Readings for Rural Life – The Hoop Skirt

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

March 26th, 1864

The Hoop Skirt

Fashion kills more women than toll and sorrow. [Scalpel.]

It is a wonder that men and women endowed with the noble faculty of reason, have so little gratitude for the good gift, that they can carry it a willing sacrifice to their worse than heathen goddess. Better might they hide it in the ground, than give it to support the wanton destroyer of their race.

I feel “moved” to speak a contradictory opinion to that of the editor of the Scalpel, expressed in an article recently published in the Rural, on the benign blessings of the modern hooped skirt. But I do not intend to apply to him all I have written above, in retaliation of saying “No sensible person can fail to appreciate its benefit to the young girl or woman.”

If I am entitled to the doubtful compliment, I will bear the honor meekly, but it shall not restrain me from confessing that I do fail to see what he has so happily discovered. ‘Perhaps it is all in consequence of not seeing the matter in a “professional” light; but mine is the “light of experience” which is quite sufficient to enable me to judge of its health-giving properties to my own satisfaction. Of its artistic ones, it is hard telling who is able to judge. The word artistic applied to woman’s dress, has such and India-rubber signification, that it may be one thing, or its opposite, according as it is looked upon by persons who consider the consistency of adaptation to natural requirements, or by those who merely take a fancy to the article, or the lady who wears it. Fashion so changes out aesthetic taste into prejudicial notions, that it is nearly impossible for us to tell whether we judge from the true or an artificial standard. However it may be with myself, evidently it is not fashion that has formed my notions in regard to the hoop skirt, one of which is, that God designed for woman a “skeleton,” and I cannot rid myself of the idea that He must have considered it quite sufficient for her needs; and we might reasonably expect it to be an “admirably artistic and health-giving device,” but Fashion and her devotees have denied it the former property, and after sacrificing the latter through persevering ages, to make some appearances of it possession, til, discouraged of ever arriving at any permanently satisfactory result, they have at last compromised the difficulty with the Devine Artistic, by doing the best they can with shaping a portion of His production so as not to shock too severely the refined sensibilities of humanity, and have disguised the remainder of it by hiding it within a new device, modeled after the most artistic designs of a cooper’s shop.

After such a nice adjustment of things, gentlemen who are intensely susceptible to the influences of the beautiful in nature and art, may be well distressed at any indications of the abandonment of their perfected ideal, which is doubtless appreciated not only because it embodies the most symmetrical proportions in its passive state, but is capable of changing into ever-varying artistic figures: such as those assumed in ascending high places and descending to lower ones, in entering carriages, sitting down in arm chairs, and especially in arising therefrom, in walking in the dew, dust, mud, rain and snow – in short, in being comformable to the demands of any emergency.

Women, without her second skeleton, has no more dignity than a wilted cabbage leaf. It gives her an air of majestic stiffness, so fascinating in a moving object; enabling her to rival the gracefulness of the mud-turtle; besides, it increases her capacity to carry fantastic adornments, which is such a commendable way of disposing of wealth in a country over-burdened with prosperity and comfort.

In regards to health, the editor merits the thanks of woman for his candid and instructive reasoning, but he makes compromises with her follies and weaknesses, instead of advising her to forsake them altogether, that she may secure the fullest measure of the blessings of health. He first inscribes himself within a circle whose circumference he dare not, or will not, over-step, and then does the best lie can within his limits. If he had taken for his theorem, The hoop skirt is injurious, and ought to be abandoned, he would have had some excellent arguments for a demonstration.

I was not aware that “its end is to insure the unrestricted use of the limbs in walking” (why not add in skating also.) If it has such pretensions it is a decided humbug, for everybody has learned that that liberty is not attainable while there is one within sight; and most especially is it true of the person whose every step is measured by a boundary which suggest, “thus far shalt thou go and no farther.” If it is meant to insure that use of them to itself, it is a very pertinent remark, and included both hands, of course. Its “benefit to the young girl” in climbing trees and fences, and doing all other necessary romping, has, probably, some signification not at first apparent.

It is thought to be more healthful than the old style of wearing heavy skirts, but I have heard eminent physicians pronounce it even more injurious; confining a body of cold air about the lower portions of the body, causing unequal circulation, and consequent congestions of the organs in the upper portion. But it is not so very light a load for delicate woman to carry thirty metal hoops, and as many yards of cloth, for a genteel covering, which must be so long as not to expose the feet, or it is offensive to good taste, suggesting a lack in the accomplishment of an intended deception. It is more pleasing to fashionable taste to drag it a few inches or more.

Really, I don’t see how a physician, or any other “sensible person,” can fail to see that crinoline, with its train of evils, is injurious to health, to temper, to the free development of mind as well as body, and a monstrous distortion of the beauty of the human form.

There is a demand for earnest discussion in regard to the momentous question, wherewithal shall we be clothed? and we are always obliged to gentlemen for taking an interest in our welfare; but it will be better, if they will please remember in their advice, that what would be poison to them is not likely to be healthful food for us; and they need not fear to speak contrary to the mandates of Fashion, for potent as she is with our vain sex, their admiration is ten times more so. Faith Wayne. Barre, Orleans Co., N.Y., 1864.


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