As told to Elsie McCormick.
It’s a pity that the American business girl who thinks that good dressing is the twin sister to the dollar sign can’t stand outside one of the French banks and watch the employees file past for the noon hour. She would see a procession of young women who might have walked out of the pages of the Social Register or from the open covers of a fashion magazine. But no matter how might she strain her eyes, she wouldn’t find one jingling set of cheap glass bracelets, or the flare of an imitation diamond brooch, or even a string of pale and chalky pearls. Neither would she see any limp, all-over-design silk dresses that didn’t have a speaking acquaintance with a mulberry tree. The French business girl never looks like a Woolworth imita tion of a Fifth Avenue model; she has an authentic smartness that is distinctly her own. The crux of the matter is that the French girl dresses to please men, whereas the American girl has allowed herself to be bludgeoned into dressing for other women. Men who know whether or not a gown is the latest scream or how many times they have seen it before on the same young lady are even scarcer than Druses who would rise during the playing of the “Marseillaise.” But unless a man is blind or a professional imbecile, he recognizes a pleasing ensemble Vvhen he sees one, and frequently, he can even tell real smartness from its basement imitation. As the object of most business girls is to achieve a happy and prosperous marriage, their persistence in dressing for other women is as short-sighted as the vis ion of a ground mole.Let us take for our laboratory specimen * a young stenographer who is making 30 dol lars a week and who supports herself but is without dependents. The amount that she can reasonably afford to spend on cloth es is certainly not over 360 dollars a year -a dwarf sum for anybody whose head is filled with fur coats or silver lace evening gowns or slippers with jewel-studded heels. But if she chooses well and divides the money wisely, she can look as smart as any young lady who ever dragged a languid foot In a fashion magazine. The very first thing she must remember Is that in nine cases out of ten smartness is only another name for simplicity. Of course the intelligent stenographer might explain that she can’t find, for the price that she can pay, any dresses that have the chic of real simplicity. Very probably she can’t. The cheaper stores are choked with gowns made out of boisterously patterned silk or trimmed with everything left over from last Valentine’s Day. Therefore the girl who can’t afford expensive dresses shouldn’t buy her clothes ready-made. First of all, she should take a hint from the Frenchwoman and select the two or three general designs that are most flattering to her figure. Next she should get some good material from a reliable department store and have it made up by the best of the neighbourhood dress makers. The girl who lives in New York is un usually fortunate, because there is hardly a block in the brownstone district that doesn’t contain a Russian emigre or a talented Viennese with chic in her fingers and a board bill on her ljrtind. If she only looks about and inquires a little, the questing stenographer «an find Fifth Avenue style for hardly more than Austrian prices i want above all to pound hard on .this . idea of getting good material. Every girl who has bought a cheap dress knows that after a few weeks’ wear it looks like the third best gown of a Connecticut scarecrow. Good material, whether* silk or wool, doesn’t stretch or bag or grow shiny even after it acquires many service stripes. Besides, it can always be ripped up and used again when the wearer grows tired of its present design. Probably the most difficult problem for the girl with a small income is the buying of a winter coat. Unless she lives in a climate that is an understudy for Baffin’s Bay, she should not put her money into a foreign imitation of seal or mink or squirrel. If I were in her position I’d get some good broadcloth and have it made up into a thick ly-lined, fur-trimmed coat of a style not too positive to be worn for several years. I’d choose a shade of dark blue or dark purple for then the coat would be
appropriate for dress wear, whereas brown and tan are proper only for evevy-day. If I couldn’t afford really good fur for the trimming. I wouldn’t substitute any of the mangy little pelts that one finds in the cheaper stores. Instead. I’d give the illusion of fur by hav *ns; full barrel cuffs and a similar collar. Such a coat could serve as best for two years at least, and latter be demoted to ordinary use for a few years more. The wise stenographer must brace her feet hard against her common sense and do her best not to slip into temptation. With fin gers crossed and eves closed, should walk past the gaudy lure of sequins or metallic cloth or rhinestone-snrinkled tulle. Fine, durable satin, soft taffeta or softer crepe are the only materials whose heckoninss should be noticed. Even velvet is not en tirely practicable, because, lik« the furpace, it hibernates during the summer. For an afternoon dress, no girl can do better than to invest in a. handsome black satin. Its advantage of being an all-season material is so great that it can’t be sneezed at, even by a hay-feVer victim. Besides,there is nothing’ that lends itself more. readily to graceful drarin? nor that better defies the memory, of too watchful friends. By varying necklaces or touches at the cor sage, a can make it give the illusion of being a whole wardrobe in itself. Camels from Asia liave recently come for ward viriph an answer to the problem of winter office dresses. One of the best materials I know is kasha, cuoth, made out of camels’ hair and as durable as if it had been woven, out of the Rock of Gibraltar. The fact that creases in it are hardly more permanent than the creases in a lake, and that it is light as well as strong, makes it one of the best developments in the cloth industry since the Persians smuggled silkworms out of China. The conning, of the small felt liat has created a millinery democracy unprece dented since the first
chief’s wife put an eagle’s feather in her hair. With two or three little felt hats, bright as colors flicked off a palette, the stenographer is as well topped as any lady on Park Avenue. The large advantage of the small felt is that one can wear it just as appropriately when brooks are purling as when radiators are doing the same. With a chic black satin hat to match her afternoon dress, and perhaps one straw to use in bowing, to the spring, the steno grapher’s head is ready for every occasion that the year might produce. There must be many moments when the business girl wishes that she could clothe her calves in felt ?is well as her head. Silk stockings are the white woman’s burden, and this applies whether she is earning 30 dollars the only place where I depart from my axiom that cheapness has no relation to economy. There is a saying to the effect that the girl who buys* a cheap stocking gets a good run for her money, but so frequently does the girl who lays down ten dollars for a pair of shimmering cobwebs. A loose pron*? on a rins:. a hobnailed shoe in a street crowd, or a splinter on the leg of a desk can make an ambulance case out of any silk stocking in captivity, whether it came from a bargain counter or from the velvet-hung fastness of a haughty Paris shop. The subject of stockings leads naturallv into shoes. Here I am inclined to mount the rostrum find ask our hypothetical stenographer to from buying for street “wear either satin or patent leather. I have looked until my eyes ached at blunted, scuffed and satin jslippers, and at filmy ratent. leathers with cracks enough to remind one of ai> adobe road in an earthquake district. It is not neice&sary for the business girl to bury her feet in the clumsiness of an over sensible shoe, but if she really wishes to be well dressed she should hasten away from freak designs and give a few minutes’ medi tatiop to the usefulness of good suede and calfskin. Last of all, let me say a word about jewellery. The safest rule is to avoid, articles that are obvious imitations-that is, imitations of really precious and costly stones.There is no jDuore decoration gamut of bad taste, than, a string’ of tallow pearls, either dead white or fiusfred with an unhealthy iridescence. The fiirl whqJoaksabout a little can find reajjy charming beads for only a feiy dollars a Ptriner-compositions with the tonea of lai)is lazuli or the liveliness of clouded amtier. If she needs a brooch she will find it worth her while to forego the fl&shiness of glass diamonds and to (pay a little more for a quaint old gold design or a bit of twisted silver. To be well dressed on 30 dollars a week takes courage-courage to keep to simpli city; to eliminate the garish in favour of the fine, and to be willing to do with a few dresses despite the comments. But when the better job vacated or the new man from Harvard jothe office staff, the well-dressed girl is likely to find that her sacrifices – were quite worthwhile.