Category Archives: Jewels and Jewellery

The Most Eccentric Dresser in America: 1916

THE MOST ECCENTRIC DRESSER IN AMERICA
Barbara Craydon

There is in America at least one woman to whom the styles do not matter. Styles may come and styles may go but Baroness Else von Freitag leaves them out of her calculations altogether. She is her own designer and dressmaker. One might say that she dresses as she paints, for as an artist this highly temperamental woman is a follower of the futuristic school.

Seven years ago Baroness von Freitag came to America from Germany. It was not until she entered the art field in New York that she began dressing otherwise than in a semi-conventional way. In fact she seems to have caught her inspiration from the riotous colors of the futurists, and was seen in some of the most marvelous clothes New York has ever observed.

Everything that comes to her hands may be turned to a use in her art of dress. One electrifying costume is trimmed with common meat skewers painted in most intricate design. Another is ornamented with the gilt spiral springs such as one uses in hanging bird ages. Elaborate bead work, resembling the wampum of the Indians figures largely in her scheme of decoration, and heavy embroideries of futuristic design and brilliant colors are made from nothing else than knitting wool. The baroness never throws anything away, and the effect in her clothes is marvelous.

“Clothes,” said the baroness in her studio, “should always be a matter of inspiration not of one person for thousands of different style women, but of each individual. When one follows the styles and makes herself a slave to those who invent the fashions she might just as well be in the uniform of an institution as not for all the individuality expressed in her garments. The only difference between the conventionally dressed persons and the inmates of an institution is that the style and texture of the garment is changed several times a year. While there is little expense in charity uniforms there is a demand for great outlay of money by those who are slaves to the fashions and listen to the dictates of the fashion makers.

“How often have you heard a woman say, ‘yes, the dress is pretty but I cannot wear it, I do not feel right in it.’ What more than an expression of that kind does one need to show that clothes ought to be made for the individual character? It does not matter from what materials things are constructed as long as they suit the personality of the wearer, as long as the colors blend harmoniously.

“Look about you at nature. It is seldom that the landscape presents a pale, fade-away pastel appearance. Flowers are bright with color, greens are vivid, all colors are bright. Why not use them in one’s garments? I revel in color, I must have color and plenty of it, but the colors must be put together artistically. I have found that persons who generally cling to one color have a mental attitude toward the world and things in general that harmonizes pretty well with their colors. Drab clothes fit drab-colored minds. Perhaps that is why people who have been gifted with brilliant minds have worn clothes that have been called fantastic in cut and in color. They have been criticized for such things and have been called eccentric, but then the world always calls persons whom they do not understand eccentric. It is the simplest way out for simple minds, a way that does not demand analysis, and removes all necessity of particular thought.”

Among the studios of New York City the baroness von Freitag has frequently been urged by fellow-artists to pose for pictures and it sometimes amuses her to do so. Her poses are full of imagination, full of life. There are times when she refuses to pose, especially if she does not like the style of work that the artist is doing. She insists that she must be in sympathy with the artist’s work, must understand what he is doing before she can give him a satisfactory pose. The baroness says that just standing or sitting still for an artist is no posing.

The baroness has a most marvelous collection of rings, many of them are silver set with dull stones, others she was made herself from artistically arranged beads. Some of these that she has made are futuristic in the extreme. One might say that she practically paints with her needle and the beads. The result is weird but extremely interesting.

“Why should I not cover my hands with rings if I wish?” she said, looking up from her work. “Others cover their hands with gloves. I think gloves ugly. I would certainly to feel at home with my hands encased with gloves. But my rings are a joy and pleasure to me. Sometimes I can wear only one. It depends upon my state of mind. But when I am very happy and gay I like to wear them all. Barbaric? Perhaps it is. If so, I like the barbaric.”

Shoes, also, the baroness thinks, ought to be a matter of artistic work on the part of the wearer. One pair of slippers of black satin she has made into footgear to suit her. These are Oriental to an extreme, beaded and ringed. And from the back of one hang two large beaded tassels.

When an ordinary “slave to fashions” might spend a day in selecting a hat the baroness will spend a week in making one to please her. One creation is made from the crown of a derby hat which this original woman has painted and glazed until it looks like a highly lacquered helmet. On top, for a decoration, is a long bone hair pin partly sheathed in an intricate bead design. At the back of the hat coming down to the nape of her neck she has added a strip of silver-covered cardboard edged with a gilt trimming. The effect is that of a headpiece of an Amazon, and when dressed in the costume she has designed to go with the hat the baroness carries with her one of her pet alligators.

Truly if one searched the United States from coast to coast, from north to South, it might be difficult to find a more amazingly gowned woman than the baroness, and it would also probably be difficult to find a woman who spends less in money or more in energy on her clothes than she does. As for the enjoyment derived from clothes, the baroness takes a delight in her costumes that is extremely frank and genuine enough to suggest that clothes pleasure may have been neglected by the philosophers as an element of the art of life.

New Orleans [LA] States 1 October 1916: p. 45

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Baroness (the newspaper misspells her name, which is correctly rendered Else von Freytag-Loringhoven) was born Elsa Plötz in the supremely un-futuristically-named town of Swinemünde, Germany.  She came to the United States after helping her second husband fake suicide to escape his creditors. She was a luminary of the Dada and avante-garde movements.  Mrs Daffodil must confess that she is inherently unsympathetic to movements known as “Futuristic” or, indeed, as any sort of “istic,” as they suggest those who advocate the wearing of tin-foil head-gear.

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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What Shall I Give: Christmas Suggestions for the Seven Ages of Man: 1913

18ct gold dressing table set Tiffany 1930s

18-ct gold Tiffany gentleman’s dressing table set, 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/24252/lot/357/

WHAT SHALL I GIVE?

CHRISTMAS SUGGESTIONS. (By Imogen in the “Dominion.”) The most distracting thing in the world is to know what to give at Christmas time, and the difficulty is still more accentuated when the recipient is a man, and since there are so many men there must be an equal number of. sorely-perplexed women ransacking their brains for ideas that may materialise into new, useful, or ornamental gifts for members of their family, friends, or those of any other standing in their regard.

In desperation the question was hurled at a modest, unsuspecting, hard-working man the other day.

“What would you like for a Christmas Present?

The pen fell out of his hand and he subsided into his chair. “This is awfully sudden,” he murmured in subdued, tones. “Have you come in for unlimited wealth?”

“No! I’m, merely wanting to know what men like for presents.” was the crushing reply.

“Oh Is that all!”

A pause.

“I see what you’re after,” he broke out. with a sudden rush of discernment. “You shall have my little lot.”

After a few seconds’ laboured thinking, he handed in triumph a small sheet of paper. “Quite simple, don’t you think?”

The paper read as follows:

“One new pipe, costing 2s 6d; one new cricket bat, weighing only 21b 4oz, with sliding cane in the handle; one pair feather-weight shoes, weighing .0005 of an oz. so that I could field at cricket.”

The suggestions found an encouraging reception, especially the featherweight shoes. Another occupant of the room was asked his preferences. His cup of happiness was so full, however, that all he could think of was a new pipe (evidently an insatiable and everlasting need among men) and, as an afterthought, a pair of bath slippers, and not even after a few minutes devoted to hard thinking could he think of any other need. He was not a millionaire either, or if he was he kept the fact a deep, dark, horrible secret, possibly, a necessary thing in these Socialistic, Red Federation days. A newcomer into the room was asked ingratiatingly what he would like given, to him. Delightedly he smiled. “It’s very kind of you. There are a few trifles I would like, especially as I may be going to England shortly. Shall I begin?” He began!!!

“A safe money-belt; a fitted suitcase; a. dressing-case; a shaving outfit; pair of prism binoculars; Thermos flask; monogramed pocketbook; walking-stick medicine case; military brushes; opera glasses; silver shoehorn collar-case; silver soap cup; safety razor; fountain–!!!

“Why, what is the matter I can still go on, you know.”

It was an undoubted fact. He was prepared to go on for quite a long time, but a telephone call being made upon him, he had to vanish.

A comprehensive addition to the little list of possible gifts enumerated above might be found in the appended suggestions, which are taken from the Christmas number of the “Ladies’ Home Journal.” It is quite suited to the seven ages of man:

rabbit rattle

German velvet rabbit rattle, c. 1906 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1122524/soft-toy/

For the Baby Boy.

Hanger for his wardrobe, trimmed baby basket, celluloid, rubber, and stuffed toys, hand-made dresses and skirts, celluloid toilet sets, rompers, worsted cap, silk bonnet, corduroy coat, stuffed animals, silver cup, low table and chairs, eiderdown bath robe, rattle, ring, and dell, pillow-cover, bootees, worsted sacque, sweater, leggings, carriage cosy, rag doll, silver spoon, table tray, bath thermometer.

For Little and Big Boys.

House slippers, building blocks, indoor-outdoor games, balance toys, moving toys, mechanical toys, soldier’s suit, fireman’s suit, books, dog, kitten, rabbit, bird, dog-collar, folding desk, roller skates, comb and brush set, kindergarten gifts, reflecting lantern, camera, bicycle, athletic game books, clothes-brush, penknife, boxing gloves, pedometer, pocket compass, inexpensive watch, Indian clubs, blackboard, electric train, painting book, bow and. arrow, scout equipment, shooting game with cork ammunition, cowboy suit, vocational toys, filled school case, tool chest, stilts, boy’s suitcase, camping tent, microscope, gauntlet gloves, tool-chest, stationary engine, referee’s whistle, school pennant, megaphone, developing film.

 

The Young Man, Father, and Grandfather.

Gloves, silk hosiery, slumber slippers, blanket robe, housecoat, sectional bookcase, lawyer’s brief case, wing chair, footstool, pictures, desk, carving set, handy box, week-end trunk, Malacca walking-stick, evening slippers, rain-coat, silk shirt, hip pocket book (monogrammed), spring grip dumbbells, bill fold and wallet, medicine cupboard, leather key case numbered for 10-1 dozen keys, barometer, thermometer, flexible top cloth brush, silk or knitted muffler, umbrella, coin purse, magazine subscription, sweater, football, starter’s golf clubs, tennis racket, silk or flannel pyjamas, manicure set, triplicate mirrors, brush and comb set, toilet water.

travelling rug hermes 1930s

A leather and woollen travelling rug by Hermes, c. 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15398/lot/286/

If He Travels.

Leather sewing box, rubber-lined tourist cases, soft leather, necktie case’ with stickpin and collar button pockets, travelling rug and strap, leather shirt case with collar, cuff, glove, and tie compartments, suitcase, umbrella, travelling medicine chest, commutation ticket case, fitted toilet case, traveller’s slippers in case, fitted leather correspondence case, leather jewellery box.

 

If He Motors.

Fitted emergency case with instruction book, lunch basket, gloves, clock, pennant, automobile match safe, foot muff or warmer, motor roll for coats, etc., leather air cushions, motor rugs, goggles, muffler, leather shell coat.

cartier chinoiserie letter opener watch

Cartier chinoiserie letter opener/paper knife with clock. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22466/lot/1147/

For His Desk and Den.

Large calendar, newspaper rack, clock, desk set, letter clip, postage scales, assorted stationery, expanding hook shelves, large scrap basket, desk scissors, reading lamp, cushions, ivory paper knife.

gentleman's gold pocket watch chain and seal 1929

Gentleman’s gold pocket watch, chain, and fob, c. 1929 https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/17233/lot/188/

In Gold and Silver.

Eyeglass case, scarf pin, shirt studs, key chain, signet ring, charm, cuff links, gold pencil, fob, lapel chain, watch, gold buckle with leather belt, gold vest-pocket fountain pen, platinum chain for evening wear, silver photo frame.

1920s shetland golf jumper

A 1920s Shetland golf jumper, useful for any out-of-doors sport. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O368372/golf-jumper-unknown/

For Outdoor Life.

Leather leggings, folding pocket camera, driving gloves, raincoat, blazer, stop watch, athletic jersey, harness, saddle.

Timaru [NZ] Herald,  20 December 1913: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil would note that although slippers do appear  on the list, gentlemen rightly recoil from those beaded, Berlin-wool-work horrors young ladies inflict upon them.

Let us hear from a candid gentleman who enumerates the many useless gifts he has received over the years and frankly states what he wants:

A Christmas Letter.

From the Christmas Peck.

Dearest Phyllis:

Pray remember when you’re making up the list of your presents for December (unless I am to be missed) that I’ve slippers, picture brackets, smoking sets of various types, half a dozen smoking jackets, thirty-seven meerschaum pipes, twenty patent “kid glove menders,” collar boxes by the score, of embroidered silk suspenders forty-eleven pairs or more! That each year since I was twenty I’ve received a paper weight, have penwipers, ink stand plenty, paper cutters—twenty-eight. That I’ve Browning and Longfellow by the hundreds—every kind; Shakespeare—black and blue and yellow; Milton till I’m nearly blind!

So there’s just one present only that I’m wanting in this year of my bachelorship so lonely—that’s yourself, my Phyllis dear.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 25 December 1897: p. 15

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.

Ladies Who Collect Diamonds: 1888

 

DIAMOND COLLECTIONS

A Fashionable Fad That Is Uniquely Profitable as Well.

Jewelers’ Weekly

A jeweller says: “I saw a very handsome collection of diamonds a few days ago; not that there’s anything particularly surprising in that statement, but it was where I saw them that surprised me. They lay in soft little nests of cotton wool in the depths of a pretty Indian box, and to me, used to seeing them upon the tables in my own and other dealers’ offices, they looked rather strange when displayed in a prettily furnished drawing room. The diamonds in question rested upon an antique, spider-legged table, covered with quaint and delicate carvings.

“My hostess showed me the stones in a way which let me see she fully appreciated their value, and I ventured to ask her what on earth she was doing with such a quantity of unset gems, and whether she had any intention of opening an office in opposition to myself.

“’Why,’ said she, ‘is it possible that you don’t know it’s fashionable to make a collection of diamonds or precious stones?”

“I blushingly confessed my ignorance of fashion’s decree, and handing me a cup of tea, she bade me sit down and proceeded to enlighten me.

“’Every woman who can afford the hobby,’ said she, ‘now has a collection of diamonds. They are often bought under a guarantee that the jeweller who sells them will take them back at a certain percentage of the cost, and in my estimation they are better than stocks and bonds anyway as an investment, because their value doesn’t fluctuate to any extent and—because they are. That’s why!’

“I ventured to suggest that the latter reason was rather a feminine one and asked for further particulars.

“’Well,’ she continued, ‘there isn’t much more. A great many ladies of my acquaintance have snug little sums laid away in gems, but you may be sure they don’t let everybody know it, and it’s only their most intimate friends who have seen them. We who haven’t quite so valuable a collection, however, frequently meet at friendly tea parties, where we show our treasures and sometimes do a little trading; just enough to make us feel like business women, you know.

“I mentally blessed these ‘friendly tea parties,’ and ever since my visit have indulged in the wish that the number of their fair participants may multiply and prosper.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 26 February 1888: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is a pity that some enterprising lady did not start the “Gem of the Month Club” in support of the jewel collectors. Mrs Daffodil considers that those persons who host parties for their friends where they attempt to sell plastic storage pieces and cosmetics are missing a lucrative opportunity.

The narrator’s condescending attitude towards ladies and their jewels was, alas, universal. A lady was happy to accept gems and jewellery from her husband or any other interested gentleman party, but would trust him to secure them at the vault and provide adequate cover in case of loss or theft. She was expected to adorn herself in the fruits of her husband’s industry (or the forbidden fruits of her personal affairs) and was told not to worry her pretty little head over her jewels’ safety or value. This perceived ignorance came in useful when ladies needed to have paste replicas made so that the genuine necklace or tiara might be put into the hands of some discreet pawnbroker for a little ready cash.

A YEAR TOO LATE.

A nobleman went to a pawnbroker to borrow a thousand pounds upon his wife’s jewels, and said, “I want you to take the stones out of the settings and put false ones in their stead, as I do not wish her to know that I have pawned them.”

“You are too late,” said the pawnbroker,” “for I purchased the real stones of my lady last year.”

2,000 Jokes and Jests: Wit, Humor and Anecdote, Native and Foreign, Classic and Otherwise, 1893  P. 32

 

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 Grand Duchess’s Trousseau: 1874

 

silver Russian court dress

A silver-embroidered Russian court dress similar to that described below. Late 19th-early 20th century. http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/08.+applied+arts/1263439

A correspondent of the London Times thus describes the trousseau of the bride of the Duke of Edinburgh:— “Piloted through a succession of the never-ending saloons of the Winter Palace, we came at last to the antechamber to the Salle Blanche. In this very large room, broad, low tables were ranged, spread with the wonders of the wardrobe of the imperial bride. Who shall describe them, and where shall one begin? Here is a table spread with dozens and dozens of pairs of the most dainty shoes in the world— from long white satin boots, slashed up the front, to small slippers, smart with bows and buckles. A pair of these last was ornamented with a pretty sort of gold work on silk, the peculiar manufacture of one Russian town. Trays of pocket-handkerchiefs, edged inches deep with beautiful lace, and worked with the imperial monogram; piles of petticoats, awfully and wonderfully tucked, and plaited, and embroidered; exquisitely worked linen of marvellous woof, and cambric as fine as floating cobwebs, lay in orderly heaps on every side. Blankets were even there, and some embroidered furniture for bed and table looked rare enough to be put under a glass case, and far too fine and fragile to be ever ‘sent to the wash.’ If one could have brought away the patterns of a row of fascinating little caps hung on stands, how acceptable they would have been to ladies who love to perch these taking shreds of lace and ribbon on the tops of their heads! Gloves are gloves all the world over, at least to look at; but in hosiery there is some room for art and luxury. It seemed impious to look upon shining and delicately tinted silk stockings, marked with the initial letter of the most beautiful names in the world under an imperial crown, and one passed on to expend admiration and wonder on an endless array of lace at one thousand roubles an archine**, and ribbons, quilted white satin baskets, and other mysteries. But the next room, the great Salle Blanche, from the ceiling of which depend immense chandeliers of glittering glass, contained the real glories of the trousseau. Here were the dresses and the bonnets, and the cloaks and the furs. Fifty morning dresses of silk, and satin, and velvet, hung on stands, and their rich tints side by side were a rare study of color. Some of the dresses are rather heavy and old looking, with all their splendor, for a young girl. The gold and silver embroidered white and blue velvet, gowns, with long trains for court, are goodly to look upon, though they must be weighty to wear. The dress of blue velvet embroidered with gold braid is a sort of feminine uniform de rigueur in the Winter Palace for the imperial family on great occasions. The wedding dress was, of course, the centre of interest, and was of white satin, with pointed hanging sleeves, and covered with silver embroidery. It has a long train, and is a glorified specimen of the Russian national marriage costume. Dressing-gowns of every description, from the bona fide robe to be put on on getting out of bed, to that which is merely a costly gown in disguise, were there, and many more devices of feminine ornament than I can remember. For comfort out of doors there, and many more devices of feminine ornament than I can remember. For comfort out of doors there were tippets, and jackets, and cloaks of precious fur, and one sable cloak in particular worth its weight in gold, and perhaps much more. A cloak of white Astrakan, many Cashmere shawls, and dainty opera cloaks,

“’Worthy to be furl’d

About the loveliest shoulders in the world,’

littered the tables luxuriously.  As though the milliners had exerted their skill till ‘the force of fancy could not further go,’ there was not only a whole regiment of dresses in esse , but a large number in posse, in the shape of a row of rolls of silk and velvet. Even as it is, I have not mentioned then bonnets, a whole bevy of which were becomingly arranged on a table to themselves; nor must we tear ourselves away without glancing at the portentous row of great purple Russia leather travelling trunks, suggestive of immense payments for extra luggage.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1874

**To be Relentlessly Informative, the lace was measured by “archines,” a unit of length formerly used in Russia, equal to about 71 centimeters.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As this is the wedding day of Her Royal Highness Princess Eugenie of York, Mrs Daffodil thought a description of a royal bride’s trousseau would interest and intrigue. One doubts that Princess Eugenie’s wedding outfit is quite so extensive as the one displayed in the Salle Blanche— young people these days often espouse a misguided minimalism—although one is certain that she will receive some nice jewels. Mrs Daffodil joins with the entire Empire in wishing the young couple joy.

The bride with the sumptuous trousseau was Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, who, in 1874, wed Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, in spite of opposition from the Queen, the Tsar and Tsarina. The Grand Duchess was Tsar Alexander II’s only surviving daughter and his cossetted, favourite child, which may have influenced the lavishness of her bridal outfit. He also gave her a dowry of £100,000 plus an annual allowance of £32,000 and a staggering selection of Romanov jewels. He fitted out a luxurious honeymoon suite at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo for the couple, hoping they would decide to make Russia their home, since he was devastated to be parted from his daughter.

The opulence of her trousseau did not reconcile the Duchess to living in England; she disliked the climate and was outraged by having to yield precedence to the Princess of Wales. She was happier when her husband inherited the duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and they lived in Germany, away from Queen Victoria’s influence. However, despite its romantic beginnings, the marriage could not be said to have been a success: the Duke was overly fond of alcohol, tobacco, and mistresses—not necessarily in that order. He died in 1900 of throat cancer. The Dowager Duchess lived until 1920, losing her fortune and many family members in the Russian Revolution. One of her daughters remarked that she hoped that her mother would not be disappointed in God when she met the Deity in the Afterlife; so many people and things had disappointed her in life. One could not say that her trousseau was one of them.

 

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 Fashion Demonstrator: 1898

worth eau de nil 2

SPRY MODELS NOWADAYS

Supple, Shapely Forms Assisted by Nimble Wits in Setting Off the Good Points of Wares

Variety of the Goods Sold by Women

Elaborate Procedure of Foreign Dressmakers.

The demonstrator is to the front now. There are demonstrators of household appliances, demonstrators of food products and medical appurtenances, demonstrators of wearing apparel, demonstrators of everything under the sun except matrimony, and the tenantable qualities of flats and apartments to let. You may notice a bustling, wide-awake-looking woman rustling about almost any boarding house nowadays, and you are told, on making inquiry as to her calling or occupation, that she is a demonstrator. Whether it is some newly invented contraption for light housekeeping, or a new face mask, or complexion wash, demonstrated on one side of her own face and the back of one hand, whether it is a corset, or a combination garment, or a glove fastener that engages her efforts, she is certain to be busy.

In the world of wearing apparel it used to be the model upon whom much depended; the model with so many inches of bust measure to her credit, so many inches of waist measure, so much length of limb. The model stood like an inanimate statue and allowed capes, coats, street suits, and reception gowns to be placed upon her at the will of the saleswoman, taking really very little interest in the proceeding. Occasionally she submitted to having a hat perched on her head to see how it went with the suit. The demonstrator is of a different pattern. She is all alive, all pliancy. A certain grace of bearing and movement is as essential to her calling as a well-developed figure.

wedding corset 1898

Manufacturers with a new make of corsets to put on the market, for instance, begin by engaging a demonstrator to show its advantages to the woman buyer of a big store, and having won approval, gets the firm to give a special view of the corset. Cards are sent out to selected customers announcing this special view. The new corsets and the agile demonstrator have a room to themselves, a room gas lit, warmed, and properly decorated, where Miss B., the shapely demonstrator, may shine out as a central figure. None of those who attend this opening (men are excluded of course) is left in the slightest doubt as to how far the bones in the corsets will bend without breaking; how strong and durable they are; their weight, length, and their special advantages. Miss B., has three or four other makes of corsets at hand and tries them all on in turn in order the better to demonstrate the superiority of her own goods. The demonstrator’s business is not all in one direction. She must be as quick to show the weak points in rival wares as to exhibit the rare qualifications of her own.

The guests at the special view are not alone the customers of the retail house. Cards have been sent to representative trade journals in the manufacturer’s interests, and these papers send women to report upon the merits of the corsets. Representatives of retail houses in other cities are also on hand. Miss B. has enough spectators to give her inspiration in her task.

As with corsets, so with everything new in the way of women’s wear, whether outer or under garments. No longer though is the model or the demonstrator a mere lay figure. The new-style demonstrator who tries on a gown or a coat, must walk well and enter into the spirit of her business, displaying to the best advantage certain ins and outs of the garment that otherwise might pass unnoticed.

“A good demonstrator can sell any amount of goods that otherwise might be passed over as unattractive, or of little worth,” said the head saleswoman in one store. “Say a woman comes in here looking for a gown and does not know exactly what she wants. All our gowns valued at $100 or more are shown on the demonstrators. In looking over the assortment, the shopper may find a costume that suits her in every respect, but for a certain arrangement of the trimming. Perhaps the effect that she objects to may be new in style, and for that reason may strike her as odd, when in reality it is a great addition to the costume. The demonstrator puts on the gown and walks about in it for inspection. She lifts her arms to her head and puts her figure in graceful poses; she gives the gown a style that never would have been made apparent, had it been put on a wired frame or an inert model. The idea that the modiste had in view when she designed the gown is made really chic and original, and will suit her perfectly.”

The demonstrators in the big wholesale Broadway houses are kept busy in winter trying on thin, unlined summer gowns for the next season’s wear. They try these on over tight-fitting jerseys. The out-of-town merchant who comes in to see the effect of the new styles may be wearing a heavy overcoat at the time, but the demonstrators are usually hearty, healthy young women who do not suffer from fluctuations of temperature.

irish crochet summer dress

“Trying on these flimsy, thin things in winter isn’t near as bad as bundling up in furs and heavy jackets for the trade in the summer time,” said a demonstrator, and then she went on to say how well she liked the business and what excellent opportunities she and her mates had for getting really first-class gowns and coats for much less than actual cost.

“A demonstrator has a much better time than a salesgirl,” she said. “Our hours are shorter, and we generally get off at half past 5 the year round. Of course a demonstrator in a wholesale house is in much better luck and has less to do than one employed in a retail house. In the months when we are busy we are rushed to death, but for a good deal of the time there is very little to do and our wages go on all the same. August and September are busy months for us, and from the middle of January to March is the rush season.”

It seems that the animation and power of expression demanded of the present-day demonstrator on this side of the water are qualities that have long been required abroad.

“At the famous outfitters in Paris and London,” said a business woman, “there are demonstrators not only of one style of beauty, but of all the varying types—blond, brunette, and intermediate colorings. One demonstrator will be tall, slender and willowy in form; another will be plump and small; another tall and of Juno-like proportions. The visitor is shown into a room that gives no indications of the nature of the business to be transacted. A few good pictures and some flowers may be about, but the furnishings and appointments are very plain, so as not to detract from the gown that is to be the main object of interest.

“‘What style of gown does madame require?’ has been asked at the door; and according to the kind of gown desired is the special room into which the customer is shown. One apartment is devoted to ball and reception toilets, another to street suits, yet another to outing costumes or gowns for house wear. Madame waits in the empty room and soon a demonstrator comes in and walks quietly about as if looking at the different objects in the room, so that the customer may see to advantage the gown she has put on for her benefit. The demonstrator is as near in appearance to madame’s physical type and coloring as the assortment of demonstrators permitted. Every aspect of the gown—sideways, back, front, three-quarters view—is shown. Then the demonstrator withdraws, and another of the same type, but wearing a different gown, comes in to take her place. So the different toilets are show until one is chosen. Of course this is in one of those establishments where the artist will not make a gown or a garment for a woman which he thinks unsuitable for her, even if she orders it. The demonstrators both here and abroad are often pressed into service to sit for pictures to be used as advertisements for the house. The demonstrators in the high-priced establishments are courteously reticent, and seldom have a word to say, throwing all their force of expression into poses and gestures. Demonstrators like Miss B., who shows corsets or some new-fangled stocking supporter or combination garment, are glib of tongue, and emphasize every motion with a flow of words. They are energetic and pushing, and to a certain degree, modifications of the woman drummer.”

The Sun [New York, NY] 9 January 1898: p. 26

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As this article observes, the work of the fashion demonstrator is much more akin to that of a woman drummer than that of, say, the French mannequin.  The vendors of the ever-changing world of fashion were constantly in search of the latest line of patter or display. This novel tactic for showing gowns was adopted by a London dressmaker:

Some clever dressmaker in London has chosen to be original, as though we would not all choose if we could. Each one of her young women attendants is dressed in some costume that the firm wishes to advertise. One glides about in a soft clinging dress of the first Empire. Another is jaunty in one belonging to the Directoire period. One with rosy cheeks, that the fogs of London and long hours of standing have not paled, stands blushing in the dress of a debutante. Leaning in pensive attitude with sad looks, here is one in long, sweeping robes of mourning and dainty and exquisite in lace and soft silks sits someone by a tea table handing steaming cups to ladies worn out with the task of choosing gowns to outrival those of their rivals. Otago Witness 20 June 1889: p. 34

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.

 

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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 Charm on His Watch Chain: 1884

torquoise shell heart locket

Tortoise-shell locket with pique work. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15128/lot/205/

“COME HOME TO-MORROW, PAPA”

Half a dozen railroad conductors, running on different roads, all good friends, met in a cigar store one day last week, and smoked, and talked, and joked each other about owning the various roads they run on, “knocking down” fares, “whacking up” with the directors, etc. They are great men to “cod” each other, as the saying is, and one stylish conductor, who always dresses well had to take it pretty rough. One good natured fellow, who is a great talker, joked the stylish conductor about his diamond, and finally got sight of a little worn and dilapidated charm on his watch chain, a little tortoise shell locket with marks cut into it all over. The talking conductor said.

“O, boys, look at him? A diamond as big as a paper weight, a two hundred dollar watch and a hundred dollar chain, and a dirty, nicked, worn out, miserable locket not worth ten cents. The brotherhood of railroad conductors ought to bounce him out of the association.” The boys all joined in and said it was a shame to wear such a thing ; some proposed raising a purse to get him a new one, and one of the boys was going to take hold of the miserable little charm and pull it off. The stylish conductor stepped back with a forced smile, and took the charm in his hand tenderly and seemed to caress it, and he tried to change the subject, but the boys would not allow it, when he said.

“Boys, that is of more value to me than my diamond stud, my watch, or my position. I would not part with it for all of Alex. Mitchell’s wealth. I would not erase one of those little dents in the charm to save my right arm. I couldn’t do it, boys.”

“Oh I know what’s the matter,” said the talking conductor, as he punched the stylish conductor in the ribs with his thumb, “some girl gave it to him. I know how it is. A girl made me a present once of a grand bounce, and I carried the marks of it for years. Old softy, here, carries that cow-horn charm with the notches in, as a reminder of old love. Every notch represents a kiss eh, you old rascal?”

The stylish conductor turned away from the boys, ostensibly to light his cigar, but really to hide a tear that was trying to steal a ride on the truck of his eye-ball. He took his handkerchief and wiped his eye, and said something about a cinder in it, and then turned to the boys and said: “Fellows, I don’t want you to think I am too soft, and as the most of you have children, I guess you won’t think so if I tell you about this cheap-looking affair. I used to wear it on a silver watch chain when I was braking on a freight train fifteen years ago. We had a little flaxen-haired girl baby, a year and a-half old, and I was away so much, leaving at four o’clock in the morning and coming home late every second night, that I did not have much time to visit with the baby, except when she woke up nights with aching gums, and Sundays. Well, boys, the little baby almost cut a whole set of teeth on that miserable little watch charm. Nothing else would seem to hit the right spot on a tooth, and she would lay awake nights to wait for me to come, and pap’ was never too dirty for her to get in his lap, nestle up in the bosom covered with a greasy blouse, and be happy. Sundays her mother didn’t have to even look at her, because she was in my lap all day.

Well, one day I was up the road with a way freight, unloading some stuff at a station, the second day out, and thinking that at eight P. M. I would be home and the baby would gallop over me, when my conductor, as good a boy as ever lived, who is now a division superintendent, came along the platform as pale as a sheet, and said to me: “Boss you have got to go right home. Go get on the engine and the old man will pull her out and get you down to your house in forty minutes, and he can get back before we have this freight unloaded. Your baby is awful sick.”

Boys, I was so weak I couldn’t lift a pound. I couldn’t get on the engine without help, but we run to J. like the wind. The baby was dead when the conductor told me, and he knew it, but it was tough enough for him, poor old, pard to tell me she was sick. I found her dead, having died of convulsions in teething, and my wife frantic, while 1 felt as though a train of box cars had run over me, and I wished they had. Oh, what a blow that was. The prettiest baby that ever was, that I left two days before with a smile on her face that would soften the hardest heart, dead. She said: “Tum home morrow, papa, and baby have new toot.” As she lay on the bed, an angel, with her lips smilingly parted, enough to show some of the little teeth that had cut the holes you see in this charm, I took the charm up and kissed it, and I said I would wear it always, and I have, so far boys, and I always will.”

The stylish conductor turned his head one way to wipe his eyes, the talking conductor turned his head another way, and every blessed one of the largehearted boys had tears in their eyes as big as the stylish conductor’s diamond. They shook hands with the stylish conductor and went away. A few days later the stylish conductor missed his charm from his watch chain, when he was going away, and his wife told him she wanted to have the ring fixed that held it on the chain, and she would have it for him when he came back from his run. When he came back the boys met at his house, and after supper one of them handed him the charm beautifully mounted in gold, with only the part of tortoise shell showing where the tooth marks of the dead baby had been made, and on the back in pure gold, was engraved the word, “Darling.” The boys wanted to show that they appreciated the conductor’s feelings. How often a careless remark, in a joke, will bring out a story of heart ache that makes tears flow from eyes unaccustomed to weeping.—

The Conductor and Brakeman, Volume 1, 1 October 1884: pp 471-73

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes all doting Papas a very Happy Father’s Day.

To celebrate, that ghostly person over at Haunted Ohio has posted this dire story of a dead father who returns for his little daughter.

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.