The Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest: 1920

 

 Fancy Costumes for Children

In one city of about 50,000, there are a great many social affairs for children during the winter, and again and again mothers have been put to much trouble, or have had to forego the happiness of being able to dress up as all children love to do.

One woman with a knack for making attractive garments at small expense undertook to fill this need. She calls her service the Fairy Godmother Treasure Chest.

Now it so happened that she had a large quantity of fancy and plain materials left over from the days when her husband had bought in a bankrupt stock of goods and did not succeed in selling all of it. This would give excellent foundation of materials. She also watched a number of bargain sales and picked up such things as she could use.

cobalt boy fancy dress

Boy’s 18th-century fancy dress http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21727/lot/355/

 

Then in her spare time she fashioned fancy costumes for children out of these. There were clown suits, and little Minute Men rigs, and Martha Washington dresses, and the most wonderful fairies and Puritan maidens, and butterfly and flower suits in bewildering array. She became exceedingly interested in all of these.

martha washington fancy dress

Martha Washington fancy dress for a young girl. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/87849.html?mulR=1013756972|6

The costumes were either sold outright to the owner, or rented. If rented, the charge was on a basis of 20% of the cost of the costume plus the expense of professional cleaning. Thus, if the costume cost $5.00 (work included), the rent of it for twenty-four hours would be $1.00 plus the cleaning charge, which would be from 50 cents to 75 cents.

In this way every mother was assured that the garment her child wore had been cleaned and thoroughly disinfected after its last use, and so there was no danger of contagion or infection.

Masquerade and costume parties became quite the rage after the Fairy Godmother lifted the cover of her Treasure Chest. Some of the costumes were very striking and beautiful, for it was not difficult to pick up ends and odds of materials and lace curtains for brides’ veils, and all that sort of thing.

About once a year the Fairy Godmother sells the most of her stock to a costumer in a different place, and this enables her to have a fresh supply of attractive goods.

Money for the Woman who Wants It, Emmett Leroy Shannon 1920: pp. 328-329

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It sounds a delightful business.  Mrs Daffodil has seen modern advertisements for ladies who will bring a “dress-up box” to children’s birthday parties and for establishments that specialise in dressing party guests like fairies in pretty pastels and spangled nylon wings.

Mrs Daffodil can remember when every country house worthy of the name had a cupboard where the costumes for amateur theatricals were kept. Often these were run up by the local dressmaker, but (and here Mrs Daffodil advises any dress historians among her readership to avert their eyes) they were also repositories for genuine historic garments which were often carelessly worn and altered. It is possible that the waistcoat worn with the boy’s blue fancy-dress suit pictured above is a genuine antique garment. Eighteenth-century gowns and gentleman’s coats were particularly popular in house-party productions, or, in the United States, for “Martha Washington Teas” or patriotic entertainments. Mrs Daffodil can hear the dress historians blanching in horror….   One hopes that the Fairy Godmother actually made all of the beautiful and striking contents of her treasure chest rather than plundering antique trousseaux preserved in the attic.

 

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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