( Originally Published 1879 )
No HEATHEN god or goddess has ever had more zealous devotees than fashion, or a more absurd and humiliating ritual, or more mortifying and cruel penances. Her laws, like those of the Medes and Persians, must be implicitly obeyed, but unlike them, change, as, certainly as the moon. They are rarely founded in reason, usually violate common sense, sometimes common decency, and uniformly common comfort.
Fashion rules the world, and a most tyrannical mistress she is—compelling people to submit to the most inconvenient things imaginable for her sake. She pinches our feet with tight shoes, or chokes us with a tight neckerchief, or squeezes the breath out of our body by tight lacing. She makes people sit up by night, when they ought to be in bed, and keeps them in bed in the morning when they ought to be up and doing. She makes it vulgar to wait upon one's self, and genteel to live idly and uselessly. She makes people visit when they would rather stay at home, eat when they are not hungry, and drink when they are not thirsty. She invades our pleasures and interrupts our business. She compels people to dress gaily, whether upon their own property or that of others — whether agreeably to the word of God or the dictates of pride.
Fashion, unlike custom, never looks at the past as a precedent for the present or future. She imposes unanticipated burdens, without regard to the strength or means of her hood-winked followers, cheating them out of time, fortune and happiness; repaying them with the consolation of being ridiculed by the wise, endangering health and wasting Means, a kind of remuneration rather paradoxical, but most graciously received. Semblance and shade are among her attributes. It is of more importance for her worshipers to appear happy than to be so.
Fashion taxes without reason and collects without mercy. She first infatuates the court and aristocracy, and then ridicules the poor if they do not follow in the wake, although they die in the ditch. This was exemplified in the reign of Richard III., who was hump-backed. Monkey-like, his court, at the dictum of fashion, all mounted a bustle on their backs, and as this was not an expensive adjunct, the whole nation became hump-backed—emphatically a crooked generation—from the peasant to the king, all were humped.
If she requires oblations from the four quarters of the globe, they must be had, if wealth, health and happiness are the price. If she fancies comparative nakedness for winter, or five thicknesses of woollen for dog days—she speaks, and it is done. If she orders the purple current of life and the organs of respiration to be retarded by steel, whalebone, buckram, drill, and cords—it is done. Disease laughs and death grins at the folly of the goddess and the zeal of the worshipers. If she orders a bag full of notions on the hips, a Chinese shoe on the foot, a short cut, a trail, a hoop, or balloon sleeve, or no sleeve, for a dress, and a grain fan bonnet, or fool's cap for the head, she is obsequiously obeyed by the exquisitely fashionable ladies and lauded by their beaux. If she orders, her male subjects, the Mordecais and Daniels, tremble at the gong sound of trumpet-tongued ridicule. Not only the vain and giddy, the thoughtless and rattlebrained, dance attendance upon her, but many a statesman and philosopher.
The empress at Paris, or other ladies of rank, do not originate the fashions, neither do any ladies of real rank and distinction; they adopt them, and thus set the seal of their acknowledged authority upon them, but no lady would be the first to wear a striking novelty, or a style so new, or so outre as to be likely to attract public attention. This is left for the leaders of the demi-monde, several of whom are in the pay of Parisian dress-makers and modistes. The noted Worth, the man-milliner of Paris, who receives all the money and exercises all the impudence which have placed him at the head of his profession, while women do all the work, has in his employ a dozen fashion writers and several of the most noted leaders of Parisian society. These latter are selected for their fine appearance and dashing manners. Toilettes, equipages and boxes at the theater and opera are provided for them. Dead or dying, they are required to show themselves at these places on all suitable occasions, in extraordinary dresses made by the " renowned" Worth, as the fashion correspondents say, who in this way take up the burden of the song, and echo it even upon these Western shores. It is the height of ambition with some American women to go to Paris, and have a dress made by Worth; and dearly do they sometimes pay for their folly, not only in immense prices for very small returns, but in degrading their American woman-hood by following in so disgraceful a scramble with so mixed an assemblage.
Fashion is the foster mother of vanity, the offal of pride, and has nursed her pet, until it is as fat as a sea turtle, is quite as wicked to bite, and harder to kill; but, unlike that inhabitant of the herring pond, instead of keeping in a shell, it is mounted on a shell, adorned with every flummery, intruding into all the avenues of life, scattering misery far and wide —faithless, fearless, uncompromising, and tyrannical.
Then the example of a fashionable woman, how low, how vulgar! With her the cut of a collar, the depth of a flounce, the style of a ribbon, is of more importance than the strength of a virtue, the form of a mind, or the style of a life. She consults the fashion-plate oftener than her Bible; she visits the dry goods shop and the milliner oftener than the church. She speaks of fashion oftener than of virtue, and follows it closer than she does her Savior. She can see squalid misery and low-bred vice without a blush or a twinge of the heart; but a plume out of fashion, or a table set in old style, would shock her into a hysteric fit. Her example! What is it but a breath of poison to the young? I had as soon have vice stalking bawdily in the presence of my children, as the graceless form of fashion. Vice would look haggard and mean at first sight, but fashion would be gilded into an attractive delusion. Oh, fashion ! how thou art dwarfing the intellect and eating out the heart of our people! Genius is dying on thy luxurious altar. And what a sacrifice! Talent is withering into weakness in thy voluptuous gaze ! Virtue gives up the ghost at thy smile. Our youth are chasing after thee as a wanton in disguise. Our young women are the victims of thine all-greedy lust. And still thou art not satisfied, but, like the devouring grave, criest for more.
Friendship, its links must be forged on fashion's anvil, or it is good for nothing. How shocking to be friendly with an unfashionable lady! It will never do.. How soon one would lose -caste! No matter if her mind is a treasury of gems, and her heart a flower garden of love, and her life a hymn of grace and praise,. it will not do to walk on the streets with her, or intimate to anybody that you know her. No, one's intimate friend must be a la mode. Better bow to the shadow of a belle's wing than rest in the bosom of a "strong-'minded" woman's love.
And love, too, that must be fashionable. It would be unpardonable to love a plain man whom fashion could not seduce, whose sense of right dictated his life, a man who does not walk perpendicular in a standing' collar, and sport a watch-fob, and twirl a cane. And then to marry him would be death. He would be just as likely to sit down in the kitchen as in the parlor; and might get hold of the woodsaw as often as the guitar; and very likely he would have the baby right up in his, arms and feed it and rock it to sleep. A man who will make himself useful about his own home is so exceedingly unfashionable that it will never do for a lady to. marry him. She would lose caste at once.
Abused women generally outlive fashionable ones. Crushed and care-worn women see the pampered daughters of fashion wither and die around them, and wonder why death in kindness does not come to take them away instead. The reason is plain: fashion kills more women than toil and sorrow. Obedience to fashion is a greater transgression of the laws of woman's nature, a greater injury to her physical and mental constitution, than the hardships of poverty and neglect. The slave-woman at her tasks will live and grow old and see two or three generations of her mistresses fade and pass away. The washerwoman, with scarce a ray of hope to cheer her in her toils, will live to see her fashionable sisters all die around her. The kitchen .maid is hearty and strong, when her lady has to be nursed like a sick baby. It is a sad truth, that fashion-pampered women are almost worthless for all the great ends of human life. They have but little force of character; they have still less power of moral will, and quite as little physical energy. They live for no great purpose in life; they accomplish no worthy ends. They are only doll-forms in the hands of milliners and servants, to be dressed and fed to order. They dress nobody; they feed nobody; they instruct nobody; they bless nobody, and save nobody. They write no books ; they set no rich examples of virtue and womanly life. If they rear children, servants and nurses do it all, save to conceive and give them birth. And when reared what are they? What do they even amount to, but weaker scions of the old stock? Who ever heard of a fashionable woman's child exhibiting any virtue or power of mind for which it became eminent? Read the biographies of our great and good men and women. Not one of them had a fashionable mother. They nearly all sprung from plain, strong-minded women, who had about as little to do with fashion as with the changing clouds.
There is one fashion that never changes. The sparkling eye, the coral lip, the rose leaf blushing on the cheek, the elastic step, are always in fashion. Health-rosy, bouncing, gladsome health—is never out of fashion; what pilgrimages are made, what prayers are uttered for its possession! Failing in the pursuit-what treasures are lavished in concealing its loss or counterfeiting its charms! Reader, if you love freedom more than slavery, liberty more than thraldom, happiness more than misery, competence more than poverty, never bow your knee to the goddess fashion.