No. 478. Monday, September 8, 1712. Steele.

--Usus Quem penes Arbitrium est, et Jus et Norma--'


It happened lately, that a Friend of mine, who had many things to buy for his Family, would oblige me to walk with him to the Shops. He was very nice in his way, and fond of having every thing shewn, which at first made me very uneasy; but as his Humour still continu'd, the things which I had been staring at along with him, began to fill my Head, and led me into a Set of amusing Thoughts concerning them.

I fancied it must be very surprizing to any one who enters into a detail of Fashions, to consider how far the Vanity of Mankind has laid it self out in Dress, what a prodigious number of People it maintains, and what a Circulation of Money it occasions. Providence in this Case makes use of the Folly which we will not give up, and it becomes instrumental to the Support of those who are willing to labour. Hence it is that Fringe-Makers, Lace-Men, Tire-Women, and a number of other Trades, which would be useless in a simple State of Nature, draw their Subsistence; tho' it is seldom seen that such as these are extremely rich, because their original Fault of being founded upon Vanity, keeps them poor by the light Inconstancy of its Nature. The Variableness of Fashion turns the Stream of Business which flows from it now into one Channel, and anon into another; so that different Sets of People sink or flourish in their turns by it.

From the Shops we retir'd to the Tavern, where I found my Friend express so much satisfaction for the Bargains he had made, that my moral Reflections, (if I had told them) might have pass'd for a Reproof; so I chose rather to fall in with him, and let the Discourse run upon the use of Fashions.

Here we remembred how much Man is govern'd by his Senses, how lively he is struck by the Objects which appear to him in an agreeable manner, how much Clothes contribute to make us agreeable Objects, and how much we owe it to our selves that we should appear so.

We considered Man as belonging to Societies; Societies as form'd of different Ranks; and different Ranks distinguished by Habits, that all proper Duty or Respect might attend their Appearance.

We took notice of several Advantages which are met with in the Occurrences of Conversation. How the bashful Man has been sometimes so rais'd, as to express himself with an Air of Freedom, when he imagines that his Habit introduces him to Company with a becoming Manner: And again, how a Fool in fine Clothes shall be suddenly heard with Attention, till he has betray'd himself; whereas a Man of Sense appearing with a Dress of Negligence, shall be but coldly received, till he be proved by Time, and established in a Character. Such things as these we cou'd recollect to have happen'd to our knowledge so very often, that we concluded the Author had his Reasons, who advises his Son to go in Dress rather above his Fortune than under it.

At last the Subject seem'd so considerable, that it was proposed to have a Repository built for Fashions, as there are Chambers for Medals and other Rarities. The Building may be shap'd as that which stands among the Pyramids, in the Form of a Woman's Head. This may be rais'd upon Pillars, whose Ornaments shall bear a just relation to the Design. Thus there may be an Imitation of Fringe carv'd in the Base, a sort of Appearance of Lace in the Frieze, and a Representation of curling Locks, with Bows of Ribband sloping over them, may fill up the Work of the Cornish. The Inside may be divided into two Apartments appropriated to each Sex. The Apartments may be fill'd with Shelves, on which Boxes are to stand as regularly as Books in a Library. These are to have Folding-Doors, which being open'd, you are to behold a Baby dressed out in some Fashion which has flourish'd, and standing upon a Pedestal, where the time of its Reign is mark'd down. For its further Regulation, let it be order'd, that every one who invents a Fashion shall bring in his Box, whose Front he may at pleasure have either work'd or painted with some amorous or gay Device, that, like Books with gilded Leaves and Covers, it may the sooner draw the Eyes of the Beholders. And to the end that these may be preserv'd with all due Care, let there be a Keeper appointed, who shall be a Gentleman qualify'd with a competent Knowledge in Clothes; so that by this means the Place, will be a comfortable Support for some Beau who has spent his Estate in dressing.

The Reasons offer'd by which we expected to gain the Approbation of the Publick, were as follows.

First, That every one who is considerable enough to be a Mode, and has any Imperfection of Nature or Chance, which it is possible to hide by the Advantage of Clothes, may, by coming to this Repository, be furnish'd her self, and furnish all who are under the same Misfortune, with the most agreeable Manner of concealing it; and that on the other side, every one who has any Beauty in Face or Shape, may also be furnished with the most agreeable Manner of shewing it.

Secondly, That whereas some of our young Gentlemen who travel, give us great reason to suspect that they only go abroad to make or improve a Fancy for Dress, a Project of this nature may be a means to keep them at home, which is in effect the keeping of so much Money in the Kingdom. And perhaps the Balance of Fashion in Europe, which now leans upon the side of France, may be so alter'd for the future, that it may become as common with Frenchmen to come to England for their finishing Stroke of Breeding, as it has been for Englishmen to go to France for it.

Thirdly, Whereas several great Scholars, who might have been otherwise useful to the World, have spent their time in studying to describe the Dresses of the Ancients from dark Hints, which they are fain to interpret and support with much Learning, it will from henceforth happen, that they shall be freed from the Trouble, and the World from useless Volumes. This Project will be a Registry, to which Posterity may have recourse, for the clearing such obscure Passages as tend that way in Authors; and therefore we shall not for the future submit our selves to the Learning of Etymology, which might persuade the Age to come, that the Farthingal was worn for Cheapness, or the Furbeloe for Warmth.

Fourthly, Whereas they who are old themselves, have often a way of railing at the Extravagance of Youth, and the whole Age in which their Children live; it is hoped that this ill Humour will be much suppress'd, when we can have recourse to the Fashions of their Times, produce them in our Vindication, and be able to shew that it might have been as expensive in Queen Elizabeth's time only to wash and quill a Ruff, as it is now to buy Cravats or Neck-Handkerchiefs.

We desire also to have it taken Notice of, That because we would shew a particular respect to Foreigners, which may induce them to perfect their Breeding here in a Knowledge which is very proper for pretty Gentlemen, we have conceived the Motto for the House in the Learned Language. There is to be a Picture over the Door, with a Looking-Glass and a Dressing-Chair in the Middle of it: Then on one side are to be seen, above one another, Patch-Boxes, Pin-Cushions, and little Bottles; on the other, Powder Baggs, Puffs, Combs and Brushes; beyond these, Swords with fine Knots, whose Points are hidden, and Fans almost closed, with the Handles downward, are to stand out interchangeably from the Sides till they meet at the Top, and form a Semicircle over the rest of the Figures: Beneath all, the Writing is to run in this pretty sounding Manner:

'Adeste, O quotquot sunt, Veneres, Gratiæ, Cupidines, [1]
En vobis adsunt in promptu
Faces, Vincula, Spicula,
Hinc eligite, sumite, regite.'

I am, Sir, Your most humble Servant, A. B.

The Proposal of my Correspondent I cannot but look upon as an ingenious Method of placing Persons (whose Parts make them ambitious to exert themselves in frivolous things) in a Rank by themselves. In order to this, I would propose, That there be a Board of Directors of the fashionable Society; and because it is a Matter of too much Weight for a private Man to determine alone, I should be highly obliged to my Correspondents if they would give in Lists of Persons qualify'd for this Trust. If the chief Coffee-houses, the Conversations of which Places are carry'd on by Persons, each of whom has his little number of Followers and Admirers, would name from among themselves two or three to be inserted, they should be put up with great Faithfulness. Old Beaus are to be presented in the first place; but as that Sect, with relation to Dress, is almost extinct, it will, I fear, be absolutely necessary to take in all Time-Servers, properly so deem'd; that is, such as, without any Conviction of Conscience or View of Interest, change with the World, and that merely from a Terror of being out of Fashion. Such also, who from Facility of Temper, and too much Obsequiousness, are vicious against their Will, and follow Leaders whom they do not approve, for Want of Courage to go their own Way, are capable Persons for this Superintendency. Those who are both to grow old, or would do any thing contrary to the Course and Order of things, out of Fondness to be in Fashion, are proper Candidates. To conclude, those who are in Fashion without apparent Merit, must be supposed to have latent Qualities, which would appear in a Post of Direction; and therefore are to be regarded in forming these Lists. Any who shall be pleased, according to these, or what further Qualifications may occur to himself, to send a List, is desired to do it within fourteen days after this Date.

N. B. The Place of the Physician to this Society, according to the last mentioned Qualification, is already engag'd.


[Footnote 1:

'All ye Venuses, Graces, and Cupids, attend: See prepared to your hands Darts, torches, and bands: Your weapons here choose, and your empire extend.']

Translation of motto:
HOR. Ars Poet. v. 72.
'Fashion, sole arbitress of dress.'