"I have been wondering," said my little bald monologist, helping himself to fairy bread from my private and particular rack. "I have been wondering lately if it is likely that the concealment addicts are not once more in the ascendant, even despite all this."
He glanced about the dining-room, his eye dwelling here and there on the more decollete of the ladies. Then he gazed back at me with that queerly quizzical look that seems to be defying me to seek elaboration of his sententious opening. But I went on silently with my soup course, and, after a long pause, he continued.
"Within the last month I have come upon significant evidence that civilisation is again about to change it attitude toward the question of artificial human covering; and I am inclined to suspect that the subtle propaganda of the trader and industrialist is somehow behind the movement.
"I recall at least four instances lately that seem to indicate a swift retreat to the fashions of the mid-nineties.
"Firstly, these hatless young men, who defy the elements and public opinion in our streets, have been warned that the lack of a hat may mean the lack of a job. It would seem that hatters are not so mad, after all. Secondly, an astonished matron has been told she is unwelcome on the bowling green while the vee opening in her dress at the back of the neck reveals an unlawful number of vertebrae. Thirdly, the young ladies in Canberra's public offices have been given the choice between stockings and the sack; and, fourthly, a golfer in Sydney was ordered from a green recently because a trifle of offending shin peeped coyly above the 'sockettes' which he wore in place of stockings.
"Meantime - since our athletes of both sexes, our beach patrons and ballroom queens, continue to dare and bare a little more - any one of these instances taken separately, might mean little; but, considered cumulatively, they hold significance.
"The concealment addicts are waxing in power and audacity.
"So I begin to wonder if we are not on the way to the day of the mitten of modesty and the jemima boot of joyless rectitude.
"I had a maiden aunt years ago, I remember, who habitually wore both. It is to be presumed that she took off her boots before going to bed; but I was always persuaded that she slept in her mittens; and none but her most intimate associates had ever cast eyes on her naked hands.
"With the moral mitten you are no doubt familiar; but perhaps you are scarcely old enough to remember the jemima boot. It was the emblem of the true and conscious piety. Those for female feet were made of some fabric like black silk or satin; they had sides of elastic, and, back and front, there was a loop or tab for drawing the boots on. After a time, this repeated distension caused the elastic to stretch permanently, so that the boots gaped at the top. And, strangely enough, the more they gaped the more piety they seemed accumulate. Not that the tops of the female boot were often seen in those days, for ladies wore dresses that unjustly obviated much of the work of street cleaners.
"The male boot of the jemima type was of fine leather, and usually appeared in the company of tight pantaloons, macassar oil, high "chokers" and detachable, reversible cuffs. The cuffs, by the way, were cylindrical, close fitting, and secured by a large and unlovely solitaire stud. Sleeve-links, since they revealed far too much of the masculine arm, were strictly taboo.
"Now this is a theory that I have evolved lately. Many countries, including our own, have a majority of females in the population and, since there are not enough husbands to go round, many women must remain single - in fact, are remaining single today. This, of course, must increase the number of maiden aunts, and, as the army of aunts swells, so does their influence and the demand for mittens, jemima boots and sartorial modesty.
"Ingenious, but tenable, is it not?"
The monologist paused and, gazed down at his own gleaming shirt front.
"Dear me!" he said, with a nervous glance about, "I must get out of here. I trust there are no gold dictators or bowling-green censors in the room. I find I have neglected to insert the second stud in my dickey! Shocking! Shocking!
"However, I am delighted to know that you agree with my remarks. Good-night, sir; goodnight."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|