Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/549

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531
SERVILITY IN DRESS.

it has fixed itself in our scheme of costume. This probably has its origin, in the jealousy felt by those under middle height toward others of more commanding stature. The desire to level humanity down to one standard has undoubtedly given rise to many of our fashions. A small man may look no bigger with a tall hat on, but he feels so. A hat which adds four inches to the height of each of two men—one, A, being five feet high, the other, B, being six feet high—reduces the advantage possessed by B. For although he will still be twelve inches taller than A, A will no longer be shorter than B by one fifth of his (A's) own height, for 64 inches is to 76 as 16 to 19, whereas 60 inches is to 72 only as 15 to 18. £999 is much nearer £1,000 than £9 is to £10, though between each pair there is the same difference of 20s. So it looks as if in this matter of hats the small men are the chief culprits.

The same jealousy of superior physical advantage has brought about many of our ugliest fashions. Sculptors and painters sigh with vain Weltschmer for the small-clothes of eighteenth-century Macaronis and the trunk-hose of the Elizabethans, but so long as some men continue to be born with spindle or crooked shanks and doubtful ankles, so long will well-turned limbs be doomed to the obscurity of trousers. The excuse that trousers are more convenient and comfortable than breeches and hose is groundless and insincere.

In like degree, as graceful shapes have ceased to be sought for in designing men's garments, beauty of color has also been rejected, and a preference shown for black, white, or neutral tints. In no article of clothing is this more rigidly prescribed than in leg covering; and this is the more remarkable because the word "breeches" is supposed to be derived through the Roman form braccæ, from the Celtic breac, which means variegated, of many colors. This marked preference for somber hues arises, in part, from the same desire to neutralize the effect of physical superiority which has spoiled the shape of modern clothes.

It is part of the same plan which, as is well known to ethnographers, takes the form of tooth-breaking among primitive people in different parts of the world. Just as an influential Batoka of East Africa, or a Penong of Burmah, whose teeth happened to be defective, feels happier when he has persuaded other young men of his tribe to deface their faultless ivory; so a European grandee, of bilious or dyspeptic habit, would look with prejudice on one whose clear complexion and ruddy cheeks gained brilliancy by contrast with pale-blue satin or carnation silk; he might at least have the sense to eschew such combinations in his own attire, and, by showing preference for somber tints, tend, in virtue of his position and influence, to set the fashion flowing that way.

It is difficult to decide whether the gradual suppression of