Washington

The following two passages describe the clothing/comportment of two groups of callers in Washington, D.C. Twain describes "three distinct aristocracies in Washington": the "Antiques", the middle-ground, and the Parvenus. These outline the first and the last.

(Warning: more racial slurs. Instead of taking it out, I've chosen to add this note. I think it's integral to the passage, and should be kept in. Let me know what you think.)

"They drove up at one in the afternoon in a rather antiquated vehicle with a faded coat of arms on the panels, an aged white-wooled negro coachman on the box and a younger darkey beside him--the footman. Both of these servants were dressed in dull brown livery that had seen considerable service.

The ladies entered the drawing-room in full character; that is to say, with Elizabethan stateliness on the part of the dowager, and an easy grace and dignity on the part of the young lady that had a nameless something about it that suggested conscious superiority. The dresses of both ladies were exceedingly rich, as to material, but as notably modest as to color and ornament. All parties having seated themselves, the dowager delivered herself of a remark that was not unusual in its form, and yet it came from her lips with the impressiveness of the Scripture: 'The weather has been unpropitious of late, Miss Hawkins.'" (239)

. . .

"The three carriages arrived at the same moment from different directions. They were new and wonderfully shiny, and the brasses on the harness were highly polished and bore complicated monograms. There were showy coats of arms, too, with Latin mottoes. The coachmen and footmen were clad in bright new livery, of striking colors, and they had black rosettes with shaving-brushes projecting above them, on the sides of their stove-pipe hats.


When the visitors swept into the drawing-room they filled the place with a suffocating sweetness procured at the perfumer's. Their costumes, as to architecture, were the latest fashion intensified; they were rainbow-hued; they were hung with jewels--chiefly diamonds. It would have been plain to any eye that it had cost something to upholster these women." (241)



From The Gilded Age, 1873. No question of which is which here. These are some of the best passages on clothing, in which Twain deliberately compares the two within a few pages of each other. Although he uses clothing much, much less than some of his contemporaries, this is one instance in which this aspect of one's presentation speaks volumes, both then and now. Definitely speaks to the idea of gilt vs. gold, huh?

Stay tuned for one last from Twain, a member of the latter party...