The very heart of the question of the dress is, then, economic and social. It is one of those great everyday matters on which the moral and physical well-being of society rests. One of those matters, which, rightly understood, fill the everyday life with big meanings, show it related to every great movement for the betterment of man.
Like all of the great interests in the Business of Being a Woman, it is primarily an individual problem, and every woman who solves it for herself, that is, arrives at what may be called a sound mode of dress, makes a real contribution to society. There is a tendency to overlook the value of the individual solution of the problems of life, and yet, the successful individual solution is perhaps the most genuine and fundamental contribution a man or woman can make. The end of living is a life—fair, sound, sweet, complete. The vast machinery of life to which we give so much attention, our governments and societies, our politics and wrangling, is nothing in itself. It is only a series of contrivances to insure the chance to grow a life. He who proves that he can conquer his conditions, can adjust himself to the machinery in which he finds himself, he is the most genuine of social servants. He realizes the thing for which we talk and scheme, and so proves that our dreams are not vain!
THE WOMAN AND DEMOCRACY
The one notion that democracy has succeeded in planting firmly in the mind of the average American citizen is his right and duty to rise in the world. Tested by this conception the American woman is an ideal democrat. Give her a ghost of a chance and she almost never fails to better herself materially and socially. Nor can she be said to do it by the clumsy methods we describe as “pushing.” She does it by a legitimate, if rather literal, application of the national formula for rising,—get schooling and get money.
The average American man reverses the order of the terms in the formula. He believes more in money. The time that boys and girls are kept in school after the fourteen-or sixteen-year-age limit is generally due to the insistence of the mother, her confidence that the more education, the better the life chance. What it amounts to is that the man has more faith in life as a teacher, the woman more faith in schools. Both, however, seek the same goal, pin their faith to the same tools. Both take it for granted that if they work out the formulas, they thereby earn and will receive letters patent to the aristocracy of the democracy!
The weakness of this popular conception of the democratic scheme is that it gives too much attention to what a man gets and too little to what he gives. Democracy more than any other scheme under which men have tried to live together depends on what each returns—returns not in material but in spiritual things. Democracy is not a shelter, a garment, a cash account; it is a spirit. The real test of its followers must be sought in their attitude of mind toward life, labor, and their fellows.