Category Archives: Fancy Dress

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.

With the Devil in the Chair, All Goes Swimmingly: A Hallowe’en Party: 1908

gentleman-in-red-devil

A HALLOWE’EN PARTY.

With the Devil in the Chair, All Goes Swimmingly.

A Halloween celebration, at which the Prince of Darkness personally presides, can be made very effective. According to directions given by a writer in “What to Eat,” the invitations should be written in red on black paper, and the guests should be asked to wear masks.

The hostess should be dressed as a witch in black, with picket hat and broom, and Satan wears red, with a red mask. There are also various subsidiary fiends (small brothers and sisters) dressed in black, with rope tails, painted caps and toasting forks at the ends of sticks.

A room can be arranged as Hades, or the basement can be used for the purpose, in which case the furnace door can be thrown open at intervals with great effect. A throne of boxes draped in black is erected in the centre of Hades, and on it Satan sits, with a book of record in his lap. A dictionary serves the purpose excellently.

At the appointed time the hostess swings open the gates of Hades or conducts the guests by a circuitous route to the basement. Two friends rush forward seize a guest and begin to prod him with their forks. Chains clank, groans are heard and the victim is led to the foot of the throne.

Here is where most of the fun comes in, for Satan knows or has been primed with all the interesting facts in the history of each guest. In a hollow voice he reads long lists of sins from the dictionary, and all the time the fiends are “torturing” the victim. As soon as one is sentenced to tooth-ache, malaria, unrequited love or headache, another victim is brought before the throne until all have been disposed of.

At supper all unmask. Satan sits at one end of the table and the witch at the other, and there is a gypsy’s kettle in the centre, which later emits a ghostly light from burning alcohol sprinkled on salt.

Daily People [New York, NY] 17 October 1908: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Long lists of sins from the dictionary” begs the question: what are they? Atrocious misspellings, perhaps? Iniquitously poor grammar? Hardened and unrepentant use of split infinitives? Unless the Devil-host has a prodigious vocabulary of his own, one feels the scope of judgement is somewhat hampered; old-fashioned lexicons do not have all the up-to-date naughty words nor the modern sins.

What does one serve at such a satanic supper? The viands supplied at the Vampire’s Feast would certainly do. Mrs Daffodil also suggests devilled ham sandwiches, pasta a la fra diavolo, and, of course, devil’s-food cake. Angels on Horseback might bring the party to a premature end.

For another Hallowe’en tradition involving the Devil, see “The Jersey City Devil.”

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 Head-Dress Party: 1904-1927

"Snow-Queen" wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/

“Snow-Queen” wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/

A HEAD-DRESS SUPPER PARTY

For a head-dress party ask each guest to dress the hair in some fancy way. The men dress in Washington, Jefferson and other wigs noted in history, while the ladies fix their locks according to noted beauties, queens, and others. Strings of pearls, tiaras, and jewels make a beautiful display. Conventional evening dress is worn in most instances, save where a ruff or frill is added to heighten the effect of the headgear. A prize is offered for the best head-dress. The minuet makes a pretty dance to finish the evening. Novel Suggestions for Social Occasions, Paul Pierce, 1907

Hallowe’en was not the only occasion for a head-dress party.

A FANCY HEAD-DRESS PARTY.

Christmas wouldn’t seem real without parties, would it? One of the jolliest you can possibly give is the Fancy Headdress Party, and if you can persuade mother to help with it, you and your guests are sure to have a wonderful time.

In one corner of each invitation card yon might paint a little cocked hat; this will give your guests some idea of the kind of party it is to be.

On the great day you must have ready lots of sheets of different coloured crepe paper —be sure to get the non-inflammable variety; then there won’t be so much danger of your setting yourselves alight if you venture too near the Christmas tree candles.

You’ll also need several pairs of old blunt-pointed scissors (one pair between two children), a few little jars of paste, and lots and lots of ordinary pins.

When all the guests are assembled, you must pair them off; give every couple a supply of papers, and explain that each child must make a head-dress for his or her partner. Allow about a quarter of an hour, or a little longer, for the competition; when time is up, ring a bell as a sign that everyone must stop work.

All the head-dresses must be kept on during tea—you’ve no idea how jolly everyone will look, wearing some gay and absurd head-dress. It will make a splendid start to the party, and is a very good way of getting shy children to know each other.

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses: Princess, Man’s Hat, Turkish, Automobile Girl, Spanish Girl The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

After tea, comes the judging; and perhaps daddy or uncle will help you with this. There will be one prize for the most original head-dress, and another for the one which best suits its wearer, and finally, a prize to be won by the child who guesses correctly what most of the head-dresses are supposed to represent. Papers and pencils will be needed for this last competition. And now for a few ideas for the headdresses. One of the easiest and most effective would be that of a Rajah. For this, two lengths of coloured paper, say emerald green and red or orange, should be loosely twisted together and wound round the head, with the ends tucked in and secured with pins; a fringed “feather” ornament could be stuck on to the front as a finishing touch. Another good idea would be to make one like an Egyptian lady wears—with woven bands round the head, and great discs of contrasting hued paper to go over the ears. “Jewels” can be cut out of different coloured paper and pasted on with very good effect. A Dutch cap of white paper would look very pretty, while a chef’s cap or a dunce’s cocked hat, might be made by the younger children.

A mediaeval lady’s cone-shaped headdress, with long hanging ends, will be easy to manage; so will big flower hats such as poppies, sun-flowers, dahlias and roses.

In fact, it is surprising how much you can do with coloured paper once you start—and you will probably find that the child who says: “Oh, I’m sure I couldn’t make anything,” will be the one to fashion the best head-dress of all! Just try one of these parties, and see. Auckland Star, 24 December 1927: p. 3

moulin-rouge-fancy-dress

One imagines that this windmill hat–part of a “Moulin Rouge” fancy-dress costume–would be ideal for a head-dress party. http://europeanafashion.eu/record/a/f520eae436196aa36b5e9082511918262ecd5435d2bbb911f7d1dbb3aec6c14e

 HEADDRESS PARTY LONDON’S LATEST

Society Women in Ordinary Ball Costumes, But Wearing Novel Makeup of Hair.

London, Feb. 13. Altogether the feature of the week was the amusing and picturesque headdress party given by Mr. and Lady Fedorovna Stuart, at 18 Portman square, the sine qua non of which was that all the guests had to wear fancy headgear, an exception being made only in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught.

Undoubtedly the most becoming and most effective costume was that worn by the hostess herself. With a beautifully made white muslin dress and a blue sash she wore a high hat of white muslin and lace, trimmed with an edging of lace around the brim. Her hair was beautifully coiffured and powdered with gray.

Mrs. George Cornwallis West caused great amusement when she arrived. She had donned a blond wig like that worn by Marguerite with long plaits, which completely changed her appearance. Her husband was completely disguised under a coal black wig and mustache.

Mrs. George Keppel’s headdress was very novel. It was a wig of the Louis XVI period, made in the palest green blue, with one long curl falling down the neck. In this novel wig was fastened a large blue and silver bat, with electric eyes. Her dress was of white satin, trimmed with white lilies, cherries and lace.

Mrs. John Mendies looked pretty in an enormous white mob cap, trimmed with a great bow of cherry colored ribbons

Mme. Von Andre looked handsome, but one missed her beautiful hair under a fair wig of the period when hair was dressed high with great combs at the back. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 14 February 1904: p. 12

fancy-dress-jester-hood

A Students’ Association had a very successful party, carrying out an idea that is especially good for a lawn party. Each guest had to wear a headdress belonging to some special century, or country, or suggestive of some idea or joke. The headdresses were supposed to be made by the wearers at small cost; prizes were given for the most artistic, the most effective, the most ingenious and the most comical.

The prize for the most artistic headdress went to a high, white medieval cap made of cheesecloth and stiff muslin worn in England in the time of Edward I. The most effective headdress was an enormous white ox-eye daisy made of paper; the most ingenious was a cat’s head that fitted like a mask all over the head, and was made of stiff muslin covered with gray packing paper and painted; the most comical was a caricature of the prevailing fashion of the time, worn by a tall, red-haired young man. The Book of Games and Parties for All Occasions, Theresa Hunt Wolcott, 1920

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Head-dress parties are frequently described as “amusing.” Perhaps she is too severe, but to Mrs Daffodil, they seem tailor-made for those too parsimonious to hire fancy dress for the evening or too indolent to chose a costume from the stock of original eighteenth-century garments kept in the box-room for family amateur theatricals. “A failure of imagination” about sums it up. Still, Mrs Daffodil realises that it is not an ideal world and there are times when an office Hallowe’en party demands, not a full super-hero costume, but merely a funny hat.

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 White-Hair Fad: 1904

Portrait of a young lady, Gustave Jacquet, [1846-1909]

Portrait of a young lady, Gustave Jacquet, [1846-1909]

It was supposed at first that London society’s sudden fondness for white hair was only a revolt against colored wigs and dyes, and that it would result in giving Nature a chance at last, ushering in an era of less paint, powder and enamel and maybe a little less artificiality and deception generally. But what really has happened is a manifestation of feminine human nature queer enough to be worthy of the attention of future historians. No sooner was it known among the elect that white hair had become fashionable than young women whose hair scarcely had begun to turn gray got on the track of a Paris chemist who had discovered the trick of making the hair white artificially, and now that chemist is in a fair way of becoming a millionaire.

It was the genuine attractiveness of the “gray-hair” fashion—the fashion led by the smartest American women in London society—that brought about this “white-hair” fad. With their gray hair artistically dressed the beauty of handsome society women well on in the 40’s was much enhanced. Under the influence of softly powdered hair suggestions of wrinkles or little lines about the eyes faded away, leaving the face smooth and round and soft. Mrs. George Cornwallis West (Lady Randolph Churchill), Mrs Jack Leslie and Mrs Moreton Frewen, well known as the three Jerome sisters, and now greater favorites even than when their mother first brought them over from New York, are all in the swim of the latest fashion. Their hair is beautifully and naturally white. Lady Coleridge, widow of the lord chief justice, is another of the white-haired sisterhood. Though not more than 30, Mrs. Hall Walker also wears her hair white ad looks like one of the beautiful marquises painted by Jacquet. So many others in the ultra-smart set followed the fashion that when it began to be known that hair could be whitened artificially there was a rush for the treatment.

The Infernal Machine for blanching the hair.

The Infernal Machine for blanching the hair.

Not in London, but in Paris, is the fashionable blanching done, and at the cost of $50 a time. Arriving in the French capital, the woman of fashion must go to the salon of the coiffeur-chemist and there spend the greater part of a day. First her tresses are unfastened, well brushed, cut and singed. Then they are washed with egg julep so that no other chemical preparation shall clash with the fumes which come later. The hair is slowly dried by fanning and the client then passes into a small boudoir, dons a long wrap which covers up her gown and takes a seat in a large arm chair. The coiffeur-chemist places on her head a large bag made of india-rubber, which fits closely around the nape of the neck, up over the ears and across the forehead. This bag is fitted with a thermometer, which the coiffeur watches carefully, as it registers the heat of the fumes which enter the bag by means of a long india-rubber pipe from a wonderful apparatus that contains the chemicals. For exactly one hour and a half is the fair client under this treatment, the chemist busy all the time regulating the fumes and testing results. When the bag is at last taken off the hair that was dark and rich with coloring is found to be as white as snow.

But the patient is not yet free. In another room she reclines upon a couch with her hair spread out like a huge fan upon a table at the head of the couch. In this position she is required to drink milk and to rest for two hours, with her maid in constant attendance At the end of that time her hair is dressed and her maid is instructed how to put on the white paste at the roots when coloring again begins to make its appearance in the growing hair. Warnings are given as to the disastrous effect of using heated curling tongs or wavers on the newly blanched hair, and the superiority of soft white tissue curl papers is impressed on her before the client leaves the salon. What the ultimate effect of this hair-blanching may be time alone will prove. For the present it is considered dainty, chic, extremely smart and becoming, and that to the fashionable woman is more than sufficient.

The Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 13 March 1904: p. 36

An Elegant Lady in a Black Hat, Gustave Jacquet. Her hair is probably powdered

An Elegant Lady in a Black Hat, Gustave Jacquet. Her hair is probably powdered

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil believes that we may lay the blame for this extraordinary fad squarely at the feet of the late French Queen, Marie Antoinette. The Gilded Age was enamoured of gilded Louis Quatorze furniture, panellings and paintings looted from French chateaus and installed in Newport villas, as well as rather loose versions of “18th century fashions,” a la Dresden Shepherdess fancy dress. Bals poudre were a popular entertainment where participants powdered their hair to aristocratic whiteness and it seems probable that this influence suggested the white-hair fad.

Truly there is nothing new under the fashionable sun, Mrs Daffodil noted articles last year proclaiming that grey hair is “hot” and discussing a fad among the young for dyeing the hair grey or white. For example, there is an entertainer, “Lady Ga Ga,” (who, Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert, does not appear in Debrett’s) who bleached her dark hair to a “sparkly white blond” and posted step-by-step instructions to her followers who wished to imitate her. 

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.

 

A Lady Washington Tea Party Comes to Grief: 1877

Some Faux-Colonial Costumes, 1911

Some Faux-Colonial Ladies, 1911

A FEMALE CAUCUS

They were going to get up a Lady Washington tea party for the benefit of their society. It was to come off on the night of the 22nd, and on an afternoon a few days before, several ladies met at the house of one of their number to perfect the arrangements. It was determined to give a grand affair—something especially designed to transcend the tea party by a rival organisation last year. To this purpose it became necessary to devote the most careful thought to all the details, and this was done. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more conscientious committee in a hamlet the size of Danbury When all the particulars were arranged and the various stands and minor offices assigned to the ordinary members of the society who were not present— the important question as to who should take the leading character was brought up. With a view to do without the delay and feeling of balloting, the President kindly offered to do Lady Washington herself. She said that she felt it was not a favorable selection, but she was willing to take it, so that there need be no discussion or ill-feeling. If she thought she had not placed a sufficiently modest estimation upon her qualification for the post, she was presently set at rest on that head. Her offer was received with silence.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“I’m willing to do it.”

“Lady Washington never weighed two hundred and fifty pounds,” ominously hinted a thin lady with very light eyes.

“She had fat enough on her to grease a griddle, which is more’n some folks can claim,” retorted the President, with anything but a dreamy expression to her face. The tall lady’s eyes grew a shade darker, and her lips shaped themselves as if they were saying “Hussy!” but it is probable they were not.

“As our two friends are so little likely to agree,” observed a lady whose face showed that she was about to metamorphose herself into a barrel of oil, and precipitate herself on to the troubled waters, “I would suggest that I take the character.”

“Humph.” ejaculated the President.

“Is there any objection to my being Lady Washington?” said the new party, facing abruptly the President, and emptying out the oil and filling up the barrel immediately with a superior grade of vinegar.

“I don’t know of any, if some one will demonstrate that Lady Washington had a wart on her nose,” replied the President, with unblemished serenity.

“Am I to be insulted?” hotly demanded the proprietor of the wart.

“The truth ought not to be insulting,” replied the President.

“I s’pose our President thinks she would be a perfect Lady Washington,” ironically suggested a weak-faced woman, who saw her chances for taking the character dejectedly emerge from the small end of the horn.

“I don’t know as I would be perfect in that role,” replied the President, “but as there will be strangers present at the party, I shouldn’t want them to think that the nearest approach Danbury could make to the dignity of ‘76 was a toothless woman down with the jaundice.” And the head officer smiled serenely at the ceiling.

“What do you mean, you insinuating thing?” hoarsely demanded the victim of the jaundice.

“Keep your mouth shut until you are spoken to then,” severely advised the President.

“I’m not to be dictated to by a mountain of tallow,” hissed the chromatic delegate, flouncing out of the room.

“I think we had better get another President before we go any farther,” said a sharp-faced woman very much depressed by the outlook for herself.

“It isn’t hardly time for you yet,” observed the President with a significant look at the sharp-faced woman, “we will have to arrange for Lady Washington and George Washington before we need the hatchet.”

The sharp-faced lady snatched up her muff without the faintest hesitation, and rushed out of doors to get her breath. She was immediately followed by the proprietor of the wart, the thin lady disastrously connected with a griddle, and the toothless case of jaundice. This left but the President and a little woman who had yet said nothing.

“Has it occurred to you that you would like to be Lady Washington?” asked the President, concentrating both of her eyes on a wen just under the small woman’s left ear.

“Oh. no,” gasped the small woman, impulsively covering up the excrescence with her hand.

“Then, I guess we’ll adjourn sine die” said the President, and pulling on her gloves, she composedly took her departure. And the tea party became the fragment of a gloomy memory.

Mr. Miggs of Danbury and his neighbours, J.M. Bailey, The Danbury-News Man, 1877

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is shocked, shocked, at the things these club-women get up to…

A Lady Washington tea was a popular entertainment inspired by the 1876 anniversary of the Colonies’ rebellion against their King. “Colonial” costume was donned, relics of the Revolution were displayed—all the better if they were family heirlooms, and a General Washington and Lady Washington were often selected to preside over the gala affair.

Décor was usually patriotic in theme:

Lady Washington Tea

A menu for this tea would depend largely upon the way in which the tea is to be served, whether the guests are to be seated at tables, or passed the refreshments from one, or two tables, presided over by young matrons. The young women presiding at the tables, the young girls waiting on the table, and the matrons receiving the guests, might be dressed in “Martha Washington” costumes. See prints of Martha Washington. The vestry might be decorated with flags, and the tables with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Or the paper might be omitted, and red, white, and blue china form the decoration, as blue plates, red cups, or cream pitchers and sugars, etc. Or the colors might be carried out in both the decorations and china. Small rosettes of narrow red, white, and blue ribbon, placed on each napkin, if the guests are seated, and pinned to the dress or coat, are appropriate souvenirs of the occasion. The Boston Cooking School Magazine, Vol. 6 1902, p. 336

And menus were of a suitably “historic” nature:

A Colonial Tea

This would be appropriate either for Washington’s Birthday, or Independence Day. If used for the former, it might be called a Lady Washington Tea. The list of refreshments was copied from an old cookery book of the colonial period. Of course the hostess may modify it to suit her own convenience.

“The dishes proper for a handsome tea-table are: Tea and coffee; light biscuit, with honey; cold ham, glazed thickly all over with a mixture of bread-crumbs, cream and yolk of egg; two smoked tongues, one placed in the center of the platter, the other cut into slices and laid around it; hot game pie; chicken or lobster salad; oyster patties, sweetmeats, mixed cakes, blanc-mange and plum cake.” The Party Book, Winnifred Shaw Fales, Mary Harrod Northend, 1912

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.