Category Archives: Fashion

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”: 1924

 

$35,000 a Year to Dress a “Deb”!

Dressmakers to the “400” Tell How the Modern Society Girl Wears Annually 30 Evening Gowns, 250 Pairs of Stockings, 25 Pairs of Shoes, 30 Hats, 2 Dozen Negligees, 1 Dozen Evening Wraps, and a $25,000 Coat!

When one of New York’s smartest dressmakers announced the other day that nobody could dress on less than $35,000 in a year, a lot of people clutched their pocketbook with one hand and held up the other hand in horror.

But not the debutante. Not, either, the debutante’s mother in the his year of grace 1924. Nor, indeed, the debutante’s father. They knew that the dressmaker’s estimate was conservative. “I only hope my daughter will cut her wardrobe expenses down to $35,000!” was the sincere groan of many a plutocratic parent.

Of course when the dressmaker said nobody could dress on less than $35,000 a year, she referred to anybody feminine who was “anybody” in New York City. Even in Manhattan there are girls who spend less than $500 a year for clothes. But they are not the girls who get their names into the society column.

To the innocent bystander, however, whose name never gets near the society column than the death notices, advertisements and “marriage licenses issued today,” that $35,000 remark was a smash between the eyes. “How,” said the innocent bystander, fingering his last $1 bill, “can any woman not only not get along on less than $35,000 for clothes and incidentals alone—but how, on clothes and incidentals alone, can she spend so much?”

The easiest answer is: “Easily.” But after all, that doesn’t tell the innocent bystander much about what it’s all for, so this innocent bystander galumphed up to the source of the hair-raising remark and asked how come, with specifications, explanations and itemized particulars.

Fay Lewisohn

Miss Fay Lewisohn

She’s a surprisingly young and girlish person, this Fay Lewisohn who made the statement which has ever since been causing squawk of dismay. Perhaps it is worth noting that the squawks come from people—like oneself, for example—who haven’t anything like $35,000 to spend on anything, let alone on clothes. Her establishment is in the most fashionable-dressmaker section of West Fifty-seventh street, which as the initiate know is at present the ultra fashionable district for the modistes whose clientele is truly exclusive.

“How can a woman spend $35,000 a year on dress?” is the question directed at the slim, attractive young woman who announces herself as proprietor of the place.

The slim, attractive young woman shrugged. “How can she help it?” is her answer.

“Well, but after all—”

The modiste smiled. “Oh, I’m talking about the woman of wealth and social position. Naturally, every one who comes to my shop for an occasional gown doesn’t spend that much on clothes; perhaps not in a lifetime. I myself don’t spend that much on clothes in a year.

“But perhaps you don’t realize that there are dozens of women in New York today to whom $35,000 as an annual outlay for dress, cosmetics and so on, is not an extravagance. I know one woman who has a yearly contract with a modiste for $50,000 worth of clothes. There are society women who easily spend that much. Just as there are people who spend $50 a month for a house and others who pay $15,000 a year for an apartment. The thing is relative, you know.”

The modiste, it seemed, got a fair profit and no more. “It is possible that by some lucky chance a woman might find a cheap dressmaker who would turn her out, as well as one whose prices were higher. That is an unlikely chance; but it might happen. However, what the society woman wants is a quiet, attractive place in which to inspect gowns. She wants to see those gowns displayed by refined, high-class models. Naturally, both these requisites mean high rent and good salaries.”

Your murmur about the overhead expense brought an emphatic nod.

“Moreover, the very materials in the clothes themselves are expensive even before the scissors and needle touch the goods. Brocades at, say, around $100 a yard, send the price of a gown up, rather.”

Rather!

“There is an East Indian, for example, who brings me marvelously embroidered silks straight from India. He drapes them around the models and they really need, oftentimes, very little cutting or sewing. But the materials themselves are almost museum pieces. Some are antiques. And, of course, they are very valuable.

“Another big item in sending up the price of a frock is the actual labor upon it. Labor I these days and in this city, especially skilled needlework, is high. On a first-class gown which has many yards of an intricately beaded pattern, each bead must be sewn on with care so that it won’t pull off. These patterns often are works of art and it requires almost artists to bead them. Do you know that the beading on one gown, when properly done, may take several weeks?”

These were matters worthy of consideration. But how many of these gowns would a sure-enough social leader need in the course of a year? And how much would such a gown cost?

It depended, naturally, on the taste of the patron and the amount of beading.

“A gown of this type, beautifully done, might run into many hundreds of dollars. It might be five hundred dollars, six hundred—the material itself would, of course, be a determining factor. I am speaking, by the way, of a gown on which the modiste would make a legitimate profit; not of a gown for which the modiste would charge every dollar she thought she could extort.

“A debutante may easily spend $35,000 a year for clothes and really get her money’s worth. Without being cheated by the modiste.”

You began to see how this was so.

“Now, for instance,” the modiste continued, “a girl who moves in what is known as high society needs about thirty evening gowns. She doesn’t plan to wear any costume more than two or three times; some of them only once. It is not too much to say that thirty evening gowns would cost her $9000.

“She would require 250 pairs of stockings. These would cost on a average, perhaps $9 a pair; an item of $2250 for hosiery alone. Of course, some stockings would cost much more than $9 a pair.”

As a matter of fact, a shop in the vicinity of Fifth avenue and Forty-second street has had on display within the year a pair of stockings priced at $500. Not $500 each, you understand; but $500 for the pair, or $250 each. They were perfectly simple black silk hose, with a large medallion of lace on the front.

The same shop had another pair of quite good-looking silk and lace stockings for $250.

But the modiste was going on with her itemized bill of wardrobe expenses. Shoes, she agreed, could cost anything you want to spend on them, but $2000 wasn’t too much for some women. A lady who wanted her feet to look really chic would require, at the least twenty-five pairs of shoes, and this was a low estimate.

Hats? Of course, you could get a good little hat for $35. Or you could get a stunning little thing for $100. Anyway, the lady would need at least thirty hats and she could easily spend from $1200 to $2100 before she got out of the millinery department.

By this time you begin to see that milady has run up quite a sizable bill. But the end is by no means yet. How about lingerie? How about lounging robes for the boudoir? How about the perfumes and powders, the creams and other cosmetics with which the boudoir dressing table is stacked?

Of course, a negligee is whatever you please. It is, so to speak, an elastic garment. It may be a cotton wrapper or a thing exquisite as sunshine on the sea. The negligee of the social leader is of this latter type. And you’d be surprised at how expensive it is to put the sunshine on the sea into figured silk and chiffon.

“A dozen negligees are not too many” –it is the voice of authority which speaks; “many women have many more than a dozen. They might easily cost a little more than $200 apiece, or $2500 for the dozen.

“As for lingerie—I have just finished a set of lingerie, for a bride, which is valued at $10,000. I have made other sets for $15,000; that is to say, a dozen of each garment. The set which I have just finished was of hand-made filet lace and Italian silk of special quality. The wedding gown, priced at $600, was intricately beaded with crystal. One could get a really lovely wedding gown, as a matter of fact for around $300. But, of course, this is without the veil. The veil may cost as much as one is willing to pay—

“It may be a few almost priceless yards of antique lace, made in some convent of the Middle Ages.

“The more usual lingerie, of finest linen or silks and exquisite laces, would cost about $3600 for two dozen sets.

 

“A dozen evening wraps would be part of the society woman’s wardrobe. It is difficult to put a price on them. They might cost several hundred dollars each, depending on what fur was used for the collars and other decorations.

“There are such things as fans, too, which vary tremendously in price. These would mount at least into the hundreds. Corsets, too, are expensive when well made and made to order. The materials are costly, also. Seventy dollars is the price of one corset which makes no pretense to embroidery or other ornamentation. The price is for the best quality of brocade and of silk elastic and for the model itself.

“You understand, further that a social leader could not possibly buy her furs within that $35,000 which I have allowed her for a wardrobe. Furs would have to be extra. For a handsome coat $15,000 is not an unusual price and $25,00 would more likely be the figure.

“This leaves what are known as incidentals. They include hairdressing and all that goes with this art; beauty treatments, with cosmetics, perfumes at—say–$30 an ounce—and things of the sort. Cigarettes, too, may be put with the incidentals. Many society women smoke the brands that come in fifteen or twenty cent packages, but you may, if you wish, have the sort that has a monogram, a special blend of tobacco and a little dab of cotton inside the cork tip to absorb the nicotine and keep it from touching the lips. Without the monogram these can be obtained for around eleven cents each.

“No, not each packet. Each cigarette.

“For incidentals we may safety estimate that a society woman spends $5000 yearly.”

The modiste drew a long breath. So did you.

“Well, you see,” she said.

You did, indeed.

New Britain [CT] Herald 7 October 1924: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil, who has previously shared information on the account-books of the very rich (The Cost of a Fine Lady, What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe, Where that $10,000 a Year Dress Allowance Goes, and The Cost of a Curtsey), wonders if these articles are a form of what she has heard called “humble-bragging,” or if they are meant to be inspiration for the ten-shillings-a-week shop-girl to set her sights on an elderly peer or millionaire?

Although she inexplicably omits essentials such as hand-bags, vanity cases, and jewels, Miss Lewisohn knew a thing or two about the sartorial needs of the society woman. She was the heiress to the Randolph Guggenheim millions. She was often in the news: Her engagement to one William Burton (of a Park Avenue address) was announced 23 February 1919; the engagement was reported as broken on 2 April, 1919, with her mother saying that the couple was “Too young to know their own hearts.” In 1921 she had to issue a statement denying that she was marrying a Russian prince; while in 1922, she announced the opening of her dressmaking establishment, in partnership with Mrs. Basil Soldatenkov, wife of the former Russian envoy under the Czar. She also married Jack Rothstone, brother of Broadway gambler Arnold Rothstein in 1928; divorcing him in 1934.

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 anecdote

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 Lost Garter: 1890

The ancient order of the garter was recalled to nineteenth century prominence here the other day by an incident that is being discussed very delightedly by the heavy social set. The actors in the drama are well known in Washington society. The lady is one of the prettiest girls in Washington and lives not a mile from the White House. Her father has drawn a great deal of money from the United States Treasury in his lifetime and is by no means unknown to fame.

It was at the Garfield Hospital ball. The gentleman was an army officer of more than ordinary rank. In appearance they are well matched. She is a dazzling blonde with a figure that can discount any one-armed Venus de Milo I ever saw. The names of the two have been coupled together not a little, but it is safe to predict that such remarks will cease from now on.

It happened this way They had just danced a quadrille and returned to their seats in a palm-decorated corner quite out of the way of the madding crowd. What he was saying when another man came to claim her for the next dance is immaterial, but when his following gaze lost the lovely form in the crowd, he glanced manlike at his boots and [in] a minute his eyes were riveted on a dainty light blue gold-clasped article that lay on the floor not a yard from where his fair partner of the  previous minute had been seated. As he recognized its character all the be-ruffled courtiers of the court of the English king seemed to troop before him and honi soit qui mal y pense trembled on his tongue as he thrust the pretty thing into an inner pocket.

Poor fellow he could not stand prosperity. During the rest of the  evening he was so idiotically happy that he failed to notice the disturbed and furtively searching glances that the pretty woman, cognizant of her loss, every now and then cast into odd corners where a loose article might have been brushed.

On the way home a confession of his newly-found treasure rose to his lips a dozen times, only to be postponed. When at last he stood in the hall of her house she looked so pretty that he could resist no longer. He held one of her gloves in his hand. It required no juggling skill to take his blue and gold treasure and slip it into the glove. It was better, he  thought, to give it to her than tell her. He didn’t know how much the  poor girl had gone through since he had picked up the dainty bauble. Just as he was beginning to tell her good-night he handed back her glove. In a moment the form that had been full of yielding grace grew rigid. One pretty hand clasped the glove so closely that it didn’t take all the keen intuition of the girl to understand that the long lost and much-needed article was within. No sooner had she realized that during all her suffering this man had possessed the article than her spirit rose in arms, sentiment vanished, and with the ejaculation, “Oh, you horrid brute,” she fled up the stairway, leaving him to his reflections and a large chunk of mortification.

The next time he called she sent word that she was “out,” and the young officer’s messmates don’t think it prudent to include garters in their conversations held before the hero of this tale.

The little married woman who told me of the incident explains the action of the young lady by saying that it was not mortification at the nature of the article that had been in the young a man’s possession that vexed the girl so much as it was fear lest she had lost one of the articles that had been especially purchased to match the dainty garments by which it was immediately surrounded, and that anyhow the heroine didn’t love the hero or she would have knighted him then and there with the precious article. But then women say odd things of one another and perhaps the poor girl was mortified after all.

Los Angeles [CA] Evening Express 15 March 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over a story perhaps better suited to the pages of a French novel than a family newspaper.  With so little common sense, one has doubts about the fitness of the officer for that “more than ordinary rank.”  Surely the contretemps could have easily been avoided by posting the lost item back to its owner anonymously? We may also wonder how the young officer knew what the dainty article was, but then one knows what young officers are….

 

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 anecdote

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.

Not Like Grandma’s Pantalettes: 1914

pantalettes dress

NOT LIKE GRANDMA’S

In the June Woman’s Home Companion Grace Margaret Gould, fashion editor of that periodical, writes an article entitled “Skirts Flare Out–Behold the Pantalette?” in which she comments on the pantalette of today and yesterday and other new French fashion frivolities. Following is an extract:

“Yes. Grandmamma did weave pantalettes and now Granddaughter has her modern critical eye upon them.

“Premet of Paris, who has so quickly forged ahead into fashionable favor, says, ‘Pantalettes are not only to be worn but shown.’

“But let me tell you that the new French pantalettes in this uppest-to-date are as far removed from the pantalettes of the remote and romantic days of long ago as champagne from cambric tea.

“Grandmamma certainly in her giddiest days would never have recognized these filmy, etherealized creations.

“Hers were of the prudent and substantial sort, fulfilling to the letter the now lost mission of clothes to be a covering, and they were only to be exposed on the most scheduled of clothes-lines.

“To describe the pantalettes that Premet shows–those which belong to the glaring Now–is to tell quite a different story.

“The Paris dress openings in their display of spring and summer gowns showed many novelties, but Premet’s costumes brought forth the most gasps and ‘Ohs!’ Such filmy, frilly perky pantalettes, and peeping out with no suggestion of timidity from actual hoop skirts!

“Then there were other pantalettes, direct descendants of the modern tango garter, created just for the dance. In fact, the return of the pantalette to Paris is not so much the revival of an old quaint fashion as it is a dress outcome of the dance craze. From the tango garter it is only a light and airy step to the tango pantalette and the next step after–and this is a stride–is the mannish trouser to be worn with the tailored suit.

“And right here let me say that the new tailored skirt, slit at the sides, and worn with trousers of the same fabric, is a strong swing toward decency.

Lead [SD] Daily Call 14 May 1914: p. 6

pantalettes 1915

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The “decency” of the pantalette when dancing is a constant theme in the fashion papers. This description refers to the figure above:

These little pantalettes are so quaintly pretty in their daintiness that they do not in any way shock our sensibilities. They are greatly to be recommended to be worn when dancing, for the wearer can move with greater ease than if hampered with a clinging skirt that falls to the ankles. In Fig. 1 I am showing here an entirely different silhouette from the frilled model with which pantalettes are usually associated. The gown is In rose taffeta. The fullness of the silk on the skirt is quaintly drawn In with a garland of pink roses. From beneath the taffeta falls a superposed flounce of exquisite lace, a gray net foundation woven with silver threads, under the lace and falling a few inches below, Is an underskirt of rose colored chiffon then come the little pantalettes; these are made of the finest of cream lace, encircled around the ankles with a wreath of tiny pink rosebuds.

The Ogden [UT] Standard 21 April 1914: p. 8

A new term arose to describe the fashionable and frilly garments:

lace pantalettes

The Day Book [Chicago IL] 8 July 1915: p. 18

The “Garter-Petticoats”

I have been amused to see that in some of the London newspapers they are giving the polite name of “garter-petticoats” to the new lace pantalettes which have recently been introduced into the world of fashion in Paris. “Garter-petticoat” sounds quite simple and correct, much less eccentric than the garment it describes. This is a very quaint fashion but it is one which has already become popular in smart circles. The new lace pantalettes are a modified edition of the voluminous trousers made of flimsy material worn by Turkish women. Some months ago this curious fashion first appeared, but then it was almost exclusively applied to evening costumes. Now, however, the long pantalettes made of fine lace and chiffon are worn in conjunction with visiting dresses and even in some extreme cases, with tailored suits.

These strange garments are banded in at the ankles and it is considered chic to have them distinctly visible under the hem of a tight skirt. Since I have already done a good deal of fault finding in this article I must now content myself by saying that personally I do not consider these long lace pantalettes suitable for street wear. It has been said that they are intended to give the effect of a lace petticoat and they are arranged as trousers merely to do away with unnecessary material under a tight skirt. As a comment on this explanation I ask to be allowed to use a single, rather rude, word:  “Bosh!”

In the full length sketch which I am sending to The Post this week I have indicated rather successful chiffon pantalettes which were made to match the costume with which they were worn. The model which I have sketched [seen at the head of the post] shows one of the new flounced skirts, the flounces being shaped and graduated in width. The color scheme exploited in this dress was very satisfactory.

The materials were supple taffeta and printed gauze The taffeta was in a rich shade of navy blue and the gauze In a subtle tone of petunia with dark blue roses scattered over its surface The silk corsage was particularly well arranged.  Cut on generous lines it fell in graceful folds over the bust and bloused over the waist band which was composed of navy blue mirror velvet This band was fastened in front with a beautiful enamel ornament which had been specially made for this costume.  This ornament repeated all the tones of blue and petunia shown in this dress.

The Washington [DC] Post 10 May 1914: p. 6

One would gather from the previous article that the London fashion world found the word “pantalettes” too jarring to the sensibilities of fashion reactionaries, not to mention the host of Bishops, who denounced bloomers, bicycles, and the tango from the pulpit, and that, in response, some anonymous Fleet-street copy-writer coined the appellation “garter-petticoat,” which, to be perfectly frank, is scarcely better. However, Mrs Daffodil must refute this monstrous calumny against British anti-pantalettegists: the term is first found in the United States press in 1901, in connection with narrower skirts, and then again, linked with hobble skirts, in 1910.

Under the very narrow gown, banded in at the ankles, the ordinary petticoat slips up and becomes bunched awkwardly about the limbs, interfering with the already restricted walk and making an ugly bulge in the scant skirt. The dressmakers have put their wits to work on the petticoat question for these new extremely narrow skirts, and have at last evolved the garter-petticoat—that is, double petticoat, for there are two long, narrow “petticoats” which—one might as well be truthful—are really shapeless trouser legs of silk or satin each attached to a ribbon-trimmed garter. The two garters are connected by a six-inch length of ribbon, so the feet may never be placed far enough apart to reveal the bifurcation of this new narrow “petticoat.”

Buffalo [NY] Evening News 4 November 1910: p. 16

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 anecdote

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.

Fashion’s Goldsmith-A Visit to Lalique: 1900

FASHION’S GOLDSMITH.

He Creates Birds and Flowers of Precious Stones.

The most prized and splendid jewels that have found their way into the caskets of princesses and millionaires of late are from the studio of Rini [sic] Lalique, artist, inventor, and worker in gems, ivory, and the precious metals. Women of the “smart set” who had the good fortune to see the wonderful specimens of this man’s work given Miss Julia Grant by the Prince Cantaruzene at the time of their wedding enjoyed a new emotion as well as a revelation in the art of personal adornment. This Benvenuto Cellini of today is in no sense of the word a shopkeeper and the fashionable woman who takes her annual trip to Paris this year to find show cases filled with trinkets made to imitate his style, will at once observe what an immense influence his originality of method has had upon the trade. If she is determined to see the interior of Lalique’s studio and talk with a very interesting man, she must seek out someone who knows where he bides in the quiet side street, and go armed with an introduction to the grey house, which bears beside the entrance door a small brass plate inscribed Lalique-Joallier.

A French artisan in a long blouse seeks the master, while you look around the room. In the centre are two upright cases, like those seen in museums, and by the windows a few tables with glass tops, similar to those ladies affect for their drawing-room curios. There is no suspicion of the shopkeeper in anything here. This is an artist’s studio, and as Lalique’s work appeals only to the elect, his guests admire and choose their purchases after the manner of pictures. Here they can see his methods and understand why It Is that his work has been admitted to the Salon among the chef d’oeuvres of great painters and sculptors.

Soon a young man who looks very like Paul Bourget comes in with a pleasant greeting, and listens modestly to your enthusiastic admiration of the spray of fuchsias which nod like real flowers as your footsteps jar the floor and which look quite as fragile as the real flower.

Lalique began life as a painter, but his genius was for another branch of art, one much more rare than painting; therefore he soon deserted the brush for his present implements. He first did some designing for a great American firm but longing to execute his own bold and original ideas, and now with a host of followers (all Paris, in fact) crowding on his footsteps, he leads the goldsmiths of the world. Never before has a jeweler looked upon the metals and gems as nothing but colors for his palate, but to Lalique’s eyes gold, silver, precious stones, and enamels are but materials which bring to life the golden pictures of his fancy. He colors the metals, chips the stones, mixes the cheap gems with the expensive and makes therewith works of art. Enamels take on new hues under his skilled fingers, while ivory and bone lend their dull colors to heighten the effect of his creations.

horn and ivory orchid comb lalique 1903-4

He colors gold and carves the opal so marvelously, that a comb for a princess, made of dull grey horn, becomes a stunning frame for a graceful woman’s figure, which leans against the side holding a great bunch of drooping pampas In her hand. Woman, grass, and delicate foliage, in the background are all a miniature painting done in gold of many colors, opal, enamel, and ivory.

lalique opal ring2

The imagination of the poet shows In every piece of this man’s work, drawing the line thus between the genius and the many talented designers who can imitate and follow him successfully. Rough opal is the material greatly used by Lalique. The golden sunset, the soft shine of the moonlight, the fleecy clouds beside innumerable flowers and living objects are wonderfully pictured by the way in which this artist uses this material. Diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, and turquoises are but parts of his design, and the way in which he employs amethyst as other jewelers use enamel is productive of amazing results.

lalique dragon brooch 1905

One sort of ornament which Lalique particularly likes, because its shape and position on the dress allows his fancy great play, is intended for the front of a belt, a low corsage, or a neckband. A wonderful dragon shining with color and belching forth clouds of opal, is a design for one of these. A second is a landscape showing through the tree trunks of many colored gold the opal of the sunset shining in a pool of diamonds, and still another is a spray of beautifully colored roses with their leaves growing inside a thread-like frame of gold as though they were growing outside the window. A few rings, queer brooches, a rope of seed pearls finished by a tassel of rubies, a pendant or two, all fanciful, poetic, unique, and enchanting, are all Lalique has to show his visitor. The court of Russia is constantly snatching up his finest pieces as they come from his hands, and in England the great families who are so proud of their jewels are constant visitors to his quiet apartments. He works very slowly, and except for his yearly exhibit at the Salon, can make no display, his works are nearly always sold before they are finished.

Washington [DC] Times 8 April 1900: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While to-day the work of M. Lalique is highly prized and sells for fabulous sums whenever it comes to auction, the critics of the past were not so kind. For example, this author finds Lalique cloyingly pretty:

We confess to some hesitation in expressing frankly the impression produced on us by M. Lalique’s work, because in looking back on the history of modern art we find that whenever work has been condemned for its tendencies with the admission of its technical excellence, the verdict of a succeeding generation has always been in favour of the artist. It is, in short, dangerous to condemn on some high moral or abstract aesthetic grounds work of which the technical excellence is indisputable. And yet, if we are to be sincere, that is what we are inclined to do to M. Lalique’s jewellery. To us its prettiness is exasperating—its extraordinary effectiveness, its too obvious and assertive charm, cloying….Nor is his rendering of natural forms really impressive ; it lacks intimacy and intensity of feeling…And if the line is nowhere arrested, nowhere determined by architectural necessity, the colour schemes are equally vague and indeterminate…Where therefore, as here, a discord is out of the question, no very intense or moving harmony can occur, the colour never rises to beauty, it remains obdurately and annoyingly pretty.

The Athenaeum 27 May 1905: p. 664

Another found him lacking in style:

The chief thing lacking in M. Lalique’s’ jewellery, as in that of his imitators, is style. And it is for this reason that so many people, even those most devoted to that which is novel, refuse to regard his productions as other than vain and transitory things. Certain it is that the composition of some of M. Lalique’s work suggests haste—facile haste; this or that detail deserved closer study, demanded firmer drawing, stronger characterisation. Thus, while acknowledging fully our indebtedness to M. Lalique for having renovated and revived the art of jewel-working, one cannot but regret that he should too often have been content to make a direct copy of floral forms when a careful stylisation would have been far more effective. A natural flower is decorative of itself, and no jewel however precious can compare with it on a woman’s breast or in her hair.

The Studio, Vol. 23: p. 1901: pp. 27-30

Finally, this critic has a rather amusing, yet valid, reason for disliking Lalique:

At times even—most unjustly, I admit—one almost comes to hate the art of M. Lalique himself, so persistently is it badly imitated.

Modern Design in Jewellery and Fans, Charles Holme, 1902: p. 2

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 anecdote

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.

Violets the Fad This Winter: 1893

hand painted violet fan

VIOLETS THE FAD THIS WINTER.

They Will Appear in Every Sort of Shape That Fashion Can Suggest.

The violet is the flower of the coming winter.

All the new things of every sort are covered with violets. The new embroidery patterns are in violets. The new candleshades have paper violets stuck upon them. Even the candles are of a novel tint–purple.

The newest ribbons in the shops are violet, the color running through a surprising number of shades. The latest fancy soaps are wrapped in violet-colored paper. Note paper in pale violet is to be a fashionable fad, and my lady will scent her dainty mouchoir with violet perfume.

Some of the swellest Washington women are going to give violet teas during the coming season. On these occasions of modish festivity many gowns will be worn of white silk with violets brocaded upon them, the corsage bouquets being great bunches of the same flowers. One dress already designed will have a low cut bodice entirely surrounded by a deep wreath of violets. At tea tables violet ribbons will be stretched from the candles to the chandeliers above, forming a sort of May pole effect.

A Violet Room.

One Washington house already has a whole room done in pale violet–the wall paper, hangings, furniture coverings, everything. A pretty effect is produced by making violet the color-motive for a lady’s bedchamber. The counterpane and pillow shams may be of white muslin over violet, and the dressing table in the same materials, tied with great violet bows in several shades. If nothing else is done in recognition of this new fad, one should have at least one sofa pillow of violet.

Violet has even become the proper color for babies, replacing the old-fashioned blue and pink. The violet tea gown will be very much the thing. It Is noticed that all the newest and most dainty porcelains are ornamented with violets, either scattered about or in solid bunches. The latest designs in jewelry are in these flowers, and fancy pins and such trifles in violets will be popular as gifts for the approaching Christmas.

Of course, this rage for violets will add greatly to the price of those blossoms during the coming winter. Many women win mix imitation ones with the real for economy’s sake, and their bouquets will not be less beautiful for that reason. Violets are perhaps more successfully imitated than any other flowers.

A Clerk in the Business.

A young Washington lady employed in the Treasury Department is likely to find this a profitable season for a pleasant business which she devotes her leisure moments to conducting. She raises violets on a small farm of her own near Anacostia. The work is very easy. She has more than 30 glass sashes, under which the flowers bloom all winter long. In May each year she has some fresh ground plowed, and in it she plants all of her violets, taken from beneath the sashes for that purpose. Then she simply takes up the sashes, covers the newly planted violets with them, and the work Is done.

In October they begin to bloom, and continue all through the winter, so that the young lady can pick them every day and send them to market. All of her violet plants came from one little pot which she bought at the Center market five years ago. They are made to multiply by dividing the roots, so that a single plant taken up in the spring will supply a score or more. She sells her violets to florists in Washington or New York. Prices are higher in the metropolis, so that it pays to express them on. They never bring less than a cent apiece, and sometimes two cents.

There is always a market for violets, and there is never any difficulty in disposing of them. Any florist is glad to buy them, if they are good ones and in prime condition. They must be picked always in the afternoon, because otherwise they lose their perfume. To ship them, they must be placed in bunches in pasteboard boxes, with waxed paper folded loosely around them. They must not be touched with water, because to do so will take away their sweetness.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 11 November 1893: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously written about how to give a “violet luncheon.” Should her readers require the details of a “violet tea,” albeit of a more lavish variety than usually seen in suburban households, this article gives some helpful suggestions.

Extravagant Hospitality

The afternoon teas of the coming season will be more elaborate than ever before. One leader in society will give one in a few weeks which will eclipse anything of the kind ever seen. It is to be a violet tea. The table will be laid for twelve. The cloth used upon this occasion will be one of six which the hostess had made abroad by special order. They all are of a heavy white satin, each embroidered in different designs. The one to be used upon this occasion is embroidered in violets. They lie in clusters, all over the shining white surface and the work is so admirably done that one would think they had been plucked and dropped there. The tea service is of Royal Worcester, also made by special order, with a design of violets upon a rich cream ground. There are 188 pieces in this tea service, and the average cost is $30 for each, piece. The napkins are of satin, with a design of violets embroidered in one corner. The favors will be painted upon porcelain, and although all different each will be a design of violets.

Under the table will be a large Wilton rug of cream with violets scattered over it The valance dependent from the mantel will be of creamy plush, with a border of embroidered violets and a lining of violet satin. The portieres will be of heavy white felt with a border of violets. The lamps will all have violet shades, so that the light will be like an Indian summer haze.

Arkansas City [KS] Daily Traveler 9 January 1890: p. 2

 

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 Lightning Adaptors of Fashion: 1910

billie burke 1916

Actress Billie Burke c. 1916

On Trail of Latest Fashions.

Helene Melville

There are a large number of fashion devotees who, although unable to spend much on their attire or to be in the secret of the “couturiers,” manage to be dressed strictly according to the dictates of fashion almost as soon as those dictates have been promulgated, and before they appear in the shape of special articles and sketches or photograph in newspapers and periodicals.

Needless to say. It is among the Parisiennes that these clever and enterprising fashion hunters, fashion detectors, and fashion ” lightning adaptors,” as some one has called them, are mostly to be found.

Which are their hunting territories? Mainly the leading theaters of Paris (on first nights), the race courses near the French metropolis, and the ” afternoon teas.” “Afternoon teas” is the more vague term for the old fashioned “5 o’clock tea,” which now is partaken of in Paris from any time between 5 and 7 p.m.!

The first night at the Théâtre-Français, the Vaudeville, the Gymnase, and the Variétés are the recognised indicators of fashion. Sensational gowns are worn on those “select” stages by the  leading Parisian actresses. Some of those dresses are suggestions. They are offered to the actress by well known firms anxious to make their new “creations” known to the elite.

It were difficult to conceive keener excitement and anxiety, a readier sense of assimilation than that which permeates the minds of certain feminine spectators at those “premieres.”

They hold the best seats, the seats from which a woman can see the exact nature of a material and whether a gown closes at the back, in front, or on the side, how that “unique drapery” is arranged, and the exact details of the color scheme.

How clever those fair fashion pirates are! How subtle and rapid in their perceptions. They miss nothing and their astounding memory–for, needless to say, they make no use of paper or pencil–retains even the slightest details of the new gowns they admire end envy.

All the time her mind is at work. Her eyes take snapshots of all that is new in fashion and which passes before her. The next morning she sets to work alone or with the assistance of a little dressmaker or milliner, and, behold, the same day or the next she appears triumphantly in the drawing room of her best friend wearing the latest!

Of course she does not remember much of the play; she has hardly grasped the plot or appreciated, the acting. But what matters? A new hat surely is more important than a new play, and “her” success is a more momentous affair than that of writer’s dramatic effort.

The methods of the fashion hunters are used by them on many fields of activity. But the fashionable Paris theaters on first nights are favorites with them. Can one blame them? After all they only seek to enhance their appearance, and if vanity is at the foundation of their craving for “new” elegance and, as it were, copyright “fashionableness” let us remember that they expose themselves to much criticism and run the dreaded risk of not being absolutely fashionable in spite of their efforts, at imitation and assimilation.

Chicago [IL] Tribune 20 February 1910: p. 48

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Actresses of stage and screen reported much pressure over procuring and wearing the latest fashions. They knew very well that they were role models:  the theatrical equivalent of to-day’s cat-walk mannequins, exhibiting the most up-to-date costumes to audiences who, although they could not patronise the great couture houses, still wished to wear the newest styles.

One actress, who designed many of her own costumes, felt that the piracy of theatrical audiences had gone far enough.

COPYRIGHTED DRESSES.

Miss Billie Burke originated the scheme of copyrighting her stage dresses that so many other actresses have since adopted.

“I just had to do it,” says the actress, who comes to the Grand Theatre March 19, in “Jerry,” her latest success in which she wears an unusually large number of fetching gowns.

“I used to be proud of the fact that the dressmakers copied my clothes for their customers, but I found it made it very expensive for me. I had to be getting new frocks all the time to keep ahead of my audiences. So I have seen my lawyers in New York and they tell me It can be done and that after my dresses are copyrighted I can prosecute anyone who copies them.”

Miss Burke, it is well known, is one of the best dressed women on the American stage. She designs most of her costumes herself and so they have a distinctive touch that differentiates them from the prevailing fashions. Dressmakers In New York especially–but in other cities, too– were quick to observe this and whenever Miss Burke appeared in a new play in New York there were always a lot of the fashionable costumers of the city in the audience and it wasn’t long before a lot of Imitation Billie Burkes were to be seen on Fifth Avenue.

The Montgomery [AL] Advertiser 13 March 1915: p. 3

Miss Billie Burke had such a distinctive face, figure, and voice that one could scarcely countenance an Imitation.  In addition to designing her own clothes, she was often dressed by Lucile. Some of Mrs Daffodil’s readers will remember her in a fluffy pink frock as “Glinda, the Good Witch” in the motion picture: The Wizard of Oz. 

Mrs Daffodil has written before on early fashion piracy, and on the trials of motion-picture actresses and their fashionable gowns.

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 Undine with a Soul: 1892

green and pink gown

Green and pink gown by the House of Worth, 1897, Chertsey Museum

AN UNDINE WITH A SOUL.
How a Clever New York Maiden Saved Her Social Fortunes.

Special Correspondence Sunday Post-Dispatch.

New York. Gift making is over and all the world is duly thankful, a large part of it that the holiday pother is well ended, here and there an individual for what has not been received. This is notably the case with a young woman much addicted to artistic yearning and full of a fine feeling for color. Though the best circles here receive her with open arms, it is wholly because of her personal charm, backed with substantial expectations. Her family is good enough, not distinguished, and only comfortably endowed with this world’s goods. Her father claims a cross of Knickerbocker blood. Her mother comes of thrifty trader-folk, clean and honest, but wholly unaesthetic. There is a childless rich aunt, the mother’s sister, widow of a retired grocer, for whose garmenting gorgeous is a poor pale word. Fair, fat and fifty; she revels in big hats all over sky blue feathers, in velvet gowns of green and scarlet aflaunt with white lace; in brocades that would do admirably as wall tapestries; in tea-gowns calculated to make a self-respecting rainbow go out of business; in bracelets and lockets and chatelaines, distinctly audible as far as eye can reach. In fact the good lady lives to be clothed. Style is her fetish, and she offers to it a perpetual oblation of good, hard cash, expended for “all the latest things.”

Notwithstanding she shows the family thrift otherwise. The beauty, as her namesake and prospective heiress, has a reasonable claim upon her generosity. It is one, though, that the young woman most willingly waives. All her life particularly at Christmas times she has been endowed with things that her aunt bought, wore and laid aside the season before, and woe to the recipient if she dares to leave them unworn. Since she came out. two winters back, they have been the nightmare of her existence. Between tears and laughter she told me of her struggles with one particularly flamboyant gown, a grass-green silk all betagged and befrilled with vulgarly deep pink, and aglitter with crystal passementeries in the bargain. It was as rich and costly as it was ugly and to the donor’s mind exactly the thing the girl needed to wear at a swell dinner party with dancing after it, two weeks in prospect. The victim of it thought otherwise. The invitation was the first that had come to her from the really swagger set. If she did not do credit to it it would be also the last. To go in that impossible gown was to foredoom herself to social failure. What could she be but a dumb fright under the oppression of that rainbow horror? Yet not to wear it might cost her eventually a solid quarter million. It was a case of her face or her fortune, and she did not care to sacrifice either. There was nothing for it but diplomacy. Taking her courage in both hands, she stripped off every vestige of the pink, and with it ornamented a loose white cashmere house-robe, where the effect was not half so bad. This she sent to her aunt as a birthday gift, intimating that only the elder lady’s magnificent complexion could bear such rich color. Then the green remnant was veiled and swathed in clouds of pink and white tulle, layer upon layer, with crystal drops here and there and trails of water grass and lilies on the corsage and about the waist. Thus gowned, with an emerald pendant on her bare white throat, green slippers, green stockings, a white and green fan, the young woman was voted an Undine with a soul and her social success assured. But it was a narrow escape–a harrowing experience–one, too, that she feared was to be indefinitely repeated. There were three brocades in her aunt’s wardrobe that it seemed certain the Christmas just past would precipitate on her devoted head. A line in a fashion letter saved her. It read, ‘”Old brocades are more stylish than new, now that the texture is again in fashion.” By consequence, at the eleventh hour the aunt bought for her niece a bonbonniere as big as your two hands, all over gilt and flowers, and sent for her modiste to see what were the possibilities of the gowns she could not bring herself to part with.

blue and gold velvet dress 1895

1895 velvet and brocade gown. ttps://artsandculture.google.com/asset/dress/cQEsM1SnLWPe2g

So here is a new use for the fashion letter. Certainly womankind should be grateful to it for it brings much of sweetness and light into the chaos of feminine costume. The sentence quoted is frozen fact. The happiest, she is the one who had a grand aunt or mother considerate enough to leave her a chest full or even one gown of the rich old-fashioned taffeta brocade. One that I saw resurrected the other day was as freshly beautiful as though it had not come out of Paris 120 years ago. The ground was a rich chocolate brown satin brocaded with a cluster of cherries and their leaves in natural tints, alternating with poppy clusters in shaded red and yellow. It was made with a very long waist pointed and opening quite to the bottom over a stomacher of yellow lace. The same yellow lace made a tucker in the low square neck and triple ruffles for the elbow sleeves. The skirt opened in front and was looped away from a petticoat of plain brown satin short enough to show the high heeled red shoes with big bows and silver buckles and even a tiny bit of the red clocked stockings. Behind the brocade swept out into a train full three yards long, lined throughout with yellow brown paduasoy. Its first wearer was a colonial dame of renown—a vice regal lady whose stately beauty is the most cherished tradition of her descendants. This costume, which figured at more than one historic ball, has been kept intact even to fan and gloves, which by the way are as long as the longest of our period. It was brought to light with some faint idea of remodeling it into a ball-gown for a great-great granddaughter. In the end it was decided to leave it alone. There are hints, though, of a colonial costume ball for the benefit of the Mary Washington Monument association. If they take form and substance it is safe to say the brown brocade will appear and ruffle with the best.

 

 

Failing old brocade you may buy new ones twice as beautiful in all the delicate evening shades—blues like a dream of heaven or the shimmering summer sea, pale tea-rose pinks, shot stuff, opalescent as the tints of dawn or as full of changing hues as a pigeon’s purple neck; cream amber, Indian red, jonquil yellow, pearl, dead white, black, gray, crimson, all in the most lustrous weaves, with a pattern of lace festoons or true love knots, or stars or spots or crescents in self-tones running all over them. Other sorts have delicate flowers or bouquets colored to the life; still others sheaves of wheat in gold or silver, or suns or moons or intricate arabesque tracery in the same precious metals. In making up the brocade forms either a coat bodice in front with a velvet train, or else a trained skirt with bodice of fine cloth, or may be a court train and sleeves to a princess gown the color of its ground.

The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY] 27 December 1891: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We must applaud the very diplomatic young woman, even if she is much addicted to artistic yearning.  Few, if any of us, could so deftly steer between the Scylla of social ruin and the Charybdis of an aunt having a quarter million in her gift.  The Undine gown sounds enchanting. And the pink-trimmed cashmere house-robe and its attendant compliment to the aunt’s complexion was a sheer stroke of genius.

The House of Worth was noted for its exquisite brocades, often woven à la disposition or with metallic threads. The descriptions above could have come from a vendeuse tempting the Undine’s aunt at Maison Worth.

 

As a side-light, Mrs Daffodil was full of anxiety over the fate of the yellow-brown “paduasoy,” for fear that it had been remodeled, i.e. vandalised, into a ball gown for some heedless debutante. It was with a feeling of profound relief that she heard that it was left alone, although there was still the threat of the colonial costume ball. We have previously read of the historic costumes worn on such occasions in An Imposter at the Concord Ball. It is a dress-historian’s worst nightmare.

 

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.