The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Sarah Hall/On Fashion

ON FASHION.[1]

Most of you writers have leaped into the censor’s throne without leave or license; where you were no sooner seated, than, with the impudence one might expect from such conduct, you have railed, with all the severity of satire and indecency of invective, against our folly, frivolity, forwardness, fondness of dress, and so forth. You can’t conceive what a latitude is assumed by the witlings of the day, from the encouragement of such pens as yours. Those well dressed young gentlemen who will lay awake whole nights in carving the fashion of a new doublet, and who will criticise Cooper without knowing whether Shakspeare wrote dramas or epic poems, these wiseacres, I say, saunter along Chestnut street, when the sun shines, and amuse themselves with sneers against our sex: and in nothing are we so much the object of their ridicule as in our devotion to fashion, on whose shrine, according to these modern peripatetics, we sacrifice our time, our understanding, and our health. We have freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, and why should we not enjoy a freedom of fashions?

What do these sapient gentlemen wish? Would they have a dress for females established by an act of the Assembly, as doctors of medicine have been created in Maryland? “Which dress aforesaid of the aforegoing figure, colour, materials, fashion, cut, make, &c., &c., all the good spinsters of Pennsylvania shall wear on all highdays and holy days, under pain, &c., &c.” Horrible idea!—What! tie us down to the dull routine of the same looks, the same bonnets, the same cloaks?— take from us that charming diversity, that delightful variety, which blooms in endless succession from week to week, with the changes of the season—make us tedious to ourselves, and as unalterable and unattractable as an old family picture—or, what is equally out of the way and insipid, an old bachelor?

But some of you talk of simplicity of nature; of the gewgaw display of artificial charms; of deforming nature’s works by the cumbrous and fantastical embellishments of art, and so forth. Now, sir, if you will pin the argument to this point, I shall have you in my power. Pray, is nature simple, barren, tedious, dull, uniform, and unadorned, as you old bachelors would have us to be, so that we might resemble your comfortless selves? Look at the trees—are they all of the same colour? Are they not so infinitely diversified in their shades and figures, that, to an observing eye, no two are alike? Observe the flowers of the garden do they exhibit the same sombre or pale hue? Do they present that dull simplicity which you recommend to us, whom your gravest philosophers allow to be the handsomest beings in creation? Do you prefer the dull uniformity of a trench of upright celery to the variegated bed of tulips? What would you say of a project to reform nature by robbing the rose of its blushing red, the lily of its silver lustre, the tulip of its gorgeous streaks, the violet of its regal purple, and allowing the vale to be no longer embroidered with their various beauties? or, of blotting from the clouds their golden streaks and dazzling silver, and banishing the gay rainbow from the heavens, because they are not of a uniform colour, but for ever present more varieties and combinations of beauties than our imagination can paint? And shall not we, who, at least, pretended to have the use of reason, imitate nature? Nature has given for our use the varied dyes of the mineral and vegetable world, which enables us almost to vie with her own splendid gilding. Nature made us to be various, changeable, inconstant, many-coloured, whimsical, fickle, and fond of show, if you please, and we follow nature with the greatest fidelity when, like her, we use her beauties to delight the eye, gratify the taste, and employ the mind in the harmonious varieties of colour and figure to which fashion resorts, and to which we devote so much time and thought.

Attend to these hints, and if you properly digest them, I have no doubt so sensible a head as you posses must nod assent to my doctrine, that to study fashion and be in the fashion is the most delightful and harmless employment upon earth, and the most conformable to our nature. But if you should be so perverse as to think erroneously on this subject, I advise you to keep your observations to yourselves, or to have your heads well wigged the next time you come amongst us.

  1. Addressed to the editor of the Port Folio.