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Feminine Underwear - A Little Background

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The time will come, it is to be hoped, when there will be a Chair of Ladies' Underwear in every well-regulated American university. Indeed, elementary instruction in this subject should begin in the primary schools. Girls in school today and even enlightened young women in our most flossy women's colleges have little or no idea, historically speaking, of what the things are that they first put on when dressing.

Neither, alas, have their boy companions or young men friends. A young man today, even with the best advantages, views the feminine underwear open to his inspection without any cultural background in this field. He is morally fortified with no intellectual feeling for the garments before him.

The shop windows present a gay garden of undies. Scintillating advertising of underthings, Brief as a Breath and almost as light, drenches the papers. You get into a bus and what do you see, spotted before you for the duration of the ride? An entrancing design in swooning colors of Singlettes of Illusion, piquantly inhabited. Or a stupendous flash of vivacious stocking, likewise tenanted. Undies flood the town. Broadcloth Briefs and panties in blush tints have the freedom of the city. We are no longer told that You Just Know She Wears Them.

Nobody, of course, should complain about this. It generously enters into the current quickening of living. Happily liberalized as we are in mind, however, we should be even more alive to all this. All these joyous things are symbols of a long story full of tremendous combats and surprises—musical echoes of the course of civilization. When a young thing puts on her "glovey dovey," we should hear, issuing from this wisp of fabric, countless subtle echoes of the human story. And when she takes off her Jiffies, she takes off a symbol, as up-to-date science puts it, of the source of "sexual selection."

Inquisitiveness in this direction, however, has been lamentably lacking. Indeed, until quite recently, anything of this sort would, of course, have been decidedly discouraged. This fact I myself realize from personal experience. In the main body of the pages to follow, I do not presume to be an "I" writer.

Here for a moment, however, bespeaking your indulgence, I venture upon a word in confidence. This is just between the reader and the writer. It is an intimate little confab intended for nobody else. I feel, however, that it is due the reader—to know how this Parable came into being.

First, this production is a Life Work; or, perhaps I should say, it is the result of a lifetime ambition.

At about fourteen, I knew a boy in my neighborhood who collected garters off his girl friends. This was before suspender garters had much come in, at least for young things, and some time before the idea had been taken up of wearing 'em rolled. The garters in this imposing collection were the kind that a boy friend would delight to snap. It seemed to me a wonderful thing to have snapped such a vast number of garters.

My friend, so accomplished in the daring pursuits of the world, was several years beyond me in age. Perhaps, in time, I too could become a valiant collector, famed through-out my neighborhood. Meanwhile, one day the idea occurred to me of writing a composition for school which would treat, in a thoughtful way, the subject of garters and garter collecting. Upon some reflection, however, I concluded it—this composition I meditated—wouldn't do.

Thus was I inhibited—in early youth. And, doubtless, if we should roll up all the clanking machinery of the modern psychological laboratory, right there, it would be found, was induced in me the psychic conflict which at length has been resolved in the production of this pioneer work—even now a performance in a virgin field.

At that time, of course, I knew nothing of the romantic past of garters. Probably I had come upon allusions in my school histories to some dry-rot about the Most Noble Order of the Garter. But my teacher quite neglected to acquaint me with the story, which would have warmed my young mind to the whole matter, of the origin of this the premier Order of Knighthood in England.

She never breathed a word of how, according to tradition (the original statutes of the Order being lost), this institution arose from a snappy accident at a State Ball. Myself, I was in love at that time, though I concealed this from my parents; and it would have given me much more of a fellow-feeling for Edward III than I entertained if I had known that he, too, had been in love, and particularly in circumstances regarded as reprehensible. No, my teacher back at No. 10 did not touch the subject even with the fancy tongs of the chronicler who recounts that "the heart of the mighty Edward swerved for awhile from its fidelity to Philippa."

Maybe you, too, were treated this way in school about the history of garters. And perhaps you had to go to work early and never had the opportunity to gain a secret education, reading out-of-the-way books like Lord Berners' sixteenth-century translation of Froissart and things like that. So, as you may not know about it even now, I'll just put down here, as I pass along, the story of the "salacious" company at the Ball.

Edward was a chap of only twenty-one when, as the legend goes, he first met the countess. She was called Katherine the Fair and was Countess of Salisbury. The beautiful daughter of a knight of regal lineage, she had been married when quite young to one of Edward's knights, who had been rewarded for his good services by the title of Earl of Salisbury. It was war time, as it mostly was in those days, and Edward riding around with his men, with adventure in his handsome eye, had succeeded in raising the siege of the earl's castle. The earl wasn't at home, being locked up elsewhere as a prisoner.

The lady was such a good scout that she was in charge of the garrison. As soon as she "knewe of the Kynge's comyng she set epyn the gates and came out so richly besene (dressed) that every man maruyled of her beauty." The king "was stryken therwith to the hert with a spercle of fyne loue that endured long after." He was in a bad way, "insomuch that he could not put her out of his mind, for love reminded him of her day and night." It seems that Katherine was not the kind of a lady to have him around the house while her husband was locked up.

He had to wait until the earl got out. Then "out of affection for the said lady, and his desire to see her, he ordered a great feast and tournament to be proclaimed," to be followed by a State Ball. To this function the earl was commanded to bring his lady, and "he willingly complied with the king's request, for he thought no evil, and his good lady dared not say nay."

Of course, people had "talked," especially the courtiers. While the Lady Katherine was dancing, some scriveners say, she suffered the embarrassment of having her garter drop to the floor. The wicked, lecherous company was much amused, the queen greatly annoyed. The gallant and tactful Edward, however, picking up the garter and restoring it to its owner, aptly remarked, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," which is French for "Evil be to him who evil thinks." The king added that he would soon confer upon the garter so high an honor that the greatest of his nobles would be proud to wear it.

The Order was founded in 1348, with the Garter, the principal item of its insignia, a strap of sky-blue velvet edged with gold with a gold buckle and tongue, worn by knights on the left leg and by ladies on the left arm. The Garter bears in gold the motto, which is also the motto of this book:


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