Recently I’ve been pondering this quote from Northanger Abbey, which is surprising full of clothes.
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.
Do women like their friends to look shabby, worse than them? Obviously, women these days fall on a broad spectrum of caring about their appearance, but I think the more a woman cares about her appearance, the more she cares about her friends’ appearances, and the more she wants them to look fashionable (whether goth, moth, preppy, etc), so as not to embarrass her. I think wanting to look better than your friends is on a different axis altogether, one more to do with self-confidence and all that. We probably need a graph or a Venn diagram to settle the question, and an Internet quiz you can take. Maybe later.
Having come to that conclusion, I think Jane Austen was there ahead of me, and she was talking about a frivolous b-word like Isabella Thorpe, and not any of us. Oh no. We are nice girls, and not being as innocent as Catherine Morland, we know quite well what men want to see in our clothes. Jane Austen, for all her delicacy, is perfectly clear about it, and so is Mrs. Bennet of all people. I present to you, in fact, what Mr. Wickham was no doubt thinking when Lydia “tucked a little lace.” Note, this is NOT safe for work!