Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
published 1875 Chapter 18
[Rose, a 13 year old orphan, is wearing a full winter costume of the latest fashion, chosen by her aunts.]
The suit was of two peculiar shades of blue, so arranged that patches of light and dark distracted the eye. The upper skirt was tied so tightly back that it was impossible to take a long step, and the under one was so loaded with plaited frills that it "wobbled" - no other word will express it - ungracefully, both fore and aft. A bunch of folds was gathered up just below the waist behind, and a great bow rode a-top. A small jacket of the same material was adorned with a high ruff at the back, and laid well open over the breast, to display some lace and a locket. Heavy fringes, bows, puffs, ruffles, and revers finished off the dress, making one's head ache to think of the amount of work wasted, for not a single graceful line struck the eye, and the beauty of the material was quite lost in the profusion of ornament.
A high velvet hat, audaciously turned up in front, with a bunch of pink roses and a sweeping plume, was cocked over one ear, and, with her curls braided into a club at the back of her neck, Rose's head looked more like that of a dashing young cavalier than a modest little girl's. High-heeled boots tilted her well forward, a tiny muff pinioned her arms, and a spotted veil, tied so closely over her face that her eyelashes were rumpled by it, gave the last touch of absurdity to her appearance.
Louisa May Alcott is not one to leave you in any doubt that she disapproves of this outfit – soon Rose is stumbling, unable to walk freely, and there is about to be trouble over corsets – this blog entry here. LMA herself was a supporter of rational dress for women: simple, trouble-free clothes. The more sensible outfit suggested by dear Uncle Alec will feature in another blog entry.
The book is very much about the best way to bring up children, particularly girls, LMA not noticeably reluctant to have a view just because she herself never married or had children – though to be fair, the people involved in bringing up Rose in this book do not include any parents. And in fact in 1879, four years after this book was published, her own younger sister died and LMA took in a 2-year-old daughter, her niece. It would be interesting to know if she changed her views at all with some practical experience.
CONNECTIONS: In this blog entry, about the 1985 Peter Dickinson book Death of a Unicorn, a young woman in the 1950s claims to have difficulty moving around in a tight skirt. Eight Cousins has featured before. Thanks again to Theano Mouratides Petersen for the fruitful suggestion.
The photo is from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress, and can be seen on Flickr.