Godey's Lady's Book

Sarah J. Hale: Editor's Table, May, 1868


In these green days

Reviving sickness lifts her languid head,
Life flows afresh, and young-eyed health exults
The whole creation round. The forest smiles,
And every sense and every heart is joy.


NATURE, in her material forms, has one striking advantage over animated nature. The first can recall her youth, or rather she is always young in some portions of her domain; but living creatures must decay and die, to live no more beneath the sun. These stated revivals of nature in her youth and beauty are, therefore, to human life— as well as to the animal— seasons of joyful interest and new opportunities of happiness. With the advent of spring come fresh hopes of health and life, and who can feel old or lose sympathy for whatever is lovely, pure, and of good report? And now, when MAY, full-robed in her garniture of living green, with its tassels and fringes, its buttons and buds, and ornamented and crowned with her rainbow-hued flowers— is with us— does not the lesson teach that the All-Wise Creator intended His human children should love the beautiful and be made better and happier by the good gifts of the season? And here an important inference naturally occurs: While nature is thus renovated by Divine power and made beautiful that her best uses may be developed and enjoyed, is it wrong for Christian men and women to use the faculties God has given them to prepare clothing for themselves and their children, in such a way as will make their apparel beautiful as well as comfortable? Is it not rather a duty to make our own personal appearance conform, so far as we are able, with the purity and beauty of nature in her best representations of the innocent enjoyments of life?

Our readers may remember that we gave, in the June number, 1867, as a leading article in our Table, "Fashions and their Influences," ending with the promise to discuss the present modes of feminine attire in some future number. So we will now leave the sober questions on the "Duties of Dress" until next month, and take up the last year's subject.


"All general considerations on dress must converge towards the feminine costume," says the British philosopher. "Through the feminine toilet fashion transacts its weighty part in the world, and by its ebbs and flows keeps the world at work." And thus, for the last seven years' fashion has been actively busy in our country, changing old modes and boldly innovating in a way that can only be rationally accounted for by admitting that fashion, or the art of dress, has some mysterious connection with thought and intellect so close and intricate as to render it "almost the type of progress." Thus our present fashions of feminine attire are in harmony with the great events that have been hurrying the nation, as if with the swiftness and force of a rushing cataract, on its career, and also stirring the Old World's society to its foundations.

The spirit of the age produces scientific discoveries; lays the ocean telegraph at the proper time; shakes down thrones; opens new paths to the statesman, and enriches the ample pages of history and knowledge with something more than the spoils of time; and also it changes the style of feminine costume! Why do we see the round hat, the cravat, the paletot, the vest? Because men as well as women talk eagerly on the subject of "Women's Rights," sexual equality, and a parity of pursuits among men and women. So, also, we have the pert cavalry cap, the epauletted sacks, the Zouave jackets, the military glitter in trimmings, because we have been shaken by a terrible revolution and passed through a war that has stirred the heart and soul of the whole people.

Is there not a pervading influence which makes us now see beauty and grace in dresses that float in billowy clouds over thick ribs of steel— now in narrow skirts that rob woman of half her last year's bulk? Yes, the glass of fashion and the mould of form are, as we believe, as surely governed by what may be styled occult influences, as are any of the grander or more high-sounding circumstances of human life. But though all are more or less under the government of fashion, it is the part of good sense and discretion not to attempt a revolution or individual rebellion against the ruling power, but to conduct its administration wisely and modestly, waiting for that tide in the affairs of the world's progress that will modify the present caprices of costume, and thus show that unwomanly modes of thought have been corrected.

We learn from Paris that the present style of Lilliputian bonnets is to continue; but there are indications that fashion will not allow women to transform themselves into the semblance of men. The queenly trains for the drawing-room, the pretty and modest walking dresses for the street, are indications that the masculine rôle of pursuits is not in harmony with feminine taste and feeling. And thus may it ever be, for

"Woman is not undeveloped man,
But diverse; could she make her as the man,
Sweet love were slain, whose dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference."

Transcribed from the original, Godey's Lady's Book, May 1868 by Hope Greenberg. 12/29/2015. Copy freely as long as this notice is attached.