Montreal Standard, 7 October 1911, page 24

The Psychology of Fashion

Why do fashions in dress- woman’s dress, of course- change, or at least change so rapidly- so rapidly, in fact, that a woman out of town on a brief vacation runs the danger upon returning of finding herself, so far as clothes are concerned, a female Rip Van Winkle? What was long when she set out from home, is now short, what was worn loose, is now made tight, and what was plain is now ornate. Only one course of action is open to her- hurry home by a back street and visit the dressmaker without delay.
And it is said by some that that action is in itself an answer to the question- why do fashions change so rapidly and so radically? It is to benefit trade, to compel the discarding of the not-half worn garment and its replacing by a new one in the latest style. This succession of changes is said to be merely a trick to keep certain branches of business profitably going. For instance, the introduction, or rather the revival of the crinoline will enable the trade to recoup the losses on unsold materials caused by the narrowness of last season’s skirts.
That is one answer to the question- why these changing fashions? If probably true to a certain extent; but it is too superficial to dispose of so deep a matter.
There is another reason so philosophical as to be cruel- so severe and almost brutal that it would not be given here if its authorship could not be laid on another. This deeper reason for the mutations of fashion is found in the New York Tribune, and its spirit of cynicism comes as a surprise to those whose years of reading had led them to believe that the Tribune tries to be fair to all classes.
In regard to this incessant search for something new in dress, the Tribune writes:-
“Certain it is that woman appears never to be satisfied for long with her own appearance. This instinct, if such it can be called, probably found its first outlet thousands of years ago, when she still dressed in skins, in the invention of new ways of doing her hair.
“It may even be that head-hunting, scalping and other pleasant diversions with an enemy originated in this her first fashion, her primitive need of more hair wherewith to do her own.
“She has always sought to change her physical appearance, by adding to it, by compressing or distorting it. Within living memory she has worn crinolines, dress improvers, balayeuses the better to sweep up the dust of the street with her trailing skirts.
“She has seemingly adopted for good the rainy day outdoor garment, but now, it appears she is to be tempted to return to the crinoline, which, in one form or another, has been a favourite fashion of hers since the farthingale of the sixteenth century.
To all this woman can reply by asking another question- “whose affair is it, anyway, but our own?” it is only ourselves who have to obey the edicts of fashion and endure the annoyance of having the succession of new garments made. How does this concern men?”
Possibly not at all, except with respect to one matter- the paying of the bill, a mere incident of course, and yet one that gives man a colorable reason for expressing an opinion, because taxation carries the right to representation and representation implies the speaking of one’s mind.
No doubt it was the remembrance of that sacred principle that so fired the courage of the Tribune as to enable it to say what it did.
And so one comes back to the starting-point. The reasons for the changing of the fashions may not be satisfactory or scientific; the fact, however, that they do change remains, and perhaps the only thing to do is to accept the fact as something inevitable, just as the experience of generations has taught us to accept the changing of the season and the still more frequent changing of the weather.