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7 London and Evening Dress Confession must now be made on a personal matter of capital importance .Up to my thirty-ninth year I had never worn a swallowtail evening coat,and the question of conforming to a growing sartorial custom was becoming, each day, of more acute concern to my friends as well as to myself. My first realization of the differences which the lack of evening dress can make in a man’s career,came upon me clearly during the social stir of the Columbian Exposition, for throughout my ten years’ stay in Boston I had accepted (with serene unconsciousness of the incongruity of my action) the paradoxical theory that a “Prince Albert frock coat” was the proper holiday or ceremonial garment of an American democrat.The claw-hammer suit was to me, as to my fellow artist,“the livery of privilege” worn only by monopolistic brigands and the poor parasites who fawned upon and served them,whereas the double-breasted black coat,royal,as its name denoted,was associated in my mind with judges, professors , senators and doctors of divinity. It was, moreover, a dignified and logical garment. It clothed with equal charity a man’s stomach and his stern.Generous of its skirts, which went far to conceal wrinkled trousers, it could be worn with a light tie at a formal dinner or with a dark tie at a studio tea,and was equally appropriate at a funeral or a wedding.For all these several reasons it remained the uniform of professional men throughout the Middle Border.From my earliest childhood it had been my ideal of manly elegance. Even in New York I had kept pretty close to the social level where it was still accepted. The World’s Fair in ’93, however, had not only brought to Chicago many of the discriminating social customs of the East,but also many distinguished guests from the old world to whom dress was a formal, almost sacred routine.To meet these noble aliens, we, the artists and writers of the city, were occasionally invited; 74 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 74 and the question “Shall we conform” became ever more pressing in its demand for final settlement.One by one my fellows had deserted from the ranks and were reported as rubbing shoulders with plutocrats in their great dining-rooms or escorting ladies into gilded reception parlors,wearing garments which had no relationship to learning,or art,or law,as I had been taught to believe.Lorado Taft,Oliver Dennett Grover,and even Henry Fuller had gone over to the shining majority, leaving me almost alone in stubborn support of the cylindrical coat. To surrender was made very difficult for me by Eugene Field, who had publicly celebrated me as “the sturdy opponent of the swallow-tail suit,” and yet he himself,—though still outwardly faithful—had been heard to say, “I may be forced to wear the damned thing yet.” In all this I felt the wind of social change.That I stood at the parting of the ways was plain to me.To continue on my present line of march would be to have as exemplars Walt Whitman, Joaquin Miller, John Burroughs and other illustrious nonconformists to whom long beards, easy collars, and short coats were natural and becoming.To take the other road was to follow Lowell and Stedman and Howells.To shorten my beard—or remove it altogether,—to wear a standing collar, and attached cuffs—to abandon my western wide-rimmed hat—these and many other“reforms” were involved in my decision.Do you wonder that I hesitated? That I was being left out of many delightful dinners and receptions had been painfully evident to me for several years, but the consideration which had most weight with me, at this time, was expressed by one of my friends who bluntly declared that all the desirable young women of my acquaintance not only adored men in evening dress but ridiculed those of us who went about at all hours of the day and night in “solemn, shiny, black frocks.” I perceived that unless I paid a little more attention to tailors and barbers and haberdashers my chances for bringing a new daughter to my mother were dishearteningly remote. Secretly alarmed and meditating a shameful surrender, I was held in check by the thought of the highly involved system of buttons,ties,gloves,hats, and shoes with which I would...


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