Category Archives: Fashion

The Sale of Mrs Lincoln’s Wardrobe: 1867

Mrs Lincoln's wardrobe for sale

Mrs Lincoln’s wardrobe for sale in the New York showroom.

A SINGULAR SPECTACLE

Which has already too large a share of public attention and notoriety, is the exhibition which has been going on for weeks in a small room, upstairs, corner of Houston street and Broadway, of Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe. It is a disagreeable subject, and would not be adhered to, only to correct some misstatements and misapprehensions.

No one can look at the collection and imagine that the object in exposing them was to sell them, or make a large amount of money by their sale. With the exception of the lace and camel’s hair shawls, and a few odd pieces of jewelry, there is nothing which any lady could wear, or which in its present condition, would not be a disgrace to a second hand cloth shop. The dresses, those that have been made up and worn are crushed, dirty, old fashioned, and most of them made and trimmed in the worst way. The skirts are too short for any but a very short person, and the commonest muslins, barreges and grenadines are made extremely low in the neck and would not be available for any purpose. There are some brocaded silk skirts in large heavy patterns which have been made but not worn, but these are unaccompanied by any waist, while the price upon them, and all the other articles, is exorbitant. Had the purpose been merely one of sale it would have been better effected through any large dry goods or jewelry house, who would have taken, as they frequently do, the India shawls and diamond rings at a fair valuation, but the display evidently had another object, and for the sake of Mr. Lincoln and his family, the Union League Club, or some other organization, ought to buy up the goods and transfer them to Chatham street as soon as possible.

Daily Eastern Argus [Portland, ME] 1 November 1867: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although in receipt of a pension granted by Congress, Mrs Lincoln had a terrible fear of poverty and conceived the idea of selling off some of her clothes anonymously. When this was discovered, the President’s widow was savaged by both the Northern and Southern press for selling her “cast-off” clothes. Here is another piece, quoted by Mrs Lincoln’s former dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, in her 1868 memoir, Behind the Scenes.

“The attraction for ladies, and the curious and speculative of the other sex in this city, just now, is the grand exposition of Lincoln dresses at the office of Mr. [W.H.] Brady, on Broadway, a few doors south of Houston street. The publicity given to the articles on exhibition and for sale has excited the public curiosity, and hundreds of people, principally women with considerable leisure moments at disposal, daily throng the rooms of Mr. Brady, and give himself and his shopwoman more to do than either bargained for, when a lady, with face concealed with a veil, called and arranged for the sale of the superabundant clothing of a distinguished and titled, but nameless lady. Twenty-five dresses, folded or tossed about by frequent examinations, lie exposed upon a closed piano, and upon a lounge; shawls rich and rare are displayed upon the backs of chairs, but the more exacting obtain a better view and closer inspection by the lady attendant throwing them occasionally upon her shoulders, just to oblige, so that their appearance on promenade might be seen and admired. Furs, laces, and jewelry are in a glass case, but the ‘four thousand dollars in gold’ point outfit is kept in a paste-board box, and only shown on special request.

“The feeling of the majority of visitors is adverse to the course Mrs. Lincoln has thought proper to pursue, and the criticisms are as severe as the cavillings are persistent at the quality of some of the dresses. These latter are labelled at Mrs. Lincoln’s own estimate, and prices range from $25 to $75—about 50 per cent less than cost. Some of them, if not worn long, have been worn much; they are jagged under the arms and at the bottom of the skirt, stains are on the lining, and other objections present themselves to those who oscillate between the dresses and dollars, ‘notwithstanding they have been worn by Madam Lincoln,’ as a lady who looked from behind a pair of gold spectacles remarked. Other dresses, however, have scarcely been worn —one, perhaps, while Mrs. Lincoln sat for her picture, and from one the basting threads had not yet been removed. The general testimony is that the wearing apparel is high-priced, and some of the examiners say that the cost-figures must have been put on by the dress-makers; or, if such was not the case, that gold was $250 when they were purchased, and is now but $140—so that a dress for which $150 was paid at the rate of high figures cannot be called cheap at half that sum, after it has been worn considerable, and perhaps passed out of fashion. The peculiarity of the dresses is that the most of them are cut low-necked—a taste which some ladies attribute to Mrs. Lincoln’s appreciation of her own bust.

“On Saturday last an offer was made for all the dresses. The figure named was less than the aggregate estimate placed on them. Mr. Brady, however, having no discretionary power, he declined to close the bargain, but notified Mrs. Lincoln by mail. Of course, as yet, no reply has been received. Mrs L. desires that the auction should be deferred till the 31st of the present month, and efforts made to dispose of the articles at private sale up to that time.

“A Mrs. C__. called on Mr. Brady this morning, and examined minutely each shawl. Before leaving the lady said that, at the time when there was a hesitancy about the President issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, she sent to Mrs. Lincoln an ashes-of-rose shawl, which was manufactured in China, forwarded to France, and thence to Mrs. C __., in New York. The shawl, the lady remarked, was a very handsome one, and should it come into the hands of Mr. Brady to be sold, would like to be made aware of the fact, so as to obtain possession again. Mr. Brady promised to acquaint the ashes-of-rose donor, if the prized article should be among the two trunks of goods now on the way from Chicago.”

A detailed description of the New York visit and clothing fiasco by Elizabeth Keckley may be found here.

While Mrs Lincoln was known to be eccentric and erratic, (it has been suggested that her lavish spending was a symptom of a mental illness), few there were  who sympathised with the lady in her grief for her three dead sons and her murdered husband. Even her surviving son, Robert, felt compelled to lock her away as insane.

Mrs Lincoln had been very close to Elizabeth Keckley, her dressmaker and confidante, but when Mrs Keckley published her book about life in the White House, to, as she stated, “attempt to place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world” and to “explain the motives” that guided Mrs. Lincoln’s decisions regarding what became known as the “old clothes scandal,” she was excoriated for violating the former First Lady’s privacy.  This led to a break in their friendship, although it is possible that they reconciled before Mrs Lincoln died. Mrs Lincoln spent her last years depressed and in ill-health, dying at her sister’s home in Springfield, Illinois in 1882.

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

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

 

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Snake-skins in Fashion: 1882-1912

BEAUTY IN SNAKE-SKINS.

LATEST VAGARY OF FASHION.

This autumn will bring the snake-skin dress into fashion. Mr. Gerrett, the originator of this development, informed a newspaper representative recently that its advantages are more manifold than would appear at the first glance.

“Marvels can be achieved by the python’s skin, in the hands of a clever designer,” he said, “for this skin never pulls or gives. It is both waterproof and pliable, and it can, by skilful manipulation of its wonderful scale marking, bring into prominence a pretty point or hide a defect.

“By using the python’s skin for footwear a foot can be made smaller, or it can be given breadth or tapered to a point.

“Then why should not an entire figure be modelled on these lines–breadth here, a slim line there, attention called to a pretty waist, or angular hips transformed into beautifully rounded ones by the magic aid of the python’s skin?

“Not only will women benefit by this idea, but the python’s skin should make men’s golf shoes impervious to weather, furnish lapels and, cuffs to motor-coats, and make elaborate waistcoats which will not wrinkle and which will disguise rotundity.

“I have already many orders for python shoes and many exquisite shoes, this autumn will be made in grey lizard, but for absolute smartness nothing will approach the gorgeous skin of the python.”

New Zealand Herald, 6 August 1910: p. 2

Yes, python embraces every curve….

COATS FROM SNAKESKINS

For once fashion has taken a direction which promises to be of general benefit to humanity. Women, or at least such as have access to the longest purses, shortly are to use snakeskin for garments for quite everyday wear, says a London dispatch to the Chicago Inter Ocean. One can scarcely imagine a more poetic revenge by the daughters of Eve on their old enemy, the serpent tempter.

Whether the new robes will prove as artistic as is expected remains to be seen. They will certainly lend themselves in skilful hands to the emphasizing of whatever graces there may be in the person of the wearer, and if the fashion thins out the number of these dangerous reptiles all over the world humanity will owe a debt of gratitude to the inventor of new modes.

We may yet come to see python skin sold by the yard over the dry goods counters, for the python is a big reptile, occasionally reaching, when full grown, thirty feet in length and a foot or more in diameter. Thus, apparently, a single skin might supply enough stuff to make an ordinary gown along modern lines. What the cost will be one cannot yet say. It will obviously be high, for serpents of the largest size are not to be met with every day.

The market price of skins, in view of the coming demand, already has gone up to a very high figure, and in Borneo, Sumatra and all over the Malay archipelago native hunters are scouring the wilderness, tempted by the offers of dealers in Paris and Vienna, and killing and capturing every big snake they meet with.

Properly prepared snake skin is both soft and durable. The anaconda is already “bespoke” for the latest thing in motor coats, and thus used makes an attractive novelty. Made up in the delicate shades of cream color and brown, and lined with satin to match, the material forms most attractive garments, which are especially desirable by reason of their lightness. They weigh almost nothing at all, and, it is reported, “never wear out.”

Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ] 13 August 1912: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil regrets that these beautiful snakes were hunted almost to extinction in the name of fashion. She feels that the world needs more giant pythons and anacondas to keep mankind on its toes.

Light and durable and attractive though snake-skin garments might be, there were certain drawbacks:

Recently snakes and lizards have been furnishing some share of the material for what are considered the most elegant styles of pocket-books, portmonnaies, gentlemen’s match-safes, card-cases, side bags with girdles, and fashionable trifles of all kinds. Yet it is by rather slow degrees that the boa-constrictor elegance has been winding itself into favour with us; in some of the European cities it is reported as having become much more the rage. Here in the manufacturing shop, however, may be seen the snake skin untanned, just as brought from South America, and resembling what one sees in the British Museum. Its markings are very beautiful, with the gold-touched stripe through the centre and the irregularly conjoined diamond and triangle shapes at either side. It is this natural design which is so much prized for objects like the side-bag or the pocket-book. Yet the material may have, perhaps, the fault of not wearing quite satisfactorily. The edges of the scales are apt to get rubbed up the wrong way so as to cause very soon a seedy appearance of the article. For the prevention of this roughening tendency gums are introduced, however, with more or less success in the process of preparing the skin for manufacture. The Citizen-Examiner 19 April 1882: p. 2

Snakes, of course, do not sling handbags carelessly about, nor do they sit on their coats in taxi-cabs or motor-cars. They glide through whatever jungle they inhabit, smoothing their scales the correct way and  ensuring that they do not end up looking like a parrot dragged through a hedge backwards. One expects that it is altogether too much to ask of the heedless young woman in a python dress who fancies herself a serpentine temptress to be mindful of the grain of her scales.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the only specimen she was able to find of early snake-skin garb is the shoe at the head of the post. There was, however, a rage for the reptilian in the 1930s-40s and again in the New Age of the 1970s and in the opulent ’90s. Mrs Daffodil shares some of those fashions on her facebook page.

Mrs Daffodil has also discussed the fad for lizard fashions and for snake garters.

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.

 

 

 

 

Capers of Some Clothing Cranks, As Told by a Talkative Tailor: 1881

A TALKATIVE TAILOR

Strange Revelations of the Sartorial Trade.

CAPERS OF SOME CLOTHING CRANKS.

The Painful Self-Denial Which makes Kearny Street Fashionable

Traits of the Tough.

“I should say that a tailor’s life in San Francisco is a hard one,” said a well-known and popular knight of the shears to a Chronicle reporter the other day.

The communicative craftsman was standing in his doorway, whence he could see in all directions gorgeous signs such as “Pickle, the Tailor,” “Sowfine, the Solid Tailor,” “Rosenheim, the Ready Tailor,” “Bosenheim, the Boss Tailor,” etc.

“You see,” said the loquacious but rather disconsolate Sartorian, “what competition there is in our business. The town seems to be populated with tailors, and you will observe that none of them show any of the mawkish delicacy about parading their profession that prevailed when a tailor was supposed to be but a small fractional part of a human being. Instead of regarding themselves as the ninth part of a man, they act as if they considered themselves equal to any twenty-nine ordinary storekeepers. Look at their electric lights and the portraits of themselves that they stick on the walls. It’s a good thing for the originals that most people here can read, or their portraits would make them think that the police had begun to use the dead-walls of the town for the Rogues’ Gallery.

“But the competition among the tailors themselves is not the worst thing in the trade,” said the disgusted knight of the shears. “It’s the cranks who patronize us that shorten a man’s life, and make him lenient toward all murders.

THE EXPERT FIEND.

“Here’s one of them just coming,” whispered the tailor, as a shabby genteel young man with the weird history of cheap lodging written on his lank jaw, sauntered into the store and addressed himself to one of the salesmen.

“That’s what we call the expert fiend,” said the tailor, nodding his head towards the visitor. “Watch how he paws the cloths. He is an assistant bookkeeper in a toothbrush factory at $17 a month, and never wore a fine suit of clothes in his life; but he knows more about cloth than my best salesman, who has spent a lifetime in the business. When he is getting measured he will give the cutter a fill about wanting the suit in a hurry for a reception on Nob Hill, but a dressmaker’s soiree on Natoma street is about his fit. Just hear him talk about what he used to do in the East and the distance this one-horse town is behind New York. He can’t get anything here like in the East. Just watch how the salesman will get to his collar,” said the tailor, as he gleefully jingled several half-dollars in his pocket and proudly eyed his assistant. The latter, after showing the expert enough cloth to dress the whole police force, Captain Kentzel [a famously stout police officer] included, whipped out a piece with a great display of animation.

“Ah! Here you are, sir,” said he, with a triumphant flourish of the goods; “something nobby and durable. The only piece left. Sold the rest of it to the French visitors. Genuine imported goods, and the very latest pattern. Let you have a suit for $45, as it’s the last piece in the house.”

The effect of the salesman’s sudden earnestness was a prompt sale. As the captured expert was led away to the recesses, where the cutter lay in wait for him with his remorseless shears, the proprietor chuckled audibly.

“That piece of goods just sold,” said he, “is about the worst in the house. It went on the vaudoo counter months ago, and I was thinking of sending it to the Orphan Asylum as a Christmas gift. We always keep such goods for the expert fiend, and, at the right moment, yank it out and nail him. It takes a man of some experience to know just when to show the expert the piece of cloth he wants to get rid of, but the competent salesman never slips up.

THE DRY GOODS MEN’S WATCHES.

“No, sir. The expert fiend is our Injun. We scalp him just as we do his first cousin, the dry goods fiend, who thinks because he handles a few domestic lines of goods that he knows all about the trade. His ignorance wouldn’t make so much difference if he was willing to pay like anyone else, but he wants to get the best in the house for little or nothing and a discount, because he is in the trade. He generally winds up by leaving his watch as security and sauntering around for a month or two with a door-key or a chronometer. I have a dozen dry goods men’s watches in my safe now and more on the way. If you say anything in your paper about this business, please state that the dry goods man wants more and pays less and pays it more unwillingly than any man in town, except the lawyer. No, sir; we have no use for dry goods men as customers.”

“You don’t do much a credit business,” said the reporter, “or your collection of watches would not be so large.”

“I do none. Mine is a second-class business. The tailors of this town are of three orders. The first class is supported by Nob Hill and does a credit trade exclusively. The second class is supported by a business section of the town and does a cash business. The third class is kept up by Tar Flat and does a cash business. It is the style for the young bloods about town to boast how they hang up their tailor, but you can bet even money every time on the tailor not getting left. Of course there are dead beats who get away with almost any one, but whenever a fellow begins to lay around the store and drop in of a morning to ask after his health, the tailor gets into his shell.

THE INSTALLMENT PLAN.

“I will give you the true business how these lords in disguise that you see every afternoon on Kearny street get their good cloths. Getting a new suit is no sudden idea with them. When one of these aristocratic young men wants a suit he comes in and states his case plainly. He is perhaps working in a barber-shop at $7 a week, or more likely doing nothing, and of course his word is very bad. He has no credit at all, in fact. He picks out the cloth for his suit, and pay what he can as a deposit. If the tailor was to go and make the suit, the fellow would never take it unless he got a reduction of about 50 per cent, but the tailor, unless he is very green in the business, insists on a remittance every week until about two-thirds of the price of the suit is paid in dimes and quarters, when he cuts the suit and proceeds to make it. It generally takes about four months to make one of these suits, and when there are only about $5 or $10 due on it the finishing touches are given. About a week before the suit is ready the owner assumes a hauteur that freezes his companions, and announces that he is going to invest in a new suit. He extorts the last installment from some confiding female friend, and next week blooms out in all the glory of the loudest suit in the market and breaks the boys all up. Nobody except the tailor ever knows how much the young man denied himself and how many petty larcenies he had to commit before he could amaze the street with his style. He never does get much style though, for the tailor regards him as his legitimate prey, and shoves on him all the old flash patterns that the expert fiend won’t buy. He gets very nearly as badly treated as the sample fiend, who is a full brother to the expert fiend.

THE SMART SAMPLER.

“The sample fiend, having made up his mind to get a new suit, resolves to get the best of the whole trade, and goes down to the wholesale house and gets a sample of the goods he wants. Then he starts out among the retail stores. He is not the man to be fooled. Oh, no! He strolls in and looks at the goods, prices them all, and when he thinks you are quite unprepared, he shoves the sample under your nose and inquires how much can you make a suit the same as that for. We get to such a customer as that at once. The salesman takes the sample and pretends to look at it thoughtfully for some moments, and then says:

“’Now this is very find goods—very fine. In any other store in town, they would charge you $50 for a suit of that; but as we have a big line of the goods, brought from the East, we can afford to make it for $45.’

“This generally fetches the sample fiend as he pays his money and goes off chuckling to himself over his smartness. Instead of getting ahead of us five dollars, though, he loses three times that much. The prices of suits are graded on the work put into them, and we can make more out of a $45 suit than a $50 we cut from the same piece. When the sample fiend goes out, the salesman quietly marks opposite the price of the suit on the books, ‘undersold $5,’ and the trimmer plans the work accordingly. Fifty cents is saved on the vest. The coat is given to some poor workman, and the pantaloons are cheaply trimmed; so the smart sampler gets his suits so badly strung together that the first breeze that strikes it blows all the buttons off. The sample fiend is generally old enough to know better than to try and beat a San Francisco tailor.

THE FEMALE INVADER.

“He is as much behind the age as the man who brings his wife with him to select a suit. The average tailor would as soon see the Devil coming into his store as a woman, and I never heard of but one salesman who got even with the sex. One day a man and his wife came in and pulled around all the cloth in the store before the woman found anything to please her. When the man stepped up to be measured the salesman whispered to him so that he could be heard all over the store;

“’This is a very embarrassing position for me, sir.’

“’Why so?’ asked the much-married customer.

“’Because,’ said the malicious salesman, ‘I don’t know which of you I’ve to measure for the pants.’

The loquacious tailor paused to exchange greetings with a motherly-looking lady who passed out of the store with a pale-faced young man, possessing all the characteristics of the embryo “tough.’

“There,” said the tailor, “is a specimen of a customer we often have. That young man is the son of respectable parents, and his mother has a fond hope that some day he may go to the Legislature or own the biggest coal yard in the Tenth ward. The salesman has his work cut out for him to please the pair. The mother would like to dress the lad in broadcloth, like a divinity student, but nothing but the toughest of tough suits will suit him. Twenty-five-inch spring-bottom pants is the height of his ambition, and he has to get them or the suit will never be paid for. If we were to follow the old woman’s instructions the lad would steal off to some hoodlum store, and get rigged out in the highest style of Tar Flat—skin-tight pants, double-breasted, low-cut vest and sack coat with gold-shot buttons and three-inch braid. The salesman has to make the old lady believe that the boy will be dressed for a funeral, but the lad has to be convinced that he will be the envy of Tar Flat in his new suit. Of course it is business for us to respect his wishes, and when he gets into his new clothes every policeman in town will shadow him.”

THE HOODLUM TRADE.

“Have the second-class stores much of the hoodlum trade?” asked the reporter.

“No, the hoodlum trade is almost confined to the hoodoo stores, where the salesman is a big tough, dressed in the height of the hoodlum fashion. The salesman spends his evenings in the social headquarters of Tar Flat drumming up trade for his establishment. When a suit is finished the news is sent all over Tar Flat and the natives assemble as soon as possible at the tailor store. No hoodlum ever does anything so reckless as to fit on a new suit without the moral assistance of at least six companions. If the new garments have the proper depth of braid and the regulation “spring” the owner is allowed to accept them, and all hands adjourn to the nearest beer saloon, where the tailor does the honors. The hoodlum tailor periodically gives a prize dance, at which the tough salesman acts as floor manager and the cappers of the establishment as the reception committee. The hoodlum tailor finds it hard work to keep his customers, for everything depends on how he stands with the leaders of the gang. Any insult to a prominent tough, such as the reduction of the spring of his pants or the depth of the braid of his coat, is likely to cost the tailor his entire trade. In former years the hoodlum trade was done by one shop, but latterly, owing to the rivalry between Tar Flat and North Beach and the Mission, the trade is divided. It keeps constantly shifting. The true tough never estimates the cost of a suit in dollars. His basis of valuation is a five-cent glass of beer, and when he figures on a garment he judges of the amount of pleasure it will cost him. I once had a customer of that kind who came in and selected a $45 suit and would have paid a deposit if one of his crowd had not figured up how many five-cent beers it would cost him. When the astonished tough was informed that the suit would deprive him of 900 glasses of beer, besides what the barkeeper might stand, he was paralyzed, and went off reflecting sadly on the vanity of dress.”

A POINTER.

There is one thing to be said in favor of the tough, and that is that he knows what he wants and is willing to pay for it. In this respect he differs greatly from the doctors and the lawyers, who can discount even the dry good man in shuffling away from their bills. In the long run, though, the tailor gets ahead of them.”

It would seem to me,” said the reporter, “that the tailor gets ahead of most people.”

“Not always,” said the confiding knight of the shears. “The tailor has his honest instincts like any one else, and I can give you this pointer: When an unassuming citizen comes into tailor store and says ‘I want a suit and am willing to pay so much for it,’ he generally gets the worth of his money, as things go. He always proves a great deal better than the smartie who comes in for the express purpose of showing us how little we know about our business, and how much he can teach us.”

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 18 December 1881: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is always a pleasure to hear from a trade “insider,” who can do the dialect. This “confiding knight of the shears,” in an interview richly laden with the vernacular, opens a window into a hitherto mysterious world.

For example, most of Mrs Daffodil’s readers will have an idea of what a hoodlum is. An 1897 dictionary of slang adds the interesting information that

In San Francisco hoodlums, are a class of young fools, corresponding in some degree to the English ‘Arries. The hoodlums, walk the streets arm in arm, upsetting everything in their passage “just for the sake of a lark.”

Spring-bottom pants are wide-bottomed trousers cut on the pattern seen in the tailor’s diagram above. One young man recollected: “I remember one spell in Silverton that we were having our trousers cut with so much spring on the bottom that only the end of our toes were exposed.”

There are subtleties of class-linked location—Nob Hill, Kearny Street, and Natoma Street—implied by context, but now mostly lost to all but the most assiduous historians. Tar Flat, on the other hand, was, as it sounds, a refuge for the “tough.”

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.

 

Autobiography of an Old Pair of Scissors: 1875

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN OLD PAIR OF SCISSORS.

I was born in Sheffield, England, at the close of the last century, and was like all those who study Brown’s Shorter Catechism, made out of dust. My father was killed at Herculaneum at the time of the accident there, and buried with other scissors and knives and hooks and swords. On my mother’s side I am descended from a pair of shears that came to England during the Roman invasion. My cousin hung to the belt of a duchess. My uncle belonged to Hampton Court, and used to trim the king’s hair. I came to the United States while the grandfathers of the present generation of children were boys.

When I was young I was a gay fellow—indeed, what might have been called “a perfect blade.” I look old and rusty hanging here on the nail, but take me down, and though my voice is a little squeaky with old age, I can tell you a pretty tale. I am sharper than I look. Old scissors know more than you think. They say I am a little garrulous, and perhaps I may tell things I ought not.

I helped your grandmother prepare for her wedding. I cut out and fitted all the apparel of that happy day. I hear her scold the young folks now for being so dressy, but I can tell you she was once that way herself. Did not I, sixty years ago, lie on the shelf and laugh as I saw her stand by the half hour before the glass, giving an extra twist to her curl and an additional dash of white powder on her hair—now fretted because the powder was too thick, now fretted because it was too thin! She was as proud in cambric and calico and nankeen as Harriet is to-day in white tulle and organdy. I remember how careful she was when she ran me along the edges of the new dress. With me she clipped and notched and gored and trimmed, and day and night I went click! click! click! and it seemed as if she would never let me rest from cutting.

I split the rags for the first carpet on the old homestead, and what a merry time we had when the neighbours came to the “quilting!” I lay on the coverlet that was stretched across the quilting-frame, and heard all the gossip of 1799. Reputations were ripped and torn just as they are now. Fashions were chattered about, the coal-scuttle bonnet of some offensive neighbour (who was not invited to the quilting) was criticised, and the suspicion started that she laced too tight; and an old man who happened to have the best farm in the county was overhauled for the size of his knee-buckles, and the exorbitant ruffles on his shirt, and the costly silk lace to his hat. I lay so still that no one supposed I was listening. I trembled on the coverlet with rage, and wished that I could clip the end of their tattling tongues, but found no chance for revenge, till, in the hand, of a careless neighbour, I notched and nearly spoiled the patchwork.

Yes, I am a pair of old scissors. I cut out many a profile of old-time faces, and the white dimity bed-curtains. I lay on the stand when your grand-parents were courting—for that had to be done then as well as now—and it was the same story of chairs wide apart, and chairs coming nearer, and arm over the back of the chair, and late hours, and four or five gettings up to go with the determination to stay, protracted interviews on the front steps, blushes and kisses. Your great-grandmother, out of patience at the lateness of the hour, shouted over the banisters to your immediate grandmother, “Mary! come to bed!” Because the old people sit in the corner looking so very grave, do not suppose their eyes were never roguish, nor their lips ruby, nor their hair flaxen, nor their feet spry, nor that they always retired at half-past eight o’clock at night. After a while I, the scissors, was laid on the shelf, and finally thrown into a box among nails, and screws and files. Years of darkness and disgrace for a scissors so highly born as I. But one day I was hauled out. A bell tinkled in the street. An Italian scissors-grinder wanted a job. I was put upon the stone, and the grinder put his foot upon the treadle, and the bands pulled, and the wheel sped, and the fire flew, and it seemed as if, in the heat and pressure and agony, I should die. I was ground, and rubbed, and oiled, and polished, till I glittered in the sun and one day, when young Harriet was preparing for the season, I plunged into the fray. I almost lost my senses among the ribbons, and flew up and down among the flounces, and went mad amongst the basques. I move round as gay as when I was young; and modern scissors, with their stumpy ends, and loose pivots, and weak blades, and glaring bows, and coarse shanks, are stupid beside an old family piece like me. You will be surprised how spry I am flying around the sewing room, cutting corsages into heart-shape, and slitting a place for button-holes, and making double-breasted jackets, and hollowing scallops, and putting the last touches on velvet arabesques and Worth overskirts. I feel almost as well at eighty years of age as at ten, and I lie down to sleep at night amid all the fineries of the wardrobe, on olive-green cashmere, and beside pannier puffs, and pillowed on feathers of ostrich.

Oh, what a gay life the scissors live! I may lie on gayest lady’s lap, and little children like me better than almost anything else to play with. The trembling octogenarian takes me by the hand, and the rollicking four-year-old puts on me his dimpled fingers. Mine are the children’s curls and the bride’s veil. I am welcomed to the Christmas-tree, and the sewing-machine, and the editor’s table. I have cut my way through the ages. Beside pen, and sword, and needle, I dare to stand anywhere, indispensable to the race, the world-renowned scissors.

But I had a sad mission once. The bell tolled in the New. England village because a soul had passed. I sat up all the night cutting the pattern for a shroud. Oh, it was gloomy work. There was wailing in the house, but I could not stop to mourn. I had often made the swaddling-clothes for a child, but that was the only time I fashioned a robe for the grave. To fit it around the little neck, and make the sleeves just long enough for the quiet arms—it hurt me more than the tilt-hammers that smote me in Sheffield, than the files of the scissor’s-grinder at the door. I heard heart-strings snap as I went through the linen, and in the white pleats to be folded over the still heart I saw the snow banked on a grave. Give me, the old scissors, fifty bridal dresses to make rather than one shroud to prepare.

I never recovered from the chill of those dismal days, but at the end of life I can look back and feel that I have done my work well. Other scissors have frayed and unravelled the garments they touched, but I have always made a clean path through the linen or the damask I was called to divide. Others screeched complainingly at their toil; I smoothly worked my jaws. Many of the fingers that wrought with me have ceased to open and shut, and my own time will soon come to die, and I shall be buried in a grave of rust, amid cast-off tenpenny nails and horseshoes. But I have stayed long enough to testify, first, that these days are no worse than the old ones, the granddaughter now no more proud than the grandmother was; secondly, that we all need to be hammered and ground in order to take off the rust; and thirdly, that an old scissors, as well as an old man, may be scoured up and made practically useful.

Around the tea-table, Thomas De Witt Talmage, 1875: pp 50-52

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is a little strange to find a useful household article so sententious, boastful, and sentimental—all at the same time, but there was a 19th-century vogue for these whimsical first-person “autobiographies” of inanimate objects as we have seen previously in the life-stories of a corset and an old needle-book. In the current era, when nearly everything from fashion to spouses is disposable, one wonders what objects will be left to sell their stories to the tabloids?

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.

 

Bonnets in Limbo: 1883

BONNETS IN LIMBO.

In a recent conversation with the Rev. George Hough, chaplain at the Westminster House of Correction, he took occasion to remark, in terms emphatic and forcible, on the growing evil arising out of the unwholesome craving after “finery ” indulged by the number of the ornamental sex. It would appear that the pernicious maxim, ” One may as well be out of the world as out of the fashion,” is taken so earnestly to heart by hundreds of maid-servants and workers in factories and City warehouses, that they act up to it literally, and stake honesty, honour, and liberty on the chance of winning and wearing a style of attire, as unfitted to their station as was the plumage of the peacock with which the vain and ambitious jay in the fable attempted to adorn itself.

The Rev. George Hough is a gentleman whose voice, on a matter of such importance, should command respectful attention, since there are few in England who, on account of experience, position, and shrewd sense, could be better entitled to speak. Mr. Hough is chaplain in one of our largest prisons—a prison that is occupied solely by women— and he has held that position for a number of years. It is part of his duty to see, and converse with, every prisoner on her admittance, with a view to gaining a knowledge of her antecedents, and so ascertain if her disposition may warrant his intercession to reclaim her from ways of sin, and to place her, on discharge, in some home or reformatory. At present there are shut up, in the twenty-one blocks of grim brickwork and iron grating that the walls of the Westminster House of Correction enclose, over eight hundred female prisoners ; and since the term for which they may be committed is as little as three days, it may be easily understood that the inflow and outflow must be tolerably constant.

On the day when I visited the prison there were forty “new” cases; and there they were, looking the very perfection of penitent thieves, in their sable serge gowns and their plain white calico caps tied under the chin, all in a row in a lobby outside the chaplain’s office, in the custody of two female warders with clanking chains at their waists. The majority of the new comers were young—twenty or twenty-five. It was not easy to realise that they were gaol-birds but newly trapped: that only yesterday, or the day before, many of them were gaily-bedizened creatures, with freedom to flutter about wherever they choose—light-hearted roysterers, on whose giddy heads was built a fashionable pyramid of horsehair and padding, on which to perch the modern monstrosity humorously called a bonnet. There are no chignons here— no crimping, waiving, and plaiting. I am not sure, but I was led to infer from the awfully plain manner in which the hair under every calico cap was worn, that not so much as a hair-pin is permitted. Straight and flat on the temples, with a crisp knot behind, is the stern fashion for female coiffure at Westminster. Truly it has always seemed to me one of the most faulty features of the criminal law, that only those who feel it can form any idea what is the weight of the law’s chastising hand, and what a terrible purge for pride and vanity awaits those that ride in the black coach through the prison gates. Bang goes the door, click goes the great bolt in the socket, and good-bye to the pleasant vanities of the world!

I had come, however, to see the feathers, rather than the birds of this great and gloomy aviary. That which happens to the still inmates of the Morgue at Paris befalls the unwilling tenants of the House of Correction; for they are deprived of all articles of apparel in which they arrive. Who does not know that grim sight of the French Mortuary —the suits of clothes hanging by scores above the silent dead upon the slabs? Blouse and victorine, pardessus and pelisse, sabot and slipper, swing in mid-air, and tell many an eloquent tale of those who wore them.

I wanted to see the cast-off raiment of those who, for the time, are civilly dead in the Westminster House of Correction, and to judge how far the chaplain was borne out by the general appearance of this plumage of crime and sin. Every new prisoner is stripped to the skin, and, when she has passed through the water of the jail, is clothed from crown to sole in an infamous garb—coarse clout shoes, prisonwove stockings of heavy worsted, under-clothing that is little better than canvas and is branded with a prison mark, and a gown of common serge, such as pauper’s cloaks are made of, and as plain as a winding-sheet. This, with the hideous cap, is the dress.

A female convict of a later period–1907

The occupation is working in the prison laundry, or scrubbing prison floors, or tearing to shreds, with the fingers, masses of old ship cable with a fibre close set with tar, and hard nearly as wood. The lodging is a little whitewashed vault, with a brick floor, lit by a grated window; the food is wholesome, but grimly “plain”—dry bread of unbolted meal gruel; that is, simply oatmeal boiled in water and flavoured with salt; and pudding of Indian meal, which, to the unused palate, resembles a preparation of fine sawdust. And in hundreds and thousands of cases this is the ending of a rash and reckless—not invariably a naturally vicious—girl’s craving after that flimsy and ridiculous finery which her honest means will not enable her to obtain. As I have already stated, forty women had just been admitted; next morning there were possibly as many more; and out of that number, according to the worthy chaplain’s correct reckoning, at least one-fourth find their way there through yielding to the insane weakness of dress. One cannot help thinking that if the hundreds of foolish ones who at the present time are resolving, “come what will” by hook or by crook, to become “fashionable” members of female society, could be favoured with a sight of this sad company of Westminster prisoners who have soared as they meditate soaring, and have fallen so miserably low, it might lead at least those who have not quite taken leave of their senses to reflect whether the delight of wearing for a brief space a headgear trimmed with ribbons and flowers, high-heeled boots, and a flashy dress with a “pannier” should be indulged in the face of a probable three or six months’ banishment from the world, the white-washed cell, the harsh fare, and the oakum-picking—to say nothing of the disgrace that sinks in so deep, and can be eradicated but with such miserable slowness.

But not for the sake of inspecting the prison arrangements had I visited the Westminster House of Correction: my curiosity was centred in one department. Said the reverend gentleman already mentioned in this report: “If any proof were needed as to the reasonableness of my statement regarding ‘dress,’ I could, if it were necessary, quote the names of some hundreds of girls who, according to their own statements, have commenced their downward career in consequence of their having yielded to the temptation I have just named. I would point out the wretched exhibition which may be seen in the rooms set apart in our prison for the reception of the private clothes of prisoners during their detention in custody.”

My purpose was to obtain a view of that exhibition, and I succeeded in doing so. It was a curious and, until one got used to it, a somewhat bewildering spectacle. The two rooms which I was favoured by being permitted to inspect were not the only ones pertaining to the establishment that are set apart for the purpose; for, as well may be imagined, it requires no inconsiderable space to stow away the wardrobes of eight hundred women. Under such circumstances it is necessary to economise space; and this is done at Westminster in a very methodical manner. I had expected to see the moulted plumage of every female prisoner hung up on its separate hook against the wall; but the authorities have a neater way. From floor to ceiling, on all sides, are what might be called ” pigeon holes,” if they were smaller. Each compartment is about eighteen inches square, and contains a prisoner’s clothes, including even her boots, tied up in a bundle, every bundle being surmounted by a hat or bonnet. This was the remarkable feature of the exhibition. The pigeon-holes were, as a rule, shady recesses; and as the bonnets were, 30 to speak, planted each on its bundle, it seemed at first glance as though so many women were lurking in the pigeon-holes, and thrusting their heads out.

But. one did not need the living face and form to tell you the story—the bonnet told it plainly enough. In common with all mankind, I had been accustomed to regard bonnets as meaningless and frivolous things; but that review of bonnets in prison converted me. There are articles of attire that are always more or less eloquent of the habits and conditions of their wearer. Old gloves are so, and so are old boots. I would in many cases sooner trust to a pair of ground-down-at-heel, time-mended, weather-tanned boots to tell me the story of their master’s travels, than I would trust the man himself. Similarly, I believe one might place the most perfect confidence in the dumb statements made by the bonnets and hats perched atop of the bundles.

As bearing out the worthy chaplain’s declaration, it is a fact that at least seven in every ten were headgears of a “dressy” type, and the crowning glory of the wearers. Here was a hat, a tiny coquettish article of the Alpine order, with a flowing feather, and ribbons that were scarcely creased. The process of compression which they had undergone betokened the ample skirts of silk and velvet, and possibly the expensive and fashionable mantle, confined within. No other than an expensive and fashionable mantle could be associated with such a hat as that; and, as plainly as though it were there substantial and visible, appeared, under the rakish little lace “fall,” the elaborate chignon on which it was mounted. The warder reaches down the humiliated “Alpine,” and there, pinned to its ears, as it were, is a paper ticket, on which is written the simple record: “Maria B , four months.” Four months, and of that weary time barely two weeks have elapsed. Here is Maria B ‘s Alpine hat. Maria B ‘s chignon is ruthlessly crushed in her bundle, thrust into one of her high military-heeled boots perhaps; and Maria herself, who, for a little while commonly drank champagne, and wore rings on her white fingers, is plunged elbow-deep in prison suds, washing dirty worsted stockings; while, if she works well and sticks to the tub without flinching for a matter of nine hours or so, her reward will be nearly half-a-pint of prison beer.

Who can doubt that “Maria B——,” in the loneliness of her whitewashed cell, does not often wonder what has become of her clothes and her hat? They will be hers one day again. At the expiration of four months the bundle and the hat will be rendered up to her, and she will have to give a written acknowledgment of their restoration. Will she ever find courage to wear that hat again? In four months it will have faded, and the depressing atmosphere of the prison will have taken the crispness out of its trimmings; but, even had it been kept in a bandbox—there is the ticket on it. She will unpin it, of course; but there are the pinholes in the ribbon, and she will hate it on that account, and her ears will tingle with guilty shame should she suspect that any human eyes are attracted to that particular spot—as if all the world knew that the hats of those consigned to prison were condemned to share their owners’ disgrace by having a convict ticket affixed.

Bonnets in limbo keep strange company. In the next nook to that where roosted the haughty Alpine, reposed, atop of a bundle no larger than a quartern loaf, a confused saucer-shaped mass of plaited straw and dirty ribbon, that looked as though it had long been used to the pressure of a basket, and smelt as though that basket had been accustomed to contain fish. It had the better of the Alpine, however, despite its ill condition and general appearance of blowsiness; for, as its ticket declared, it was only a drunken and abusive bonnet, and would be free to go about its business in a fortnight. In the next compartment was a hat with feathers, and in the next, and the next four—all as much alike in style as doubtless their owners were in character. Such, at least, might be inferred from their sentence of durance, which in each case was four months.

Then came a very remarkable bonnet—a gaunt, rawboned, iron grey straw, of parochial breed. It was such an enormous bonnet, and the bundle it accompanied was so diminutive in size that the former was not perched atop of the latter as in other cases; indeed, unless it had been proficient in the art of balancing itself on its front rim, it would have found the feat impossible. It straddled over its bundle, which was partly lost within its iron grey jaws, as though bent on swallowing it. How the workhouse bonnet came there I did not enquire, nor did I ask for how long its lodgings had been engaged, or of what crime it had been guilty. Perhaps it was for “making away ” with a portion of its clothing— the diminutive size of the bundle certainly favoured this supposition, and getting drunk with the money. This, however, must be said, that it looked much more abashed at its degrading position than many of its sisters there; and one could not help hoping that the wizened old face it had been accustomed to overshadow would soon be restored to it, and convey it out of that shameful place.

In some of the nests I observed that there were two bonnets, and when this was the case it happened pretty often that they were exactly alike. Here were a pair of the sort— of French grey velvet, trimmed luxuriantly with green grapes and the foliage of the vine. They were slightly the worse for wear, and battered in at the crowns, which had a pulpy look, as from constant battering. At a glance one might perceive the class to which they belonged—the night-prowling, tavern-frequenting class, so well known to the police that a tremendous amount of daring and dexterity on the part of its members is required to enable them to “pick up ” enough to procure gin and finery. They are thieves of course, and they hunt in couples. The two grey bonnets were a pair, the tickets pinned to them showing that they had been convicted on the same day for the same term. Knowing that both bonnets and bundles will be required on the same day three months hence, they are thus conveniently kept together by the prison authorities. So surely as the warder at the gate has let them out, so surely will he, a month or so afterwards, let them in again, and the bonnets will be once more stowed away, while the women, in a perfectly free and easy manner, will take to the serge gowns and calico caps, and make themselves at home. Indeed, creatures of this class—and at Westminster House of Correction alone they may be reckoned in scores—appear to regard the prison as their proper home, and their freedom as a mere ” going out for a spree,” which may be long or short, according to luck.

A remarkable feature of this prisoners’ wardrobe is, that the more magnificent the bonnet the smaller the accompanying bundle—a fact which tells most eloquently what a wretched trade these women follow, and how truly the majority of them are styled “unfortunate.” I am informed that nothing is more common than for these poor creatures to be found wearing a gaudy hat and feather and a fashionably made skirt and jacket of some cheap and flashy material, and nothing besides in the way of under-garments but a few tattered rags that a professional beggar would despise.

And these are the habiliments in which, on bitter cold winter nights, they saunter the pavements, and try to look like “gay women.” Gay! with their wretchedly thin shoes soaking in the mud, and their ill-clad limbs aching with cold, until they can get enough to drown sense and memory in gin. Gay, with their heart aching and utterly forlorn, and hopeless, and miserable, homeless, companionless, ragged and wretchedly clad, except for the outer finery without which they could no more pursue their deplorable calling than an angler could fish without bait—is it surprising that they drink until they are drunk, or that they steal when money to supply their desperate needs can be obtained in no other way?

It may be love of finery that in the first instance lures hundreds of girls from the path of virtue; but it is altogether a mistake to suppose that, despised and outcast, they are still content because they wear many flounces on their gowns, and flowers and feathers on their heads. They would reform if they could reform. They hate the life they lead, they hate themselves, and so they go from bad to worse; and the temporary deposit of these bonnets in the prison clothes-room finishes with their leaping a bridge in the delusive gay garb, or carrying it away with them to some distant convict station.

In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent, James Greenwood 1883: pp 100-07

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is curious how gentlemen of all stripes: clerical, philanthropic, or journalistic, feel that it is somehow their duty to chastise females for their “insane weakness” or “unwholesome craving” for finery. It really is enough to drive one genuinely mad, or to murder. But, of course, these gentlemen, in their handsome broadcloth suits, their sleek silk hats, and ornamental vests draped with substantial watch chains, would have rejected the notion that their attire was a reflection of personal vanity.  They viewed it, rather, as the honourable badge of respectability, but to these gentlemen, a fashionable bonnet carried no such guarantee.

Mrs Daffodil has previously censured a German gentleman for calling an interest in fashion a kind of lunacy.

 

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.

 

Hints for Summer Travellers: 1913

Good Ideas for the Summer Traveler

By Companion Readers

Making Children Intelligent Travelers—A mother with two children of grammar school age found it necessary to take a long journey. She provided herself with folders containing a good map of the section to be traversed and brief descriptions of the important towns. A time table giving the time of arrival and departure from each station, the altitude and distance from the starting point, aroused great interest.

The children had their own inexpensive watches, and thoroughly enjoyed following the time table to see if the trains arrived and departed from the stations on time; and also, at their mother’s suggestion, they noticed the altitude of certain important points and whether they were going up or down grade (by the direction of streams, etc.). They also noticed the distance from their original starting point. Early training of this sort produces intelligent travelers. K. E. A.

A Steamer Box

By Clio Mamer

For a friend who was given a trip to Europe by her father, I decided to get up a steamer box. She was to be on the water six days, so I asked eleven of the girls with whom we were both upon intimate terms to send me a little present for her. I asked them to send gifts small both in size and price. I wrapped each gift in tissue paper and tied it with baby ribbon. On the outside of each package I wrote the day upon which it was to be opened, and these packages were then packed in the smallest box that I could squeeze them into. I gave my friend instructions that she was to open only two of the packages a day. Among the contents of the box were: a diary, an ink pencil, a package of envelope paper, a wash cloth in a rubberlined case, a powder bag. an embroidered jabot, and small boxes of candy and nuts.

An impeccable shoe trunk from Yantorny, c. 1914-1919

Summer Trip Shoe Bag
By C. S. Spencer

Make a cretonne shoe bag the size of the back of your trunk, and tack it with four thumb tacks in the top tray. It is easily adjusted to the back of the trunk when your destination is reached, and will not interfere with raising the lid.

Trunk and Tray Cloths
By Mrs. F. W. Terflinger

A set of trunk and tray cloths make a most acceptable and inexpensive gift to a traveler. They are to be placed between the underwear and other clothing, or between dark and light gowns. One should always be reserved to be tucked neatly over all when the main part of the trunk is filled. Cut your material an inch or two larger than the body of an ordinary trunk, and bind with bias seam tape before placing two or three initials in the center of each cloth. There should be two or three of these cloths for the body and two smaller ones for the tray. The larger of the two for the tray should be double and bound only on three sides, finishing the fourth side with a hem and casing for drawstrings. This serves as laundry bag. I have seen sets made of white indian head and finished on the edge with a heavy lace, but the prettiest of all are made of light blue linen or chambray. bound and worked in white. Embroider on each tray cloth the initial of the friend for whom you make it. Woman’s Home Companion, Volume 40 1913: p. 21

Women who travel a great deal are including sets of pyjamas in their outfits far wear on sleeping-cars and steamers. They are made of silk, either white or colored, with full Turkish trousers and a loose jacket to the knees, large turn-down collar trimmed with lace, which is cascaded down the front, frills of lace at the wrists and edge of the jacket. A loose girdle is worn or not, as the fancy dictates. In the Red Sea or Indian Ocean most of the women passengers aboard ship wear this arrangement, and the custom is being adopted in this country. The Argonaut March 21, 1898  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Useful suggestions, all, to which Mrs Daffodil would add an affecting incident, which suggests an article which might best be left at home:

A SLEEPING-CAR EPISODE

The Uniontown (Pa.) Standard narrates this exciting incident: “A few nights ago a passenger on the western bound train, Connellsville route, engaged a berth in one of the palace sleeping coaches. When she was ready to retire she took from her satchel a gum bed, which she inflated and placed upon the regular bed in the berth she was to occupy. It happened that her berth was very close to the stove, and the night being rather cold the porter fired up pretty lively. The heat from the stove caused the gum bed to expand until the pressure got so great that it collapsed with a tremendous shock, similar to that of a cannon, and the passengers jumped out of their berths in their night clothes, thinking there was a collision. The force of the collapse threw the lady against the ceiling of the berth, but did not hurt her beyond a slight bruise. When the real state of affairs was known and the lady was found to be unhurt, the thing created considerable merriment among the passengers, and that lady vows she will never take any more gum beds with her when she goes a traveling. The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 15 January 1875: p. 2

And do avoid wearing wool when travelling with the tots:

Kiddie-Kar Travel

In American there are two classes of travel—first class, and with children….

I had a cousin once who had to take three of his little ones on an all-day trip from Philadelphia to Boston. It was the hottest day of the year and my cousin had on a woollen suit. By the time he reached Hartford, people in the car noticed that he had only two children with him. At Worcester he had only one. No one knew what had become of the others and no one asked. It seemed better not to ask. He reached Boston alone and never explained what had become of the tiny tots. Anyone who has ever travelled with tiny tots of his own, however, can guess. The Benchley Roundup, Robert C. Benchley: p. 66

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.

 

 

 

Noted Ladies of the Stage on Corsets: 1890

Adelina Patti endorses the Chicago Corset Company, c. 1880s https://www.rubylane.com/item/398016-4878/Chicago-Corset-Adelina-Patti-Advertising-Trade

A SYMPOSIUM ON CORSETS

The Theories and Practices of Some Noted Singers and Actresses.

[Chicago Tribune.]

A cablegram printed in the Tribune a few days ago said that Mrs. James Brown Potter had abandoned the corset.

A murmur was heard in certain quarters. What had Mme. Patti to say on the subject? A Tribune reporter found the diva in a room filled with the odor of roses. The reporter went at the subject without having been compelled to do so strategically.  Madame motioned Nicolini [her second husband] to a far corner in the room. Then she said in her own peculiar way:

“I think corsets are the correct thing. Some absolutely perfect figures may dispense with them, of course, but the average woman, and especially the stout ones, can not afford to eschew stays. I myself invariably wear them.” “And do you find them injurious?” “Not in the slightest. But, then, my stays are always extraordinarily loose. Interfere with singing? Why, people don’t sing with their stomachs, do they? It must be an oddly formed person who would. As long as one doesn’t wear stays about one’s throat there can be no interference. Now, I can not sing with as much as a ribbon confining my throat.”

Mme. Emma La Jennesse-Albani-Gye’s apartments at the Grand Pacific were as bright as a glowing fire when the reporter called. When “corsets” were mentioned a slight frown deepened in the clear gray eyes, but it passed as quickly as it came, and in her musical voice Mme. Albani gave her views.

“I believe in stays because I have always worn them. I shouldn’t like at all to go without and I’m sure the public wouldn’t like it. Imagine me, for I am a little stout, you know.”

“Plump, Madame, only plump.” “Ah! That is kind of you. Nevertheless you know I shouldn’t look well without a corset. I do not think I could keep up even. I believe the support to be essential absolutely.”

“And not detrimental?”

“Not unless so tight as to interfere with breathing, for breathing is singing. You have seen ‘The Huguenots,’ haven’t you? Yes, well, you remember we all have to wear long pointed bodices there—it was the style of the times—now how could we possibly do so without stays? I don’t know, do you?”

There was an all-pervading odor of roses and white hyacinths through Mme. Nordica’s apartments at the Richelieu. The songstress lay wearied and nervous beneath the eiderdown while her devoted sister tenderly bathed her throbbing brow. The dainty little lady mother sat amid the ruins of Madame’s floral offerings and chatted.

No, Lillian never wears corsets. That is, she never does now—not even for the street or salon. There was a time years ago when she wore them, but they were soon discarded. It was simply a matter of comfort with her. After a while she concluded to try them again. She had several pairs manufactured—little loves of stays, all in delicate satins

“How long did she wear them then?”

“Scarcely at all. One day she said to me: ‘Mamma dear, I am not as comfortable as I used to be; I shall return to the old ways.’ Since then she has never put a corset on.”

“Does she substitute a stiff waist?” “No; she simply wears a thin silk waist, without a suspicion of whalebone in the back and the merest hint of it at the front and sides. We make them all ourselves, so you may be sure they are simplicity personified.

“Cecil, dear, please put your head out of the window; we are having a costume talk and you really must not listen.”

Considering that a fierce rainstorm was raging without, Miss Rosina Vokes was making a cool request of her notably loving hubby.

Mr. Clay merely grinned quietly and sank back further into the recesses of the carriage, shutting his eyes as an indication that his ears were closed.

“My dear child, I couldn’t dream of not wearing corsets. I should not be able to dance or sing or anything. I should be tired to death in no time. Injurious! Fudge! Don’t you pin your faith to loose-seeming dresses. I know a lot of these Greek-draped actresses who lace tight-tight underneath the flowing draperies. Forgive me if I’m positive—that is my way—but I believe in corsets, pure and simple. I believe corsets are just as essential for a woman as suspenders are for a man, and one must wear them if one doesn’t want one’s things all slipping around and off. And then the support. Every decently formed woman needs support, of course. O! women who are excessively thin could go without stays, I fancy; but then they look all up and down, you know. When to put on corsets? As soon as the figure gives the merest hint of development. It is on the same principle as pinning a band tightly round a baby’s dear little body so that its precious back will not get broken. Every woman needs the support of corsets.”

Just then Mr. Clay opened the eye and directed an aside to his wife.

“Tight? Gracious, no. I should not want you to suppose I advocated such a thing for a moment. I honestly don’t believe in that. Don’t tell, though, but I used to be horribly vain. I once wore seventeens—just fancy! Seventeen corset—laced tight. I was off the stage then, and one day was at the Newmarket races. I was fancying myself, I assure you, when I heard an old English lord remark, apropos of me: ‘Good Gawd! She’ll come in half.’ It wasn’t pleasant, so now I wear my stays loose—quite.”

When Mary Anderson was here a Tribune reporter called on her in reference to this all-round question of corsets. Miss Anderson, in her artistic house gown, looked as innocent of stays as Perdita.

“Corsets?” with a cold, pale smile. “No, I don’t wear them. I see Mrs. Croly (Jennie June) has been telling tales out of school, so I may as well confess. I don’t wear stays.” “How did you come to discard them?” “It was after I went to England. My health was poor, and the doctor ordered out door exercise. I took off corsets then, and never put them on again. But then I have no superfluous flesh and am rather too slender. They did not interfere with my posing, but I feel better without them. It’s all ‘as you like it.’ I like it better without.”

“You wear a corset with conventional dress?”

“Never under any circumstances! And the ladies of my company do not wear them on the stage. Stage dressing is nearly always unconventional, except in society plays, the draperies being from the shoulder and armpit, and stays are manifestly out of place from artistic reasons alone.”

“Corsets? Of course I wear them. Who does not? Think of me as ‘Nadjy’ with nothing to tie those black spangles to. I’d drop to pieces,” said Miss Janson. [Miss Marie Jansen] “Then the Tribune might ask its readers to listen to the ‘Tale of Woe’ in earnest. Are they an inconvenience? Look!” She got behind a door in the parlor of the Grand Pacific hotel, and after a furtive glance down the corridor, daintily kicked the palm of her outstretched hand, executing a pirouette after it.

“I’m all right and my stays are as taut as a sail in high wind. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if the strings should break. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe,’” she hummed, casting her eyes meditatively on the chandelier.

“Pauline Hallo wears them, too, and all the chorus girls. Some of them would be sad figures if they didn’t. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe.’ Of course, anyone who sings must wear them loose. I have one now, but look.” She took a deep breath which distended the region just above her fluttering heart that is nightly clasped in a jet black vise, and trilled airily “Listen to the Tale of Woe,” and had plenty of breath to spare after the effort.

Kansas City [MO] Times 19 January 1890: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Operatic ladies, were, of course, known for their famously opulent figures; some even said that slimming cost them their voice. It is rather fascinating that four out of the six ladies who weighed in, insisted on the benefits of corsets. Reform Dress did not make much headway among denizens of the stage.

Adelina Patti was, of course, the prima donna assoluta of nineteenth-century opera. She was one of the financially shrewdest theatrical ladies of her day and, as we see from the advertising card at the head of this post, she endorsed the California Corset Company.

Madame Nordica was the so-called “Yankee Diva,” Maine-born Lillian Nordica, another opera star, famous for her collection of husbands and jewels.

“Listen to the Tale of Woe” was the signature tune of the once wildly-popular opera Nadjy.

Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on gentlemen, including actors, who wear corsets as well as the controversy over tight-lacing, The Flapper and Her Corset, and “The Autobiography of a Corset,” as well as several other posts on this absorbing subject, which may be found by looking under the “corset” filing tab.

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.