Lilian Bell.

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him your velvet and ermine wrap, which
cost you two hundred dollars, I would just
like to ask you if it pays to dress for him.
Women know this from a sorrowful ex-
perience* Girls have to learn it for them-
selves. A ball - dress of white tarlatan,



26 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

made up over white paper cambric, with a
white sash, will satisfy a man quite as well
as a Paris muslin trimmed with a hundred
dollars' worth of Valenciennes lace and made
up over silk. Most of them would never
know the difference.

I do not know whether to be sorry for
these men or not. It must be lovely not to
agonize and plan and worry to have every-
thing the best of its kind. I would like to
take in only the effect, and never know why
I was pleased. Too much analysis is death
to unmitigated rapture. You always are
haunted by knowing exactly what is lack-
ing, and just how it could be remedied. But
these dear men are singularly deluded in
many ways, and upon these delusions clever
women play, as a master plays upon an or-
gan. And young girls, who have not had
time to. study into the philosophy of it how
should the poor things know that clothes
have any philosophy ? as usual, have to
suffer for it.

One of these delusions is the " simple
white muslin " delusion. When a man
speaks of a " simple white muslin " in the



THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES 27

softly admiring tone which he generally
adopts to go with it, he means anything on
earth in the line of a thin, light stuff which
produces in his mind the effect of youth
and innocence. A ball -dress or a cotton
morning-gown is to him a "simple white
muslin."

Now a word with you, you dear, unso-
phisticated man. I have heard you, with
the sound of your hundred-and-fifty-dollar-
a-month salary ringing in your ears, gurgle
and splash about a girl who wears " simple
white muslins " to balls ; and I have heard
you set down, as extravagant, and too rich
for your purse, the girl who wears silk.
There is no more extravagant or trouble-
some gown in the world than what you call
a "simple white muslin." In the first pi ace,
it never is muslin, unless it is Paris mus-
lin, which is no joke, if you are thinking of
paying for it yourself, as it necessitates a
silk lining, which costs more than the out-
side. If it is trimmed with lace, that would
take as much of your salary as the coal for
all winter would come to. If trimmed with
ribbons, they must be changed ofte.n to



28 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

freshen the gown, whose only beauty is its
freshness. Deliver me from a soiled or
stringy white party -dress! If it can be
worn five times during the winter, the girl
is either a careful dancer or else a wall-
flower. In either case, after every wearing
she must have it pressed out and put away
as daintily as if it were egg-shells, all of
which is the greatest nuisance on earth.
Often such a gown is torn all to pieces the
first time it is worn. Scores of " simple
white muslin" ball-gowns at a hundred dol-
lars apiece are only worn once or twice.

Now take the " extravagant " girl with her
flowered taffeta silk, or plain satin, or bro-
cade dress. There is at once the effect of
richness and elegance. No matter how
sweet and pretty she is, you at once decide
that you never could afford to dress her.
But that taffeta cost, perhaps, only a dollar
a yard. The satin, possibly a dollar and a
half. They require almost no trimming, be-
cause the material is so handsome and the
effect must be as simple as possible. Such
a gown never need be lined with silk unless
you wish to do it. Many a girl gets up



THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES 29

such a gown for fifty or sixty dollars. And
then think of the service that there is in it.
It does not tear, it does not crush. When
she comes home she looks as fresh as when
she started. When it soils at the edge of
the skirt, she has it cleaned, and there she is
with a new dress again. Do you call that
extravagant ? Why, my dear sirs, it is only
the very rich who can afford to wear " sim-
ple white muslins !"

There is a hollowness about having a
man praise your gowns when you know he
doesn't know what he is talking about.
When a man praises your clothes he al-
ways is praising you in them. You never
will hear a man praise even the good dress-
ing of a woman he dislikes; while girls who
positively hate another girl often will add,
"But she certainly does know how to
dress."

And so the experienced woman wears her
expensive clothes for other women, and pro-
duces her " effects " for men. She wears scar-
let on a cold or raw day, and the eyes of the
men light up when they see her. It makes
her look cheerful and bright and warm. She



30 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

wears gray when she wants to look demure.
Let a man beware of a woman in silvery
gray. She looks so quiet and dove-like and
gentle that she has disarmed him before
she has spoken one word, and he will snug-
gle down beside her and let her turn his
mind and his pocket-book wrong side out.
A woman could not look designing in light
gray if she tried. He dotes upon the girl
in pale blue. Pale blue naturally suggests
to his mind the sort of girl who can wear it,
which is generally a blonde with soft, fluffy
hair, fair skin, and blue eyes appealing,
trustful, baby-blue eyes. Did you ever no-
tice that men always instinctively put con-
fidence in a girl with blue eyes, and have
their suspicions of a girl with brilliant black
ones, and will you kindly tell me why? Is
it that the limpid blue eye, transparent and
gentle, suggests all the soft, womanly virtues,
and because he thinks he can see through
it, clear down into that blue-eyed girl's soul,
that she is the kind of girl he fancies she
is ? I think it is ; but some of the greatest
little frauds I know are the purry, kitteny
girls with big, innocent blue eyes.



THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES 31

Blazing black eyes, and the rich, warm
colors which dark-skinned women have to
wear, suggest energy and brilliance and
no end of intellect. Men look into such
eyes and seem not to be able to see below
the surface. They have not the pleasure
of a long, deep gaze into immeasurable
depths. And so they think her designing
and clever, and (God save the mark !) even
intellectual, when perhaps she has a wealth
of love and devotion and heroism stored
up behind that impulsive disposition and
those dazzling black eyes which would do
and dare more in a minute for some man
she had set that great heart of hers upon
than your cool - blooded, tranquil blonde
would do in forty years. A mere question
of pigment in the eye has settled many a
man's fate in life, and established him with
a wife who turned out to be very different
from the girl he fondly thought he was get-
ting.

Yet whenever I complain to experienced
married women of how discouraging it is to
wear your good clothes for unappreciative
men, they beg me not to be guilty of the



32 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

heresy of wishing things different. If they
have married one of the noticing kind, they
tell me harrowing tales of gorgeous cos-
tumes having been cast aside because these
critical men made fun of, or were prejudiced
against them, and " made remarks." And
they point with envy to Mrs. So-and-So,
whose husband never knows what she has
on, but who thinks she looks lovely in ev-
erything, so that she is at liberty to dress
as she pleases. When a woman defers to
her husband's taste, she sometimes is the
best -dressed woman in the room. And
sometimes another woman, dressing ac-
cording to another man's taste, is the
worst-dressed. So you see you never can
tell. "De mule don't kick 'cordin' to no
rule."

There is something rather pathetic to me
about a man being so ignorant of why a
woman's dress is beautiful, but only the
effect remaining in his memory. He re-
members how she looked on a certain day
in a certain gown. He thinks he remem-
bers her dress. He thinks he would know
it again if he saw it. But the truth is that



THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES 33

he is remembering the woman herself, her
face, her voice, her eyes above all, what
she said, and how she said it. If she wore
a scarlet ribbon in her dark hair, a red rose
in another woman's hair will most unac-
countably bring it all back to him, and he
will not know why he suddenly sees the
whole picture rise out of the past before
his eyes, nor why his throat aches with the
memory of it.

I know one of these men, whose descrip-
tions of a woman's dress are one of the
experiences of a lifetime. He loves the
word bombazine. His mother must have
worn a gown of black bombazine during
his impressionable age. And he never will
be successful in describing a modern gown
until bombazines again become the rage.
This same dear man brought back to his
invalid wife a description of a fashionable
noon wedding, which consisted of the single
item that the bride wore a blue alpaca bon-
net. It really would be of interest from a
scientific point of view to know what sug-
gested that combination to any intelligence,
even if it were masculine.

3



34 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

I have more evidence to go on, how-
ever, when I wonder why the idea of the
cost penetrates this same man's brain when
shown a new gown by any member of his
family, all of whom he is weak enough to
adore. His daughter will say, " Papa, do
look here just one minute! How do you
like my new gown ?" And the answer never
varies : " Very pretty, indeed. I hope it's
paid for." He will say that of a cotton
frock made two years ago he never knows
of a silk neglige, or of a ball-gown of the
newest make. The fashion produces no
impression upon him, nor the material, nor
the cut. But let his daughter put on any
kind of a pale green dress, and stand before
him with the question, " Papa, how do you
like my new gown ?" While he is raising his
head from his book he begins the old for-
mula, "Very pretty. I hope Then he
stops and says, " I have seen that dress be-
fore. Child, you grow to look more like
your mother every day of your life." And
there is a little break in his voice, and be-
fore he goes on reading he takes off his
glasses and wipes them, and looks out of



THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES 35

the window without seeing anything, and
sits very still for a moment. It was the
sight of the pale green dress. When he
came home from the war his lovely young
wife, whom he lost when she was still young
and beautiful, came to meet him, holding
her baby son in her arms for his father
to see, and she had worn a pale green
gown.

Why certain kinds of clothes are associ-
ated in the public mind with certain kinds
of women is to me an amusing mystery.
Why are old maids always supposed to wear
black silks ? And why are they always sup-
posed to be thin ? the old maids, I mean,
not the silks. Why are literary women al-
ways supposed to be frayed at the edges ?
And why, if they keep up with the fashions
and wear patent-leathers, do people say, in
an exasperatingly astonished tone, " Can
that woman write books f" Why not, pray?
Does a fragment of genius corrupt the aes-
thetic sense? Is writing a hardening proc-
ess ? Must you wear shabby boots and
carry a baggy umbrella just because you can
write ? Not a bit of it. Little as some of



36 THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES

you men may think it, literary women have
souls, and a woman with a soul must, of
necessity, love laces and ruffled petticoats,
and high heels, and rosettes. Otherwise I
question her possession of a soul.



WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE

' She has laughed as softly as if she sighed !

She has counted six and over,
Of a purse well filled and a heart well tried

Oh, each a worthy lover !
They 'give her time,' for her soul must slip

When the world has set the grooving ;
She will lie to none with her fair red lip

But love seeks truer loving.

*****
1 Unless you can mu$e in a crowd all day

On the absent face that fixed you ;
Unless you can love as the angels may,

With the breadth of heaven betwixt you ;
Unless you can dream that his faith is fast.

Through behooving and imbchooving ;
Unless you can DIE when the dream is past

Oh, never call it loving /"



WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE



IN love a woman's first right is to be pro-
tected from her friends while she consid-
ers the man whom she contemplates loving.
The well-meant blundering of vitally inter-
ested friends has spoiled many a promising
love affair, which might have resulted in a
marriage so much above the ordinary that
it could be termed satisfactory even by the
most captious.

At no time in a girl's life has she a greater
right to work out her own salvation in fear
and trembling than during the period known
among girls as "making up her mind." If
she is the right kind of a girl, honest and
delicate minded, it is nerve-racking to be
talked about, and sacrilege to be talked to.
Then the bloom is on the grape, which a
rude touch mars forever.



40 WOMAN S RIGHTS IN LOVE

Yet these kind friends never think of the
delicate, touch-me-not influences at work in
the girl's soul, or that the instinct to hide
her real interest in the man precludes the
possibility of her daring to ask to be let
alone. So they, in their over-zeal and am-
bition, either make the path of love so easy
and inevitable that all the zest is taken out
of it for both (for lovers never want some-
body to go ahead and baste the problem for
them ; they want to blind-stitch it for them-
selves as they go along), or else, by critical
nagging, and balancing the eligibility of one
suitor against another, these friends so har-
ass and upset the poor girl that she doesn't
know which man she wants, and so turns
her back upon all.

In point of fact, when a .man is in love,
and a girl does not yet know her own mind;
when she is weighing out their adaptability,
and balancing his love for football against
her passion for Browning; during the deli-
cate, tentative period, when the most affec-
tionate solicitude from friends is an irrita-
tion, there ought to be a law banishing the
interested couple to an island peopled with



WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE 41

strangers, who would not discover the deli-
cacy of the situation until it was too late to
spoil it.

"Woman's rights." I certainly agree with
the men who think that those words have
a masculine, assertive, belligerent sound.
" Equal suffrage " is much more lady-like, and
we are by way of getting all we wish of the
men on any subject, under the gentlest title
by which it may be called. Strange, how,
with strong men, force never avails, but the
softest methods are the surest and swiftest.

However, equal suffrage, wide as it is, is
not all that I wish. It does well enough,
but it does not cover the entire ground. I
never clamored very much for women to be
recognized as the equals of men, either in
politics or in love, because, if I had clamored
at all, I should have clamored for infinitely
more than that. / should have clamored
for men to recognize us as their superiors,
and not for equal rights with themselves,
but for more, many more rights than they
ever dreamed of possessing. 'Tis not jus-
tice I crave, but mercy. 'Tis not equality,
but chivalry.



42 WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE

In the whole history of the world, from
nineteenth -century Public Opinion clear
back to the age of chivalry, men never
have been inclined to deal out justice to
women. It is their watchword with each
other, but with women it always is either
injustice or mercy. And in spite of all
wrongs and all abuses, I say, Heaven bless
the men that this is so. Human nature
is more fundamental than customs, and
what would become of women if we only
got our exact deserts, or had absolute
justice dealt to us, either by men or other
women or on the Judgment Day ?

In these latter days of this progres-
sive, woman's century, however, the most
thoughtful men are valiant enough to re-
adjust themselves to the idea of woman's
development, and allow her equality in pro-
gressive thought; at the same time main-
taining the old-time chivalry of their atti-
tude towards her. If she asks for justice
at the hands of these glorious men, she
will get it, and they will uncover in her
presence and throw away their cigars while
they are dispensing it. Equality to them



WOMAN S RIGHTS IN LOVE 43

does not mean either rudeness or insolence.
They are always gentlemen.

It requires bravery on their part to take
this ground, because the sentiment has not
as yet grown popular. But a New Man has
been created by the development of the
New Woman, and he is the highest type
we have.

" Courtesy wins woman as well
As valor may, but he that closes both
Is perfect."

Woman's rights ! Why, the very first
right we expect is to be treated better than
anybody else ! Better than men treat each
other as a body, and better by the indi-
vidual man than he treats all other women.
I abominate the idea of equality, and to be
mentally slapped on the shoulder and told
I am " a good fellow." I shrink from the
idea of independence and cold, proud iso-
lation with my emancipated sister-women,
who struggle into their own coats unassist-
ed and get red in the face putting on their
own skates, and hang on to a strap in the
street-car, in the proud consciousness that



44 WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE

they are independent and the equal of
men. I never worry myself when a man is
on his knees in front of me, tying the rib-
bons of my slipper, as to whether he con-
siders me his equal politically or not. It
is sufficient satisfaction for me to see him
there. If he hadn't wanted to save me
the trouble, I suppose he wouldn't have of-
fered. He may even think I am not strong
enough for such an arduous duty. That
would not hurt my feelings either. I have
an idea that he likes it better to think that
I cannot do anything troublesome for my-
self than to believe that I could get along
perfectly without him. In fact here's her-
esy for you, O ye emancipated ! I do not in
the least mind being dependent on men
provided the men are nice enough. Let
them give us all the so-called rights they
want to. I shall never get over wanting to
get behind some man if I see a cow. Let
them give us a vote, if they will. I shall
want at least three men to go with me to
the polls one to hold my purse, one to
hold my gloves, and the third to show me
how to cast my vote.



WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE 45

If women are serious in wanting to vote in
politics, why do they not apply to the body
politic the same methods they use with the
one man which an all-wise Destiny has com-
mitted to their keeping ?

If all the women in the world should
make up their minds that they wanted to
vote more than anything else on earth
worse even than they want their husbands
to go to church with them and each wom-
an would put on her prettiest clothes, and
cuddle up to her own particular man in her
softest and most womanish way, when she
was begging him to get suffrage for her
why, you all know they would do it. Men
would get it for us exactly as they would
buy us a pair of horses.

Have you men ever thought about prac-
tising for suffrage in politics by giving wom-
en suffrage in love ? Surely you do not
doubt that, should you do this, it would not
occur to us to stuff the ballot-boxes, or to
put up a ticket with any but honorable can-
didates for our hands. We do not ask nor
wish to indicate who shall run for office.
Let the men announce themselves candi-



46 WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE

dates. We would not take the initiative
there if it were offered to us for a thousand
years. All we ask is to be given plenty of
time to canvass the honor of the candidates,
thoroughly to understand and investigate
the platform (with an eye to how near he
will come to sticking to his promises after
election), and to be allowed to cast a free
and untrammelled vote.

Now, men seem to think that if they al-
lowed woman equal suffrage, the bright white
light of our honesty would be too strong a
glare for their weak eyes so long accus-
tomed to darkness to bear. Um possibly
in politics. Hardly in love.

For myself, I consider absolute honesty
most unpleasant. I never knew any really
nice, lovable women who. were unflinching-
ly honest. But I have known a few iron-
visagecl, square-jawed women who were so
brutally honest that I have most inglorious-
ly fled at the mention of their approach,
and solaced myself with a congenial spirit
who is in the habit of skirting delicately
around painful truth, and a cozy corner in
which to abuse the aforesaid iron-visaged



WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE 47

carver of helpless humanity, who loves to
draw blood with her truth. Such an one will
get a vote in politics long before she gets it
in love.

No; men need not fear to give us equal
suffrage in love. Our honesty will not be
disconcerting. (I would even address a pri-
vate query, at just this point, to the wom-
en, begging that the men will skip it, ask-
ing women where in the world we would
find ourselves if we were unflinchingly hon-
est with the men who love us?) No one
will deny that we would even countenance
a certain amount of corruption. We fully
agree with those men who tell us weakly
questioning women that campaign funds are
a necessity. We never have been able to
discover just where the money in politics
went to, but the expenses of a campaign in
our line are more in evidence. I doubt if
the most straitlaced Puritan will gainsay
me when I declare that bribery from the
candidates, in the form of theatres, opera-
boxes, flowers, bonbons, and books, would
not only be tolerated, but even, in a modest
manner, encouraged having, of course, a



48 WOMAN'S RIGHTS IN LOVE

keen eye as to the elasticity of the cam-
paign fund. But, of course, just as vulgar
bribery, per se, only catches the easy and
unthinking voter in politics, so, in like
manner, would these evidences of generos-
ity only capture the less desirable voter
in love. When you men are trying for a
woman's vote you need give yourselves no
uneasiness. If she is worth having, char-
acter wins every time. You don't believe
that. That is why you trust to bribery to
do it all. And it is also why so many of
you get the girl you try for which is
about the richest punishment you could
receive.

I adore Hamlet. Not because he was so
noble as to give up his life to avenge his
father's most foul murder. Not because he
was a chivalrous King Arthur, to protect
Ophelia's womanly pride from the jeers of
a coarse court by openly declaring that
he had loved her when he hadn't. Not for
any of Shakespeare's reasons for painting
him a hero. But for two much more rea-
sonable reasons. One that he said, " I my-
self am indifferent honest" oh, the hu-



WOMAN S RIGHTS IN LOVE



49



inanity of Hamlet! and the other that,
when under the spell of her beauty and
in the tentative, interested stage when he
cared for her all but enough to ask her
to marry him, he had the wit to discover
that she was a fool. Imagine the calamity
of Hamlet married to Ophelia ! That would
have been a tragedy. Think of a man clever
enough to discover that his idol was made
of putty that his sweetheart was a Rosa-
mond Vincy! Hamlet was a wise man. He
withdrew in time. Most men have to be
married ten years to discover that they have
married an Ophelia or a Rosamond.

It is a trite saying that the whole world
is behind a woman urging her to marry.
But I find much to interest me in trite say-
ings. I like to get hold of them, and look
them through, and turn them wrong side out,
and pull them to pieces to find how much
life there is in them. Psychological vivi-
section is not a subject for the humane so-
ciety. A trite saying has my sympathy. It
generally is stupid and shop-worn, and con-
sequently is banished to polite society and
hated by the clever. And only because it



50 WOMAN S RIGHTS IN LOVE

possessed a soul of truth and a wonderful
vitality has it been kept from dying long
ago of a broken heart.

Books could be written of -the truth of
this particular trite saying. The urging, of
course, among people whom we know, is
neither vulgar nor intentional. It takes the
form of jests, of pseudo-humorous questions
if a man sends flowers two or three times.
But it takes its worst and most common
form in the sudden melting away of the
family if the man calls and finds them all
together. If a man has no specific inten-
tions towards a girl, and has not determined
in his own mind that he wants to marry
her; if he is only liking her a great deal,


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Online LibraryLilian BellFrom a girl's point of view → online text (page 2 of 8)