What ever I knew of styles in dressing was from an old fashioned book dated before the war, which I found in our small town dressmaker’s work room in Russia. The dresses we wore were made out of sack, old sheets, or table cloths that did not need much style. It was not a question of style but of how to cover one’s body in those days.
The leather jacket that came with the Revolution, was to me a symbol both of Revolution and elegance. My admiration for the jacket I brought with me to America, and made sure to get one as soon as possible.
But my desired leather jacket brought me a lot of trouble after I had lost my first job and was looking for another one.
I answered an ad in the paper. It was a dressmaking shop. The man came to the door, who was short and stout, and had a big cigar in his mouth. With one glance at me, he burst out in a hoarse voice, “Can’t use you,” and slammed the door in front of my nose.
Next came a jewelry box factory. After waiting for one hour in the hall, I was admitted to an office where a tall handsome young man with a heavy cigar in his mouth (a sign of big business) was sitting behind a large mahogany desk with an air of dignity. He politely invited me to sit down and the questioning began.
“What is a union shop?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I answered, although I had, in fact, belonged to a union for two years.
“Don’t you belong to a union?”
“You know I don’t like it when someone else wants to run my business.”
“Oh! I understand that.”
“What is your name and address?”
I told him, and he answered, “Come in tomorrow.”
But tomorrow another man came out, I presume the foreman; he asked my name and disappeared. In a few minutes he came out again and the answer was, “I’m sorry, Miss, the place is taken; come in some other time.”
Then I applied as a learner in a millinery shop. The forelady, who engaged the girls, said to me, “I am sorry, Miss, we don’t like Bolsheviks.”
“What makes you think I am one?”
“Never mind, I can see it at once. These leather jackets and bushy hair, I know them well.”
Later I got a job in a men’s clothing shop. After I had worked there a few weeks, the boss showed a tendency to familiarity toward me. He promised to give me a lesson in behavior. For that he got the coat in his face, and I quit the job. The reason for such behavior was again my leather jacket which made him think I was a Communist.
For a year I heard the words “I can’t use you.” “Not today.” “Taken.” “Come some other time.” I got sick and tired of it, and decided to get rid of my Jacket. I dressed myself in the latest fashion, with lipstick in addition, although it was so hard to use at first that I blushed, felt foolish, and thought myself vulgar. But I got a job.
This occurred some years ago. Now, however, there is no more danger in wearing a jacket. It does not signify radicalism, because the American student took to wearing it.
“The Symbolic Jacket,” Hourwich and Palmer, I Am A Woman Worker: A Scrapbook of Autobiographies (New York: Affiliated Schools for Workers, 1936), pp. 22-23.