A Shopping Incident.
The young man screwed his courage to the sticking point and dashed into the large drapery establishment. lnside were many customers, all ladies, and many attendants, all ladies, too, and all dressed in black, and looking very tall and dignified. Henry was sorry for himself; he regretted having ventured. All his courage had oozed out at his finger tips he felt very small and limp.
“Are you being attended to?” asked one tall young lady, severely.
“Yes that is, nun-no,” answered Henry.
“What is it you would like?”
“Well, I don’t quite know. It isn’t what I like, but— the fact is, it’s for a lady.”
“Yes. What article?”
“I really can’t tell, but I thought 1 would give her something.”
“Your mother?” asked the attendant with something like a smile.
“No, no, not quite my mother. What are those things there?”
“Those are the new silk stockings.”
“Oh, I beg pardon I really didn’t know. No, I don’t care to look at them; I don’t think they’d do.” Poor Henry was perspiring freely now and his knees were weak and trembling. “Something more like that, I think.” He pointed desperately at a bundle.
The young lady endeavoured to ignore his request, and a faint tinge of colour showed in her cheeks. “Wouldn’t you like to look at some hats?” she said hastily.
“No.” said Henry, feebly, “she has a hat. I really think those—“
“Those are petticoats,” said the attendant, desperately. “Shall I show you a few?”
Henry had almost collapsed. “Pup. pup-petticoats?” he gasped. “No, don’t show them, please. Gimme one of those.” He pointed to some articles displayed on a stand.
“Are you quite sure they will suit?” asked the young lady.
“Oh, yes, positive,” faltered Henry “Just the thing, I’m sure.” Henry would have bought a thousand-gallon boiler, or a ship’s anchor anything to get away from the terrible shop, where all the women were staring so, and most of them were laughing.
The parcel was made up. Henry paid and fled, and that evening he presented the dear eighteen -year-old girl he was courting with an elegant widow’s cap.
Observer, 23 June 1906: p. 23
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There were many different styles of widow’s caps for every degree of age and mourning, from coquettish confections for the “merry widow,” to the lappeted or “Marie Stuart” cap made popular by Queen Victoria, to the severe black crape for the inconsolable or the professionally grim. Caps could be made at home, but ladies were counseled that the results were rarely satisfactory. It was far better to purchase from a maison de deuil or a milliner.
We have few records of gentlemen purchasing mourning for ladies; possibly Henry’s cautionary tale explains why.
You may read more about the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead.
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.