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"The Short-Hairs" And "The Swallow-Tails"
by [?]

The popular distrust of the practice of wearing white cravats in the evening may be traced to the same causes. The savage makes no change of toilet for the evening. He dresses for war and religious ceremonies, but he goes to a social reunion or feast in such clothes as he happens to have on when the invitation finds him. The plain man of civilized life, under similar circumstances, puts on a clean shirt and his best suit of clothes. This suit, among the European peasantry, is apt to be of simply the same cut and material as the working suit, or, as it would be called in Brooklyn, “the garb of toil.” Among Americans, it is a black suit, like that of a clergyman, and includes a silk cravat, generally black, but permissibly colored. The whole matter is, however, one of pure convention. Now, it has been found of late years a matter of convenience, and of great convenience especially to hard-worked men and men of moderate means who are exposed to the constant social demands of the great cities of the world, to have a costume in which one can appear on any festive occasion, great or small, which all, gentle or simple, are alike expected to wear, which is neither rich nor gaudy, and in which every man may feel sure that he is properly dressed; and the dress fixed on for this purpose now throughout the civilized world is the plain suit of black, with the swallow-tailed coat, commonly called “evening dress.”

Nothing can be simpler or less pretentious, or more democratic. Nobody can add anything to it or take anything away from it. Many attempts to modify it have been made during the last thirty years by leaders of fashion, and they have all failed, because it meets one of the great wants of human nature. It is only within the last fifteen years that it has obtained a firm foothold in American cities. People looked on it with suspicion, as a sign of some inward and spiritual naughtiness, and regarded the frock-coat with its full skirts as the only garment in which a serious-minded man, with a proper sense of his origin and destiny, and correct feelings about popular government, could make his appearance in a lady’s parlor. Why, nobody could tell, for there was a time, not very far back, when the frock-coat was itself an innovation. Of late–that is, within, perhaps, twenty years–the Swallow-Tails of the world have exchanged the black or colored for a white cravat, and justify themselves by saying that it not only looks cleaner, but is cleaner of necessity than a silk one, and that you cannot look too clean or fresh about your throat when you present yourself in a lady’s house on a festive occasion. Nevertheless, the plain, blunt men are not satisfied. They do not as yet feel sure as to its meaning. They think it indicates either over-thoughtfulness about trifles or else a leaning, slight though it be, toward despotism and free-trade. They will now all, or nearly all, wear evening dress with a black cravat, but even those of them who will consent to put on a white one do so with a certain shamefacedness and sense of backsliding, and of treachery to some good cause, though they do not exactly know which.