Plaster Casts of Their Pretty Faces, a Summer Fad: 1888

plaster cast life mask anna pavlova

Plaster life-mask of the face of ballerina Anna Pavlova. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1113998/mask/

The Latest Fashionable Folly.

Some few of the summer girls before gathering their butterfly raiment about them for flight left souvenirs of themselves with the business-tied young men who remain in the city. These souvenirs were neither more nor less than plaster casts of their pretty faces, and as the fashion in which these casts are obtained is by no means a pleasant one they must be judged to have displayed heroism worthy of a better cause. A cast, they argue, has no more significance than a photograph, while it is a much newer method of giving a token of one’s regard. The damsel who designs to honor any friend masculine after this mode send for one of those swarthy, under-sized Italian modelers who abound in certain quarters down town. The little man attends in the lady’s boudoir and a studio is extemporized. This means that some convenient sister or girl friend hold her hand and calms her rising terrors while the victim is laid back in a reclining chair or extending on a table.

The hair is snooded up carefully and covered that no touch of plaster may come near it. Then some variety of sweet oil is rubbed upon the skin, tubes of one description or another are put into the nostrils and the mixture is poured on. It does not take many minutes for it to set nor many more for it to be got off, discovering the summer girl very commonly in a state bordering on hysteria and as glad to be released as if she were jumping from a dentist’s clutches. There is no real discomfort attending the operation, the oil preventing any adhesion of the skin and the castee soon recovers sufficiently to describe the whole thing as “real fun,” and to discuss the number of copies of her countenance she will have made from the mold.

A bachelor’s den, in case the bachelor chances to have a number of girl friends, presents an interesting appearance just now. Rows of white faces look down from the mantel, more stand around on tables or bookshelves. Some are set in plaques, some hung up in frames. Some, it grieves one to record, are not treated with due consideration, one irreverent dog of a youngster, for instance, turning the plaster mask of his best girl over and using the reverse side for an ash tray.

The Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 29 July 1888: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Irreverent dog, indeed. Mrs Daffodil appreciates that the summer girl feels a life-mask to be more of a “speaking likeness” than a photograph. Still, even the most skillful modeller cannot hide their shuddersome resemblance to a death mask. Unless one’s beloved bachelor has some strange tastes indeed, one feels that a portrait in tasteful evening costume would more effectively call the girl friend to the bachelor’s mind.

The photograph at the head of this post is a cast-plaster life-mask of ballerina Anna Pavlova. Here is a bronze cast taken from the plaster mold:

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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