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From the archive, 4 June 1925: Modern youth and the matter of personal tidiness

In all the criticism aroused by the modern girl and her clothes, there is one aspect which seems largely to have escaped both her accusers and her supporters. It is her reformation in the matter of personal tidiness.

Which of us now over thirty can deny that one of our heaviest crosses in girlhood was this business of neatness? From top to toe we fairly bristled with problems that were just too many for most of us. From our hair to the edges of our skirts we were open to the most devastating criticisms. According to temperament we existed either in defiant despair or on such tenterhooks that we were always having to retire and consult mirrors. (In those days a mirror in the purse was regarded as ‘fast,’ unless one was travelling, and the vanity bag had not yet come into existence.)

There was that bent safety-pin keeping, or more often not keeping, blouse and skirt together, there was the lining of the skirt which (especially when damp) had such a fearful fascination for the back of one’s heel, and, even worse, there was the braid at the bottom which, once a stitch went (and a stitch was bound to go), looped and festooned itself playfully about one’s ankles to one’s everlasting humiliation. Yet horror was displayed on every countenance when once a girl I knew removed her skirt lining entire, remarking that she could not see “any sense in it.”

For that was the trouble. One was judged, and one knew that one was judged, by such things as skirt linings, wild hair, hats and veils awry. Judged, yes, and condemned. If one could not cope triumphantly with every handicap, one had failed as a woman. One was not quite nice, not quite decent, not (though it would not be said in so many words) quite eligible. Bad things would befall that young man who thought to marry a girl ever seen with torn skirt braid or muddied ankles. One’s life must be spent largely in the business of “coping.” Such it was to have been born a woman.

It is almost easier to-day for girls to be tidy than to be untidy, and, in contradistinction to Victorian and Edwardian times, the more regard she may have for fashion the tidier will she be. Her head cropped neatly within a close-fitting, pinless hat, her dress a straight piece of material, made, if need be, in a morning without need of leaving a single unfinished end, her underclothes of a standardised simplicity and scarcity far outdoing those of a young man in comfort! As for stockings and shoes, their “rightness” is so imperative that she has no choice but to conform. What a change!

As I write I have a vision of my own youth. Two young women in their later teens are dressing to go “down town.” From under the bed one drags a shallow trunk and several cardboard boxes which are stuffed full of discarded finery – white and coloured veils, floppy silk flowers, ribbon bows, feathers, sashes, scraps of lace and chiffon. From these the two begin to “dress” themselves. One of the girls tries the effect of one trimming after another, pinning feathers and flowers hastily into place, pulling them off again, demanding opinions; while the other girl – myself – tries to make a high neckband to her blouse, using a piece of ribbon, an embroidered turnover, and innumerable safety-pins. Together they rummage, try on, take off, approve, condemn, the proceedings being at intervals extinguished by hysterical laughter.

True it is an adventure, this “dressing”, an amusement, possibly a training in taste. But when one thinks of the ends achieved, and when one remembers the later anxieties “down town” over pins and what not, what a frantic waste of time! How much more satisfactory, more comfortable, more attractive, the swift sureness of the modern girl! Also how incomparably more conducive to exactitude of thought and action. The flapper of today has indeed, when you come to think of it, quite ceased from flapping. We shall have to find another name for her.

This is an edited extract

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