Paris, France, 1880.
A wealthy woman enters the atelier of the most famous milliner in Paris. She is going to the season opening of the Paris Opera and wants a hat that is truly unique, unlike any other, for she needs to make a fashion and social statement that no other lady could match. Cost is no object.
The milliner says "Oui, Madame, please return next week, and you shall have such a hat."
A week passes. The woman arrives at the milliner's atelier and looks around but does not see anything that piques her fancy. Soon, the milliner emerges from a back room and places a most marvelous hat made from a single exquisite piece of ribbon on the table.
With a sweet gasp of little-girl excitement, she asks the milliner to place it correctly on her head. He obliges and watches as she turns to the full-length mirror and preens. Little ooohs and aaahs emanate quietly from her lips as she turns round and round to see how she looks from every angle.
She turns to the milliner, saying "Magnifiqué! I will take it. What is the cost?"
"Fifty francs, Madame."
In 1880s France 50 francs was a lot of money for a hat, even for a woman of means. A look of outrage comes to the woman's face as she exclaims, "Monsieur that is preposterous! Why, 50 francs is simply too much… why, why, this is only ribbon!"
With that, the milliner takes hold of one end of the ribbon and tugs gently. The hat loses its shape and becomes a piece of, well… a simple piece of ribbon.
The milliner offers the ribbon to the woman, and with a smile replies, "Oui, Madame, the ribbon was free."