“Madame says your waist is ready, sir.” A Modiste Serves a Gentleman: 1891

The female impersonator, Julian Eltinge.

The female impersonator, Julian Eltinge, best known for his role as “The Fascinating Widow.”


A Society Belle Shocked by a Man Who Was Fitted to a Dress

A young lady who was waiting in the reception-room of a New York modiste experienced a surprise recently that was rather amusing, thought she was somewhat shocked. The modiste was busy when she arrived and begged her to be seated a few minutes. No one being in waiting but a gentleman, who, she supposed, had accompanied his wife, the young belle sat down, and picking up a fashion plate concluded that she would not be kept waiting very long. She had scarcely glanced at the gentleman, and would probably never have remembered him, had not a maid come in and, going up to him, said:

“Madame says your waist is ready, sir.”

His waist ready! The young lady could hardly believe she had heard correctly. But when she saw him follow the maid out just a unconcernedly as if a waist was a common every-day garment for him she dropped the fashion-plate and for a moment was overcome with astonishment. The first thought that entered her mind was to leave. But she finally determined to stay until she had found out a little more.

“Fit! My dear madam, it is splendid,” the gentleman said as he returned, accompanied by the modiste. “You are perfect. Now don’t forget the trimmings on my dress.”

“Oh, let me show you a new pattern, sir?” the modiste interrupted. Don’t forget the trimmings on this dress! The young belle needed no more proof that her modiste, her own modiste whom she had patronized from girlhood up, was making dresses for a man. Shocking! Should she stay and have her feelings hurt? Never! She would go, and what was more, she would tell her friends.

“Your dress will be the prettiest I have ever made for you,” the modiste assured the gentleman, as, with a bow, he left.

Turning, the experience woman saw at a glance what was troubling the mind of her young patron and making her pretty eyes flash fire.

“Why, my dear Miss___, I know what you are thinking about,” the modiste said, smiling. “That gentleman is Herbert Crowley, the female impersonator, and a regular customer. My dear, if you could only see him! He makes the prettiest girl you ever saw.” Washington Herald.

The Morning Call [San Francisco, CA] 4 May 1891: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Female impersonators were a staple novelty act of the British and the United States stages. Astonishingly, for someone who was so very well-known in his time, there is very little biographical material about Herbert Crowley [1865-1932], possibly because he may be conflated with Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt, another female impersonator linked with Aleister Crowley or confused with Herbert Crowley, an artist and cartoonist of the same time period. The few snippets Mrs Daffodil has been able to glean come only from newspapers and advertisements for Crowley’s performances. He was described as “The Male Patti” and readers were advised that “The Costumes worn by this gentleman are made by Worth, of Paris.” [1889] Alas, Mrs Daffodil could not find a photograph, but this article gives an idea of his fascination:

“Bet wine for the party that it is a girl,” said one of a group of tourists in the Merchants rotunda last evening, “and to prove it let’s go to the Bodega.”

This remark attracted the attention of the Globe’s representative, and he accompanied the party for the point of attraction.

They had not long to wait ere a symmetrically proportioned blonde in a well-fitting black toilette appeared, long black silk gloves covering the arms, while at the wrists gleamed two rows of brilliants and in the center of a black velvet band around the throat gleamed a diamond cluster pin.

A carefully and tastefully arranged blonde wing complete the make-up of the prima donna, and the deception was complete when the first bars of “Let Me Dream Again” floated out into the crowded hall.

“Tell me that is a man,” chuckled the man who had bet the wine, “It is all nonsense.” But his triumph was short lived for upon the beginning of the second verse of the popular air the singer in decidedly masculine accents exclaimed, “Let her go, Gallagher,” accompanying it with a decidedly male expectoration; and the laugh was on the wine wagerer.

It was the unanimous opinion, however, that Herbert Crowley, the female impersonator, was one calculated to deceive even an expert, and it is pretty hard to make a casual observer and listener believe that he is not in the presence of an attractive young woman.

The St. Paul [MN] Daily Globe, 3 March 1888: p. 5

Later in life Crowley started an act called “Herbert Crowley and his Six Sailors.”

The Orpheum Theatre presents on the stage today, tomorrow, a revue with broad travesty that gives a hint of the fads and foibles of the gentle sex. Herbert Crowley and his six Allied Sailors—all husky gobs who saw service during the war, have fashioned an odd stage conception. It is called “Herbert Crowley’s Different Revue,” and is all that the name implies, for the seven youths [Crowley, by this time was no longer a youth!] made up as pretty girls give a touch of real novelty to the offering. They make no attempt to fool their audience for even though they impersonate women they let it be known that they are men. Beautiful gowns, bright comedy and many novelty songs and dances make the revue an unusual treat.

The Daily Courier [Connellsville, PA] 6 April 1927: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about gentlemen who wear corsets, cross-dressing fancy dress, and a gentleman’s plea for short skirts on both sexes.

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.



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