I have to admit that when this lovely specimen from the Library of Congress Flickr Stream caught my eye today, my first thought was: that woman is a testament to truly excellent tailoring. I would happily wear what she’s wearing. It is beautifully made, and suits her well. It is both stylishly correct and a little forward-thinking for the time (this photo was probably taken sometime in 1917), a kind of Asian-inspired styling that looks appropriate rather than culturally appropriative.
I had no idea, when I thought these things, who this woman actually was. It turns out that the woman so well dressed here is one of President Woodrow Wilson’s daughters, Margaret, who seems to have been one of those professionally interesting people who do interesting things (above and beyond being, temporarily, her father’s de facto First Lady/White House hostess while he was between wives). She was a singer (trained as a soprano) and a recording artist, and eventually she left it all behind to live at an ashram in India; she was one of the English translators (with Joseph Campbell) of the works of Sri Ramakrishna. At the ashram, she was called “Nistha,” which apparently means “sincerity.” It seems to suit her just as well as that dress did.