From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY
February 6th, 1864
Don’t Abandon the Hoop Skirt
This is the burthen of a man-ifesto from the Editor of the Scalpel. But “There’s no use o’ talking!” A certain goddess has decreed that skirts shall be smaller, and they will be smaller. If she had said, “let there be none at all,” we are confident they would have been abandoned. But the Editor of the Scalpel is in distress; listen to him:
“We consider the modern hooped skirt of the most admirably artistic and health-giving devices of our time; and no sensible person can fail to appreciate its benefit to the young girl or woman; we will give our reasons for this opinion; of course they will be entirely professional for we are no man milliner.
“It is conceded by all correct observers, and fully recognized by our anatomists and gymnastic teachers, that the muscles of the thorax and its appendages, the arms and abdomen, are not used more than one-fourth as much by our modern women as they are compelled to use those of the legs; nearly all the movements which our unfortunate young people are permitted to perform by the inexorable flat of Japonieadom are what they may be called passive. Her hands must be reverently and lovingly folded across her chest in order that their whiteness may not suffer by permitting the least motion; the lungs, of course, must be kept quiet, not only because she is not allowed to walk fast enough to require much air, but because the position of the arms, and weight of the fore-arm and hand resting upon the lower ribs, will not allow their elevation so that the air can enter the lower part of the lungs at tall. At best, but a sixth part of those life-giving organs are now used, and only their upper part fully inflated. Now if the hooped skirt be hooked to the jacket in four places, at least, and not left to rest upon the hips, the reader will perceive that the backbone and all muscles which inclose[sic] and steady both the great cavities of the body, and keep them elegantly erect upon the hips, must carry both the hoops and the skirt; then these may be made both light and elegant, or heavy and grand as the seasons my require; while drawers of material adapted to our severe winters, may be so artistically adjusted, and supported by suspenders, as completely to protect and clothe the limbs, without the necessity of the skirts so girding the body by drawn cords to keep them and the drawers in place, as not only seriously to cripple all the viscera, but to interrupt the healthful action of the muscles of the abdomen, and worse than this, to compress all the veins that carry back the blood from the lower limbs to the heart for purification, and often, as we have seen, to render the integument, below this girdle of many cords, very perceptibly dropsical. Every lady, if she will use her eyes, can see this for herself; the ‘horrid marks’ that they cause, she often laments. Now, reader, if the lungs are only used one-sixth part, the muscles of the body scarcely at all, and venous blood from the lower limbs, prevented from returning at the full rate of five-sixths of the speed intended by nature, when you are all walking even at the snail’s pace you are allowed to , what must be the result on the nutrition of the muscles in these limbs? for you know they act and grow by blood alone; depend upon it, though you may make them dropsical and deceptive in size, they will not help you to dance as well, or to go up and down stairs.
“And this brings us to another great evil, if we will sacrifice so much to brown-stone fronts and the fancied necessity of fashionable streets; if we must live in houses furnace-warmed and if we must live in houses furnace-warmed and eighteen feet by five stories high, for pity’s sake let us so distribute the load of dress our climate requires, as to allow every part of the body be used to carry it up stairs; let the jacket or the shoulder-straps give the chest it share of the work; in a word, let our wives and daughters shoulder their loads, if they would have their days prolonged in the land. “If the ladies will pardon us, we will venture to a hint on the dimensions of the skirt. Its most excellent end is to insure the unrestricted use of the limbs in walking; it must, therefore, be of the sufficient diameter to allow a full step and the necessary space for the underclothing; if it restrict the step in the least degree, it is too small. No woman should be ambitious of a short step; the longer the step the more breadth required, and the greater development of the thorax and lungs; quick and energetic walking, with the shoulders thrown back, will do as much for the grown of the vital organs as singing. Women must dress warmly, keep her feet dry, walk more, and eat more, or she will never fulfill the great object of her creation.”
Fashion kills more women than the 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, then the hardships of poverty and neglect. The slave woman at her task will live and grow old, and see two or three generations of her mistresses fade and pass away. The washer-woman, with scarce a ray of hope to cheer her in her tolls, will live to see her fashionable sisters all die 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 good 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 ones. 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. They write no books; they set nor rich examples of virtue and womanly life. If they rear children, servants and nurses do all, save to conceive and give birth to them. And when reared, what are they? What do they ever amount to but weaker scions of the old stock? Who ever heard of a fashionable woman’s child exhibiting any virtue and 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 strong minded women, who had a little to do with fashion as with the changing clouds.