Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Nice Clothing

By Thomas Hardy

Nice Clothing

This poem is a lesson in Victorian fashion—well, sort of. There are references to clothing in just about every stanza, largely because the other woman is completely dazzled by 'Melia's killer outfits. Clothing in this poem symbolizes both 'Melia's newly acquired social status (she has the money to afford nice things) but also her ruin. It is because 'Melia has somehow compromised her sexual innocence that she is also able to make herself look more like a woman and less like some creature with "paws" instead of hands. Fair trade-off?

  • Line 3: The "fair garments" mentioned here are described in more detail later. In fact, "fair" might be a little bit of an understatement, as 'Melia's clothes are awesome.
  • Line 7: Those "fair garments" are described here. 'Melia has "gay bracelets" (i.e., shiny and pretty) and three "bright feathers." The clothes symbolize both her social advancement and ruin. The feathers may also represent 'Melia's newly acquired freedom. She's no longer stuck on the farm; those feathers make us think of birds flying freely. 
  • Line 12: 'Melia says she has acquired some "polish." This is both a metaphor for her new clean clothes and appearance, but also for the social elegance and class status that she's gained as a result of her "ruin."
  • Lines 14-15: The "gloves" could be any gloves, but given what's already been mentioned we'll go ahead and say these are nice, silky, rich-lady gloves, like these. Like the feathers and the bracelet, these symbolize 'Melia's new status. They also show 'Melia's aloofness from the world around her, as if she were wearing gloves not just as a fashion statement but also to avoid touching anything.
  • Lines 21-22: The other woman wishes she had what 'Melia does (feathers, a "sweeping gown," and a pretty and elegant face). She too wants to elevate her social status and escape her poverty, an escape that would be symbolized by her ability to afford nice clothing.

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