No heathen god or goddess has ever had more zealous devotees than fashion, or a more absurd
and humiliating ritual, or more mortifying and cruel penances. Her laws, like those of the
Medes and Persians, must be implicitly obeyed, but unlike them, change, as certainly as the
moon. They are rarely founded in reason, usually violate common sense, sometimes common
decency, and uniformly common comfort.
Fashion rules the world, and a most tyrannical mistress she is - compelling people to submit to
the most inconvenient things imaginable for her sake. She pinches our feet with tight shoes, or
chokes us with a tight neckerchief, or squeezes the breath out of our body by tight lacing. She
makes people sit up by night, when they ought to be in bed, and keeps them in bed in the
morning when they ought to be up and doing. She makes it vulgar to wait upon one's self, and
genteel to live idly and uselessly. She makes people visit when they would rather stay at home,
eat when they are not hungry, and drink when they are not thirsty. She invades our pleasures
and interrupts our business. She compels people to dress gaily, whether upon their own
property or that of others - whether agreeably to the word of God or the dictates of pride.
Fashion, unlike custom, never looks at the past as a precedent for the present or future. She
imposes unanticipated burdens, without regard to the strength or means of her hoodwinked
followers, cheating them out of time, fortune and happiness; repaying them with the
consolation of being ridiculed by the wise, endangering health and wasting means; a kind of
remuneration rather paradoxical, but most graciously received. Semblance and shade are
among her attributes. It is of more importance for her worshipers to appear happy than to be
Fashion taxes without reason and collects without mercy. She first infatuates the court and
aristocracy, and then ridicules the poor if they do not follow in the wake, although they die in
the ditch. This was exemplified in the reign of Richard III., who was humpbacked.
Monkey-like, his court, at the dictum of fashion, all mounted a bustle on their backs, and as
this was not an expensive adjunct, the whole nation became humpbacked - emphatically a
crooked generation - from the peasant to the kind, all were humped.
If she require oblations from the four quarters of the globe, they must be had, if wealth, health
and happiness are the price. If she fancy comparative nakedness for winter, or five thicknesses
of woolen for dog days - and speaks, and it is done. If she order the purple current of life and
the organs of respiration to be retarded by steel, whalebone, buckram, drill, and cords - it is
done. Disease laughs and death grins at the folly of the goddess and the zeal of the worshipers.
If she order a bag full of notions on the hips, a Chinese shoe on the foot, an short cut, a trail, a
hoop, or balloon sleeve, or no sleeve, for a dress, and a grain fan bonnet, or fool's cap for the
head, she is obsequiously obeyed by the exquisitely fashionable ladies and lauded by their
beaux. If she order, her male subjects, the Mordecais and Daniels, tremble at the gong sound
of trumpet-tongued ridicule. Not only the vain and giddy, the thoughtless and rattlebrained,
dance attendance upon her, but many a statesman and philosopher.
The empress at Paris or other ladies of rank, do not originate the fashions, neither do any
ladies of real rank and distinction; they adopt them, and thus set the seal of their
acknowledged authority upon them, but no lady would be the first to wear a striking novelty,
or a style so new, or so outre as to be likely to attract public attention. This is left for the
leaders of the demi-monde, several of whom are in the pay of Parisian dress-makers and
modistes. The noted Worth, the man-milliner of Paris, who receives all the money and
exercises all the impudence which have placed him at the head of his profession, while women
do all the work, has in his employ a dozen fashion writers and several of the most noted
leaders of Parisian society. These latter are selected for their fine appearance and dashing
manners. Toilettes, equipages and boxes at the theatre and opera are provided for them. Dead
of dying, they are required to show themselves at these places on all suitable occasions, in
extraordinary dresses made by the "renowned" Worth, as the fashion correspondents say,
who in this way take up the burden of the song, and echo it even upon these Western shores. It
is the height of ambition with some American women to go to Paris, and have a dress made by
Worth; and dearly do they sometimes pay for their folly, not only in immense prices for very
small returns, but in degrading their American womanhood by following in so disgraceful a
scramble with so mixed an assemblage.
Fashion is the foster mother of vanity, the offal of pride, and has nursed her pet, until it is as
fat as a sea turtle, is quite as wicked to bite, and harder to kill; but, unlike that inhabitant of
the herring pond, instead of keeping in a shell, it is mounted on a shell, adorned with every
flummery, intruding into all the avenues of life, scattering misery far and wide - faithless,
fearless, uncompromising and tyrannical.
Then the example of a fashionable woman, how low, how vulgar! With her the cut of a collar,
the depth of a flounce, the style of a ribbon, is of more importance than the strength of a
virtue, the form of a mind, or the style of a life. She consults the fashion plate oftener than her
Bible; she visits the dry goods shop and the milliner oftener than the church. She speaks of
fashion oftener than of virtue, and follows it closer than she does her Savior. She can see
squalid misery and low-bred vice without a blush or a twinge of the heart; but a plume out of
fashion, or a table set in old style, would shock her into a hysteric fit. Her example! What is it
but a breath of poison to the young? We had as soon have vice stalking bawdily in the
presence of our children, as the graceless form of fashion. Vice would look haggard and mean
at first sight, but fashion would be gilded into an attractive delusion. Oh, fashion! How thou
art dwarfing the intellect and eating out the heart of our people! Genius is dying on thy
luxurious altar. And what a sacrifice! Talent is withering into weakness in thy voluptuous
gaze! Virtue gives up the ghost at thy smile. Our youth are chasing after thee as a wanton in
disguise. Our young women are the victims of thine all-greedy lust. And still thou art not
satisfied, but, like the devouring grave, criest for more.
Friendship, its links must be forged on fashion's anvil, or it is good for nothing. How shocking
to be friendly with an unfashionable lady! It will never do. How soon one would lose caste! NO
matter if her mind is a treasury of gems, and her heart a flower garden of love, and her life a
hymn of grace and praise, it will not do to walk on the streets with her, or intimate to
anybody that you know her. No, one's intimate friend must be a la mode. Better bow to the
shadow of a belle's wing than rest in the bosom of a "strong-minded" woman's love.
And love, too, that must be fashionable. It would be unpardonable to love a plain man whom
fashion could not seduce, whose sense of right dictated his life, a man who does not walk
perpendicular in a standing collar, and sport a watch-fob, and twirl a cane. And then to
marry him would be death. He would be just as likely to sit down in the kitchen as in the
parlor; and might get hold of the woodsaw as often as the guitar; and very likely he would
have the baby right up in his arms and feed it and rock it to sleep. A man who will make
himself useful about his own home is so exceedingly unfashionable that it will never do for a
lady to marry him. She would lose caste at once.
Abused women generally outlive fashionable ones. Crushed and care-worn women see the
pampered daughters of fashion wither and die around them, and wonder why death in
kindness does not come to take them away instead. The reason is plain; fashion kills more
women than toil and sorrow. Obedience to fashion is a greater transgression of the laws of
woman's nature, a greater injury to her physical and mental constitution, than the hardships
of poverty and neglect. The slave-woman at her tasks will live and grow old and see two or
three generations of her mistresses fade and pass away. The washerwoman, with scarce a ray
of hope to cheer her in her toils, will live to see her fashionable sisters all dies around her. The
kitchen maid is hearty and strong, when her lady has to be nursed like a sick baby. It is a sad
truth, that fashion-pampered women are almost worthless for all the great ends of human life.
They have but little force of character; they have still less power of moral will, and quite as
little physical energy. They live for no great purpose in life; they accomplish no worthy ends.
They are only doll-forms in the hands of milliners and servants, to be dressed and fed to
order. They dress nobody; they feed nobody; they instruct nobody; they bless nobody, and
save nobody. They write no books; they set no rich examples of virtue and womanly life. If
they rear children, servants and nurses do it all, save to conceive and give them birth. And
when reared what are they? What do they even amount to, but weaker scions of the old stock?
Who ever heard of a fashionable woman's child exhibiting any virtue or power of mind for
which it became eminent? Read the biographies of our great and good men and women. Not
one of them had a fashionable mother. They nearly all sprang from plain, strong-minded
women, who had about as little to do with fashion as with the changing clouds.
There is one fashion that never changes. The sparkling eye, the coral lip, the rose leaf
blushing on the cheek, the elastic step, are always, in fashion. Health - rosy, bouncing,
gladsome health - is never out of fashion; what pilgrimages are made, what prayers are
uttered for its possession! Failing in the pursuit what treasures are lavished in concealing its
loss or counterfeiting its charms! Reader, if you love freedom more than slavery, liberty more
than thraldom, happiness more than misery, competence more than poverty, never bow your
knee to the goddess fashion.
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy