In my spiralling studies on confinement and the history of madness and asylums I have browsed through countless online sources that draw disturbing historical images of the treatment of women. After having discovered the tragic but victorious story of Elizabeth Packard (who was locked up for three years in an insane asylum in 1860 for having had the nerve to challenge her husband's religious views), I came across a book of more general appeal, published in 1857, about making sure one knows how to be a proper woman. The book includes hundreds of pages of advice for how to raise one's daughters, how to educate them, and how to make sure a girl proceeds in life accordingly - from daughter to sister, from wife to mother. Of course, there was very little room for the girl or woman herself; after all, her duty was to be grateful and exist for others. (On the question of how to find a good husband, the book suggests foremost "to deserve him.")
In Chapter II I found a fascinating subtitle "See My Nice Clothes". Of course it is rather obvious that
"[w]e are concerned about the habits of dress which you will allow our true little woman to form, while she is under your immediate direction. In the briefest possible way, we would call attention to the fact, that bad taste and extravagance in dress must be reckoned among the most obstinate and destructive of the growing vices of the age. It deforms the person, ruins the health, shortens the life, corrupts the manners, absorbs the time, fosters the selfishness, defeats the benevolence and breaks down the fortunes of countless multitudes, every year of the world."
"Above all things, let the little one you wish to be a true woman be plainly dressed; neatly, tastefully, indeed, if you please, but comfortably and plainly; that she may learn to attach paramount importance to the qualities of the mind and heart, instead of to gay and fashionable attire; that she may be an example of prudence, economy and benevolence, instead of attractive, flaunting, ruinous extravagance."
Jesse T. Peck, D. D., (1857) in The True Woman: or, Life and Happiness at Home and Abroad
You can find the entire book scanned here.
Top underneath: Urban Outfitters
Wool trousers: Diesel
Pirate boots: Sportmax