Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A HAT SHOP IN PARIS 28th installment

Flora Nicholson. 1910

In honour of Canadian snowboarder Maelle Ricker, gold medal winner at the Vancouver Olympics and Lindsey Vonn, the American winner of the downhill and Britt Janyk the brave Canadian who finished fifth, (Vonn and Janyk being two of a few women who successfully negotiated the very dangerous and daunting women's downhill at Whistler today) I will quote this excerpt from an editorial in the 1906 Ladies' Home Journal.

Are girls overdoing athletics? asks the headline. ..."although exercise is good for both sexes,muscular efforts emulating a male athlete's can injure a woman beyond repair. Both physically and mentally, as women have a different mental make-up from men."

Imagine what the editorial writer would have thought watching these Olympics. Of course, women had to be freed from their corsets and long dresses before they could flex their muscles. But I wonder if we've reached the limit of this daring-do. The downhill had nine crashes, one of them serious.

So I will write my next chapter of Flo in the City, about a young woman coming of age in the pivotal 1908-1913 era based on the letters of

A cold sunny day in early January 1909. The Montreal Witness newspaper on the secretary in the sitting room caught Edith Nicholson's eye. She picked up the paper, which had a large rectangular hole cut out of one of the pages, read the caption under a cartoon and frowned.

In the sketch, a man was carrying his bride over the threshold, but with great difficulty as the bride’s giant hat was getting caught in the door frame. Women and their clothes obsession, read the caption, making modern marriage a rather difficult proposition. An
article followed, and Edith's scowl grew deeper and denser with each word she read.

How maddening! This cartoon and accompanying article was just of many slurs against fashion-loving ladies lately in the paper. A woman couldn't win. She tossed the newspaper aside.

I know. I am going to write a letter to the Editor, she said to sister Flora, who, ironically, was busy at the dining room table, creating a hat from scratch with the help of the book A Course in Millinery.

May had given the book to her for Christmas, and Marion and Edith had purchased materials for her, the wire, the crinoline,and braid.

Flora smiled, fooling with a piece of crinoline, which she was about to use to cover a wire frame she had shaped the day before. She read the next instruction:

We will now take our two-piece wire frame and cover it with mull or crinoline for a foundation upon which to sew the braid. If the braid to be used covers well, crinoline is the better of the two, as it is a little stififer than* mull, but if the interlining will show through, mull will look better than the crinoline. Some of the fancy straws and hair braids have such wide interstices that it is often best to cover the frame with a cheap mercerized lining fabric that looks like silk, and has as much body to it. This generally matches the straw in color, and is usually used on the upper side of the brim and the outside of the crown. Transparent hats of chiffon, lace and maline are made differently and will be considered later. Whatever interlining is chosen, place the front of the brim in a bias corner of the goods and let it lie smoothly over the upper side of the brim. Secure by turning the goods over the brim edge and pinning it there.

Done. This wasn't so hard. She could easily work in a millinery shop!

May had given Flo this gift because she knew she was thinking about going into the millinery business. Mother Margaret thought the book was just a random choice of Mae's - and for that Flora was relieved. She didn't want her Mother asking any questions. Not about school.

"What should I write for a first line? Edith asked. Poor Edie, she was in need of something to do to keep her mind occupied. Marion had returned to Montreal to go skating at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association in Westmount, but Edith had no beau, so she did not accompany her. Unlike the rinks in the E.T. the MAAA frowned upon women skating unescorted.

"I know," said Edith, and she dipped her pen in ink and wrote 'Having noticed several skits in your paper recently with reference to women's love of dress, I would like to ask the man who feels aggrieved that he must go through life alone because he cannot afford to dress a woman as she would like to be dressed, that while he can dress himself for $200 a year, she would require $2,000; if such were facts (?)whom should he blame? Do women dress to please men? I think he will admit that they dress primarily to attract the attention of men in general before they are married and to please their husbands afterwards.'

"Now, how do you like that Flora? she asked. Flora had fitted the frame to her head and was looking quite ridiculous as she answered, "When I have my own hat shop in Paris, I will not need to marry." She tilted her head.

"You will have to improve your French, though" Edith joked, although Flora did not think it funny.

No matter how hard she tried to escape her reality, with fancy ideas, and big dreams, someone was sure to say somthing that brought her back to earth.

French, yet another of her weak subjects. Composition, Latin. Algebra. How would she ever get through this year, let alone next?

Edith picked up the newspaper again to find a particular line in the irksome article.

"Why does the newspaper have a hole in it?" Flora asked.

"Because Mother cut out an article on England's new Old Age Pension Scheme," Edith answered. "I think she wishes our Parliament would follow suit and pass such a law."

Oh, and now Edith was reminding Flora of the family's money problems. Flora removed the hat shape and put it aside, and decided to go for a walk before the sun went down.

She'd take Floss. Dogs don't talk, so she'd be safe.