Boudoir Coffee: A French Fad: 1903


“It is too bad about Clarissa,” a sweet old lady observed, after a visit to a city relation. “She is so poorly she has to have her breakfast in bed every morning.”

“More likely its pure laziness,” snapped her less charitable sister.

It may happen that the city cousin, if she be up to date, is neither the one nor the other. There is no longer either surmise of a suspicion of laziness attached to the woman who takes the first meal of the day, if not in bed, at least in her own room. Each day may have for her an infinity of duties to be performed. She husbands her forces for the fray by eating before she dresses, and over her solitary coffee cup quietly lays the plans for her campaign.

The boudoir breakfast is undoubtedly an importation from the French, and as such will meet with little favour from many American husbands and fathers. With them the term French is synonymous with unpronounceable and unintelligible menus and inordinately large bills.

No French folderols for me,” fumed one crusty old gentleman. “I want my family to come down to breakfast like Christians and have something solid and comforting like ham and eggs.” If he had been a New Englander he would probably have added to his bill of fare a doughnut, indigestible buckwheat cakes, or a piece of pie.

It is small wonder if milady holds up her hands in horror at the thought. Modern hygiene tells her that in a majority of cases the simple foreign breakfast of coffee and rolls is far more healthful than one that over-loads the stomach. If she be a woman of leisure who exercises little, a heavy breakfast will induce headache. Above all, it creates fat, and the woman of middle age who has any desires in the direction of figure must avoid it as a deadly enemy.

The business woman, who expects a morning of hard brain work, will find that the simple breakfast is the best for keeping her head clear. As one successful woman said when asked about her breakfast: “I never dare take anything but some cocoa and a roll or two. Anything else makes me dull and heavy, and unfit for my day’s work.” Some women go a step further and taboo breakfasts altogether, though this practice cannot be recommended as an example for general following.

But the French woman does not cling to her simple boudoir breakfast for hygienic reasons only. Far from it. The French woman is a marvel at preserving appearances. She is taught from childhood to bend all her energies to the feat of being charming under all circumstances. She must always be beautiful—or appear so.

Very few women are charming before breakfast. As one frankly remarked: “I am always bad tempered before I have my coffee, and bad temper makes me hideous.” The French woman has long recognized this truth, and her American sisters are beginning to see her wisdom.

The shaded light of the boudoir conceals much that is unpleasant.  The rose-colored hangings and carefully chosen color effects reflect colors in pale cheeks, and cheat madame into forgetting that the night has made her twelve hours older. So she clings to her boudoir till the reviving moment of breakfast is past.

Another reason for the boudoir breakfast is found in the universal feminine delight in silky, lace negligees and dressing sacques. Some women have a dozen of them, embroidered, sweet with sachet, and rivalling the colors of the butterfly. There are strange exotic creations, heavy with embroidery and breathing sandalwood from China and Japan. There are exquisite creations from the hands of the best known French modistes. And yet all this loveliness is for boudoir wear only. Unless the meal is strictly en famille, they are decidedly out of place in the breakfast room. Small wonder, then, that madame makes every excuse to linger in her boudoir and luxuriate. The boudoir breakfast is one of these excuses.

A dainty kimono for the guest room or for milady's boudoir.

A dainty kimono for the guest room or for milady’s boudoir.

Every well-ordered guest chamber now has its dainty kimono and slippers ready for the guest to don. They are there for the boudoir breakfast, and the last remark of the hostess at night will be “And what time shall I order your coffee sent to your room” If the guest is an old friend, she may be admitted to a share in the breakfast of her hostess, and then plans are laid and confidences exchanged. Over the teacups is not nearly so delightful as over the coffee cups at a boudoir breakfast.

These coffee cups are a joy in themselves. They are no longer drawn from the ordinary china dinner set. The fad for boudoir breakfasts has created special daintiness of patterns. They include every dish which might possibly be needed. These individual services come with a large tray of papier mache, both light and strong. Its color usually matches the ground-work of the china, though, as it is more often hidden by a fringed napkin, this might seem a useless precaution.

The different individual services vary slightly. Some are larger than others, so as to accommodate something besides the simple breakfast of coffee and rolls. One of the fullest sets contains both a coffee and chocolate pot, a covered dish which will hold toast or a breakfast portion of bacon and eggs, a deep saucer for cereal, and egg cup, a plate, a cup and a saucer.

One of these dainty sets would make an acceptable present for almost any woman, since they are convenient in case of illness. The price might be a bar to some pocketbooks, however. The woman who can afford a maid to serve her in her own room can usually afford china, so there is nothing cheap about these individual sets.

The newest designs in these services and fruit decorations in natural size and colorings. The same fruit—rosy peaches, purple grapes, or golden pears—appear on all the pieces of one set.

If madame has quieter tastes there are delicate traceries and Oriental bands in subdued colorings. Rose patterns are always to be found. Indeed the less expensive sets are in French china in dainty floral designs. About all of these individual sets there is the charm which belongs to individual possession of every kind. Madame looks upon her boudoir breakfast set with a sigh of satisfaction as she says: “The dinner china I buy to suit my husband and my guests, but this is for myself alone.” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 11 October 1903: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Ladies of the maid-possessing classes seemed to lead their lives nearly entirely apart from the male of the species. Husbands and wives had separate spheres of influence and often separate bedchambers. Their lives might touch perhaps at dinner, or at a party, and on the occasions for the begetting of heirs.  Dainty French china and negligees from Lucile were paid for, but not necessarily enjoyed, by the head of the household, unless he was purchasing similar luxury goods for some other lady, in which case he might revel in coffee and rolls in a bijoux residence in St John’s Wood. Mistresses are always charming before breakfast.

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.

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