Second-hand Silks: 1900

ONE WOMAN’S WAY

A Livelihood Gained from the Feminine Sense of Jumping at a Good Thing.

“I met a woman not long ago on the road,” remarked a New York drummer, “who gave me a point or two on how a bright woman can make her way in the world. She was a widow, with two children to support, and was housekeeper of an Indianapolis hotel until her health failed. She had to give it up at last, though she tried to hold on, for that was all she knew how to do, and she retired with only $100 or so to go on. Not knowing exactly whither to turn, she went to New York city and just wandered around for a while, looking at things. One day she saw the women crowding the life out of one another at a bargain sale of skirts, and a thought struck her. She let it develop for a day or two, and then spent all the money she had for silk skirts that were destined for the bargain counter. They were rumpled and looked jaded and tired, but she took them as they were at small figures, and carried them to her rooms. There she ironed and pressed them out till they looked like new, and then went out into the suburban towns to sell them. She found ready purchasers at good prices, and came back for more. These she made as good as new and had no trouble in disposing of her stock.

purple flower petticoat 1900

Flowered silk petticoat, early 1900s, from a trousseau. Observe the pinked edges of the flounces. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/86380?rpp=30&pg=3&ao=on&ft=petticoat&pos=73

She added shirt waists next and then began getting shop-worn silks, remnants and that kind of stock, and gradually increased her territory, hiring somebody to do the renovating while she was attending to the buying and selling. She has been at it three or four years, and in that time has built up a trade that is paying her this year between $500 and $600 a month. She has her children at good schools; has a nice little home in one of the suburban towns, which she owns, and is about the thriftiest and most business-like woman I ever saw. No training either to begin with, just the woman’s sense of jumping at a good thing and getting it.”

The Mantiowoc [WI] Pilot 8 March 1900: p. 1

pale pink frou frou petticoat

Pale pink silk petticoat, amply endowed with “frou frou,” http://art.famsf.org/petticoat-544761a-b

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To the practised nineteenth-century feminine eye, a worn silk garment spoke of genteel poverty and dreary domestic economy. Normally a lady would be advised to pick the gown apart and make into something for one’s little daughter, although if a silk dress was not absolutely falling to bits, it might be veiled with chiffon or other fabrics to hide the wear. There were also suggestions for refurbishing worn silks (particularly expensive mourning crapes) involving various receipts, such as water in which potatoes had been boiled or the following shuddersome hell-brew:

The following method is said to be an excellent one for the renovation of old, half-worn silks. Boil into a pulp three or four old kid gloves, using a bright, new pan, and putting the gloves into cold water. Strain this pulpy mass, adding a little hot water, and a teaspoonful of ammonia. Wash the silk thoroughly in this, putting into the rinsing water some borax and spirits of camphor. When cleansing black silks use gloves of any color, but when cleaning light silks use light-colored gloves. Good Health, Vol. 24, 1889: p. 317

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on the rag trade and on successful lady drummers.

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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