Category Archives: Lace

The Lace-Smuggler’s Narrative: 1858

A SMUGGLER’S NARRATIVE.

“We shall be, my dear madam,” said I to a fellow passenger in the Dieppe boat, taking out my watch, but keeping my eye steadily upon her, “we shall be in less than ten minutes at the custom house.” A spasm—a flicker from the guilt within—glanced over her countenance.

“You look very good-natured, sir,” stammered she.

I bowed, and looked considerably more so, in order to invite her confidence.

“If I was to tell you a secret, which I find is too much to keep to myself, oh, would you keep it inviolable?”

“I know it, my dear madam—I know it already,” said I, smiling; it is lace, is it not?”

She uttered a little shriek, and, yes, she had got it there among the crinoline. She thought it had been sticking out, you see, unknown to her.

“Oh, sir,” cried she, “it is only ten pounds’ worth; please to forgive me, and I’ll never do it again. As it is I think I shall expire.”

“My dear madam,” replied I, sternly but kindly, “here is the pier, and the officer has fixed his eye upon us. I must do my duty.” I rushed up the ladder like a lamplighter; I pointed that woman out to a legitimate authority; I accompanied her upon her way, in custody, to the searching house. I did not see her searched, but I saw what was found upon her, and I saw her fined and dismissed with ignominy. Then, having generously given up my emoluments as informer to the subordinate officials, I hurried off in search of the betrayed woman to her hotel.

I gave her lace twice the value of that she had lost. I paid her fine, and then I explained. “You, madam, had ten pounds’ worth of smuggled goods about your person; I had nearly 50 times that amount. I turned informer, madam, let me convince you, for the sake of us both. You have too expressive a countenance, believe me, and the officer would have found you out at all events, even as I did myself. Are you satisfied, my dear madam? If you still feel aggrieved or injured by me in any manner, pray take more lace; here is lots of it.”

We parted the best of friends.

Liverpool [Merseyside, England] Mercury 28 September 1858: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a very thoughtful gentleman-smuggler!  Too many in this world think only of themselves. The narrator restores our faith in humanity!

The smuggling of lace and other luxury goods was not only a highly-lucrative profession, it was something of a sport for young ladies, as we have seen in a previous post where the unrepentant culprits told their father, “But every woman on the ship is smuggling, and it is such fun.’.

Some smugglers felt that ladies had a better chance of evading detection, such as the youth who impersonated a widow, complete with a sham infant built on a bottle of dutiable brandy and stuffed with laces.

And fashionable garments provided many useful hiding places. Crinoline, for example:

The Dutch custom-house officers at Rosendael, a few days, seized a quantity of lace to the value of 1200 florins, which a lady coming by the railway from Antwerp had concealed under her crinoline. The anxiety depicted on her countenance is said to have betrayed her.

Liverpool [Merseyside England] Mercury 30 March 1858: p. 7

or the bustle:

A novel method of smuggling has been devised. A woman was discovered in Florida, coming into the United States with a large tin bustle filled with fine Cuban rum.

Lawrence [KS] Daily Journal 21 December 1886: p. 3

This lady’s maid must have been quite a strapping young woman to carry this contraband:

The Customers-officers at Haumont (Nord) last week arrested a lady’s maid who was attempting to cross the frontier with no less than twenty-nine kilogs. [63.9 lbs!] of Belgian tobacco concealed in her crinoline.

The Exeter [Devon England] Flying Post 23 September 1863: p. 6

This lady, who cleverly took advantage of the normal cycles of life to bypass the customs officers, did not know when to stop:

A very common Method of Smuggling practised by the Fair Sex, is by assuming the Appearance of far advanced Pregnancy; although the Bantling proves generally to be Silks and Laces. A Lady well known in the Circles of Fashion, practised this Trick with great Success for many Years, until being big with Child five Times in one Year, the Custom-House Officers began to be staggered by such prolific Powers, and kindly lent a Hand to deliver her of her Burthen.

The Derby [England] Mercury 15 July 1784: p. 1

 

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 Nation that Shops: 1906

 

Christmas Holiday Shopping Begins

THE NATION THAT SHOPS

By Mrs. John Van Vorst

Some distinguished Englishman, after visiting the United States, remarked that Americans “would be a great people if they didn’t shop so much.”

Shopping is, it must be admitted, the national American occupation.

The city of New York, built on a long and very narrow island, suggests the tube of a thermometer, and the population can well be likened to mercury: they fluctuate in a mass, now up, now down, moved by the impelling atmosphere of the shopping centres. Apart from the business men, who, on their way to and from their offices, crowd the subways and elevated roads in the morning and evening hours, there is a compact body composed chiefly of women and girls in the surface cars at given moments of the day. Towards 9 a.m. they are transported to the shopping district centred about Broadway and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, between Eighth and Fifty-ninth Streets. They shop assiduously until hunger calls them, reluctant, homeward; but, having lunched, they return for a further fray, which lasts until five or six o’clock in the afternoon.

Pouring into town from another direction, are the suburbanites, whose exile from the island-city compels them to take a ferry in order to reach the field of chosen activities. With tender consideration, the needs of these “out-of-town shoppers” have been met by the stores, which provide cheap lunch-rooms or restaurants situated in the upper regions of the lofty store buildings. Given such facility for eating, away from home, the serious bargain hunter can continue throughout the day, uninterrupted, her work.

Where do they all come from, you ask? Who are they, these women with nothing to do but shop?

America, it should always be remembered in judging it, came into existence definitely at about the same time with the so-called “labour-saving” machine. There is no country in the world, doubtless, where in all classes womanly pursuits have been so wholly abandoned, and the “ready-made” so generally substituted for the “home-made” in the household organism. A single instance is striking enough to give some idea, at least, of what the American woman doesn’t do.

Wishing to buy a gold thimble when in New York not long ago, I went to the most fashionable jeweller’s, and was somewhat surprised when the clerk drew from the depths of a drawer a tray with three thimbles on it.

“Are these all you have?” I asked.

He answered rather peremptorily: “We can make you a gold thimble to order. We don’t carry any assortment. There’s no sale for them nowadays.”

So here, to begin with, is one category of shopper: the woman who never sews, but who buys ready-made her own and her children’s clothes and underclothes. She chooses the cheapest confections, gets what wear she can out of them, and discards them when they begin to give way, arguing that it “doesn’t pay” to mend. This convenient logic, together with a very conscientious scanning of the advertised bargain lists, leads her to consider shopping in the light of an economy, a domestic necessity, and herself as a diligent housewife.

“But when she has children,” you very justly exclaim, “what does she do with them?”

If they are too young to go to school, she brings them with her into the overheated, dusty rooms of the crowded stores. When they are babies in arms, she trundles them in the perambulator to the threshold of the inward whirlpool, and there, in the company of other scions, she abandons them temporarily. At a popular shop I have seen a side vestibule crowded with little carriages. Now and then, as the wail of some one infant rose, heart-rending, above the others, an anxious and busy mother, having recognised from within the call of her young, rushed out, readjusted conditions for the immediate comfort of the baby concerned, and returned to the more alluring considerations of a bargain counter.

It is perhaps for such domestic reasons, perhaps for causes which affect more generally the evolution of retail shop keeping, that trade of every sort is concentrated more and more under the single roof of the so-called department store in America. As in London, so in New York, everything from the proverbial elephant to the ordinary toothpick may be bought at the stores….

Aside from the primary category of women who shop with the idea of domestic economy, there is another class who likewise no doubt exist only in the United States.

Talking not long ago with a rising young lawyer about the American habit of “living up to one’s income,” I was interested in what he told me, for it represents the situation of a large class of American business and professional men.

“They often reproach us Americans,” he said, “for our thriftlessness. They don’t realise how many expenses are forced involuntarily upon us. I, for example, was recently given charge of an important case with the condition specified that part of the large fee I received was to be immediately re-expended in making more of an outlay, generally. My offices were considered too modest for the counsel of a great financial company. I was obliged to move. I had also to rent a larger house in the country, to have more servants, and the rest. Materially, so to speak, I represent my clients, and if they keep on increasing in importance I shall be obliged to buy property and to own a motor car!”

All these enforced expenditures entail a multitude of minor extravagances which devolve upon the wife, who becomes, in consequence, an assiduous shopper. She shops, not because she has any especial needs, nor because she entertains, or has even any social life whatever, but because her husband is making money, which must be spent as a testimony to the world of his flourishing position. This category of shopper buys the finest linen for her vacant house, the most costly silver and china; she chooses diamonds which are to glitter unseen unless she wears them in the street—which, it has been observed, she very often does. She buys laces and furs, and what she has is “of the best, the very best.”

How does she educate her taste, we ask? For her taste is remarkably good, and bears even a high reputation among the Parisian dressmakers with whom she soon begins to deal.

She is imitative, she is adaptable, she seems to have no ingrained vulgarity, no radical commonness which, given the proper example to follow, she cannot shake off.

And where, in the matter of shopping, does she find this example?

In the newspapers, in the reports of what is being purchased from day to day by the élite circle who have devoted their lives to the cultivating of their tastes.

The owner of one of the largest stores in New York said to me: “In France they have periodical sales, which are advertised by the different shops a year in advance. Such a thing is impossible here. If you go any day to one of the big dress stores in Paris, you will see exactly the same pattern that you saw there ten years before: there is a whole class of people who, no matter what the passing fashion may be, dress about alike. Here”—he threw up his hands and laughed—“everybody wants to be dressed like the leaders of Society. If they see in the paper that one of them has worn some new thing at a ball, there are five thousand of them the next day who want that thing, and who are going to have it, whether they ran afford it or not.”

“So you give it to them? ”

“That’s our business—watching every caprice of the buying public. We can’t plan for any sales, we can only every now and then take advantage of a chance we may have to get cheap something the public is after. Then we can offer them a bargain.”

This lightning communication of the fashion news among shoppers extends to the smallest towns. One of the “queens” of society having appeared at the races last spring in a plum-coloured Paris gown, a ripple of “plum colour” ran over America, sounding in the ears of the manufacturers, ever on the alert. One of them said to me: “There’s nothing pretty in that plum colour, but our mills have had to put everything aside and run the looms on plum colour for five solid weeks.”

When it comes to these worldly “queens” who set the fashion, shopping in New York takes formidable proportions. We have here the estimate of the amount spent on dress per year by many a rich American woman. The items were given by the “fournisseurs” themselves.

shopping in New York annual expenditure.JPG

The number of women in New York who spend fifteen thousand dollars a year on clothes is estimated at two thousand! It is not surprising, is it, that the New York shops should have the air of existing for women only? There are a few men’s furnishers and tobacco dealers who have made a name for themselves, but one finds them in the basement entrance of mansions whose facades are gay with the hats and gowns and laces that form such a gigantic item in the New York woman’s daily expenses…

The fact that two thousand women, without arousing even passing comment, should each of them spend annually on her clothes so important a sum as fifteen thousand dollars, sufficiently proves how exorbitantly expensive every trifling luxury becomes when it has been produced in or imported to the United States.

The Empress Eugenie, deploring the faux luxe of to-day, and recalling, no doubt, certain reflections made, at an unhappy moment, upon her own extravagance, wrote recently in a letter: “During all the time I was Empress I had only three dresses which cost each as much as a thousand francs: one for my wedding, one for the christening of the Prince Imperial, one for the Exposition of 1858.”

This thousand francs, which clad an Empress in such gowns as will long be remembered, is the price paid by the ordinarily successful New York broker’s wife for her ordinary little toilettes. But, while it is difficult for her to obtain a walking frock for less than two hundred dollars, her poor sister of the tenement district finds American machine-made clothes cheaper even than they are in Europe. And so it goes through all the category of articles to be found in the New York stores: the very rich and the very poor find what they are looking for. Those who have “moderate incomes” are constantly embarrassed between wanting the nice things they can’t afford and having to buy the nasty productions they don’t want.

The result is just this: everything that is fashionable is hastily copied in cheap qualities. If you are looking in a New York shop for solid, sober dress-goods, for example, to offer to a family retainer, you will be given, unless you are very explicit, the flimsy, low-grade copy of some stuff you have just seen on the backs of the rich.

This system has its advantages: in the matter of boots and shoes the cheapest ready-made dealer provides his clients with foot-covering copied in form at least from the best models procurable. And his customer, whatever may be his rank in life, car conductor or country store clerk, wears good-looking boots of which he is very evidently proud!…

In all the large department stores, and in the first-class boutiques generally, the credit system is in vogue. Doubtless this is a whet to the reckless spirit of the assiduous shopper. We read of a certain lady belonging to this category, who died quite recently in Brooklyn, New York. It was found that her “mania for shopping” was such that, during four years’ time, she had had charged to her account at the stores two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of things for which she had no use whatever! Her spacious home was filled with unopened parcels! One room, it was found, contained nothing, from floor to ceiling, but handkerchiefs. Shopping at this rate, it will be seen, becomes something in the nature of a passion, and perhaps it could not reach this degree of intensity without the facility for “charging.”

If the American shopkeeper be lenient, and very cunningly so, in trusting his customers, he is uncompromising about taking back things that have once been delivered. “No goods exchanged” is the warning which stands in glaring evidence at the threshold of the different departments. Exceptions, of course, are made for customers of long enduring reputation.

As for advertising, it suffices to scan a Sunday newspaper, or to lift one of the American magazines with its hundred and fifty pages of advertisements, to realise how keenly alive to shopping suggestion is the American woman. It is commonly understood, in fact, that the “wash day” in the middle-class American family has been changed from the traditional Monday to Tuesday, so that the housewives can take advantage of the “bargains” set forth in alluring type among the folios of the Sunday journals.

In a recent book on “Modern Advertising,” We learn that preparing the réclames for a large department store is almost as complicated an affair as compiling a daily paper. What the influence of these announcements is, is proved by a single resulting fact. For years there was a prejudice in America against doing anything—even shopping-on a Friday. So gradually, in order to attract shoppers on that ill-fated day, the storekeepers adopted the habit of proclaiming special Friday bargains and sales. Next to Monday there is no day now when the shops are so thronged as on Friday!…

The “strenuousness” of the shopper’s life is indicated by the presence in all large stores of an emergency hospital, a physician and a trained nurse to take care of the “women who faint” or collapse on their busy rounds…

The usual traditional empressé manner of clerks is debarred in American shops. Urging and coaxing, proposing, suggesting, are the salesman’s trump cards in France. They act only as an irritant with the Westerner, whose psychology, as we have seen, is somewhat peculiar. At one of the large New York stores frequent complaints were preferred, by the customers, regarding the “eagerness” of the clerks. “They only annoy us,” the fair shoppers explained, “by their politeness. We can choose for ourselves, I guess—that’s just what we go shopping for!”

The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 37 1906: pp. 744-748

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The hurly-burly of the so-called “Black Friday” is celebrated in legend and song in the United States. Every year, it seems to Mrs Daffodil, there are more casualties in the “Run for the Large-Screen Television Sets;” the “Dash for the Very Latest Video Game,” or “The Race for the Last Must-Have Toy.”  It is always a matter of wonder that there are so few fatalities.

 

 

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.

Fashion Pirates: 1913-1914

Poiret lampshade dress Lepape 1913

One of M. Poiret’s sensational creations. Fashion plate by Georges Lepape, 1913 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1039443/laquelle-handcoloured-illustration-georges-lepape/

Tricks of Fashion Thieves

DESIGN PIRATES AND THE WAY THEY WORK

“”Any person caught sketching or securing photographs of fashion models will be taken Into custody and the pictures confiscated.”

Such is the stringent order issued by M. Lepine, the Prefect of Police in Paris, in response to the bitter complaints of prominent French dressmakers, who find their latest designs being surreptitiously copied. Indeed, this piracy of fashions has of late become such a scandal that dressmakers in England and Paris are combining in their efforts to check the practices of those dressmakers who trade in stolen brains.

To quote the words of one dressmaker: “Some of the imitators are so clever that they are able without notes to reproduce the model to the final sleeve-button. This is so well known that some of the leading firms in London and Paris never exhibit their more exclusive models in the window or the showrooms. Nevertheless, by various subterfuges new designs are sometimes stolen and placed on the market before they are even shown in the windows of the firm which created them. In such cases we can only come to the conclusion that by bribery or other means someone has managed to obtain a drawing of the design from an employe.”

Spies from Foreign Countries.

Talking of tricks of fashion pirates, my informant went on to describe how frequently young men and women are sent over from France and Germany, presumably to learn their business, whereas they really act as spies and regularly forward to their employers on the Continent any new designs they may be able to secure.

One of the cutest dodges was that of a woman who one day drove up to a certain modiste famous for her original creations and ordered a dress. This was duly delivered and paid for; after which the lady called again and made another purchase, at the same intimating that she wished to see some entirely new designs for evening dresses, as she was about to go abroad. Impressed with her manner and appearance, a number of unique designs were sent to her hotel. After looking at these, she promised to call next day when she had finally decided on the dress she liked. She did not put in an appearance, and this particular firm of dressmakers were chagrined to find shortly afterward that their unique designs were being copied in detail by certain Parisian dressmakers. It afterward transpired that the lady in question was a fashion thief, who had hit upon this cute dodge to obtain designs.

Busy in May and June.

So jealously do dressmakers guard their new models that only those people with the highest credentials are allowed in the showrooms and at the private views. “We are particularly non our guard,” said my informant, “against experts from America and Germany. Many of them have a habit of coming over here, or visiting a house in Paris, about May or June, and whatever costumes for the following Winter can be secured in advance they promptly acquire, forward them to their headquarters, have them copied more or less badly, and sell them as the latest London and Paris creations. A new designed acquired in this way was at once reproduced by an American house, with the result that when a lady went to a well-known dressmaker in Paris and was shown the fashion for the Winter she exclaimed: “’Oh, no; these are not new. I have seen these styles in New York much cheaper.’”

The same complaints are made by the best milliners, who have to be constantly on the qui vive against the unwelcome attentions of people who are always on the lookout for unique and novel designs. “Of course,” said one milliner to the writer. “one must show hats in order to sell them; and it is easy enough for a smartly dressed lady artiste to mix with other women around the shop windows or int eh showrooms, make a mental picture of the hat and a rough sketch in the neighboring tea shop and come back afterward to compare the sketch with the original. And it is thus, to our chagrin, that a hat we are often selling for three and four guineas is copied and sold at shops in the suburbs at something like half the price.”

Pirating Lace Designs.

Even more serious is the manner in which lace designs are pirated, for not only do shopkeepers suffer, but the manufacturers find themselves losing thousands of dollars every year through unscrupulous tricks. The president of the Lace Finishers’ Association at Nottingham, England, recently mentioned that English designs are systematically betrayed to foreign competitors. Inquiries showed that while many draughtsmen were above suspicion and could be relied on to keep designs secret, others cared not how much damage they did to English manufacturers. Foreign manufacturers were sparing neither effort nor expense to obtain possession of the Nottingham patterns as soon as they were produced. One draughtsman boasted that he had sold four copies of original designs entrusted to him to four different countries. So great has the scandal become that the question of an international agreement on the subject is being seriously considered.

The Buffalo [NY] Enquirer 1 May 1913: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On the eve of “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” Mrs Daffodil thought that a look at the scurvy tactics of fashion pirates might be of interest. The practice, of course, continues to-day in ever more bold, swashbuckling guises, leading to pirated films, the theft of embargoed novels, and clever, affordable copies of couture hand-bags. Mrs Daffodil does not condone the practice; merely notes that it is ubiquitous and that modern fashion pirates are more apt to be found by a Fashion Week cat-walk, than walking the plank.

M. Poiret was eager to see fashion pirates clapped in irons. With his usual flair for personal publicity, he railed against the plunderers of classic French fashion, while teasing of new and novel designs to come.

Paul Poiret, the fashionable dressmaker here, is on the warpath against fashionable pirates, declaring that unless something is done to stop the theft of styles there will be no great couturiers left In Paris.

“I have about succeeded,” he told the correspondent,” on forming a committee of the best known dressmakers in the city to study law how best to protect their interests. The committee is small purposely, only about seven houses being represented.

“Every new fashion a leading dressmaker evolves is seized upon so quickly that the originator is left wondering how it is done. The fashion is not only pirated, but the copies are often so badly executed that the public is disgusted. We shall oppose newspapers bringing out fashion supplements, and photographers from selling photographs taken at the races and at other places where styles are first seen. The fashion supplements aid the pirates materially since by their aid our latest exclusive creations are scattered throughout the world.

“There is now going on a campaign against the fashion as it is today. This is the result, not of our models, but of the quantities of bad imitations which I confess are really ridiculous. As I created the trouser-skirt it was lovely; as copied hideous. One designs a style today; in a fortnight it is copied everywhere and all left for me to do now is to create a new style.”

Santa Ana [CA] Register 23 July 1914: p. 4

 

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.

Garters of Funereal Black: 1909

1910 french mourning catalog merry widow

A very merry widow from a 1910 catalogue of mourning goods.

A wife, pretty enough to warrant her desire for decorative garments, wasn’t appreciated by her grouchy husband. He was kicking hard at a batch of lingerie which she was trying to make him pay attention to. She appeared before him in a film of lace.

“What do you call that?” he growled; “it looks to me like a fishnet that has caught a mermaid.”

“I’ll swear solemnly that only one idea was in my mind when I had this sent home on approval,” she sobbed. “I said to myself, how proud it’ll make my husband to see me in it—in case of a fire.”

That plea won. The man bade her keep the garment. A pair of jeweled black garters were next to be offered for his scrutiny. Their price was $10.

‘I can see why those Rhinestone diamonds catch your eye,” he grunted, “But why, oh, tell me why, have jet-black garters on flesh-tint silk stockings?”

She took to weeping to get an idea. Her gasps and moans broke him all up, and he asked what she was crying about.

“If I must tell,” she slowly said, ‘twixt sobs, “I will, though I meant to keep the secret locked within my own breast. My dear brother, who died only a few weeks ago, was a stickler for all the conventional usages of mourning, while you disapprove strongly of wearing black in token of grief. Well, there I was in a dilemma. My dear brother would want me to put on black for him, but my dear alive husband would be offended by it. I hit on a way to honor bruddy’s memory without disregarding hubby’s desire. I wouldn’t change any of my garments to the hue of mourning, but, quite unknown to all save you, me and the spirit of my departed brother, I would wear these garters of funereal black. I was caught and rended between love and duty, and I fondly hoped I had solved a complex problem sentimentally. However, if you object, then—“

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 April 1909: p. 40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only admire the lady’s talent for improvisation and her patience with that growling husband….

Calls for mourning reform from those who believed it to be unwholesome and over-costly echo down the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the husband above objected principally to the cost, although his ghost would have been greatly offended if his wife did not put on full mourning after his passing. Here is an eloquent plea for the mourning band:

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming;

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

For more on the nuances and curiosities of Victorian mourning, Mrs Daffodil recommends The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

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.

Our Pet Handkerchiefs: 1889

1884 grape handkerchief

1884 handkerchief trimmed with point de gaze. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/handkerchief-66177

OUR PET HANDKERCHIEFS.

Handled with Caressing Fingers, Sighed Over and Cherished.

Something About Their Styles, Textures and Exquisite Finish.

Do you pet a handkerchief? No? Then you are not a woman and this article is not for your perusal.

Some women pet hobbies, others pet dogs, a few pet babies, but all the gender pets handkerchiefs.

The woman doesn’t live with a streak of the aesthetic in her nature, who hasn’t a filmy rag or two folded away in her for-ever-and-ever box and hallowed by the memory of other times and other lives.

It is only necessary to pick up one of these sheer little napkins to experience a palpitation of the heart. It is sure to be pretty, a little yellow with age, and faintly suggestive of some delicate scent that brings back a schoolboy, a sweetheart or the hero of some Commencement ball, lawn party or kettledrum. Perhaps there is a stain of lemonade on it; maybe it’s teardrop, but whatever the blemish, it is as sacred as the pale colors that mellow an old prayer rug.

The scent of flowers will recall a woman’s face and voice to the man in a reverie and a cloud of cigar smoke, but nothing will resurrect the Jack or Tom or Billy of long ago quicker than the sight of his handkerchief. If he is dead there’s a gentle kiss to his memory, and if he is married a sigh and perhaps a scrutiny of the web as if to divine in its meshes the reason of it all.

You have to be a woman with a lot of sentiment in your soul to fully understand a girl’s love for a bit of lace and mull.

It’s a species of idolatry such as a virtuoso lavishes upon a choice piece of miniature painting. It is handled with caressing fingers, sighed over, dreamed over, rinsed in perfume, folded away in withered rose leaves, and to think even of laundering it would be a profanation.

With all her love and reverent worship of lace and fine linen, there isn’t a woman in a whole congregation who is a judge of either fabric. In buying she looks at the decoration. If it is pretty the article is purchased, and as a rule she would rather have an ornamental handkerchief for 75 cents than a sheer linen plain edge. Ironed with a silver gloss and finished with open embroidery or cheap lace, any clerk with a tongue can make the fair customer believe that she is getting all linen, which in reality is all but 1-10 of 1 per cent. Cotton.

Men, as a rule, do better in their purchases. They don’t pretend to be judges. When an article is submitted his highness shakes it in the air. If the fluff flies he doesn’t want it, and he runs through the stock playing flag with each article until one is found that beats the air clean.

The handkerchief markets of the world are in the north of Ireland, in France and in Switzerland. Perhaps nine-tenths of the trade is supplied by the Irish firms, Belfast being the real centre of supply. The fabrics are sent to the distributing agencies, by whom they are bunched with threads and patterns, to be again distributed among the skilled needlewomen, by whom they are hemstitched, decorated in black or drawn-work and white or colored embroidery. These unfortunate workers receive an incredibly small sum for their labor, but, poor as it is, they are glad to do it. Irish-made handkerchiefs vary in price from 25 cents to $3, and while warranted to be all linen the fabric may be a coarse quality.

It is difficult to say which are the finest goods of French or Swiss make. In either it would seem as though the acme of needlework had been reached, and the very perfection of linen weaving.

Textures of such exquisite finish as to suggest silk are by no means uncommon, but you will have to pay $3 for a specimen, and that, too, without a vestige of trimming or decoration. The hemstitch varies from one-sixteenth to an inch and a half, but it is a real luxury to feel the delicate web against your face. Handkerchiefs of this sort are carried by high-born ladies and by others not so high, but of equally exalted notions about the elegancies of life.

It is said that in her boots, gloves, and linen a woman’s taste mirrors itself, and there is much truth in the saying. Handkerchiefs with scalloped edges, dotted borders and needle-wrought hems are indeed beautiful, but the poetry of a handkerchief hangs about the frill of a lace, which may be one-third of an inch or a hand deep, but must be the real thread.

handkerchief trimmed with valenciennes lace

Embroidered handkerchief trimmed with Valenciennes lace, mid-19th c. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/-/HQHw3duV2A7pxQ?childAssetId=zQFwpV6cZuPLQw

Of all handkerchiefs the most genteel is a dollar square of linen lawn edge with narrow valenciennes. It was a handkerchief of this sort that the gentle Elizabeth Barrett had in her hand when the poet Browning felt his heart desert him. It is, too, this same style that you will be attracted by if you ride much in the Fifth avenue stages or touch elbows with the slowly moving matrons and haughty beauties of the Knickerbocker set. You can pay $25 for a piece of Swiss embroidery or $25 for a fancy in French with a vine of open-worked lilies round the edges, neither of which will begin to champ like the sheer linen with its suggestion of fine lace that $5 will procure.

The stage is no a poor field for the study of the beautiful hand loom. Mrs. [Lily] Langtry habituated herself to the use of linen lawn that was as delicate as the inner lining of a silk-worm’s house, that could not have cost less than $50 a dozen, exclusive of the lace that edged them. Pauline Hall has some superb specimens of lace woven about a centre of sheerest linen about the size of a checker square, and the charm of Mrs. [Cora Urquhart Brown-] Potter’s handkerchief was the faint odor of violets that seemed a part of the web and lace.

[Helena] Modjeska likes a filmy piece of French mull with the narrowest edge of lace. Miss [Mary] Eastlake has a fancy for Nottingham lace that she buys in the town by the dozen, and the last consignment to Mme. [Adelina] Patti consisted of satiny hand-woven linen with two deep hems, very simply stitched.

NELL NELSON.

The Evening World [New York NY] 27 December 1889: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In some of our discussions of the cost of ladies’ wardrobes, we have frequently seen reports of very costly handkerchiefs.  However, Miss Nelson asserts that it is not the cost, but the memories and sentiments associated that make a handkerchief a “pet.” Mrs Daffodil purses her lips dubiously at how useful such a “pet” accessory might be: they cannot be trained to repeat clever bon mots; they do not chase off burglars; nor are they effective mousers despite their French appellation of “mouchoir.”  Scarcely worth their keep, one thinks.

Mrs Daffodil appreciates how some gentlemen show a more practical attitude towards the quality of their linen:

A Madrid journal [La Tela Cordata] is printed on linen with a composition easily removable by water, and the subscriber, after devouring the news, washes his journal and has a handkerchief.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 3 September 1899: p. 8

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.

Mistaken Economies of Women: 1907

 

TEXTILES

MISTAKEN ECONOMIES OF WOMEN

Every woman, no matter how much a spendthrift she may be, has periodical attacks of economy, frugality, stinginess, call it whatever name you will—something that makes her unwilling to part with even the most worthless of her possessions.

Some one excuses her by saying that it is woman’s nature to draw toward her whatever comes within the range of her vision, but whatever the cause it seems born in woman, like her love for laces and puppies and doll babies.

That is one of the reasons that women are such bargain hunters. They buy because things are cheap, and therefore they reason that it is economy to become possessed of those bargains. In their frugal minds they argue that if they don’t need it now they will at some future time, so they plank down their money and march out of the store, hugging their bargain, whatever it happens to be.

That is the reason also why houses are made with attics and lots of closet room. They are for the women to stow away the things they do not need—and probably never will need.

Ever heard of a man saving anything? As soon as s man’s hat gets a dinge in it he gives it to the ash-man. Likewise his frayed collars, his fringed trousers, his old shoes and his other belongings. The Ashman or the garbage gentleman naturally falls heir to everything as soon as the season is ended.

Not so with the woman.

Up in the attic there are trunks and boxes and telescopes and weather-beaten old satchels, literally bulging with old clothes and other things the woman is saving. Over in the corner stands a walnut bed they bought when they first went to housekeeping. Somebody told her once long ago that walnut would be very scarce and valuable some of these days, so she is saving it.

There are hats up there that have been collecting dust and cobwebs, for 10 years and dresses so old that they have come back into style again—almost.
There are stings of buttons and scraps of lace, and rolls of gingham and silk and calico, that have been saved for patches. The garments of which these scraps of silk and gingham and calico are remnants were worn out long ago, but she still keeps the rolls because they may come in handy some of these days.

There are six or seven umbrellas in the corner. No, they are not umbrellas, either, but skeletons of umbrellas. Not one of them would turn water. They are merely shreds of Gloria cloth and wire and wood—but she is keeping them, probably for a rainy day.

There is an old muff and a long snake-like boa hanging from a wooden crosspiece, and both are full of moths, which some day are going to crawl downstairs and reconnoiter the parlor, and look over the rug and the piano.
She is saving that fur, for she has  hunch that some day she will want a dress trimmed with fur, but its dollars to round doughnuts that she will have forgotten it by the time she buys the dress, or else the moths will have finished the fur.
The secondhand dealer would give her exactly 50 cents for that walnut bed, and the ragman would give her half a cent a pound for those old skirts and basques and polonaises and overskirts and pelisses and things, the very names of which she has forgotten since the time they were in vogue. She couldn’t get a cent for the fur nor the umbrellas for the very good reason that they are no earthly use to anybody.

There might have been times in the history of every one of these articles when they would have been of value to somebody. Some woman would have been grateful for those garments; some poor, old, ailing body would have rested easier for that old walnut bed; even those umbrellas and those old furs might have kept water and frost away; but up in the attic, where they have collected dust for years. They have benefited nobody. After all, there is such a thing as being too saving.

The Pittsburgh [PA] Press 8 September 1907: p. 47

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is most convenient, to be sure, to blame women for any clutter around the home. Mrs Daffodil knows of far too many gentlemen who cling to the detritus of long-discarded hobbies and sports, not to mention the rotting carcasses of sports cars, which, had they been put into trim, might have been enjoyed or else sold for a tidy profit at auction.

As the winter holidays approached, Mrs Daffodil noted a plethora of articles urging a pre-holiday “cleanse,” which suggests a rather dreadful stay at some country-house clinic where the inmates ingest kale juice and raw nuts. The items to be discarded were things like plastic containers, wire clothing hangers, and even cardboard boxes of food, which were to be decanted into sanitary glass jars.  There may be some merit in binning sauce-stained Tupperware missing its lid, but Mrs Daffodil draws the line at keeping only those things that have been used within the last year and which “bring joy.”  Under that standard, Mrs Daffodil would have to purge the Hall of an immense and gruesome Caravaggio painting of Judith and Holofernes, as well as several heirloom tiaras of immense value, but limited aesthetic appeal.

 

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.