It is a rare mind that can habitually and wholesomely regard human beings entirely apart from the clothes they wear. Some physiologists, philosophers and dreamers are able to, but only they. Carlyle considered the subject of clothes in a masterful and unique essay; tried to conceive people both clothed and naked, and in every sort of psychologic relation, but it has not influenced thought at large very much.
Throughout history the mental picture of humanity has mostly represented it as clothed. By nature utterly naked, to our minds' eyes our clothes are as truly a part of us as though they were fleeces of wool grown upon our skins. We even dispute as to whether it is right to consider the human body in any other way, and sometimes fear our youth may go wrong if they see the nude form in cold marble or bronze or on harmless canvas. We occasionally shut such things out of public places, and fence the rising generation away from them. The way in which the simple and pureminded folk in the country districts of Japan have at times ignored the requirements of clothes has startled, if not shocked, many good souls of our civilization when they have witnessed it for the first time. To the reflecting mind it shows what strenuous importance we attach --- and usually without knowing it--to the covering of the body. Such shocks awaken us to the philosophic as well as the hygienic relations of clothes.
Next to the general subject in interest is the fact, at first seemingly unjustified by reason, that the two sexes must always be clothed differently. So rigid and pervading is this rule that we stop to gaze and remark, if at any time custom permits identical garments to be worn by both. Yet they belong to the same species of living things, and have similar physical needs and dangers. And surely their differing work and functions in life cannot make so sweeping a disparity in clothes necessary. There must be some other reason, as there is for the great amount of time and attention people give to dress.
Garments, therefore, have great meaning in many ways, and differing meanings; the garments of each sex have. But it seems to me that no other article worn by either sex has a significance so peculiar and weighty as that of the corset. It has an influence on those who wear it and on the rest of mankind as well. It relates to the longevity and mental traits of the wearers, and of the generations of men that follow each other.
It is now exclusively an article of woman's wear, although at times, in Europe, it has been used by a few men. Its origin dates back almost to the escape of the race from barbarism, if not even farther, and it has experienced numerous changes in form and size, as fashions have changed. Formerly it was a heavy and cumbersome affair, but the inventions and mechanical skill of the closing century have developed a lightness, grace and cheapness never dreamed of by the dames of an earlier time.
The desire of womankind to shape the female figure according to standards of beauty must have begun almost with the savage. In the ruins of Palenque, in Mexico (of which there is not a scrap of written history), was found in stone a bas-relief of a woman with bandaged waist. Circular and transverse folds and loops--strips of cloth used to compress the form-are clearly shown in the sculpture.
In the eastern archipelago, at discovery, young women were found wearing a corset of spirally arranged cones of rattan. They wore this garment till their marriage. In Java women eat clay to keep thin. In Ceylon there are books devoted to the subject of how to train slender waists. Among some of the authorities on the subject it is held that the world-wide standard has been a waist that can be clasped by the two hands. Circassian ladies formerly wore--if they do not still do it--corsets made of morocco, and wore them by night as well as by day. The Hindoos insist that woman's waist should be slim. The Chinese, almost alone, bind the feet and let the waist grow as it will.
In the ruins of Egypt and Thebes no corsets have been found figured, but in the book of Isaiah (III, 24) occurs a declaration that there shall be "instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty." A stomacher is a rigid, vertical stomach board, worn for a similar purpose as a corset. Homer, 560 years before Christ, refers to the cestus or girdle of Venus, as worn by Juno to increase her "personal attractions." Terence, the Roman dramatist (16o B. C.), refers to ladies who "saddle their backs and straightlace their waists to make them well-shaped."
Strutt says Roman women wore a bandage about the waist called strophium. Various other names have been used at different times to convey the same idea, as zone, mitra, cestus, stays, bodice, busk and cor set. Before the conquest of Rome by the Hunnish tribes ladies wore, so it is written, "a kind of corset which they tightened very considerably." After this period of human history, the subject was buried from literature, as perhaps from human thought, for many generations.
Queen Elizabeth wore a corset made of nearly solid metal. So did Catherine de Medici. Busks of wood, iron and ivory were much worn before the end of the fifteenth century. Their effects were severe and harmful. These old, rude affairs sometimes made deep excoriations of the skin. Said an old writer: "What hell will not women suffer, strained and lasted to the very quick," "to make their forms thin as a Spaniard's!"
But this iron and board cuirass disappeared at the time of the French revolution, to be followed by the lighter articles of these later days. In 1829, a Boston writer says, women even wore corsets in bed all night, and tightened them on lying down, and again on rising in the morning. Servants often wore busks that prevented them from bending over.
While fashion orders what in general the corset shall be, the inventive skill of manufacturers to some extent leads or guides the fashion. To consider all the forces that influence fashions would involve an inquiry far too broad for the present study.
The corset of to-day, as worn about the waist between the outer and under clothing, reaches from near the arm-pits to the hips and below. It fits the form with various degrees of snugness, depending on differing circumstances that influence the wearer, but it rarely fits loosely. The pressure which it exerts on the body has been measured with instruments of precision, and found to be on an average slightly over six-tenths of a pound to the square inch, or from twenty to seventy pounds in the aggregate. The average difference in the circumference of the waist with and without the corset, is about two and one-half inches; and the vital capacity of the lungs as machines for breathing is lessened by corset wearing, about twenty per cent.
The corset is made to adjust itself to the form at any degree of pressure, by lacingstrings at the back. It has very distinct physical effects upon the body, and on the physiology of the wearer, as well as upon her anatomy and form. First of all, it sustains the body; it is an outside skeleton that the wearers are apt to declare to be of great assistance in maintaining the erect posture comfortably; it is a convenience for the fitting of garments about it, and for sustaining
the clothing of the lower extremities. If it is worn rather loosely, it perhaps does not interfere in any way with the ordinary physiologic functions of the body; but, drawn too firmly, as the fashion has sometimes required--or seemed to--it compresses the waist and forces the ribs inward-the lower ones especially--to such a degree as to make severe pressure along a transverse line of the liver. This creates a permanent depression or shallow groove along the upper (or front) surface of that organ, causing more or less degeneration of its tissue-- the schnur Leber of the Germans. Above and below this line the liver may appear like two tumors. The organ thus changed is harmed for functionation, and permanently impairs the health of the individual. Tight lacing also interferes with respiration to some degree; it compels the breathing to be done by the upper part of the chest almost solely, for it is quite impossible to contract the diaphragm and so force downward the organs below it, as in abdominal breathing, without causing discomfort in the viscera of the upper abdomen by the violent movement of them up and down. With a narrowed waist the vertical excursion of these organs in each act of ordinary breathing is twice as great as with a normal waist. If these movements are attempted the labor of respiration is found to be so great, and the churning of the squeezed liver and stomach so uncomfortable, that no woman would think of keeping it up as a habit. The upper chest breathing is, under these circumstances, so much easier and more restful, that it is practiced automatically.
Tight lacing, too, interferes with the action of the stomach, intestines and liver, in the process of digestion; it often provokes palpitation of the heart, and forces downward, to their harm and inconvenience, the organs of the abdomen and pelvis. As a consequence of these various disturbances in people who wear the corset too tight, it occasionally happens that faintness and even swooning occur when the nervous system is over-wrought and the body depressed by some other condition of bad hygiene, as breathing the air of a crowded room or auditorium, or eating too much or of indigestible foods. Waist pressure also, to some degree, retards the return of the blood from the lower extremities, and so conspires to produce varicose veins (mostly below the knees, but occasionally reaching to the hips), a disease that is always uncomfortable and tiring, and sometimes fraught with serious consequences.
It should not be understood that these profound symptoms are always or even generally produced by the wearing of the corset. They are sometimes so produced, with the gravest injury to the wearer, and the lives of some women-many in the aggregate-are darkened by invalidism lasting through years, or are cut short by death, owing to lesions started in this manner. It is at the same time true- that the corset may be loosely worn through life by a healthy woman of good vigor, with no serious injury to her health or longevity, or to the health of her children. Such a woman, so clothed, will usually outlive the average man, and have fewer days of sickness. And it is grossly untrue to say that the corset thus worn by such a woman, is as harmful to the wearer and her progeny as the foot-binding among Chinese women. Such a statement could only be true of unhealthy and unvigorous women, who require the best hygiene as a constant condition of any adequate career.
There is one possible hygienic reason for wearing the corset. It seems to be proven that fewer women than men have pulmonary consumption. In a majority of cases this disease begins in the apex of one lung. Why should not the apices of women's lungs be as susceptible as those of men? The upper chest breathing favored by corset wearing has been offered as a tentative answer to the question. Perhaps it is correct; but even if it is, this can only in a small part atone for the injury the corset has otherwise done the race.
Buf the physical effect of the corset, or the abuse of it, has been often exploited and much discussed, and there is little or nothing new to be said about it. It is like any other habit of the people that is begotten of fashion-everything else in the life of the
individual becomes, somehow, adjusted to it. The habits of womankind are not likely to undergo any radical change in this particular, and no amount of preaching that health missionaries may do will lead to any great alteration or improvement in the clothing of the race. The clothing will change from time to time, and perhaps for the physical benefit of the people, and the corset will change with the rest; we can even imagine it to be laid aside, and to go out of use. But the changes will come through example, and not from precept or persuasion. The arguments for change will be sociologic or psychologic, not hygienic. The psychologic phase of the subject is the most interesting one, and the one usually neglected or forgotten. The very suggestion that there can be such an aspect of it will seem absurd to many persons. But the corset worn by the woman of modern society enters into her mental life in the most intimate way. She can no more get away from this fact than she could dispense with her lungs, or appear habitually on the street smoking a pipe. And unnumbered generations in the past have witnessed a like experience.
Every voluntary act of human life has its psychologic counterpart; we think the act while, or before, we do it. But not always to the same effect or in the same way. Many of our daily acts are matters of habit; if the habits are firmly fixed, their psychologic counterpart is more of an automatic nervous, than a mental; sort. Many of our, habits and customs come without our consciousness-without our, knowledge of how or why. Some of them we plan and determine. Impelled by something to create them, we start about it, and, little by little, by our volition and the repetition of the activities, they come into existence-the habits are formed. This is education in a broad way. But we stumble upon some of them; they come unbidden; they grow up by some unnoticed mental influence that is undirected and spontaneous. In the first case the psychologic counterpart precedes consciously; in the second the habit comes apparently first, and seems to develop the other, but does not, and is really created by it.
Mostly, our clothes are the result of custom--of fashion. We wear them because others do, or have worn them, and we never order the seasonal changes; they are ordered for us by others, whom we, in the main, are wholly ignorant of, by somebody--anybody--who can, like a new self-constituted ruler, get control of the masses. They are usually the shrewd and enterprising manufacturers and wholesalers of goods and clothes. We, the people, are as helpless in the arrangement of the styles we wear (except within comparatively narrow limits) as we are of the air we breathe or the temperature we endure. We are bidden, and near or afar off, like docile children, we obey; and, except the few who segregate themselves from the mass of people by their oddity, we obey as well as we can.
Why we do certain things, especially those that affect our personal weal and that of the community, constitutes a most interesting as well as a profitable study. But we can never completely solve the problem; it is so complex a task that we can only work toward a solution. And the ultimate genesis of fashions, and what they lead us to do and refrain from, make no inconsiderable part of the vast problem of our social existence.
Our daily acts may be divided, crudely, into those which concern the care and condition of our bodies, and those that connect us with others in the life and business of the world. Yet these two divisions are closely united to each other, and we can never estimate. either of them entirely apart from the other. The nature and growth, the care and carriage of our bodies have to do first with our comfort mentally and physically, and therefore also with our relations to the world; and clothes are a large factor in the consummation.
Few things in the care of our bodies affect our weal more than our customs as to clothes. Clothes touch not merely the physical self, but the social and ethical life as truly. The foot-binding of the Chinese is a striking example, but none will say that the effect of the custom on the Chinese nation is confined to the bodies of the women whose feet are bound. It concerns as well their social and political relations, and determines, in many cases, their happiness or misery for life--physical pain if their feet are bound; social punishment if they are not. Attempts to do away with the custom have found their greatest obstacle in the social ostracism that threatens any woman who appears with normal feet.
The universal ambition is, of course, so to manage the human body, so to clothe, feed, groom and care for it, as to conserve its ex istence and comfort for the longest time In our efforts to do this we are guilty of many foibles and some sins, and the offences against the physical body sometimes tend, apparently, to spiritual growth, as physiologic care of the body may threaten social degradation. We are different from the Chinese; whether we are better than they is a question.
A study of the corset is instructive, as a study of the hats, shoes, gloves or collars of men would be, or the regulations of cookery and meal-times, or the kind of beds that people sleep in. But the corset is more instructive than these, because it is a device that touches more the psychologic life, and makes and unmakes its wQarer in more ways.
If we consider the garment from the standpoint of its usefulness, we shall discover a number of interesting truths. They obtain with many other garments and ornaments, but not with all of them. One of the cardinal reasons for the corset is that it adds to beauty and grace of form. It is said that fleshy women show their embonpoint less if they wear a corset, which is a sufficient reason for them. Then, many women insist that convenience is a large consideration in, favor of the corset; their skirts, the bands of which would otherwise annoy them, may be hung from it. The waist of a gown can be better fitted over it, and a well-fitting waist is the starting point of a harmonious costume. From it a skirt can be adjusted; and sleeves and various neck and throat decorations may be added--all of which would be unavailing with a shabby looking waist. Given one central and ideal element of grace and beauty in a costume and everything else may be made to harmonize.
But the most common reason a woman offers for wearing a corset, when it is suggested that she should lay it aside after years of use, is that it is a means of support for her body; that it is comforting to her sensations; that if she lays it aside she has a feeling of physical fatigue and lack of support that is almost unbearable. This argument is sound, without a question, for any woman who has worn a corset for a year probably finds that on laying it aside she feels a want of support that is always disagreeable and may be painful. Men as well as women have testified to this fact. A distinguished scientist of England many years ago wore a corset for a few months, and then discovered that it took him twice as many months to get used to doing with out it. For long weeks he complained of a sensation as though his body was not quite strong enough to hold itself erect.
Fashion is the most potent reason for the corset. That the fashion had its origin largely in a desire for cosmetic effect, the conservation of beauty and grace, is true enough. But that is not what compels, although it may encourage, the adoption of this garment. It is the fact that others of her set, or those she would emulate, wear it, which compels nearly every girl to get herself into a corset at the earliest permissible age. Fashion inflicts upon us many degrees of slavery. The fashion once established must be followed, even if it binds our bodies or our feet, our throats or our hands. It requires a large order of courage to resist, even when the thing is harmful. And no argument for health is so irresistible as to be told that you look undressed or slouchy without a particular garment or style. Such a criticism is to many a soul as severe and heart-breaking as an accusation of black sin.
There are many standards of beauty. The shape of the corset, the artificial thing used to encase the body, constitutes one standard. The theory, of course, is that woman's form ought to have that particular shape; that it is the typical form and therefore ideal. The woman who possesses that ideal form needs no corset for beauty's sake. The corset is a standard, and its shape should be-and often is-based on that of the nude body which artists and anatomists have, with a fair measure of unanimity, agreed on as nearest perfection. That form is a thing of surpassing beauty, and no artificial covering of it can ever enhance its charm of lines. For its comfort, and that it should be hidden, clothes are required; but never for its grace or beauty.
The corset is evolved from a desire to perpetuate that form, and to give all an opportunity to simulate it. The woman who lacks the ideal form naturally covets it. To her it is a happy circumstance that she may wrap herself in an artificial case, and to the world actually display the charm she covets. Most of us live and labor under the load of some physical defect or asymmetry we would be glad to be rid of, to the end that we might more nearly approach the ideal physical body. It is a hump or a wart, or some angularity, or a vice of color or of hair. So, failing as most of us do, in the classical perfections, we take greedily to measures that allow us to simulate them.
And could anything more happily accomplish this purpose than the corset? Once within,it, the form has (if the corset is correct) all the right curves and proportions, and none of its own angles and imperfections. Of course, it we stop to reflect, we know this is, as to a great number, quite impossible; that inside the corset there often must be ugliness, but it seems otherwise-and frequently in our blundering day to seem is the instinctive end.
By good dentistry we can help a little toward the ideal; the razor may abolish an untidy beard; and we may, by waves and bangs cover up somewhat the defects we think we wot of in our own appearance. But hair-dye and beard-coloring are vulgar aids at best. We cannot hide our big feet and hands, nor straighten up our shoulders or backs; and our walking gait cannot by any possibility be hidden or much changed.
Skirts have fortunately restricted to the masculine half of us the public announcement of the deformity of bow-legs, and it is no wonder that woman should be ready to still further take advantage of her possibilities, and cover her body with the outward evidence of perfect symmetry and the ideal curves and proportions.
Women have better and more trustworthy taste as to the lines of beauty than men have; they think of such things more than men can, and inharmony rasps their nature more. It is not strange then that they should be avid to appear to have the curves of the Venus that is- the vision of us all. Here is a part of her form hidden from the world (save at fashionable functions); and woman may create for it, for the average sum of two dollars, the shape that is divine, and that shall delicately hint its presence through any and all drapery. She will do it, and to blame her for it is hardly generous.
I know the fashion may fail her in these efforts, and perchance her figure is such that she cannot accomplish all she desires in this way. But the impulse exists and persists, and is, in part, the basis and unuttered justification of the corset fashion.
It is true of all fashions that sponer or later they show aberrations. By the various whims and tendencies of the mind, they acquire extremes and excesses. And these often grow out of the human impulse to imitate or exceed someone else, or out of the misfortune of those who are physically unable to follow the ideal of the fashion.
The corset is a means of hiding the proportions of a fleshy woman. But her corset is large, its size is still relatively great; therefore, large size becomes a positive misfortune; there is a rising gratification in every inch of reduction in the circumference. The smaller corset, as compared to the greater one, indicates a nearer approach to the ideal form. Smallness therefore becomes desirable by comparison. The woman who can wear a corset of the average size is proud when she compares herself with her larger neighbor. The latter, from her standpoint, laments, while the slim woman gently glories over both of them. Thus with many people comeliness ceases to be, and size becomes the only standard of comparison; and so a woman is not merely proud to have a corset smaller than her neighbor's, but she is proud to have one considerably smaller than the average diameter of woman's waist. It flatters us, just a little to be able to do a thing that others cannot accomplish; and, to get into a corset six inches in diameter, is an accomplishment that few women have.
Among women it is interesting to see how the size of their waists is kept in mind and memory by each other, and what an event it is when one grows larger or smaller. They remember these, as tall men keep account of their height, and boys of their feats of dexterity. A woman will sometimes remember to her eightieth year the size of her own and others' waists during the third decade of their lives; and the records of changes as they pass the mid-point in life, are something both pathetic and amusing: Once, while I read a book in a moving railway train, there was a hum of conversation among three women sitting opposite me. I was suddenly startled to hear one of them say with dramatic manner and intense voice: "What do you think!" The others waited, with wide-eyed expectancy, to hear the fulmination that was to come. And this is what it was: "Could you believe it, that Mary Wonder's waist measures twentyfour inches?" The dual exclamation of surprise from the listeners clearly told that they could not; and the satisfaction on the face of the one who had spoken, showed the egoistic joy that comes of having uttered a momentous thing. She looked as happy and self-sufficient as if she had created the thing she told of.
We see the same out-cropping of human nature in other directions; for example, as to the size of shoes and of gloves, and the cut of other garments. Nobody could for a moment defend a very small foot as a thing of beauty on a medium-sized person. The narrow-shouldered people by padding give themselves more nearly the appearance of the average, and so there grows up a fashion of broad shoulders, and the seeming of them, which is by and by carried to such extremes that finally, having developed enormous excrescences, the fashion falls by the weight of disgust which it creates in the public mind.
I once knew a good woman who had a very long, slim hand. She could not buy gloves to fit her; if they were correct in length they were slack about the fingers, but very comfortable; if they fitted firmly about the fingers they were too short to reach to the wrist. Did she wear the comfortable ones? She wore the uncomfortable ones, that were beautiful about the fingers and made them look small and neat, notwithstanding a most awkward fit about the wrists where they could be more easily hidden. And I had a friend who, as boy and man, suffered from cold feet and chilblain for more than thirty winters--and who had always sought for means to keep his feet warm-before he could evolve to the point of wearing loose shoes and large overshoes. He had often tried on such at the shoe stores, but each time, as he looked down at the large size of his clothed feet, his courage failed him, and he bought the close-fitting things that tickled his vanity or saved his humiliation, but tortured his feet. In this manner he chose physical rather than mental humiliation for a third of a century, before he learned a better lesson. Lately, the foot-ball fashion or some other motive has led the true American boy to be rather proud of his large shoes, showing another swing of the pendulum.
The woman's form becomes so used to the pressure of the corset that the wearer acquires a new definition of tightness and pressure. She will declare that her corset is not tight, when to a man or a child it would be, and neither the man nor the child would willingly wear clothing about the waist that would squeeze so much. And she is perfectly candid and consciously truthful in her declarations. Once a beautiful young woman was getting a trifle stout, and her doctor quizzed her as to whether her corset was not too tight. She declared that she never wore it tight; that it was always loose and gave her abundance of room, and, to prove this, she said that when she took her corset off and put her gown on without it, she could easily bring the gown together within two inches! It did not occur to her that she had said anything funny until the doctor burst into laughter. Thus the individual standpoint comes to create for us new meanings for words that are used to express the common sense and common sensations of mankind. Hence the manifold and variant meanings of words as shown by the dictionary. Words have a history, and this illuminates the history of the social and personal life of the human race, and shows its steady evolution.
Not every woman would have gone to the extreme of this young person, but corset wearers as a whole, have acquired a definition of their own to express the snugness of the clothing about the trunk of the body. They are not uncandid about it, as a rule, and do not mean to be inaccurate, and do not know that they are-if they are. Who shall say that a definition of one-half the race shall be discredited or degraded by that of the other half ? Lexicographers and grammarians may pretend that definitions are thus and so, and must be so maintained, but they cannot maintain them; and they are forced to record changes as the people vary in their usages. And the growth and evolution of the language come largely from the impulsive and hap-hazard inventions of the common people.
There is still another reason for the habit of tight lacing, which has great. philosophic interest. It probably applies to only a few women. To the exceptional woman it is not for grace nor out of regard to the morbid extreme of fashion blindly followed that she tugs at her laces. It is rather to the end that some particular woman or the impersonal woman shall not have the chance of saying that her waist has grown larger, or is not smaller, than that of some other woman, or than some standard of comparison. In the aggregate many women are victims, and long-suffering ones, of the foolish ideal betrayed by the hackneyed phrase that begins with: "She shall never have it to say." These expressions have a familiar ring: "She shall never have it to say that I asked favors of her," or, "that I complained of my lot," or "that my house was untidy," or "that my complexion was worse than hers," or "that my children were dirty" and so on, interminably. Women live and die, and die early and in sorrow, worn out by loyalty to this sort of a standard. It is a common standard, and concerns itself more with the non-essential, even trivial things of life, than with the larger virtues of character. Its application to the question of the size of woman's waist is only one of its hundreds of uses. It is often founded in pique or ambition, in envy or jealousy; it has existed for ages and probably will continue through our present phase of civilization.
Similarly interesting is the experience of the masculine Sophomore, or of the common dude, with his tall collar in vogue in this beginning of a new century. Ask him why he wears the ugly, uncomfortable thing, and, to avoid a confession of his enslavement, he will tell you a little tale (which in his heart he knows to be a mass of fibs) about his uncomely neck and the necessity of hiding it, and of the ease with which he wears the collar. Since boys began to explain how they had to go a-fishing and couldn't help it, or were positively prevented from getting home early, there has not been a more amusing variety of prevarication. It is well that other persons do not say such uncomplimentary things of the boy's neck. If they did, he would discover at once what manly curves and graceful dimensions it has; for the negligee attire of an outing makes him stand before the glass in expansive delight to see his form reflected back to him, and the neck is no small part of its admitted beauty.
Nobody can look at these aspects of life in all their bearings without being convinced that, for foolishness in the small things, as well as the large ones, neither sex of our august family can boast a monopoly, or even claim any special superiority over the other.
One of the most interesting phases of this question of psychology is shown by the various estimates we have of how other people regard us, and the way we balance our own estimates against theirs. The doctrine that we cannot see ourselves as others do, is very old and altogether true. But there are degrees of this disability; sometimes it is only partial, and we occasionally succeed in stealing round quietly to a spot near the point of vision of some other people. Women, as a class, understand fairly well how they regard each other's relation to the corset. And a girl with an extremely waspish waist is, I believe, always regarded by most women with a feeling of pity. But the sense of triumph which the girl herself feels in her achievement over others of her sex, may wholly smother her consciousness of what other women think of her. And this is not surprising. In a hundred ways we see the egoistic feeling, the sense of self-importance and conceit, covering up every other emotion, and ignoring the feelings and interests of others. The small boy with his toy gun or his first trousers; the same boy, older, with his first cigarette, and later with some grown man's triumph, are only stages in the same life, and show the truth equally.
I am told by many sensible women that it is a common belief of the sex that small waists are pleasing to men. And I have had a man's curiosity to know how general this belief is, for it seems to me next to impossible that the contrary sentiment, which is practically universal among men of all ages and shades of thought, should be misunderstood by women. In forty years of attentive observation of the talk of all sorts of normal boys and men, I have never known the diminutive size of a woman's waist to be complimented by one of them. On the contrary, most uncomplimentary remarks are often made by them about the pinched midriffs of womankind.
We are apt to forget that the feminine estimate of women is quite different from the masculine, and vice versa. The question of the hour-glass corset illustrates it. Men never cease to wonder how women can possibly admire a certain man; and women query as much or more in a reverse direction.
The differing points of view of the two sexes is shown in nothing better than the diverse ways men and women regard the dressing of themselves for fun in the clothes of the other. To women it is a great event, to be amused and laughed at with the greatest glee---often to the wonder of men. To men it is very little of an event, rather a passing curiosity, and is never treasured afterward as anything striking. Even when they, as college students, get up a comic opera, and take all the women's parts, their interest in this phase of the performance, beyond a desire for success, is largely in the pleasure it gives their feminine friends, and the comradery with them incident to the preparations. Would any set of normal men present such a play to an exclusive audience of men? But women do the reverse of this, and enjoy it. What is the basis of the difference? Is it to some degree the greater social restraints to adventure that surround woman, or is it innate?
The mental pictures that are projected in the minds of women and men on the suggestion of the affairs of a formal wedding, are as different as possible; and they cannot all be due to the difference of meaning the wedding has for the two sexes. For men, the prospect of the finery, the flowers, the powder, and the dressing of the bride and the bridesmaids, is a matter to be endured for the sake of the other sex, but always a trifle fatiguing. To women these things are food and drink, and the wedding procession is a blazing joy. They are not dampened by the slow and solemn tread of the bride with her guards, each foot lifted carefully, slowly projected forward, held in the air for a moment, then put down with a motion that no effort can quite free from the quality of a jerk; the head thrown back the while, and the face directed forward, with cheeks blanched and shrunken, and the whole aspect as though she had just come out of a prison where she had been starved for a week, and were marching to her execution. To men, this sometimes has the suggestion of tragedy; but many women will seek the best seats to see, even at the expense of courtesy, and crane their necks to get a vision of the whole spectacle that shall be complete, and will miss nothing, and remember long afterward the minutest details of it all.
One effect of wearing good clothes, or clothes that-one likes, is to create a sense of comfort and self-respect; which sensations may be good if they are not mixed with a feeling of pride and bumptiousness that is illaudable. This fact is emphasized by the converse experience of us all in the distracting uneasiness with which we bear the feeling that our clothes misfit us, or are untidy or not appropriate to the occasion. We cannot think or talk connectedly. The greatest eloquence and the divinest music alike fail to fix our attention, or wrest it from the chagrin about the clothes that cover us. Even a lovely face and gentle words sometimes fail.
Years ago I had a friend who more than once roused himself from the melancholy of chronic invalidism by getting up from his bed, putting on his best suit of clothes, and going out for a walk. He said he always felt a sense of uplifting from it that he could never have in his common clothes. And I know good men, who, after a day of taxing business cares, go home and put on evening dress before their dinner, and declare they feel rested in consequence. The habit of wearing better clothes on Sunday furnishes a distinct portion of the benefits of the one day of rest. It is a civilizing influence of no mean sort. And its force is wholly psychologic; it helps mentally to a higher standard. Better clothes seem to go with better demeanor, and so men behave better in them, and think of higher things, as one always, to some degree, grasps a mental mood by assuming the physical attitude that usually is linked with it: To force themselves to behave decently helps most people, if only a little, to be decent.
Does not the corset help women, mentally, to the same end? I am sure I have heard many a woman apologize for the untidiness of her clothes, and say she was not dressed, when she looked perfection in this respect, and my intuitions prompted the suspicion that her only trouble was the lack of a corset. The touch of this magic contrivance gives her a feeling of being dressed and proper, that relieves her of embarrassment. To be sure, sometimes it leads women to rely on its lulling influence too much, and to forget that they may have an untidy gown or person. But I doubt that it ever makes one more untidy than she would be without it; and I should like to believe that it does, by its subtle influence upon the mind and life, make every woman who wears it a little better, as well as a little happier, than she otherwise could be.
It is unnatural to believe that the influence of this garment is lowering upon the soul of the wearer, when its very object is largely the realization of an ideal of beauty whose normal issue is an elevation in spirit and intention, and therefore better conduct.