“The Girl in Tails (Flickan i frack),” a 1927 silent film from Sweden directed by Karin Swanström, deftly separates general society and its strict boundaries from the dreams of a girl, Katja (Magda Holm), who just wants an evening gown to wear to a ball. What seems trivial becomes a cause celebre for her when she realizes that her father lavishes all the attention and familial love on her brother, who owns a closet full of fancy suits, while she must traipse around in dowdy dresses. Katja begs her father for the money for the evening gown, but when he refuses to help her, she attends the ball anyway in her brother’s tuxedo. This aggravates the town matriarch, Widow Hyltenius (Karin Swanström), whose rage at the offense chases Katja out of town.
The story begins as Katja must tutor her daft fiancé so he can graduate from secondary school. The fiancé, Count Ludwig von Battwhyl (Einer Axelsson), seems continuously bemused and hardly a good match for the headstrong Katja. Curry (Erik Zetterström), Katja’s privileged brother, spends his days in idle pursuits while Katja’s father, Old Karl Axel (Nils Aréhn), dotes on him. Katja manages to teach the Count enough to help him graduate, so the couple decide to throw a fancy ball. Widow Hyltenius, who seems to be a combination of mayor, police chief and social arbiter in Katja’s village, allows the ball. Things turn sour when Katja realizes her father won’t give her an evening gown.
Katja arrives at the ball in Curry’s tuxedo, which scandalizes Widow Hyltenius and everyone in town. Katja drinks brandy, smokes cigars, and even dances with a woman, which sends all the stuffy folks reeling. Katja, an afterthought in the village prior to her appearance at the ball, then becomes the subject of newspaper articles bemoaning the new immorality. Katja and the Count then head to a women’s institute out in the countryside to recover from the stigma. The institute employs female experts in various scientific and literary pursuits such as poetry, philosophy, psychology and botany. It gives off an image of a lesbian utopia where the women discuss the pertinent issues of the day. The title card even describes them as a “wild hoard of learned women.” However, they receive Katja and the count warmly and Katja even decides to work there as a servant.
Judging from at least one of characters at the women’s institute, who lounge around in men’s clothing and smoke cigars, Katja could wear tails or anything else she wants. If only her father would have bought her a dress, the whole mess could be avoided. But the real lesson Katja learns is that she must accept herself. Director Swanström’s Widow Hyltenius learns a valuable lesson at the end too, and one would hope Katja’s village can finally develop a more mature attitude.