Clothes (1914) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Olive Sherwood, a pretty western girl living in Omaha, is very fond of finery. Young and inexperienced, she knows nothing of the deeper currents of life, but the refinements of society and its polished exteriors appeals to her strongly, and the crude west does not seem to provide what her fastidious nature craves. Her loving old father sighs over her extravagances, but is too indulgent to curb them, and in order to gratify her expensive whims invests in some Red Star mining stock that West, a crafty, unscrupulous New York broker, induces him to buy. On a business trip to Omaha, West sees Olive, and casts an admiring and covetous eye upon her. Horace Watling, his wife Anna, and their child, Ruth, are firm friends of Olive, and Mrs. Watling's love for clothes creates a strong bond between both women. Mr. Watling, who is a small publisher, is induced to come to New York and establish himself there as a partner in a big publishing concern. Olive envies the Watlings' gay life in the metropolis, so that when her father dies and West advises her to come to New York. Olive is easily persuaded to do so. For a time Olive is delighted with the gaiety of metropolitan society, but she has only one "party gown," and its frequent appearances soon cause sly amusement and concealed scorn. Olive, left in straitened circumstances by her father's death, grieves over her lack of money for pretty clothes. At this juncture West comes forward and tells her that the Red Star raining stock owned by her father has boomed, giving her money in the form of "dividends." Olive innocently accepts the funds, unaware that the stock is worthless. A young clerk in West's office, whose father had been ruined by the broker, watches West's dealings closely, and enters in a diary all the evidence of West's crimes, hoping thereby to finally convict him. Watling, though prosperous, is weighed down by business cares, has little use for the society his wife worships, and secretly longs for the simplicity and happiness of his former life; and little Ruth, who is the devoted friend of Olive, is sadly neglected by her ambitious mother. Mrs. Watling invites Olive to a society circus. Olive has already met her ideal, Richard Burbank, a rich young society man who is weary of the sham and artificiality of the life about him, and who has fallen ardently in love with Olive. He, too, attends the house party, and there declares his love for Olive. Olive accepts him and is very happy. West, who observes a tender scene between the two, is furious with jealousy, and enters Olive's room in a drunken frenzy, telling her that she will be his or he will expose her. Olive stares at him in mingled bewilderment and fright, when another guest suddenly enters the room. West hastily leaves, but later, in the presence of all the guests, and amid the gaieties of the society circus, West denounces Olive, and dramatically tells the assemblage that he has been supporting her, and that she would sell her soul for clothes. In proof of this, he displays the receipt for the clothes she wears, for which he had advanced the money in the guise of dividends. Olive, shamed by the disgrace into which her innocent ignorance and love of finery has led her, is too overwhelmed and humiliated to speak, and Burbank is reluctantly forced, in a bitter moment of doubt, to believe her silent admission of West's claims. During this episode, Watling learns that the Red Star mining stock, in which he had heavily invested on the advice of Olive, is worthless. Mrs. Watling also turns against Olive, who, brokenhearted, returns to Omaha, glad to do the sewing for the neighbors she once despised. When it is learned that the Watlings have lost their fortune, they are shunned, and they too see the hollowness and mockery of society, and decide to return to Omaha and begin life anew. Burbank cannot forget Olive, and with returning love comes the conviction that she is innocent. He goes to West's office, determined to learn where she is, just as West is contemplating a trip abroad on his ill-gotten gains. West tries to escape, but the vengeful clerk aids Burbank in detaining him. The clerk produces the evidence of West's villainies, and the rogue, confronted by exposure and disgrace, and weakened by worry and dissipation, falls dead of heart failure. Little Ruth sees Olive in Omaha, and at once writes Burbank of her presence there. Burbank goes to Omaha, and the lovers are happily reunited. And Olive at last realizes the value of love and the folly of pride in clothes.


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