Category Archives: Fashion

An Imposter at the Concord Ball: 1875

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

A Western Deceiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Wickedest Easter Hat: 1902

1902 Easter Hat

New York, Feb. 23.

Dearest Diana:

I did the wickedest thing to-day—intentionally! Like all other girls I know I did so want a new hat. And like a great many I know, I did not have the money with which to buy it. So what did I do?

I went down into my bandbox.

Later, with my last summer’s hat in my mind, I sallied forth to the nearest maline counter and here I bought four yards of exquisite stuff, all shirred into darling little puffs. With this in one hand I stepped over to the applique counter and bought some silvered dots. I then purchased nine pink roses of natural size and a perfect bush of silvered rose leaves.

Going home I covered my last summer’s hat with the maline, placed the roses on the top of it, at the back, letting the leaves trail down in front over the brim, and, finally, I set a few roses under the side. At the back I arranged some leaves to fall upon the hair.

Then, and here comes the wickedness, I ripped the French label out of my last winter’s opera hat and sewed it into my new Easter hat! And, now, to all intents and purposes, I have an imported creation, rich in everything except the cost.

The Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 2 March 1902: p. 44

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was the holiday dream of every well-dressed lady to have a new Easter hat. Even the dead were insistent about their millinery…. And at this critical time of the fashionable year, ladies were faced with conflicting messages in the papers: “Buy one of our beautiful Paris hats in the latest mode!” Or “Be thrifty! Re-trim last year’s hat so it looks like new!”

It seems a pity that the young lady ripped the label out of her genuine Paris opera hat. There were other options, such as purchasing faux-Parisian labels as mentioned in this advertisement for The Wanamaker Store:

A windowful of children’s hats was shown recently in a New York store with the label of Caroline Reboux on every one. Caroline Reboux, who never made a child’s hat in her life!

In these days, when Paris labels can be purchased so cheaply and affixed to spurious models, there is a comfortable feeling in buying where you are sure that Paris hats are Paris hats. The Morning News [Wilmington DE] 23 September 1904: p. 5

And Mrs Daffodil is shocked to find that American manufacturers were labelling their goods as imported, to increase their desirability.

NO MORE FOREIGN LABELS

LET “MADE IN AMERICA” BE THE WORLD’S STANDARD

A New York society has taken up a new idea which ought to be pressed. Briefly stated it is an attempt to make manufacturers and dealers in this country label their American goods with domestic labels and cease the use of the foreign label on goods made here.

There are plenty good reasons why this campaign should have the indorsement of every sensible business man and every wise consumer. In the first place the question of honesty is involved. The public is swindled by hats bearing a Paris label, when they are made here. In the second place, it is the best policy. We can make most articles in this country as well as they can be made abroad, some of them better. In the third place, it is patriotic. It should be the pride of Americans to use American names and to place upon their products the legend “Made in America,” in competition with the “Made in Germany” label, so familiar in trade. The Allentown [PA] Leader 16 October 1900: p. 1

Easter Hat 1902

 

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 Painter of Black Eyes: 1880

Eye miniature with "tear," early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

Eye miniature with “tear,” early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

A NEW ART

Black Eyes, Bruises and Blemishes Bleached

By Paint, Pond’s Extract and a Polite Professor,

Who Beautifies Belles, Beaux, and Beaten Wives

“Cress,” the gossipy correspondent of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, has discovered in New York a profession hitherto unknown, which she describes in the following letter.

Reading the advertisements in the daily papers, one involuntary wonders why we are not all “things of beauty and joys forever.” For we are promised compounds that will give us adipose tissue or deprive us of the same when too much has accumulated. We are insured hair in any quantity or color we choose; we are assured that our forms may be developed into molds of grace and beauty, while such trifling accessories as coral lips, pearly teeth, luminous eyes, and dazzling complexions are kept bottled up and to be had for a mere trifle. Beside that there are people who stand ready to puncture dimples, and make you false noses, glass eyes and ivory teeth, furnish you with artificial necks, false calves, arched insteps, etc., until one is impressed with the fact that if it was not for that necessary thing called the breath of life we could do without a Creator, as far as the perpetuation of the race is concerned, keeping up the supply by liberal orders from these factories of imitation humanity, with a clever foreman to put the bits together. Then to lose a limb or two would be a mere trifle; to grow bald or blind, a bagatelle; and when one went travelling it would be easy enough to tuck in a Saratoga trunk a few odd pieces in case of accidents. But without speculating further your correspondent will add that a few days ago she discovered a hitherto unknown profession, lately sprung into life and advertisement, which merits description. The following is

A Sample of the new Notices:

BLACKENED OR BRUISED EYES MADE NATURAL instantly; skin disfigurements concealed. Ladies, send for artist. Studio, 28 West Fourth street.

Calling at the studio, I was surprised to find the owner a gentleman with no small pretensions to the title of artist. The room itself was large and almost filled with oil paintings, among which I recognized the portraits of Rose Eytinge, John Raymond, John McCullough, Charles Pope and others. A large copy of the celebrated “Last Supper” hung on one wall, and studies in oil, lithographs and crayons filled the interstices. However, I was not in search of high art, and far more interesting was the live tableau in the centre of the room that met my gaze. Imagine seated in a steamer chair, in an easy, reclining position, a very fashionably-attired youth (this was early on the day after the Fourth), whose patent-leather boots, white tie, and dress coat would indicate that a lark of the night before had just been finished—the results of the said lark being visible in a large and exceedingly dusky horseshoe heel somebody’s fit had imprinted under one orb. The artist, a pleasant-faced, stalwart young man, was busily engaged in mixing some preparation, and hardly looking up he waved me to a seat, saying, “I will attend to your eye in a moment, Madame!” Glad for this opportunity for observation, I picked up a newspaper, and watched with interest the young “swell” who had been “seeing life” have his acknowledgment of the same obliterated. First the artist poured into a bowl a liberal amount of Pond’s Extract, which, with a soft sponge and the air of a mother administering soothing syrup to her babe, he applied to

The Injured Cheek

During this process he remarked, “I’m afraid you have been trying to cure it with something cold.”

“By jove, how it hurts!” ejaculated the patient. “Yes, she put some ice on it afterward, but it didn’t seem to do any good.”

“Of course not,” said the oracle, severely; “I don’t know why people will persist in making such a mistake. Ice, or oysters, or cold water they will apply in spite of the fact that anything cold makes the blood concentrate beneath the skin and turns it black. What they should do it to bathe the bruise in water as hot as they can stand it; that scatters the blood and keeps the skin from discoloring.”
“Well,” said the exhausted hero of a fracas, with a feeble attempt to be witty, “when a fellow gets into hot water he don’t think of pouring it on.”

By this time the live canvas was ready for coloring, and, with a tiny brush and delicate strokes, the artist proceeded to lay on the flesh tints. For nearly half an hour he worked steadily, pausing frequently to add another shade, then toning the edges down. Then allowing the paint to dry, and then softly rubbing on a fine powder that removed the gloss. Then he stepped back and viewed his handiwork with the air of a stern critic, finally holding a small mirror before the youth, who expressed my thoughts when he exclaimed in admiring accents, “By George, judging from the looks, I couldn’t tell which eye was blacked!” Then with as much of a smile as he had energy for, he added: “How much is it, old boy?”

“Five dollars,” was the answer.

“It’s worth that to

Keep Me Out of a Row With the Governor,

But, deuce take it, I haven’t a fiver left; but take this until I call for it,” and he thrust upon the artist a handsome pearl scarf-pin.

“Now, what can I do for you, ma’am?” queried he of the brush, after a disappointed look upon my unblackened countenance. Whereupon I explained my mission, and the artist, not averse to the idea of being written up, assented to my staying awhile to take notes. “For,” said he, “the day after a holiday I always do a rushing business.” Scarcely had he spoken when a little lady entered. She was modestly dressed in black, and had a rather pretty face, though terribly disfigured by a deep semi-circle of black and blue under one of her eyes. She seemed a little embarrassed, and was profuse in her explanations of how she came by it.

“Indeed,” she said, “I never had such a thing happen to me before in my life, but you see I was going down stairs with a tray full of dishes, and my foot caught in the matting and tripped, and I fell all the way down. Such a thing never happened to me before, and I wonder I did not break every bone in my body. Such a shame it should have come on my eye. I never had a black one before, and it’s so mortifying.”

Again the artist plied his art, taking great pains to match the color of her complexion, and persevering until the ugly-looking mark was rendered invisible. Adding, as he concluded; “You can wash your face in cold water, but don’t use hot or soap, because it will bring the paint off. With a little care it will last

Until the Eye is Cured.”

The lady, after careful examination, expressed herself satisfied, and inquired the cost. “Two dollars,” said the artist, considerately, after a glance at her modest toilet.

“Two dollars!” fairly screamed the lady. “Two dollars for such a pesky little job as that. I never heard of such an imposition. Why, young man, in all my life, I never paid more than fifty cents before!”

This assertion, coming after her profuse explanations, had a very comical effect, which she was quick enough to perceive, and without further parley, she put down the money and departed. When the door closed on her your correspondent inquired if the artist had many lady callers.

“They are not uncommon, and they come as this one did, with profuse apologies and explanations, thinking, poor things, that their stories about tumbling down stairs and running up against doors will be swallowed by me, as if I didn’t know that the brutes who beat their wives are not confined to the wearers of fustian and cowhide boots, and you would be surprised to see some of the ladies who come here in carriages. Ladies living in fine houses, and dressed in silks and diamonds, that would die of shame to have the truth suspected, and come here to have the blows of the coward who pass for fine gentlemen hidden. They would sooner be torn to pieces than own up, and I never knew of but one lady that did. She was a bride, only been married three weeks, and lived on Madison avenue. One day her husband got into a rage and threw his boot at her. It struck her on the forehead, leaving

A Terrible Mark;

But after the shock was over all the poor thing thought of was to keep it from her parents, for she had married against their wishes.”

“Do you ever have any members of the demi-monde here?”

“Oh, yes; though not of the lowest class. They generally get hurt at wine parties, where, after they have drank all they can stand, they commence throwing things at each other, especially fruit. One of the worst black eyes I ever covered was caused by an apple being thrown with considerable force, and fresh lemons can do considerable harm. The gashes from wine-bottles and broken glass generally go to the doctor.”

“What other disfigurements are you called upon to conceal?”

“Why, for ladies generally moles and birthmarks. You see a lady may have a very beautiful white neck or snowy, well-molded arms, but be unable to wear a low-necked party dress on account of one or more of these blemishes. I have regular customers, who, whenever they go to a ball, send for me to paint over these marks. And it is singular the shapes they are in. There is one belle in this city who has on her right arm a regular cross and crown, bright red in color, and large enough to be seen across the room. Another young lady, who has the shoulders of a model, has upon one the initials C.L., in red spots about the size of currants. Still another lady has on her forearm a perfect miniature ladder, though, of course, the majority of these marks assume no distinct form.”
“You must sometimes have ladies who have really suffered from an accident?”

“Oh, yes. There was one young lady here last week whose face was

Covered with Crimson Spots

Big as silver quarters. She was engaged to be married, and to please her betrothed had taken a course of lessons in cooking from Miss Corson. The day before the wedding she invited him to a little supper of her own preparing, intending to give him a pleasant premonition of bliss to come, in the shape of good housekeeping. Her chef d’oeuvre was a dish of soft-shell crabs, and, alas, as she was in the act of frying them, the hot grease sputtered up and burnt her face badly in half a dozen places. It was too late to defer the wedding, and, accordingly she had to have her face done entirely over for the ceremony, but it turned out such an improvement on her natural complexion that I do not think she minded it much.”

“Do you ever ‘make up’ people?”

“Yes, often for dinners and balls, for besides making the complexion, I can fill up wrinkles, and dimples, etc. I do a great deal of this for the dramatic profession. I have made up Rose Eytinge 126 times as ‘Rose Michel,’ and all the Union Square Company during their run of ‘Smike,’ and I used to make up Mr. Palmer whenever he was to make a speech before the curtain. Sara Jewett, Maud Harrison, Linda Dietz, Charles Thorne, Charles Coghlan, Charles Pope, Frederick Paulding, and lots of others, though generally

My Patrons in the Profession

Are debutantes who have not learned the art of making up.”

“I should think this branch of art would exclude any other.”

“Oh, no; I have two gentlemen in the business with me, and I devote most of my time to portrait painting. Barrett, Booth, McCullough, Florence, Sotherns, Raymond, Pope, Brougham, and others have sat to me. McCullough I have painted four times,” concluded Mr. Lysander Thompson, for such is the artist’s name. Before leaving, I asked from what class of men he drew the largest number of blackened-eye customers.

“From sporting men and wealthy business men. The latter class, of course, would be injured by being seen with such disfigurements. There is one gentleman on Wall street who has hardly missed a visit to me this year. Every Saturday night he starts off on a tare that lasts him until Monday morning, when, bright and early, he comes here to get fixed up before going to business. One funny case I had last winter when two gentlemen conspicuous in the management of the Madison-square Garden, got into a quarrel, in the course of which one had both eyes blackened; the other only one. He of the two black eyes came here to be painted over, and told me if I would refuse to fix the other man’s eye he would pay me three times what it was worth. This I promised not to do, and in consequence the worst punished of the two men went round boasting how he had come out ahead, as no one could detect his bruises. The ridicule fell on he of a single and apparently blackened orb.

The Boston [MA] Weekly Globe 28 July 1880: p.7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil scarcely knows what to add to this exhaustive discussion of a little-known art except her horror at the headline’s jaunty linking of “beaten wives” with “belles and beaux” and of the artist’s insouciant and dismissive comment, “poor things!”

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

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

 

The Senators Discuss French Garters: 1894

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

OUT OF SIGHT

It Is Permissible to Present a Lady with Garters During Lent

Senators Want to Stop This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All About Lorgnettes: 1886-7, 1923

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

ALL ABOUT LORGNETTES

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

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

Opera Glasses in Rich and Beautiful Designs

Celebrated Makers and Their Productions.

TWO LOVELY BLACK EYES

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A FASHIONABLE FOLLY.

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

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

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

“Eye glasses.”

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

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

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

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

OLD FASHION LORGNETTE NEW CRAZE IN LONDON

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919

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

‘Harleys’ for Housewives and Business Girls

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

By Fay Stevenson.

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

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

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

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

Keeps Touch of Feminine.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Not Limited to Khaki.

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

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

Hats to Match.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Miss Harley’s house costumes

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

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

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

 

 

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.