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by [?]

Dress is a dangerous topic to meddle with. I myself like the attire of the maidens of Scheria, though Nausicaa, we must note, was “clad royally.” But climate cannot be disregarded, and the vestment that was so fitting on a Greek girl whom I saw at the Second Cataract of the Nile would scarcely be appropriate in New York. If the maidens of one of our colleges for girls, say Vassar for illustration, habited like the Phaeacian girls of Scheria, went down to the Hudson to cleanse the rich robes of the house, and were surprised by the advent of a stranger from the city, landing from a steamboat–a wandering broker, let us say, clad in wide trousers, long topcoat, and a tall hat–I fancy that he would be more astonished than Ulysses was at the bevy of girls that scattered at his approach. It is not that women must be all things to all men, but that their simplicity must conform to time and circumstance. What I do not understand is that simplicity gets banished altogether, and that fashion, on a dictation that no one can trace the origin of, makes that lovely in the eyes of women today which will seem utterly abhorrent to them tomorrow. There appears to be no line of taste running through the changes. The only consolation to you, the woman of the moment, is that while the costume your grandmother wore makes her, in the painting, a guy in your eyes, the costume you wear will give your grandchildren the same impression of you. And the satisfaction for you is the thought that the latter raiment will be worse than the other two–that is to say, less well suited to display the shape, station, and noble air which brought Ulysses to his knees on the sands of Corfu.

Another reason why I say that I do not know whether simplicity belongs to nature or art is that fashion is as strong to pervert and disfigure in savage nations as it is in civilized. It runs to as much eccentricity in hair-dressing and ornament in the costume of the jingling belles of Nootka and the maidens of Nubia as in any court or coterie which we aspire to imitate. The only difference is that remote and unsophisticated communities are more constant to a style they once adopt. There are isolated peasant communities in Europe who have kept for centuries the most uncouth and inconvenient attire, while we have run through a dozen variations in the art of attraction by dress, from the most puffed and bulbous ballooning to the extreme of limpness and lankness. I can only conclude that the civilized human being is a restless creature, whose motives in regard to costumes are utterly unfathomable.

We need, however, to go a little further in this question of simplicity. Nausicaa was “clad royally.” There was a distinction, then, between her and her handmaidens. She was clad simply, according to her condition. Taste does not by any means lead to uniformity. I have read of a commune in which all the women dressed alike and unbecomingly, so as to discourage all attempt to please or attract, or to give value to the different accents of beauty. The end of those women was worse than the beginning. Simplicity is not ugliness, nor poverty, nor barrenness, nor necessarily plainness. What is simplicity for another may not be for you, for your condition, your tastes, especially for your wants. It is a personal question. You go beyond simplicity when you attempt to appropriate more than your wants, your aspirations, whatever they are, demand–that is, to appropriate for show, for ostentation, more than your life can assimilate, can make thoroughly yours. There is no limit to what you may have, if it is necessary for you, if it is not a superfluity to you. What would be simplicity to you may be superfluity to another. The rich robes that Nausicaa wore she wore like a goddess. The moment your dress, your house, your house-grounds, your furniture, your scale of living, are beyond the rational satisfaction of your own desires–that is, are for ostentation, for imposition upon the public–they are superfluous, the line of simplicity is passed. Every human being has a right to whatever can best feed his life, satisfy his legitimate desires, contribute to the growth of his soul. It is not for me to judge whether this is luxury or want. There is no merit in riches nor in poverty. There is merit in that simplicity of life which seeks to grasp no more than is necessary for the development and enjoyment of the individual. Most of us, in all conditions; are weighted down with superfluities or worried to acquire them. Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.

The needs of every person differ from the needs of every other; we can make no standard for wants or possessions. But the world would be greatly transformed and much more easy to live in if everybody limited his acquisitions to his ability to assimilate them to his life. The destruction of simplicity is a craving for things, not because we need them, but because others have them. Because one man who lives in a plain little house, in all the restrictions of mean surroundings, would be happier in a mansion suited to his taste and his wants, is no argument that another man, living in a palace, in useless ostentation, would not be better off in a dwelling which conforms to his cultivation and habits. It is so hard to learn the lesson that there is no satisfaction in gaining more than we personally want.

The matter of simplicity, then, comes into literary style, into building, into dress, into life, individualized always by one’s personality. In each we aim at the expression of the best that is in us, not at imitation or ostentation.

The women in history, in legend, in poetry, whom we love, we do not love because they are “clad royally.” In our day, to be clad royally is scarcely a distinction. To have a superfluity is not a distinction. But in those moments when we have a clear vision of life, that which seems to us most admirable and desirable is the simplicity that endears to us the idyl of Nausicaa.