Category Archives: Fancy Dress

A Patch-work May Day Entertainment: 1904

May Day 1903

At a May Day entertainment given last year a popular hostess noted the fact that there was repeated controversy among her guests concerning May Day traditions and ancient customs among various nations, which gave her an Idea for this year’s novel May party. She has chosen for her guests all the members of her literary club, and other friends who are fond of literary research and competition. To a certain number she has assigned the task of searching out and describing quaint May Day celebrations whose origins have been lost in the mists of remote antiquity. Others have been requested to describe the customs that have been handed down from our Gothic ancestors. Still others will describe quaint celebrations that have their origin in the Floralia of the Romans. The strange May festivals of the ancient Druids, and the May games which Christianity finally adopted from these, will also be brought up for consideration, with prizes awarded (of course) for the best papers on the various subjects. But the most interesting feature of the entertainment will be the acting out of many curious customs.

As the entertainment will be given on the eve of May Day, the festivities will be continued until the “Meeting of the Dew” may be celebrated in the early hours of May Day morning. When the people of ancient Edinburgh used to assemble at Arthur’s Seat to “meet the dew” May dew was thought to possess all kinds of virtues. Even the English girls went into the field to wash their faces in it at dawn, in order to procure a good complexion. Samuel Pepys records in his delightful diary that his wife has gone to Woolwich for a little change of air “and to gather the May dew.” This form of celebration would have to be omitted when the entertainment is given in a city home, but as our hostess has spacious grounds surrounding her suburban house, the “meeting of the dew” will be a novel feature of the celebration.

Another quaint festivity that can be carried out on the lawn if desired, but which might also be celebrated as a parlor dance for a city home, is the German Walpurglsnacht, and although the witches may not “ride up the Brocken on magpies’ tails,” their weird dance may be celebrated—the witches who dance on the Brocken until they have danced away the winter’s snow.

The “Parade of Sweeps” will be an interesting feature of the entertainment. It is said that the parade of sweeps in bowers of greenery lingered on rather longer in England than May poles. It is supposed to have originated in this way—and this story will be told by one of those to whom the searching for English festivities has been assigned. Edward Wortley Montagu (born about 1714) who later was destined to win celebrity by still stranger freaks, escaped when a boy from Westmont School, and borrowed the cloths of a chimney sweep, in whose trade he became an adept. A long search led to his discovery and restoration to his parents on May 1, in recollection of which event Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu is said to have instituted the May Day feast given by her for many years to the London chimney sweepers. A few of the guests who are humorously inclined will don costumes of the old-time chimney sweeps, and after their mirth-provoking “dance of the sweeps,” will retain the costume while acting the clown during the remainder of the entertainment.

The final celebration before the May Day breakfast—which will be served shortly after midnight, in the earliest hours of May Day morning—will be patterned after a quaint custom in Lorraine, in which jokes on individual guests will play an important part. In Lorraine, girls dressed in white go from village to village stringing off couplets in which the inhabitants are turned into somewhat unmerciful ridicule. The girls of this place enlighten the people of that as to their small failings, and vice versa. The village poets harvest the jokes made by one community at the expense of another, in order to shape them into a consecutive whole for recital on May Day. The girls are rewarded for their part in the business by small coin, cakes and fruit.

Although the idea of reward and of going from village to village for adaptable jokes will not be carried out, this can be made a charming feature of the festivity. To a number of practical jokers has been assigned the task of forming into laughable couplets all the faults and failings or peculiarities of the various guests, and while the unpleasant sting of personality will be avoided, by omitting mention of any particular guest in connection with the various accusations, there will be continual sport In choosing the guest to whom the joke seems most applicable.

Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886; May Day

Caldecott, Randolph; May Day; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/may-day-204629

Several quaint old-time dances will be Introduced during the evening; but as no May Day party can be quite complete without the English dance around the May pole, a flower-decked pole will be a feature of the parlor decorations. And after the final May dance in good old English style about this pole, each guest will receive as a souvenir one of its gay silk streamers and a floral wreath or garland. Phebe Westcott Humphreys.

The Country Gentleman, Volume 69, 1904: p. 378

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil finds the whole thing a contrived, patch-work sort of entertainment. What sane hostess would try to cram academic papers, dew, dancing witches, and the May Pole into a single party?  One might even call it a “crazy quilt.” Witches and May Poles and Sweeps, oh my!

To be Relentlessly Informative, Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, who died in 1800, gave for many years a May-day entertainment to the chimney-sweeps of London at her house in Portman Square. These sooty guests were regaled with roast beef and plum-pudding, and a dance succeeded, while each of them received a shilling on his departure.

Mrs Daffodil has written before on the Ideal and the Real May Day, as well as some other over-elaborate May Day pageants and a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s bumpity-thumpity poem, The May Queen, adapted for inclement weather, as is Britain’s wont on that day.

 

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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Circus Girls Wear Corsets: 1895

circus world poster with ladies

ALL OF THEM WEAR CORSETS.

Women Circus Performers Encased in Steels.

A Poser for the Dress Reformers—Female Acrobats and Trapeze Stars Do Their Most Daring Acts in Corsets, and Declare Them Safe, Comfortable and Indispensable.

The first request made of all girls who go into a gymnasium is the surrender of corsets. This request is backed up by physicians, who declare it utterly impossible to do good “gym” work in corsets.

Dress reformers tell how injurious to health the corset is; how the action of the intercostal muscles is prevented; how the floating ribs are crushed, how the lower portion of the lungs is paralyzed, but here is a fact that they will find some trouble in explaining satisfactorily. The champion women acrobats, equestriennes, trick and bareback riders, equilibrists, aerial specialists and trapeze performers wear corsets. They do their most wonderful acts in corsets. Contortionists are the only class who habitually work without them.

These women are the most energetic of their sex, noted for their endurance, activity, fine physical development, and especially for length of wind. Now if corsets are such deadly articles, why don’t they take effect on the queens of the sawdust rings?

Imagine being introduced suddenly into the dressing room of Barnum & Bailey’s circus, where 15 stellar performers of whom you had intended to ask, “Do you wear corsets?” had just reached the corset stage in their toilets. Every one of the 15 had either just clasped on a pair or was about to do so. The sight was convincing. No questions were necessary.

“Oh, you do, don’t you?” was the natural exclamation.

“Do what?” asked a young woman in lavender tights.

The wardrobe woman, who was the intruder’s chaperone, made a speech.

“Ladies, this newspaper woman wants to know how many of you wear corsets when in the ring, and if the most difficult feats can be performed in them.”

Linda Jeal 1879

Miss Linda Jeal in her “jockey” costume. designed to help her avoid catching her hair and skirts on fire during her act. http://www.bulibstats.net/illinoiswomen/files/is/htm1/jeal.htm

Then Lavender Tights, who was recognized as Linda Jeal, who flies through paper hoops and does daring bareback hurdle acts, said:

“Everybody that I know wears them. I’d have a broken back if I didn’t, and I guess all the others would. There’s nothing the matter with corsets if they aren’t laced to death. If I left them off I’d never be able to do a thing.

Don’t they disturb the action of your heart? Can you use your intercostal muscles?”

“Well, I’ve been in the business over 20 years, and I guess I’d have been dead before now if corsets affected the heart, and I’ve got the use of about every muscle there is in my body,” and the girls all joined in Miss Jeal’s merry laugh as she turned to them for confirmation.

“Of course, you can’t use the lower part of your lungs in breathing. No anti-corset preacher would allow you that privilege.”

“That’s just what a doctor said to me when I went to be examined to get my life insured. He said I looked ‘delicate.” So I let out my breath and then, while he held a measure, I inflated my lungs. The doctor said I was ‘very deceiving.’ In this business a woman has got to have as much wind as she can get. If she don’t she can’t work. I can do anything in corsets I can without, and for that matter, I can’t do some things at all without the corsets.”

The insurance company accepted Miss Jeal at a very moderate premium, because they decided she was an exceptionally good physical risk.

“Doesn’t corset reform ever get into the circus?”

Sometimes, but not much. My niece has been riding for six years and she got an idea she couldn’t perform with corsets on. Her mother and I had always worn them, but she had her own way. I saw she was getting a stoop in her back, and last fall I told her she must come out in corset. She did, but she was sure she never could bend this way nor that” (drifting backward and forward). “But she did. One day when the corsets burst she insisted on stopping practice to take them off. I said ‘Go ahead.’ When she came back she found she couldn’t get along without them, and now she’s converted to corsets. I read everything I see in the papers about dress reform and the evils of corsets, but it is only necessary to see what acrobatic feats women performers do in corsets to see the holes in anti-corset arguments. There’s Mary Wentworth. Ask her.”

Miss Wentworth came over from her dressing trunk.

“I’m dressed now for a contortion act and haven’t any corsets on. I don’t know any contortionist of first rank who does wear them. But in everything else I do I wouldn’t think of going without them. Yes, I practice in them, as well as perform. I always wear them in trapeze acts.”

Miss Wentworth is one of the all-around performers, who is considered to have a long career ahead of her, and she expects to wear corsets to the end of her days.

miss lonny contortionist elastic lady acrobat 1900

Miss Lonny, “Elastic Lady Acrobat” or contortionist, c. 1900-1909 http://cdm15847.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15847coll3/id/78662/rec/5

Just then along came a little woman in pink, simply one bunch of exquisite muscle from neck to heels. “Come here, Miss Julietta. You always wear corsets, don’t you?” called Miss Wentworth.

“I never go without them. But what’s all this about?”

“Why, you know there are folks who are trying to get women to stop wearing corsets, because it injures their health,” explained Miss Wentworth.

“Injures the health? Look at me. How could I do my tricks if I wasn’t healthy? I’ve been training since I was 3 years old, and have worn corsets ever since I can remember. Do I look as if they hurt me? See that,” and Miss Julietta threw up a muscle on her arms like rock, and took a couple of deep breaths that were like filling a balloon. “Why, I can do anything in corsets,” and the muscular little woman hurried to her corner to change her dress, and in a few moments was saying good-day.

circus performers in corsets dance on the slack rope

Miss Julietta is a gymnast, an acrobat and about everything else except a contortionist. She does a wonderful high-rope act now, where she jumps up and down on the rope, changes her costume, and keeps the audience breathless, wondering why she doesn’t shake herself to pieces.

circus performers weara corsets swinging from the rings

Two aerial performers are Josie Ashton and Miss Potter. One works with a partner on a double flying trapeze, and Miss Ashton in pendulating rings. Both are devotees of corsets. It has become the fad now among dancers on the stage to scorn corsets. Miss Girdelles performs some eccentric dancing feats and high kicking, which has been considered feasible only sans corsets. Grotesque acrobatic tricks are combined with the dancing. “All in corsets,” she says, “and couldn’t be done without them.”

Josie Ashton circus bareback rider

Miss Josie Ashton was also an equestrienne.

At this point a little woman in street clothes came in. An English sailor hat was perched on an elaborate coiffure, and as she appeared Miss Jeal called out:

“How do you do, Miss Pink Cheeks? Do you wear corsets?”

“Miss Pink Cheeks,” who is one of the flying Dillons, looked surprised at such a question, and dropped into her dressing chair.

“Do you wear corsets in your act?”

“No, I don’t.”

The girls looked surprised as she went on. “I never have worn them while performing.”

“Why, you look just as if you did when you walk into the ring.”

“I know it; that is because every muscle in my body has been developed, and the body has got its natural shape.”

Miss Dillon has an idea that will delight women who are tired of having the Venus de Milo and the Medici lady’s waist held up to them as models. When asked to account for the discrepancy between her idea of the shape of a woman’s waist and that the Venus exploits, she said:

“Why, Venus didn’t take any exercise. If she had used her muscles as she ought, she would have lost that lumpy look about her waist, worked off some extra flesh and had a respectable shape instead of looking like a dowdy.”

flying dillons circus

Miss Dillon at one time was part of “The Flying Dillons.” trapeze act.

Miss Dillon’s act is exceedingly daring. She works on a high trapeze, and after exploits that make timid women wish she wouldn’t do so any more she takes a dive from the top into a net below.

Mme. Catroni, who had been listening to her side partner, Miss Dillon, said: “I didn’t take to wearing corsets until I was 20 years old, but I think you’ll find that most women performers, unless they are contortionists, wear corsets into the ring. There may be a little fondness for making a good appearance, and nobody would want to see a woman without them unless she was very slim and compactly built. I never heard of a woman’s being injured by a broken corset steel. I got my head smashed and a rib broken in a four-horse tandem hurdle race a year ago, but the corset steels didn’t even scratch me. Even the lady clown wears corsets, and she can turn somersaults, backward flips and handsprings. She doubles herself up and rolls around the ring, and all those things that dress reformers would say were impossible.”

the meers sisters circus

The Meers Sisters performed an equestrienne act.

The Meers Sisters, who perform four times within eight hours what would seem to be most exhausting bareback acts, and at the end of each number still are able to go into the dressing room smiling and joking, looked scornful and the mere idea of not wearing corsets.

“What a silly notion,” one said.

“We never could do without them,” exclaimed another. “Corsets give the back support. Sometimes a steel smashes, but that never stops us.”

“Which all goes to bear out the speech of Dr. Mary Green of Detroit sprung on the dress-reform session of the National Woman’s Council in Washington when she declared that corsets, when properly worn, were not injurious in any way, and that she had even prescribed them. If Dr. Green wants any arguments, get the records of these champion women performers, who all wear corsets.

Boston [MA] Herald 28 April 1895: p. 29

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have seen a debate about the use and utility of corsets before–by ladies of the stage.  It continues to-day among historical re-enactors and tight-lacing enthusiasts, some of whom are known as “waist-trainers.” The dress-reformers of the age were, of course, ever-ready with statistics of consumption caused by corsetry and often advocated less stringent “waists” or “bodices.”

Circus performers often used different names in the course of their careers so accurate biographical data is sometimes hard to find.  Linda Jeal was known as a “hurricane rider” and “The Queen of the Flaming Zone” for her fiery equestrienne act.   Mme. Girdelle was one of The Three Girdelles, described as “grotesques.”  Mme. “Catroni” was Mattie Robinson Castroni, a “mounted broadsword fencer” who fenced on horseback in velvet Renaissance costumes and armour with her husband, Prof. G.M. Castroni. Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was not able to find an image of this diverting act.

 

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 Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

ali baba headline

GIRLS MAKE THE DRAGON

Startling Stage Realism Ingeniously Made of Harmless Material.

[Boston Herald]

There are, indeed, tricks in all trades, and, as theatrical business has become more or less of a trade, it follows that it has its tricks. “In “Ali Babi,” the big spectacle presented by the American Extravaganza Company at the Globe Theater, there appears at a given hour something which makes a man who has been drinking feel queer, while the prohibition contingent look at it with horror and then with delight. This is the snake, or as it is billed, the dragon, and it is forty feet long. It is a very ingenious affair, and was made in Paris by M. Ganet, the master of properties of the Chatelet Theater.

The body of the reptile is nothing more nor less than twenty young women who travel on all fours, and who, at the right moment and a given signal, jump up and reveal themselves as diabolical sprites. They are clad in gray tights and green bodices, and on their heads are little horned skull caps. The article of attire that gives to each the appearance of apportion of the serpent’s body, and which, when the twenty girls creep along in follow-the-leader fashion, makes a wriggling, creeping snake of monstrous size, is a satin-lined cloak of thin canvas, which is roughly painted and mottled in green, yellow and white to represent the scales of a reptile’s hide.

The awe-inspiring, bird-like head, with rolling, ghastly eyeballs and crocodile jaws, serrated with rows of cruel, sharp teeth, is said to be the most ingenious part of the affair. It is made of papier mache and wicker work, light enough for a boy to carry, and, with devices inside to move the jaws and eyes.

The eyes are swung on a pivot and worked by means of a spiral spring. The huge jaws are hinged, and a stout lever inside, with the aid of a little muscle, makes them snap and yawn ferociously. Each nostril is shaped like the crater of a volcano, and the aperture from which the molten lava would come is replaced by a little alcohol lamp, the faint, blue flame of which cannot be seen from beyond the footlights. Over each of these lamps the fan-shaped mouth of a long tube comes. About six inches from the lamp and connected with the tube is a receptacle for lycopodium. When the boy who manipulates the apparatus concludes that it is proper for the dragon to make an imposing display of its ferocity, he blows through the tube, the powdered club-moss seed is scattered over the alcohol flame and makes a ghastly bluish and altogether startling flash.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1893: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The dragon was a high-light of the Ali Baba entertainment and was invariably mentioned in reviews and advertisements.

“The Dance Diabolique,” executed by twenty secundas, who are metamorphosed from a monster fire-breathing dragon…. The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 1 January 1893: p. 6

And

The ballets of “Ali Baba” are three in number, and are novel in both movement and costuming. They are a Nautch dance in the first act, a demon dance in the second act, in which a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon is instantaneously transformed into a score or more of dancing sprites… The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 23 April 1893: p. 10

 Victorian stage designers were most ingenious, creating on-stage sand-storms and thunderous tempests. Costume designers peopled the stage with fanciful animals and made fairies fly.  A forty-foot dragon would have been a mere bagatelle.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of the ensemble en dragon, but she was able to locate an illustration of one of the costumed young ladies.

ali baba dragon chorus girl costume

A thumbnail sketch of the costume of one of the chorus who made up the body of the dragon.

The dragon dance sounds like an uncomfortable occupation, even for the young and lithe. Mrs Daffodil suggests that a more appropriate name for the entertainment would have been “Creeping Beauty.”

 

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 Four Red Devils: 1890

When I first came to the city and went into Mr. Maltby’s law office as a clerk I had seen nothing and knew nothing but that which could be seen and heard in one of the very smallest of all country villages. I had read enormously, for my parents would rather have been without bread than without books and magazines, and were besides very comfortably well off, but of the festivities of great cities, the balls, operas, concerts and receptions, I knew nothing by experience, and of course I fancied them much more delightful than they really were. What was my joy, then, when Mr. Maltby, coming into the office one day, placed a handsome envelope before me!

“My girls and boys are going to give a masquerade party,” he said, “and they want me to ask you. They expect to have a jolly time. You’ll rig up in something you know—you can get it at a costumer’s—and wear a mask until supper time. You’ll come?”

“Thank you! I shall be delighted,” I said, and all day long visions of happiness danced through my head, and I could hardly wait for the closing of the office, so anxious was I to secure my costume. For I had had brief notice; the ball was to be that very night, and I fancy it was only a good natured afterthought of Mr. Maltby to ask “young Tom,” as he always called me, having known my father intimately as “Tom” at school.

The envelope was addressed to “Mr. Thomas Parsons,” in correct form of course, and rather proud I was of it. Later on I inclosed it in an envelope to my mother, that she might see into what elegant society her son had fallen, dropping it into a lamp post box on my way to the costumer’s.

I had seen one, I remembered—a room on the second floor over a hairdresser’s shop. The word “costumer” was painted on the long, narrow sign under the windows, and between them was a fanciful figure in ballet costume holding a little lace mask before her face—Columbine of the pantomimes perhaps.

I discovered the house again after some little losing of myself in cross streets, and, climbing the steps, entered a square room, where a man was stitching on a sewing machine and four girls were working away on masses of gauze and silk as though they had no intention of stopping that night.

A fat lady, who seemed to be the owner of the place, advanced to meet me, and listened to me with a solemn countenance. “A masquerade ball,” said she. “At an elegant house? Oh, to be sure. You must get yourself up well for that, a young gentleman like you. I wouldn’t advise you to hire a domino, I wouldn’t It’s wery common, is a domino. A King Charles would be elegant, but we haven’t one to-night. There is a Harry VIII, but, bless you, it’s too big—far too big.”

“There’s the red devil, ma’am,” said the man at the machine.

“There is, and a handsome devil, too, if I say it that designed it—a handsome devil. A club of four gents ordered them, but only three came for them. They said the other one was obliged to leave the city, and the fourth is on my hands. You can look at it. Looking costs nothing, and it’s a very handsome devil indeed. Get it out, Mat, get it out, and let the young gent look at it”

A red cloth costume, with a cloth tail, horns and mask was produced. On its bosom was embroidered an ace of spades. A black cloak belonged to it, and was fastened ever the breast with a cord. It struck me favorably. “Cost price you shall have it at, to get your custom,” said the lady, “and cheaper than hiring it, for you’ll be asked to a great many masquerades, no doubt, and what could be more elegant?”

She seemed to know all about it I knew nothing. I paid her what I presume was a fine price for the red devil and carried it away with me. Shortly I attired myself in the costume and sent for a cab. I was an object of interest in the small boarding house where I dwelt and was admired and wondered at in the front parlor to my heart’s content.

“You’ve got stylish friends!” said young Spruce, who was in a dry goods store, “if you know the Maltbys. I should go in for one of the girls if I were you. They’re pretty and will have lots of money. I wish I had the chance you have.”

All this was flattering but time was flying and the cab at the door. I entered it, and soon found myself in the Maltby parlors.

Mr. Maltby and wife were receiving everybody.

“How do you do, Mephistopheles?” Mr. Maltby said. “You’ll find some more of the family in there. Ha! ha! hat I’ll lay a wager you are Captain Jones.”

Evidently he did not know me for young Tom Parsons.

I strutted in in as military a fashion as possible, and made my way through the crowd, admiring the kings and queens, contadinas and court ladies, Martha Washingtons and Spanish senoras, until at last I espied a figure which I at first fancied must be my own reflection in a looking glass. It was another red devil, in no particular different from myself, except that an ace of clubs was embroidered upon his bosom where the spade appeared on mine. As he came near enough for me to notice this alight difference the demon paused.

“How did you get here?” he said, with an oath that I had always been taught to consider as vulgar as it was profane. “I thought it was all up with you.” He evidently took me for a friend. I knew enough of masquerade halls from a literary point of view to feel that it was my duty to carry on the mystification.

“Ask no questions,” I said, solemnly. He nodded and walked away. Shortly two other demons approached, exactly like myself again, and like the other friend also, save that one had a heart, the other a diamond embroidered on his bosom.

“It’s Dick, by heaven!” said he of the heart. “How did you do it?”

I laughed sardonically. This was going to a masquerade ball indeed.

“We’d better separate just now,” said the demon of the diamond, “and dance with some of the girls. There’s the music.”

I had taken lessons is dancing in my boyhood, and when the master of ceremonies, a tall gentleman, attired as Don Quixote, approached me and asked me with whom I would dance, I indicated a pretty peasant girl in white sleeves and a laced bodice, and being led up to her and introduced as a great unknown, asked for her hand in the next lancers, as I had been taught to do it at Miss Pirrot’s academy. I had no idea that the little peasant was one of the Misses Maltby but I certainly had chosen the nicest dancer and the liveliest talker possible. She put me down for three dances more, and promised to go to supper with me.

“But suppose another demon comes to me? How shall I know you from your brother?” she asked. “Behold the ace of spades!” said I. “The others are diamonds, clubs and hearts.”

“I’ll remember,” she answered.

Then I resigned her to a grand Turk, who walked away with her, and I danced with a stately person, all black lace and gold stars, with a little golden crescent on her head, who told me she was Night.

So the evening wore away until it was nearly 11 o’clock, and a smell of coffee began to fill the house.

I was about to cross the room to speak to my peasant girl, when a hand touched my arm.

“Don’t engage yourself to take any girl down to supper,” said a voice in my ear. I turned: it was the devil with the heart on his bosom who had addressed me.

“You want her yourself, do you?” I asked.

A little further on the demon with a club touched me.

“This way,” he said. ‘I’ve got a word for you. The trick must be done at supper time. If a girl gets her hooks on you it’s all up. Keep out of the way.”

“The tricks of a masquerade,” I thought. I turned away to face the demon with the diamond.

“There is no one in the library,” he said. “Get there somehow without being noticed we must have a talk. Don’t be seen following me.”

No doubt some joke was afoot. I bowed to my peasant girl and went to the library, after a pause or two on the way in order to distract attention. The other three demons were already there. One of them—the one with the diamond on his bosom—produced several keys.

“Mag is a jewel,” he said. “They’ve all been tried; everything is worth scooping. Gas turned off in the side street opposite the church. The bath room window opens on it, Bill and Dick down there to catch the sealskins, shawls and such. When they begin to march in to supper, pitch in.” He gave us each a key, and in order to examine the numbers on them, removed his mask for a moment, revealing a villainous countenance—the face one would expect of a professional thief, and this I knew he must be.

The four demons had bought their costumes for the purpose of entering the house at a time when it would be easy to rob it. The servant, “Mag,” was a confederate, and had provided them with cards of admission, and had tried the keys at odd times.

“How the devil you got here, I can’t think,” the leader of the band said to me as he replaced the-mask. “I saw you nabbed with my own eyes. ‘Good for six months,’ says I. Counted you out of this game.”

I gave a queer laugh under my mask. “I say,” I whispered, gruffly. “I’ve got to get rid of that girl or she’ll be hunting me up to go to supper.”

It was the most unlikely thing for a young lady to do but these men did not know that. They only bade me “make haste about it.”

“You’re the third floor,’ said the ace of clubs.

“Ay, ay,” said I.

Away I went, but not to the side of my peasant girl. It was Mr. Maltby whom I sought. In his ear I whispered.

“I am Tom Parsons. Don’t think I’m joking. Thieves are in the house. Send for the police. The girl Maggie is a confederate.”

Mr. Maltby stepped into the hall and touched a call that was placed there. I was still at his elbow. “The signal for the operations is to be the march to supper,” I said.

Mr. Maltby turned to the musicians. “Another set of lancers,” he said. “The cook is behindhand.”

The lancers were played. Meanwhile I caught the faithless Maggie on the kitchen stairs and flirted with her, showing her my keys by stealth.

“There’s a watch of cook’s in the mansard room,” the girl whispered. “A good gold one, and a ring or two on the cushion, if they are worth looking after.”

“You are worth looking after, anyhow,” I said, taking off my mask, for I saw the officers of justice enter the door “and I’ll try to do it” The girl smothered a shriek. There was a sound of scuffling in the library, and three red devils walked out of the house, each attended by a member of the police. A little later another called for Maggie. It was all very quietly done; only the servants guessed what was going on.

I went down to supper with my little peasant girl, who unmasked the loveliest face possible, and who was no other than the youngest Miss Maltby, whose name was Theresa, and after the other guests were gone the family made me a hero.

My story was pronounced a wonderful one, and assuredly I had been the means of saving Mr. Maltby from great loss and mortification. From that day I was an intimate friend of the family, and Theresa is now my wife. The red devil costume still hangs in a wardrobe of my room, and I occasionally put it on to amuse the children, though I have, it so happens, never attended another masquerade ball —Mary Kyle Dallas in Fireside Companion.

Aberdeen [SD] Daily News 25 February 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Clothes do make the man, as young Tom found to his profit. Mephistopheles was considered a dashing choice of costume. In Right Ho, Jeeves! Mr P.G. Wodehouse wrote amusingly about Jeeves recommending that devilish character to the shrinking newt-fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle, who wishes to attend a fancy-dress ball in order to impress Madeline Bassett.

Bertie Wooster narrates:

The spectacle before me was enough to nonplus anyone. I mean to say, this Fink-Nottle, as I remembered him, was the sort of shy, shrinking goop who might have been expected to shake like an aspen if invited to so much as a social Saturday afternoon at the vicarage. And yet here he was, if one could credit one’s senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously testing experience for the toughest.

And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you–not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles–this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard…

Bertie asks what Jeeves has against Pierrots:

“I don’t think he objects to Pierrots as Pierrots. But in my case he thought a Pierrot wouldn’t be adequate.”

“I don’t follow that.”

“He said that the costume of Pierrot, while pleasing to the eye, lacked the authority of the Mephistopheles costume.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Well, it’s a matter of psychology, he said…. Yes. Jeeves  is a great believer in the moral effect of clothes. He thinks I might be emboldened in a striking costume like this. He said a Pirate Chief would be just as good. In fact, a Pirate Chief was his first suggestion, but I objected to the boots.”

Sadly, far from emboldening him, Gussie’s Mephistopheles costume proves an unmitigated disaster. But one is pleased to find that the demon suit allowed young Tom to press his suit with Theresa.

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.

 

Bird-cages and Court Toadies: Some Triumphs of Fancy Dress: 1896

Depicting “The Scotch Mail” and “Covent Garden.”

Some Triumphs of Fancy Dress,

J. Malcom Fraser

With the exception of those held during the carnival at Nice, the balls which annually take place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, are the most brilliant pageants of their kind in the world. The fact that Europe’s greatest masters in the art of designing vie with each other in their endeavour to obtain the highest pitch of originality and perfection, is a guarantee of the inventive genius that is brought to bear upon those lighthearted gatherings. In short, it is there that the typical ingenuity of Bohemianism is shown to its greatest advantage.

It is interesting to note that a large quantity of the best costumes that are worn either at the Veglione or the Redoute at Nice are supplied by English makers, and worn by the British and American visitors. As an instance in case I will take that of Miss Loie Fuller, who electrified the popular French watering-place on the Mediterranean in her guise of “Mother Goose.” So struck were the Nicois with the quaintness of the headdress—which, by the way, consisted of a beautifully modelled goose, nestling upon a bunch of crimson velvet—that they immediately conceived the idea of reproducing the coveted design as a gigantic centre-piece for their procession. Now, this costume—as, indeed, are all those which are here described—was designed and carried out by Mr. Clarkson, of theatrical fame.

That our balls are not totally devoid of wit and humour may be seen by the hundreds of living jokes which are invariably prominent when popular feeling is directed towards some political act. I have no doubt that there will be at least one dress at the coming gathering entitled the ‘ Maskrugeraiders,” one half of which will represent the celebrated Dr. Jameson dressed in a roughrider’s costume, while the other half will be the same man in convict’s clothes.

Then, again, the costume on which is pinned a placard informing the public that “Tis years since last we met,” and consisting of a gentleman dressed both as a prisoner and a judge, is not without some humour.

The subject of the illustration on the right of the title is distinctly appropriate. In fact, it is named “Covent Garden.” The costume is a veritable walking allegory, and is so designed as to give the onlooker an idea of the various fruits and vegetables that are sold in the well-known market. It was at first suggested that real fruit should be used to decorate the dress, but a little thought showed the inadvisability of this.

The groundwork of the gown consisted of green and yellow silk, covered and draped with papier mache produce of the most expensive description. A large basket filled to overflowing with grapes and strawberries, surmounted by an enticing pine, was symbolised in the young lady’s hat, while the flora of London was represented by a panier of lilies and wild flowers. The green stockings and shoes harmonised with the general colour of the fruits. Although this magnificent dress cost the wearer £30, she was amply repaid for her trouble and expense by carrying off the first prize of a grand piano.

An extraordinary mixture is the costume, which is embodied in the title, called “The Scotch Mail.” This dress gives us an example of the happy-go-lucky—with great emphasis on the lucky —way in which the members of the “profession” are wont to dress themselves for the fray.

About ten minutes to twelve on the night of one of the balls, a young actor rushed into Mr. Clarkson’s, saying that he particularly wished to be present at the Opera House that night, at the same time giving impossible hints as to how he should be dressed.

Nothing suited him, however, and he was about to retire in despair when he happened to catch sight of a bundle of mail-armour that had been returned from Osborne that afternoon. Donning this, he found to his surprise that it was a perfect fit, and when, in an off-hand manner, he picked up an old property postman’s hat, the idea suddenly occurred to the costumier to wrap a plaid and kilt round him with a card sewn on his dress saying that he was—the Scotch Mail.

No sooner thought of than done, and, as a sort of finishing touch, he was supplied with a worn-ou’ rag-bag and a sporran. Nobody was more surprised than himself when, after the ballot had been made, he found himself the happy possessor of the first Ralli car ever presented as a prize, valued at fifty guineas.

Worth but Worthless fancy dress

Some time ago a dress by Worth, costing eighty guineas, was offered for the best lady’s gown. With the habitual smartness of our English designers to seize every opportunity in the shape of a hint, a costume was soon forthcoming, entitled “Worth but Worthless.” This ingenious design was an exact counterpart of the original prize, but instead of being made of silk and cloth it was totally constructed of that crinkled paper which at the time was greatly in favour for the making of lampshades.

The conception of this idea led to some amusing difficulties on the evening of the ball. The gentleman for whom this dress was made was somewhat small and boyish in appearance, which fact lent itself to his better personification of a dame of high fashion. After some little struggle on the part of the attendants to make the wearer’s waist as small as possible, the dress was fitted on piecemeal, great care being exercised that no tear or rent should be made.

When all these difficulties had been overcome, the question resolved itself into how the would-be dancer could be safely taken to the hall. To be crushed into a hansom and there to sit down meant certain and irreparable destruction to the dress that had cost so much anxiety and forethought. There was only one thing to be done, and that was to throw a shawl lightly over the young man’s shoulders and allow him to walk to the hall, leaning on a friend’s arm, which he did.

That he arrived safely is shown by the fact that he obtained the first prize as recompense for the initial cost of two guineas for the making and designing of the dress and for the exceeding originality of the whole costume.

When at the commencement of last year a certain Earl was raised to the rank of Duke, the ill-favour with which his elevation was regarded was made known by the individual who took upon himself the dress of a “Court Toady.”

Clothed in a green material made of woven wool, with two incandescent lights in place of eyes, he resembled an enormous toad. As may be seen from original drawing, a the reproduction of the blue sash — the insignia of a duke — was passed over his right shoulder and partially covered the Royal Arms, which had been worked upon his back, while in his right hand he held a dispatch box and in his left a bulrush. On entering the ball – room the subtle sarcasm of the whole costume was at once perceived, and the judges thought fit to award a bicycle to the happy wearer.

 

To design a dress that is out of the common, to design one that can be worn with comfort, to combine drollery with beauty, and yet not charge an exorbitant price, is indeed a thing that is rarely done. Yet the example above will show that it has and can be accomplished.

Miss Marie Montrose certainly aided art in appearing beautiful when she wore the dress entitled “Skylights and Nightlights.” This costume was made entirely of blue satin, upon which were painted scenes of nocturnal revelry enacted by various members of the cat tribe in conjunction with mysterious night-birds. The new moon, which was slightly clouded, showed itself upon her bodice, while stars were shining in every position—possible and otherwise. A nightlight rested on her right shoulder, above which the sun seemed to be rising with great reluctance from a mass of loosened hair. A miniature lamp-post was held in the left hand, and was lighted with a small though brilliant electric light—thus completing the exceedingly striking costume that gained a silver coffee set. And yet I question whether the materials used in the construction of this dress cost more than a five-pound note.

Here is an illustration of how a really good idea may spring from an apparently trivial source. One day, during the hard winter of ’94, Mr. Clarkson was walking along the embankment looking at the frozen river. Noticing an indistinct object half buried in a floe of ice his curiosity was aroused, and upon closer inspection he was disgusted to find that the “object” proved to be nothing more than an empty whisky bottle. Picking it up, however, he carried it home with him.

Two days afterwards a decidedly humorous costume was ready for the ball. In point of fact it was the head-dress rather than the costume that was humorous. This consisted of a head impersonating Father Thames, on the crown of which was posed a large frog in the midst of weeds and rushes, holding in one of its fore-feet a reed.

The eyes of this gruesome reptile were illuminated by small lamps. When the wearer of the head-piece turned, the original whisky-bottle came into view, thus explaining the name of the costume, “The Spirit of the Thames.” An appropriate prize was award to this in the shape of a double-sculling boat.

The bird-cage is surely a quaint and ingenious costume, made of pale pink silk, the skirt of which was painted to resemble a cage in which parrots were perched in various positions. Round the upper part of the sleeves were two real cages, in which a couple of stuffed birds were placed; while another parrot, with wings outstretched, covered the front of the bodice. Upon the young lady’s head a live bullfinch was allowed to flutter in its golden house.

The All-Bet Fancy Dress

The raid that was made some time ago upon the Albert Club supplied costumiers with plenty of fresh ideas. One of the best— if not the best—was the one entitled “The All-bet,” which was typified by the individual whose front view was got up to represent a sporting man of the highest fashion, while judicious packages were hung here and there beneath a club notice-board, on which the device “Raid on the Albert Club” informed the uninitiated of the event which the costume was supposed to represent.

The ink-pot and pen on the left shoulder gave evidence of the judicial verdict in the same way as the Indian club showed the Albert’s athletic propensities. Expressive sentiments were scattered here and there, pinned loosely to the costume, such as ” Out on bail,” ” Police evidence,” ” Judge’s decision,” and “The All-bet.”

Very different is the subject of my next illustration. “Peace with Honour” is certainly an appropriate name for the still more appropriate dress that was worn at the Primrose Day ball. The head and shoulders of Lord Beaconsfield were painted upon a yellow skirt, which was tastefully trimmed with primroses. The hat consisted of one mass of the symbolic flowers, as also did the bodice. The primrose-trellised staff, which was grasped in the left hand, completed a costume that cost twenty-five pounds, and succeeded in carrying off a silver coffee set.

In passing, I may mention that the art of designing in England is by no means an unprofitable one; indeed, designers of theatrical and fancy costumes in this country are absolutely the best paid in the world. The sources from which they draw their ideas are practically inexhaustible, as it would certainly take some little time to drain the treasures of the British Museum—to say nothing of the great law cases and Parliamentary disputes that crop up from time to time. In short, nearly every subject lends itself to the cunning of the costumier.

Nor is this all. Sarah Bernhardt.who in herself is a host of ideas, often proves a regular gold mine to designers and perruquiers, though she is extremely hard to please, and will often require ten or a dozen different designs before she is satisfied. Once suited, however, she will think nothing of paying from eighty to one hundred guineas for the design alone.

 

The costume of a Watteau Shepherdess, that was worn by Mrs. Langtry, needs no explanation, for, although it was simple in the extreme, it was undoubtedly worth the first prize that was awarded it.

A noteworthy incident happened in connection with this dress, however. Mrs. Langtry went into the costumier’s some four or five hours before the ball, and, like the owner of the Scotch Mail, demanded a costume for the dance. A rose silk skirt was immediately obtained on which were sewn a number of golden flowers and leaves. The bodice was hastily put together, and, to successfully finish the effect, it was no difficult matter to obtain a straw hat and a walking stick.

There is interest, moreover, in the fact that the artist who designed the plate has sketched numerous asides for the special edification of the practical costumier. The one shown on the left hand bottom corner of the Watteau shepherdess is a hood that might have been made and worn as an alternative to the hat.

The latter is certainly the prettier of the two, and so Mrs. Langtry evidently thought, for she wore it on two out of the three occasions on which the dress was donned.

During the talk about international peace at the end of December, 1895, a peculiarly appropriate dress was worn by one of our most popular young actresses, called “United Europe.” The young lady’s hat consisted of black and white satin, trimmed with red, white, and yellow feathers, while the gown itself was of black satin embroidered with gold.

On an overskirt of various colours were worked the emblems of the different countries of the Continent. The red, yellow, and black puff sleeves were shaded by large revers of heavily embroidered satin; and, in order to heighten the effect of this most artistic costume, the British standard was borne in the left hand. The white Louis XVI. wig completed what was perhaps the prettiest fancy dress that has ever been worn since the first days of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Pearson’s Magazine, Vol. 2, 1896: p. 655

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: So many ephemeral, topical references that Mrs Daffodil scarcely knows where to start!  “Maskrugeraiders” refers to the disastrous Jameson’s raid in South Africa and Sir Leander Starr Jameson’s subsequent arrest. Mr Clarkson is William Clarkson, noted theatrical costumer, wig-maker, and rogue, of whom we shall hear more of in the days ahead. The Albert Club, a well-known betting centre in London was raided in 1894 by the police for offences under the Betting Act. 109 persons were arrested.

Primrose Day is the anniversary of the death of British statesman and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, whose favourite flower was the primrose. “Peace with Honour,” was what Beaconsfield secured when war with Russia seemed a certainty in 1877. The phrase was later repeated by the Kaiser and we all know how well that ended.  Mrs Langtry was, of course, the Jersey Lily, actress and close personal friend of the Prince of Wales. Mrs Daffodil has not yet found out the identity of the “court toady.”

It is always amusing to hear about those busy and important people who rush into Mr Clarkson’s at the eleventh hour and expect not only accommodation, but custom work, when all that are left are Pierrot costumes. “Self-absorbed” is the kindest phrase that comes to mind.

For further, fancy-dress inspiration, Mrs Daffodil recommends a perusal of her “Fancy Dress” category, where readers may read of such unusual costumes as “the mutilated sportsman,” “the knitting bag,” and the “Princess Royal’s wedding fan.”

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.

 

Hallowe’en Supper Frocks: 1894

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

PRETTY FANCIFUL GOWNS SUITABLE FOR THE FESTIVAL

The Picturesque Frocks a Brunette, Chatain and Blonde Will Wear to a Hallowmass Party.

Halloween, perhaps, more than any other fete, supplies possibilities for picturesque and effective gowns, and the end-of-the-century girl is not the one to let them slip by.

A very fashionable wardrobe now owns, along with other dainty evening toilets, a Halloween supper frock, which may be made in any mode, but which, to be just the thing, should suggest, in some way, night itself. Tints vague and intangible, hinting of darkness or the white cool moon, are preferred over glaring dark colors.

As to ornament, there may be some curious jeweled night fly fastened somewhere, perhaps spangled in the hair; and if flowers are used, they too, must propitiate the powers of night in wanes and thick perfume.

The dread witches, who on All Halloween have the threads of fate in their keeping, are said to be difficult ladies to please, but somehow one hopes they will smile on the wearers of the three charming gowns here shown, and provide them suitable husbands. The originals of these dainty costumes, which were suggested by three famous French pictures, were all made by a nimble-fingered New York girl for a Halloween supper. They are to be worn by herself and two sisters, three distinct types; and along with their exceeding effectiveness, they have the merit of having involved comparatively little expense, being all fashioned from materials at hand, some lengths of a marvelous Chinese drapery, a few yards of thick liberty satin bought in better days, and a thin, scant, old tambour muslin slip, relic of a long dead great-mamma and tea cup times.

FOR A BRUNETTE

The first dress shown was for the dark, handsome elder sister of the little Cinderella dressmaker—the type that goes with stiffness and stateliness and rustling textures. It was of the liberty satin in a dim luminous tint, too blue for gray and too gray for blue, and that will show off the wearer’s rich skin to perfection. The girdle drapery of graduating ribbon lengths and bows was of a faint dead sea rose color. This subtle and delightful tint, together with black, repeats itself in the simple but decorative embroidery at the bottom of the wide skirt. The tiny chemise gamp is of white muslin, and the short balloon sleeves are stiffened with tarlatan. To be worn with the dress, as well as the next one, both of which were entirely uncrinolined, were petticoats of hair cloth, with tucks of large round organ pipe plaits, to hold the skirt out in the present approved fashion.

FOR CHATAIN [Brown Hair] COLORING.

The second gown, though perhaps not quite so enchanting as the first, was more suggestive of the witcheries of Halloween. It was of the Chinese silk drapery, in the copper red, and with a fantastic patterning of black bats. The girdle and low neck decoration are of black velvet, and square jet buckles fasten the latter down at intervals.

The very daintiest feature of this paniered gown, however, which in style recalls somewhat little beflowered Dolly Varden, is the undersleeves, made to show off a rounded young arm and drive envy to the soul of womankind. For every woman who is a real woman has a weakness for lace, and these adorable undersleeves were made of the charming old net lace embroidery in back stitch of the long ago.

It came, like the tambour muslin, from grandmamma’s garret, where, when Halloween is over, it is to be hoped, it will be carefully put back.

A GOWN FOR A BLONDE.

The third and last dress, a tiny hint of the Directoire period, is the tambour muslin slip itself, sinfully modernized. Once white, it is now evenly mellowed to a soft caressing yellow, which is further accented by a puffing of pure white chiffon about the neck and skirt bottom. The sleeves are of a rich heavy brocade in black and white, and the belt and crescent ornaments are of silver.

This costume is to be worn to the supper by the little dressmaker herself, and its scant picture lines are sure to become her slim, shortwaisted young figure.

And may the ghost of sweet dead grandmamma not come back to reproach her for desecration.

Nina Fitch.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 28 October 1894: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Desecration, indeed….  One frequently sees examples of ancient garments re-made into fancy dress or some “amusing” pastiche; a practice which makes Mrs Daffodil’s blood alternately boil and run cold (something that takes rather a bit of doing, given her line of work.) We can only fervently hope that the antique lace and tambour muslin were, indeed, “put back” or, if not, that Grandmamma haunted the offender mercilessly.

While questioning the appalling statement that only “real women” have a “weakness” for lace, Mrs Daffodil will also adjudge the addition of antique lace to an otherwise standard Bat Queen or Empress of the Night fancy-dress costume to be utterly unnecessary.

“Night” was a popular figure in fancy dress. We see an interpretation of that character at the head of this post. An illustration and description of another version follows. Whimsical though the idea is in principal, in real life, wearing a stuffed owl must be a trifle cumbersome:

By way of preparation for it we present for our readers’ inspection a costume representing Night.

It is satin, in two shades of purple. The lighter used for lower skirt has beaded surface. The plain falls over in a plaited back and draped front; wide panel ornamented with stars, butterflies [moths?] and a very demure owl; smoke-colored vail, dotted with stars, covers the crown of hat, held by a crescent and owl; this draping over the right arm and breast, is thrown over the left shoulder and arm. Willkes-Barre [PA] Evening News 6 January 1886: p. 3

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.

 

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.