Category Archives: Fancy Dress

How to Celebrate May-Day: 1863, 1912, 1928

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

The May Queen, W.E. Tucker, 1843

Mrs Daffodil asserts that the proper English May-Day consists of floral displays, dancing rustics, various contests of strength, agility, and alcohol consumption, a good deal of fumbling about in the shrubbery, and, of course, the crowning of the May Queen. (Mrs Daffodil prefers to ignore the co-opting of the holiday by the International Labour Movement.)

Our American cousins , too, took up the flowery garlands of the celebration, adding little touches of their own to the festival. One fears they did not fully appreciate the pagan undertones of characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” or “Robin Hood.”  However, perhaps subliminally, they acknowledged the propriety of using the imagery of a Spring Fertility Festival for a bridal shower. “Perky” May-Pole, indeed….

The Indians call the month of May the “Time of the Flower-Moon.” Just as April is filled with rain showers, May is the month for bride-showers, following the order of the flower-moon preceding the honeymoon for the June bride.

A luncheon shower is a pleasing way of entertaining the bride-to-be. The table can be decorated effectively with a pink and green May pole for a centerpiece, its flower streamers in corresponding colors draped down to different places on the table. At the end of each, folded in pink paper blossoms, are little notes, preferably in verse, directing the bride-to-be to different part of the house (on the mantel, behind the phonograph, and so on), each a hiding place for a dainty gift for the bride—flowered lingerie, smart china, or any gift that carries out the flower motif.

Miniature May poles made of striped candy sticks and ribbons, with the guest’s name written on a flat card to which the stick is fastened, will serve as place cards, and you may have pretty little “May baskets” filled with candy at each cover.

If you are serving your guests at small tables, there may be different centerpieces for each table. “Jack-in-the-green,” a clown, dressed in pink and green, and hidden in a bouquet of flowers, is charmingly reminiscent of old England. The “Lady of the May,” a child’s doll, decorated with flowers, signifies a popular old custom you might work into your scheme of decorating, or, if you are using a long table, you may have the May pole in the exact center. “Jack-in-the-green” at one end and the “Lady of the May” at the other.

Games apropos to the occasion may feature the Robin Hood idea—Robin Hood, you know, always figured prominently in the celebration of the first of May. Tiny bows and arrows and a flower-decorated target will furnish amusement—with a gay May basket, some tiny present hidden beneath its flowers, for a prize. And nothing would be more fun or more appropriate than to crown the bride-to-be “Queen of the May” during your party.

For your bridge game use score cards decorated with spring blossoms, and go to a little extra trouble with your pencil. Wrap it in pink and green strips of paper, hand colored ribbons from it, and stick it in a paper-covered spool for a base, so that it will stand up straight and perky like a May pole when not in use. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 24 April 1928: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It really is rather extraordinary how long even bowdlerised and ill-understood versions of the May-Day Festivities survived. Even in the United States, May-Pole dances and parties were a staple of young ladies’ academies and, as we have seen, bridal showers. Rather earlier, there was advice on May-Day Tableaux for the young. Mrs Daffodil gives a single sample so as to not weary her readers.

TABLEAU  I— MAY

Let the furniture be removed from the stage, and the background draped with white, looped with garlands of flowers and leaves; the floor covered with white, and flowers scattered over it. One single figure represents May. A beautiful blonde should be selected. Let her wear pure white; the dress long, full, and floating; her hair should fall free, either in curls or waving ripples, and a wreath of delicate flowers rest on her head; flowers should appear to fall all about her; in her hair and on her dress (small pins, or a few stitches of thread will fasten them); her hands are raised, her eyes uplifted, as if she were just about to rise and soar away. The writer has seen a lovely child so dressed and standing, and the tableau was as beautiful as can be imagined. Godey’s Lady’s Book May 1863

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1910

Crowning the May Queen, c. 1905

Mrs Daffodil is not quite sure when the escalation of May-Day Pageants began, but in this account from 1912, the May Queen is accompanied, not only by the traditional English Robin-Hood and Hobby Horse, but a parade-of-all-nations including (inexplicably) Roman maidens and Japanese girls. Each of the national groups had its own suggested dance figure, song or May-Pole braiding pattern. If one was ambitious and had a stock of willing young ladies, one could reconstruct the entire tedious pageant by consulting this detailed book.

A SUCCESSFUL MAY-DAY PAGEANT.

At six o’clock in the evening, just about sundown, the processional pageant of all the players, two and two, carrying their ornamental accessories proceed in their march to the May-pole, heralded by the forester’s bugle horn. There are groups of various national dancers in the characteristic costume of their countries including the little milkmaids with cap, apron, and pail; the Scotch Highlanders with plaid cap and feather; the English shepherdesses with their crooks, looking like a band of veritable Bopeeps; the graceful Roman maidens, with their musical pipes and garlands; some Japanese girls with their parasols, waddling and tiptoeing. Rollicking and wild with glee come Robin Hood and his merry men, for the Morris dances, not forgetting the hobbyhorse with spirited “false trots, smooth ambles and Canterbury paces.” The inimitable jester with his pranks, and the little black-faced chimney-sweeps. The pageant procession approaching the May-pole, the centre of the scene, is led by the May Queen and her retinue, half of the attendants on each side of the queen, partners on opposite sides. Each attendant holds a garland of the canopy in her hands. The Festival Book: May-Day Pastime and The May-Pole Dances, Revels and Musical Games for the Playground, School and College, Jennette Emeline Carpenter Lincoln, 1912

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the Maddest Merriest Day Of All the Glad New Year.

See another May-Day post about a May-Queen controversy. And this, about the ideal vs. the actual May Day. And this parody of the all-too-easily-parodied Tennyson’s “The May Queen,” adapted for inclement weather.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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How a Shakespearean Fairy Flew: 1906

Miss Annie Russell as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. https://shakespeare.emory.edu/a-midsummer-nights-dream/msnd_russell_a_02_front/

MISS RUSSELL AS PUCK

In Every Way the Most Notable Shakespearean Offering That Has Ever Been Witnessed in Jackson

A Crowning Success.

[Miss Annie Russell’s] conception of “Puck,” is the most exquisite treat that has been given the American public in years. The loving mockery and elfish tricks of this household fairy present unique possibilities, and the charming little actress has taken advantage of each and every one of them. Her characterization of the role is the very embodiment of grace, delicacy and daintiness. There is something mysteriously and indescribably elfish about her “Puck,” that warms the cockles of the hart and makes the old young again. The witchery of her personal charm, the glint of her roguish eyes, the grace of her movement, the contagion of her laugh, form a perfect embodiment of what Shakespeare must have intended “Puck” to be, and if the great Bard and Avon could come to earth again and witness Miss Russell’s portrayal of his fanciful role, he would pronounce it thoroughly satisfying….

Never in the memory of the present generations of playgoers has there been such a production of Shakespeare’s fanciful comedy on such a vast scale. The offering Is embellished with mechanical perfection and the staging Is surrounded by artistic excellence never before approached…The flowers glow mysteriously when “Puck” touches them, owls blink solemnly on the tree boughs, fairies flit to and fro through the air with startling naturalness and precision, and every embellishment is wonderful in its originality and perfection. When Miss Russell makes her entrance in the third scene of the first act from aloft, lights on the branch of a tree, flits across to a mossy bank and settles down so softly that the tips of her dainty toes barely dint the downy landing, it looks like a defiance of the laws of gravitation, and forces the conclusion that the climax of fairyland realism has been attained in stage mechanics….

The audience last night marveled greatly over Miss Russell’s flights across the stage, and perhaps few realized the work that was behind that graceful act. Her entrance involves a secret of stage mechanism that is guarded like a jewel of rare price, and requires the alert work of six strong men.

It will perhaps be especially interesting to the ladies of Jackson to know what Miss Russell thinks of this flight. In chatting with the writer on this subject last night she said:

“If I were not an expert horse-woman I never could make that flight. Sounds strange doesn’t it? In the first place I want my friends to understand that I like flying through the air. It is a most exhilarating feeling to stand one instant firmly on the ground and the next to be switched off into space.

“The story of how it is done is most interesting. The apparatus used is in man of its details a secret—a series of wires weighted with bags of shot, worked through a clock-like arrangement, fitted with gear wheels, springs and bolts. It is this clock-like affair that holds the secret, and the owner guards it by removing it from the fly gallery each night and taking it home under his arm. All I know is that it can be so accurately adjusted that the wire will sustain a weight of 1,000 pounds or work just as well as if the weight is only one pound.

“The ticklish part of my flight is this. The machine must be adjusted to carry me between two fixed points. Now this is simple enough in the case of the flying fairies, because they start from one side of the stage and alight at a fixed point at the other side. In my case, I fly to a tree. Now this tree is set on the stage and it is a most difficult matter to set it in exactly the same spot each time. To be sure the stage is marked where the tree is to go, but the variation of a fraction of an inch makes all the difference in the world. That little difference would hurl me against the set piece and do no end of damage to some part of me. It is for this reason that each night, an hour before my flight is to be made, a bag of meal, of my exact weight, takes my place. Then the six men who work the apparatus yank the meal bag across the stage and into the set tree. As I watch that yank I am glad they do not rehearse with me. But once it is adjusted, my flight is as safe, and as sure, and as scientifically perfect as though I were walking across my own drawing room.

“But still there is considerable for me to do. When I land in the tree, I must steady myself in an instant, otherwise I would look like the bag of meal instead of like a bird. That’s where my expert horse-womanship comes in. When I fly from the tree to the stage, the most perfect workmanship is necessary on the part of the wire-workers, because if they did not give me slack the very instant my feet touch the stage I’d topple over like a nine pin.

Even when I do land, you must understand that I am girdled in a steel corset to which the wire is fitted. I land breathless, with this corset gripping me like the iron clad maiden of old. And if you think it is a simple matter to be gay and sprightly with this grip of steel about my heart and no breath—if you think it is easy, well, just try it.

“But for all the difficulties—or possibly because of all these difficulties—I like it. It is such a relief not to be the duffering heroine that I have been most of my stage life.”

Jackson [MS] Daily News 17 November 1906: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Those “duffering” heroines Miss Russell speaks of were sentimental stock roles of Sweet Young Things named variously Sylvia, Esmerelda, Elaine, Hazel, Ada, Maggie, Edith, Ruth, or Sue, of which she heartily tired during her years in the theatre. She was, one fears, typecast, hence her delight in the role of Puck. However, this critic was less complimentary about the Jackson production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than the Daily News:  

The opening of the Astor Theatre, New York, September 21, 1906, was signalized by a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” made by the managers of that theatre, Messrs. Wagenhals & Kemper. Miss Annie Russell, an actress of English origin but exclusively American training, acted Puck, and was gay, agile, and frisky…. Puck, though a busy part, is subsidiary in the play, and, except that it provides opportunity for the manifestation of a sprightly, mischievous, frolicsome spirit, possesses no charm that should attract an actor of fine ability to undertake its representation. There is no obvious reason why a female should play it, and probably the only reason why a female ever elected, or was assigned, to play it is that Puck is most effective when assumed by a person whose figure is slight and handsome and whose temperament is volatile—as commonly happens with young women. The most that any player can accomplish with the part is an exhibition of physical agility and vital, elfish, exuberant delight in the mischievous activities of a droll deviltry. Miss Russell’s acting had usually manifested a sentimental temperament and a finical style, but as Puck she was moderately vivacious and pleasing.

Shakespeare on the Stage; Third Series, Volume 3, William Winter, 1916

An acrobatic flying corset used by the “Flying Dancer” Azella in 1865. Perhaps Miss Russell’s flying apparatus was similar. http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-76193&start=10&rows=1

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 Scotsman and the Lady of Doubtful Propriety: 1870

Francis Leon,  Harvard Theatre Collection

“THE GIRL OF THE PERIOD.”

A TRUE TALE.

Some months ago, in Melbourne, when the noonday sun was at its height and the main thoroughfare of the city, Bourke street, thronged with its usual crowd of sight-seers, business people, and members of tho “upper ten doing the block,” no little sensation was created by the appearance of a more than ordinarily showily dressed lady, chignoned and panniered in the latest fashion, who threaded the busy and wondering crowd and disappeared through the portals of a well-known photographer’s doorway not a hundred miles from the gateway of the Theatre Royal. Arrived in the studio the lady’s portrait was taken, apparently satisfactorily, for she retired to an inner room, which was furnished among other surroundings, with articles of the toilet, provided for the convenience of “gentlemen only” awaiting a sitting. Seated in the further corner of the room, patiently biding his time, was an elderly gentleman of Scottish extraction, prim, sedate, adamantine of feature and sparing of speech. The lady of fashion, with but a passing glance at the staid old person, took her position opposite the cheval glass, and after an admiring gaze at the face reflected therein, proceeded to divest herself of the head appendage, yclept in the 19th century a bonnet, “Eh, but its a braw lassie, and a vera fine head o’ hair too!” said the Scot, surveying the flaxen ringlets and tail which reached far below the waist of the lady in question.

“‘Tis a braw lassie,” he repeated to himself with a chuckle, evidently enjoying his contemplation of the fair belle before him. But his delight gave way to surprise as he perceived the lady deliberately proceed to unbutton her dress, and shaking its folds from her, step forth from them to the centre of the room. The old gentleman was bewildered and highly distressed. He was a decent modest man, with a wife and “bairns at hame,” and here he found himself in the presence of a lady evidently of doubtful propriety. Coughing, sneezing, and loudly blowing his nose for the purpose of calling the attention of the damsel to the fact of his being in the room, only convinced him that she was already aware of that fact, for casting a slight glance over her left shoulder, she threw him a look which he at once interpreted as seductive and bold to a degree. Still further was the old man astonished when the fair creature proceeded to unhook and cast aside her (it must he said) stays, and audible mutterings arose from him. “Eh, but it’s right down immodest, it should na be allowed in a Christian country; it’s dreadfu immoral and I’ll no stay to see it.” Thus determined, the indignant and terrified Scot rose with the intention of leaving the room, but easier said than done, the flaxen-haired beauty had possession, and turning full round, she, to the intense horror of the immaculate man, proceeded to disencumber her legs of her—but this was too much: human nature in the shape of a virtuous and indignant Scotchman could stand no more, so with a smothered “Heaven a mercy me” and a frantic bound, he cleared the room and fled. But not so easy to escape; for the fair unknown, with lengthy agile strides, pursued, and was beside him ere he reached the outer door; one more gaze, and the now terrified man fairly shrieked and darted forth unto open air; whilst peal upon peal of laughter followed from the operator, his assistant, and the fair and frail one also, who turned out to be no other than Mr George Darrell, in his burlesque costume of the “Young Girl of the Day,”

Evening Star 9 August 1870: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Darrell was a well-regarded Australian actor, singer, and playwright. He was known as “Gentleman George,” and usually played male roles. However, in 1869 he took the part of “Marina” in the burlesque HMS Galatea and sang “The Young Girl of the Day”, and one of his own songs, “Doing the Block,” to much acclaim.

The illustration at the head of the post is of Francis Leon, one of the most acclaimed of 19th-century female impersonators.

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.

 

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.

 

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 Sybaritic Sentries: 1870s

happy-santa-claus-1915

THE SYBARITIC SENTRIES.

Raymond P. Sanford, a robust and healthy undergraduate of Cornell, lives for scientific purposes on 85 cents a week, his food, including buttermilk, lentils, peanuts, raisins, cabbage, peppers, oatmeal and apples.

“I thrive on this fare,” Mr. Sanford said the other day in Ithaca. “I admit, however, that to stick to it takes will power. I have to govern my sybaritic propensities. I must not imitate the young sentries.

“There was once a Christmas masquerade ball, you know, and a squad of young sentries stood guard out in the snow.

“Well, as the ball progressed, the conduct of a certain guest, disguised as a Santa Claus, astonished and perplexed everybody. This Santa Claus would dance with the prettiest women for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then, hurrying to the buffet, he would drink a bottle of champagne, and eat lobster salad, ices, caviar sandwiches, truffled turkey—everything in sight.

The host, after several hours of such gluttonous and intemperate conduct on the part of the Santa Claus guest, conferred with his butler, and to his amazement learned that the offender had, by actual computation, devoured forty sandwiches, sixty ices and eight quarts of lobster salad, while he had drunk thirty-one bottles of champagne and ninety glasses of punch.

“It seemed incredible! Yet there he was, as vigorous and fresh and sober as ever, now whispering compliments in a pretty matron’s ear, now rushing to the buffet for more wine and more lobster.

Puzzled and vexed, the host took Santa Claus by the arm and led him into a recess.

“’Show me your invitation card,’ he said.

But Santa Claus had none.

“Then unmask.”

“Dolefully the spurious guest obeyed.

“’Why, you’re one of the sentries!’

“’Yes, sir.’

“He was, indeed, one of the sentries—one of the squad of sentries stationed outside in the snow.

“These young men had hired a cheap Santa Claus make-up, and, donning it one by one, had each enjoyed a brief but delightful share of the Christmas festivities—the dancing and lobster and champagne in the ballroom.”

Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 31 December 1912: . 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil knows a great many mauve-faced Colonels who have grown old and sportive on a diet of lobster salad and champagne. Were Mrs Daffodil to serve lentils and buttermilk here at the Hall, there would be mutiny, if not outright murder. And what is Christmas without its Groaning Festal Board, its smoking roast beef and flaming plum pudding?

The young Mr Sanford received much coverage in the press for his scientific experiment in domestic economy. One suspects that he did not understand the difference between a moral recommendation and an amusing anecdote told over port and cigars. Mrs Daffodil observes that the freshman-ascetic (who, frankly, one cannot imagine having any sybaritic propensities whatsoever) later became a minister and was zealous in the cause of social justice. He had originally enrolled in Cornell as a student of agriculture; perhaps the fasting inspired him to a higher calling, although someone has to grow those lentils and cabbages.

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.