guest blogger: Edith Wharton. M.Worth, and the acceptable way to build a wardrobe

       I wanted to say something profound about over-shopping and fast fashion. Of course, all meaning is in the context. These are not new issues, it's just that the context has changed. In this regard, Miss Edith Wharton, New York's best known chronicler of imprisonment, said it so much better than I can that I asked her to be my first guest blogger. She accepted with her usual grace, and suggested that I use the following excerpt.

           "The extravagance in dress--" Miss Jackson began. "Sillerton took me to the first night of the Opera, and I can only tell you that Jane Merry's dress was the only one I recognised from last year; and even that had had the front panel changed. Yet I know she got it out from Worth only two years ago, because my seamstress always goes in to make over her Paris dresses before she wears them."
               "Ah, Jane Merry is one of us," said Mrs. Archer sighing, as if it were not such an enviable thing to be in an age when ladies were beginning to flaunt abroad their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the Custom House, instead of letting them mellow under lock and key, in the manner of Mrs. Archer's contemporaries.
                 "Yes; she's one of the few. In my youth," Miss Jackson rejoined, "it was considered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and Amy Sillerton has always told me that in Boston the rule was to put away one's Paris dresses for two years. Old Mrs. Baxter Pennilow, who did everything handsomely, used to import twelve a year, two velvet, two satin, two silk, and the other six of poplin and the finest cashmere. It was a standing order, and as she was ill for two years before she died they found forty-eight Worth dresses that had never been taken out of tissue paper; and when the girls left off their mourning they were able to wear the first lot at the Symphony concerts without looking in advance of the fashion."
"Ah, well, Boston is more conservative than New York; but I always think it's a safe rule for a lady to lay aside her French dresses for one season," Mrs. Archer conceded.
                "It was Beaufort who started the new fashion by making his wife clap her new clothes on her back as soon as they arrived: I must say at times it takes all Regina's distinction not to look like . . . like . . ." Miss Jackson glanced around the table, caught Janey's bulging gaze, and took refuge in an unintelligible murmur.
                "Like her rivals," said Mr. Sillerton Jackson, with the air of one producing an epigram.

for something lighter, read the 3 little episodes at the end of the previous post.


  1. Ah, Edith! You gotta love that logic! Imagine those same said socialites, shown side by side today in the latest gossip magazine: "which star wore it better?"

    Restraint, and planning, never go out of style!

  2. Hi, WMM, to spend months travelling to Paris and back for measurements, more months waiting for the dresses to arrive, and then letting 2years pass before I felt it was safe to wear my treasures, even if I had removed any overly fashion forward details like a bow - I couldn't imagine it when I first picked up the book, and I can't imagine it now. I wanted to go back in time and scream GET A LIFE! which Edith did...

    At least the concept of accessorizing didn't trouble women who wore inherited jewelry appropriate to the occasion, who were always accompanied by maid, chaperone or husband to carry shawls and packages, and who had been trained from birth never to need anything more than a handkerchief while out paying calls.

  3. That exchange was so brilliantly reproduced in the 1993 movie!

    And let's not forget the Josephine dress in which
    Countess Olenska nearly appeared at the Beauforts' post-opera ball--"so flat . . . almost like a nightgown." Scandalous!

    (At the rate I'm aging I doubt that I will ever finish my novel, but in an homage to AoI its opening scene is also set at a production of "Faust.")

  4. Yes, the Josephine, the thin Grecian-inspired drawled frocks that drew Revolutionaries into salons and became obsolete when it was realized that satins, silks and velvets, together with trimmings, stuffings, laces, just weren't selling.

    I seem to be aging ever faster, but now you have given me a reason to hang on.

  5. Thank you, I loved it.
    About things we can't imagine, it reminded me of the wealthy landowners in Brasil who used to ship to Portugal all their linen and shirts only to be ironed. It sounded so outrageous that it stuck with me.

  6. Wow, Cris, and now it will stick with me!

  7. It is amazing how our collective consciousness has changed. As consumers we are so removed from the manufacturing end, that we don't realize(even with machines) the sheer expenditure of labor that still goes into the making of every garment. I am sure it was easier to treasure a garment if you had first hand knowledge of how labor intensive it was to hand sew thousands of tiny stitches. I was always fascinated by the sample dolls sent from abroad with miniature depictions of garments- a precursor to our online catalogs. Thank you for that glimpse into the past- so apropos as the online community is abuzz with discussions about quality and pricing.

  8. Hi, I was just looking at your delightful knitting blog. Wow, speaking of treasuring things made with thousands of tiny stitches! I am amazed.

    1. Thank you for taking a look. I am a textile-phile*. But, I can assure you, no one ever calls me looking for recipes.

      * And, apparently a word maker-upper.

  9. Oh, to be in the market for gowns!


  10. or, in this economy, for work clothes.

  11. And iron self-control. I find myself ripping open packages in the elevator.

  12. The dee-lightful Ms Wharton . I guess the best way to expose "polite society" was to jot down their conversations verbatim, change the names to protect the guilty and publish as a novel. God Almighty, if they waited two years to wear their new dresses, I can just imagine how spontaneous their sex lives must have been. It's a miracle any progeny were produced to wear the diamond brooches,etc. And I can never think of Josephine without the legendary instructions from her lover to please not take a bath before he gets home from the battlefront. Love your ditty, Fred, however it lacks mention of the requisite trailer and deceased dog. Don't question me on this, after all the Land Of Men With Too Closely Set Eyes That Wear Black Cowboy Hats is just 2 hours SW of me. Forgive me the totally OT question-what was the name again(and address if you can conjure it) of that heavenly spa in New Orleans? I finally got an e-mail from my sis and I want to sign us up. Thank you!

  13. Hi, David, I may have a real future in country music. The next effort will include a truck and a flag as well as betrayal, road rage, and having to put down the dawg.

    The spa I mentioned is called Earthsavers, They have a couple of locations. I haven't been there in a year or two, but i checked their web site and it looks like they still offer all the same kinds of services, maybe more.
    If it does interest you, you might want to call and see if they have any pre-wedding packages that interest you. Have fun!


As Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, if you've got anything bad to say, sit next to me! No, really, please remember to be kind, and don't say anything fred's mother would not approve of (Diner's mom didn't approve of anything. Including fred.)
Wellfedfred and the Whining Diner reserve the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice if we find:
1. Comments deemed to be spam or questionable spam
2. Comments including profanity or objectionable language
3. Comments containing concepts that could be deemed offensive
4. Comments that attack a person individually
and since there's been a flood of spam lately, we're trying the Robot thing to see if we can block some spam...