pleasant ones."
When Alice entered the drawing-room, where the company were
assembling her eyes were almost dazzled with the glitter of jewelry
and the splendor of colors. Most of the ladies present seemed
ambitious of display, emulous of ornament. She felt out of place, in
her grave and simple costume, and moved to a part of the room where
she would be away from observation. But her eyes were soon wandering
about, scanning forms and faces, not from simple curiosity, but with
an interest that was visible in her countenance. She looked for the
presence of one who had been, of late, much in her thoughts: of one
for whose eyes, more than for the eyes of any other, she apparelled
herself with that studied effect which received so little approval
from her aunt Helen. Alice felt sober. If she entertained doubts
touching her change of dress they were gone now. Plainly, to her
convictions, aunt Helen was wrong and she had been wrong in yielding
her own best judgement of the case.
Alice had been seated only for a little while, when she saw the
young man to whom we have just referred. He was standing at the
extreme end of the room, talking in a lively manner with a
gayly-dressed girl, who seemed particularly pleased with his
attentions. Beside her Alice would have seemed almost Quaker-like in
plainness. And Alice felt this with something like a pang. Soon they
passed across the room, approaching very near, and stood within a few
feet of her for several minutes. Then they moved away, and sit down
together not far off, still chatting in the lively manner at first
observed. Once or twice the young man appeared to look directly at
Alice, but no sign of recognition was visible on his face.
After the first emotions of disappointment in not being recognized
had subsided, the thoughts of Alice began to lift her out of the
state in much she bad been resting.
"If fine feathers make the fine bird," she said to herself, "let
him have the gay plumage. As for me, I ask a higher estimate. So I
will be content."
With the help of pride she rose above the weakness that was
depressing her. A lady friend joined her at the moment, and she was
soon interested in conversation.
"Excuse me for a personal reference, Alice," said this friend in a
familiar way, "and particularly for speaking of dress. But the fact
is, you shame at least one half of us girls by your perfect
subordination of everything to good taste. I never saw you so
faultlessly attired in my life."
"The merit, if there is any," replied Alice, "is not mine. I was
coming like a butterfly, but my aunt Helen, who is making us a visit,
objected so strongly that I took off my party dress and head-dress,
made for the occasion, and, in a fit of half-don't-care desperation,
got myself up after this modest fashion that you are pleased to call
in such good taste."
"Make your aunt Helen my compliments, and say to her that I wish
she were multiplied a thousands times. You will be the belle to-night,
if there are many sensible man present. Ah, there comes Mr. Benton!"
At this name the heart of Alice leaped. "He has spied you out
already. You are the attraction, of course, not me."
Mr. Benton, who had been, of late, so much in her thought, now
stood bowing before the two young ladies, thus arresting their
conversation. The last speaker was right. Alice had drawn him across
the room, as was quickly apparent, for to her alone he was soon
addressing himself. To quite the extent allowable in good breeding,
was Alice monopolized by Mr. Benton during the evening and when he
left her, with scarcely-concealed reluctance, another would take his
place, and enjoy the charm of her fine intelligence.
"Have you been introduced to Alice T——?" she heard one gentleman
ask of another, as she stood near a window opening into the
conservatory, and partly hidden by curtains.
"Yes," was the answer.
"She is a pleasant girl."
"By odds the most charming I have met to-night. And then she has
had the good taste to dress in a modest, womanly manner. How
beautifully she contrasts with a dozen I could name, all radiant with
colors as a bed of tulips."
She heard no more. But this was enough.
"You had a pleasant evening judging from your face," said aunt
Helen, when she meet her niece on the next morning.
"Yes; it was a very pleasant one—very pleasant." Her color
deepened and her eyes grew brighter.
"You were not neglected on account of you attractive style of
"Judging from the attentions I received, it must have been very
attractive. A novelty, perhaps. You understand human nature better
than I do, aunt Helen."
"Was it the plainest in the room?"
"It was plainer than that of half a dozen ladies old enough to have
The aunt smiled.
"Then it has not hurt your prospects?"
The question was in jest; but aunt Helen saw instantly into the
heart of her niece. For a moment their eyes lingered in each other;
then Alice looked down upon the floor.
"No it has not hurt my prospects." The answer was in a softer
voice, and then followed a long-drawn inspiration, succeeded by the
faintest of sighs.
A visit from Mr. Benton, on the next evening, removed all doubt
from the dress question, if any remained.