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Buttered Side Down: Stories

3. What She Wore
Somewhere in your story you must pause to describe your heroine's costume. It is a
ticklish task. The average reader likes his heroine well dressed. He is not satisfied with
knowing that she looked like a tall, fair lily. He wants to be told that her gown was of
green crepe, with lace ruffles that swirled at her feet. Writers used to go so far as to name
the dressmaker; and it was a poor kind of a heroine who didn't wear a red velvet by
Worth. But that has been largely abandoned in these days of commissions. Still, when the
heroine goes out on the terrace to spoon after dinner (a quaint old English custom for the
origin of which see any novel by the "Duchess," page 179) the average reader wants to
know what sort of a filmy wrap she snatches up on the way out. He demands a
description, with as many illustrations as the publisher will stand for, of what she wore
from the bedroom to the street, with full stops for the ribbons on her robe de nuit, and the
buckles on her ballroom slippers. Half the poor creatures one sees flattening their noses
against the shop windows are authors getting a line on the advance fashions. Suppose a
careless writer were to dress his heroine in a full-plaited skirt only to find, when his story
is published four months later, that full-plaited skirts have been relegated to the dim past!
I started to read a story once. It was a good one. There was in it not a single allusion to
brandy-and-soda, or divorce, or the stock market. The dialogue crackled. The hero talked
like a live man. It was a shipboard story, and the heroine was charming so long as she
wore her heavy ulster. But along toward evening she blossomed forth in a yellow gown,
with a scarlet poinsettia at her throat. I quit her cold. Nobody ever wore a scarlet
poinsettia; or if they did, they couldn't wear it on a yellow gown. Or if they did wear it
with a yellow gown, they didn't wear it at the throat. Scarlet poinsettias aren't worn,
anyhow. To this day I don't know whether the heroine married the hero or jumped
overboard.
You see, one can't be too careful about clothing one's heroine.
I hesitate to describe Sophy Epstein's dress. You won't like it. In the first place, it was cut
too low, front and back, for a shoe clerk in a downtown loft. It was a black dress, near-
princess in style, very tight as to fit, very short as to skirt, very sleazy as to material. It
showed all the delicate curves of Sophy's under-fed, girlish body, and Sophy didn't care a
bit. Its most objectionable feature was at the throat. Collarless gowns were in vogue.
Sophy's daring shears had gone a snip or two farther. They had cut a startlingly generous
V. To say that the dress was elbow-sleeved is superfluous. I have said that Sophy clerked
in a downtown loft.
Sophy sold "sample" shoes at two-fifty a pair, and from where you were standing you
thought they looked just like the shoes that were sold in the regular shops for six. When
Sophy sat on one of the low benches at the feet of some customer, tugging away at a
refractory shoe for a would-be small foot, her shameless little gown exposed more than it
should have. But few of Sophy's customers were shocked. They were mainly chorus girls
 
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