Rules for Ladies’ Trains: 1868

An 1887 train in "The First Cloud," by Sir William Quiller, Tate Britain.

A truly expressive train in “The First Cloud,” by Sir William Quiller, 1887 Tate Britain.

A bride in Washington lately introduced the style of having her train borne by three pages. An exchange says if this fashion should spread, courting a young lady would be like reading a novel. She would never grow interesting until you had turned over several pages. Cincinnati Enquirer 15 Dec 1868: 2.



May, 1868.

Rule 1. No train, after this date, will be made up of a greater length than the height of the propelling power.

Rule 2. In coming down heavy grades (church steps, for instance), first-class trains will move as rapidly as safety will allow, but all accommodating trains will proceed slowly and stop frequently to allow people to step on the trains. Caution, however, is necessary in starting up whilst people are so engaged, to prevent accidents.

Rule 3. All trains to be held up at crossings. All empty “flats” standing on the “sidings” at the time should be switched off.

Rule 4. When three or more trains are proceeding in company, they should always move side by side, and on no account whatever change this position. Trains approaching from the opposite direction must keep out of the way. [This rule is imperative.]

Rule 5. If it is desirable to attach a “flat” to a moving train, speed should be slackened and signals given by bowing. The “flat” will respond by throwing away its cigar, twirling its moustache, and elevating its hat. The answering signal is a smile, which signifies “couple on,” after “coupling,” the combined train will proceed very slowly—very.

By order of Fashion, President. A. La Mode, Gen. Supt.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 3 June 1868: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although Mrs Daffodil’s experience with railways is  strictly that of a passenger, she is given to understand that “flats” are a type of railway car used for freight–a “flatcar” as they are called in the States or, more properly, a “flat wagon.”

Since ladies did not learn any lessons from the excesses of crinoline, the arbiters of fashion next dictated long and ponderous trains, which, from the point of view of a former lady’s maid, were most disagreeable objects.  Duty does not always lie in pleasant places, but Mrs Daffodil shudders yet to recall the smears of tobacco, the bits of rotten fruit, and the animal filth swept up by her various mistresses’ trains. The American humourist Mr Mark Twain, who (one can confidently assert) never had to launder a coarse muslin dust-ruffle, found mirth in ladies’ trains around the year1867:


At General Grant’s reception the other night, the most fashionably dressed lady was Mrs. G. C. She wore a pink satin dress, plain in front but with a good deal of rake to it—to the train, I mean; it was said to be two or three yards long. One could see it creeping along the floor some little time after the woman was gone. The Writings of Mark Twain, 1917

Here is an image of another 1868 gown with a train, from LACMA’s collection. If you wish to learn to make a dust-ruffle–or balayeuse–if you prefer the French, which Mrs Daffodil does not, please see this tutorial.


4 thoughts on “Rules for Ladies’ Trains: 1868

  1. Freaky Folk Tales

    Dear Mrs Daffodil, I am due to be married shortly so these recommendations have arrived in the nick of time! I will, now, politely inform my beloved that she should resist the temptation to wear a train of unnecessary length for fear that chasing fashion could ultimately cost her a dress tarnished by detritic matter and exposed to an eruption of blushes from well-wishers . Once more, I am indebted to your service. Yours sincerely, Paul Hodge.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Dear Mr Hodge, One is delighted to have been of service. Mrs Daffodil hopes that your beloved will heed your advice and bear in mind Mrs Daffodil’s axiom (confirmed by an organist of her acquaintance): The Longer the Train, the Shorter the Marriage. Sincerest congratulations on your approaching nuptials, Mrs Daffodil


  2. Pingback: Sixteen-button Bouffants: A Chat with the Fashion Gazette Editor: 1888 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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