The mistress. What sarcasm is coming now?
Herbert. Well, you may laugh, but the world has n’t got used to good clothes yet. The majority do not wear them with ease. People who only put on their best on rare and stated occasions step into an artificial feeling.
Our next door. I wonder if that’s the reason the Parson finds it so difficult to get hold of his congregation.
Herbert. I don’t know how else to account for the formality and vapidity of a set “party,” where all the guests are clothed in a manner to which they are unaccustomed, dressed into a condition of vivid self-consciousness. The same people, who know each other perfectly well, will enjoy themselves together without restraint in their ordinary apparel. But nothing can be more artificial than the behavior of people together who rarely “dress up.” It seems impossible to make the conversation as fine as the clothes, and so it dies in a kind of inane helplessness. Especially is this true in the country, where people have not obtained the mastery of their clothes that those who live in the city have. It is really absurd, at this stage of our civilization, that we should be so affected by such an insignificant accident as dress. Perhaps Mandeville can tell us whether this clothes panic prevails in the older societies.
The Parson. Don’t. We’ve heard it; about its being one of the Englishman’s thirty-nine articles that he never shall sit down to dinner without a dress-coat, and all that.
The mistress. I wish, for my part, that everybody who has time to eat a dinner would dress for that, the principal event of the day, and do respectful and leisurely justice to it.
The young lady. It has always seemed singular to me that men who work so hard to build elegant houses, and have good dinners, should take so little leisure to enjoy either.
Mandeville. If the Parson will permit me, I should say that the chief clothes question abroad just now is, how to get any; and it is the same with the dinners.
It is quite unnecessary to say that the talk about clothes ran into the question of dress-reform, and ran out, of course. You cannot converse on anything nowadays that you do not run into some reform. The Parson says that everybody is intent on reforming everything but himself. We are all trying to associate ourselves to make everybody else behave as we do. Said—
Our next door. Dress reform! As if people couldn’t change their clothes without concert of action. Resolved, that nobody should put on a clean collar oftener than his neighbor does. I’m sick of every sort of reform. I should like to retrograde awhile. Let a dyspeptic ascertain that he can eat porridge three times a day and live, and straightway he insists that everybody ought to eat porridge and nothing else. I mean to get up a society every member of which shall be pledged to do just as he pleases.