Category Archives: Dance

Secrets of the Theatrical Costumer: 1903

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Where the Gorgeous Costumes of the Stage Are Made and Rented.

There are lots of people who can manage to push their way behind the scenes at a play, but there are very few who ever get as far behind the scenes as the shop of the theatrical costumer. In these days of elaborate staging, when the frocks make the actress, the costumer is the heart and soul, the alpha and omega of the play. Without him the prima donna and the problem actress alike would be birds of very shabby feathers, while the show girls would not attract a dozen patrons of the bald-headed row.

He is a mysterious person, whom nobody ever sees. Beyond his name, which is sometimes printed on the program, he is less known than the boy who gives out programs or the ticket taker at the gate. Yet, in his way, e is an artist who deserves to rank beside the manager and the playwright. If, at the last moment he should fail to be on hand with his production, the show could not go on; for the leading lady could not play Juliet in a sailor hat and the leading man could not do Romeo in a white flannel shirt.

The shop of the theatrical costumer is a fascinating place, smelling of moth balls and lavender, glittering with spangles and satins, jewels and tin armor, piled high with boxes and shelves, cluttered with costumes, thrown here and there, picture hats, kimonos, slippers, boots and frock coats lying around in what appears to be the wildest confusion, but what is in reality the most perfect order—so perfect in fact that any employe in the shop can lay his finger on any garment or part of a garment at a moment’s notice. Entering the place is like passing into a sort of fairy land where every character out of every play you have ever seen is dressed and ready to greet you. In a corner the short skirts, flowered petticoats, and shepherdess hat of Perdita lie disconsolate, her little slippers peeping from beneath them. Yonder you might almost fancy that Miss Marlowe had just stepped out and left her Beatrice frocks behind her. Over there is a suit of doublet and hose flung aside by some amateur Cyrano de Bergerac; and a ross the way madam Butterfly might just have taken wings, dropping her fluttering kimono as she went.

But all of the paraphernalia is only the theatrical costumer’s “junk,” hired for the most to amateurs for fancy balls. It is the odds and ends leftover from his big orders for regular customers, the driftwood from the great productions which he has staged. He could not make a living out of such stuff.

His real business is filling big orders of the large and elaborate productions which are put on every autumn. Summer is his great season. In the spring he takes his orders and employs his staff of hands and all through the hot days his shop is the busiest one in town. The machines are buzzing in his work rooms, leading ladies pass one another in disdain upon his stair; chorus girls flit in and out for fittings; managers wait upon him in his office. The president of the Untied States is no more important and no more sought after than is he. Sometimes the theatrical costumer is a designer, an artist of no little merit. He knows history from the flood down and can take his pencil and sketch you a picture of Noah correct to the very curl of his hair. But more often he employs his staff of designers as he employs his cutters, fitters, stitchers, basters and pressers. Every workman in his shop is a specialist, even down to the girls how sew on spangles and mend laces.

A Side Line on the Business.

There is a side line to the costumer’s business which is almost as remunerative as his regular business. It is the making of evening dresses for society women who hire them for a ball or for a season, paying an enormous rental, but not half so much as the frock would have cost them if they had had it made outright.

“You might not fancy,” remarked Carl Wustl, one of New York’s leading costumers, “that there would be a great deal of money in hiring gowns to society women, but there is. Even though the frocks we make cost a small fortune apiece and are designed by French artists and lined throughout with the most costly silk and chiffon, the profits are something extraordinary.

“Your society woman is after all very frugal and once a costumer gets a reputation among the upper ten he will supply half the elaborate costumes for great occasion> You see a society woman does not care to wear a dress more than once or twice, yet she wants the most expensive sort of gowns with the finest workmanship upon them. To hire a French designer and makers such as a costumer must have at his command would make each of her gowns cost a small fortune. Now she can come to us, order any sort of gown she wants, pay about one-third of its value and wear it as often as she would wear it were it her own.

“Here, for instance, is a gown with a remarkable history,” continued the costumer, taking down a gorgeous creation in white satin, tulle, and spangles, which looked as though it had been through an army campaign, so frayed were its ruffles and so tarnished its spangles.

“This gown cost $1,000. There are just 75,000 spangles on it and every one was applied by hand. It was designed and made for one of our best patrons. She is a society woman who is famous for her gowns and is known never to wear a frock on more than one occasion. Her husband is wealthy, but her lavishness in dress astounds even her intimate. This frock she wrote to the famous Bradley-Martin ball. With it she wore hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry. And what do you think the gown cost her? Just $300 for the night. In the morning papers her costume was described in elaborate detail.

Of course a responsible costumer would never by any chance rent a gown to two women in the same set or even in the same class of society. After the Bradley-Martin ball that dress saw no more of the four hundred. It was then let for the season to a certain smart looking woman in quite a different set, who wore it on five occasions only, but paid $500 for having it reserved for her exclusive use for three months. The next season a stock company star saw it. It was renovated and remodeled to her taste and she hired it off and on by the week during the season, paying $50 a week for the use of it. By that time it had pretty well paid for itself. But it was so substantial that it bore renovating once more. A little Jewish bride, who wanted to make a stunning effect and could afford only $10 for her wedding dress, saw it and hired it. After that I seemed that every Jewish bride on the East Side knew of it and it did service at ten or twelve weddings during the winter. With such hard service it got pretty soiled and shabby and I was going to hang it up as a souvenir, when a little Irish girl came in to hire a dress for a fireman’s ball. She saw the $1,000 frock, got stuck on it and it saw one more night of service. Now I am going to keep it as a relic and for good luck. It shan’t go out again,” and the costumer lovingly tucked the soiled satin folds once more into the box.

Sometimes a set of costumes made for a production will have almost as varied a history as the society woman’s frock. Their first appearance in all their pristine freshness is of course in the big metropolitan production for which they are designed. If the play is a success, they are worn by the company or an entire season and carried all over the country. In the spring, when the play closes, they are brought back by the management and bought in once more by the costumer, who gets them for a song. They are then renovated and kept for local stock companies, wo hire them again and again as long as they are presentable. After that they do service in amateur productions and for fancy dress balls.

“The making of theatrical costumes,” said a famous costumer, “is more of a fine art than ever before. The costumes are much more expensive than they used to be in days gone by when the leading lady wore white muslin or black poplin and the kings wore cotton-backed ermine. Costumes now have to be the real thing, inside and out. The satins must be silk backed and heavy enough to stand alone, the laces must be fie and delicate, even the roses on the hats must be silk or velvet, and the gowns must fit without a winkle and be as artistic in cut as the frocks of the wealthiest society women. Managers are as particular as old women and electric lights show up every detail, even to a spangle. The costumer who deals in cheap stuffs and cheap labor will soon lose his custom.”

theatrical-chorus-girls-with-parasols

“Yes, odd things do happen sometimes,” went on the maker of theatrical togs, meditatively smoking his cigar. “Our costumes have some remarkable experiences, and if they could talk might tell some funny stories. I remember once that I was called into court on a curious mission. It was to vie evidence against a chorus girl. I had just the week before made up and sent out a full set of costumes for a comic opera. Six of the costumes were conventional evening frocks of a very elaborate order. They were very expensive and the show girls wore them for only a few moments during the play. After that they were carefully put away in cotton-lined boxes by the maid. With them were large picture hats, silk stockings, gloves and satin slippers.

Her Costume Familiar.

“The first week of the production I dined one night at an up-town restaurant. I had just finished my coffee and was lighting my cigar, when a beautiful young woman entered, followed by a gilded Johnny in full dress. Something about the woman struck me as very familiar, but I could not place her among my acquaintances. As she took her seat she lifted her skirts and, as I caught a glimpse of her satin slipper, it flashed upon me where I had seen it before. She was wearing one of the six costumes I had made for the comic opera production. She was without exception the most stunning woman in the room, and the way she kept the other people turning their necks and trying to guess what famous member of the four hundred she might be would have made any chorus girl want to borrow the company’s costumes for a night.

“But it seems that her glory was only for a night. Somebody must have peached; for next day I was called into court to identify the costume, and a more irate stage manager or a more humiliated chorus girl, I never saw. She confessed, of course, that she had bribed the maid and borrowed the gown for the evening, and protested with many tears that she had not hurt the gown a bit. But she was fined just the same. It was only one of the sad little scenes that pass with the rest of the tragedies and comedies under the nose of the theatrical costumer.”

Denver [CO] Post 25 October 1903: p. 36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on moving-picture actresses who are martyrs to their public’s demand for the latest in fashionable frocks.  This peep at the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatrical costumer sheds a fascinating light on where the “Four Hundred” get their gowns.

Mrs Daffodil once knew of a lady whose beauty and title could not obscure her lack of breeding. She had contracted with a costumer (as did the lady of the one-thousand-dollar dress above) for a unique and exquisite ball gown in which she hoped to burst upon Society as the wife of an elderly Duke. (They had been hastily married abroad and His Grace wished to show off his new acquisition to his friends and disapproving children of his first marriage.) For a young person who had just risen from a theatrical background (second chorus, mind…) she had been most exacting and disagreeable with the costumer and particularly with those ladies who were in charge of sewing on the spangles. The costumer, who knew a parvenu (and a potential annulment) when he saw one, supplied his spanglers and dressmakers with some aged thread which he had been meaning to discard.

Her Grace was the cynosure of all eyes in the breathtaking gown, particularly when she began to shed her spangles. A little drift of the glittering objects swirled about her hem in the receiving line and several guests were seen discreetly removing sequins from their soup at dinner. His Grace got several spangles down his throat during the first waltz with his new bride and had to be assisted back to his quarters, red-faced and choking. Her Grace had no shortage of partners, and so carried on, until, about the third Waltz-Gallop, the well-fitted seams of her gown began to show the strain. First she shed a sleeve, then the bodice fastening parted, and when her train gave way abruptly, Her Grace found herself in the embarrassing position of a Nymph Surprised While Bathing, with rather more Valenciennes insertion.  The Duke’s children instituted legal proceedings for a swift annulment; and, although she received ample heart-balm through the courts, the young person is now back in the chorus.

Surely a lesson for us all to be kind to those who have been placed in humbler circumstances than ourselves.

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. 

 

The Dances of the Day: A Chat with a Royal Dancing Teacher: 1893

THE DANCES OF THE DAY

A CHAT WITH THE LADY WHO TEACHES THE PRINCESS BEATRICE’S CHILDREN

The two eldest children of Princess Beatrice have reached the age when the discipline of the nursery is gradually exchanged for that of the school room. One of the newly imposed duties of the Royal babies at Windsor Castle consists of a weekly dancing lesson. The lady who has been asked to undertake the task of teaching “their paces” to the Queen’s small grandchildren is Mrs. Wordsworth, whose name as an authority on, and a first-rate teacher of, dancing, is well known in London and elsewhere. Once a week Mrs. Wordsworth escapes from her never-ending engagements to go to Windsor, where Her Majesty honours all the dancing lessons to her grandchildren with her presence. This is not surprising, for it would be hard to find a more charming and amusing sight than a class of juvenile dancers whom Mrs. Wordsworth teaches. For this lady does not teach like other teachers; the principles on which she bases her instruction are strictly scientific, a fact which, we hasten to add, makes her classes not less but much more interesting and entertaining than is generally the case. A representative whose attention had been drawn to some of the dancing classes at Queensberry Hall, Harrington-road, gives the following account of a visit to that ideal ballroom:

It is absolutely no use trying to get more than a moment’s attention from Mrs. Wordsworth while her lesson is proceeding. She has eight assistants dispersed among the sixty or seventy pupils forming one of the juvenile classes, but for all that it is Mrs. Wordsworth herself on whom falls all the real work. It is not with her voice and with her movements only that she teaches, but she throws into it her whole soul and spirit, and such teaching is infectious. The pupils cannot be dull or indifferent; they are awakened, quickened, drawn away (in some cases, it is easy to see, in spite of themselves), till even the most awkward lassie and the most clumsy lad shake off their gaucherie and join the fun in utter self-forgetfulness.

To watch a class of Mrs. Wordsworth’s pupils, be they small beginners or graceful maidens practising society skirt-dance, is an artistic treat. Imagine an immense hall, well aired, lighted from the top, and with a faultlessly smooth floor. In one corner a piano, along the walls, on either side, the delighted kith and kin of the dancers, and the whole hall filled with children, mostly girls, from the toddling infant of four or five, whose kittenish capers are in themselves as good as the proverbial play, to the graceful young beauty standing on the brink where “maidenhood and childhood meet.” All the girls dressed in dainty loose gowns of soft stuffs and pretty tints. There are also a few boys, but boys at dancing lessons are not things of beauty, and they keep, wisely and well, in the background.

cretan-garland-dance-lighter

At one moment the whole class is engaged in playing ball, in the manner of Greek maidens; next they dance with skipping-ropes, toy with fans, accompany their Spanish dances by the musical click of castanettes, or show that even clumsy-looking clubs can be gracefully handled. And among them, eager, anxious, delighted, or momentarily chiding, moves the teacher, forgetful of everything except that these children must learn to dance and to move gracefully about. After two hours of incessant strain, Mrs. Wordsworth retired for a few moments into her tiny private room, and there, fanning her hot face, she expressed her views of the dancing of the day as follows:

“How are new dances made, Mrs. Wordsworth, or are there no new dances?” “Yes, there are new dances every season. As far as I am concerned, I invent my own dances as I go along. Perhaps a new tune is in vogue. If it lends itself at all to dancing, I listen to it, and while doing so determine in my own mind what steps would suit it best. After much experience this becomes quite easy to me now.”

“I believe it was you, Mrs. Wordsworth, as it not, to whom is due the revival of taste for step-dancing?” “Yes, I was the first to teach it in England; but what began with a few dances created by Taglioni has now grown to an infinite variety of pretty arrangements. I often get an idea for a new dance form the picture. For instance, Sir Frederick Leighton’s painting of the Greek maidens playing at ball suggested the idea of the exercise with balls which you have been watching. I study the picture very carefully, till I know exactly what muscles come into play if the position on the picture is assumed. Then, since I want all the muscles to be exercised, I add other steps and poses till I have what I want. Mr. Alma-Tadema’s pictures also furnish me with many suggestions.”

“Then, is your idea of what a dance should be based upon the idea of the Greeks, whom you seem to take as your models?”

“It is. But though dancing is recreation, it should never be bodily recreation only. I want my pupils not to follow blindly and unthinkingly my teaching as to steps and poses. No one will ever dance or move gracefully who goes to a dancing-class in that spirit. I want the movements of the body to be prompted by the brain; I want my pupils to think. Thus they do not all move and dance in exactly the same way, but each puts something of her own individuality into the dance. I do not want to mould them all in the same form; they must remain individuals.”

The Westminster Budget [London, England] 26 May 1893: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Daughter of a Brighton dancing master, Mrs Wordsworth was one of the most famous society dance teachers in England. She held strong views about the practical value of dance as exercise, discipline and promoter of moral fibre:

A moral gain is also attainable for many by this study. Experienced teachers have seen instances of improvement effected in nerve and temper, undiscoverable until the stern discipline of the dancing lesson came to the rescue, working subtly in the guise of play—for one must remember that vigorous movement is natural to the young. The disobedient become accustomed to obey; the sulky perforce throw off their habitual mood; ill-temper is forgotten. Thus the physical benefit of the exercise is supplemented by other elevating influences. 1895

The use of the word “stern” is no accident. Despite those gowns “of soft stuffs and pretty tints,” Mrs Wordsworth felt that the terpsichorean arts were best inculcated by an almost military discipline. This was not entirely to Queen Victoria’s taste:

The queen, hearing of Mrs. Wordsworth’s fame as an instructor of stiff ankles, sent for this energetic little lady, who was introduced to teach the children of Princess Beatrice. Possessing a stentorian voice and extreme vigor in her manner of imparting, Mrs. Wordsworth treated her little items of royalty to the same shouts and signals which she finds so effective with her great army of pupils, the queen being present and much interested in the lesson. Next time this celebrated dancing mistress visited Windsor, however, it was politely intimated through a lady in waiting that her majesty’s nerves had been a little tried by the “forcible” method of her excellent instruction, so the royal Battenberg babies had perforce a much easier half hour. Hamilton [OH] Evening Journal 10 February 1894: p. 8

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.

 

“Blind man’s bluff is little better than an insurrection:” Christmas Games: 1900

christmas-games

Why people should celebrate Christmas by playing games, is at first sight by no means plain. What possible connection is there between the Christmas anniversary and the noise, confusion, and laughter of Christmas games? When the Queen’s birthday arrives we do not feel it to be necessary to have our hair cut, or to sit on our top-hats and smash them. The recurrence of Whit Sunday does not bring with it an irresistible desire to break the household crockery or to kill the cat. Yet it would be quite as rational to do these things on the anniversaries just mentioned as it is to play games at Christmas. What, then, is the explanation of our universal custom of celebrating Christmas with games?

It will be noted that an invariable characteristic of Christmas games is their noisiness. The game with which the mistletoe is associated is necessarily noisy; Sir Roger de Coverley involves more or less uproar of an alleged musical character; and blind man’s bluff is little better than an insurrection. A quiet Christmas game is apparently never played. We thus see that noise is an essential feature of Christmas games, and this fact will probably give us a clue to their origin.

The savage has but two ways of celebrating any important event—either he over-eats himself, or he makes a horrible noise. If he can do both, so much the better. When Christmas arrives we imitate the savage with disgraceful fidelity. We gorge ourselves with roast goose or roast turkey, and we play the noisiest games that can be played outside of the football ground. Of course, we are unconscious that we are imitating savages; our conduct is simply the result of heredity. Thousands of years ago our remote ancestor, the cave man, celebrated his chief holiday— say the anniversary of the day on which he killed and ate his worst enemy—by feasting on boiled leg of rhinoceros, and by subsequently drumming as loudly as possible on the upturned and empty kettle. In these days we are not cannibals, but at Christmas we approach as closely as possible to cannibalism by eating too much roast goose. We no longer take pleasure in beating on the bottom of a copper kettle, but we feel instinctively that our greatest festival must be celebrated with noise. Thus we can explain, by the theory of heredity, the origin of our two chief Christmas customs. And the explanation is doubtless right, for, as we all know, heredity is now the correct scientific explanation of everything—from the shape of our skulls to the way in which we lie in our beds.

While we can thus account for the noise of Christmas games, we have not yet accounted for the games themselves. Why, when there are so many ways of producing noise, do we select games as the appropriate method of producing a satisfactory Christmas uproar?

What are the conditions necessary to Christmas games? They are—first, the presence of a large number of persons of both sexes, and second, their desire to endure one another with decency. Take twenty people of assorted sexes and shut them up in the drawing room on Christmas night, and each one feels that he must do something to enable him to live through the evening. To sit still and reflect that the quiet and secluded corner, which the safe digestion of the Christmas dinner so imperiously demands, is unattainable, and that the evening must be spent in conversing with uninteresting people upon tiresome themes, is something that no man will willingly do if there is a possible alternative. Games are intended to supply this alternative, and to enable the Christmas sufferer temporarily to forget his sorrows. Probably they accomplish this end to some extent, but it may be fairly questioned whether the remedy is not worse than the disease.

The supposition that there can be any pleasure derived from playing Christmas games cannot be for a moment entertained. We all know that it is not true. Take the ceremonies of the mistletoe — ceremonies which have no real title to the name of game, although they are arbitrarily classed under that head. Can there be any pleasure in kissing the wrong girl under the mistletoe? Of course, it will be said that you may kiss the right girl, but if she is only one among a dozen girls, the proportion of undesirable kisses to the one desired kiss is preposterously large. Then, can a man take any pleasure in seeing the girl of his heart kissed by other men? No matter how heavily he may have drugged himself with roast goose, the spectacle is one which fills him with secret and inexpressible rage.

There may be a sort of mild pleasure in seeing a man whom you cordially detest groping around the room with a bandage over his eyes, and occasionally abrading himself against the sharp corners of the furniture, but it is a pleasure wholly unworthy of a Christian man. The game of blindman’s bluff is exhausting, undignified, and certain to involve one in difficulties with the girls whose dresses are torn by the unconscious feet of the blindfolded man. It is true that there are redeeming points, even in blindman’s bluff; for is there not a case on record of a man who, while blindfolded, caught the family cat, and in his excitement mistook the cat’s fur for the back hair of his maiden aunt? His triumphant proclamation that he had caught Aunt Jane induced the latter to change her will the very next day, thereby depriving the blindfolded nephew of a comfortable legacy to which he had looked forward for years. Still, poetic justice seldom overtakes the man who consents to be blindfolded, and those occasions when a Christmas guest finds it possible to extract even the feeblest pleasure from blindman’s-buff are extremely rare.

Mr Fezziwig's Ball, British Library

Mr Fezziwig’s Ball, British Library

Sir Roger is simply an athletic exercise, falsely called a game. It is as tiresome as golf, and nearly as exhausting as cycling. And yet even middle-aged men who have within an hour or two eaten a Christmas dinner, are made to engage in the violent inanities of Sir Roger on Christmas evening. On the following day, when in the agonies of abdominal remorse, a man is ready to take a solemn oath never again to meddle with that fatal sport, but as sure as the next Christmas sees him still alive, he will end Christmas evening with the inevitable Sir Roger.

It may be unhesitatingly asserted that no one enjoys Christmas games who is more than ten years of age. It need hardly be said that children of that age should be in bed on Christmas evening instead of being permitted to infest the drawing-room. Their enjoyment of Christmas  games is, therefore, no excuse for the latter. We might as well excuse bull baiting on the ground that it gives pleasure to the dogs. We play Christmas games solely because an hereditary custom compels us so to do. Nobody who has arrived at years of discretion enjoys them, and ninety-nine people in a hundred detest them.

When we think of the quiet, comfortable games with which Christmas might be celebrated, the objectionable character of our present Christmas games becomes the more apparent. There is the delightful game known as ” Two in the Conservatory.” It is played by a young man and a young woman. The two retire to a quiet corner in the conservatory where they are concealed from view by flowers and vines, and there discuss in a low tone such pleasing themes as the Best Route to the North Pole, or the Kinetic Theory of Gases. Any number of young men and young women can play at this simple but charming game provided a sufficient number of quiet corners can be found in the conservatory. It can even be played on the stairs almost as well as in the conservatory, and the same young man, if he is a sufficiently accomplished player, can play a half a dozen sets with half a dozen different young women in the course of a single evening. The enormous superiority of this game to anything that is done under the mistletoe must be apparent even to the most careless observer. It involves none of the publicity, the romping, and the other disagreeable features of the latter game, though it must be confessed that, in some instances, the loser has had good cause to regret that he ever attempted to play it.

Then there is the pipe game. This is played only by men, but, perhaps, that is one of the advantages of it. The player withdraws to some quiet place, either within or without the house. Having seated himself he fills an ordinary brier-wood pipe with good tobacco, and lights the tobacco with a match. Almost any match may be used, but as a rule the wooden match is used by the best players.

The player can either finish his game in one innings with the pipe, or he can refill it and enjoy another innings. Men who habitually play this game assert that it is peculiarly adapted for Christmas evening, especially if the Christmas dinner has been a good one.

That it is vastly preferable to blindman’s-buff, or Sir Roger, is admitted by nearly all medical men; except, of course, young practitioners, who are anxious to add to the number of their patients, and look upon the usual Christmas games, with their subsequent harvest of sufferers from dyspepsia, as something especially designed for the good of the medical faculty.

I may mention one more admirable Christmas game. It is called Bedfordshire, and is one of the earliest games with which we make acquaintance in our childhood. The player retires from the drawing-room about an hour after dinner is over, and just before the orthodox Christmas games begin. When he reaches his room he removes the greater part of his clothing, puts on his night-gown, and after extinguishing the light, gets into bed. There he remains until half an hour before breakfast time on the following morning. This game ought to be a great favourite, and when a man has once learned to play it on Christmas evening, he can never be induced to play any other.

I have suffered much from Christmas games. I have played blindman’s-buff and caught the corner of a particularly hard pianoforte with my forehead. I have undergone the toil of Sir Roger, and caught pneumonia in consequence of being overheated. I have been compelled to kiss girls under the mistletoe who, I am certain, did not want to be kissed by me, and whom I certainly did not want to kiss. On the other hand, I have the memory of one delightful Christmas Eve which I spent in a rational manner. I was nearly seven hundred miles distant from my home, and I went to dine with a bachelor uncle who warned me that he detested the practice of giving Christmas presents, and uniformly refused to accept any. There was no one at the dinner-table except my uncle and myself, and about eight o’clock that excellent man said to me, “Now, nephew, I’m going to bed. There is the port, and there are the cigars, and you’ll find plenty of books in the library. Good-night!” The port and the cigars were admirable, and in the library I found a volume of Guy De Maupassant which I had never previously seen. I went to bed at ten o’clock, and I have ever since considered that my excellent uncle’s idea of entertaining Christmas guests was worthy of universal imitation.

Cassell’s Magazine, Volume 20 1900: pp 68-71

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Sir Roger de Coverley is one of the oldest and most popular country-dances. Two lines of dancers face one other and when the music starts, dash into the centre aisle, twirling their partners round about, and then dashing back to their places. Depending on the tempo which the musicians set, it can devolve into a rout. The Mistletoe Game (which has, Mrs Daffodil believes, an American cousin called “Spin the Bottle”) is equally fraught with danger.

Mrs Daffodil thoroughly approves of the game of Bedfordshire and wishes that she could play it more often in the busy holiday season. She also applauds the Liberty Hall philosophy of the narrator’s bachelor uncle, although she does not mind receiving Christmas presents—in a rational manner, of course.

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.

 

The Christmas Tree Dance: 1921

christmas-tree-outfit

CHRISTMAS TREE DANCE IS NOVEL

Young Folks in Christmas Tree Ornament Costumes Suggest Holiday Spirit

When the high school and college crowds of young people gather at home for the Christmas holidays nothing pleases them quite so much as a dance. And the more novel it is the better. This Christmas tree dance, for the school set, should hold plenty of suggestions, for when younger folks plan a good time they never seem to consider anything too much trouble to make the affair a success.

It is especially appropriate for a dance given in a large hall, but it could be very easily adapted to the home, where the rugs are rolled back from the polished floors, which may be sprinkled with boric acid to make them smoother.

On Disks of Gold.

Send out your invitations on disks cut from gold or silver paper pasted on thin cardboard and tied with a loop of gold or silver cord. These will be readily recognized as Christmas tree balls, after the invitation, written on the reverse side of the cardboard, has been read:

To a costume dance on Christmas eve (or at Christmas time)

I bid you heartily,

Come dressed up like an ornament

To decorate my tree.

The living room or the hall can be turned into a huge Christmas tree by hanging branches from ceilings and walls. Use dark green twine for the purpose, loop it around the branch which has been cut from the tree and hang it with pushpins or picture hooks to the wall.

Buy Tinsel Only.

Let your only bought decorations for the branches be tinsel, the fine thread kind. Cut out of every kind of colored cardboard and from the silver and gold paper circles of all sizes, looping them with strings of various lengths to the branches. The effect will be most decorative. If the hall is large you could stand an untrimmed tree in each corner and in the center have one trimmed with tiny electric lights to be danced around during the evening.

When Guests Arrive.

When the guests arrive they will find their dance programs to be very different from the usual book and pencil affair. They are really little Christmas trees cut from stiff green paper made double and the edges pasted together. In the tree are cut slits at regular intervals, as many as there are to be dances, and into each slit tiny candles cut from red or white cardboard are slipped. These candles are numbered and can be pulled out like small tags and on each one there will be room enough to write the name or initials. It might be a good plan to have the white candles for the favor dances and the red ones for the dances to be exchanged. A red pencil is tied with a red cord through the tip of the tree.

There are many novel costumes representing Christmas tree ornaments. Besides the Santas and dolls there could be a popcorn girl, jumping jack, gingerbread men, fairies, candles, tartalan candy bag or stocking, icicle, snowman, candy toys, etc. All of these costumes can be made out of cambric, cardboard or crepe paper with very little trouble.

The favor dances can be brought into the spirit of the evening very easily. For instance, there can be a Santa Claus frolic early enough in the evening to make all acquainted. Santa, who is the host or the master of ceremonies, stands under his Christmas tree with  collar of sleigh bells in his hand. These he shakes as a signal for the partners to stop dancing and form a ring which dances around the tree until his bells signal again to break up, girls to the left, boys to the right. A third signal stops them in their opposing rings and sends them off with new partners. To make even more fun Santa can suggest all sorts of figures. Thus when all are in the ring he can shout, “All around on one foot only!” Those who stumble or lose their balance may fall out.

Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 11 December 1921: p. 6  

dancing-round-the-christmas-tree

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although electric lights were increasingly advocated for Christmas-tree safety, there were still concerns and fires. One can only imagine the opportunities for accidental combustion when pairing persons in crape-paper costume directed by Father Christmas to hop on one foot around the tree.

Perhaps Mrs Daffodil is too censorious; she is not pleased by the suggestion of boric acid on the polished floor. Dancing will raise a toxic dust and the powder will only make more work for the house-maids. Do the thing properly and hire a dance-floor.

Although “Come dressed up like an ornament/To decorate my tree,” suggests the beginning of a risqué holiday “Blues” song, here are some fancy-dress costume suggestions of a Yuletide character:

christmas-tree-costume christmas-tree-costume

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on other Christmas party ideas: A toy party for the children; a rather lugubrious ghost party for the young folks, and, of course, a holiday party for pets.

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.

 

Home from the Party: 1851

HOME FROM THE PARTY.

It’s all over, as Mr. Punch observes, when the eventful drama of his life is cut short by inadequate remuneration. The daylight has been coming on brighter and brighter for the last hour, we first saw it through the staircase window where there were no candles. The girls’ cerise dresses have assumed beautiful tints in the blue morning; we find our gloves, which we bought for white in a hurry, as we came along, at a strange shop where an anxious boy knew nothing of their numbers, but tried on the old delusion of measuring across our knuckles to show us that they really were seven and three quarters, and slapped every fresh paper parcel he took down, in his desperation, upon the counter to give an appearance of activity and bustle, and recommended a light-blue tie as very much worn at present—we find they [the gloves] turn out to be straw-colour. Two of the candles on the mantelpiece have set their ornaments on fire, and half-a-dozen more are about to follow them; the musicians turn the waltz to the Sturm-Marsch, to show us that they think it is time to finish if the dancers don’t; the waterman says, “Mind the step, my lady,” and holds his lantern to it in the broad sunlight; we fish out our folding hat from behind the window curtains, where we hid it at an early period of the evening; and looking at a mild gentleman in the hall, who finds that 91 has taken his hat and left him 16, from reading his ticket topsyturvey, we are once more on the pavement.

It is a bright clear morning. We see the long lines of houses as clean and sharp as we used to do in the country; and the birds are chirping away in the squares as cheerfully as if they were in a field. A policeman and a sparrow alone occupy the thoroughfare with us; one turns the corner, the other flies away, and we have it all to ourself.

There is a supernatural legibility about the names over the shops: the blue is brighter and the gold more glaring than usual. Why should Benson assert his name so much more palpably than in the noise and bustle and streaming life of noon?—and when there is nobody to look at him too? We wonder whether Benson is asleep where the blinds are down on the second floor; and if so, whether he is dreaming or not, and what his dreams are about, and what Benson is; for the shutters are up, and he might be a linen-draper, butterman, or shoemaker, with equal probability.

Wheels coming on behind us. A brougham goes by, and through the windows drawn closely up, we see the handsome dark girl with the clematis and fuchsia wreath, looking pale and pretty, with a pocket handkerchief over her head cornerwise, held together at the chin. We think about that brougham girl until she is out of sight; and wonder if we appeared to the best advantage as she passed. We don’t much think we did. One of the springs of our hat is out of order, and we were carrying our gloves in our hand, crumpled up to the size of a walnut, as though we were going to conjure with them: and we were blinking as we met the sun at the corner, and holding a seedy bouquet in our hand, which evidently she had not given us. Indeed we forget exactly who did. Our collars retired from public life in the last polka; and the melancholy leaf of the lily of the valley is all that is left, carefully pinned into our button-hole. Never mind—what does it matter? Perhaps we shall never see the brougham girl again.

The sun gets up higher and higher, and is tipping all the chimneys and attic windows, as we think of the old story of the king that was to be chosen from whoever first saw the sun rise, and the cunning slave who turned his back upon the east when all the others were staring their eyeballs out at it, and caught sight of its earliest rays on a minaret. We don’t feel at all inclined to go to bed—not a bit tired. We have a light champaignetre [as in Fête champêtre?] desire to walk about perpetual squares. More wheels behind, and more brougham girls,—no, it’s a market cart, with a man and a boy sitting on a perfect stack of cabbages; and at the same minute a sweep knocks up a weary housemaid over the way, and the baker’s chimney begins to smoke. Hang it all! people are commencing another day before we have been to bed. We experience a sudden revulsion of feeling, and really will give up this late racketing. As we think so we gape, and almost envy the people who went to bed at eleven. Still we don’t feel tired. If we are not more sleepy when we get up this afternoon than we are at present, how fresh we shall be!

A fancy ball is over somewhere, and a Greek is gravely walking along the pavement with Don Caesar de Bazan, and both are smoking. We have not seen fancy dresses by daylight since the Montem. They do not promote hilarity under such an aspect. We gape again: the Greek and Don pass on their way, and we on ours, like strangers in the desert. They have astonished nobody but a cat, who shot with ghostly facility through a narrow grating as they approached.

Here we are at home, at last. A night lamp is burning, in dreary opposition to the daylight, in the passage. It is hardly worth while putting up the chain, and drawing the bolt, for the servants will be down presently. We carry the candlestick mechanically up-stairs, and place it as usual on the drawers. Undressing with a reckless unconcern, that flings our clothes into all corners of the room, we set our alarum—which we know will not wake us, or, if it does, we shall not get up—to go off at half-past eight (three hours and a half hence ); and with a long yawn, and a longer stretch, fall into a feverish, whirling, half-conscious sleep, in which all the features of the last six hours are fitfully jumbling together, the brougham girl predominating.

The Month, A View of Passing Subjects and Manners, Albert Smith & John Leech, 1851

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Ah, those days of cerise ball-gowns and wreaths of clematis and fuchsia! Mrs Daffodil recalls the little satin slippers of the period, so easily “danced through,” like those of the twelve dancing princesses in the fairy tale.

Cats and cabs and wagons seem to figure heavily in the “sound-scape” of the nineteenth century. And what an evocative picture of a verdant “man about town” strolling, if not reeling, homewards from a ball. With his crushed hat and button-hole flower, he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed himself. Irrationally, and on absolutely no evidence, one longs for him to meet the the brougham girl again.

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.

Miseries of a Ball Room: 1826

MISERIES OF A BALL ROOM

Lamentation 1. After repeating warnings to be at your place of rendezvous; prepared to glide gaily through the ‘mazy dance,’ at a remarkably early hour—to be obliged, through the tardiness of the managers in distributing the tickets, and the difficulty the company causing in to their numbers, to sit still two or three hours, filled with anxious and disappointed expectation.

  1. To be engaged to dance with a partner who blunders all the way down a country dance, after receiving ten or a dozen first rate invitations.
  2. The plague of that complicated revolution called “right and left,” for the awkwardness of some and the inattention of others.
  3. To have for your own partners, on your next neighbour, a gentleman with a frock coat.
  4. To have a new pair of gloves ruined on account of your partner’s neglecting to wear his; or in plain English, to have your neat white kids fall a sacrifice to his parsimony.
  5. Through the indifference of the company, to have a continuation of mistakes, while dancing your favorite figure.
  6. While in the act of taking your very much admired balance, to be tripped up with your untied shoe string.
  7. While going down the middle, with quick music, to be delighted with the sight of your comb upon the floor, and your hair flowing upon your shoulders.
  8. Dancing half the night with a pair of shoes far too tight in length and breadth—unmentionables on every toe.

Jemima Sensitive.

Additional misery, by a gentleman.

A venerable invitation given in so equivocal manner, that you find yourself on the appointed evening, waiting on a friend who had no thought of seeing you.

Washington Whig [Bridgeton, NJ] 11 November 1826: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does not dance, but recognises the offenders (and they offend serially) from peeps round the corner at various balls. All can surely sympathise with the loss of neat, white kids.  And even a non-terpsichorean recoils from a man in a frock coat at an evening rout.

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.

 

The Bathing Suit Dance: 1906

Smart Bathing Costume 1905

DANCING IN BATHING SUITS

Summer Resorters Find the Abbreviated Costumes Lend Ease and Grace

(New York World.)

“I’ve much less on when I’m dressed than when I’m undressed,” said the celebrated Mme. Sans Gene [“Madame Without-Embarrassment,” a character in Sardou’s play of the same name], speaking of the court dress of her own very “natural” days.

Perhaps madame foresaw the bathing-suit party, which was suggested by the most ingenious and cleverest woman of the Four Hundred, but which has been carried out by others less prominent in social circles.

For the first time society and the Health Culturists meet on common ground. For there are various women at the different bathing resorts who wear bathing suits from the first of May until the middle of September for their health’s sake.

For them a bathing-suit dinner party is a thing of common occurrence, and once you’ve gotten used to it, it is one of the most comfortable ways of enjoying an al fresco meal.

The small boy whispered that you can eat more in a bathing suit than in your regular clothes, and he wishes he could eat his Christmas dinner in this buttonless suit, but luckily by the end of September he is forced into the restrictions of a belt: otherwise the ravages on the Christmas pudding would be too terrible to think of. Bathing-suit life is the healthiest kind of life to lead, and now that it is to be popular the bathing-suit dance will not end up with fainting and exhaustion on the part of the tightly laced lady.

After all clothes are merely a matter of longitude and latitude, and what seems rather scant to us is far too much covering for the inhabitants of other digress.

The peek-a-boo waist has prepared us for almost anything. It is a case of “after this the deluge.” So naturally we take to bathing suits.

A bathing suit party was given last week at a summer hotel whose broad porch runs into the sea. Tables were set on the porch, which was afterward cleared for dancing. The women guests vied with each other in the attractiveness of their suits, which were new for the occasion.

Most of the men balked and compromised on a species of apparel which resembled the boating costumes of rowing clubs on ladies’ day. Gorgeous flannel shirts appeared with duck trousers, and but one or two sturdy adherents of the rules of the game came in old swimming suits, modestly covered with flamboyant bath robes. As usual the men appeared ill at ease at first, but women, with their inherent adaptability, seemed perfectly at home and happy to wear their ocean garments on dry land.

The single health culturist who had come from an adjoining cottage was in her element. This woman has not had on a gown since May 1 and has been out of doors all the time, even sleeping in a semi-covered porch…

“I am the open air fiend of the family,” she said, laughingly, when some one tried to persuade her to dine in the stuffy dining room of the hotel. “I don’t intend to eat indoors or to be indoors one moment more than is necessary. My doctor, who believes in nature, once ordered me to be out of doors, and I think he will be satisfied with the way I have obeyed orders. Yes, my skin is tanned, and my hair is bleached several shades too light; but I, who was so weak and anaemic in the spring, am now the healthiest woman at the shore. When I came here I could neither eat nor sleep. Now I expect to have the caterer raise the prices on all the food, and I have gained twenty pounds.

“When you attribute your recovery to a bathing-suit life, Mrs. L__?” asked a half-hearted guest at the party.

“Certainly, my dear; so does the doctor. By wearing so few clothes I get all the good effects of sun and air on the body. One of my friends has cured herself of incipient lung trouble by taking all-day sun baths in her bathing suit, and she has courage, for she is wearing her suit in the mountains, where the only possible excuse for it is a seven-inch-deep brooklet, and I believe that dried up at the sight of the suit.”

It was this young matron who started the bathing-suit parties. At first she and her husband appeared at a separate dining table in their bathing suits. They looked so comfortable and cool that one by one their friends joined them at their health culture clinics, from which the over-dressed people were debarred. Finally one sweltering afternoon, as tea was being served at the bathing-suit table, some of the newly arrived guests of the hotel, thinking bathing-suit dinners were “de rigeur,” appeared at the table d’ hote in their new and cool silken suits, and the custom was established. The landlord was happy in having found a “specialty” never before seen in any other hotel, and he will serve you a delicious hot or cold dinner on the open veranda where you sit in a loose, cool comfortable bathing suit.

The young people are bound to dance afterward, particularly as mine host boasts of his Hungarian orchestra, newly arrived from across the river, and twice the delight is felt in the rhythmic movements of the dancers when no tight and over-heating clothing hinders the freedom of the their movements.

Girls dancing in bathing suits are more graceful than when dancing in long, tight dresses. Every movement displays the joy they feel in this newly-found freedom, just as the women walking up and down the beach in their abbreviated bathing skirts stride with the little sinuous movements of healthy savages, so different from the wobbly, mincing gait they have to affect when hindered by high heels and many skirts.

Dancing can be indulged in ad libitum without much fear of the doctor when “bathing suits” are the order of the evening, for the dance necessarily takes place out of doors and one of the chief enemies of the dance hall—namely, bad air, is avoided. When loose clothing is worn with high neck and elbow sleeves danger of taking cold is obviated and dancing in one’s bathing suit by the light of the electric lamp as well as by that of the moon becomes a thoroughly hygienic pursuit. Sanctioned by fashion, indorsed by physicians, acclaimed by the lovers of “health culture,” the bathing suit glories in its own apotheosis and we return in it to the real love of simple living. Two suits are all you need for your summer holiday.

Denver [CO] Post 29 July 1906: p. 16

Those “two suits” might be special costumes created just for the “Bathing Suit Dance.”

BATHING SUIT DANCE COSTUME THE LATEST

Say, girls, how’d you like to trip the light fantastic in a bathing suit? Asks the Los Angeles Record.

Now, really, that isn’t so awfully shocking, after all, when you come to think of it. The bathing skirts might be a little shorter than you’re used to wearing, the sleeves longer and the necks a good bit higher—that’s all the difference. And just think of the comfort and coolness of such a costume…

Of course, the bathing suit dancing costume is elaborate, and of course it can be just as becoming and just as distinctive as you please.

The goods may be silk or any other costly fabric, and the trimmings may be most expensive; because the bathing suit dancing costume has never seen the salt water.

It’s just to dance in, girls.

Riverside [CA] Independent Enterprise 11 August 1906: p. 2

bathing suit dance2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was said that Harry Lehr, the court jester for Newport’s “Smart Set” first suggested a bathing suit dance to Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish. She often went along with Lehr’s japes, but on this occasion, she was not amused.

YELLOW PRESS AT ITS BEST

The New York Newspaper Story About the Bathing Suit Dance Denied.

Newport, R.I., July 5. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish opened her Newport mansion last night with an entertainment at Crossways, but it was of a most simple nature and nothing out of the ordinary happened. It had been reported in the New York newspapers that the guests would be asked to come in bathing suits, but this gave Mrs. Fish so much annoyance that this afternoon she requested that the following denial be given to the press:

“Mrs Fish asks the newspapers to deny that she proposed having her guests appear in bathing suits at a dinner the night of the Fourth of July. It was simply a dinner for forty guests, at which there were no special features, and only a little dancing followed in the ballroom.

Kansas City [MO] Star 5 July 1906: p. 3

 

bathing beauties 1905

There was an alternate version of the origin of the “Bathing Suit Dance—” as the brain-child of a proponent of modest dress:

The idea was really started last winter in New York, when a good deal of controversy was raised concerning the décolleté gowns that were the rule among the fashionable crowd, both at parties and at the opera. A well-known millionaire, who is somewhat straitlaced in his ideas concerning womanly modesty, said that he would much prefer seeing a daughter of his attend a ball in her bathing suit than in one of the evening gowns considered de rigueur in smart society. A lady who was present, and who overheard this remark, at once took him up and said that she would give a bathing suit party in his honour, to which all the men would come in ordinary evening dress, but that all the ladies present must wear the clothes in which they were wont-to take their “dip” in the summer. He could then judge whether the bathing costume or the evening dress was the most correct form of toilette for the modest young woman.

New Zealand Herald, 13 October 1906, Page 2

To Mrs Daffodil’s regret, no decision on the question was announced in the paper, only that the party was a great success and that all the ladies looked charming in their abbreviated costumes.

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.