Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Pretty Butterfly of Fashion

A fashion plate from the Delineator, 1910.

Women in 1910 in Canada shrouded themselves head to toe in cloth, regardless of the temperature, although, from the 'real life' Nicholson photos on this blog, Marion, Edith and Flo didn't wear dresses like this on casual outings. This is a bit of a fantasy shot. Can you imagine Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears or Jennifer Aniston (the most googled celebrity women from what I can see) becoming big stars without having exposed their skin to public scrutiny? No diets, no workouts for them or for us.

My 1909 chapter of Flo in the City, my story about a girl coming of age in the exciting 1908-1913 era based on the real life letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ will be focused on fashion, and the politics of fashion.

Flo will explore the idea of going to work as a shopgirl in millinery, on the sly, as her middle class parents would never have approved.

Fashion affects women's lives in more ways than the obvious one. It can present a Catch 22 of a sort to women, damning them if they do and damning them if they don't. Here's a clipping Margaret cut out from 1913, the Montreal Witness, a letter to the editor. I think I will have Edith write this letter! Remember, the Witness was an evangelical newspaper, once again revealing that 'radical' feminism was supported by a number of religious institutions.

Sir,

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.

Is she foolish trying to make herself look pretty that she may catch a husband? Has not the decree gone forth that woman's place is in the home over which she presides as mistress and her husband as master? Then, if this be the case, inasmuch as it is the pretty butterfly of fashion who attracts the average society man rather than the one who follows in St. Paul's admonition, it would seem that she has no choice but to meet the demand as far as possible. And if a man thinks he can't afford to dress her as she has been accustomed to dress, let him pay less homage to the outward adorning and pay more to the hidden graces of head and heart.

I asked a man the other day, who was complaining about the extravagance of women in dress, saying "A man of average salary cannot afford to marry these days" if he did not think it was selfish for a man to spend his money on tobacco and liquor. He said, "If the husband earned it, the woman had to cause to complain."

The old idea that a man supports his wife is largely to blame for this selfishness. Because he supports her the earnings are his; because he supports her she should obey him just as though she were a child. It is no isolated case that I have in mind. I meet it at every turn and the sad part it is that they quote the Bible as authority.