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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Let us see a Persian lady indoors


Native Persian dentistry is not in a very advanced stage. With the exception of extraction by primitive and painful methods, nothing efficient is done to arrest the progress of decay.

The Persian nose is well shaped--but it is not perfection, mind you--and generally does not perform its duties in a creditable manner. It has nearly all the drawbacks of civilised noses. Partly owing to defective digestive organs and the escaping fumes of decayed teeth, the nose, really very well shaped in young children, generally alters its shape as they get older, and it becomes blocked up with mucous matter, causing it unduly to expand at the bridge, and giving it rather a stumpy, fat appearance. The nostrils are not very sharply and powerfully cut in most cases, and are rounded up and undecided, a sign of pliant character.

Women have better cut and healthier noses than men, as they lead a more wholesome life. In children and young people, however, very handsome noses are to be seen in Persia. The sense of odour is not very keen in either sex; in fact, it is probably the dullest of all Persian senses, which is not unfortunate for them in a country where potent smells abound. In experimenting upon healthy specimens, it was found that only comparatively strong odours could be detected by them, nor could they distinguish the difference between two different scents, when they did succeed in smelling them at all!

A Persian woman is not seen at her best when she is dressed. This sounds very shocking, but it is quite true. Of all the ugly, inartistic, clumsy, uncomfortable, tasteless, absurd female attires, that of the Persian lady ranks first.

Let us see a Persian lady indoors, and describe her various garments in the order in which they strike the observer. First of all one's eye is caught by a "bundle" of short skirts--usually of very bright colours--sticking out at the hips, and not unlike the familiar attire of our ballet girls--only shorter. These skirts are made of cotton, silk or satin, according to the lady's wealth and position.

There are various versions of how such a fashion was adopted by Persian ladies. It is of comparatively modern importation, and up to fifty or sixty years ago women wore long skirts reaching down to the ankle. The skirts gradually got shorter and shorter as the women got more civilised--so a Persian assures me--and when Nasr-ed-din Shah visited Europe and brought back to his harem the glowing accounts of the ladies' dress--or, rather, undress--at the Empire and Alhambra music-hall ballets, which seem to have much attracted him, the women of his court, in order to compete with their European rivals, and to gain afresh the favour of their sovereign, immediately adopted a similar attire. Scissors were busy, and down (or up) were the skirts reduced to a minimum length.

As in other countries, fashions in men and women are copied from the Court, and so the women from one end of Persia to the other, in the cities, took up the hideous custom. One of the principal points in the fashion is that the skirt must stick out at the sides. These skirts are occasionally very elaborate, with heavy gold braiding round them, richly embroidered, or covered all over with small pearls. The shape of the skirt is the same in all classes of women, but of course the difference lies in the material with which the dress is made.

Under the skirt appear two heavy, shapeless legs, in long foreign stockings with garters, or in tight trousers of cotton or other light material--a most unseemly sight. When only the family are present the latter garments are frequently omitted.

Perhaps the only attractive part of a woman's indoor toilet is the neat zouave jacket with sleeves, breast and back profusely embroidered in gold, or with pearls. It is called the _yel_. When lady friends are expected to call, some additions are made to the costume. A long veil fastened to the belt and supported on the projecting skirt hangs down to the feet. Sometimes it is left to drag behind. It is quite transparent, and its purposeless use none of my Persian friends could explain. "The women like it, that is all," was the only answer I could elicit, and that was certainly enough to settle the matter.


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