Snake-skins in Fashion: 1882-1912

BEAUTY IN SNAKE-SKINS.

LATEST VAGARY OF FASHION.

This autumn will bring the snake-skin dress into fashion. Mr. Gerrett, the originator of this development, informed a newspaper representative recently that its advantages are more manifold than would appear at the first glance.

“Marvels can be achieved by the python’s skin, in the hands of a clever designer,” he said, “for this skin never pulls or gives. It is both waterproof and pliable, and it can, by skilful manipulation of its wonderful scale marking, bring into prominence a pretty point or hide a defect.

“By using the python’s skin for footwear a foot can be made smaller, or it can be given breadth or tapered to a point.

“Then why should not an entire figure be modelled on these lines–breadth here, a slim line there, attention called to a pretty waist, or angular hips transformed into beautifully rounded ones by the magic aid of the python’s skin?

“Not only will women benefit by this idea, but the python’s skin should make men’s golf shoes impervious to weather, furnish lapels and, cuffs to motor-coats, and make elaborate waistcoats which will not wrinkle and which will disguise rotundity.

“I have already many orders for python shoes and many exquisite shoes, this autumn will be made in grey lizard, but for absolute smartness nothing will approach the gorgeous skin of the python.”

New Zealand Herald, 6 August 1910: p. 2

Yes, python embraces every curve….

COATS FROM SNAKESKINS

For once fashion has taken a direction which promises to be of general benefit to humanity. Women, or at least such as have access to the longest purses, shortly are to use snakeskin for garments for quite everyday wear, says a London dispatch to the Chicago Inter Ocean. One can scarcely imagine a more poetic revenge by the daughters of Eve on their old enemy, the serpent tempter.

Whether the new robes will prove as artistic as is expected remains to be seen. They will certainly lend themselves in skilful hands to the emphasizing of whatever graces there may be in the person of the wearer, and if the fashion thins out the number of these dangerous reptiles all over the world humanity will owe a debt of gratitude to the inventor of new modes.

We may yet come to see python skin sold by the yard over the dry goods counters, for the python is a big reptile, occasionally reaching, when full grown, thirty feet in length and a foot or more in diameter. Thus, apparently, a single skin might supply enough stuff to make an ordinary gown along modern lines. What the cost will be one cannot yet say. It will obviously be high, for serpents of the largest size are not to be met with every day.

The market price of skins, in view of the coming demand, already has gone up to a very high figure, and in Borneo, Sumatra and all over the Malay archipelago native hunters are scouring the wilderness, tempted by the offers of dealers in Paris and Vienna, and killing and capturing every big snake they meet with.

Properly prepared snake skin is both soft and durable. The anaconda is already “bespoke” for the latest thing in motor coats, and thus used makes an attractive novelty. Made up in the delicate shades of cream color and brown, and lined with satin to match, the material forms most attractive garments, which are especially desirable by reason of their lightness. They weigh almost nothing at all, and, it is reported, “never wear out.”

Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ] 13 August 1912: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil regrets that these beautiful snakes were hunted almost to extinction in the name of fashion. She feels that the world needs more giant pythons and anacondas to keep mankind on its toes.

Light and durable and attractive though snake-skin garments might be, there were certain drawbacks:

Recently snakes and lizards have been furnishing some share of the material for what are considered the most elegant styles of pocket-books, portmonnaies, gentlemen’s match-safes, card-cases, side bags with girdles, and fashionable trifles of all kinds. Yet it is by rather slow degrees that the boa-constrictor elegance has been winding itself into favour with us; in some of the European cities it is reported as having become much more the rage. Here in the manufacturing shop, however, may be seen the snake skin untanned, just as brought from South America, and resembling what one sees in the British Museum. Its markings are very beautiful, with the gold-touched stripe through the centre and the irregularly conjoined diamond and triangle shapes at either side. It is this natural design which is so much prized for objects like the side-bag or the pocket-book. Yet the material may have, perhaps, the fault of not wearing quite satisfactorily. The edges of the scales are apt to get rubbed up the wrong way so as to cause very soon a seedy appearance of the article. For the prevention of this roughening tendency gums are introduced, however, with more or less success in the process of preparing the skin for manufacture. The Citizen-Examiner 19 April 1882: p. 2

Snakes, of course, do not sling handbags carelessly about, nor do they sit on their coats in taxi-cabs or motor-cars. They glide through whatever jungle they inhabit, smoothing their scales the correct way and  ensuring that they do not end up looking like a parrot dragged through a hedge backwards. One expects that it is altogether too much to ask of the heedless young woman in a python dress who fancies herself a serpentine temptress to be mindful of the grain of her scales.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the only specimen she was able to find of early snake-skin garb is the shoe at the head of the post. There was, however, a rage for the reptilian in the 1930s-40s and again in the New Age of the 1970s and in the opulent ’90s. Mrs Daffodil shares some of those fashions on her facebook page.

Mrs Daffodil has also discussed the fad for lizard fashions and for snake garters.

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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