What the Draper Sees at Christmas: 1903

WHAT THE DRAPER SEES.

(From the Red Letter.)

Christmas Eve: fine, bright, frosty weather; for a time hatred, malice, and uncharitableness seem to be dying away. Some purses are heavy. more are light, but the hearts of their owners seem alike touched by thoughts that bring all that is best in them to the surface.

Fathers, who perhaps in the ordinary way would seek employment at the public-house to-night, assist their wives with the shopping. Plum puddings are a recognised Christmas institution, but in many families new pinafores for the little girls are almost as much so.

“I want to see some pinafores,” says a customer. Then going to the shop door, she sings out, “Come in, Joe.”

Joe appears doubtfully but when the pinafores are produced his shyness wears off, and his interest is keen. Nellie’s eleven, Marjorie’s eight, Jane is three, and baby’s 9 months. “We want one for each of them.” says the mother. They look at several.

“I say, mother, wouldn’t Nell look fine in that?” says Joe.

“Too dear.” says the careful housewife.

“’Ow much?” asks Joe.

The price quoted, and the generous father declares it is not a ha’penny too much. The selection is completed, and away they go happy. A minute or two after Joe reappears alone–left his stick, he says. “I say, show me some haprons, quick, miss, to fit the missus.” He buys a good one, and, cramming it into his pocket, goes out flourishing his recovered stick, left for the purpose.

Later his wife will dodge in and purchase a tie for Joe, bright enough to dispel a fog of the “London particular” variety.

Such is the pleasant scene enacted again and again in many a fancy shop on Christmas Eve, telling of a fund of affection which seldom finds expression.

Bashful young men appear to buy gloves, fur necklets, or silk ties for their sweethearts. Many come for gloves with no idea of size. One blushing swain informed me that her waist was 23 inches, but didn’t know her size in gloves. A few years ago girls were fond of buying braces and tobacco pouches, which they would embroider with their own fair hands for their beloved ones, but these are not so greatly favoured now, mufflers and silk handkerchiefs having replaced them. And. indeed, generally in present giving there seems to have been a movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental.

One Christmas Eve incident to close with. I was once employed in a shop the proprietor of which his assistants generally spoke of as the “Curmudgeon”–a name his character apparently justified. Just as we were close upon closing time a poor woman in widow’s weeds who had been a good customer in happier times came in and asked for pinafores. There had been a great rush of business, and all the cheap ones of the size she required had been sold. Her eyes tilled with tears to think that her little one must be disappointed.

Just as she was going the “Curmudgeon” came forward with a pinafore, saying. “This has been badly inked. and if it is of any use you may have it for six-pence.” The widow went away happy. The “Curmudgeon” had deliberately inked one of the best pinafores, knowing that she would not accept a big reduction as a matter of charity.

I am persuaded that the half-sovereign he gave me that night was meant to close my lips about the incident, but I refused to be bribed, and his name is no longer the “Curmudgeon.”

Waikato [NZ] Times 24 December 1903: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is always pleased to hear of kindly and generous fathers and husbands and of Scrooge-like employers who show unexpected flashes of liberality in the Christmas season. One hopes that the missus was pleased with her apron and Joe was delighted with his brilliant cravat. The Curmudgeon receives a reverential tip of a figurative cap for his delicate handling of a situation that called for the nicest diplomacy.

A “movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental,” was certainly all to the good. Young men groaned under the weight of the fancy-work inflicted on them by industrious young ladies and longed for a misfit holiday gift exchange where one could trade six pairs of nicely embroidered slippers for a serviceable jacket or cap. Even better would be if the ladies would not send the fad du jour done up in tissue. Mrs Daffodil shudders as she remembers a certain “singing fish” that was all the rage one Christmas.

THE CHRISTMAS FAD. 

I would put forth a yearning prayer

That these, the loving ones, and fair,

Who keep unworthy me in view

As one for Christmas presents due.

Might each, though generously inclined.

A separate inspiration find.

One year with handkerchiefs I’m showered.

The next by neckties overpowered:

Again more slippers than I’d need

Had I been born a centipede.

Another year, both maids and wives

Embower me in paper knives.

Then gloves came in, pair after pair

 Of every sort— from everywhere—

And smoking caps, whose sizes strange

From infants’ up to giants’ range!

Sweethearts, I pray you. list to me!

Whatever gift is said to be

The proper thing to send— the “fad”—

If you would make my poor heart glad

And cause my bosom joyous swells—

Don’t send it–please, send something else.

Feilding [NZ] Star 24 December 1901: p. 8

Of course, some gentlemen, driven to extremes by an excess of fancy-work might do as this man did:

For this man, who as a terrible fellow with the girls, no less than seven fair creatures manufactured pairs of slippers, all delicious things of embroidery, ribbons and velvet, and presented them to the lucky favorite at Christmas.

This was an embarrassment of riches, and the wretched man, having picked out the finest pair for his own use, quietly placed the remaining six pairs of slippers in the show window of a drygoods store downtown for sale. And they fetched fancy prices, I am told.

Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 7 May 1890: p. 4

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 anecdote

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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