“Where Cupid Dons His Armor:” Gems of Dressing Tables: 1895

Queen Charlotte and her draped dressing table by Zoffany.

Queen Charlotte and her draped dressing table, as painted by Zoffany.

Where Cupid Dons His Armor

Gems of Dressing Tables for Milady’s Own Uses

Crystal Reflects Itself in Bevel Mirrors and Silver Glitters on Inlaid Wonders.

The most expensive dressing-table on record, in a field where extravagance reigns and an ever desirous ambition excites to new wonders of beauty and convenience, is one that was recently purchased by Lady Beresford. Her ladyship is now, according to recent rumor, particularly interested in the appointments of her bedchamber, and is giving a personal attention to its adornments, its materials and its arrangement—attention to a degree which she never before found it necessary to bestow upon her own apartment during the two previous terms of her married life. All happiness to her ladyship and the little lordling, but about the dressing table!

It is a solid piece of place glass without flaw and deep as one’s finger when the hand is pressed against its surface. Seldom has a piece of glass been so perfect. It might be a diamond were it cut and polished. This piece of rare glass forms the top of the table and cost several hundred dollars of our money. Yet it is only a narrow strip of crystal.


Her ladyship has chosen for a dressing spot a place in the middle of her bedroom. A tall glass rises from the back of the shelf which forms the dressing table and the piece of clear looking glass lies below it. Upon it are placed the little luxuries of the toilet. On Lady Beresford’s table these are all cut glass, very heavy and very beautifully faceted.

The bedroom is hung in cardinal, her ladyship’s favorite color, and the dressing table has cardinal candles standing from brass candelabra. Touches of gold adorn the cut glass, and the dressing shelf is rich and sparkling, like a row of glasses upon a sideboard, were it not made very feminine with the pomades and toilet preparations. The oddest thing about this dressing-table is that it is all repeated on the other side, and whichever way you approach it you may see yourself and find all the necessary things for beauty’s care awaiting you. On the reverse side her ladyship keeps the scents of the toilet and the bottles of unnamable things wanted by all true beauties, each bottle and bit of glass on this side being trimmed with silver in place of the gold on the other side.

Miss Edith Shipard, the young woman who is represented in the great portrait show as holding a blue velvet book in her hand while she delivers one of her foreign tales, has a dressing-table as characteristic and peculiar as the young woman herself.

This dressing-table has a cloth of gold hung over it, entirely enveloping its four sides, for it is a square table standing in the middle of the floor. Supported by two tall gold feet is a square mirror. This is draped with cloth of gold. Upon the table lie a dozen small cloth-of-gold mats, upon which lie comb and brush, dress whisks, perfumes, and vinaigrettes. Upon one corner is the manicure set in a gold case by itself and upon another corner are pin trays, cushions, &c.

All the pieces are mounted in gold and all rest upon gold settings. What gives the very singular aspect to this table is the way fleurs de lis are scattered over the cloth of gold. They are interwoven and are so placed in the draping that they are very conspicuous. This gives the dressing-table the look of a prie-dieu. It is possibly used as one, for at one side of it is a great cloth-of-gold cushion, and over the cushion, at the side of the dressing-table is a small projecting shelf, upon which lies a Book of Common Prayer. It is easy to believe, looking at it, that there its pretty mistress sinks upon her knees, upon this golden cushion to pray for the strength and patience that are as much needed in the life of a poor girl as a rich one.

Miss Virginia Fair is a young woman of many fancies. She is not capricious, but she has a great love for the beautiful. If she were less fond of art and travel, of reading and athletics, she would have been snatched up long ago in the grab for heiresses.

Miss Fair’s California dressing-table has a top of mother of pearl. It is one of those old-fashioned tables that grandmother had in her parlor and would never allow us to touch, as finger-marks show upon it, unless the fingers are the pink-tinted ones of womanhood. Miss Fair’s table is a very long one and shallow, as so many fashionable dressing tables are. Women who want to make them at home bring about the same result by placing a five or six foot plank upon iron brackets, making it secure to the wall, and afterwards draping it. Miss Fair’s mirror is as wide as her dressing-table, and it is fastened, as all mirrors should be, flat against the wall. It reaches well toward the ceiling and is draped at the top with an abundance of pink silk and satin, laid in alternate folds.


The brushes, combs, etc. that occupy one portion of this long shelf are backed with mother-of-pearl, and are laid upon small pink mats. There is a cheap imitation of this pearl in a material that may be papier-mâché. It is pearl gray, a little streaked but quite clear when polished. This is used by several young ladies, who have seen the wonderful Fair dressing-table and want one like it.

The advantage of a table as long and narrow was this one, with the broad mirror running in front of it, is that several chairs can be placed along its front of the different operations of the toilet. The manicuring has its corner. The hair-dressing occupies one entire end. The cosmetics, necessary in windy weather as well as in sun, have their spot fitted out for them, and in the center may be left a long vacant space with only the toilet waters, extracts, sweet-smelling spices and highly comfortable things enjoying the place of honor.

Although dressing-tables of the city are very fine, the ladies who occupy country places until Christmas of the purpose of riding to hounds are the ones who absolutely revel in fine toilet appointments and what is more, they boast of them. They want their guests and their friends to know how luxuriously they have appointed themselves, and they make no secret of the fact that the dressing-table went up into the hundreds of dollars before it was complete.

Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg, “the new woman,” as she is called since she left her two-months-old baby for an hour to ride to hounds, has perhaps the most magnificently equipped dressing-table of any of the famous Meadow Brook set. Mrs. Ladenburg is a society beauty, a millionaire’s wife, a most charitable woman, and the coming typical hostess in New York—according to those who judge society form the charmed inner circle of “the know.”

This thrice-blessed young beauty of a matron owns a dressing-table that would have been the envy of the best girl of Paris’ time. It is a sectional table. The mirror in the middle rises from the floor to the ceiling, like a cheval glass. Upon each side are low shelves, under which the dresser can seat herself while she presses her feet close to the glass for an impartial view of self. Over these side shelves are two more mirrors. The glass, a fine plate, is all in one piece, being cut off at each side and running down to the floor in the center.


The difficulty with most dressing-tables is that you can get only a view of your face, but this one has large side wings that stretch out and extend back of one’s head, so that you see yourself on all sides at once. When the two side ends are unfolded they meet back of your head in a compete circle. The minor appointments of the table are blue; the backs of the brushes and the solid pieces are of silver.

The Marquise Lanza, daughter of Dr. William A. Hammond of Washington and herself a writer of books, is always an exquisitely dressed woman. She is large and blonde, with a very creamy complexion. Like all society women of beauty, the marquise owns a dressing-table, and hers is both a marvel and a novelty. It is in the shape of a semi-circle, in the middle of which the dresser sits. Maid or hairdresser can take a stand behind her and pick up the implements as wanted. Back of the semi-circle tilts a round glass of large size. The colors of table and ornaments are pale green. The table is delicately tinted in green, and even the glass looks green, reflecting the hues of the table. The other trimmings are not prominent, but there is an impression of brightest gold in bits here and there.

An English gentleman visiting this country, and learning something of the beauty and cost of the dressing table of our belles, commented upon them rather sarcastically, by saying the fact of there being so many professional beauties here was more than explained in the existence of the wonderful beautifying tables.

But to this his scoffed-at hearers replied that the dressing-tables were only for the setting off and the preservation of beauty, as window gardens set off plants and conservatories preserve them. But their argument was of no avail, when, a little later, in walked a beautiful matron, know from ocean to ocean, who began at once upon an elaborate description of a new table, with jewels pressed into the top, and upon which were a thousand dollars’ worth of cosmetics that were unpacked that day and placed ready for use at evening, when there was to be a great ball.

The Morning Times [Washington, DC] 8 December 1895

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Lily, Lady Beresford was the daughter of Commodore Cicero Price, U.S.N. She rose in her matrimonial engagements from the wealthy Louis Hammerslee of New York to the eighth Duke of Marlborough (construction at Blenheim was finished with the new Duchess’s money). She took a tiny step back for Lord William Leslie de la Poer Beresford (“the little lordling,” who was shorter than his wife), but, consolingly, was walked down the aisle at St George’s, Hanover Square, by her devoted step-son, the ninth Duke.  His marriage with Consuelo Vanderbilt was the result of the Lady Beresford’s “friendly scheming.” According to the papers, £6000 a year was settled on Lord William, a gallant, if diminutive, soldier and avid sportsman, of whom it was said that “he had broken every bone in his body but his neck.”

Miss Edith Shipard was (later) Edith Shepard Fabbri.  She was, as one might expect from a young woman painted holding a book bound in blue velvet and possessing a dressing table that looked like a prie-dieu, a literary lady with many spiritual qualities. In fact she founded a spiritual retreat, “The House of the Redeemer” in her New York house. She was a great-granddaughter of Commodore Vanderbilt and married Ernesto Fabbri, a banker born in Florence, Italy.

The aptly-named Miss Virginia Fair (“Birdie” to the family) was the daughter of Senator James Graham Fair who made his money in gold and railroads. He was one of “nature’s gentlemen,” divorced by his wife for “habitual adultery,” and not invited to his second daughter’s wedding.  Uniting two great fortunes, Miss Fair “was snapped up” in 1898 by William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. They separated in 1909 and divorced in 1927. She was well-known for her charities and her thoroughbred stable.

The name of Mrs Ladenburg was so well-known that headlines like “Mrs. Ladenburg Again to Wed?” were self-explanatory. The public knew all about her millions, her widowhoods, her engagements, her stolen jewels, her horses and her rivalries in the hunting field.

The Marquise Lanza was the daughter of a former Surgeon-General of the United States and wrote novels with titles like A Modern Marriage and Basil Morton’s Transgression, about”ordinary, real people” such as a young woman who marries (instead of her young doctor lover) a “man of wealth and delicate, too delicate, tastes, over whose life hangs the dead phantom of insanity.”  A reviewer said “A Golden Pilgrimage is a great book, and the author seems…to have said the last word of her decade on marriages for money.”

dressing table


1 thought on ““Where Cupid Dons His Armor:” Gems of Dressing Tables: 1895

  1. Pingback: The Haunted Dressing-Table: 1874 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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