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Etiquette For Elderly Girls
A brisk correspondent writes to us that she finds
our restrictions as to the etiquette which single
women should follow somewhat embarrassing. Being now
thirty-five, and at the head of her father's house,
with no intention of ever marrying, she asks if she
requires a chaperon; if it is necessary that she
should observe the severe self-denial of not
entering an artist's studio without a guardian
angel; if she must never allow a gentleman to pay
for her theatre tickets; if she must, in short,
assume a matron's place in the world, and never
enjoy a matron's freedom.
But we must say here that she is not yet, in
European opinion, emancipated from that guardianship
which society dispenses with for the youngest widow.
She must have a "companion" if she is a rich woman;
and if she is a poor one she must join some party of
friends when she travels. She can travel abroad with
her maid, but in Paris and other Continental cities
a woman still young-looking had better not do this.
She is not safe from insult nor from injurious
suspicion if she signs herself "Miss" Smith, and is
without her mother, an elderly friend, a companion,
Another phase of the subject is that a lady in
permitting a gentleman to expend money for her
pleasures assumes an obligation to him which time
and chance may render oppressive. With an old
friend, however, one whose claim to friendship is
well established, the conditions are changed. In his
case there can be no question of obligation, and a
woman may accept unhesitatingly any of those small
attentions and kindnesses which friendly feeling may
prompt him to offer to her.
There is very much in the appearance of a woman. It is a part of the injustice of nature that some people look coquettish who are not so. Bad taste in dress, a high color, a natural flow of spirits, or a loud laugh have often caused a very good woman to be misinterpreted. Such a woman should be able to sit in judgment upon herself; and remembering that in a great city, at a crowded theatre, or at a watering-place, judgments must be hasty and superficial, she should tone down her natural exuberance, and take with her a female companion who is of a different type from herself. Calm and cold Puritanical people may not be more respectable than the fresh-colored and laughing "old maids" of thirty-five, but they look more so, and in this world women must consult appearances. An elderly girl must ever think how she looks. A woman who at a watering-place dresses conspicuously, wears a peignoir to breakfast, dyes her hair, or looks as if she did, ties a white blond veil over her locks and sits on a hotel piazza, showing her feet, may be the best, the most cultivated woman in the house, but a superficial observer will not think so.
In the mind of every passer-by will lurk the feeling that she lacks the first grace of womanhood, modesty and in the criticism of a crowd there is strength. A man passing such a person, and contrasting her with modestly dressed and unobtrusive ladies, would naturally form an unfavorable opinion of her; and were she alone, and her name entered on the books of the house as "Miss" Smith, he would not be too severe if he thought her decidedly eccentric, and certainly "bad style." If, however, "Miss" Smith were very plain and quiet, and dressed simply and in good taste, or if she sat on the sands looking at the sea, or attended an invalid or a younger friend, then Miss Smith might be as independent as she pleased: she would suffer from no injurious comments. Even the foreigner, who does not believe in the eccentricities of the English , would have no word to say against her. A good-looking elderly girl might say, "There is, then, a premium on ugliness;" but that we do not mean. Handsome women can conduct themselves so well that the breath of reproach need not and does not touch them, and ugly women may and do sometimes gain an undeserved reproach.
There are some people who are born with what we call, for want of a better name, a pinchbeck air. Their jewelry never looks like real gold; their manner is always bad; they have the _faux air_ of fashion, not the real one. Such people, especially if single, receive many a snub which they do not deserve, and to a woman of this style a companion is almost necessary. Fortunately there are almost always _two_ women who can join forces in traveling or in living together, and the independence of such a couple is delightful. We have repeated testimony in English literature of the pleasant lives of the Ladies of Llangollen, of the lives of Miss Jewsbury and Lady Morgan, and of the model sisters Berry. In our own country we have almost abolished the idea that a companion is necessary for women of talent who are physicians or artists or musicians; but to those who are still in the trammels of private life we can say that the presence of a companion need not destroy their liberty, and it may add very much to their respectability and happiness. There is, no doubt, a great pleasure in the added freedom of life which comes to an elderly girl. "I can wear a velvet dress now," said an exceedingly handsome woman on her thirtieth birthday. In England an unmarried woman of fifty is called "_Mrs._," if she prefers that title. So many delightful women are late in loving, so many are true to some buried love, so many are "elderly girls" from choice, and from no neglect of the stronger sex, that to them should be accorded all the respect which is supposed to accrue naturally to the married. "It takes a very superior woman to be an old maid," said Miss Sedgwick.