The Senators Discuss French Garters: 1894

Peacock garters with enamelled buckles http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/16306/lot/164/

OUT OF SIGHT

It Is Permissible to Present a Lady with Garters During Lent

Senators Want to Stop This

Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. George Gould and Others Have Received Garters as Presents.

Perhaps the difficulty arising out of the unclothed condition of Augustus St. Gauden’s emblematic young man [on a World’s Fair medal] has caused the action of a committee of the United States senate with reference to garters—women’s garters—to pass entirely untouched. It is not generally known that the Lenten season, in accordance with the dictates of French fashion, is recognized among people of fashion and wealth as the appropriate time for making a present of a pair of garters to a lady. This assertion, which is strictly accurate, can only excite surprise because most persons are too poor to afford to present a high priced pair of garters to anyone, and hence the class which feels interest in the style in garters is necessarily a small one. Thus very few are aware that Mrs. Paran Stevens, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. William Waldorf Astor and Mrs. Potter Palmer have not only received presents of jeweled garters, but are admitted authorities on the subject.

But it was only recently that the garter question came up for consideration among members of the senate. It seems that the committee on post officers and post roads, of which Senator Cameron is chairman, had its attention called to an announcement which has been appearing in the journals of the country and is but a specimen of many similar cards which the Lenten season renders timely.

The announcement called upon the lovelorn youths of the land to present their inamoratas with a pair of garters embellished with several different mottoes of which the purchaser could have his choice.

It was desired that steps be taken to make such announcements unlawful, as opposed to public morals. The garter men had their representatives before the committee, which includes Senators Hill, Vilas, Irby, Mills, Hunton, Mitchell, of Oregon, McMillan, Wolcott, Dixon and Washburn. The garter men declared that their industry gave employment to hundreds of work-people and that the most noted society women and men in the country purchased garters ranging in price from one dollar to five hundred dollars.

“But these mottoes,” said the chairman, “are they not suggestive?”

The garter men’s representative declared the high society women of the country wore garters on which mottoes appeared and that they were in many cases on the garters which men of fashion presented to women of fashion.

“Heavens,” exclaimed Senator Irby, “I’d like to see any man present my women folk with the things.” And in the midst of a loud laugh the matter went over.

French sable garter “Le Fuit La Liberte” http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/garter-122129

However, there is no danger that the traffic will be interfered with. The New York jewelers are the ones who thrive most upon the present Lenten traffic in these objects, and they are the recognized authorities on etiquette connected with the subject. Anyone who enters the great marts of the precious stone trade may see stacks of high priced and bejeweled garters, all mottoes and gems exposed for sale at prices which denote that only the wealthy can invest in them.

As noted, Mrs. Paran Stevens and the princess of Wales are mainly responsible for the garter fad among their respective countrywomen. It is not deemed proper for a married woman to receive a present of a pair of garters from anyone but her husband or a near relative. Similarly, an engaged girl may with propriety receive such a present only from her fiancé. Thus Frederick Gebhard gave a pair of pearl and golden garters to the young lady to whom he was engaged. Hobart Chatfield-Taylor bought for his wife the celebrated rajah’s garters seen at the world’s fair for which, it is said, he paid five hundred dollars. Cornelius Vanderbilt presented to his wife only a week ago a pair of diamond garters. It may be noted that it is not good taste to have a motto on garters which are jeweled. But in the absence of a gem of any kind the motto is imperative.

Why the Lenten season should be the chosen time for making presents of garters has never been satisfactorily explained. It is true that among the French, through whom the craze has assumed its present proportions, no man ever presents a pair of garters to a woman except in Lent. At any other time such a gift would be deemed an insult. Nor is it permissible for a man to present his gift in person. The garter should invariably be sent by mail or express with a note in the package in which the objects must be described as “clasps.” It would be in bad taste, for instance, for a woman to receive a pair of garters from her fiancé in propria persona. The gift should be acknowledged by letter—never verbally.

It is unfortunate that this whole subject of presenting garters should be considered ludicrously. It is vulgar to treat any such subject humorously even in print. For instance, such women as Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Seward Webb, Mrs. Coleman Drayton, Mrs. George Gould, and others, as noted, have received such gifts with no more concealment than would be striven for in the case of the presentation of a ring or brooch. In any large city, and more particularly in New York, men of position and influence step up to the jewelry counter and ask to see the garters with the utmost composure. Mr. Barton Willing, the brother of Mrs. John Jacob Astor, gave an impetus to the trade when he returned from France shortly before his sister’s wedding, and in Philadelphia there was a veritable garter rage that winter.

High priced garters are bought by men only. The present Lenten season has witnessed an extraordinary revival of the garter fad, for the reason , it is supposed, that the gifts made at Christmas were necessarily curtailed in quantity owing to the hard times.

Many of the creations which attract so much attention in the window are from France, a country which has long reigned supreme in this fad. Hence the prevalence of French mottoes on them.

As to the probability that the senate committee will feel called upon, in accordance with the appeal of a Comstockian society, to put a stop to the alleged free and easy style of garter advertising literature, that is not likely. There are too many influential interests. But if they did it would crush an industry which is already beginning to attain proportions. For instance, there is an American garter clasp in the market which is admittedly superior to anything of the kind yet produced and which is manufactured in silver and gold for shipment to France in quantities.

Young men who make Lenten presents of a garterian nature should be careful to see that the clasp is what is technically termed padded. Otherwise there is likely to be a compression of one of the most sensitive portions of a girl’s leg. The jewelers usually have circulars which give diagrams on the subject of garters. Very few young men are aware, for instance, that a certain patent claps which is excellently adapted to the conformation of a slender girl’s limb would be most inappropriate for the contour of a stout young woman’s adipose tissue. It is necessary to get the advice of some experienced person beforehand, if one is not versed in this matter.

When a girl gets such a present she should be careful not to wear the articles just above the knee. That is, a jeweled garter should be adjusted at least two inches above the knee joint, as there is otherwise danger of a compression of the ganglionic nerve. The ungraceful gait of many otherwise well-poised girls is due to carelessness in this respect. It was Berry Wall’s boast before his marriage that he could tell whether a girl was wearing her garters properly or not by the way she walked.

Morning Star [Rockford IL] 16 February 1894: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If the senators did not like motto garters, they certainly would have disapproved of the “snake garter” There is very little in this world that shocks Mrs Daffodil, but a group of senators debating about such intimacies as garters decorated with French mottoes strikes Mrs Daffodil as somehow indecorous. One pictures those gentlemen rushing off to their jewellers to acquire a pair of those salacious articles to send to some young person of their acquaintance.  Honi soit qui mal y pense, indeed….

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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