The year was 1915. Emilie Loring and her husband, Victor, had taken an apartment at the Riverbank Court Hotel overlooking the Charles River in Boston. Their sons were at school, and Emilie had time to write without distraction or interruption.
Under her pseudonym, Josephine Story, she had already written articles on homemaking and motherhood. Now, she ventured to write short story vignettes–still on homemaking and motherhood, but now with dialogue and dramatic flair.
Today’s find is “Dress and the Girl,” which appeared in the September 1915 issue of American Motherhood.
Dress and the Girl
by Josephine Story
“OH HO-O!” shouted the green parrot. I dropped my pen in exasperation.
“Oliver Cromwell if you do that again I’ll send you back where you came from,” I threatened, “I–“
“I suppose that I am cross, honey,” I said as I dropped into the cosey chair, “but Cromwell has been particularly maddening with those ‘Oh-ho-o’s’ of his, and then–I don’t know why it should trouble me, Suzanne, but it does, to see girls who are charming and have every advantage, trip by here in the most absurdly unsuitable costumes. Just before you came Molly Searles passed. Her blouse was open in a deep V so that her neck was bare, she wore high-heeled implements of torture on her feet which caused her to waddle like a duck, and I haven’t a doubt but that her nose was thick with powder.”
“Well, that’s nothing. Lots of girls powder their noses and nice ones, too,” championed Suzanne, with an accession of color.
Suzanne came dancing in, her lovely face alight with health and happiness. “Scolding Oliver!” she cried, “Aunt Jo you must be disturbed. Come over here and tell me all about it.” She patted a chair invitingly and seated herself on a low stool near it. The room was a dusky twilight lighted fitfully and rosily by the flames from the blazing logs.
“Oh-ho-o-!” croaked the green parrot, meaningly. He winked at the girl.
“Stop your jeering, Oliver Cromwell, I don’t,” said Suzanne, emphatically. But Aunt Jo, you like lovely gowns yourself. Emma, your cook, said to me the other day, ‘Mis’ Story, she sure am powerful fond of han’some clothes, she am.'” There was a twinkle in the girl’s eyes.
“Of course I like pretty clothes, you wretch, what normal female doesn’t? But listen to me! The well-dressed girl is the one who is suitably dressed, costliness doesn’t count. Once I saw a number of chorus girls from a theatrical company, aboard a train. They wore cheap reproductions of the most extreme fashions. Their frills were soiled. Their gloves, when they had any, ripped and shabby. Their clothing was spotted and wrinkled, and their hands, which were covered with cheap, flashy rings, were none too clean. When we came near New York they began arranging their hats and powdering their faces. Now won’t you agree with me that they would have been more attractive had they aimed for neatness rather than fashion? When girls learn that there is no cosmetic which can equal health and self-control, they will stop eating chocolates at all hours and take to soap and water and good-nature.”
“I suppose that those poor girls hadn’t the money for nice things,” suggeted Suzanne sympathetically.
“My dear, it isn’t the cost of her apparel which makes a girl well dressed. Even cheap or worn clothes will look well if they are kept cleansed, pressed and repaired. But it isn’t only the poorer girls who are careless. I saw one of your friends the other day in a charming suit, but two of the buttons on it were hanging and as she sat I could see a safety pin with which she had caught the ripped braid on the skirt. There was also a button missing from one of her modish grey, gaiter-topped boots.”
Suzanne drew her foot quickly under her.
“Oh-ho-o!” drawled the green parrot, tauntingly.
The girl made a dainty grimace at the bird before she said, “Aunt Jo, it takes such a lot of time to keep things in order.”
“It doesn’t if one is systematic and determined. When a gown is taken off at night put it on a frame and hang it on the clothes tree. In the morning, before it is put away, look over the fastenings and make sure that they are firm. If there is a tiny rip, mend it then and there. If there is a spot, remove it. Ask Mother to allow you to have a small board and an electric iron in your room. Press out the wrinkles when there are any. Keep your own laces, frills and collars spick and span. Wash and mend your silk stockings and keep your underclothing in order. You are old enough now Suzanne to take all that care from your mother’s shoulders. You will be surprised to find out how much longer clothing will last, how interested you will become in conserving your belongings and how much better dressed you will feel.”
“I love pretty things, but they cost so much and these are troublous times and Daddy looks very sober,” sighed conscientious Suzanne.
“You can do your part in helping by not wasting, dear. I will make a bargain with you, honey. If you will agree to take care of your belongings I will give you a chiffonier with a drawer in it for each color of the rainbow. Then you can begin collecting things; belts, jewelry, ribbons, stockings, flowers, parasols; in fact, the thousand and one pretty things which you girls love and need. I will do more, I will start your collection with a piece of jewelry in any form or color you may select.”
“Oh, Aunt Jo!” exclaimed Suzanne, her face radiant, “aren’t you the ducky! I’ll do it! I’ll be a credit to you and a well-dressed girl according to your standards! Here’s my hand!”
I clasped the slender hand warmly. “You attractive, well-bred girls, with every chance to make yourselves the finest, ought to force your personalities into the uncrowded spaces at the top and stand for the best in everything. The less fortunate ones would come winging and soaring after you like a flock of birds.”
Goldilocks, the yellow Persian kitten, came stalking into the room with her noiseless tread. Suzanne caught her up in eager arms, “You are a sleek, well-groomed young person,” she cried, “tell me do you powder your nose or do you use soap and water.”
The kitten looked bored and wriggled away. “I am hustling home now, Aunt Jo, to begin my mending,” the girl laughed as she picked up her coat. Her eyes were like deep pools in the firelight, she was a thing of beauty. She thrust her arms into her coat, pulled one out again and the lining came with it. She looked at me in abject apology.
“Oh-ho-o!” jeered the green parrot. Then he put his claw to his beak and croaked: “He-he! Lud, but that’s funny!”
Soon, I’ll hit the road to explore Emilie Loring’s New England. Woo hoo! I love this time of year!
I am always looking for more Emilie Loring readers, and my latest efforts are on Instagram. Follow me there for a wide range of content–Emilie quotes and photos, quotes from Happy Landings, travel photos and tips, ideas for writers, and some of my other areas of interest: human factors and ergonomics, photo restoration, genealogy and family history, outdoor activities… whatever seems fun and shareable. Here’s a little slideshow preview: (click to change slides)
6 thoughts on ““Dress and the Girl,” an Emilie Loring Short Story”
I enjoyed the short story as it brought me back to the parrot o four friend, Merritt Barker in Madrid who would greet us every morning and say “DIVINA” to every lady who entered his home. Also having been in Boston and our friends, The Butlers who lived in MIT and Nancy walked along the Charles River everyday for exercise I am transposed to those days with them. It’s true that Beauty is neatness and not the cost of the outfit and especially the way you wear it which says “YOU ARE A LADY.” Thanks for bringing back those values I learned when I was young and try to carry to every student in my classes at Beverly Hills High School. Enjoy your travels and thanks again for a page in the Emilie Loring Collection. Raquel Ramsey
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I have a collection of books by Grace Livingston Hill who gave some of the same advice to girls in her books. A good example is the book White Orchids in which a poor, but genteel, girl gives advice to a fellow secretary who wears unsuitable clothing and heavy makeup to work.
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GLH readers often find similarities between these authors. They wrote on the heels of the Arts and Crafts Movement which emphasized simplicity and respect for materials.
Yes, indeed, reading this was like reading a chapter in “The Daily Rate” or “Partners” by GLH. My mother (now age 89) read both authors when she was in high school and collected paperback copies when Bantam published them in the 1970’s.
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hope this will inspire me to do some long overdue mending!
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Remember when we all had little mending kits? My mother made mine in a smooth woven basket with a pin cushion in the center, small spools of silk thread in eight common colors, an assortment of needles, and tiny scissors to snip threads. It elevated mending to a pleasure. I need to thank her again for that. I still have my kit!