Category Archives: Fads

An Imposter at the Concord Ball: 1875

Colonial Revival costumes in a portrayal of George and Martha Washington’s wedding, 1912

A Western Deceiver.

Nora Perry writes of the centennial celebration at Lexington and Concord in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. Of the Concord ball she writes: And oh! What a pretty sight, as everybody unanimously voted. Such brocades, smelling of cedar and camphor-wood, as would now and then appear, plaited and puckered in the very stitches of the old-time—not a fold altered nor a ruffle changed. But there were not many of them. Those fair ones who rejoiced in these veritable old heirlooms walked about with their pretty chins aloft, lifted up above common modern clay by the sublime consciousness of a fine Mayflower ancestry, which these credentials would place beyond dispute.

But a woman’s wit will sometimes get the better of the stoutest credentials; and so a saucy, mischievous little damsel managed to array herself in a brand new gown, which she so plaited and puckered and betrimmed with coffee-dipped lace and scented with camphor-gum, in the very pink and pattern of the Continental dames, that all the little Mayflowers lowered their chins on her approach and whispered audibly, in her delighted hearing, “That is the real thing! Wonder who she is?”

And the little deceiver, with “a smile that was child-like and bland,” went on her way rejoicing, happy as all human nature must be at such a signal triumph. Boston is much too well-bred to ask outright questions of identity, so my fair one kept her secret with these fine Mayflowers; but after the ball she is perfectly willing to reveal her cunning guilt, and to let a faithful correspondent say that it was one of Chicago’s nearest neighbors who thus proved herself more than a match for Boston.

Daily Graphic [New York, NY] 7 May 1875: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this, the anniversary of the fateful day that the American Revolution began: the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it seems appropriate to record the sartorial conflict between the camphor-scented blue-bloods of the East and the parvenu of the West in her coffee-dipped lace.

1876 saw a revival of “Colonial” American costume, from antique lace ruffles at ladies’ elbows to daintily embroidered shoes to sack-back gowns of flowered brocades. Mrs Daffodil regrets to say that some enthusiasts actually remade historic 18th-century garments into fancy-dress costumes or pageant attire for “Lady Washington teas.”

Eighteenth-century costumes were proudly displayed as an emblem of pedigree by Americans who otherwise scorned England’s class system as un-democratic.  An aged American lady of impeccable lineage was distressed to part with her historic quilted petticoat. And this improbably aged relic was described at a celebration of The Geauga County Historical Society, 30 September, 1875:

In the exhibit, first, I bring to your attention, the singular and costly specimens of work presented by Mrs. Polly Norton, of Troy, Ohio, in 1873, a widow lady, seventy-seven years of age, and an early settler in that township. Her husband was a farmer, and died some years ago. First, the waist of a dress; second, a portion of the skirt to another dress; third, a window curtain—all made of linen, the waist being striped with blue, the other two pieces white, all worked in flowers, made of woolen floss. In this floss may be found, at this date, twenty-three different shades of color, and upon the waist are forty-seven different kinds of buds and flowers. Upon the skirt, which is supposed to be about one width, there are one hundred and sixty kinds, and it is estimated that upon the whole skirt there must have been no less than eight hundred buds and flowers worked. Upon the curtain there are one hundred and thirteen kinds, no two of which are considered to be alike. The flax was carded, spun and wove for the fabric of these relics, and the wool was carded and spun for the floss, and it was colored into all the various shades, and then worked into the almost countless flowers upon the fabric. Then the dresses were made, and the curtains stitched and worked, all this having been done by one and the same person, the great-great-grandmother of Mrs. Polly Norton, thus running back, on the line of descent, four generations, or more than six generations of the average life of men. These garments, so skillfully made, must have cost more than twelve months of work to perfect them, including the full set of curtains. The dresses look like the completion of a “sensation” toilet upon the charming person of this great-great-grandmother, as she moved in society more that two hundred years ago, in the colony of Massachusetts. Indeed, they take us back to the threshold of the days of the Pilgrims, and it would almost seem that this dress had brushed against the sword at the side of Miles Standish, or touched the gallant arm of a Governor Carver or Bradford. It was made in the old Bay State, far back beyond the days of cotton mills and whizzing spindles. Pioneer and General History of Geauga County [Ohio] 1880: pp. 42-3

Mrs Daffodil fears that this little story perpetuates the myth of pioneer ladies who made clothing entirely from “scratch,” although, both before and during the Revolution, there was an active trade smuggling the English textiles, laces, and luxury goods the Colonies desired.

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 Senators Discuss French Garters: 1894

Peacock garters with enamelled buckles http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/16306/lot/164/

OUT OF SIGHT

It Is Permissible to Present a Lady with Garters During Lent

Senators Want to Stop This

Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. George Gould and Others Have Received Garters as Presents.

Perhaps the difficulty arising out of the unclothed condition of Augustus St. Gauden’s emblematic young man [on a World’s Fair medal] has caused the action of a committee of the United States senate with reference to garters—women’s garters—to pass entirely untouched. It is not generally known that the Lenten season, in accordance with the dictates of French fashion, is recognized among people of fashion and wealth as the appropriate time for making a present of a pair of garters to a lady. This assertion, which is strictly accurate, can only excite surprise because most persons are too poor to afford to present a high priced pair of garters to anyone, and hence the class which feels interest in the style in garters is necessarily a small one. Thus very few are aware that Mrs. Paran Stevens, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. William Waldorf Astor and Mrs. Potter Palmer have not only received presents of jeweled garters, but are admitted authorities on the subject.

But it was only recently that the garter question came up for consideration among members of the senate. It seems that the committee on post officers and post roads, of which Senator Cameron is chairman, had its attention called to an announcement which has been appearing in the journals of the country and is but a specimen of many similar cards which the Lenten season renders timely.

The announcement called upon the lovelorn youths of the land to present their inamoratas with a pair of garters embellished with several different mottoes of which the purchaser could have his choice.

It was desired that steps be taken to make such announcements unlawful, as opposed to public morals. The garter men had their representatives before the committee, which includes Senators Hill, Vilas, Irby, Mills, Hunton, Mitchell, of Oregon, McMillan, Wolcott, Dixon and Washburn. The garter men declared that their industry gave employment to hundreds of work-people and that the most noted society women and men in the country purchased garters ranging in price from one dollar to five hundred dollars.

“But these mottoes,” said the chairman, “are they not suggestive?”

The garter men’s representative declared the high society women of the country wore garters on which mottoes appeared and that they were in many cases on the garters which men of fashion presented to women of fashion.

“Heavens,” exclaimed Senator Irby, “I’d like to see any man present my women folk with the things.” And in the midst of a loud laugh the matter went over.

French sable garter “Le Fuit La Liberte” http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/garter-122129

However, there is no danger that the traffic will be interfered with. The New York jewelers are the ones who thrive most upon the present Lenten traffic in these objects, and they are the recognized authorities on etiquette connected with the subject. Anyone who enters the great marts of the precious stone trade may see stacks of high priced and bejeweled garters, all mottoes and gems exposed for sale at prices which denote that only the wealthy can invest in them.

As noted, Mrs. Paran Stevens and the princess of Wales are mainly responsible for the garter fad among their respective countrywomen. It is not deemed proper for a married woman to receive a present of a pair of garters from anyone but her husband or a near relative. Similarly, an engaged girl may with propriety receive such a present only from her fiancé. Thus Frederick Gebhard gave a pair of pearl and golden garters to the young lady to whom he was engaged. Hobart Chatfield-Taylor bought for his wife the celebrated rajah’s garters seen at the world’s fair for which, it is said, he paid five hundred dollars. Cornelius Vanderbilt presented to his wife only a week ago a pair of diamond garters. It may be noted that it is not good taste to have a motto on garters which are jeweled. But in the absence of a gem of any kind the motto is imperative.

Why the Lenten season should be the chosen time for making presents of garters has never been satisfactorily explained. It is true that among the French, through whom the craze has assumed its present proportions, no man ever presents a pair of garters to a woman except in Lent. At any other time such a gift would be deemed an insult. Nor is it permissible for a man to present his gift in person. The garter should invariably be sent by mail or express with a note in the package in which the objects must be described as “clasps.” It would be in bad taste, for instance, for a woman to receive a pair of garters from her fiancé in propria persona. The gift should be acknowledged by letter—never verbally.

It is unfortunate that this whole subject of presenting garters should be considered ludicrously. It is vulgar to treat any such subject humorously even in print. For instance, such women as Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Seward Webb, Mrs. Coleman Drayton, Mrs. George Gould, and others, as noted, have received such gifts with no more concealment than would be striven for in the case of the presentation of a ring or brooch. In any large city, and more particularly in New York, men of position and influence step up to the jewelry counter and ask to see the garters with the utmost composure. Mr. Barton Willing, the brother of Mrs. John Jacob Astor, gave an impetus to the trade when he returned from France shortly before his sister’s wedding, and in Philadelphia there was a veritable garter rage that winter.

High priced garters are bought by men only. The present Lenten season has witnessed an extraordinary revival of the garter fad, for the reason , it is supposed, that the gifts made at Christmas were necessarily curtailed in quantity owing to the hard times.

Many of the creations which attract so much attention in the window are from France, a country which has long reigned supreme in this fad. Hence the prevalence of French mottoes on them.

As to the probability that the senate committee will feel called upon, in accordance with the appeal of a Comstockian society, to put a stop to the alleged free and easy style of garter advertising literature, that is not likely. There are too many influential interests. But if they did it would crush an industry which is already beginning to attain proportions. For instance, there is an American garter clasp in the market which is admittedly superior to anything of the kind yet produced and which is manufactured in silver and gold for shipment to France in quantities.

Young men who make Lenten presents of a garterian nature should be careful to see that the clasp is what is technically termed padded. Otherwise there is likely to be a compression of one of the most sensitive portions of a girl’s leg. The jewelers usually have circulars which give diagrams on the subject of garters. Very few young men are aware, for instance, that a certain patent claps which is excellently adapted to the conformation of a slender girl’s limb would be most inappropriate for the contour of a stout young woman’s adipose tissue. It is necessary to get the advice of some experienced person beforehand, if one is not versed in this matter.

When a girl gets such a present she should be careful not to wear the articles just above the knee. That is, a jeweled garter should be adjusted at least two inches above the knee joint, as there is otherwise danger of a compression of the ganglionic nerve. The ungraceful gait of many otherwise well-poised girls is due to carelessness in this respect. It was Berry Wall’s boast before his marriage that he could tell whether a girl was wearing her garters properly or not by the way she walked.

Morning Star [Rockford IL] 16 February 1894: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If the senators did not like motto garters, they certainly would have disapproved of the “snake garter” There is very little in this world that shocks Mrs Daffodil, but a group of senators debating about such intimacies as garters decorated with French mottoes strikes Mrs Daffodil as somehow indecorous. One pictures those gentlemen rushing off to their jewellers to acquire a pair of those salacious articles to send to some young person of their acquaintance.  Honi soit qui mal y pense, indeed….

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.

 

All About Lorgnettes: 1886-7, 1923

Guilloche enamel and diamond lorgnette c. 1910 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22468/lot/64/

ALL ABOUT LORGNETTES

Their use Enables a Lady to Display Her Bracelets and Shapely Arm.

Merely a Graceful Affectation Quite as Often Intended for Ornament as Use.

Opera Glasses in Rich and Beautiful Designs

Celebrated Makers and Their Productions.

TWO LOVELY BLACK EYES

An opera without a pair of glasses is like pudding without sauce, salad without dressing, or a marriage without a wedding. Even the baldies in the first three rows enjoy the ballet and premiers better when fortified with a Lemaire or Verdi, and the lovers of music get double pleasure running over the audience between the acts with a seventeen line lens. A society woman would no more think of attending a play or opera without a pair of glasses than of dispensing with her fan or gloves. She may not use it much, but must have it to toy with if nothing more, for it helps her to display her suede and bracelets and is a decided aid to grace, as the bouquet may be wet enough to soil the gloves and the fan too frail for convenience. Let her forget the pretty pearl bound pebbles, and she would call the gentleman in her party “monster!” and cut him dead the next day if he neglected to hire a pair from the opera-glass boy.

There is nothing newer than the lorgnette which has been the rage among fashionable ladies for a couple of years. As the cut shows, the lorgnette is nothing more than a pair of spectacles attached to a handsomely carved stick. It is a mistaken idea to think that the lorgnette is intended as a n opera-glass, properly focused and polished for long distances. It is merely a graceful affectation, quite as often intended for ornament as use. Ladies like them because they are a pretty and pleasing oddity, designed to exhibit a beautiful hand, a well-turned wrist, or nicely-modeled arm. Ladies who have old or weak eyes often select the lorgnette as a dress-spectacle, suspending them from a chatelaine and using them at church, over hymnal or litany, while calling, shopping, or promenading, to read the casual card, sign or address, and to make change with, in which case the glass is fitted to the eye by an oculist and framed in shell or metal by the jeweler.

Among the fashionables the fad is simply a foil to the eye-glass solitaire, and considered very English, don’t you know? For this stylish use the holes are set with clear white glass that has no more magnifying influence than a window-pane. These harmless pebbles are found in all styles of sticks. Tortoise is the most popular and varies in price from $12 to $20, according to the amount of work on the shell; gold-mounted lorgnettes in the Roman metal range from $40 to $60, and the silver sticks, in repousse, are worth $60, while double that figure is charged for enamelling. There is no mistake about it, these lorgnettes are “sweet things.” Put in the hand of a pretty woman at an opera or an art gallery the looker on is lost in admiration, and sees nothing but the artful creature—her dainty arms, upturned eyes, graceful throat, and charmingly posed head. One look from these long-handled glasses will wither a saucy clerk, a presumptuous dude, or an insolent servant. You can argue with them; flirt, play, read or paint with them; laugh or sing with them,, and be doubly gracious, charming, and effective.

There are widows and belles in society who wear the lorgnette without any glasses, and succeed in doing double the mischief they could otherwise accomplish. It may interest some of the sleepy dames on the West Side and up along the Evanston shore to know that the lorgnette is as common as the vinaigrette in the East. At Tuxedo the men have eye glasses, and the ladies stare back at them through silver and shell lorgnettes. A few Newport belles wear an eye glass even to the dance, but the majority affect the carved stick. In season the fat dowagers and the slim spinsters with quince-color complexions never dream of taking the red rock or vichy waters of Saratoga without putting up their glasses.

 

In opera glasses there are styles by the dozen from which to select. Pearl mountings are passé. The smoked pearl which has enjoyed such splendid popularity is less stylish than the pure white mother of pearl, mounted throughout—casing, slide, bridge and rim; and neither is comparable to the silver bound glass, the Prince of Wales’ choice. The design shown above represents one of the finest Bordou pebbles mounted in sterling silver, exquisitely carved from an Alhambra frieze. The glass is worth $62, but there are cheaper goods that will give just as good satisfaction. After the silver comes the brass glass, treated with black lacquer and bound in seal leather, which may be had as low as $4. There is a Bosch glass for that price, which an emperor might rejoice to own. Aluminium glasses, mounted in alligator or snake skin, sell at $25 and are just the thing for gentlemen, and very popular with the Eastern fellows. The charm of these leather and aluminium glasses is their extreme lightness. Actually you can float a pair in fresh water.

French enamel opera glasses c. 1900 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20172/lot/92/

The most artistic glasses are mounted in porcelain and gold, and delicately enameled to represent a sylvan or ball-room scene. A glass of this kind may be bought for $22, because there is little call for the style just now.

Pocket glasses in black leather are worth $18, and those in mother of pearl sell for $15. They are distinctly a club man’s luxury, to be carried in the vest pocket to look at pretty women in the surf, across the street, at the piano, or gliding round the rink.

Miniature Bardou telescope, Second quarter of the 19th century. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21932/lot/152/

And now a word about the different brands. The Bardou & Sons is the best glass ever put upon the market, and the very one that buyers are most likely to know nothing about, for the reason that the bulk of the trade is controlled by Berlin and Vienna dealers, only a few lenses getting into American markets. The glasses are very powerful, being so carefully centered and highly polished as to strain the eyes after a brief usage. In their construction the manufacturers designed them for quick, short sights, and made no provision for those curious theater-goers who surfeit the eye, and exhaust the subject by a continuous focus. They are the highest-priced glasses in trade, but a poor one is never permitted to leave the factory.

The next best, but the most popular glass, is the Lemaire, of Paris. There are two qualities, and the buyer needs to have his wits about him unless he is amiable enough to take what is offered, pay his money, and smile away.

It is a waste of money to buy a glass of less than thirteen lines, as the field is too small. For that reason vest-pocket styles are rarely satisfactory, because it is impossible to get the proper power in so small a glass. Trying to cover a stage or beach with a lens having the surface of a silver dime is as difficult as viewing a multitude through a key-hole.

The great objection to the aluminium is its yielding quality, the slightest bend or twist being sufficient to double or blur the vision. This defect may be produced by sitting on the glass or by a slight blow, and only an oculist will be able to reset or rebend the frame. With the brass mounting accidents of this sort never occur.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 20 November 1887: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil previously reported on spirit-filled opera glasses, carried by persons of irregular habits who should have been refused admission at the door.

Lorgnettes were seen as an affectation when they first became popular.

A FASHIONABLE FOLLY.

Long-Handled Eye Glasses and the Dudines Who Buy and Use Them.

“Will you kindly let me see some of your tortoise shell lorgnettes?” languidly inquired a fashionably dressed young lady the other day as she stood before the counter in a leading optician’s store on Chestnut street and looked the clerk steadily in the eye.

“Beg pardon, do you mean opera glasses or eye glasses?” asked the clerk.

“Eye glasses.”

Thereupon the clerk produced a large box in which was an assortment of the most absurd specimens of the opticians handiwork ever sold for failing eyesight. They were lorgnette eye-glasses, so-called because like the ordinary opera or field glasses, they have to be continually held to the eyes while in use. The eyeglass part is shaped like a pair of spectacles except that instead of two bows to go back over the ears there is a long handle to be held in the hand. Ultra-fashionable people have decided that these are the proper things and in consequence spectacles double eye glasses and even the single eye-glass or “quiz” have been relegated to the use of the vulgar herd. The young lady mentioned bought one of the “lorgnettes,” and went out of the store after paying a ten dollar bill for her purchase.

“Do you sell many of those things?” was asked of the optician.

“Quantities,” he answered, “and the sale of them is constantly increasing. The ‘lorgnettes were introduced from England about two years ago, but it is only lately that there has been anything of a fashionable craze for them. They are the most ridiculous thing in the way of eye-glasses I ever saw. They are clumsy, and one has to hold them up to the eyes whenever they are used, which becomes quite tiresome in time. I sell them to young ladies mostly although their mothers buy them too. They hold them to their eyes with a Lady Clara Vere de Vere air and try to look haughty and well-bred. My observation is that only women with very shallow brain pans use lorgnettes. Many order plain glasses in them and extra-long handles. The longer the handle the more stunning the effect and the shallower the brain…At home the lorgnette users are glad enough to wear spectacles or eye glasses which further goes to prove that the newfangled arrangement is only another of Dame Fashion’s freaks.” Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 10 November 1886: p. 6

The lorgnette fad returned, along with a renewed enthusiasm for fans, in the 1920s.

OLD FASHION LORGNETTE NEW CRAZE IN LONDON

London, July 28. There seems to be craze for the old-fashioned lorgnette among young women in London at present. It has, in the last few weeks, becoming increasingly rare for a girl to wear spectacles, even of horn, in the ball-room. The modern short-sighted beauty prefers the lorgnette of her grandmother, which she can fold and put away in her vanity bag or hang fanwise over the arm of her partner while she is dancing.

Dancing in the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel last night were several American women how had adopted the lorgnette, among them Miss Mabel Forve of Los Angeles, using one which had square eye pieces and a microscopic handle, one inch in length. Mrs. James Louis of Brooklyn used a lorgnette which had a handle no less than two feet in length; the eye pieces were oblong. Mrs. M.A. Monohan of Chicago had a pair which were heavily encrusted with precious stones and must have been worth a small fortune. Dallas [TX] Morning News 29 July 1923: p. 4

One would think that a handle two feet in length was a reflection of its user’s eccentricity, but perhaps the lady, like so many persons in middle age, needed to hold her lenses at some distance from the object of inspection.

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.

 

 

Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919

Miss Fannie Harley, magazine writer and traveler, in her chic walking costume. It was in this costume that Miss Harley recently appeared in a New York street and attracted considerable attention. Miss Harley in her house costume of blue and white plaid gingham. The suit is trimmed with plain blue gingham bands and with white cords and tassels. Street costume of which yachting serge with a girdle of cerise taffeta and cuffs trimmed with cerise buttons. Marabou around the neck and the skirt. The French parasol is of cerise.

‘Harleys’ for Housewives and Business Girls

Wear ‘Em to Work, Walk Instead of Hobble, Get Around Better, Have Comfort and Ease and Health—And Put Skirts on Bow-Legged, Knock-Kneed and Pigeon-Toed Men.

By Fay Stevenson.

New York, Oct. 8 Young ladies of the business brigade, stop wearing décolleté blouses and tight skirts. Be modest and wear trousers! Now, don’t all blush and gasp until you finish reading what sort of trousers they are.

Miss Fannie Harley 1910-1915 in the street costume that caused a sensation in New York. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ggbain.19904/

Dr. Mary Walker wore men’s clothes several years ago, but they were so very, very masculine that no typically feminine woman wanted to don them. Now we have Miss Fannie Harley, who has come on from the West and dazzles us all by walking down Fifth avenue in a costume of white serge trousers, or harleys, as she prefers to call them, spelled with a small “h.” But call them what you please, there is absolutely nothing masculine about them, for they are made of silks, cretonnes and challis, and trimmed with marabout, chiffons, buttons and roses.

“I don’t advocate trousers for all other women,” Miss Harley told me, as we sat in her room at the McAlpin, surrounded by the most feminine materials you can imagine, even if they were cut in two pieces instead of one at the base. “I can see how the woman who has worn skirts all her life would find it very embarrassing to jump into a pair of harleys and walk right out before the public. But at the same time I think my harleys twice as modest with their round-necked smocks and coatees as the décolleté blouses and ridiculously tight skirts I see. For instance, if I were a business girl, say a stenographer in an officer where there were a number of men, I would much rather appear in a pair of harleys and one of my smocks than in the sleeveless, backless, ankle-binding dresses so many young women wear. Is there any immodest about me?”

Keeps Touch of Feminine.

Miss Harley stood up and let me survey her form head to foot. She is tall and slender, with the firm and supple form of one who has lived much in the open. She wore what she termed her “utility” harleys, which are made of khaki soutache and reach clear to her ankles.

While not the Utility Suit mention in the article, this is the walking suit pictured at the head of the post, with matching hat, 1919 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/173563?sortBy=Relevance&ft=fannie+harley&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

A little white linen smock very similar to our middies came just over her hips and over this she slipped a khaki jacket with a belted effect. Her feet were clad in tan, round toed shoes with a military heel. But Miss Harley’s love of the feminine, despite her preference for trousers, displayed itself in a touch of blue. The harleys were bound with blue braid and trimmed with big blue bone buttons. All of Miss Harley’s clothes match in color schemes. Her smock also bore traces of the same shade of blue in embroidered initials.

I was forced to admit her harleys do not display her figure as much as the present-day tight skirts would. They are loose over the hips and shirred along the outer seam. At the base they measure sixteen inches.

 

“Your modern skirts are one-legged trousers, mine are two,” she laughed as she strutted about the room in a free and lively manner unhampered by swaddling clothes. “Now see how much better a business girl could get on and off cars and elevators and go back and forth from desk to desk and corridor to corridor.

And the housewife could be so much more efficient about her work if she could walk instead of having to hobble. Nurses and waitresses, all women who work, could get about their work so much better in harleys. Oh, how I hate skirts!

Not Limited to Khaki.

“Of course this would be a perfectly appropriate rig for the business girl,” she continued, walking about the room, “but I know right well it is not dressy enough for her. However, she need not choose khaki for her materials; she may have serge or broadcloth, satin or silk, or any of the new fabrics. And as to blouses she may have cerise or any color she loves. I believe in every woman keeping her feminine love of color and frills and furbelows, but I hate to see her incase her limbs in skirts as the Chinese used to bind their feet.

“Now when a woman wants to go to the matinee or to an afternoon reception or just to take a stroll down Fifth avenue, what prettier gown can she desire than this?” asked Miss Harley, making a lightning change from her khaki harleys to a pair of peacock blue silk ones. These harleys are shirred in even more artistic designs than the others. And they are trimmed in fancy silver-toned buttons which are heirlooms of Miss Harley’s. Her blouse is of crepe meteor with a band of Venise reaching to the hips and a dainty ruche of maline at the rather high V-shaped neck. Over this Miss Harley slipped a charming little coatee all shirrs and ruffles with a delightfully long cape collar. It, too, is trimmed with the heirloom buttons. A dainty pair of black velvet pumps and a walking stick complete this frock, giving it a decidedly Parisian touch.

Hats to Match.

If you are wondering about Miss Harley’s hats, they are all the same shape, and she has a different one for each pair of harleys. She is her own milliner as well as her own designer and dressmaker. And the reason she always wears her hats and gowns made from the same model is because she insists that when a woman finds that she looks well in a certain style of hat or suit she should always keep that standardized style for herself. She may change in material and color scheme as much as her nature demands, but she should appreciate what lines and angles belong to her.

One time I met a lady whom I thought was perfectly beautiful,” said Miss Harley, “but the next time I met her I wondered why my first impressions were that she was so beautiful, for this time she was positively ugly, and then it dawned upon me, ‘she is wearing a different hat and gown.’ The first time it was in the spring and she wore a chic little mushroom shape which hid an enormously large nose and brought out her best lines, the next time it was in midsummer and she had changed to a large flat hat which openly displayed all her worst points, especially the large nose. Now, if that woman had only clung to that little mushroom shape, no matter whether she changed it to felt or straw or what shades she selected, she would have always passed for a beautiful woman. Personally I prefer the tam style, only I look well with my tam slightly trimmed. I know that is my style of hat and I shall always cling to it.

“And now if I want to be a real dandy and go to a dance or a social affair I have this.” Another lightning change and Miss Harley stood before me in a pink chiffon over pink satin.

The harleys were not only shirred but slit just the tiniest bit and lace inserted. The smock was trimmed with cabochon and strands of pearls in motifs: in fact, there were fifty feet of pearls and seventeen of cabochon. So you see harleys, or trousers, can be worn and one still retain an enormous portion of femininity.

“But what about coats for cold weather?” I asked. “Those little coatees to your khaki and peacock blue silk suits would not be warm enough.”

“A large cape or a big overcoat with an artistic cape collar is what I always wear,” was Miss Harley’s immediate reply. “I think the dolman and cape about the only graceful garment that women of today wear.

“If I had my way from an artistic point of view I would put all slender willowy women in harleys and many men in skirts!”

“But why in skirts?” “Well,” continued Miss Harley between her giggles, “once I stood on a public corner and watched the men file by and of all the knock knees, bow legs and pigeon toes that were displayed I decided that they ought to hid under petticoats and give us a chance to don trousers.

“But there is one thing I don’t like about the woman who slips into a pair of trousers,” added Miss Harley, “And that is she must avoid all masculine attitude, keep her hands out of her pockets and not smoke cigarettes. My idea of harleys is for comfort and ease and health, but I think every woman ought to be as feminine as she can always.

The Weekly News [Denver CO] 9 October 1919: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Miss Fannie Harley (and Mrs Daffodil assumes that small boys and young men snickered privately at her Christian name in this sartorial context) was well-known as a travel writer, and although she disliked the term “lecturer,” she did the circuit, speaking on dress reform and “The Irony of Fashion,” as well as  “Mexico, Anti-capital Punishment, Prison Betterment, Bird Protection, Anti-vivisection, Muzzling Hat Pins, etc.”

She was much in the news between 1915 and 1919, and, possibly due to her youth and beauty, was treated with less mockery than most dress reformers. She also repudiated that name:

“Do not say I am a reformer for I am simply trying to give the fruits of my labors to the world that all may profit by my efforts.”

“My costume consists of two pieces, an upper garment and a bifurcated lower garment which I always designate by the name of harleys. The upper garment is always worn over the harleys and fitted at the shoulders, falls in graceful and natural lines to a point between the hips and knees and does not define a waistline. The harleys fitting easy around the waist and about the hips, slightly taper to the ankles, and cover each leg separately. The corset is absolutely eliminated. Ridges and rigidity would spoil the whole thing.”

Miss Harley survived into the 1950s, seeing her bifurcated costumes vindicated as working women adopted them during the Second World War.

One of Miss Harley’s house costumes

A gentleman makes the case for short skirts for both sexes in this previous post.

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.

 

 

Ingenious Libraries: 1896

ABOUT BOOKCASES.

WHAT TO DO WHEN SPACE FORBIDS A REAL LIBRARY.

An Arrangement With Silk Panels For Artistic Drawing Rooms—The Lazy Man’s Bookcase—Converting a Dresser Into a Bookcase—For the Boudoir—Oddities

In some artistic homes the difficulty about having bookcases in the drawing room has been solved by making them of oak stained green, with broche silk panels and green velvet top pieces, instead of leather and reed blinds in place of glass. Many protest strongly against glass and claim that it does not keep out dust—it keeps it in. Moreover, glass doors are not easily opened.

bow-window-bookcase

To the indolent man is commended the conversion of the bow window into a dwarf bookcase. A few shelves fixed to the wall will contain many books, and on the upper shelf, prettily covered with strip of good embroidery, a collection of pipes, tobacco jars, pens and ink can be kept. A flap attached to the top shelf, and easily raised or lowered, could be used as a writing desk and with the addition of a luxurious reading chair the cheerless bow window would become a delightful “cosy corner.”

oak-dresser-bookcase

Medium sized sideboards–when selected with a view to the accommodation of books instead of china–afford, with few alterations, admirable bookcases for the family or sitting room. In the large deep drawers weekly papers and account books dear to the heart of the ideal housewife can be neatly kept, while the quaint shape of most of the dressers tempts one to mingle pictures and plates with the books. In the space underneath the placing of an old copper jar for waste paper is suggested.

In the recess that one so often finds near the fireplace a corner bookcase may be fitted, and it is very decorative.

Almost every cultured woman has an ideal room thrust away in the background of her aspirations to which she approaches as near as fortune and opportunity will permit her. Some women delight to have new furniture designed for their particular apartment and exclusive use. Others, again, go forth into the lanes and byways in search of antique treasures that have already lived many lives in many homes. To these the Chippendale bookcase, with its dark triangular shelves, appeals with peculiar force.

Numbered among oddities in bookcases are those made to match the books. A remarkable instance is that of an Englishman who had a strange fad in books. He had them bound in colors, which, according to his theories, suited their characters. For instance, he had all theological books bound in red, because of the blood shedding they had caused; science in gold, since most of it is based on the discoveries of seekers for the aurum potabile; poetry in green, to hint that it is man’s spring offering. In order to carry out these fancies, he had bookcases to match—mahogany for the theology, gilded walnut for the science, oak stained green for the poetry, etc. One bookcase was a hodgepodge of colors, and the bindings were rainbow-like—the books, he told, were of the class called “curious” in catalogues.

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu HI] 15 May 1896: p 5

The Fireplace Book-case

The Fireplace Book-case

A NOVEL BOOKCASE

How a Clever Jersey City Woman Made a New Departure

Fireplace Converted Into a Thing of Beauty to Hold Literary Treasures Large and Small

A clever Jersey City woman who has a handsome house on the Heights, has invented a novel book case which is the envy and admiration of all who see it. In the open fireplace of her back parlor, she has fitted a number of shelves and filled them with her favorite volumes. Graceful draperies hang from the mantel and pretty palms, tables and bric-a-brac make the rear of the room beautiful. The idea came to this bright woman as a sort of inspiration, and she promptly carried it out. Her taste in household furnishing is well known, and this, one of the latest successes, is worthy of note. The accompanying illustration gives a good idea of how the book case appears to one entering the room, and proves that there is something new under the sun, in household decoration at least. Others might copy the book case with advantage, for it is really much prettier to be confronted with an array of popular volumes in handsome bindings, half concealed and half revealed by silken hangings, than by yawning fire places with traditional gas logs and brass dogs, no matter how fine the latter may be. This lady’s invention may not be confined to the fireplace, but may be made to do duty in any odd corner or niche which is unsightly in the eye of the house mistress.

 Jersey Journal [Jersey City NJ] 14 February 1896: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In advance of “World Book Day,” Mrs Daffodil celebrates some ingenious and unorthodox book-cases—and one book-lover with eccentric ideas about bindings and shelvings. It puts Mrs Daffodil in mind of those decorators who wrap clients’ books in coloured paper so they look “tidier” and do not clash with the cushions.

Not every one is privileged to have ample book-cases in the Gothic manner or a beautifully proportioned, purpose-built room, such as houses the library at the Hall. The normal bed-sit or semi-detached contains little or no space for a formal library, but the suggestions above may prompt some creative ideas in shelving for the book-lover.  Of course, if one’s only heat is provided by the fireplace, one may have to choose between layering or one’s library.

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.

Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

1906 Floral Tribute for a member of the Elks.

To-day, Mrs Daffodil (since she cannot exactly say that she is “pleased to welcome”) once again yields the floor to that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard.  One supposes it is useless to suggest a change of climate, subject, or temperament to a writer so entrenched in the subfusc world of Victorian mourning, but Mrs Daffodil will gently note that a holiday in some sunny Mediterranean country might be cheering.  Mrs Woodyard will address the history of grave concerns over grotesqueries in funeral flowers.

********

Flowers are an appropriate symbol for the excesses of the Victorian funeral. Newspapers documenting large funerals would note the details of these sometimes bizarre floral arrangements and their donors as if keeping score and setting a societal standard for the next bereaved family. The florists claimed that floral excess was a result of customer demand; the public, in turn, said that the pressure arose from over-zealous florists. There were also dark whispers about innocent flowers being tortured into strange and unnatural shapes.

Some trade journals made an effort to stem the tide of truly hideous design by publishing the damning details of floral tributes that they felt were beyond the pale. A Chicago correspondent to The Garden minced no words about current trends:

Floral Gargoyles.

 Here, in America, is the home of the grotesque as well as of the picturesque. Aristocracy and democracy jostle each other, and aristocracy gets the worst of it. We had a bad boiler explosion here lately, and among the emblems sent to a victim’s funeral was a floral clock set for the hour of the explosion! A theatrical treasurers’club sent a floral pass, ‘Admit one.’ Let us hope it was recognised. Gates ajar, open windows with plaster doves thereon, and tawdry wire frames showing through pillows of red and yellow flowers, all tend to vulgarise funerals, and to inspire the words ‘no flowers.’ When the city council is inaugurated, then are the florists busy. Gigantic keys, Indian clubs, desks, chairs, all are on hand, all of natural flowers distorted to suit perverted tastes. We need a renaissance in art to strike the florists here, and strike them hard. The Garden 1 June 1901: p. 385

********

Funeral “set pieces” generally fell into several categories: wreaths, pillows, and sprays—and, said the critics, monstrosities. Some of the latter had evocative titles and florist supply catalogues carried wire frames to create the more elaborate arrangements such as “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” (an anchor, cross, and heart) “The Sad Hour” (a floral clock); “The Broken Wheel,” “The Harp,” (or lyre) and “Gates Ajar,” an exceptionally popular design. Stuffed doves, often used to accessorize the “Gates Ajar” arrangements, could be purchased or leased.

"Gates Ajar" arrangement topped with a star.

“Gates Ajar” arrangement topped with a star.

For this next story of a client who desired a floral horse’s head with real glass eyes, I’m afraid I do not have an illustration. Perhaps these rather ghastly arrangements for deceased members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will give an idea of what the ultimate effect might have been.

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1906

A floral arrangement given by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks for a deceased member. 1914

elks-head-funeral-flowers

1906 Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks floral tribute.

 

A short time ago a certain prominent and popular business man of Cleveland died after a short illness. A day or two prior to his demise one of his business associates went into a florist’s establishment and made some inquiries concerning funeral flowers, and finally placed an order that to his mind embodied all the desirable attributes of such a piece of work. It was to be emblematic of the business in which the deceased had been engaged, and it had occurred to the would-be purchaser that nothing could better represent that idea, than a floral horse’s head! But being a far-seeing business man, accustomed to keeping his eagle eye on the dim and uncertain future, and knowing that such a novel and original design might present some difficulties to a florist when it came to working out the idea, he had thought it best to take time by the forelock and get things moving in good season! The unhappy florist dodged the issue as long as possible by suggesting that the man might get well, but without success. The businessman knew what he wanted and pretty nearly when he wanted it and so the florist had to go ahead with the monstrosity. It seems to me that for downright grim, ghastly, provident, cold-blooded unsentimentality this party is entitled to the pie foundry. But about the time that a sufficient quantity of black cloth had been laid in, and whilst the florist was racking his brain to obtain a life-like wire frame and fiery and spirited glass eyes to go with the same, the order was changed for something not quite so startling. Possibly the man of unique ideas was sat upon by his colleagues. The American Florist 8 June 1895: p. 1148

The employees of the Postum Cereal Company did not have far to look to find inspiration for a floral tribute for the company founder:

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Floral tribute for Charles W. Post, founder of the Postum Cereal Company.

Among the set pieces [at the funeral of Charles W. Post] none attracted more attention or expressed more sincere love than the floral piece given by the employes of the Postum Cereal Company. This is the piece we mentioned first, and which is shown here. The design was made to represent the little barn in which he first began making his food products in 1895. This little white building was carefully cherished by its late owner, and still stands in the beautiful grounds surrounding the Postum Cereal Company’s administration building and general offices at Battle Creek, and is always pointed out to visitors as the place where the business began. Doubtless many of our readers have visited the Postum plant and have seen this little building. The floral design was an especially difficult one to bring out because of the demands of perspective. The piece was made by S.W. Coggan, florist, Battle Creek. It measured 6x5x2 feet, and in its construction 2,285 flowers were used. The background was dark pink carnations; the barn proper white carnations. The outlines and roof were of forget-me-nots; the frame effect of American Beauties, adiantum and asparagus green. Corners of frame over roof, Easter lilies, lilies of the valley and pink Killarney roses. The piece bore the inscription, “From his Employes”

The American Florist, Vol. 42 23 May 1914: p. 936

This “bag-man’s” traveling valise was railed against in 1903, yet was still being included in the pages of funeral flower albums in 1914.

freak-traveling-bag-funeral-flowers

Freak Floral Designs

As an example of how not to do it, the accompanying illustration of a floral traveling bag may be worth a place. The design from which the photograph was taken was made by the Iowa Floral Co., Des Moines, for some local traveling men and gave great satisfaction. The body was of Enchantress carnations, the ribs on top and ends of Lawson, while the handle was of violets.

When an order of this kind comes along it has to be filled, but such freak things are in every way to be deprecated. They are a good deal of trouble to make and use a lot of stock lessening the retailers’ profit unless a very big price is paid. But as to anything pretty or artistic there is absolutely nothing in them. It is not even possible to see a good flower in the whole thing for the carnations are cut short and stemmed and packed just as thickly as possible together. It is devoid of all beauty and no retailers with a sense of the artistic or the uplifting of the trade at heart will encourage the making of such flat, ugly and unprofitable things. As hinted above retailers have not always the last word on such points but the making of this class of goods should be discouraged as far as possible. How much more satisfactory in every way would a pretty wreath or other design be than this, supposing the same amount of money was spent. This kind of “art” is best left to the candy makers and confectioners. It is unworthy the attention of florists.

The American Florist: A weekly journal for the trade, 23 January 1909: p. 1290

The demand for special funeral emblems applicable to the vocation of the deceased oftimes taxes the inventive genius of the florist, and some of the pieces suggested by the surviving friends frequently seem very ridiculous. A butcher in our vicinity, being in condition for a funeral, one of his intimate friends came to order a floral offering and insisted on its being in the form of a cleaver. It occurred to me that such an implement was hardly the proper thing. But no one could tell the road he went or the conditions he would encounter at the end of his route. Perhaps it was the very thing he would need.

A commercial traveler having been assigned a new territory, in the unknown world, I was asked to make a floral grip for his funeral ornamentation, by some of his friends. Did he die of the grip, I asked. Oh, no! but as his satchel was his constant companion, one said, we thought it would be a very appropriate emblem for this sad occasion. Alright, I replied, it shall be made, but will I fill it with light underwear, or do you think something heavier would be needed? Not knowing his destination, they failed to advise, so as a precaution, the man being an acquaintance of mine, I filled the grip with wet moss, which you know has a very cooling effect.

American Florist, Volume 21 1903

And how I wish I had a photograph of this postmaster’s novel floral tribute. Truly something for the dead-letter office!

A Novel Floral Design.

P.R. Quinlan & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., made a novel floral piece, the gift of the employes of the Syracuse post office in memory of Edwin H. Maynard, assistant postmaster. It was a 4-foot panel 24×42 inches containing a canceled envelope. The stamp was in pale colored Lawsons and the cancellation which bore the date of his death was in small blue chenille lettering. Upon the floral letter where the address is usually placed was the inscription, “To our beloved assistant postmaster.” The outline of the envelope was maroon carnations representing the envelope in mourning. The groundwork of the panel was Enchantress carnations trimmed with roses, lilies and swainsona. A.J.B.

The American Florist 30 June 1905: p. 1044

1914 seems to have been a particularly fertile year for bad taste in funeral flowers. Here are a few unusually elaborate specimens:

sad-hours-clock-and-doves-funeral-flowers

This “Sad Hours” arrangement is fully seven feet high.

immense-lyre-funeral-flowersa

To judge by the cupboards on the right, this lyre arrangement is at least five feet high.

Fraternal orders, trade unions, and vocational groups often clubbed together to provide floral tributes with the appropriate theme.

his-last-alarm-fireman-funeral-flowersa design-for-master-house-painters-funeral-flowersa 174a-floral-chair-funeral-flowersa

I cannot read the lettering on the floral chair above–it looks as though someone draped foliage and moss over an actual swiveling office chair and wired on a stuffed dove. Possibly the writing says “Our Mayor?” or “Our Mary?”  Another in the “floral chair” genre was labeled “The Vacant Seat.”

Garish as these arrangements are, they pale by comparison with this last example, a floral tribute to a man whose life was cut short in a terrible accident.

Derrick funeral flowers.

Derrick funeral flowers.

THE PENULTIMATE DESIGN.

In the collection of unique designs, the one shown in the illustration on page 11 is entitled to a place at the front. It represents a derrick in flowers made by Lester F. Benson, an Indianapolis florist, on the order of a committee representing the Structural Iron Workers of America, for one of their members who was killed as a result of his gauntlet catching on the hook as the engine started. The man was lifted thirty feet from the ground before his cry, “Slack down,” was heard, and before the order could be obeyed the glove slipped from his hand, resulting in a fall which broke his neck. The design was made sectionally, to work the same as a real derrick, and the committee insisted on the florist placing a glove on the hook!

Of course no florist maintains that such a design is in anything but the most execrable taste; such gruesomeness is an utter perversion of the idea which prompts the sending of flowers to a funeral. The flowers should carry a message of sympathy, and by their purity and beauty should speak of the life beyond, should contain no suggestion of mundane things, least of all a reference to the route of departure of “the late lamented.” The derrick design appears to be just one step removed from the limit. The man who wishes to accomplish the ultimate no doubt will make for a murder victim some such design as the following: Take two clothing-store wire dummies; fit them out with suits of flowers, instead of cloth; raise the arms of each, one figure leaning forward in the act of firing a flower pistol; bring the left hand of the other toward where a man’s heart is supposed to be, and the right hand to his uplifted head; lean this figure backward. Mount the two figures, in the relationship that will suggest itself, on a base of boxwood or galax and there will be nothing further that can be demanded of the florist, unless with such a design the widow fails to survive the shock.

For the florist who makes monstrosities in flowers it is to be said: Hardly any florist has so poor a conception of the uses of flowers that he suggests any such designs; the florist nearly always simply is carrying out the instructions he receives from his customers, and must either do this or see an order involving a goodly sum go to a competitor. Florists are like others—they are likely to do that which they are best paid for doing, but it is in line for every florist to do something toward turning customers to better things in flowers.

The Weekly Florists’ Review 20 April 1911: p. 10

So much for the customer always being right…

Still, one suspects that, despite the florists’ repeated and bitter condemnation of bad taste, there was money to be made by catering to the vulgar whims of the customer.

These set-piece shaped floral arrangements began falling out of favor around the time of the First World War when Victorian mourning conventions were thought to be less relevant in the face of so many deaths. Immense and garish floral tributes still had their place—at the funerals of gangsters and film stars, but by the mid-1920s they were considered thoroughly old-fashioned.  The only pieces I’ve seen recently which seem to carry on the tradition of shaped floral tributes are U.S. flag panels and floral rosaries designed to hang inside the casket lid.  I have not had the opportunity to ask any modern florists if they ever get requests for flower lyres or for  “Gates Ajar,” but in this Age of Individualism, I suspect that there are still orders for the unorthodox and highly personalized funeral arrangement, sans the stuffed doves.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to Mrs Woodyard for revealing these examples of vulgarity in funeral flowers, thus enabling us to avoid embarrassing faux pas at our own obsequies.

For more on funeral flowers, see these posts: “No Flowers” and Corsets and Beer Wagons: Floral Vulgarities, which also appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Kettle-drum and the Winter Picnic: 1874

tea-party-1902-5

“KETTLE-DRUM.”
Another Fashionable Folly – Winter Picnics.

In this country we have few gentlemen of leisure, and in society, ladies’ clubs to the contrary notwithstanding, you can do little without gentlemen. While these are daily absorbed in some pursuit, ladies have been compelled to abandon themselves to lounging, dressing, calling, lunching, reading novels, and other weak efforts to kill time, cultivating society principally as an evening amusement, which usually resolves into the crush and jam of a party. Now, however, in large eastern cities, ladies are turning young men who have leisure, into account. They are invited to “kettle-drums,” a species of entertainment something like a high tea, where ladies are in the preponderance, where the rigidity of full evening dress is not required, where the proceedings are easy and informal, servants only being admitted with trays of refreshments, and then excluded, the hostess herself pouring tea or chocolate for her guests, and where society plans are discussed, suggestions made, and people decapitated without mercy. The “kettle-drum” has in it the elements of immense success, but it is necessarily confined in its sphere of operations. It was at a party of that character that the notion of a “winter picnic”—another scheme to kill time of those who have nothing to do during the day—was proposed. The modus operandi of the latter is thus described: A lady volunteers the use of her house, which she is expected to decorate with evergreens in profusion—holly, mistletoe, cedar, pine and the like—and also provide tea. The rest of the eatables the gentlemen contribute. One sends a hamper of ready cooked game, another fruit, another cakes and biscuits, another the creams and ices, and so on, until the collation is complete. Wine is not favored; instead, “Russian” tea is the vogue, simply Pekoe, choice Bohea or Mandarin tea, with thin slices of lemon floating in it instead of milk. As much of the house as possible is thrown open, halls are festooned with green, tubs and pots containing plants from the conservatory, or hired from a neighboring greenhouse, are placed here and there, and the table is spread picnic fashion by the company themselves, who also restore the dishes to the baskets and wind up with a dance. We heard it rumored that a lady, prominent in society in this city, is making preparations for a “winter picnic” at an early day.

Morning Republican [Little Rock AR] 13 January 1874: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To be Relentlessly Informative, the origins of the term “Kettle-drum” are shrouded in the mists of the seventeenth century:

The origin of the Kettle-drum as somewhat obscure, but if history speaks truly, they were very common during the reign of that gay monarch, Charles the Second. The ladies returning from the hunt, gathered together for a tea-drinking and some light refreshment, the entertainment being known as a “drum,” to which the term kettle was later prefixed. The term Kettle-drum can not, therefore, be applied to anything but a tea-drinking; and, strictly speaking, should include only a light refreshment of sandwiches, cake, and biscuits. At no afternoon entertainment, at present, unless a full dress reception, is coffee or wine fashionable, chocolate or bouillon being the substitutes; and these, as well as tea, should be served in small dainty cups, the cream and sugar being handed each guest on a salver. Cook Book of the Northwest 1887: p. 167

Naturally, it was an English importation.

The kettledrum, or five o’clock tea, is really a very admirable institution, and a great relief in the severe formality and heaviness of average English entertainments. The guests drop in a little after four, the ladies retaining their hats and wraps. There are pictures and books to discuss, music at intervals; the rooms and balconies are filled with flowers; there is presently an ethereal little refection of wafer-thin bread and butter, delicate cakes, coffee and tea, served upon exquisite porcelain; and then after a little more talk and music the company melts unceremoniously away, and the little meeting has been simple, inexpensive—not–gay, for that would not be English, but pleasantly content—an excellent thing in the right houses, and in the wrong ones an evil of bearable weight and duration. The Galaxy, Vol. 15, February 1873: p. 260

Mrs Daffodil has long served the leisured class and no fashionable folly such as a “winter picnic” would surprise her. Still, one is rather shocked at the “soft” socialites holding such a soirée indoors. Where is that rugged American spirit? Here is how a proper “winter picnic” might be achieved: 

WINTER PICNIC HINTS

A winter picnic may be great fun

Ice and snow offer as many inducements for out-of-doors sports as any thing we have in summer. Two things, however, are essential really to enjoy a winter picnic. The first is proper clothing. Sweaters, woolen gloves and arctics are essentials. The second is the lunch. This should be much more substantial than the summer fare. If possible, have a good fire and cook at least one hot dish. In cold weather metal is disagreeable to handle, so use enameled ware cups and plates, which won’t break if dropped by cold fingers. Ham and eggs fried over a camp fire make a hearty lunch, and if an enameled ware frying pan is used it will be found easier to manager than the heavier iron variety. A little ingenuity will suggest many tasty hot dishes and winter picnics once tried will become a favorite pastime.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 23 November 1915: p. 11

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.