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My Recipe for a Summer Dress - 1912

Lady Duff-Gordon.

Lady Duff-Gordon. Photograph by Cambell Studio, NY. Good Housekeeping Magazine (August 1912) p. 213. GGA Image ID # 110359d57b

This is the first of a series of informed, personal talks to our readers by this famous, titled, modiste of London, Paris, and New York. The article appeared in Good Housekeeping in August 1912 and was likely Lady Duff-Gordon's first article after surviving the RMS Titanic disaster.

Dear Mr. Editor,

You have been kind enough to wish me to write a series of fashion articles for you. Here is the first. I am afraid that my papers will not be like the usual fashion discourses, because, odd as it may sound coming from me, I do not believe in fashions!

By that, I mean I do not believe in what is called “the mode,” the uniform dictated arbitrarily by a dressmaker sitting in his Paris atelier and made popular by some mondaine or demi-mondaine, thence to be worn by thousands of women whether it suits them or not, simply because it is “the mode.”

I do not believe in that thoughtless, unintelligent, spendthrift shifting from this to that in dress simply because, overnight, “the fashion” has changed.
I shall never believe that a woman should be a slave to her dresses, and that is what “the fashions” make her. But I do believe that dress was made for woman to form into coverings of such lines and colors as will best set off her charms and her individuality. In other words, I believe that dresses are made for women, not women for dresses. 

And so, instead of this description or that description, I want to write letters to your readers which will make clear to them my ideas of the inner meaning of dresses-a distinctly feminine “Sartor Resartus,” perhaps.

Summer Fashions by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon). Morning Gown and Summer Dress.

Summer Fashions by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon). Morning Gown and Summer Dress. Good Housekeeping Magazine (August 1912) p. 214. GGA Image ID # 1103bdee42

Left: Gray linen morning gown designed by Lucite. The  skirt has drawn thread border. The Russian blouse has belt of the material and fastens at the sides with buttons.  Embroidered muslin collar and jabot enhanced ‘with real Cluny lace.

Right: Lucile model in pale gray voile embroidered in green and yellow silk flowers. The naval feature is the long not sleeve with a pull’ at the top. Round lace hat trimmed with flowers.

I would like to talk about the importance of simplicity; the folly and the dangers of exaggeration; the absurdity of blindly following “a fashion”; the importance of intelligently studying one’s personality and expressing and interpreting that personality in one’s dresses; the necessity of harmony between oneself and one’s manner of dressing, from the hair down to the boots; the paramount value of right taste in its effect on your fortunes, your every-day life, your happiness.

I would like to teach your readers to dare to foster and preserve their individuality. I do not think that it is immodest of me to say that I have won fairly the right to be considered an expert, and as such, I am at least worth hearing.

We may all, each in our own house, invent what we think are the most perfect things. And naturally we each think ours are the best. But because we think they are good does not make them the fashion. It is one individual that does that—a celebrated beauty in the Faubourg St. Germain, or a favorite actress.

Garden Party and Summer Frocks by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon).

Garden Party and Summer Frocks by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon). Good Housekeeping Magazine (August 1912) p. 215. GGA Image ID # 11043cdc24

Left: Garden-party frock by Lucile, of tambon lace trimmed with palest pink satin and Valenciennes lace. The pale yellow taffeta bonnet is decorated with blue ribbon and a bunch of varicolored flowers

Right: Summer frock from Lucile in white chiffon and fine lace mounted over shell pink. The belt and trimmings are of the palest pink satin embroidered with tiny white beads. A smart touch is lent by the pale mauve taffeta coat fashioned on the bolero lines. The leghorn bonnet is enhanced with violets and a cluster of mauve feathers at the side.

She wears the dress, and in some insistent and mysterious manner it catches on to the public taste. Then everybody copies that particular model, and it becomes a uniform. I do not know whether this is a sign of the times, but I fancy not. Looking back along the past ages of fashions, you see the ladies in all the celebrated pictures of any given period seemingly dressed alike. I think it a great pity!

If my small voice has any weight in these matters, I shall try to induce each woman to study her own particular type and figure and, no matter what the fashions are that the dressmakers choose to invent, I shall urge her to stick religiously to her own type.

I am only preaching what I practice myself. I do not know whether any of your readers has ever seen me, but I have one particular style that I always stick to no matter what other people are wearing.  I have all my clothes made in that same fashion from year to year, but in different colors and materials.

Someday, Mr. Editor, if you wish it, I will send you a picture of my particular tailor-made coat and skirt which at this moment many of my kind customers in Paris are adopting for their morning airing in the Bois.

I have another variation for my afternoon and evening gowns, but they are always of the same style. Terribly simple, with long lines and no “odds and ends and bits” anywhere. And it is my present intention (but I am only a woman and therefore may change at any moment, but I devoutly hope not) to stick to this fashion until the end of my time, providing (and this is a very serious condition) that I keep slim; and this I am determined to do.

This is not an idea that is original with me; not at all. I have always before me a very dear old aunt of mine who died lately at the age of eighty-nine. When she was forty years old, she adopted a mode of her own and never changed it.

You may say that a mode of forty or fifty years ago must have been a fright. Maybe so, but her individual mode was of such simple lines and personal charm and so expressed her personality that with her, it always seemed perfect. When she died, we found at the very least fifty dresses all made in the same style, but of different materials.

Mauve foulard frock from Lucile trimmed with while satin.

Mauve foulard frock from Lucile trimmed with while satin. The skirt is draped at the side in suggestion of the panier style, the draping taught with a buckle of the foulard and satin. A similar buckle fastens the belt of the foulard and satin. Collar and cuffs of Valenciennes lace and embroidery. White Tuscan straw hat with black ‘velvet ribbon and large pink rose. Good Housekeeping Magazine (August 1912) p. 216. GGA Image ID # 1104ab9faf

As she got older, she had them made in very thick satins and brocades, instead of the more flimsy materials. No one would ever have known she was not “in fashion.” The harmony was so fine that she was always in the best of fashion. All this is by the way, but it illustrates what I have said about daring to be free of “the mode.”

You tell me that this article will not appear until the August number and that it will then be getting a bit late for summer dresses; also that it is now too early to talk about autumn ones. But I am going to give you a recipe for a summer dress.

“Summer” is a word that always suggests to me complete satisfaction, and delight, and dainty beauty, and a laissez aller in modes, all the most flimsy and the daintiest fabrics. What more can I say?  In my philosophy, the recipe is as good for next summer as this.

Keep in mind always the idea of a foundation of the palest pink, and the palest pink stockings, and over this drape chiffon, or lace, or voile, or muslin, in your own individual style and in any faint color you like; even in a dark one, providing you keep the pale pink, transparent effect of the foundation. And there you have my ideal summer frock.

The guest enjoying the cup of tea is wearing a simple frock of gray silk cashmere with sash and buttons of the material.

The guest enjoying the cup of tea is wearing a simple frock of gray silk cashmere with sash and buttons of the material. The skirt is buttoned with four buttons halfway up the front, and displays a Cambria Petticoat, with Valenciennes lace insertion and powder blue ribbon edged with black. The collar and ruffs are of muslin matching the hat, with a tie of powder blue ribbon. Her hostess appears in a gown of black and white striped chiffon piped with white satin. The cuffs of the sleeves and the bottom part of the skirt are also of the white satin. This skirt is draped up on one side, revealing a petticoat of white lace bound with black velvet, and on the other side a black velvet sash is tied in a large bow. Fine Merklin lace and coarse lace embroidery are used for the collar and jabot. The other guest wears a handsome lace gown mounted over pale pink chiffon. The lower part of the skirt is very narrow, with a fuller upper flounce, falling straight from the raised belt of pale blue satin. The bébé bodice is of the lace with dear little puffed sleeves finished with lace ruffles.  The hat is of the same lace, draped with pink satin ribbon and blue forget-me-nots. Good Housekeeping Magazine (September 1912) p. 355. GGA Image ID # 1104c3dbb7

Lady Lucile Duff-Gordon, "Her Wardrobe: A Monthly Department of Fashions and Patterns: My Recipe for a Summer Dress, With a Personal Chat Setting Forth My Ideas Concerning Women's Clothes" in Good Housekeeping Magazine, New York: Good Housekeepin Magazine, Vol. LV, No. 2, Whole No. 406, August 1912,

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