The Velvet Coat: 1883

oscar wilde velvet coat

The Velvet Period

A Notable Season in the life of Every Young Man.

A couple of old fellows were standing in front of the Plankington House, smoking five cent cigars, one evening, when a young fellow passed along with a velvet coat on, and before he had got out of sight, an old fellow about sixty years old passed the same place, and he had on a velvet coat. One of the two old fellows knocked the ashes off his cigar, and said: “It catches them all, sooner or later.’ ‘

“What do you mean?” asked the other, as he borrowed his friend’s cigar to light his own.

“Why, the velvet coat period,” said the first man, as he took his cigar back, and puffed on it to keep it going. “Every man, some time in his life, either as boy or man, sees a time when he thinks the world will cease to revolve on its axis if he does not have a velvet coat, and he is bound to have one if he has to steal the money to buy it. It is bad enough for a boy to have the period come on, but it is infinitely worse to escape it in youth and have it attack a man in middle life, but it always hits them, some time. Now, you wouldn’t think, to look at me that I ever had the velvet coat fever, but I had it once in its most violent form.

“About twenty years ago, at the time of the oil excitement, I made a little money in oil, and I got to thinking how I could show how I was no ordinary son of man, and all at once it struck me that a velvet coat could do it for me, and 1 had a surveyor measure me, and had a velvet coat made. I was anxious to have it done so I could put it on and go around among the boys, but when it was done and had been brought home, I all at once lost my grip, and could hardly get up courage to put it on. I let it lay for a week, until my people got to making fun of me about being afraid to wear it, and finally I put it on and wore it down town after dark. Only a few people saw it, and I went home feeling satisfied that the worst was over. What I wanted was to have the community get accustomed to it gradually.  After a while I wore it to my office on days that I was to be busy, so I knew I wouldn’t have to go around town. After the boys in the office got so they could witness my coat without going behind a partition to laugh at me, I concluded to wear it on the street.

“Well, there was an organ grinder with a monkey, out on the sidewalk, when I went out, and the beastly Italian had on an old velvet coat, like mine, only soiled. The monkey was jumping around, picking up pennies, and all at once he saw me. I shall never forget the expression on that monkey’s face. He seemed to take me for his master, and clearly realized that his master had procured a new coat without asking the consent of his little brother. There was a look of pain, as though the monkey felt hurt that such duplicity had been practiced on him, and then the monkey would look at the clothes in which he was dressed up with contempt, and then he would look at my coat with envy. I never felt so sorry for a monkey in all my life. I could stand it to hear strangers say, as I passed by, ‘What fool is that?’ but to see that poor monkey grieve over the style I was putting on was too much, and I resolved if I ever got that coat home I would put it where it could never be seen again. The organ-grinder became alarmed at the actions of the monkey, and jerked on the chain, causing the monkey to tum a back summersault, and the poor animal came up standing in front of his master. He looked at him, and seemed to be at once reassured, and to feel that the apparition was only a horrid dream, and then he looked over his shoulder toward where I had stood, to make sure, and there I was in all my glory. Then the monkey was mad and began to make up faces at me, and I got out of there and went home, with shouts of the monkey’s audience sounding in my ears, and I took off that coat and gave it to the man that took care of my horse, and I never see a velvet coat, either on a boy or man, but I think of what a confounded fool I made of myself in my Oscar Wilde days. If you have a boy, teach him to go through the velvet coat period young, and he will thank his stars.’–Peck’s Sun.

The True Southron [Sumter, SC] 6 November 1883: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Oscar Wilde days,” indeed. Mrs Daffodil has known two gentlemen who went through a velvet coat period: one was an elegant professor of French, whose students all sighed for him; the other was a fair young man with the pale tresses and long nose of a borzoi. The garments are undoubtedly becoming to their owners, and young ladies seem desirous of petting them, but too often a velvet coat brands a young man as “artistic,” with all the opprobrium so frequently directed at that species by doting Papas. Still, many gentlemen remember their velvet coats fondly. Mrs Daffodil appends a poem of nostalgia for such a garment:

My Old Coat

Mortimer Collins

This old velvet coat has grown queer, I admit,
And changed is the colour and loose is the fit;
Though to beauty it certainly cannot aspire,
’Tis a cosy old coat for a seat by the fire.

II.

When I first put it on, it was awfully swell,
I went to a pic-nic, met Lucy Lepel;
Made a hole in the heart of that sweet little girl,
And disjointed the nose of her lover, the earl.

III.

We rambled away o’er moorland together,
My coat was bright purple, and so was the heather;
And so was the sunset that blazed in the west,
As Lucy’s fair tresses were laid on my breast.

IV.

We plighted our troth ’neath that sunset aflame,
But Lucy returned to her earl all the same;
She’s a grandmamma now and is going downhill,
But my old velvet coat is a friend to me still.

V.

It was built by -a tailor of mighty renown,
Whose art is no longer the talk of the town;
A magical picture my memory weaves
When I thrust my tired arms through its easy old sleeves.

VI.

I see in the fire, through the smoke of my pipe,
Sweet maidens of old that are long over ripe;
And a troop of old cronies, right gay cavaliers,
Whose guineas paid well for champagne at Watier’s.

VII.

A strong generation, who drank, fought, and kissed,
Whose hands never trembled, whose shots never missed;
Who lived a quick life, for their pulses beat high,
We remember them well, sir, my old coat and I.

VIII.

Ah, gone is the age of wild doings at Court,
Rotten boroughs, knee-breeches, hair-triggers, and port;
Still I’ve got a magnum to moisten my throat,
And I’ll drink to the past in my old tattered coat.

Modern Merry Men: Authors in the Lighter Vein in the Victorian Era, William Andrews 1904

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s