A Gentleman in Favor of Short Skirts on Both Sexes: 1898

A little boy in a dress leans on his rocking horse. See more Victorian boys in dresses at http://arollingcrone.blogspot.com/2012/05/tots-with-antique-toysboy-or-girl.html

A little boy in a dress leans on his rocking horse. See more boys in dresses at http://arollingcrone.blogspot.com/2012/05/tots-with-antique-toysboy-or-girl.html



To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: I am curious to know what statutes on dress the women violate who wear short-skirted costumes in the city or at the seaside. I have seen it stated that those who do so and do not have bicycles with them or show checks for wheels are liable to arrest.

I have searched the states of Connecticut in vain for laws which regulate the attire of the people and the distinction of the sexes, and am thus forced to the conclusion that convictions for violations of common customs in such matters must be made under what is known as common law, because it does not seem possible that our judges would convict without sanction of law.

It seems to an observer that such arrests and convictions are an inhuman encroachment of the rights and liberties of a people. If a person drove his horse along the streets in fetters he would be likely to be called to account for cruelty to animals, but here we have a mean attempt of the male authorities practically to fetter the other half of humanity.

Short-skirted costumes would seem to be an ideal attire for either man or woman. No one who claims any artistic taste will deny that there is a picturesqueness in a gathering of girls, even when the distance is such that features are unrecognizable, which a collection of boys never has. And I doubt if there is an intelligent boy in the land to-day who does not in his heart fell that it is so. On the other hand, skirts, if long, are inconvenient, cumbersome and a constant source of danger. The attire of the sexes as at present managed has resolved itself practically into garments of mere comfort and convenience, having a lack of all really artistic beauty in the men’s dress as well as of elegance and attractiveness.

Men and boys are expected to take to trousers and women and girls to long gowns and petticoats as naturally as ducks to water, and every one is supposed to be perfectly satisfied. As a person’s attire really concerns no one else except in looks, a philosopher would expect that in a land of professed liberty the dress of citizens might be taken as a symbol of the liberty with which each may deport herself. And it would undoubtedly long since have been so if persons had sufficient confidence themselves as to the correctness of their taste to put them in unclouded light for other men to view. In dressing as she does, Dr. Mary Walker has shown us an example of surpassing courage, but at the same time by adopting the uniform of the male sex without any modification in appearance, at least, she sinks her individuality almost as low as if she had always worn petticoats.

I think, too, that mothers should not too greatly control the taste of their children in matters of dress: it should be allowed a certain individuality. One mother I know of observed this right in her children, and when her boy of between the age of six and seven years pleaded for a dress instead of trouser she got him one.

Another mother that I knew said: “My little boy made an awful fuss when I put him into ‘pants.’ He cried and was inconsolable, but I was bound to have him out of dresses, it made so much less work for me. I told him to kiss all the pretty things goodbye, and that he could go every day and look at them in the bureau drawer where they were all laid away. He went several days, but it soon got to be an old story; the trouble was quickly over and his love forgotten.”

Some women writers have much to say about rational dress, and they usually refer to trousers as being more rational than skirts, but what is rational really depends on the climate and the employment. If I were asked to describe what I would consider the most comfortable costume for hot weather I would say canvas-top shoes, a loose gown and a well-designed sunbonnet. It would be almost Oriental and delightful if the business of the wearer was such as allowed the wearing of a robe. There is an airiness in a gown which makes anything of the trouser kind seem close, stuffy and comparatively uncomfortable in comparison on a hot summer day, and there is a loose, comfortable protection in a good sunbonnet that ninety-nine men in a hundred have never suspected. But such is the force of custom that not one man in a million would now dare to wear a bonnet, be his yearning ever so strong. The bicycle has given women the first right to wear bloomers and knickerbockers, and the colleges and vested choirs, bathrobes, etc., are leading men toward gowns. The time may be said to be here now when the gown is not a sign of effeminacy, and a woman can be thought womanly even in knickerbockers. Trousers are nice in their place, and so are cowhide boots, and there is about as much grace in one as in the other, but neither should be seen in full dress, because they are really as much out of place there as petticoats in a snowbank. There is a gracelessness about men’s evening costume which makes it a disgrace to our sex and civilization, and woman’s shows a want of consideration for health and comfort which is lamentable and a sin of the race against the individual. He is a poor prophet who cannot see by the signs of these times that there will be a change in some of these costumes and customs before another generation passes.

There is a tendency of late years toward fancy dress parties and masquerades for diversion during the cool season, but to my mind the most appropriate place for fancy dress is on excursions, picnics and like festivities in hot weather, and it would seem natural to have variety in costumes encouraged instead of frowned upon at all the pleasure resorts.

Monotony is wearing to the mind and a bane to humanity, but, thanks to our changeable climate, we can have no monotony in clothes if comfortably and wisely dressed. Who would not gladly help to hasten the time when actual individual liberty in attire is a glowing symbol of the liberties we boast? Truly yours, J. M. Hubbard New-York, Sept. 10

New York Tribune 12 September 1898: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The eloquent Mr Hubbard makes a compelling case for gentlemen in skirts. He seems ignorant of the existence of the kilt, which, when worn in its traditional manner, is superior to a gown in its airiness. And one could scarcely call a sunbonnet “Oriental.” While he pleads the aesthetics and comfort of gowns and sunbonnets, one wonders if he is remembers and is compensating for days when he cried bitterly when his mother locked away his pretty dresses in a drawer.

Nearly two decades previous, Mrs Stanton, an advocate for women’s rights, made a similar case for the utility and convenience of trousers for ladies. She was, alas, wrong about her third point.

Wearing the Breeches.

Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is out flat-footed in favor of women wearing men’s’ dress. She says:

The true idea is for the sexes to dress as nearly alike as possible. We have seen several ladies dressed precisely like gentlemen, who appeared far more elegant and graceful than any real man we ever saw. A young lady in Fifth avenue dressed in male costume for years, traveling all over Europe and this country. She says it would have been impossible to have seen and known as much of life in woman’s attire, and to have felt the independence and security she did, had her sex been proclaimed before all Israel and the sun. There are many good reasons for adopting male costume: First, it is the most convenient dress that can be invented; second, in it women could secure equal wages with men for the same work; third, a concealment of sex would protect our young girls from those terrible outrages from brutal men reported in all our daily papers. The Highland Weekly News [Hillsboro, OH] 5 August 1869: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



2 thoughts on “A Gentleman in Favor of Short Skirts on Both Sexes: 1898

  1. Pingback: “Madame says your waist is ready, sir.” A Modiste Serves a Gentleman: 1891 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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