Letter to The Times

In 1905 George Bernard Shaw wrote a letter to the editor of The Times.

corset wearing men

” The Opera management at Covent Garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women?

Let me describe what actually happened to me at the opera. An hour after it began, a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early, on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier.


For this lady had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly as if someone had killed it by stamping on its breast and then nailed it to the lady’s temple.

high hair

image found here

I presume if I had presented myself at the opera with a dead snake round my neck, a collection of blackbeetles pinned to my shirtfront and a grouse in my hair, I would have been refused admission.


I once, in Drury Lane Theatre, sat behind a matinee hat decorated with the two wings of a seagull, artificially reddened at the joints so as to produce an illusion of being freshly plucked from a live bird. But even that lady stopped short of the whole seagull.


image found here

I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the danger of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.”

nude with hat

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 8:04 am  Comments (39)  

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  1. My aunty, when she was a wee tyke, saw a well to do woman on a tram with a fox stole around her neck. She went up to her and began patting the fox saying “poor pussy, poor pussy”.

  2. I like this “nude with hats” theme you’ve got going. 🙂

  3. That GBS was quite a card. Must remember to leave my dead snake stole and blackbeetles brooch at home when I go to see Teddy Tahu Rhodes in Figaro next year.

  4. And while they are at it do the same in offices. Women’s idea of business dress run the gamut.

  5. Fashion Week just concluded here in NYC. Lots of runway shows and spring wardrobes. What passes for cutting-edge fashion today will look equally ridiculous a generation from now.

  6. maybe if i staple a dead pigeon to my head at work, i’ll be left to work in peace?

    • ooo Daisyfae I like your thinking … I may join your dead pigeon fanciers hat club 🙂

  7. As for those Carman Miranda wannabees, how come I get my face slapped just for trying to eat a banana from their hats?

  8. This reminds me that while modern life seems difficult, there have always been travails, like the misbegotten blending of taxidermy and theater. I never have to fear the squabonnet down at the multiplex.

    Lucky Linosite

  9. You should see the hats that black Baptist ladies wear to church in America. You can see entire fruit baskets on their heads sometimes. Very entertaining outfits!

    • Can you do a post on them? with photos?

      • If and when I go back, I would love too!

  10. As a four-year-old I was in a supermarket with my mother. I asked her loudly “Mummy why does that lady have a cake on her head?”

    According to my mother she smiled apologetically at the woman, who immediately stormed off in the other direction. I’ve been chatting up women ever since.

    Another time whilst I was living in the Cross – just near the Wayside Chapel (a refuge for the homeless) I saw a couple of remarkable looking homeless guys heading towards me. One of them sported a veritable helmet replete with wires, aerials, a fan and a rubber snake wrapped around the edge. As they passed by me he said to his chum “Let’s go down the Wayside, we can score, get a feed, maybe even a root”. And they say hats overheat the brain. I prefer a simple crown myself.

    The King

    • Before piercings were so common place, like about 25 years ago, quite a few times I heard “Mummy, why does that lady have an earring in her nose?” It’s a sleeper not a stud and come to think of it, it still happens occasionally but more often now they ask me rather than their mums. Answer: Because I like it there.

      • P.S. It seemed to upset the mums rather than me. I love the “brutal” honesty of little kids. 🙂

  11. Its easy to fergive a chick in a outrageous hat, when thats ALL shes wearin.

  12. I hate it when that happens.

  13. Where is the SPCA when you need them?

  14. wasn’t he the one who said: “When women proclaim their equality to men, they abdicate their superiority.”?

    • Great saying

  15. Great post and very pertinent pictures. Bernard Shaw is one of my favorite literary characters.

  16. I’m with that lady in the last photo – I feel naked when I go out, unless I have at least a dead bird on my head or have an animal slung over my shoulder

    • You’d look good with a taxidermied swan

  17. Dead birds on the head are so last century…dead cell phones on the head are the latest craze…

  18. I’m inclined to agree with Joey. If you are going to wear a silly hat ladies, let that be the only article of clothing.

  19. He obviously didn’t have a clue about womens’ fashions. Since when have they ever been logical, comfortable or politically correct?

    • Who dare tell a woman to remove a fashion statement?

  20. My brother was once pursued by a member of the family that owned Drury Lane Theatre …… she was a tad odd I recall ………

  21. At the very least the hat is a conversation piece.

  22. Anyone can wear a dead bird on their head. It’s wearing a live bird on your head that’s the real challenge.

  23. Nothing better in the world than a well-crafted letter. Wonderful!

  24. I occasionally where a hat of fecal matter, does that count?

    • I guess you don’t get laid very often Malach….

  25. an exception should be made for ducks at the opera.

  26. I just remembered that George Bernard Shaw was a vegetarian; I guess that explains his upset.

  27. I would actually like to know which crazy lady was the first to think that wearing a dead bird on her head was fashionable!!!!

    Can you help out with that Nurse dear?

    • Ummm…. nope, sorry….

  28. I’m curious though….what was the weirdest thing you ever wore?

    • Some people would say most of my clothes are weird…. I’ve got some bright blue trousers with butterflies and birds all over them that I think are pretty cool….

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