Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘prom’

What to Wear to the Prom?

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

you can be feminine and chicQ Dear Miss Abigail:

Our prom is in April and I do not have anything to wear, because I cannot find anything that looks good on me. I am 170 pounds, and have a very large chest. What kind of dress can you recommend?


A Dear Crystal:

Quite a few young ladies out there seem concerned about what to wear to the prom. This is actually my second question on this topic, but since prom time is upon us again, and you gals are so stressed about it, I’m covering it with another excerpt.

The following handy-dandy chart is from Kay Thomas’ Secrets of Loveliness. I recommend you all print it out and bring it along while shopping in the coming weeks. And don’t forget to send me a copy of your prom pictures! I’m sure you will all look lovely.

1969: Clothing to Fit Your Figure

The secret of being attractively dressed is to stay as close as you can to the prevailing fashion, but never to forget you’re a female. With a knowledge of fashion and of your own type, you can be feminine and chic. It is possible to be wholesome and pretty as well as fashionable. Girls who forget this principle ~ and many do who are actually ‘in fashion’ ~ end up looking lifeless, sexless, and brittle, like a mannequin in a store window.

Clothes today come in such a wide variety of silhouettes and colors that a wise girl can soon learn what lines and colors are best suited to her.

The surest way to look well in your clothes is first of all, to make sure that you figure is as easy to dress as nature will allow it to be. As you know this is done by diet and exercise.

But while you’re in the process of improving your figure, or if you have basic structural problems which can’t be changed ~ like extra height or width ~ there are many ways to fool your public by disguising your weakness.

Figure Type Dresses Skirts Blouses
Jackets Fabrics
Short and slim Flared or straight; high or natural waistlines Slim or slightly flared Medium length when worn outside; colors matched to skirt Short, single-breasted; natural shoulders; same color as skirt Crisp weaves; small patterns; muted colors
Short and full Slightly flared or straight; natural waistlines Slim or slightly flared Medium length when worn outside; colors matched to skirt Short, single-breasted; natural shoulders; same color as skirt Medium weights; dull surfaces; small patterns; dark, muted colors ~ all one shade
Tall and slim Flared; soft and draped; high or natural waistlines; wide belts Flared or pleated Long line; colors contrasted to skirt Long, double-breasted; wide shoulders Bulky weaves; large patterns; light or bright colors; two-color combinations
Tall and Broad Slightly flared; natural waistlines; narrow self-belts Slim or slightly flared; easy cut; center pleats or vertical stitching Medium length when worn outside; colors matched to skirt Medium length; single-breasted; natural shoulders; colors matched to skirt Medium weights; dull surfaces; well-spaced patterns, dark colors
Average Flared or straight; natural, high, or low waistlines Slim or flared Medium length when worn outside; colors matched to skirt or in contrast Medium length; natural or slightly padded shoulders; colors matched to skirt or in contrast Medium weights or bulky weaves; medium-sized patterns; dark, light, or bright colors

Source: Thomas, Kay. Secrets of Loveliness. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1969.
~ pp. 32-34 ~

Really Senior Prom Tips

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

be careful to have extra wrapsQ Dear Miss Abigail:

I’m having a senior prom. The seniors are over sixty to ninety-eight. What should they wear, and what do we eat and drink?


A Dear Carol:

Now this sounds like some fun. There’s no special food required for events such as yours, so it’s probably best to eat and drink whatever your seniors like to eat and drink. Dress, however, is something I can help with. While the men should simply wear suits and ties, the ladies might like to take heed to Ms. Melendy’s advice from Vivilore (1904) regarding proper dress for evening parties.

1904: For Evening Parties

No woman with beautiful neck and arms, can well resist the delights of occasionally wearing evening dress; it is as natural as for flowers to bloom. When the social gatherings are very informal, any pretty, light dress is suitable, and summer afternoon gowns may be made to do service at such times. But for the more formal occasions the dress cut low in the neck and short in the sleeves is desired; and may be worn, with proper precautions, by women in vigorous health. The daily cold sponge bath will do much to prevent one from taking cold; but in winter, the woman who indulges in evening dress must be careful to have extra wraps, and should not go out doors from a warm room while perspiring. Carelessness at these times has caused many a serious illness; and no woman who has not first mastered the tendency to take cold ought to attempt evening dress at all. Robust health is the very first requisite. English women, who are usually vigorous, wear dresses of this cut daily without injury.

Source: Melendy, Dr. Mary Ries. Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection. Chicago: W. R. Vansant, 1904.
~ p. 205 ~

What to Wear to the Senior Prom?

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

where the bosom is smallQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What do you suggest that I can wear to my senior prom? I’m 1.76m and 50kg, but kinda flat and thus relatively heavier on the bottoms.


A Dear Natalie:

Hmm…if I were to translate those dimensions into “American” terms, lets see, you would be…um…well, in any case, I think I can help with the flat chested/heavy bottom problem. I’ve been dying to use an excerpt from this 1840s book given to me by a friend. Female Beauty, written by Mrs. A. Walker, has a much longer title than I can possible fit here. It is also completely falling apart (there is a huge chunk missing from the middle, unfortunately), but what I do have is wonderful. Make sure you look at the illustrations (below) ~ you won’t regret it!

1840: Peculiarities of Shape, &c.

Many peculiarities must depend upon fashion; but still more on the style of the figure.

Tall thin women may wear a great deal of clothing, or loose flowing drapery, bright coloured dresses of silk, and several rows of trimming; whilst short stout women will appear to the greatest advantage in dark coloured gowns close to the shape of the body, and merely easy in the skirt, with very little trimming, &c.

Apparent width may be given to narrow shoulders, by having the epaulettes of the dress, when epaulettes are worn, very full on the extremity of the shoulders, and the bosom and back of the dress running in oblique folds, from the point of the shoulder to the middle of the bust.

A waist which is neither long nor short, neither compressed unnaturally above nor below, will always be most agreeable to the enlightened and cultivated eye; while it will, at the same time, give the power of adjusting the dress in the most graceful manner. On such a waist, dresses disposed in the stomacher form may be very happily adopted, or the full plaitings of the blouze disposed to advantage. In either case, if the waist is but even a little too long, the line of beauty is lost, and that loss will not be compensated by the mere circumstance of being slender.

A long waist is unbecoming to a short figure, where the bosom is small; but where there exists considerable plumpness and fulness, the waist should have its natural length.

If the hips are large and high, the body of the dress should be long, whatever the stature.

By wearing the dress full at the shoulders and at the hips, the waist will by contrast appear smaller; and this is a much better plan than tight lacing.

If the waist still appears thick, a stomacher in front will further relieve it; and, behind, the dress may be plain and wide across the shoulders, and drawn in gathers to a narrow point at the bottom of the waist. ~ See Plate IV [below]. where, though the waist is not naturally too thick, it is further reduced by such means.

Female Beauty is blessed with having beautifully colored illustrations, depicting, as far as I can tell, the “before” and “after” pictures of young ladies in certain fashion dilemmas. I scanned a two-page image of the book to show you what it’s like ~ notice the cutout on the page on the right.

2 page spread

This allows you to flip back and forth. Bad, good! Bad, good! Oooh, lovely! Now, I must admit that I had a bit of trouble figuring out which was the “good” version, and although I thought it was the one on the right (below), friends consulted insist the better dress is the one on the left. And the caption for the one on the left, by the way, says “Management of Thick Waist,” crediting J. T. Bowen of 94 Walnut Street in Pennsylvania with creating the lithographs, so they must be right.


Source: Walker, Mrs. A. Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress. New York: Scofield and Voorhies, 1840.
~ pp. 331-32 ~