Week-end Compendium: 13 January 2016 Valentine Edition

Mrs Daffodil has noticed the fluttering in the dove-cote that is the Servants’ Hall over the upcoming Valentine’s holiday. Mrs Daffodil does her best, but managing a mixed-sex staff is sometimes like directing a Feydeau farce translated into Mandarin.  Here are the somewhat distracted posts for this week:

Hints for the Photographer shares tips on looking one’s best in front of a camera including the colours that photograph as dark or light and how to achieve the desired facial expression. “Say ‘bosom!'” says the photographer.

A Stolen or Stray’d Heart at Vaux-Hall is a rare look at a so-called “missed connections” personal want-advertisement from 1738.

That grave person over at Haunted Ohio contributed some occupational valentine verses in Hearse Verses: Valentines for Undertakers

On Valentine’s Day, Mrs Daffodil will share a heart-warming piece of Victorian Valentine’s Day fiction. Happy endings are guaranteed.

A late 18th-century buckle of a cameo showing "the education of Cupid" framed in pastes http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19760/lot/230

A late 18th-century buckle: a cameo showing “the education of Cupid” framed in pastes http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19760/lot/230

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog, in honour of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey, a post featuring a Cornish road-demon and monkey ghosts in Aping the Devil.

And for the anniversary of the first appearance of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette, a post on the giant angel a psychic saw drifting over Lourdes.

Bonus holiday post: The Medium’s Valentine, should one be in love with one who talks with the dead.

From the Archives:  Speaking of vile valentines, the “vinegar valentine” roused some recipients to violence in The St. Valentines’ Day Massacres.

Favorite recent posts:

Posthumous portraiture: Is it live or is it a memorial?

The sad lives of some of the First Children.

That unlucky fellow who married not one, but two women accused of witchcraft. Or were witches just his type?

The best quotes about gin, AKA “Mother’s Ruin.”

Cover art, Richardson's New Fashionable Lady's Valentine Writer or Cupid's Festival of Love, 1830

Cover art, Richardson’s New Fashionable Lady’s Valentine Writer or Cupid’s Festival of Love, 1830

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

Hearse Verses: Valentines for Undertakers: 19th century

vinegar valentine coffin maker

Books of valentine sentiments were quite popular in the nineteenth century; one could find saccharine stanzas to pass off as one’s own poesy or vile verses for a vinegar valentine. A peculiar feature of these collections were the “occupational” verses to woo the practitioners of various trades—such as the undertaker….

Valentine

To an Undertaker

I am a mantua-maker,

You are an undertaker

Whom much I do regard

Because you are a grave one,

And I’m sure won’t leave one

‘Til laid in the churchyard.

Miami [FL] Herald 13 February 1927: p. 4 [reported in 1927, but from a Victorian valentine.]

 

From an Undertaker to his Valentine.

Be to thine Undertaker kind,

And have him always in your mind;

Hid undertakings are profound,

And plumes have rendered him renown’d.

The Trades People’s Valentine Writer: Consisting of Appropriate Valentines Entirely Original, For People of all Trades or Professions, Alphabetically Arranged, 1830

 

TO AN UNDERTAKER.

To mournful strains I tune my lute,

Because to me the subject’s grave,

Too long ador’d thee, love, I have,

I can no longer be a mute.

 

If towards the ocean of my love

Rolleth thy fond Affection’s billow,

Send me a sprig of weeping willow,

Or cypress-wreath, thy truth to prove.

 

Reject me—and my fate is this:

Off life the fragile twig I hop,

And off, instanter, neck and crop,

I go to the neck-crop-olis!

 

In the serenest of snug corners,

I prithee, love, inter me then—

Plain walking funeral—(two-pound ten)

With return tickets for the mourners.

 

To Kensal Green I most incline—

There spend a half-a-crown a year,

In keeping turf’d the early bier

Of thy departed Valentine.

A collection of new and original valentines, 1858, pp. 104-5

 

“Let Chloe smile upon her lover,

Who will ne’er forsake her;

Each day new charms she will discover,

In her faithful undertaker.”

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 8 February 1969: p. 65 [reported in 1969, but Victorian in date.]

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil must apologise. She made the mistake of commissioning that grave person over at Haunted Ohio to undertake a compilation of “occupational” Valentine verses.  Mrs Daffodil might have known that the author of a book on the lore of Victorian death and mourning would veer into “vinegar valentines” with a mortuary flavour.

Mrs Daffodil has written before on such seductive stanzas and, while the poesy might be tortuously rhymed, at least the principals were upright tradesmen such as wheelwrights and corset makers. Mrs Daffodil hopes that this will not spoil her readers’ Valentine’s Day and, in fact, may prove useful if one is being courted by or courting an undertaker. She will try to post something in a more romantic vein on the day.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Stolen or Stray’d Heart at Vaux-Hall: 1738

As I was one Morning coming down Stairs, a Gentleman, in a great deal of Confusion, ask’d me if my Name was not Stonecastle, and if I was not Author of the Universal Spectator; on my telling him that I was, with a trembling Hand he gave me a Paper, and with a faltering Voice desired me to insert it in my very next Journal, for his Life depended on it; then made a low Bow, and retir’d: I have granted his Request by publishing the following Advertisement, and hope it will be of Service to him. 

STOLEN or STRAY’D on Monday the 5th Instant, in the Evening, at Vaux-Hall; a large Old-Fashion’d Heart, let round with several Antique Jewels. Viz. Constancy, Truth, Sincerity and Good Humour, with a small Parcel of Wit fix’d in the Middle, and secur’d with Gold; Whoever may have it in Possession, is desir’d to advertise where the Owner may call, and have it restor’d.

N.B. A tall young Lady in Purple is violently suspected, and is therefore desir’d to peruse this Advertisement; and if guilty, to take Means of doing the injur’d Owner Justice. It can be of no Use to her, unless the Gentleman who lost this Heart instructs her how to manage it.

Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. 8 June 1738: p. 299

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers the happiness of loving and being loved on this upcoming Valentine’s Day.

However, if any of you are feeling jaded about the holiday, you may read about vinegar valentines and the consequences of sending them at this compendium of comic-valentine catastrophes.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Hints on Dressing for the Photographer: 1865-1921

attractive 1890s lady portrait

In striving to look natural while having your picture taken, imagine yourself a desperado, just planning a bloody murder and you will unquestionably be successful. New Orleans [LA] Item 15 January 1881: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil has been inspired by a comment on “Face-book” about American Duchess’s self-described “rant,” suggesting that the people of the past wore their best clothing for the photographer. There are many factors that went into the choice of costume for a sitting. To judge by the articles below, the photographer may have had more influence than he is credited with.

1860s lady portrait

How to Dress for a Photograph. 

A lady or gentleman, having made up her or his mind to be photographed, naturally considers, in the first place, how to be dressed to show off to the best advantage. This is by no means such an unimportant matter as some might imagine. Let me offer a few words of advice touching dress. Orange color, for certain optical reasons is photographically, black. Blue is white; other shades or tones of color, are proportionally darker or lighter as they contain more or less of these colors. The progressive scale of photographic color commences with the lightest. The order stands thus—white, light blue, violet, pink, mauve, dark blue, lemon, blue green, leather-bound, drab, cerise, magenta, yellow-green, dark brown, purple, red, amber, maroon, orange, dead-black. Complexion has to be much considered in connection with dress. Blondes can wear much lighter colors than brunettes, the latter always present better pictures in dark dresses, but neither look well in positive white. Violent contrasts of color should be especially guarded against. In photography, brunettes possess a great advantage over their fairer sisters. The lovely golden tresses lose all their transparent brilliancy and are represented black, where “the bonnie blue e’e,” theme of rapture to the poet, is misery to the photographer; for it is put entirely out. The simplest and most effective way of removing the yellow color from the hair is to powder it nearly white; it is thus brought to about the same photographic tint as in nature. The same rule, of course, applies to complexions. A freckle quite invisible at a short distance, it, on account of its yellow color, rendered most painfully distinct when photographed. The puff box must be called into the assistance of art.

Here let me intrude one word of general advice. Blue, as we have seen, is the most readily affected by light, and yellow the least; if therefore, you would keep your complexion clear and free from tan freckles whilst taking your delightful rambles at the seaside, discard by all means the blue veil, and substitute a dark green or yellow one in its stead. Blue tulle offers no more obstruction to the action of the actinic rays of the sun than white. Half a yard of yellow net, though perhaps not very becoming will be more efficacious and considerably cheaper than a quart of kaydor—All the Year Round Cincinnati [OH] Daily Enquirer 20 January 1865: p. 1

1870s lady portrait darker

The photographer might also have suggestions for assuming a particular expression, although one suspects a joke in this squib:

A photographer gives’ the following directions to his customers: “When a lady sitting for a picture would compose her mouth to a bland and serene character she should, just upon entering the room, say ‘Bosom,’ and keep the expression into which the mouth subsides until the desired effect in the camera is evident. If, on the other hand, she wishes to assume a distinguished and somewhat noble bearing, not suggestive of sweetness, she should say ‘Brush,’ the result of which is infallible. If she wishes to make her month look small she must say ‘Flip,’ but if the mouth be already too small, and needs enlarging, she must say ‘Cabbage.’ If she wishes to look mournful, she must say ‘Kerchunk,’ if resigned, she must forcibly ejaculate ‘S’cat.” Evening Post, 21 February 1880: p. 1

1880s upholstered lady portrait

Actresses and professional beauties made it their business to photograph well.

DRESSING FOR A PHOTOGRAPH

How Colors Change in the Camera Why Actresses Take the Best.

New York Sun.

“The question is often asked,” said an experienced photographer, “why actors and actresses take the most pleasing pictures. It is because they study the principles of art and good taste in their procession and understand how to dress. Moreover, they usually bring a selection of veils, flowers, curls, braids, lace and sometimes costumes to give the photographer a choice of accessories. They come when they are wholly at leisure and are not flustered. A red face takes black, and they know it. Then they do not load themselves down with gewgaws and haberdasheries, to show all that they have got in worldly goods. Few persons know how to dress for a picture like an actress.

The best materials for ladies to wear when about to sit for a photograph are such that will fold or drape nicely, like reps, winceys, poplins, satins and silks. Lavender, lilac, sky blue, purple and French blue take very light, and are worse for a picture than pure white. Corn color and salmon are better. China pink, rose pink, magenta, crimson, pea green, buff, plum color, dark purple, pure yellow Mazarine blue, navy blue, fawn color, Quaker color, dove color, ashes of roses and stone color show a pretty gray in the photograph. Scarlet, claret, garnet, sea green, light orange, leather color, light Bismarck and slate color take still darker and are excellent colors to photograph. Cherry, wine color, light apple green, Metternich green, dark apple green, bottle green, dark orange, golden and red brown show nearly the same agreeable color in the picture. A black silk always looks well, and it takes well if not bedecked with ribbons and laces that will take white. Dark Bismarck and snuff brown usually take blacker than a black silk or satin and are not easy to drape. A silk, because it has more gloss and reflects more light, usually takes lighter than a woolen dress. Ladies with dark or brown hair should avoid contrasts in their costumes, as light substances photograph more quickly than dark, and ladies with light hair should dress in something lighter than those whose hair is dark or brown.

Few ladies understand how to arrange their hair so as to harmonize with the form of the head, but blindly follow the fashion, be the neck long or short, or the face narrow or broad. A broad face appears more so if the hair is arranged low over the forehead or is parted at the side, and a long neck becomes stock-like when the hair is built up high, while a few curls would make a most agreeable change in the effect. Powdered hair gives good effect and powder should be bestowed upon freckles. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 24 May 1881: p. 4

pretty lady with feathers portrait

 

SITTING FOR PICTURES

THINGS NOT GENERALLY KNOWN ABOUT ARRANGING THE DRESS AND HAIR.

[By B. C. Towne, Photographer.]

“I wonder why I never take a good picture?” Is a question frequently asked, and often with good reason, too. Excellence in a picture depends partly on the artist and partly on the sitter, and, of course, the first rule to be observed is to visit a good photographer. The first thing necessary seems to be to decide what style you will have—bust, three-quarter figure, or full length. The first two are the prevailing modes; the last implying a more elaborate toilet. Before leaving the studio, consult the photographer as to your dress, etc. Let him know what it is to be. You may be undecided which of several to use. It there may be a choice in color or in cut, etc. He will tell you at once which is best. He may request you to try more than one, and in the absence of such invitation you will be expected to pay extra for the experiment…

He will probably request you not to dress the neck too high or too tight, or in an exact circle, with the fore part of it lying close under the chin, for, of all things, the present high mode of dressing the neck is distressing to an artistic photographer. It is done because the lady has a short neck or a long one, or it is thin, and the cords must be concealed. It is done, for it is the fashion. This is all a mistake. You are surprised when the photographer says it, for there is a touch of bitterness in his tone. He illustrates his meaning by winding the lapels of his coat tightly around his neck. “You see, madam, the effect on a long face like my own. It overhangs and becomes almost deformed, while a round face becomes button shaped, and none of the little tricks of hairdressing or expression can remedy it. No; it’s all a mistake. If your neck is short, as you say, do not lose what you have, lower the drapery, do a little judicious borrowing, and, presto! the face that was round becomes oval. In any case the neck must not be hidden, for all the action and grace of position in a bust portrait centers there.”

Black, dark green, crimson, brown, and yellow, take nearly the same shade. A dress cut low in the neck always seems higher in a photograph than to an observer. Mr. Towne has secured the services of a young lady from a leading gallery in Chicago, who will offer suggestions or assist ladies in draping or arranging minor details toward making up to the best advantage for a perfect picture. Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 26 July 1888: p. 4

1908 figure portrait

HOW TO ACT BEFORE THE CAMERA.

ADVICE FROM A VETERAN PHOTOGRAPHER.

By A. Bogardus.

Dress as you are accustomed to do, and as your friends see you. Many ladies are inclined to overdress when getting a picture; that is, they dress for effect, and it generally results in so much damage to the picture. Do not disguise yourself either in dress or in the mode of wearing the hair. A gentleman once spoke to me in regard to making a picture of his wife. She came at the appointed time. I had never seen her before. The picture was delivered in due time, and was a success in execution. He gave me his opinion as follows:—”Your execution is well done, but it has no value to me as her hair was arranged as I had never seen it before, and as I never wish to see it again.”

The time was when the photographer required certain colors in dress to produce good effects. Now, with experience and the improvements in chemicals, these restrictions are removed. He can photograph white as well as black. The capable artist prides himself on his ability to show the most delicate and elaborate lace-work on the bridal dress.

With these restrictions no longer necessary, I would say—wear your most becoming dress.

Blue and pink will photograph white.

Purple will appear many shades lighter than it is in reality.

Red and deep yellow appear black, or nearly so.

Strong contrasts in dress or trimmings will give a gaudy effect.

Subdued and quiet colors make the neat picture. For example see the pictures of nuns, or the lovely pictures of Quaker ladies… An obnoxious mole too prominent for a beauty spot may be covered with wax, and powdered over. A light veiling may be draped over scars or bruises.

Unless you can smile naturally to order, don’t attempt to look pleasant, for the result may be heartrending. Omaha [NE] World Herald 21 December 1902: p. 19

1920s girl portrait

And, finally, there is advice about not wearing one’s newest or most fashionable gown for the photographer:

 How to Dress for the Photographer

It is a good rule to follow never to wear a new dress to the photographer’s. Not only do you show awkwardness that comes from wearing something with which you are not entirely familiar, but it is a well-known fact that new clothes are stiffer and hang in less graceful folds than do clothes that have been worn. The old frock has taken on the curves and lines of your body. It seems to have absorbed something of your personality.

And, of course, the old frock, if it is becoming, may be worn for a photograph when you might not select it for a party. If it is a little faded, or even shows signs of wear, this will not show in the photograph.

You may have noticed that certain pictures taken some time ago are almost grotesque now, while others of the same date are still satisfactory portraits. If you stop to observe you will see that the pictures that are still pleasing show no freaks or extremes of fashion. Collars and collar lines seem to be the details that most quickly look out of date; hence the wisdom in always having your picture taken with a low neck line if possible.

Hats, too, date a picture. The picture you had taken without a hat you will like to display for a longer time than the picture that shows its date by the hat you wore.

Jewelry does not add to the effect of a picture and often detracts much. Baltimore [MD] American 9 October 1921: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sound words from the professionals! It is most interesting that the suggestions about colours and about powder are so very consistent over several decades. As for wearing one’s best clothing, Mrs Daffodil has seen interviews with photographers stating that they kept clothing to be used by clients and that some persons would don top hats, watch chains, and fraternal organisation regalia for the camera, sending the finished photographs to their families back in “the old country.”

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of the Tin-type Girls—the scourge of the sea-side photographer, as well as a fad for being photographed as an Egyptian mummy. There are also posts on post-mortem photography and spirit photographs under the “Photography” category.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Week-end Compendium: 6 January 2016

Mrs Daffodil has not been idling in fancy-dress this week, but shares a caustic commentary on “The Ladies’ Man,” in case the upcoming High Feast of St. Hallmark throws one into the company of one of those serial adorers so unwittingly fatal to a girl’s reputation.

She also tells of a Wisconsin lady-inventor, a Mrs Gearing, who created a woodsy costume: a romper lined with sawdust, which was somehow supposed to emancipate Womankind. Simply barking.

Then Mrs Daffodil shares an interview with a hairdresser who takes pride in her profession of dressing the hair of the dead and comments on the use of “dead hair” in wigs and chignons.

On Sunday Mrs Daffodil intends to give some tips on how to look one’s best for the photographer of 1865 or 1921. Bring talcum powder and blue gauze.

This week at the Haunted Ohio blog:

A flap at Drayton Church, haunted by a uncanny black bird seen perching in the sanctuary and heard fluttering in the vault.

While it is hard to conceive of such a thing, a French widow claimed that her bouncing baby boy was begotten by her ghostly husband–dead for several years. Perhaps a too-fertile imagination was at work here.

From the archives, to whet one’s appetite for Valentine’s Day, Hearts and Powers, Cardiac Witchery and Vintage Advice on Choosing a Spouse.

Some favourite links: A woman after Mrs Daffodil’s own heart: Resistance fighter Nancy Wake.

A ritual horse burial from the War of 1812?

Never say never when it comes to historic dress.

dash of humour in this cartoon, which, not to give away the punch-line, is about Roman soldiers.

The Chinese Year of the Monkey begins on Monday. This is the leader of the monkey orchestra and chorus by J J Kaendler, Meissen, c. 1755 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1245667

The Chinese Year of the Monkey begins on Monday. This is the leader of the monkey orchestra and chorus by J J Kaendler, Meissen, c. 1755 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1245667

singing monkey

This is the lead singer in the monkey chorus by J J Kaendler, Meissen, c. 1755 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1440310.12

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

 

Dressing the Hair of the Dead: 1888

dressing the hair The manual on Barbering 1906

DRESSING THE HAIR OF THE DEAD.

A Professional Talks About Her Uncanny Occupation.

‘I was only 12 years old,’ said a prominent lady hair-dresser of this city, ‘when I was called on by the friends of an old lady who had died to come and dress her hair.’

‘And did you go?’

‘No; I ran and hid myself under a bed and stayed there a whole afternoon. Although I loved her and had often dressed her hair when she was alive, I could not bear the idea of doing it after death. But I have done many heads since for dead persons, and, while I do not like it, I have a professional pride in making them look well for the last time.’

‘It must be very distasteful to you.’ ‘

‘Not always. It comes in the way of my business, and naturally my employees shrink from going. Sometimes we have a call through the telephone to come to such a number and dress a lady’s hair. One of the young ladies will be sent with curling irons, pomades, hair-pins and other things, only to find that the lady is a corpse. The girl will not nor cannot undertake it, and I go myself. There is only the front hair to crimp and arrange becomingly. One day last week I dressed Mrs __’s hair for the last time. She was young and very pretty, and looked as if asleep. The hair does not die, so that it is easily arranged. When it is a wig or crimped I have it sent to the store, and when it is dressed, take it to the house and put it on. Let me tell you something that happened lately. A lady died in this city who wore a grey wig. I dressed it and put it on. You can just think how surprised I was when, a couple of weeks later, a member of the family came in here and tried to sell it to me. She said they had taken it off just before the casket was closed for the last time.’

‘And did you buy it?’

‘Buy it? Certainly not. It is not very long since a man came in and offered me a number of switches of different shades and colour. I would not buy them, and sent for a policeman, as I thought he had probably stolen them. But as it turned out, they came from an undertaker’s and were the unclaimed property of strangers who had been given pauper burial.’

‘Is it customary to dress the hair of the dead?’

‘It is. I have some customers who have exacted a solemn promise from me that I will dress their hair when they die and make it look natural and becoming. I have even been sent for by those who had only a few hours to live and taken my instructions from their dying lips.’

‘Is the process the same as with the living?’

‘Just the same, except that I do not arrange the back hair in all cases. But sometimes the hair is dressed entirely, just as it would be for an evening party. And I frequently furnish new switches, crimps, or bangs, at the request of relatives who want no pains spared.’

‘And are you not afraid?’

Madame shrugged her handsome shoulders.

‘It is a lonesome task,’ she said, ‘and it certainly does make me nervous. Once the corpse opened her eyes and looked at me as a lady who was holding a lamp went out of the room in a moment, leaving me with a lock of hair in the crimping-pins. A gust of wind blew the door after her, and I was in the dark alone with the dead women. I think if she had not opened the door just at the moment she did I should have fallen insensible,’—

Detroit [MI] Free Press 1 January 1888: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does not have a high opinion of either the intelligence or the moral scruples of the repellant relatives who offered to sell the dead lady’s wig to the hairdresser. They might at least have dyed it so that it was less recognizable, or, more sensibly, taken it to a different coiffeuse, if they needed to offset funeral expenses.

Wigs and chignons for the living were, however, often made of what was termed “dead hair,” or hair cut from corpses. These corpses might be unfortunates from the Workhouse or paupers destined for Potter’s Field; working girls of the streets, murderers or their victims.  If not a black market, it was certainly sub-fusc.  Medical men issued stern warnings about the diseases and insects that might be found in “dead hair,” and argued for prohibiting any hair except that from the living in hair-pieces. These warnings were widely ignored. In 1911, for example, hair from Chinese who died in the Manchurian plague, was being imported by Germany and England without so much as a murmur from the trade authorities.

For more mortuary professions for ladies, please see this link, and this, about a lady undertaker. You will find more information on the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard and under the “Mourning” tab on this blog.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Woodsy Costume: 1905

2 rompers

It is a well-known fact that the small-girl of our species is accustomed to derive early but erroneous views as to anatomy from the dolls which her fond imagination converts into loving, though commendably noiseless, babies. Having learned that dolls are filled with sawdust, she firmly believes that the interiors of men, women, and children are artistically packed with the same material. Her first theological problem is how to reconcile the Biblical assertion that she is made of the dust of the earth with her firm scientific conviction that sawdust is really her chief ingredient; and her earliest and most formidable fear arises from the delusion that an accidental pin-prick may let loose her vital sawdust and transform her into an empty and shapeless bundle of clothes. Of course, this anatomical error vanishes with her infancy. Before she has reached her tenth birthday she has discovered that she is filled with a variety of organs which are far more complex than the contents of her doll, and has totally abandoned the theory that the extreme attenuation of her maiden aunt is the result of a chronic leakage of sawdust. It must be a sad moment when a small-girl learns that her doll bears only a surface resemblance to humanity, and that, instead of being dilated with dry and compressible sawdust, she is herself filled with a material that cannot be safely brought in contact with green apples, and for which no ingenious nurse can substitute coal ashes or cotton in case of a serious accident.

But now comes Mrs. Martha Gearing—vaguely described as “of Wisconsin.”—with an invention which aims to convert the sawdust illusion of girlhood into the actual condition of womanhood. Mrs. Gearing is evidently a reformer whose specialty is the elevation of woman; for it is expressly in order to elevate her sex that she has designed a new garment, to be known as the “emancipated costume,” and—we may assume—to be exhibited and described at the next Dress Reform Convention, by the inventor herself. The “emancipated costume’ first dawned upon the inventive mind of Mrs. Gearing as she entered her ice-house one winter’s day. The ice-house was lined with sawdust, and though it was cool in summer, Mrs. Gearing found that it was warm in winter. At once the idea came to her that she could keep warm in winter and cool in summer by lining her own person with sawdust.

From this happy thought was gradually developed the “emancipated costume,” by the wearing of which any woman may emancipate herself from the thraldom of fashion, the trammels of skirts, and the bills of dress-makers, besides securing the utmost physical comfort compatible with a due deference to the present prejudices of civilization in favor of clothes. Thus, Mrs. Gearing kills a variety of objectionable birds with a single garment, and she certainly deserves the fame which she will doubtless earn by her first appearance in public clad in the “emancipated costume.”

It is not an easy matter to describe the new dress. Not that it is at all complex—for it consists of a single garment—but because the theme is too sacred for irreverent handling. Perhaps it may be permissible to hint that were an “emancipated costume.” to be made for a small boy of six years of age, it would consist of a shirt and trousers combined, and forming but one all-enveloping garment. When it is further hinted that whether the “emancipated costume” is intended for a small-boy or a large female reformer, its pattern is precisely the same, a conception of the true shape of the garment may be delicately conveyed to the most modest mind. Of course, there is no law to prevent the wearer of this new garment from also wearing a skirt or two, and such other external articles as taste or prejudice may dictate. Mrs. Gearing, however, urges that the true reformer will wear the “emancipated costume” and nothing else—except a few trifles in the way of boots, hair-pins, and such like coverings for the extremities of the person; and we may expect that all dress reformers who are really anxious for the elevation of woman will share the distinguished inventor’s views.

But the chief characteristic of the “emancipated costume” is the fact that it is made double, and that the intermediate space is divided into a number of presumably water tight compartments. These are each provided with small valves through which sawdust can be introduced in quantities to suit the wishes of the wearer. Mrs. Gearing claims that in extremely hot or cold weather a layer of sawdust an inch thick, evenly disposed about the person, will make the wearer perfectly comfortable. In proportion as the temperature of the atmosphere rises or sinks to the neighborhood of 65° (Fahrenheit) the quantity of sawdust is to be regulated, until the wearer feels neither too warm nor too cold. Thus clothed, she would need but one dress for all seasons of the year, and could adapt her clothing to meet the most sudden changes of weather by merely taking in or letting out a little more sawdust. Of the beauty and utility of the “emancipated costume.” there can be but one opinion. It will certainly be cheaper than the present style of feminine dress, and Mrs. Gearing asserts that it will be far more healthful. There will be “no more corsets,” cries the exultant inventor, “and no more cotton !” The latter allusion we do not clearly understand, but the disappearance of the corset would undoubtedly conduce to the welfare of mankind.

There is no reason, however, that this beneficent invention should be monopolized by women. The school-boy will clamor for an “emancipated costume,” which will enable him to bear with fortitude the réproofs of his father and school-teacher —especially if he lays in a little extra sawdust just prior to an interview with either of them. The brakeman will find that he can survive an unusual quantity of collisions if he is carefully padded with sawdust, and the like precaution will be found extremely useful by book agents and map pedlers in regions where the inhabitants are athletic and wear heavy boots. Thus the “emancipated costume.” will elevate boys and brakemen and pedlers, as well as women, and all over our country those who are peculiarly exposed to contusion will rise up, without regard to sex, color, or previous condition of turpitude, and call Mrs. Gearing blessed. Meanwhile, the small-girl will be more than ever convinced that humanity is largely composed of sawdust, and will undergo the most terrible apprehensions when her brother, who has failed to convince his father that skates are a devotional implement, which a truly devout youth invariably carries to prayer-meeting under his jacket, comes forth from the paternal “study” leaking sawdust at every pore from a rent and treacherous “emancipated costume.”

The Banker and the Typewriter, 1905

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Insulated garments are nothing new in the history of fashion. Ladies wore quilted and down-filled petticoats with comfort and panache.

paisley petticoat

A richly coloured petticoat whose channels are stuffed with down, c. 1860 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O129215/petticoat-booth-fox/

blue satin quilted petticoat

A beautifully detailed 18th-century quilted petticoat. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/130065.html?mulR=1650502641|2

Down jackets kept off the chill, while cork-filled garments were recommended for ladies afloat.

Mrs Daffodil will not make the expected joke about “barking,” but is doubtful about the comfort of saw-dust insulation: splinters would seem to be almost compulsory and one fears that the insulating properties of the wood pulp would offer scant recompense for the nuisance of smelling like a saw-mill.  Mrs Daffodil can find no photo-gravures of the emancipated costume and no indication that the ingenious Mrs Gearing ever actually patented her novel garment, but here is  an eerily similar garment of a much later date, designed for exercise.

The description of the emancipated costume given above is that of a child’s “romper suit,” pictured at the head of the post. Mrs Daffodil rather fancies that it actually looked more like this:

1920s clown

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.