She usually rode to work, and walked home, eight blocks, spending thus 30 cents a week carfare. All living expenses for the week came to about $6. She paid for six years $24 a year on an insurance policy which promised her $15 a week in case of illness, and was cumulative, making a return during the life of the holder; $290 would be due from it in about a year.
Zetta said that she was extravagant in her expense for clothing, but she considered that her social position depended upon her appearance. She was very attractive looking. Her manner had quiet and grace, and there was something touching, even moving, in the dignity of her pure, clear English, acquired in the teeth of a fortune that forced her to be a little scullion and cook at the age of eleven. She was dressed with taste and care at the time of the interview. Through watching sales and through information obtained from heads of departments, she contrived to buy clothing of excellent quality, silk stockings, and well-cut suits comparatively cheaply. By waiting until the end of the season, she had paid $35, the winter before, for a suit originally costing $70; $35 was more than she had intended to spend, but the suit was becoming and she could not resist the purchase. She managed to have pretty and well-designed hats for from $2 to $5, because a friend trimmed them.
She spent her vacation with relatives on a farm in the country. Railroad fares and the occasional purchase of a magazine were her only expenditures for pleasure. But she had many “good times” going to the beaches in the summer with friends who paid her way.
She considered that with careful planning a girl could live in fair comfort for $10 a week. But she saved nothing.
The drawback she mentioned in her own arrangements—the best she could obtain for her present wage—was not the cold of her hall bedroom, warmed only by the gas-jet, but that she had no suitable place for receiving men friends. She was obliged to turn to trolley rides and walks and various kinds of excursions,—literally to the streets,—for hospitality, when she received a man’s visit. She spoke frequently of one man with whom she had many “good times.” She could not take him to her room. Trolley rides, and walks in winter, would pall. She hated park benches as a resort for quiet conversation. Where, then, was she to see him? Although she disapproved of it, she and another girl who had a larger and more attractive room than her own had received men there.
Zetta’s income for the year had been $520. She had spent $130 for rent; $105 for dinners; $55 for breakfasts, luncheons, and washing; $195 for clothing, summer railway fares, and incidentals; $15 for carfare; and $20 for insurance.
Zetta’s interest in her daily occupation is somewhat unusual in the trade chronicles of the shop-girls. One frequently hears complaint of the inefficiency and inattention of New York saleswomen and their rudeness to plainly dressed customers. While this criticism contains a certain truth, it is, of course, unreasonable to expect excellence from service frequently ill paid, often unevenly and unfairly promoted, and, except with respect to dress, quite unstandardized.