Woolson on the Women of New York, 1871

So, the question has been posed, what did Woolson think of New York women? Here you go . . .

“Joining the stream of ladies flowing up Broadway and Fifth avenue on a pleasant afternoon, a stranger is struck by the profusion of fur in which they are wrapped, and immediately withdraws all he has ever said against our new acquisition, Alaska, where every four-legged animal in the land must have been sacrificed last summer to supply the demand for ‘Alaska Sable’ now raging in the metropolis. Everybody is trimmed with it; velvet, poplin, cachmere (sic) and alpaca, are all decked with Alaska varying only in quantity according to the length of the purse, from deep bands on every available place to the simple boa and muff. It would, perhaps, be more consistent if our fair country women would muffle their white throats in the dark fur during these cold days instead of hanging it on the bottom of their dresses; but if they want to show their new lockets who shall dare to oppose them? If these young ladies prefer to take cold shall they be brutally prevented? No, gentlemen! Not while a locket with a diamond monogram remains in the land!

“The Manhatten (sic) belles are stylish from the loose braids on their pretty heads to the high heels on their pretty feet; as a rule they have fine eyes and brilliant complexions, and with their diamond earrings, exquisite gloves and marvelous dresses, they bewilder any unwary stranger into the idea that they are beautiful by the sheer strength of their determination to be thought so. Being so much in crowds they have lost all appearance of timidity, but as a compensation they have none of that disagreeable self-conscionsness (sic) which so often disfigures the beauties of small places. They enter and leave a hall, get in and out of an omnibus and walk up and down Broadway with calm self-possession, untortured (sic) by any nervous certainty that everybody is looking at them for among so many there is no hope of being first. If we should be called upon to name two distinguishing marks of a genuine New Yorker, we should say hair and gloves. The dress may be plain and the ornaments simple, but the hair is always arranged in the latest style, and the gloves are always fresh, well-fitted and buttoned high up the arm. These two items tell the story. Velvets and diamonds without them are of no avail to deceive the cool eye of a city lady who reads you like a book, stamps you as countrified and lets you go. Among old ladies the beautiful custom of wearing their own gray hair is very prevalent, and walking through the streets it looks as though every middle-aged woman had turned white in a single night, whereas it is only the putting away of false fronts and hair dyes, once so universally used. Some of the handsomest faces to be seen are old ladies with fresh complexions, dark eyes and feathery puffs of slivery hair rolled back under their close bonnets. They have a peculiarly distinguished appearance and although, their white hair is a frank confession of age, is it not better to be called a young-looking old lady than an old-looking young lady?”

–From “Gotham. A Bit of Bright Womanly Gossip. Music, Art, Fashion and Society.” Cleveland Herald Supplement, Jan. 14, 1871

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