One day before dinner Hartright comments on how Miss Fairlie is dressed compared to Miss Halcombe and Mrs. Vesey. She wore a simple white dress which was a complete turn off for Hartright as he states “It was spotlessly pure: it was beautifully put on: but still it was the sort of dress which the wife or daughter of a poor man might have worn; and it made her, so far as externals went, look less affluent in circumstances than her own governess” (pg. 56). While the color emphasizes her purity and cleanliness both literally and figuratively, he is upset that she does not show off her status as a rich woman through her clothes. In fact he insults her by saying that her governess is dressed better than she is. Furthermore the passage supports the notion that Hartright is very materialistic and cares primarily about class and the presentation of one’s status. By wearing a white muslin dress Hartright feels that she is not presenting herself in alignment with her class status. I think he wants her to dress up because he finds it more attractive while also visually proving to anyone that sees her that she is rich.
I find it ironic that he says “as far as externals went” considering he judges Miss Fairlie solely based off of her external features and looks. When he finds out more about her character he does not agree with her opinions and seems to swat them away as if they do not exist. Hartright is so in love with the idea of Miss Fairlie because of the way she looks, her class rank, and her dainty mannerisms that he chooses to ignore the parts of her that he opposes.
All of these characteristics that Hartright acknowledges and becomes obsessed with align with Victorian ideals of beauty among women. He believes that looks and status are more important than character and personality. While this looks shallow to the modern viewer, no one would have blinked during the Victorian Era at this behavior.