Many a good thing "cometh without observation."
If there is "no money in it," -- as there is in advertising, -- no fair chance for ridicule, no opportunity to "scoop" one another, the newspapers mercifully let it alone. So a work which looks toward the self-release of women from the oppression of fashion has been allowed to proceed with quiet dignity till within sight of a reasonable degree of success.
Fashion, blinded by that madness which precedes destruction, has unwittingly helped our cause by her insane effort to put women into hoop-skirts. Great indignation is expressed over the threatened abomination, but it will avail little, nor can new laws upon our statute-books prevail against "the fashion." Some suggest that the "Committee on Dress" of the National Council of Women do a sufficiently good work by preventing any considerable number of women from putting on hoops. Only a short time ago we were advised to concentrate our efforts to induce women not to wear trained gowns in the street, and there was talk of petitioning for a prohibitory law against them. We might go on protesting forever, so far as fashion is concerned; if it is not one monstrosity it is another with which women are disfigured.
To take the practical step requires courage. Nearly every woman of the thoughtful, intelligent class enrolled in favor of the movement, would prefer to wait until the new dress becomes common before adopting it. Well, it will be fashionable at the Columbian meeting, when dress is the especial subject. Fortunately, this meeting is near the very beginning of the season, and may be regarded as our formal opening. Women are planning to wear it at summer resorts and in colleges. The chivalry and intelligent patriotism of men will then be put to the test. Will they approve and encourage the heroic effort of American women to achieve their own freedom, and to make better conditions for the generations yet to come?
Men who admire women more than clothes have never taken kindly to dehumanizing fashions, like high-humped sleeves, bustles, and hoops, though admiring trains under some circumstances. But however they may protest, as one deformity threatens to succeed another, anything that women will persistently wear as "the correct thing" soon comes to be so associated with womanhood in men's minds as to seem the "womanly" dress. A philosopher in most matters feels troubled if his wife or daughter mingles with other women, the only one without a bustle.
Most men have now been brought, by the most persistent of all deforming fashions, to actually admire the false lines of the corset-made figure; to consider "womanly" the deep hollows with their corresponding protuberances, over which the fashionable ladies' tailors and dressmakers shape their combinations of costly fabrics. If men would legislate against any criminality in dress, they should begin with the corset, upon which hang, quite literally, all the follies in skirts which they oppose.
But it would be of little use so long as the ideal of a taper waist is retained. I never saw a corset till I was twenty years old -- never heard of one except as belonging to the barbarisms of the past; but the first dress I made for myself, at the age of sixteen, was so tight (like the gowns of the belles I admired) that it was pain to wear it. When I ran out to meet my father, a physician, his admiring look as he exclaimed, "What a little thing you are ! You are nothing but a spirit ! was sufficient recompense for all I suffered. Yet he would have opposed "tight lacing" -- so easily are men deceived! Bless the hoop-skirt ! -- the hideous thing!