I often think that, if those “Old walls only could speak”–as the “tripper” yearns for them to do, because he can’t think of anything else to remark at the moment–all they would say to him would be the words, “For God’s sake, you guys, CLEAR OUT!” As a matter of fact, it is just as well that old walls can’t talk, or they might tell us what they thought of us; and you can’t knock out a stone wall–at least, not with any prospect of success–in a couple of rounds. For we must look very absurd in the eyes of those who have watched mankind get more absurd and more absurd-looking throughout the ages. Take, for example, our clothes. No one could possibly call them comfortable, and, were we not so used to seeing them ourselves, we should probably call them ugly as well. In the autumn of 1914 we suddenly woke up to the fact that we belonged to a very good-looking nation. It was, of course, the cut of the uniform which effected this transformation. It not only showed off a man’s figure, but it often showed it up–and that is the first and biggest step towards a man improving it. Sometimes it gave a man a figure who before possessed merely elongation with practically no width. But the days of khaki are over–thank God for the cause, but aesthetically it’s a pity. We have returned to the drab and shoddy days of dress before the war, and men look more shoddy and more drab than ever.
Surely clothes are designed, apart from their warmth, to make the best show of the body which is in them. Having discovered that style in which the average man or woman looks his very best, it seemed so needlessly ridiculous to keep changing it. Beauty and comfort–that surely is the raison d’etre of apparel–apart from modesty, which, however, a few fig leaves can satisfy. Fashion opens the gate, as it were, and we pass through it, one by one, like foolish sheep–without a sheep’s general utility. Mr. Smith, who is short, fat, and podgy, dresses exactly like Mr. Brown, who is tall, muscular, and well proportioned. Mr. Smith would not look so dreadful if he wore a coat well “skirted” below the waist, with tight-fitting knickerbockers and stockings. Mr. Brown’s muscles and fine proportions are very nearly lost in a coat and trousers, which only make his muscular development look like fat and his fine proportions merely breadth without much shape. Mrs. Smith, who is modelled on the lines of Venus, bares her back at the dictates of some obscure couturiere in Paris, and the result gives a certain aesthetic pleasure. Mrs. Brown, determined also to be in the fashion, valiantly strips herself, and looks like a bladder of not particularly fresh lard! Were she to wear a modified fashion of the mode 1760 she would probably look almost charming.
And so we might go on citing examples and improvements until we had tabulated and docketed every human being. For an absolute proof that the present mode of dressing for both men and women is generally wrong, is, that the men and women who look best in it are those who possess bones without flesh, length with just that one suggestion of a curve common to all humanity. And think how much more interesting the world would be were each of us to dress in that style which showed our good points to advantage. For, after all, what is the object of clothes, apart from modesty and warmth–which a blanket and a few safety pins could satisfy–if it be not to create an effect pleasant to the eye. And why, when once we have discovered a style which certainly makes the majority of people look their best, should we wilfully discard it and return to the unimaginative and drab? We complain that the world of to-day, whatever may be said in its favour, cannot possibly be called picturesque. Well let us make it picturesque! And having made it more beautiful–for Heaven’s sake let us KEEP it beautiful. Let it be a sign of cowardice–not one of the greatest signs of courage of the age–to fail to put on overalls, if we look our best in them! After all, every reform is in our own hands. But most people seem so entirely helpless to do anything but, metaphorically speaking, flick a fly off their own noses, that they leave reformation to God, and look upon their own unbeautiful effect and the unbeautiful effect of other men as an act of blind destiny. So we, as it were, sigh “Kismet”–in front of garments which a monkey, with any logic or reason in his composition, would not deign to wear. Yes, certainly, if “these old walls could only speak,” they would tell us a few home truths. Our ears would surely burn at their eloquence.