REQENT decision in the law courts has raised in -43&
an Nate- form. the question of what women, who " in,Society " ought to spend on her clothes. Apart from, the, exceedingly, sensible quextion, asked. by Apart from, McCardie—he "was told, that a mutes's, must dress uluto a„certaitt standard, and instantly rapped. out " Why ? "—the subject has been discussed on all sides with various, degrees, of pomposity and anoblocry., It is: difficult , to. believe that there, really, exists a circle-. of Society from which a. member would, be excluded on. account of unsuitability of costume ; and, if this exists, it, is still more difficult to credit that any sane human being would wish to be a member of that Society.. It would be interesting to find exactly what this astonishing social circle consists of. I do not know whether it is allowable to hint at the fact, but certainly no one who for the last thirty years has known even a few members of the more distinguished and best-born circles in London can have any illusion as to those circles having rules of exclusion in the matter of costume. Can we not all of us think of one or more delightful ladies whose presence confers a distinction on any social occasion, but whose simple and dignified style of dress is far removed from the scale of expenditure made notorious in the Cathcart case ? There would, of course, be an immense lowering of aesthetic pleasure, and even of the impressive- ness of public ceremonials, if women's, clothes were as ugly as men's. Costume may be made a true- vehicle of aesthetic emotion, and the production of that emotion is a legitimate object for- expenditure>. But can anyone seriously maintain that for a. woman to buy thirty or forty gowns in a season is productive of more aesthetic delight to her friends than if she confined herself to a reasonable number ? Immense variety really tells against true beauty of costume, for variety means constant change, and constant change means following every vagary of fashion. I confess for my own part that. the. recent.contemphition of the legs of middle-aged women protruding from their gowns in silk stockings of delicate hue has been productive of anything rather than an aesthetic ecstasy. I have, indeed, of . late constantly recalled the . dictum of a Victorian lady to whom Carlyle gave the nickname of " Our Lady of Bitterness." One afternoon when taken to see her I. heard her. make the following. assertion :- "During the course of .a long life there are few parts of my friends' persons that I have not. seen at one time or another exposed by the dictates of -fashion." It must be confessed that, what- with bare backs and skirts to just below the knee, fashion has recently exposed a good deal. But .these abbreviated skirts, far from being economical, are the cause of fresh expenditure. The great, and even little, dressmakers charge just as much for their con- fections ; while stockings, which used to he a modest item .in the budget, have to be. bought a. dozen pairs at a time. Each pair now costs at the least 12s. 6d., and at the most three guineas or even more I Yet we are told women and girls must have them ! It is refreshing to remember the Why ?." of the. learned judge. For a frank declaration. of what I may call the pompously superior-standpoint as to clothes; it ia.difficult to beat an article which recently appeared in the Times, called " A Fair Dress Allowance." Here . it is assumed that, in. order to " look just right " on all occasions, a beautiful young woman must spend from. £500 to £1,300 a year on her dress. Indeed, it is almost inferred that in special circumstances £2,000 is not an unreasonable figure. We are told also that in.order to make the minimum of £500 a. year adequate, " much brains must be used "— a phrase which might well make anyone who takes the position of the modern woman seriously, despair of the outlook When there is so much tinge to. be made up, and so much neglected work to, be done inthe.world; is it possible. that the. women who live in Society—that is, who live among the rulers of . the country—can. devote serious study and a large part of their incomes to. the problem of dressing as opposed to being clothed.? It should be remembered that even the sum of £500 a year. cannot be devoted to dress. except by people who are paying super-tax. Therefore a dress allowance of £500 requires for its production a segment of untaxed income of at least £800 or £900. a year. The £2,000 allowance, we may assume, would. not be attempted. except by those. whose super-tax is. on .the .higher, wale. It would, there- fore, require for its production at, least. 14000—and this at a moment when,. the: commercial. existence of the. country depends on economy of expenditure. by the men and women. who compose the. nation I There: are, of coarse, two causes which, apart from. the general rise of prices, may be given to account for the: larger estimate. One, is the, supposed necessity for. variety, and the second is the expenditure on under- clothes. Why phould it be thought necessary to expend vast sums on crêpe-de-chine chemises and nightgowns, which, besides being originally expensive, are so fragile that their constant renewal is absolutely necessary ? Why, again, should it be regarded as essential to have a constant change of costume ? Stage costume, I believe, wears out with astonishing rapidity ; but that cannot be said to be true of the costume of everyday life. Indeed, in the Cathcart case, alluded to above, we have had the spectacle of a counsel learned in the law laying down the principle that it is impossible for a woman in Society to appear more than three or four times in the same gown ! The " standard of mentality " which can take such principles quite seriously and act on them as necessities must be extraordinarily backward. The passion for what may be called collective costume is obviously a survival of the herd instinct. But one hoped that obedience to the herd instinct was a stage of develop- ment which the human being passed through at the age of fifteen or sixteen, and left behind in adult life. It would be interesting to hear the opinion of a psycho-analyst as to these manifestations, though if he belonged to the school of Freud one can make a shrewd guess as to what his conclusion would be !
The other matter raised in the same case—the liability of the husband for the wife's debts—seems also to call for a word of comment. With regard to this I should like to point out to my fellow-women that they cannot have things both ways. Women cannot be recognized as serious citizens, taking their part in elections, legislative assemblies and in minor judicial functions, and at the same time remain financial parasites. Citizenship should involve financial independence. This is a reform which has been long necessary, and perhaps we may hope that so public an exposure of the inconveniences which result from women not having achieved complete financial independence may cause the matter to be looked into. It has long been my contention that a married woman, if not otherwise financially independent, should be legally paid for her services both as a housekeeper and as a mother ; but this is, perhaps, irrelevant in an article about clothes. No one can want women's clothes to be ugly. Although, as I said above, distinct aesthetic delight is to be obtained from the sight of a beautifully clothed young woman—and even of a suitably dressed old one— yet in a time of national poverty it cannot be contended that immense variety of clothing is necessary. We must therefore all be grateful to Mr. Justice McCardie for his inquiry into the actual necessity of sartorial expenditure rising in a fixed ratio to worldly -status. That is a principle which must make directly for extravagance, for who is going to have the strength of mind to acknowledge by her smallness of expenditure on clothes an equivalent