Cabinet des Modes, 15e Cahier, 1ere Figure

June 15, 1786

 A Woman, at her toilette, always has need of someone she can consult in order to know if this Coiffure, this Cap, this Hat, this Gown suits her well, and if she can wear it to advantage in the Promenades or other public places: why should we not be her Counsel, and why would she not read in our Books the advice that she asks for? Zulmé shines today in her muslin Caraco, quite simple, quite plain; and you, Zélis, would like to shine the same? No richness in her Dress, no loaded ornaments, taste alone made them fresh; and you would like to grasp this taste, this manner, which has seduced you? Listen, Zélis. Zulmé owes less of her éclat to her dress and coiffure, than to her air, where reigned an amiable liberty, a soft abandon, and an interesting facility. She is never seen sometimes bending, sometimes stiff, and sometimes inclining to the right or left, to give herself an air of the Petite-Maîtresse: no, her walk was frank, without affectation; she never contradicts nature, she never is studied. Born with these graces, infinitely set apart from nearly all your Sex, she never offended them, she never suffocated them under all the simpering which a Woman who has not a just and proportional mind overloads herself. Do not fool yourself; one must have some mind and a rather good one to have taste. An idiot will wear an elegant coat, he will wear a Fashionable coat, he will be well-covered; but it will be strongly perceived that he lacks taste in it. He will be affected, he will be stiff, he will be mannered. His coat or his hair will seem to determine all his steps. One will see in his walk that he fears being de-powdered, and, if he sits, that he fears crumpling his coat. He will not even laugh, in case he should lose the composure he has adopted.

Zélis, be close, be assured in your walk. Dare to raise your head, and one may discover in your face this beautiful confidence, this noble pride, which belongs to all to be made for feeling and thinking. Would you fear walking around and examined by all your fellows? May they impose on you, may they make you blush, or may they take off your free assurance? You are never impudent, you are never insolent; you only rely on yourself: I promise you their approbation forever. If, from this composure, your character can stand out, be convinced that you will compel the approbation of the same few who would have been able to marvel at it.

It is true that Zulmé was dressed in a Caraco and a Petticoat of striped muslin, very white, very fresh, elegantly flounced; that the Petticoat and pink Corset underneath, which nuance it and ground it, so to speak, with the white, spread into all her air a sweet freshness and an agreeable vivacity; but to be dressed thus is the least difficult thing. I ask you about poise. You can as easily as she put on your head a straw Hat, naturally colored, wrapped with a garland of artificial roses, surmounted by four plumes (three white and one pink), and to which is attached behind a large Veil of white gauze falling to the waist. You can wear a bouquet of roses on the front of your corset, coif yourself with a large tapet and three curls on each side, of which one lands on the chest; but, one more time, on poise: there is all the magic of Zulmé.

It is, however, necessary to agree that Zulmé had to avoid a defect to which nearly all women are culpable today, which is of loading the head with a pound of white powder, instead of only wearing a light tint on the coiffure, and still weakening this tint with another as light of blonde or red powder. Zulmé had felt that white powder caked and thickened her features. If the Woman is blonde, this powder horribly fades the face; if she is brunette, it darkens her. Never, no never, is it necessary to powder it to white, unless you want to seem misshapen. Zélis, follow these counsels well.

I must add, before finishing, that the Caraco can only make a morning toilette, when it is still too early to dress, and when one wants to go out, and walk around before noon; or for the evening toilette, when one has passed all day at home, and when at seven or eight o'clock one wants to take the air, or appear in public. (See 1ST PLATE.)


  1. Dear Cassidy,
    So much useful information packed into this one article! The move towards naturalness and away from artificiality; the abundant cotton, the change in hair powdering; what to wear when during the day.
    Very best,

    1. It is very philosophical! There are a few of these coming up, long treatises on the nature of fashion etc.


Post a Comment