DRESSED TO PLEASE HER HUSBAND
Before John had read an article on dress reform, he had thought his wife the most attractive woman in the world.
After reading the article and pondering deeply thereon, he decided that things were all wrong, at least in so far as his wife’s clothes were concerned. Also he resolved that a change must be brought about. Therefore it was with just a hint of severity that he opened the subject on the evening following his perusal of the article.
“Miriam,” said he, “I have been thinking a good deal about the way the modern woman dresses.
Miriam looked up from her sewing with a tender smile. Secure in the consciousness of perfection in her husband’s eyes, she could afford to be generous with the faults of other women.
“Yes?” she replied, encouragingly.
“And I’ve come to the conclusion that these thin, flimsy blouses; these low necks and short sleeves are immodest. And high heels are injurious to the health. They throw the weight of the entire body onto the ball of the foot and the pressure reacts upon the nerves in such a way as to hurt the eyes. In time…”
“Goodness, John,” laughed Miriam, “where did you get all those ideas? You’ve been reading something!”
“Yes, I have. And I agree absolutely with what I have read. Women’s clothes are all wrong, and I am going to insist that you, at least, dress sensibly in the future. I want my wife to look like a woman—not a public exhibition!” And laying aside his paper he glared defiance across the table.
“John Foster! An ‘exhibition,’ indeed. When, may I ask have I been that?”
“Well, I didn’t mean that you had, purposely at any rate,” John conceded. “You have only dressed as all the others do, and we have become so accustomed to seeing those things that we think nothing of it. I mean, simply, that if you want to please me that you will dress as modestly as possible in the future. But I shall insist upon no more high heels or low necks. The other things you may use your discretion about. I believe you said something about getting some new things next week? I shall expect to see a radical change. And I am sure you will agree with me once you have tried out my ideas.”
Miriam’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Yes, dear,” she said meekly. “I’m sure we shall agree after we’ve tried it out.”
And John retired feeling very well satisfied with his position as the head of the house.
Next morning Miriam telephoned to three friends whose husbands belonged to John’s clubs. They met at Miriam’s for luncheon, and there was much laughing over what appeared to be a huge joke. And that night at dinner John again congratulated himself upon the docility of his wife.
“I got my suit today, John,” she said, “and some shoes.”
“Good!” beamed John as he carved the steak. “Get something nice?” “O, yes, dear. It’s very nice. Plain blue, but nice quality. I can’t show you because it is being altered. And I had to get some new waists since you don’t like my thin ones. I shall have them all tomorrow. Couldn’t you meet me in town for dinner somewhere?”
“Fine. Make it a quarter of six. Be on time, and perhaps we can go somewhere afterward.”
Punctual to the moment John entered the waiting room and glanced about. Miriam had not arrived, and it was with a sense of pleasure that he sat down to await her coming. Miriam was not a pretty girl, he told himself comfortably, but there was something irresistibly attractive about her. She knew how to wear her clothes; that was it! Now, there are some women and they would not look well if they had all Paris to put on their backs. Dowdy—that was the word to describe them. For instance, that girl over there! How unattractive she looked and yet her clothes were good! Now the other women in the room looked nifty! Yes, sir. Those high, light-colored boots were sure classy, and he did like those big, floppy hats. Now, Miriam—“
But here his soliloquy was rudely interrupted. Unnoticed by him “that girl over there” had approached and was standing before him.
“Hello, dear,” she said, sweetly, “I’ve been here 10 minutes. Didn’t you see me?”
Like a man suddenly awakened from a pleasant dream John sat up and gasped. So great was his astonishment that he forgot to rise and sat staring at his wife with an expression of amazement very funny to behold.
“Well, how do you like my suit?” she asked brightly. “It’s just what you wanted!”
Slowly John’s eyes took in every detail of the costume, from the high-necked linen shirtwaist to the clumsy, broad-toed, low-heeled shoes which showed beneath the long, ungraceful skirt.
“It is very neat,” he murmured politely, “very neat indeed. Er—shall we eat here, or go out somewhere?”
“Here, of course,” said Miriam decidedly, and led the way to their usual table.
With her coat off she looked worse than with it on. High collars did not suit Miriam’s short, plump neck, and she looked chokey and uncomfortable. John felt somehow as if a trick were being played on him—the way he was sure a fellow feels who has just purchased a gold brick. But the dinner was unusually good and Miriam as entertaining as ever, although not so good to look at, and all was progressing nicely when the arrival of a party of six at a near-by table attracted their attention.
“Why, it’s the girls!” exclaimed Miriam in pleased surprise, and in a moment she and John had joined the jolly group. Ordinarily John enjoyed anything like this, but tonight he was keenly conscious of the dowdy appearance Miriam made among these daintily dressed women, whose filmy blouses and low necks seemed eminently the proper thing. Savagely he cursed the day when he had “butted in” on his wife’s affairs. And the worst of it was that she seemed utterly unconscious of her drab appearance. A cold horror gripped him. What if she should refuse to give up her homely, comfortable clothes and go back to “fussing!” Thoughts of never again seeing the pretty, stylish figure as he had so loved to see it, filled him with hopeless rage. “Whoever wrote that article is a boob” he muttered savagely, “and I was worse than a fool to swallow it!”
But all things have an end, and at last the dread evening was over and they were at home.
“It has been such a happy evening,” sighed Miriam, “and I am not the least bit tired. These nice broad shoes are so comfortable. I just pitied the girls in those high boots. And I’m so glad you like my suit, dear. I always want to please you, you know.”
This was the last straw, and John’s patience, never very strong, gave way. “You do, eh?” he snapped. “Well, there may be some women who look well in a rig like that, but you’re not one of them, and if you want to please me, you will give those things to the cook the first thing in the morning, and never let me see them again. What I don’t know about women’s clothes would fill a barrel, and I’m ready to admit it. Tomorrow, you go in town and get some CLOTHES. Mind you, I mean clothes!—not merely coverings. And say, Miriam, get lots of that soft, thin stuff like Bill’s wife was wearing. It looks mighty good to me!”
And Miriam, being wise in her generation, said nothing at all.
The following day saw a merry party of four young matrons gathered for luncheon in one of the big shops. There was much laughter over what appeared to be huge joke, but at last the party arose en masse.
“Come on, Miriam, we have still to choose your Georgette crepe frock, you know,” said Bill’s wife. “Aren’t you extravagant, getting a whole dress of Georgette?”
“A little perhaps,” said Miriam demurely. “but John particularly asked me to get something like that!”
Norwich [MA] Bulletin 25 July 1916: p. 4
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Dress reform, which had been a subject of absorbing interest and satire in the 1880s and 1890s, was seeing a revival around the time of the First World War. The self-important husband who thought he could choose his wife’s clothes was a figure of fun in the popular press, blundering over appropriate styles and colour choices and invariably outwitted by his clever wife. There was also debate among fashion experts as to whether a husband should choose (or have the right of approval over) his wife’s clothes and how much of a dress allowance” was appropriate.
Not many years after the date of this article, the United States was led by a President who was deeply interested in his wife’s clothing and, it is said, chose much of her wardrobe with excellent taste. President Calvin Coolidge adored his wife, Grace, and often brought hats and frocks home for her to try. He was said to have been displeased if she wore the same gown twice during their stay in the White House. Mrs Coolidge’s social secretary, Mary Randolph remarked that she never knew a man more interested in his wife’s attire, adding, “Nothing was too much for her. No expense was too great. He always gave her his opinion of her gowns. It was his one extravagance for a man known for his thrift.”
Let us see how the immodest silhouettes of 1916 looked in actual georgette. This is a Lanvin creation.
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.