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III. Raillery and Scolding

Of course, the colonial man found woman's dress a subject for jest; what man has not? Certainly in America the custom is of long standing. Old Nathaniel Ward, writing in 1647 in his _Simple Cobbler of Aggawam_, declares: "It is a more common than convenient saying that nine tailors make a man; it were well if nineteen could make a woman to her mind. If tailors were men indeed well furnished, but with more moral principles, they would disdain to be led about like apes by such mimic marmosets. It is a most unworthy thing for men that have bones in them to spend their lives in making fiddle-cases for futilous women's fancies; which are the very pettitoes of infirmity, the giblets of perquisquilian toys.... It is no little labor to be continually putting up English women into outlandish casks; who if they be not shifted anew once in a few months grow too sour for their husbands.... He that makes coats for the moon had need take measure every noon, and he that makes for women, as often to keep them from lunacy."

Indeed Ward becomes genuinely excited over the matter, and says some really bitter things: "I shall make bold for this once to borrow a little of their long-waisted but short skirted patience.... It is beyond the ken of my understanding to conceive, how those women should have any true grace, or valuable virtue, that have so little wit as to disfigure themselves with such exotic garbes, as not only dismantle their native lovely lustre, but transclouts them into gant-bar-geese, ill shapen-shotten-shell-fish, Egyptian Hyeroglyphics, or at the best French flirts of the pastery, which a proper English woman should scorn with her heels...."

The raillery became more frequent and certainly much more good-natured in the eighteenth century. Philip Fithian, a Virginia tutor, writing in 1773, said in his _Diary_: "Almost every Lady wears a red Cloak; and when they ride out they tye a red handkerchief over their Head and face, so that when I first came into Virginia, I was distressed whenever I saw a Lady, for I thought she had the toothache."

In fact, the subject sometimes inspired the men to poetry, as may be seen from the following specimen:

      "Young ladies, in town, and those that live 'round, Let a friend at this season advise you; Since money's so scarce, and times growing worse, Strange things may soon hap and surprise you.

      "First, then, throw aside your topknots of pride, Wear none but your own country linen, Of Economy boast, let your pride be the most, To show clothes of your own make and spinning.

      "What if home-spun, they say, is not quite so gay As brocades, yet be not in a passion, For when once it is known, this is much worn in town, One and all will cry out--''Tis the fashion.'

             *       *       *       *       *

      "Throw aside your Bohea and your Green Hyson tea, And all things with a new-fashion duty; Procure a good store of the choice Labrador For there'll soon be enough here to suit you.

      "These do without fear, and to all you'll appear Fair, charming, true, lovely, and clever, Tho' the times remain darkish, your men may be sparkish, And love you much stronger than ever."[137]

A perusal of extracts from newspapers of those days makes it clear that a good many men were of the opinion that more simplicity in dress would indeed make women "fair, charming, true, lovely, and clever." The _Essex Journal_ of Massachusetts of the late eighteenth century, commenting upon the follies common to "females"--vanity, affectation, talkativeness, etc.,--adds the following remarks on dress: "Too great delight in dress and finery by the expense of time and money which they occasion in some instances to a degree beyond all bounds of decency and common sense, tends naturally to sink a woman to the lowest pitch of contempt amongst all those of either sex who have capacity enough to put two thoughts together. A creature who spends its whole time in dressing, prating, gaming, and gadding, is a being--originally indeed of the rational make, but who has sunk itself beneath its rank, and is to be considered at present as nearly on a level with the monkey species...."

Even pamphlets and small books were written on the subject by ireful male citizens, and the publisher of the _Boston News Letter_ braved the wrath of womankind by inserting the following advertisement in his paper: "Just published and Sold by the Printer hereof, HOOP PETTICOATS, Arraigned and condemned by the Light of Nature and Law of God."[138] Many a scribbler hiding behind some Latin pen name, such as Publicus, poured forth in those early papers his spleen concerning woman's costume. Thus in 1726 the _New England Weekly Journal_ published a series of essays on the vanities of females, and the writer evidently found much relief in delivering himself on those same hoop skirts: "I shall not busy myself with the ladies' shoes and stockings at all, but I can't so easily pass over the Hoop when 'tis in my way, and therefore I must beg pardon of my fair readers if I begin my attack here. 'Tis now some years since this remarkable fashion made a figure in the world and from its first beginning divided the public opinion as to its convenience and beauty. For my part I was always willing to indulge it under some restrictions: that is to say if 'tis not a rival to the dome of St. Paul's to incumber the way, or a tub for the residence of a new Diogenes. If it does not eclipse too much beauty above or discover too much below. In short, I am for living in peace, and I am afraid a fine lady with too much liberty in this particular would render my own imagination an enemy to my repose."

Perhaps, however, in this particular instance, men had some excuse for their tirade; it may have come as a matter of self-preservation. We can more readily understand their feelings when we learn the size of the cause of it. In October, 1774, after Margaret Hutchinson had been presented at the Court of St. James, she wrote her sister: "We called for Mrs. Keene, but found that one coach would not contain more than two such mighty hoops; and papa and Mr. K. were obliged to go in another coach."

But hoops and bonnets and other extravagant forms of dress were not the only phases of woman's adornment that startled the men and fretted their souls. The very manner in which the ladies wore their hair caused their lords and masters to run to the newspaper with a fresh outburst of contempt. In 1731 some Massachusetts citizen with more wrath than caution expressed himself thus: "I come now to the Head Dress--the very highest point of female eloquence, and here I find such a variety of modes, such a medley of decoration, that 'tis hard to know where to fix, lace and cambrick, gauze and fringe, feathers and ribbands, create such a confusion, occasion such frequent changes that it defies art, judgement, or taste to recommend them to any standard, or reduce them to any order. That ornament of the hair which is styled the Horns, and has been in vogue so long, was certainly first calculated by some good-natured lady to keep her spouse in countenance."[139]

This last statement proved too much; it was the straw that broke the camel's back; even the meek colonial women could not suffer this to go unanswered. In the next number of the same paper appeared the following, written probably by some high-spirited dame: "You seem to blame us for our innovations and fleeting fancy in dress which you are most notoriously guilty of, who esteem yourselves the mighty, wise, and head of the species. Therefore, I think it highly necessary that you show us the example first, and begin the reformation among yourselves, if you intend your observations shall have any with us. I leave the world to judge whether our petticoat resembles the dome of St. Paul's nearer than you in your long coats do the Monument. You complain of our masculine appearance in our riding habits, and indeed we think it is but reasonable that we should make reprisals upon you for the invasion of our dress and figure, and the advances you make in effeminency, and your degeneracy from the figure of man. Can there be a more ridiculous appearance than to see a smart fellow within the compass of five feet immersed in a huge long coat to his heels with cuffs to the arm pits, the shoulders and breast fenced against the inclemencies of the weather by a monstrous cape, or rather short cloak, shoe toes, pointed to the heavens in imitation of the Lap-landers, with buckles of a harnass size? I confess the beaux with their toupee wigs make us extremely merry, and frequently put me in mind of my favorite monkey both in figure and apishness, and were it not for a reverse of circumstances, I should be apt to mistake it for Pug, and treat him with the same familiarity."[140]