Category Archives: Fashion

The Anti-Fret Christmas Shopper: 1898

late christmas shopper

Some Buy Their Christmas Presents in July and Some on Christmas Eve

Perplexities of Holiday Shopping

There is a Christmas shopper who stands aloof from the hurrying throngs in the stores at this season and regards with smiling complacency their frantic efforts to be served.

She is the Christmas shopper of the new era. For want of a better name we will call her the Anti-Fret Purchaser. Her method of purveying Christmas presents may have slight drawbacks, yet it saves worry, care and vexation.

It is better to give than to receive. It is still better to purchase Christmas presents in peace and quietness than to join the frantic throng of belated buyers who are now besieging the counters from nine o’clock in the morning until late at night. It gives a more benevolent feeling to know that the Christmas present which you have sent was purchased while the mind was free from distracting thoughts.

There is no care resting upon the soul of the Anti-Fret Purchaser, for she bought her Christmas presents weeks and months ago. Last year’s New Year resolutions had hardly begun to weaken before she was giving thought to the gifts which she would bestow on the Christmas nearly twelve months away.

Her Christmas is distributed over the entire year. The glow of benevolence rests upon her like a halo from January till December. She is Lady Bountiful always. Wherever she goes her mind is filled with the thoughts of Yuletide. If she is in the dry goods store she may see some dainty trifle worthy of being stored up against that day. When humanity five deep stands before the Christmas counters. In the jewelry store, in the book shop, and in scores of places she calmly selects Christmas gifts and has them sent to her house in mysterious parcels, which nobody but herself is permitted to open.

Buys Furs in August.

She goes to the stores of those who sell furs while an August sun is beating down upon her sailor hat. It may be that furs are cheaper in summer than in winter. Supposing that they are, the Anti-Fret Purchase has a chance to distribute her holiday largess over a larger area. It is true that it requires a great deal of time, care and moth balls to keep fur garments presentable until the season when the air is filled with snowflakes instead of humidity. It was only the other day that one of the Christmas shoppers of the new school showed me a box of cigars which she had purchased last July as a Yuletide gift for her brother. It may be that the Havanas lost somewhat of their pristine freshness, but think of the Christmas benevolence which filled that young woman’s heart for half the year. The fifty “Dusty Beauties,” as Kipling calls the rolls of the fragrant weed, are, no doubt, somewhat dry by this time, but the spirit in which they were bought is as fresh and generous as it was on the day the girl bought those cigars with the “lovely red bands.”

No plan ever worked with absolute perfection. There is another drawback to the purchase of Christmas presents many months in advance. Friendships here on earth are apt to fade. The young man for whom a young woman would embroider the uppers of slippers last July may not be thought worthy of such a remembrance in December. The neck-tie pin which the youth was to receive for Christmas may never reach him, for in six months lovers may quarrel and drift far away. Then it often happens that slippers are consigned to a fiery furnace and that necktie pines are given to the gardener and hired man.

Some of the Drawbacks.

Then, there are times when vain regrets enter like iron into the soul of the Anti-Fret Purchaser. It is not a pleasant thing to discover that those things which were fashionable six months ago have gone out of vogue, especially when some of them were laid away for Christmas presents. The pangs of anguish which the beforehand shipper feels at that time is not to be compared to the dark  woe which descends upon her soul when she finds that the price of what she has purchased is half as much now as it was a few months ago. It is enough to make any woman shed tears of remorse to see the label “49 cents, marked down from $1.25,” when she realizes that last July she paid the 1.25.

Yet, what are these slight circumstances compared to the general feeling of relief and rest which comes to the Anti-Fret Purchase when she sees her friends plunging into a wearisome campaign of Christmas shopping. Sometimes she actually goes with them in order to behold their looks of discomfiture when they stand an hour waiting to be served and half an hour longer to get their change. Then it is that she smiles and remarks that she secured her presents long before the holiday rush began. She thinks of various nooks and comers at home where there is a Yuletide treasure trove. She thinks of neatly tied packages laid away in chiffoniers and dressers. She knows that each package has been carefully marked months ago. She has a list on which are the names of all those whom she planned to remember. Opposite each name is a check mark, which signifies that the present has been duly marked and is ready to be sent away.

Her friends meanwhile are trying to remember whether it is “Johnnie” or “Jimmie” who would like to have a drum. They are vainly seeking to recollect the age of Aunt Sarah’s boy and to decide whether he should have a doll or a shotgun. It is hard to keep in mind such details when one is in a hurry.

Her List Complete.

It is not so with the Christmas shopper who has been slowly accumulating her budget of gifts. She has taken pains to inquire concerning the wants and the preferences of her kith and kin. Quite incidentally she discovered the kind of cigars her brother smoked and learned whether another young man will like to have a matchbox or a neck-tie pin. It is very awkward to ask point blank questions within a few days of Christmas. The wherefore of the inquiries is too apparent. Months before, however, the investigation can be conducted without exciting the least suspicion.

It is not at all likely that the Anti-Fret Purchaser will forget anybody whom she should remember. She has taken months to deliberate and to plan, and it is practically impossible for her to leave anybody out whom she should remember.

Even in the best regulated stores the delivery of packages is often delayed around Christmas time. Parcels are piled in the basements to a height of many feet. It is necessary to fairly scoop them up and place them in the wagons. It often happens that the packages which were to have been delivered the day before Christmas does not arrive until three days after the turkey and cranberry sauce have been served. There have been innumerable cases when the hearts of children have been broken because the presents expected on Christmas morning did not arrive. Then it is that the woman who has delayed her Christmas until the last minute uses language only fit for the recording angel to hear. The Anti-Fret Purchaser, however, has sent all her presents away the day before Christmas and is spending her hours in beneficent calmness.

The New York Herald 11 December 1898: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is certain that all of her readers fall into the prudent, pre-holiday-shopper category…. Labour reformers were also in favour of “anti-fret” shopping policies. A heart-rending tale entitled “The Toxin of Christmas: The Story of a Little Shop Girl; Her Struggle with Late Christmas Buyers That Might Easily Have Been Spared,” related the horrors of exhausted shop girls forced to contend with heartless floorwalkers and demanding Christmas Eve shoppers, poisoning the weary workers’ Christmas celebrations. Editorials also urged merchants to close earlier and hailed the merits of shopping early in the holiday season, not least of which was consideration for the working girl. Mrs Daffodil notes that this year saw a controversy over “early openings” of stores for the holiday shopping season. Plus ça change….

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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The Lost Property Department: 1883

lost property office Waterlood Station 1936 lost umbrellas

Hundreds of umbrellas in the Lost Property Office of Waterloo Station, 1936

ABODE OF THE LOST

SOME OF THE ARTICLES THAT ARE FOUND ON THE TRAINS.

Several days ago the following advertisement appeared in one of the morning papers.

FOUND-TWENTY-THIRD STREET ELEVATED station, a roll of money. Owner can receive it by proving the number of bills, at No. 17 West 120th street.

“There is an immense number of miscellaneous articles of every description left or dropped in the cars of the company,” said General Manager Hain, of the “L” roads, when his attention was called to this advertisement. “When found by the conductor, or handed to them, the rules of the company direct that they shall be handed to the ‘Despatchers,’ as the men who send out the trains are called. If the loss occurs on an uptown train the despatcher at 155th street is given the article, and if it is on a downtown trip the dispatcher at the Battery receives it. They in turn deliver the article to the property clerk, who gives them a descriptive receipt for it, which ends the despatcher’s obligation in the matter. All persons are obliged to go there and give a full description of their lost property before the money, article, or whatever it is is returned to them.”

The room for lost property is located at No. 4 Front street. A dingy sign, on which is inscribed, “Lost property,” is tacked to the wall on the lower floor, and a hand points the way to a narrow staircase, which winds up to the third floor, where the property clerk holds high court. In a room adjoining his office the lost property is stored, and this apartment looks like a cross between a pawnbroker’s vault and a West street junk shop. In it every manner of article is heaped.

The property clerk was found at the desk, polite to the last degree. In answer to one of the first inquiries as to the amount of property lost, he said that since January 4, 1882, to January 9, 1883, 4,500 articles had been turned over to his care, a surprisingly small number considering that nearly ninety millions of people travel over the road during the same period of time, even after admitting that a large number of articles are picked up by dishonest persons in the cars and never turned over to the company.”

“Is there much money found on the road?” was asked.

“Yes,” considerable,” answered the P.DE., “but the amounts are usually small and seldom exceed $100. Once 200 silver dollars were found in a package, which were at once returned to the owner. The money is brought in sometimes in a loose roll of bills or in bags or pocketbooks. Then, besides, we find bankbooks, checks and drafts.”

“Are you troubled by many bogus claimants?”

“No; that class of persons seldom call, and if they do we can easily detect hem after a few minutes’ conversation.”

“What percentage of all the articles found are redeemed?” “I should say about 50 percent. All the valuable articles are generally reclaimed at once. We have now on hand over one thousand articles, but not one of them is worth over $5.”

“What disposition is made of the articles that are left unclaimed?” the reported then asked.

“After keeping them for about twelve months they are sold at private sale. Many articles are so worthless that even the owners do not care to call for them, and few persons care to buy them.”

“Articles of every imaginable kind are found, of course?” “Yes, I should say so. Ladies leave their furs, muff, circulars, dolmans, cloaks and shawls. Gentlemen, forget their coats. We find pantaloons now and then, but they are always the contents of bundles. Boys and girls leave their lunch boxes and school books. We found a statuette of Christopher Columbus the other day. Some time ago some one left a small sole leather trunk. Imagine a man forgetting his luggage. Bundles have been brought in as large as myself. (The property clerk stands about five feet nine inches and weighs over one hundred and forty pounds.). Clothing of every description is left in the cars. Umbrellas, however, have the call; there are more umbrellas picked up than any other one article. We have epidemics of certain things—umbrellas and overshoes in wet weather, vails and green spectacles in dry; fans and parasols in the summer season, skates and gloves in the winter; fruit and vegetables in the autumn, flower and garden seeds in the spring.”

“Yes, and—“

“Letters are found—many of them touchingly sweet. I never knew how much ‘taffy’ could be laid out in black and white until I occupied this position. We find poetry, too, from young ladies to their beaux, but as a general thing the spelling is fearfully wild,” said the P.C., “and the verses don’t go to any tune I ever heard.”

“Every class and trade, then, contributes its mite?”

“Certainly. A plumber left a cast ion sink frame; it was certainly too large to lose, but he forgot it. Sportsmen leave their guns, doctors their surgical instruments, invalids their bottles of medicine, and, would you believe it, one lame man skipped off without his crutch. Old gentlemen sometimes get off and leave their wives behind, but none are ever turned in.”

While this conversation was progressing, several persons called to inquire about their lost property. As a rule they were an anxious lot, and many seemed to have just awakened after a long nap. At last a very pretty young lady tripped into the office, with a face radiant with smiles and blushes. She said:

“I have lost a package.” “Indeed,” said the P.C. “Of what?”

“Must I tell?”

“We must get some idea of what is lost, you know.” “Well, it was underwear—ladies’ underwear,” said the pretty one, looking blushingly down.

“Describe, Miss, if you please,” said the P.C., beginning to look a little weary.

“There were six handkerchiefs and__”

“Yes.”

“And six pair—pair—of—stockings—new ones,” she added. “Ah@” said the P.C., with a start, as if he had never heard of such things before.

“And a—oh, dear, must I tell! Oh, a pair –a pair of—cor—cors-e-t-s,” breathed the fair one in a voice so low and sweet that even the reported began to feel as though he had better leave the office, while the P.C. wriggled in wretched silence and suddenly became interested in the mucilage bottle on the desk. At last he muttered, because it was his duty to:

“Was that all?”

“Oh!” was the reply, “oh, there was,” and she blushed the color of a Marshal Ney rose, but she did not bloom alone, for the P.C.’s face was a red as a boiled lobster, “there was—a—pa—oh! I think I’ll go—n-e-v-e-r mind the things—there was a pa—pa—ir—a pair of—“

“Oh, take the bundle,” exclaimed the P.C., as he handed out a neatly tied package.

There was a rustle of a silk dress and the door banged behind the beauty—she was gone.

“Oh, Lord! Wasn’t that dreadful?” said the P.C. N.Y. Herald

Jersey Journal [Jersey City, NJ] 17 January 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The P.C. protested too much, in Mrs Daffodil’s severe opinion. The handkerchiefs and stockings alone should have been enough to identify the parcel, but this Fiend in Human Shape was obviously enjoying the spectacle of a modest young woman exposing her innermost wardrobe secrets. Mrs Daffodil, whose mind naturally runs to plots, suggests that the P.C. hoped to embarrass the young woman into abandoning the parcel, whereupon he could purchase it at the unclaimed property auction and take it home to his wife. If such an excrescence has a wife…

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.

 

Second-hand Silks: 1900

ONE WOMAN’S WAY

A Livelihood Gained from the Feminine Sense of Jumping at a Good Thing.

“I met a woman not long ago on the road,” remarked a New York drummer, “who gave me a point or two on how a bright woman can make her way in the world. She was a widow, with two children to support, and was housekeeper of an Indianapolis hotel until her health failed. She had to give it up at last, though she tried to hold on, for that was all she knew how to do, and she retired with only $100 or so to go on. Not knowing exactly whither to turn, she went to New York city and just wandered around for a while, looking at things. One day she saw the women crowding the life out of one another at a bargain sale of skirts, and a thought struck her. She let it develop for a day or two, and then spent all the money she had for silk skirts that were destined for the bargain counter. They were rumpled and looked jaded and tired, but she took them as they were at small figures, and carried them to her rooms. There she ironed and pressed them out till they looked like new, and then went out into the suburban towns to sell them. She found ready purchasers at good prices, and came back for more. These she made as good as new and had no trouble in disposing of her stock.

purple flower petticoat 1900

Flowered silk petticoat, early 1900s, from a trousseau. Observe the pinked edges of the flounces. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/86380?rpp=30&pg=3&ao=on&ft=petticoat&pos=73

She added shirt waists next and then began getting shop-worn silks, remnants and that kind of stock, and gradually increased her territory, hiring somebody to do the renovating while she was attending to the buying and selling. She has been at it three or four years, and in that time has built up a trade that is paying her this year between $500 and $600 a month. She has her children at good schools; has a nice little home in one of the suburban towns, which she owns, and is about the thriftiest and most business-like woman I ever saw. No training either to begin with, just the woman’s sense of jumping at a good thing and getting it.”

The Mantiowoc [WI] Pilot 8 March 1900: p. 1

pale pink frou frou petticoat

Pale pink silk petticoat, amply endowed with “frou frou,” http://art.famsf.org/petticoat-544761a-b

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To the practised nineteenth-century feminine eye, a worn silk garment spoke of genteel poverty and dreary domestic economy. Normally a lady would be advised to pick the gown apart and make into something for one’s little daughter, although if a silk dress was not absolutely falling to bits, it might be veiled with chiffon or other fabrics to hide the wear. There were also suggestions for refurbishing worn silks (particularly expensive mourning crapes) involving various receipts, such as water in which potatoes had been boiled or the following shuddersome hell-brew:

The following method is said to be an excellent one for the renovation of old, half-worn silks. Boil into a pulp three or four old kid gloves, using a bright, new pan, and putting the gloves into cold water. Strain this pulpy mass, adding a little hot water, and a teaspoonful of ammonia. Wash the silk thoroughly in this, putting into the rinsing water some borax and spirits of camphor. When cleansing black silks use gloves of any color, but when cleaning light silks use light-colored gloves. Good Health, Vol. 24, 1889: p. 317

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on the rag trade and on successful lady drummers.

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

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

 

An Unpleasant Meeting over Shawls: 1877

An Unpleasant Meeting.

Not long ago two ladies stood at the shawl counter of one of the two leading dry goods stores in St. Louis. They were unknown to each other, but were each intent in the examination of shawls. One of the ladies was finally handed something that struck her fancy. She turned the article over and over, with admiring eye upon it, and asked its price. She was told what is was, and with a sigh laid it down again. ‘I like it,” said she; ‘it suits me perfectly, but I can’t afford it. My husband tells me that we must retrench as much as possible.’

The sympathetic saleswoman was about replacing the shawl upon its shelf when the other lady spoke: ‘You do not intend to take the shawl, then, Madame?’

‘No,” was the response.

‘Then I think I’ll take it. It suits me, too, and I was only waiting for your determination.’ Then, turning to the saleswoman, the last speaker told her to do up the purchase, adding, ‘Charge it to Mr. ___.’

The effect the name had upon the lady who was unable to buy the shawl was electric. ‘That’s my husband!’ she shrieked, and there was a scene upon which the curtain did not fall at once by any means.”

Kentucky Advocate [Danville KY] 16 February 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil had thought to commend the two ladies for not falling into a petty squabble or even fisticuffs over the shawl, as some women do at the bargain counter and that curious ritual known as the Running of the Brides, but when a husband is at the centre of the squabble, one really can do nothing more than retire to a safe corner to watch the altercation and possibly lay a wager on the outcome.

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 Fall of a Fall: 1865

CURIOUS EXPOSURE

The feminine appendages known as waterfalls are daily increasing in size and weight by the use of a variety of articles known as padding by many of the fair sex, who wish to obtain a “fall” of elegant proportions. The New York Sun tells of an occurrence which happened to a young woman in that city on Monday, which could induce females to be exceedingly careful in selecting suitable articles for the “filling” on their hairy appendages, which should also be properly attached to their head gear. Miss Essex, a well-dressed young woman, residing in Greenpoint, was standing at the corner of Thompson and Canal street, waiting for a car, when a man—a painter to all appearance—bearing a short ladder on his shoulder, rapidly turned the corner, and not judging the distance right, came near striking the lady on the head with an end of the ladder he was carrying. As luck would have it, or perhaps ill-luck, the ladder missed the woman’s head, but struck her “waterfall,” detached it from the back hair, and caused a general discharge of the contents which combined the following articles: Two curled hair puffs; one piece of mourning crape; two dark-colored pincushions, and one black worsted stocking. These article had previously been carefully covered up by the slender locks of the maiden. Amid many expression of regret the man commenced to pick up the padding, for the purpose of returning them to the wearer, who retreated in great confusion, without waiting for her dry goods. A little boy was sent after her with the late “fall,” but he lady refused to recognize them. The reporter gave the boy a dime for one of the pincushions, and intends to keep it as a specimen.

Western Reserve Chronicle [Warren OH] 20 September 1865: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is frankly shocked that the lady did not have the wit to keep her hair-combings in some convenient receptacle on her dressing-table so she could have a “rat” made to relieve her from the necessity of packing her water-fall with pin-cushions and stockings. If one is superstitious, one might say that her contretemps with the ladder was due entirely to the use of the mourning crape, which must be disposed of after the period of mourning lest something unfortunate befall.

For more on the perils of chignons and falls, see this post on “Dis-tress-ing News About Chignons.”   If one is in the mood for hair-piece humour, see this post about Chignon Satire.

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 Chat with a Wig-Maker: 1893

A WIG-MAKER AT HOME

I am assured that to the well-regulated mind Bluebeard’s chamber could never have presented half the horrors suspended, like Damocles’ sword, above my devoted head as I passed through the room sacred to “commerce” in the establishment of Mr. Clarkson, the wig-maker, at 45. Wellington Street.

In the aforesaid receptacle of Lord Bluebeard. only the capital portions of exceedingly charming young ladies seem to have been on view, while in Wellington Street all the visages of all the terrible beasts which have ever disported themselves in Dreamland. after overindulgence in Christmas pudding, confront the beholder.

They leered, they glowered, they smiled, suggesting pantomimes and Covent Garden balls, as I hastened beyond their realm into the sanctum sanctorum of Mr. Clarkson.

A cosy, oddly shaped little room is this sanctum, with all its walls which are not hidden by mirrors covered with rare old prints and photographs of celebrities. Here the stage beauties of past and present are to be seen in a collection begun by Mr. Clarkson’s father, full forty years ago. Most of the portraits are signed, and among the signature are those for which many a member of the jeunesse doree would gladly pour forth a golden shower.

This little boudoir of mirrors is the magic mill into which totters old age, to emerge later blooming with beaute du diable (in all outward appearance. at least), and Mr. Clarkson is the miller.

He is a small, fair-haired young man, of pleasant manner, looking even less than his twenty-eight years, despite the beard, which is evidently intended to confer a semblance of maturity, and he assured me that, including his studies in Paris, he had been in his present business since the early age of twelve.

On a pleasing and expansive background of necktie played a diamond surrounded with pearls, presented, together with a large frame of photographs to Mr. Clarkson by the Queen, in token of her appreciation of his various services. As Mr. Clarkson, “Perruquier and Costumier to her Majesty,” informed me of these honours his eyes travelled to the photographs of royalty in question, and mine followed his, not ceasing their peregrinations until they rested in amazement upon a large glass case, filled. apparently, with numerous gentlemen’s very prettily curled scalps. I threw a glance of horrified inquiry at my host.

“Hundreds of men in society wear things like these.” said Mr. Clarkson. “I could mention some names which might surprise you. Women have by no means a monopoly of the false-hair market. although they are so fond of pinning on artistic little fringes, and making their back hair look as though it must rival Godiva’s if it were let down. See,” he continued, indicating a radiant golden object which made me feel dazedly that Mr. Clarkson had been guilty of scooping some lovely female’s face out of the back of her head and throwing the former detail away.

“See, that is intended for a rather well-known woman of society, who has ruined her hair by constantly bleaching it. Natural, isn’t it?”

Half-tearfully, I admitted that it was, and changed the tenor of my thoughts by asking Mr. Clarkson if he had as many interesting anecdotes to relate as he had hirsute adornments to display.

“Come upstairs, where we will not be interrupted,” he returned mysteriously. “B__, the detective, will be wanting this room to get up a disguise in presently.”

Feeling that I was walking straight into the pages of a “shilling shocker,” I followed my host to an apartment above the precincts devoted to business, and which was, he informed me, the scene of his nativity. “I‘ve plenty of anecdotes,” he announced. “but first I’ll show you a few things which may interest you.”

The room was filled with Covent Garden ball prizes and souvenirs of regard from various celebrities, from which I found it hard to distract my attention, until Mr. Clarkson placed in my hand a large silver-clasped volume presented by Wilson Barrett. “This is my autograph album,” said he. “Unluckily. it never occurred to me to start one until a couple of years ago.”

I opened the book at random upon a delightful sketch by Bernard Partridge. representing, under the heading “Before and After Going to Clarkson,” a hideous skeleton and a dapper individual on the right side of middle age.

Mr. [W.S.] Penley had written “I don’t like London,” and Mrs. Langtry addressed her “Willie” Clarkson as “the only comfort of her declining years.”

“I am forty-seven to-day, but, thanks to your Lillie powder, my complexion is equal to a youth of seventeen,” wrote Arthur Williams; while sprinkled about over the classic pages I saw the chirography of the Kendals [William and Madge], the two De Reszkes, the Countess of Ailesbury [Louisa Elizabeth Horsley-Beresford], Ally Sloper [probably W. Fletcher Thomas, who drew the eponymous comics], Professor Pepper [of Pepper’s Ghost fame], and hundreds of brightly shining luminaries from Sarah Bernhardt to Lottie Collins, who, by-the-bye, send all the way from Paris and America to Clarkson for their wigs.

“Now you shall see some of my dearest possessions,” said Mr. Clarkson. Thereupon he summoned a “myrmidon” in the shape of a boy, who obeyed his behest, returning bearing several large objects, among which was visible a huge and wonderfully curled black wig. “That was worn by Louis XIV. at his coronation, and was secured by my father,” he explained. “Here is the original wig worn by Fred Leslie as Rip Van Winkle; here is a wax model of Mr. [Joseph] Jefferson in the same part, given me by himself, and the wig is made of his wife’s hair.”

Again the youth appeared, this time staggering under the weight of a figure clad in an extremely curious costume, mostly composed of feathers.

“This dress was given to Edmund Kean when he was created a chief of the Huron Indians,” Mr. Clarkson observed with pride. “He presented it to Miss Foote, the mother of the celebrity who became the late Countess of Harrington. She in turn gave it to Leigh Murray, the comedian, whose wife preserved it for upwards of forty years, before passing it on to Mr. [A.A.] Gilmer, of the Alhambra, who finally gave it to me.”

Having gazed at these most interesting relics, and also seen all that was mortal of Mrs. Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt’s “Cleopatra” back hair, as well as a trailing mass of golden locks used by Miss [Violet] Van Brugh, Miss [Ellen] Terry’s understudy, in the part of Fair Rosamund, I reminded Mr. Clarkson of the “anecdotes.”

“Well, I could tell you many, which would make you believe truth stranger than fiction,” said he. “Scarcely a day passes which doesn’t bring some queer experience or acquaint me with a secret, for you know, not only is my work among stage people and professional detectives, but with those who wish to see a bit of life, or amuse themselves in an eccentric way, or discover a mystery, or satisfy jealous suspicions, without being recognised. I ’m often asked, also, to conceal disfigurements, from black eyes to tattooing. Speaking of the latter, when the King of the Maoris was in England he used to frequent the Alhambra, and the difference in the actors‘ appearance on and off the stage puzzled him tremendously, until the mystery of ‘make-up’ was explained, and my name was incidentally mentioned to him.

The very next day he came here with his interpreter, saying he desired to be made up. It then transpired that his Majesty was fond of walking in Piccadilly, but that his pleasure was marred by the attention his dark face and plentiful tattooing excited. Could I hide both? Of course, I could, and did, much to the satisfaction of the king, who could hardly tear himself away from the mirror. The following day he returned, radiant with delight over the success of his experiment, purchasing enough grease paint and powder to last the remainder of his life. Just as he was departing, he rushed back to say very sternly that if his chiefs should come inquiring for articles of make-up I was on no account to let them have any.”

“Do women of society ever come to you for other purposes than to be made beautiful?” I inquired.

“Sometimes with precisely the opposite desire. For instance, only a few days ago a coroneted carriage drove to my door, and a woman over whose beauty London has raved for several seasons entered with a request to see Mr. Clarkson alone. I’d often made her up for private theatricals, so we were not strangers. She had a wager, she informed me, that she would be able to sell flowers for two hours in Piccadilly during the most crowded time of day without being recognised, and she expected me to help her win the bet. It looked a shame to hide that lovely face under a rough, dark make-up, change the shape of the straightest nose in England, and put stones in the pretty mouth to alter the contour of the cheeks. But I did it, added a frowsy wig, a common frock, a torn straw hat, and sent for a basket of violets. Instead of the stately beauty who had swept into my shop in her Parisian gown, away went a Cinderella without Cinderella’s fairness. But the experiment was successful, I learned next day, and the wager fairly won.”

“And now, won’t you give me something with a spice of mystery?”

“As much as you like. Well, then, one morning a closed brougham drove to my shop, and the footman handed in a letter which contained a request that one of my people should be sent out for the purpose of disguising a lady. That was all. We were given no means of knowing whether she was young or old, or what sort of disguise was wanted, however, one of my best men was packed off, with a variety of materials in his disguise box, and was driven rapidly all the way to Richmond, or, at least, within half a mile of the town. There he was asked to alight, and provided with a cigar, which he was ordered to continue smoking until he should see a gentleman, wearing a red carnation in his buttonhole, advancing along the left-hand side of the road. Then he was to throw his cigar away, as a species of signal. He obeyed his instructions, met a gentleman, well dressed and of fine appearance, who explained the programme which was to be carried out by my man at the hotel, with extreme precaution in keeping his purpose secret. Unfortunately, however, the proprietor of the hotel, who was a great frequenter of the Alhambra and other theatres where my people are employed, recognised the man and called out ‘Hullo, Clarkson!‘ The poor fellow was quite frightened, lest in some way his object should thus have been defeated, but, luckily, the office was nearly empty. and he was allowed to proceed towards the room mentioned in his directions without being molested. The door was opened by a pretty young girl, who seemed agitated and hysterical, and who nervously entreated to be disguised as an old woman with as little delay as possible. After that day, the same man was sent for once or twice a week, during a period of three or four months, ordered to proceed to different hotels in different places, and usually to have a new disguise ready. At last we learned that the young lady was an important ward in Chancery, who had been secretly married.

“The ‘black eye’ episodes are sometimes very funny to us, though usually annoying enough for those most nearly concerned. Not long ago, for example, a young lady went out for a quiet walk the day before that set for her marriage, and was struck between the eyes with a stone thrown by a small boy. She was to have a large church wedding, and was horrified to find both her orbs assuming a deeply mourning tint. At last some sagacious and sympathetic friend suggested me, and I had the honour of making up her eyes an hour before the marriage. The work was triumphantly accomplished, and the bride went to the altar a ‘thing of beauty and a joy for ever’ to her bridegroom and her relatives.”

“Haven’t I heard your name in connection with the discovery of some famous criminal or other?”

“Perhaps you are thinking of the Strand abduction case. Yes, it was through our disguises that Newton was arrested. I am rather proud of that affair,” Mr. Clarkson smiled intelligently, and I was waiting in breathless expectation for a thrilling reminiscence, when the door opened to admit the head of the previously-mentioned “myrmidon.”

Mr. Beerbohm Tree has sent down about that wig of his for ‘A Woman of No Importance,’” was the announcement.

And Mr. Clarkson was obliged to make his adieu more abruptly than I could have wished, leaving me in a condition of some bewilderment as to whether it was the wig. or the woman, or matters in general which were of “no importance,” or whether in reality they were all very important indeed. A. L.

The Sketch 16 August 1893: p. 129-130

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the illustrious Mr Clarkson previously, in a recent story of a fancy dress ball, where he drew his costume inspiration from a whiskey bottle. It is said that he was an accomplished black-mailer and insurance arsonist: eleven out of the twelve premises he occupied burnt down. It was also rumoured that he had made disguises for Jack the Ripper. He certainly was an inveterate name-dropper, but with such an illustrious clientele, who could blame him?

The Strand Abduction case was a sordid affair: Edward Arthur Callender Newton abducted Lucy Edith Pearman, the 15-year-old daughter of a Strand tobacconist, passing her off as his daughter Rose.

One wonders if the society beauty who won her wager impersonating a violet seller, inspired Mr George Bernard Shaw to write about the opposite transformation in Pygmalion.

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.