Works in the Herald 1933
A Scandal of Fifty Years Hence

"A forked radish with a head fantastically carved." So Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus, describes the lordly male of the genus homo sapiens; and, a little later, refers to him again as "An omnivorous Biped that wears Breeches."

The brutal truth of these cruel descriptions cannot be denied; yet it is this unlovely Thing and its habits of concealment and revealment in relation to clothes that the women of our world today are endeavoring most earnestly to imitate.

Shorts on courts and pantaloons on promenade. The pantaloons are already in our streets and, following London, shorts on courts for lady sports, threaten to come to Melbourne at any moment. "Where fools rush in, should angels fear to tread?" is the inverted proverb adopted as a motto by the maids of our day. And the stepping in and stepping out continues with a persistence that seems inevitable.

It is always interesting to hark back to the sayings and doing of our ancestors, say, fifty years ago. How much more interesting it would be to peer into the habits and opinions of posterity, say, fifty years hence.

The limit had been reached, but fashion would not stand still; and in the early summer of 1983 a lady, greatly daring, appeared on the courts of Kooyong garbed in a concealing skirt that reached well below the knee.

Scenting sensation, the press of the day immediately seized on the incident, and the last edition of an evening newspaper contained the following news item:-

"At Kooyong grass courts today, Miss Smashit, the lady champion, appeared wearing a long white garment called a 'skirt,' in imitation of the latest Paris and Tokyo fashions. Only a lady champion would have taken such a risk; and, as was to be expected, there was a rather disorderly scene. Hissing and 'booing' came from some of the side stands, with cries of 'Disgusting!' and 'Take it off!' On the main stand there was much subdued but unmistakedly hostile criticism; and several of the more scandalised ladies and gentlemen put on their walking sandals and sun-cloaks and left the grounds. Miss Smashit seemed quite unperturbed; but a sensation was expected with much controversy and possible prohibition of 'skirts' by the Association."

On the following morning a leading article contained the following passage:-

"....and, while this is undoubtedly an age of tolerance, there is a limit to sartorial concealment beyond which enlightened public opinion will permit not even a popular champion to step. The wearing of 'skirts' was part of the wretched feminine conceit belonging to the dark Georgian ages, and the public will certainly not allow these hypocritical fashions to be generally adopted ..."

The topical rhymester of that day wrote a set of stinging verses containing this couplet:-
"Thus to conceal the healthy nude
Is palpably indecent - rude!"

A social reform leader began a long press controversy with a stern letter referring to "these un-Christian practices of hypocritical concealment," and "their sartorial signs of moral degradation."

But on the next Saturday another lady appeared in a skirt, and then another and another. Press photographers were busy everywhere. A section tried to force a prohibitive bill through Parliament, and failed. And eventually the skirt became a commonplace.

Woman had won again, and the pendulum reversed.

Herald, 10 October 1933, p6

Also published in The Courier-Mail, 21 October 1933, p20 - with the following variations:
1. "Brisbane" substituted for "Melbourne" in paragraph 3; 2. "Milton" substituted for "Kooyong" in paragraphs 5 and 7.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-08