The Purple Dress by O. Henry
We are to consider the shade known as purple. It is a color justly
in repute among the sons and daughters of man. Emperors claim it for
their especial dye. Good fellows everywhere seek to bring their
noses to the genial hue that follows the commingling of the red and
blue. We say of princes that they are born to the purple; and no
doubt they are, for the colic tinges their faces with the royal tint
equally with the snub-nosed countenance of a woodchopper's brat. All
women love it—when it is the fashion.
And now purple is being worn. You notice it on the streets. Of
course other colors are quite stylish as well—in fact, I saw a
lovely thing the other day in olive green albatross, with a
triple-lapped flounce skirt trimmed with insert squares of silk, and
a draped fichu of lace opening over a shirred vest and double puff
sleeves with a lace band holding two gathered frills—but you see
lots of purple too. Oh, yes, you do; just take a walk down
Twenty-third street any afternoon.
Therefore Maida—the girl with the big brown eyes and
cinnamon-colored hair in the Bee-Hive Store—said to Grace—the girl
with the rhinestone brooch and peppermint-pepsin flavor to her
speech—"I'm going to have a purple dress—a tailor-made purple
"Oh, are you," said Grace, putting away some 7½ gloves into
the 6¾ box. "Well, it's me for red. You see more red on Fifth
avenue. And the men all seem to like it."
"I like purple best," said Maida. "And old Schlegel has promised to
make it for $8. It's going to be lovely. I'm going to have a plaited
skirt and a blouse coat trimmed with a band of galloon under a white
cloth collar with two rows of—"
"Sly boots!" said Grace with an educated wink.
"—soutache braid over a surpliced white vest; and a plaited basque
"Sly boots—sly boots!" repeated Grace.
"—plaited gigot sleeves with a drawn velvet ribbon over an inside
cuff. What do you mean by saying that?"
"You think Mr. Ramsay likes purple. I heard him say yesterday he
thought some of the dark shades of red were stunning."
"I don't care," said Maida. "I prefer purple, and them that don't
like it can just take the other side of the street."
Which suggests the thought that after all, the followers of purple
may be subject to slight delusions. Danger is near when a maiden
thinks she can wear purple regardless of complexions and opinions;
and when Emperors think their purple robes will wear forever.
Maida had saved $18 after eight months of economy; and this had
bought the goods for the purple dress and paid Schlegel $4 on the
making of it. On the day before Thanksgiving she would have just
enough to pay the remaining $4. And then for a holiday in a new
dress—can earth offer anything more enchanting?
Old Bachman, the proprietor of the Bee-Hive Store, always gave a
Thanksgiving dinner to his employees. On every one of the subsequent
364 days, excusing Sundays, he would remind them of the joys of the
past banquet and the hopes of the coming ones, thus inciting them to
increased enthusiasm in work. The dinner was given in the store on
one of the long tables in the middle of the room. They tacked
wrapping paper over the front windows; and the turkeys and other
good things were brought in the back way from the restaurant on the
corner. You will perceive that the Bee-Hive was not a fashionable
department store, with escalators and pompadours. It was almost
small enough to be called an emporium; and you could actually go in
there and get waited on and walk out again. And always at the
Thanksgiving dinners Mr. Ramsay—
Oh, bother! I should have mentioned Mr. Ramsay first of all. He is
more important than purple or green, or even the red cranberry
Mr. Ramsay was the head clerk; and as far as I am concerned I am for
him. He never pinched the girls' arms when he passed them in dark
corners of the store; and when he told them stories when business
was dull and the girls giggled and said: "Oh, pshaw!" it wasn't G.
Bernard they meant at all. Besides being a gentleman, Mr. Ramsay was
queer and original in other ways. He was a health crank, and
believed that people should never eat anything that was good for
them. He was violently opposed to anybody being comfortable, and
coming in out of snow storms, or wearing overshoes, or taking
medicine, or coddling themselves in any way. Every one of the ten
girls in the store had little pork-chop-and-fried-onion dreams every
night of becoming Mrs. Ramsay. For, next year old Bachman was going
to take him in for a partner. And each one of them knew that if she
should catch him she would knock those cranky health notions of his
sky high before the wedding cake indigestion was over.
Mr. Ramsay was master of ceremonies at the dinners. Always they had
two Italians in to play a violin and harp and had a little dance in
And here were two dresses being conceived to charm Ramsay—one purple
and the other red. Of course, the other eight girls were going to
have dresses too, but they didn't count. Very likely they'd wear
some shirt-waist-and-black-skirt-affairs—nothing as resplendent as
purple or red.
Grace had saved her money, too. She was going to buy her dress
ready-made. Oh, what's the use of bothering with a tailor—when
you've got a figger it's easy to get a fit—the ready-made are
intended for a perfect figger—except I have to have 'em all taken in
at the waist—the average figger is so large waisted.
The night before Thanksgiving came. Maida hurried home, keen and
bright with the thoughts of the blessed morrow. Her thoughts were of
purple, but they were white themselves—the joyous enthusiasm of the
young for the pleasures that youth must have or wither. She knew
purple would become her, and—for the thousandth time she tried to
assure herself that it was purple Mr. Ramsay said he liked and not
red. She was going home first to get the $4 wrapped in a piece of
tissue paper in the bottom drawer of her dresser, and then she was
going to pay Schlegel and take the dress home herself.
Grace lived in the same house. She occupied the hall room above
At home Maida found clamor and confusion. The landlady's tongue
clattering sourly in the halls like a churn dasher dabbing in
buttermilk. And then Grace come down to her room crying with eyes as
red as any dress.
"She says I've got to get out," said Grace. "The old beast. Because
I owe her $4. She's put my trunk in the hall and locked the door. I
can't go anywhere else. I haven't got a cent of money."
"You had some yesterday," said Maida.
"I paid it on my dress," said Grace. "I thought she'd wait till next
week for the rent."
Sniffle, sniffle, sob, sniffle.
Out came—out it had to come—Maida's $4.
"You blessed darling," cried Grace, now a rainbow instead of sunset.
"I'll pay the mean old thing and then I'm going to try on my dress.
I think it's heavenly. Come up and look at it. I'll pay the money
back, a dollar a week—honest I will."
The dinner was to be at noon. At a quarter to twelve Grace switched
into Maida's room. Yes, she looked charming. Red was her color.
Maida sat by the window in her old cheviot skirt and blue waist
darning a st—. Oh, doing fancy work.
"Why, goodness me! ain't you dressed yet?" shrilled the red one.
"How does it fit in the back? Don't you think these velvet tabs look
awful swell? Why ain't you dressed, Maida?"
"My dress didn't get finished in time," said Maida. "I'm not going
to the dinner."
"That's too bad. Why, I'm awfully sorry, Maida. Why don't you put on
anything and come along—it's just the store folks, you know, and
they won't mind."
"I was set on my purple," said Maida. "If I can't have it I won't go
at all. Don't bother about me. Run along or you'll be late. You look
awful nice in red."
At her window Maida sat through the long morning and past the time
of the dinner at the store. In her mind she could hear the girls
shrieking over a pull-bone, could hear old Bachman's roar over his
own deeply-concealed jokes, could see the diamonds of fat Mrs.
Bachman, who came to the store only on Thanksgiving days, could see
Mr. Ramsay moving about, alert, kindly, looking to the comfort of
At four in the afternoon, with an expressionless face and a lifeless
air she slowly made her way to Schlegel's shop and told him she
could not pay the $4 due on the dress.
"Gott!" cried Schlegel, angrily. "For what do you look so glum? Take
him away. He is ready. Pay me some time. Haf I not seen you pass
mine shop every day in two years? If I make clothes is it that I do
not know how to read beoples because? You will pay me some time when
you can. Take him away. He is made goot; and if you look bretty in
him all right. So. Pay me when you can."
Maida breathed a millionth part of the thanks in her heart, and
hurried away with her dress. As she left the shop a smart dash of
rain struck upon her face. She smiled and did not feel it.
Ladies who shop in carriages, you do not understand. Girls whose
wardrobes are charged to the old man's account, you cannot begin to
comprehend—you could not understand why Maida did not feel the cold
dash of the Thanksgiving rain.
At five o'clock she went out upon the street wearing her purple
dress. The rain had increased, and it beat down upon her in a
steady, wind-blown pour. People were scurrying home and to cars with
close-held umbrellas and tight buttoned raincoats. Many of them
turned their heads to marvel at this beautiful, serene, happy-eyed
girl in the purple dress walking through the storm as though she
were strolling in a garden under summer skies.
I say you do not understand it, ladies of the full purse and varied
wardrobe. You do not know what it is to live with a perpetual
longing for pretty things—to starve eight months in order to bring a
purple dress and a holiday together. What difference if it rained,
hailed, blew, snowed, cycloned?
Maida had no umbrella nor overshoes. She had her purple dress and
she walked abroad. Let the elements do their worst. A starved heart
must have one crumb during a year. The rain ran down and dripped
from her fingers.
Some one turned a corner and blocked her way. She looked up into Mr.
Ramsay's eyes, sparkling with admiration and interest.
"Why, Miss Maida," said he, "you look simply magnificent in your new
dress. I was greatly disappointed not to see you at our dinner. And
of all the girls I ever knew, you show the greatest sense and
intelligence. There is nothing more healthful and invigorating than
braving the weather as you are doing. May I walk with you?"
And Maida blushed and sneezed.