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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Nineteen


"Since I saw you last
There is a change upon you."
- Shakespere.

1856

ON my return to Edinburgh in 1856, after my sojourn in Switzerland, I found a marked change in the dress of both sexes, In the case of the ladies, the bonnet still ruled as the formality head-dress, although there was some relaxation. Hats might be worn by the young in the country, and gradually came to be seen even in town, except when calling or going to church. But for any function the bonnet was de rigueur. I have known a lady, when going to a week-day church service, make a point of first returning home, and changing from hat to bonnet. On Sunday nothing else was permissible. Even later, in the Sixties, I was considered to be proposing something shocking in suggesting that the bridesmaids at my own marriage should wear hats. Some of them liked the idea, but, "Oh, my dear, it would never do, people would be shocked," was the verdict of the duennas. I was before my time, judging by what I see now, and see with gratification.

As regards men's attire, the sternness of fashion was as great. The first out-of-doors game which ever brought the sexes together was croquet. What was the fate of the poor man who, even id the country, was tied up by etiquette when he went by invitation to a croquet party. Frock-coat and tall hat were imperative. Many a game have I played in broiling weather, with the perspiration running into my eyes from the impervious brim of the silk hat. All was against us, and we used wickedly to say that the crinoline of the ladies was a handicap in their favour, as under cover of the wide expanse of skirts, balls could easily be moved nearer the face of a hoop. It may have been libellous, but not In every case, I think. Anything more nonsensical than playing an outdoor game in such garb cannot be imagined for either sex. But had any one of us appeared in a shooting jacket, it would have been: "Oh, my dear, did you see Mr. Cool—an absolute want of sense of propriety," with the hand held up, wrist projected forward, as ladies do when they wish to express the waving off of something as being almost too objectionable for words.

Talking of croquet, the young had much reason to congratulate themselves on the introduction of the game. It is a pastime m which there s room for much skill, and is the game of all others in which old and young can join. No doubt few young people play it to-day. But the greatest boon it conferred on society was that t broke the ice of convention, by which there was no outdoor amusement in which both sexes could join, as has been said above. It led to the possibility of the introduction of lawn-tennis, the game of games for the country lawn and the town court. And not only is the good social. No one can doubt that in many a case gain in health and strength has followed the bright exhilarating enjoyment of lawn-tennis, in which every muscle is exercised without strain, and the eye and hand are taught to act together in a marvellous manner. But there is one point about the game which does not strike die casual observer. It's the sport of all others in which each side has to depend upon the honour of the other. Whether a ball is "in" or "out" must be decided by the players towards whom the serve or stroke has been played. Thus it develops scrupulosity in those who have to umpire at their own end, and promotes confidence in the honour of the opponent. It is the game in which there are fewer squabbles than in any other, The violence of disputation at croquet was sometimes anything but pleasant. I once nearly had a toe broken by a player in a sit-on-the-heels position, maintaining his point vigorously, and bringing down his mallet to emphasize it. It was most difficult to get a point discussed calmly. In lawn-tennis no such disputes arise. It proceeds on honour from first to last, and such a thing as a wrangle is practically unknown.

Shortly after the close of the Crimean War a marked change came over the dress habits of the people. Whether it was that the French, our old enemies, had become our allies at the Crimean War, or whether it was one of those changes of fashion which we arbitrarily impose on the community, I know not; but I do know that the male was from the waist downwards as like the intrenchman in his dress as could be. It will give an idea to the genera ion of to-day, to what extent our pants were made w de at the top, and narrowed till the foot had to be forced through them at the bottom, if I say that they were universally known as "peg-top trousers." So exaggerated was this absurdity that I remember a friend of mine pointing out an extrermist to me, and saying, "'If that fellow were lined up a foot and dropped, he would sack in the ground." This extravagance did not last long. In two or three years the fashion-followers were seen in trousers which, but for colour, were identical with the A.B. seaman's, the ambition being to show only an inch of toe in front. In a short time the fashion reverted to that of the Forties, trousers tight all the way down. Even in walking-sticks change followed change. We had the crutch and toothpick phase, when it was thought smart—save the mark!—to flourish a witch-style stick, and to carry a quill toothpick in the mouth. Then came the fashion of carrying a stick with a knob, the seed cabbage stalk with the bulb end being preferred, and the toothpick was discarded.

Not to be beaten in the cult of extremes, the ladies began the crinoline attack on comfort and elegance. The caricatures of the period, which depicted the difficulties presented by a stile, and the shooting out in front of something as big as a clothes-basket, when the owner of the crinoline was about to enter a carriage or cab, were scarcely exaggerations. The unfortunate young man who sat at dinner between two fashionable ladies had to accommodate a lobster trap on each knee, and to raise his elbows over them in order to use his knife and fork. Punch had a picture of a lady in the Park broadened out over the seats on each side of her, asking, "What have I to pay, please: and the attendant replying, "How many might you be a-sittin' on, marm ' Ladies going to Court were seen two in a brougham, in billows that rose high on the windows, so that their heads only were visible above the foam of silk and tulle. Let anyone look at pictures of the fashions in a volume of the Illustrated London News of the Fifties, and he—I do not know about she—will marvel at the thought that people should have consented to make themselves such figures of inelegance and bad taste, because to be in the fashion is looked upon as a duty imperative. Fashion too often compels its votaries to be odd, lest they should be called odd in exercising their own taste. Obviously any fashion, however good generally, cannot but look ill, if not ugly, on some people. On the other hand, there are those who will look splendid, however the dress they wear may be unsuitable to their sisters. But they are rare. hey carry off a fashion by the power of their personality, 'heir imitators vainly defy Nature -n order to shine as they do. I hey shine in spite of, and not because of, the fashion. But I must not begin moralising on female dress. Let us be glad that to-day there is more common sense, and that the spread of bodily activity among the ladies calls on the maker of clothes to produce models which will admit of movement according to the natural articulations of the body. Fancy lawn-tennis or golf in crinolines and todays were for habits of life in which activity was little considered—the days of crewel work and taking an airing, in which any display of exertion was "unlady-like."

It must be confessed, however, that at the present moment the ladies have adopted a new and inelegant absurdity, the peg-top trouser has been spoken of. To-day it seems to be the effort of the female sex to narrow themselves in to a point, as near as it is possible, without absolutely taking away the power to walk, The difficulty of the comic newspaper is to present any exaggeration of what is actually to be seen every day on the streets, or is recorded in snap photographs. To play any active game in such a dress would be impossible. The converse of the crinoline is as djscredable to feminine taste, and more discreditable to feminine modesty. The look of the female from behind may convince her, f she will use a double glass, that she is making a ridiculous exhibition of herself.

I have heard it said, since what is above was written, that next year the crinoline is once more to make its appearance. I shall believe it when I see it.


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