Category Archives: Lace

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.

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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.

The Point-Lace Handkerchief: 1871

A reporter, who witnessed the re-opening of a great dry goods establishment in Chicago, which had been burned out on the 8th  of October—mentions that he saw a point-lace handkerchief sold to a lady for $59. This little commercial transaction has been much and severely commented on, and we are told that it is even a disgusting incident. We can’t see it, the exceeding sinfulness of the conduct of the lady who bought the handkerchief. All depends upon circumstances, whether she was right or wrong in investing so liberally in a “wiper.” If the money she gave for the handkerchief was honestly hers, she committed no sin whatever in exchanging it for point-lace, unless we are prepared to say that all expenditure save for the absolute necessaries of life is sinful. Is it more sinful to give $59 for a handkerchief than it is to give $10,000 for a horse? Yet there are men who spend thousands, yearly, on horses—and whose rings are many, and rich. Is it a greater offence to lay out money for lace than it is to lay it out in keeping a yacht? A veteran smoker, who consumes many cigars, and those of the best brands, expends every month more for tobacco than the Chicago lady expended once for a handkerchief—and her handkerchief may last for years, and even decades—perhaps for generations, and become the property of her granddaughter—whereas the man’s cigars must vanish in fumo, or they are worthless. In some old European families they have lace that was made and bought, and originally worn, hundreds of years ago. Lace, if it be really rich is an investment that endures, keeping its worth for ages, and growing more valuable as it gains in time. Cigars burn up, horses die, and yachts are lost, but lace lasts. Who knows but that the fair Chicagoan is a prudent, sensible woman, who was only making a sound investment of some of her floating capital? But, we are told, she should have given the $59 to relieve some suffers by the great fire. How do you know that she had not given liberally in aid of the sufferers in her city? It is going rather far to assume that she had given nothing for that purpose. If it be said that she should have given all she had to the sufferers, the obvious answer is, that she was no more bound to do so than were the men who gave something to relieve the persons who were burned out, but who did not give all their possessions. They have many articles in their possession quite as superfluous as her lace handkerchief, and yet they do not think of parting with those articles, because many persons want food or clothing, or both. Why should she not have her luxuries as well as they? It is not fair to censure her while extravagant men are allowed to pass uncensored.

Boston [MA] Traveller 16 December 1871: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Lace, although enduring enough to be heritable by another generation, is still more ephemeral than the poor and the suffering, who are always with us. It would have taken more than the cost of a point-lace handkerchief to restore the losses of victims of the Great Chicago Fire, although a gentleman’s outlay for his yacht might have aided a significant number of the displaced.

Mrs Daffodil considers that the lady in the example above was quite thrifty compared to  these titled and royal personages who paid sinful prices for their lace-edged handkerchiefs.

It took seven years to make a handkerchief for which the Empress of Russia paid $5,000.

New York American 20 October 1898: p. 8

and

The late Marquess of Angelsey owned three dozen handkerchiefs for evening dress wear. They were of the purest white linen, with his crest worked in human hair in the corners. They were made in Switzerland at a cost of $6 apiece. The late Duc d’Albe, Spanish grandee and uncle to ex-Empress Eugenie, was in the habit of ordering twelve dozen handkerchiefs at a time, for which he paid $120 a dozen. But the most expensive handkerchief is in the possession of the Queen Mother of Italy. It took three women five years to make it, and it is valued at $30,000.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 November 1913: 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.

 

The Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Waist: 1906

peekaboo waist

Midsummer Follies in Dress

How the Unblushing Peek-a-Boo Shirt Waist Has Grown Worse and Worse Until It Has Gotten Into the Courts.

From the New York American.

The well-recognized innate tendency of woman to carry fashions to outrageous extremes receives a startling illustration this year in the garment popularly known as “the peek-a-boo waist.” It has now reached a phase of disclosure entirely beyond anything dreamed of in civilized countries; since the pagan fashions of drapery yielded to the advance of modesty.

The peek-a-boo waist heads the list of all the follies which woman is committing this summer in the name of fashion. Philosophers, be it noted, have observed that woman is especially prone to commit follies in summer. Associated with the peek-a-boo waist in prevalence and in provocative character is the open-work or peek-a-boo stocking.

The question of the peek-a-boo waist is a serious one for the American people. Leading clergymen have thundered denunciations of it from the pulpit. It has given rise to cases in police courts. In the opinion of clergymen, magistrates and other high authorities, it is the cause of wickedness, strife and widespread demoralization in social and business life.

The New York Telephone company has been forced to issue orders that its women employees shall not wear peek-a-boo waists.

It was found that the men employees were so distracted by the new developments and vagaries of the peek-a-boo, as exhibited by their near neighbors in the Office, that they were practically unable to attend to business, thereby causing great annoyance to the public. A leading bank president called to have his house telephone disconnected for the summer, and addressed his instructions in vain to an assistant manager, whose eyes were busy exploring the mysteries of a peek-a-boo waist.

Even a Parisian leader of fashion has declared that the peek-a-boo waist is immodest. The Countess de Noailles has declared that any woman who wears a shirt waist exposing her bare shoulders is deficient in good breeding. The decollete gown may be excused on the ground that it is worn in the company of friends and intimates, but the peek-a-boo unveils the wearer to the populace. The denunciation from a Parisienne is as significant in its way as that of religious leaders.

In one case the waist led to a violent altercation between persons of good social position and a subsequent appearance in the police court. Upon a recent evening Mrs. Mary Linck and her husband, of No. 835 Cherry street, Philadelphia, were returning home from the theater. They were in a crowded street car and were both standing up. Behind them stood Mr. Joseph Bruce, of No. 4541 North Twentieth street. Mrs. Linck was wearing a peek-a-boo waist of unusually provocative design. The demon of perversity was aroused in Mr. Bruce by the sight of this garment just under his nose. He happened to have an instrument of mischief at hand in the shape of a straw. This he passed through the interstices of Mrs. Linck’s waist and proceeded to tickle her. Thinking it was a mosquito Mrs. Linck slapped at the place on her back, and Mr. Bruce quickly withdrew the straw. He chuckled deeply at the joke, and began it again as soon as she took away her hand. There were actually a great many mosquitos in the air. She slapped and slapped and told her husband how maddening the mosquitos were. Suddenly she turned round and caught Mr. Bruce in the act of tickling. She angrily denounced the offender and grappled with him. Mr. Linck then had the car stopped and gave Mr. Bruce into the custody of a policeman.

Bruce was arraigned at the Central police court before Magistrate Kochersperger, who decided that the act of tickling constituted a technical assault and battery, and held Bruce in $600 bail for trial. It is considered by many that the peek-a-boo waist should be regarded as a justification of this offense, or at least, a greatly extenuating circumstance.

Dr. Jacques Schnier, a dentist, of No. 604 Lexington avenue, New York, appeared before Magistrate Whitman in the Yorkville police court and made a complaint against Miss Adelina Weissman, who lives in the same house. Miss Weissman is pretty and plump, with flashing black eyes and abundant hair. The doctor complained that she wore “an awfully tantalizing peek-a-boo waist,” and that wearing this she came and looked at him while he was engaged in the delicate art of filling teeth and distracted his attention. The magistrate did not find a cause for criminal proceedings, but warned Miss Weissman not to disturb Dr. Schnier unnecessarily.

By the church the peek-a-boo waist is generally condemned. Mgr. McNamee, of St. Theresa’s church, Brooklyn, looked over his congregation and was shocked that most of the young and attractive women in it were wearing peek-a-boo waists, and in many cases very short sleeves.

“It is disgraceful the way some of the women come to the altar to receive communion,” said Mgr. McNamee. “I have been pained to see them coming to the sacrament with these transparent waists, and, worse yet, with sleeveless waists, with hideous looking gloves as substitutes for sleeves. I hope I will not be obliged to say any more on this question.”

The Rev. Dr. MacFarland, on behalf of the Ministerial association, of Iowa, denounced the peek-a-boo. “Our mothers would have thrown up their hands in holy horror if they had been asked to wear the kind of waists the girls now wear,” he said….

A few Sundays ago the pastor of St. Cecelia’s church, in Rochester, Pa., Rev. Father Schoerner, on rising to preach saw before him in the congregation two young women wearing especially flagrant examples of the up-to-date, open-work, sleeveless shirtwaist.

“Go home!” he thundered at them. “Take off those bathing suits; this is a church of God, not a bathing resort.”

Father Schoener’s only mistake was the injustice he did to the bathing suit. At no known resort would bathing suits modeled on such a design be permitted…

Women are showing a fondness this summer for several garments which seem fitting accompaniments of the peek-a-boo waist. One of these is the thin white bathing suit. At Lake Hopatcong. N. J., a young woman gave a fine imitation of Venus rising from the sea. She wore a costume that seemed too beautiful to wet. It was of white brilliantine, trimmed with blue polka dot silk. The blouse was sleeveless, the neck was low, the skirt was short. A white silk cap was perched on Venus’s head. Long, very long, extremely long pink silk stockings encased her limbs.

When this bather emerged from the water and took a sun bath on the pavilion 600 persons surrounded her, but their stares did not disconcert her. When finally she went to the bathhouse a crowd followed her. The manager of the bathhouse ordered her to leave by the rear door and warned her to wear a different bathing suit the next time she bathes there.

The Rev. Mr. Johnson has been preaching against young women, and young men, too, “who go about the bathing grounds with their chests bared and their arms exposed.”

It is interesting to recall briefly the evolution of the peek-a-boo waist. Like other outrageous fashions, such as the crinoline and the eel-tight skirt, it had a comparatively innocent beginning. That was in the year 1900. It was at first confined to a simple little yoke, outlining a pretty girl’s neck and giving fleeting glimpses of the interior decorations. It was graceful, coquettish, piquant. It was a tantalizing hint, not a bare-faced revelation.

By 1902 the peek-a-boo shirt waist had reached another stage in its evolution. The open-work yoke had extended its limits and began to frankly disclose features which garments were supposed to veil.

In 1904 the extent of open-work territory claimed by the shirt waist was increased by spacious Vs descending in front and in the rear to points beyond the limits that mere men had expected fair woman to fix.

In 1905 “panels” of various shapes came to the aid of the V’s in adding space, variety, interest and intricacy to the area of exposure. In the present season the shirt waist, it is believed, has got as near to the Trilbyan “altogether” as it may dare to go.

And fitting companions in disclosure and exposure of the peek-a-boo, apt aiders and abettors in allurement of the casual eye are the open-work stockings. Like the peek-a-boo, they, too, began their career in most modest guise.

Mere pinpricks traced in varied designs that flashed faint, fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. But today they also have advanced to a point where the word “open-work” possesses hardly strength sufficient to be adequately descriptive.

The Topeka [KS] Daily Capital 19 August 1906: p. 20

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil, who is always annoyed by the gentlemen who have so much to say about the modesty of women’s dress, wonders if these depraved peek-a-boo wearers were also sans corsets, chemises, or corset-covers? Even in summer underthings, the amount of flesh exposed in the sheerest tulle or lawn waist would be negligible, stimulating only to those of powerful imaginations who focused their attentions (or a straw) on fleeting visions of pink-white points of flesh. In short, Peeping Toms.

There is an antiquated argument that goes like this: ladies who leave their homes in a state of immodest dress somehow deserve to be tickled by straws or worse. To which Mrs Daffodil crisply replies, Rubbish. A gentleman may enjoy the view, if he is able to do so discreetly and without giving offence,  but he is not then allowed to denounce it from the pulpit.

 

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.