The Divided Skirt
Sir, – The world will owe a debt of gratitude to The Times if the attention directed by you to the existing absurdities in female dress should lead to their removal. But it should be noted that the compromise of which you speak as involving “no essential change” may claim to be, in reality the most hopeful suggestion yet made. It is tolerably certain that English women never will adopt the divided skirt as it has been pictured in the pages of Punch. If there were no reasons why young women should reject it there would still be abundant reasons (Charles Reade has indicated them in his Propria qua maribus) why matrons should decline to adopt the costume. If divided underskirts, concealed, or very nearly concealed, by a light overskirt, “left the wearer just where she was,” of course there would be no advantage in the change. But this is very far from being the case. A revolution in the matter of dress within my own family and now extending among a wide circle of our acquaintances enables me to advance facts on this point. The revolution began as a result of certain discussions in the pages of my little magazine Knowledge respecting tight-lacing. The views ably advanced in The Times of May19th were there strongly advocated; and presently the ladies of my family tried (without at first telling me) the bold experiment of discarding corsets altogether. But they found, as others have found before them, that with the usual amount of underskirting corsets could not be conveniently discarded. I have very little doubt they would have returned to their “outside bones,” but for the happy thought that, perhaps the divided skirt might remove the various inconveniences which had followed the disuse of corsets. The experiment was perfectly successful. With the changed attire have come several important advantages – first, the weight of the underclothing is reduced by three-fourths with, secondly, increase of warmth; thirdly, walking long distances has become a pleasure which it had not been before; fourthly, tricycling, lawn-tennis and other open-aired exercises are made altogether easier; fifthly, dancing is much pleasanter; sixthly, the health has improved (this, doubtless, from the disuse of corsets, to which cause likewise it must be attributed that); seventhly, the singing voice has increased markedly both in power and in compass. Now, when two or three months have passed since the change was made, they all agree in saying that they would as soon take their chains and gyves as return to corsets and heavy skirts. Yet there is an advantage, which you overlook, in the fashion of tight-lacing, even to the pegtop point; it marks the tight-lacer and the fit partner for the male of her kind, for the being with no eye for form or proportion, no power of appreciating the virtues as well as beauty of health and activity, the creature which finds its highest, development in the “fop” and “fribble” of former times and in the brainless “masher” of our own day. Pinched waists and shallow brainpans should marry and intermarry till waists contracted and brains grew shallower to the vanishing point. I am Sir, yours faithfully,
London, May19th Richard A Proctor.
The Times, Monday, May 21, 1883; pg. 7