On Simplicity

When reading any style guide book from the era before the Cloud of Ugliness shaded our world, many a time the reader comes across a cry for simplicity. This may be confusing to the servant of Beauty, who, researching the history of fashion, witnesses the withering of decoration in favor of minimalism and stark simple lines until there remains not one stitch of decoration. So has the wish of our foremothers, calling simplicity one of the virtues of good dressing, come true? No, absolutely not. What they meant by simplicity is not what the word is understood to mean today. Simplicity, in the original fashion sense, should be taken to mean a certain singularity of theme in an outfit. A costume should have one principal theme, be it colour, texture, form – and not several points of interest competing with each other. This is what the old rules of dress mean by simplicity. It certainly does not mean total absence of ornament. Beauty of form in dress is produced by the artistic combination of graceful curves growing out of each other, the harmonious application of trimming and accessories, and the correct combination of colours, all of which produce a oneness of effect that is pleasing to the eye and that gives poise and dignity to the wearer. In material, design, and the arrangement of its parts, the main structure of a dress should be free from all unnecessary, thoughtless additions that will in any way interfere with its beauty of outline or gracefulness. Accessories should be judiciously applied, emphasizing the most dominant lines of a costume. The trimming of a garment should give the eye a point of interest, and relieve any monotony of effect that might be characteristic of a severely plain dress.

simpledressIn choice of colours the rule of simplicity is even more important than other matters of dress. It is but a rare case, when more than three colours used in an ensemble succeed in creating a harmonious whole. Three-colour harmony can be observed quite often, for example the perennial combination of dark blue or navy with red and white. Almost any two colours can be combined harmoniously, as long as the proportion of one colour to another is artistically chosen. And lastly, tints of one colour cannot but succeed to look at least agreeable, although there is danger of looking a tad monotonous.

Stark minimalism, devoid of any decoration in dress is not strictly speaking unnatural. There are areas in our world, where Nature can be seen in magnificent simplicity: frozen snowscape of the arctis, plain unbroken field of snow under vast night sky. Or the desert, where dome of bright blue sky curves over the endless expanse of pale sand. The sight is astonishing, and certainly beautiful. But it should be noted, that both of these minimalist environments are hostile to life. They are not places where one wishes to linger, and certainly not enjoy herself – those are places of struggle against cold, against heat and thirst. It is the decorative places of Earth, so to speak, which are fertile and suited for life, where water flows freely and plants grow in their various forms. Let us take our cue from Nature, and aim not for the barren minimalism of a desert, but rather for the lovely lively effect of growing things.

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