Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. June 27,
1857. Pg 64
The Horrors of Wearing a Hoop
Complaint of Mr. John Smith.
My wife has purchased a hoop!
I suppose I am not the only man in New York whose
wife has committed a similar indiscretion. I suppose there are a great many
mortals whose peace of mind is similarly shattered by these horrible apparitions
of whalebone, steel and crinoline. Some of them are called skeletons, I
hear. It's a very appropriate name, I am sure; though I would rather meet
a real, bona fide skeleton and day, that one of these perpetual paradoxes,
both bony and apoplectic. The powers of my mind are being weakened every
hour. I can feel them giving way one by one. I am on my way to an insane
hospital with fearful rapidity, and when I do collapse, the verdict
will undoubtedly prove to be, "died of hoops!"
Mrs. John Smith bought her hoop at a fashionable
establishment - one of the vastest an most spreading rotundities of the
age; and I carried the monstrosity home, carefully done up in brown paper,
with my better half exulting by my side. On the way one of the steel springs
"broke loose on society," nearly putting out the eyes of a fat
old gentleman and lady, directly behind us, and in consequence thereof I
narrowly escaped the custody of a police officer, who lurked at the corner
ready to spring out on the slightest provocation. Mrs. John Smith compelled
me to return again in order to have the breach made good; she said it was
all my own fault, and that I was a clumsy blockhead - and I suppose that
is the fact, for I have learned to have no will of my own since the hoops
came home. If Mrs. John Smith were to tell me I was a shorthorned Durham,
I should take it for granted, and fall to eating grass immediately!
My wife invested herself in the hoops, directly
upon arriving at home, and then triumphantly sailed forth again, to display
her improved proportions on Broadway. That I shouldn't have complained of,
if she hadn't insisted on my accompanying her, to show the world in general
that she had conquered in the matter of "hoops or no hoops." I
am a small man, besides, and being almost lost in the amplitude of my wife's
attire, found it hard to carry on the process of locomotion. You would have
thought the hoops were alive, and knew my secret abhorrence of them, by
the spiteful way in which they thrashed and belabored my ancles at every
swing of my wife's sweeping garments. I have used three bottles of Magical
Salve on them since (the ancles, not the hoops), but without avail.
Words cannot describe the misadventures, the mal-apropos
occurrences which my wife's everlasting hoops brought upon us during that
journey down Broadway. They turned over two peanut stands and an apple establishment,
onthree consecutive corners, but still swept on, regardless of the torrent
of Billingate hurled after us by the irritated old woman who officiated
as presiding genuius over the treasures. They tripped up any number of unfortunate
masculines like myself, who found their heels elevated at an angle of forty-five
degrees, and their new knox hats performing the office for Broadway which
the Commissioner's hoes and scrapers ought to do, but don't, almost
before they could realize that they had "stepped on a lady's train." They entangled a yelping poodle, and dragged him two squares,
before his shrieking owner, (whom, by the way, I don't compassionate a bit,
for her hoops were as enormous as my wife's own,) could rescue him from
the fangs of the steel devourer. The very newsboys grinned significantly
as we passed, and laid their grimy fingers on their stunted noses, shouting
their convictions that "the comet had come, sure as blazes;" that
"that are was a `oop as was a 'oop," and graciously recommending
me, under the patronizing title of "little `un," to "climbup
and not be afeared; I might just as well ride behind as not," together
with many such observations, which however witty they may be, certainly
don't help to restore one's self-possession and dignity under such embarrassing
Our entrance into the various shop-doors was little short of a continuous miracle to me. How Mrs. John Smith ever compressed that balloon into the doors I am utterly unable to imagine. And the way it burst out again into full rotundity, to the terror of all bystanders, when relieved from the restrain, was at once awful and sublime!
I was much scandalized once or twice, by the determined manner in which it perked itself into the air when my wife bent down to examine the goods on various counters , giving a full view of all the "interior arrangements," namely, white flannel skirts, worked in "compound scallop," silk stockings, and high-heeled gaiters. Now I don't mean to say that my wife's ancles are not the very perfection of grace and symmetry, but I do mean to say that public opinion has a prejudice in favor of covering that particular portion of feminine loveliness, and consequently I was much shocked at the lawless defiance that the hoops bade to public opinion. But when I ventured to hint as much to Mrs. John Smith, in a modest whisper, she called me "an impertinent little thing," and filled my soul with consternation by the indignant arrows that darted from her eyes.
When we issued from Stewart's, and resumed our
march down Broadway, the capricious hoops suddenly conceived a freak to
amuse themselves in a most novel and curious manner. TAking advantage of
and abrupt gust of wind, they turned a complete somerset over my wife's
head, and the finest I knew, she was being propelled down the street, at
a rapid rate, her head and face totally enveloped in the reversed hoop.
I hastened to the rescue, and after many fruitless
struggles, succeeded in restoring the demon article to its proper place,
just as a vicioustempered boy, perched on a lamp-post close by had suggested,
"Get a rope and pulley and you'll soon haul it down!"
We concluded to take the omnibus home, and accepted the proffered aid of a friendly policeman, to conduct us through the crowd. Here again we met with a mishap. On entering the omnibus, Mrs. John Smith's fashionable "high-heels" caught in one of the gaunt ribs of her hoop, and had it not been for the prompt aid of the Star, she must inevitably have fallen in the midst of Broadway. That bland official informed me, in reply to my thanks, that "ladies' hoops was the most troublesome part of his business, now-a-days." "But," added he, with a malicious twinkle in his eye, "they ain't so bad after all; they're better than all the street- cleaners to keep Broadway swept nice and neat!"
We took our places in the stage, pretending not
to observe the suppressed merriment of its nmates. I secretly hoped that
all these contretemps would serve to diminish the hoop-mania that
seemed to possess my wife, but alas! that was a vain delusion. Not even
the unmanageable behavior of the horrid thing all the way home could assume
any given position, but protruded itself in a straight line, nearly to the
top of the vehicle, amusing itself, every now and then, by knocking off
old gentlemen's hats, discomposing old ladies' ostrich feathers, and creating
a general hard feeling in the omnibus. Never was mortal man more relieved
than I, when at length we entered our door.
But the aggravated horrors which attend these hoops in the house are no less depressing than the mishaps of out-door life. I'm sure that if Mrs. Job had worn a hoop, Job wouldn't have come down to posterity as a patient man! Our doorway is a moderately wide one-at least so I flattered myself before our women were transformed into walking balloons, but I have been obliged to have it enlarged several feet, and even now, Mrs. John Smith has to go through an elaborate engineering process to pass the threatening Scylla in safety. The painters now at work on our humble establishment, are nearly reduced to a state of idiocy by the frequent frustration with which their labors meet. No sooner do they ornament our front door with a fresh coat of "graining," than Mrs. John Smith sweeps through, transforming their wavy lines and radiating "knots" to blank chaos, and bearing away novel styles of "fresco" on her silk flounces and rustling moire antique. The ferocity which their countenances assume, when she passes by, overturning pots of white-lead and china-gloss, and dragging brushes, pencils and all, in the stately flow of her compendious skirts, is truly appalling to a meek man like myself. Who knows but that we may be garotted on our own house, and all on account of the hoops!
My wife doesn't pretend to get down the basement
stairs; they are altogether too narrow for the new developments. No, she
descends the front steps, and sails down through the area, towing me in
her wake, like a ship of war towinga satellite row-boat into port in her
wake, like a ship of war towing a satellite row-boat into prot to the infinite
delight of our opposite neighbor, a confirmed old bachelor, who takes a
demoniac pleasure in the discomfiture of the crowd of juvenile youths, mostly
belonging to the lower classes of society, who daily assemble to witness
the spectacle, and add interest to the scene by their jocose but irreverent
The other evening Mrs. John Smith gave a soiree,
as she calls it, and momentarily forgetful of the change in costume, invited
as many as our rooms had been wont to contain, in the palmy days of old,
before hoops were. Good gracious! The fearful collisions and concussions
which made night horrible around our door! "When crinoline meets crinoline,
then comes the tug of war!" Our parlors filled up rapidly-our entries
became crowded, and the cry was still "they come!" Our street
was full of disappointed fair ones in full-dress costume, and the uproar
was so great that, in despair I fled down stairs to the coal cellar, and
sat there all the evening,with my fingers in my ears, enlivened only by
the companionship of the cat. I learned afterwards that one-half the guests
had been obliged to depart, being unable to obtain an entrance. Since that,
Mrs. John Smith has been teasing me incessantly to buy a larger house. Good
heavens! am I to pander to the enlargement of these fearful nuisances?
Our domestic forces are all in confusion and anarchy,
in consequence of these direful agents of ill. Bridget, the cook, though
a patient and long-suffering daughter of Erin, is at length driven to desperation
by Mrs. John Smith's visits to the kitchen. She cannot endure the knocking
down of pots and kettles, the clang of frying-pan and trivet; the upsetting
of various delicate gravies and elaborate sauces that inevitably follow
my wife's daily descent to give orders! In the small whirlwind of agitated
air that the hoops bring with them, nothing is safe. The spices she has
so carefully ground and prepared take flight precipitately from the window
in eddying clouds, perhaps to perfume some back alley with the odors of
Araby the blest. Bridget's stiffly starched corn-colored aprons flutter
down from the chairs and tables into the deluge of soapsuds with which she
is anointing the kitchen floor; even the penny edition of "The Gallant
Young Coachman," and "My Own Mary Ann," on the dresser, which
she has just purchased to stimulate her poetical taste, go whirling out,
through the basement windows, into the area, and become the prey of the
next "wandering ministrel" that comes along with his barrel organ
Wrought up to the highest pitch of wrath by this long series of persecutions, Bridget has at length given warning. With arms akimbo and flaming eyes, she has announced her determination "never to live in no house again where the missus wears such petticuts!" In vain does my wife strive to conciliate the offended feeling of Bridget - her noble rage is not to be appeased; and thus we are doomedto lose the paragon of cooks, of whom "we ne'er shall look upon the like again!"
The infection has extended even to the housemaid
and errand girl. Our barrels are all falling to pieces, in consequence of
those deluded menials having abstracted all the hoops, in emulation
of their mistress. It was but yester-eve that I beheld these aspiring damsels
dangling in the air the circular abominations connected by strands of sixpenny
twine, and triumphantly exclaiming to the next-door girl, "Well, if
this ain't every bit as good as missus's new skillington, I'll give
Why, they haunted me constantly, these hoops! I
could't enter the closet to get my new hat or coat, but an imprisoned "steel
spring" flew in to my face, like an enraged serpent. Every corner was
alive with the spiral coils. I could not sit down in my own easy-chair without
being reminded by a sharp and far from agreeable sensation, that Mrs. John
Smith had "just laid her hoop down there for a minute." They hung
on the wall staring at me when I lay down at night; they grinned defiance
on me when I arose in the morning - they brooded over my waking and sleeping
hours like a perpetual nightmare!
When not in active use, my wife has frequenly made
them officiate as dungeons - imprisoning little Johnny within their gloomy
circumference, on occasion of his being "naughty." Many a time
has o e of them stood by itself, a dreadful prison-house, in the centre,
of the room, with my eldest-born wailing behind its steel ribs; a horrible
Moloch both to him and to me!
It would by useless to enumerate the number of times my wife has been wedged in narrow passages and stairways, and with difficulty extricated; it would be useless to mention that she can't sit without her skirts overwhelming the whole vicinity , reminding one forcibly of the Nile overflowing its banks. It would be but labor thrown away to particularize the distressing consequences which followed a succession of morning calls received by my wife the other day. The servants flew to open the double doors, and soon afterwards I witnessed the triumphal entry of some half-dozen hemispheres (I can't call them anything else), the Herculean efforts made by the fair creatures to get near enough to kiss one another, and finally the tremendous sensation they created in being seated! In striving to pay my respects in an agreeable and off-hand manner, I became hopelessly entangled among the ladies' hoops, and the first I knew, I was struggling blindly in a miniature Maelstrom, experiencing very much the sensation of some poor mariner whose boat is wrecked amid a nest of icebergs, and who momentarily expects the fatal crash! but when after much disentangling and rending of silks and laces, I did escape, I made for the door with unexampled rapidity, painfully conscious the while of the scornful smile of my wife, and of the contemptuous regard of her visitors. A fine situation, truly, for a lord of creation!
My wife has left fragments of her dresses on every
projecting angle, every nail and ever bureau-drawer handle in the house.
That hoop must be of an affectionate disposition, for it attaches itself
everywhere! It has caught fire from the grate a dozen times; it refuses
to accommodate itself to any table or chair in the house; in short, it is
a very demon!
I have spent hours in pondering how to be rid of
it. I thought of appealing to Mayor Wood: I thought of the Metropolitan
Police. Couldn't I memorialize Congress? or perhaps the State Legislature,
whose finger is in every man's pie, unavailing; and finally, stung to madness,
I determined to make a bold stroke for freedom, in propria persona. It
took me some weeks to screw my courage up to the sticking point, and when
at length I did approach the awful subject, it was with fear and trembling.
"Mrs. Smith," said I, timidly - good
gracious, how the resolution was oozing out at the ends of my fingers! -
"Mrs. Smith, my dear!"
My wife looked up from her work. She was engaged
in repairing a damaged hoop. The sight of her employment gave new courage
to my sinking heart, and I resumed in a still louder tone of voice,
"The fact is , my dear, I've made up my mind"
- here I cast about for a politic way of introducing my subject, but finding
none, pitched headlong into it - "I can't stand these hoops any longer,
indeed I can't. I'm almost distracted with `em. And you must either do one
thing or the other - give me up, or give the hoops up. Now consider which
you will have, for we can't both exist in the same house!"
I considered this chef d'oeuvre of dignified
and authoritative diction, and stood awaiting the answer in the most commanding
position I could assume, notwithstanding my knees shook together, and my
very heart stood still within me at the consciousness of my unwonted audacity.
Slowly my wife rose to her feet, spreading her
hoop out into its fullest amplitude, and made answer in a tone of calm determination,
"Ill have both, Mr. Smith! I'll keep
the hoops, and I'll keep you too!"
"But, my dear -"
"Hear me a minute, Mr. John Smith, if you
please. I am a healthier woman than I was - I am a happier woman than I
was. Look at the color in my cheeks, at the light in my eyes! Look at the
comparative length of your doctor's bills. Just lift that hoop, if you pleas,
and compare its weight with that of eight or ten heavy skirts. Which do
you suppose is best for a woman to wear? Which do you suppose is the lightest,
the coolest, the most healthy?"
I couldn't say a word - I was actually struck dumb.
"And now, my dear," she concluded in
a coaxing tone, "you gentlemen may ridicule the hoop, and complain
of them as much as you please, but we women can only know what a blessed
invention they are to us. You may as well make up yourmind to admire them,
for they will be henceforth among our fixed institutions, and we mean to
keep our hoops and keep our husbands too!"
What could I do? I kissed my wife, and told her she was quite right; and then, with a sneaking consciousness of having been entirely conquered in full field of battle, slunk off to my office. It's of no use, fellow-sufferers! women have always ruled us, and they always will. Eve brought sin into the ancient world, and Euginie brought hoops into the modern world; we can but ease our mind by entering now and then a mild protest or two against the horrors of wearing crinoline!