It was Edgar Degas who invited Cassatt to participate in the impressionist exhibitions, and the two remained close associates. Degas respected Cassatt's work, seeing in her careful compositions an approach to art that was deliberate and well thought out. Degas was known for his sharp criticism of other artists' work. He once complained to Cassatt: "What do women know about style?" She took his words as a challenge to produce a work whose appeal derived, not from a conventionally pretty subject, but purely from artifice, the painter's skill, and style. This painting is the result.
She chose a subject that Degas himself had often depicted: an ordinary, working–class girl at her toilette. The beauty of the picture comes from the rigor of the composition and its harmonized contrast of pinks and blues—in the sitter's nightdress, in the background, and even in her skin. While the moment is casual, even private, the girl's pose and the arrangement of furniture behind her are artfully contrived. Note, for example, how the chair back, the dry sink, and the mirror–frame rise in steps parallel to the motion of her arms, echoing and enhancing their upward sweep.