Peacocks and Opals: Fashion Trumps Superstition: 1917

SUPERSTITION IS PUT DOWN AND OUT BY FASHION

Margaret Mason

Superstitious Susie is a creature of the past

Now sensible Suzanna doesn’t even look aghast

When she walks beneath a ladder, opals cause her no alarm

And she even breaks a mirror with no thought of future harm.

New York, Dec. 28. Fashion certainly is all powerful since it can even overcome superstition and down it without a struggle.

Poor but sensible relations who couldn’t afford to be superstitious have reveled for years in opal rings, scarf pins, brooches, earrings and even necklaces cast off shudderingly by temperamental and hysterical daughters and sons of the rich who were just sure opals brought bad luck, dire calamity and everything else dreadful and devastating. But poor relations will revel no longer.

Just now Madame la Mode is pleased to cast anything but black glances on black opals and in consequence their erstwhile supposedly evil blight is quite ignored by fickle and fashionable females and the flashing hues of the black opals scintillate on their swan like throats some of them are more like pouter pigeons on their heaving and offtimes ample bosoms, on their lily and taper digits and dangle from their shell-like aural appendages. Smugly content in the consciousness that they are smartly jeweled, they wear the opals without a shudder and as yet the list of casualties attendant upon such a desperate act has been slight.

Peacock a Jinx.

Just why the blight of superstition should ever have rested on the gorgeous feathers of the peacock, that favored fowl of Juno and long the very trademark of vanity, is a deep dark peacock blue mystery. This season sees the ban on peacock feathers lifted however, as the fan of peacock feathers is unfurled. These fetching feather fans either mounted on jeweled and hand carved ivory handles or of the open and shut variety with tortoise shell or ivory sticks are the very acme of feather fan fashions for the fair.

Peacock feathers also wave triumphant from jeweled evening hair bandeaus or from the smart street turbans of metallic brocade and replicas of the entire bird gleam in wicked iridescence form the fascinating surfaces of the ubiquitous beaded bags.

In the face of such fickle shifting from superstition at fashions call, it would be foolish to still cling to other superstitions equally as innocuous. Why not banish the whole musty, medieval lot since Madame La Mode has bravely blazed the trail.

Most of the up-to-date maids and matrons have indeed adopted this logic for their own and ladders are now passed under dauntlessly by opaled and peacocky ladies. They turn back home to get something they have forgotten and leave again by the same door. They begin a new piece of knitting on Friday or Saturday without a qualm and even start journeying on a fateful Friday. The thirteenth of the month has become a prime favorite as a wedding or an entertaining date and milady now cracks or breaks her vanity mirror with as little compunction as she does a masculine heart.

May Turn out Bad.

If that side of her profile happens to be the best Miss 1917 looks over her perfect left shoulder at the new moon with airy nonchalance even though the resultant good luck of landing her escort sometimes turn out to be bad luck.

So you see when Fashion turns against superstition, superstition might just as well get out of the fashionable picture without any to-do or fuss about it.

There’s just only one little weeny superstition that still continues to get by with it. That’s the one of picking up pins. No matter how tight her corsets or skirts no woman will fail to live up to the couplet.

“See a pin and pick it up

All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pin and let it lay

Then you luck will fly away.”

Especially if it be a black headed pin because of course you can’t buy them any more during these war times. So there we are again back to the same old reason that you can’t get away from no matter what you start out to write about. Even this measly little picking up pins superstition that still sticks in spite of fashion’s ban is directly traceable to the great all-blamable reason: “on account of the war.”

Evening News [San Jose, CA] 28 December 1917: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Friday the Thirteenth seems the perfect time to address the question of fashionable superstitions. Opals were once believed to be dreadfully unlucky, except to those persons fortunate enough to be born with them as their birthstone. Mrs Daffodil has written before about a very unlucky royal opal and about lucky charms for Friday the Thirteenth.

Peacock feathers, despite their picturesque appeal to the Arts & Crafts movement and to Lady Curzon, who incorporated them in her Durbar dress, have often been considered a hoodoo by homemakers and theatrical people. Folklorists say that this is because they resemble the “evil eye.” Some also suggest that the call of the peacock resembles the ill-omened shriek of the banshee.

HOODOO OF FEATHERS

Superstitious playgoers will learn with horror that peacocks’ feathers are to form the basis of costumes in the long-delayed production of M. Rostand’s “Chanticleer.”  Few English actors would be bold enough to wear these ill-omened feathers. In 1890 a procession of gods and goddesses was shown on the stage at Drury Lane, and, although Juno appeared with her peacock at the first rehearsal before the play was produced the company persuaded the author to cut the bird out of the cast in order to avoid the bad luck which it would certainly bring. On the opening night of the present Prince of Wales’s Theater several people were taken ill, and this was attributed by many to the fact that the stalls were ornamented with a design of peacock’s feathers. The manager went to the expense of recovering the whole of the stalls with a less unlucky pattern. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 January 1910: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil has been unable to ascertain how peacock feathers suddenly became bad luck, for, as this next article says, one moment the feathers were in fashion; the next, anathema. Perhaps the peacocks, such a prominent feature of aristocratic landscapes, had an effective lobbyist working on their behalf.

Ominous Peacock Plumes.

You remember, do you not, how all of the ladies used to admire peacock feathers? Every boudoir contained a bunch of them; every parlor was made richer by their gorgeous tints. They were even used now and then as a border to a frieze, and they were fastened on screens, painted on plaques, pinned on curtains, and embroidered on chairs. But now, go where you will, you will see no peacock feathers. They have been banished from hall and bower. Why? Because it has been decided that they bring bad luck. Even fashion couldn’t stand against that. They had to go. The news spread rapidly, and every lady, sitting down to reckon up the beginning of her bad luck, concluded that it was when she bought her peacock feathers. The ladies of the Woodruff hotel held a meeting and decided to banish these ominous plumes. So they all went. All along the avenues the ladies followed their example. The servants caught the infection and refused to stay in a house where the exquisite but fateful feathers were kept. So the comfort and peace of mind of the vainest of birds is restored, for he will be molested no more. Chicago Tribune. Hyde Park Herald [Chicago, IL] 2 December 1887: p. 7

One gentleman set out to prove the folly of this superstition, but alas….

A year or two ago, Daniel Hodnot of Long Branch, brother-in-law of the late Daniel Liddy, brought home from Europe a screen made of Peacock feathers. He told his wife of the prevailing superstition and said they would disprove the commonly received notion. She said the superstition did not disturb her. Since then Mr. Hodnot’s house has several times marvelously escaped destruction by fire; a valuable dog of his died without apparent cause; burglars have entered the place and stolen valuables, and both Mr. Liddy and Mr. Hodnot have died. Finally there was a lawsuit to contest Mr. Liddy’s will. In the neighborhood of Long Branch Peacock feathers are now no more popular than before the test was made.  Ornithologist and Oölogist, Volumes 17-18, 1892

 

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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