“A Pair of Silk Stockings” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a married woman fallen on hard times who receives an unexpected windfall. It describes how the woman spends the money.
If you’re not yet fluent in English, you can hear a version of this story read in “Special English,” used by the Voice of America to “communicate by radio in clear and simple English with people whose native language is not English.”
Read the story in a PDF
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
New: A reader’s response
Articles and book chapters about the story
Books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
You can read the story and download it in our accurate, printable, and searchable PDF file, which is based on The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006). If you’re citing a passage from this or other Kate Chopin stories for research purposes, it’s a good idea to check your citation against one of these printed texts.
- Mrs. Sommers: “Little Mrs. Sommers,” as Kate Chopin phrases it
- A shop girl
- The “gaudy” woman next to Mrs. Sommers at the theatre
- The man across from Mrs. Sommers on the cable car
The story takes place in an unnamed city–a city large enough to have a department store, a fashionable restaurant, a theatre, and a cable car–probably in the early 1890s.
Some readers, as we explain in the questions and answers below, focus on the balance between individual impulse and responsibility in the story. Some see rather a manipulation of women by businesses hoping to create a market for expensive clothing, restaurant food, and entertainment.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written in April, 1896, and published in Vogue on September 16, 1897, one of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Vogue published.
Q: Mrs. Sommers reminds me of people I know, people struggling to pay their bills but tempted by clever marketing to spend the little money they have on things they can’t afford. Was today’s consumer society already in place in Kate Chopin’s time?
A: It was emerging, and it included what Robert Arner in the essay collection Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival calls “the appropriation and manipulation of female desire by an increasingly aggressive and male-managed capitalist culture in an attempt to create and sustain an inexhaustible market for services and goods, especially for luxury goods.” It included also, Arner argues, “a new sense of self based upon lower- and middle-class imitation of the wealthy through the agencies of fashion and taste.”
What happens to Mrs. Sommers, Arner adds, “is exactly what the male managerial system had intended should happen, not particularly to her as an individual but to her as a member of an invented class of people, female shoppers, within the world that May and Macy and Wannamaker [department store owners] were in the process of creating.”
Q: Something about Mrs. Sommers reminds me of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening. But what is it? Edna is certainly not poor. An additional fifteen dollars would not seem like “a very large amount of money” for her as it does for Mrs. Sommers.
A: There may be many resemblances between Mrs. Sommers and Edna Pontellier, but one is especially noticeable. Kate Chopin writes that “impulse” is guiding Mrs. Sommers, and in Chapter XII of The Awakening she describes Edna as “blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility,” a passage that calls to mind the sentences from “A Pair of Silk Stockings” at the top of this page.
Q: People seem to assume that Mrs. Sommers is a widow or a single mother. But could she be a woman married to a man who has lost his fortune and fallen on hard times?
A: There’s no evidence in the story to rule out the possibility that Mrs. Sommers’ husband is alive but that the couple is poor.
In many of the stories that Kate Chopin included in her two books of short stories, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, we can tell a good deal about some characters because they live at a specific place in rural Louisiana, or they appear in several stories, or characters in other stories talk about them. But Mrs. Sommers does not appear in any other Chopin story and nobody in any other story speaks of her. We do not even know what city or state her story takes place in. All we can tell about her is what we have in those words in “A Pair of Silk Stockings.”
Apparently Chopin did not consider Mrs. Sommers’ marital status of importance to the story. She keeps her focus on Mrs. Sommers’ actions in a center city over a period of several hours, and she does not show us this character’s life at home–with or without a husband.
New: Response from a reader: I just read your page on “A Pair of Silk Stockings” and I am really surprised at how others interpret the story to be about lack of responsibility or being a helpless victim of clever marketing. This seems like such a gendered interpretation of this story. I read this story back in college and have always interpreted it very differently . . . especially now so after being a mother. To me it’s always been a very feminist story of a woman who dared spend some unexpected money on a day of self-care that she deserved and was long overdue for. Her initial struggle with the guilt of doing anything for herself with the money instead of spending it on her family to me seems to support this. Being a mother today, we still have so much pressure on us to be martyrs to our families and friends. So many women put themselves last and don’t practice any self-care to the point that they end up exhausted and sick. That pressure must have been even worse back when Kate wrote this story and this woman in the story’s actions of doing something that made her personally happy must have been even more shocking for that timeframe.
Chopin scholar Heidi Podlasli-Labrenz from Bremen, Germany, writes: “I could not agree more with this response.This is the point that I was trying to make when suggesting that the story ‘ushered in’ The Awakening from an existentialist perspective.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
Some of the items listed here may be available on line through university or public libraries.
Arner, Robert D. “On First Looking (and Looking Once Again) into Chopin’s Fiction: Kate and Ernest and ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings.’ “ Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival. Ed. Bernard Koloski. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2009. 112–30.
Giorcelli, Cristina. “Sheer Luxury: Kate Chopin’s ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings’.” Abito e Identità: Ricerche di storia letteraria e culturale, VI. 55-73. Palma, Spain: Ila Palma, 2006.
Stein, Allen. “Kate Chopin’s ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings’: The Marital Burden and the Lure of Consumerism.” Mississippi Quarterly 57 (2004): 357-368.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Beer, Janet. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.
Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.