Thursday, October 2, 2014

Virginia Woolf's Essay "The Plumage Bill"

Virginia Woolf, from the time of her childhood, opposed the use of bird plumage in fashion. 

Below is an excerpt from her essay "The Plumage Bill," which originally appeared in Woman's Leader on 23 July 1920, in reply to what Woolf saw as a sexist piece written by H.W. Massingham, editor of the Nation, and active member of the Plumage Bill Group. 

And then there comes on foot, so that we may have a good look at her, a lady of a different class altogether. A silver bag swings from her wrist. Her gloves are white. Her shoes lustrous. She holds herself upright. As an object of beauty her figure is incomparably more delightful than any other object on the street or window. It is her face that one must discount, for, though discreetly tinted and powdered, it is a stupid face, and the look she sweeps over the shop windows has something of the greedy petulance of a pug-dog's face at tea-time. When she comes to the display of egret plumes, artfully arranged and centrally placed, she pauses. So do many women. For, after all, what can be more ethereally and fantastically lovely? The plumes seem to be the natural adornment of spirited and fastidious life, the very symbol of pride and distinction. The lady of the stupid face and beautiful figure is going tonight to the opera; Clara Butt is singing Orpheus; Princess Mary will be present; a lemon-coloured egret is precisely what she wants to complete her toilet. In she goes; the silver bag disgorges I know not how many notes; and the fashion writers next day say that Lady So-and-So was 'looking lovely with a lemon-coloured egret in her hair'. 

This essay originally appeared in Woman's Leader on July 23, 1920. The above excerpt is from The Essays of Virginia Woolf 1919-1924, edited by Andrew McNeillie

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