Category Archives: Lethal Clothing

Circus Girls Wear Corsets: 1895

circus world poster with ladies

ALL OF THEM WEAR CORSETS.

Women Circus Performers Encased in Steels.

A Poser for the Dress Reformers—Female Acrobats and Trapeze Stars Do Their Most Daring Acts in Corsets, and Declare Them Safe, Comfortable and Indispensable.

The first request made of all girls who go into a gymnasium is the surrender of corsets. This request is backed up by physicians, who declare it utterly impossible to do good “gym” work in corsets.

Dress reformers tell how injurious to health the corset is; how the action of the intercostal muscles is prevented; how the floating ribs are crushed, how the lower portion of the lungs is paralyzed, but here is a fact that they will find some trouble in explaining satisfactorily. The champion women acrobats, equestriennes, trick and bareback riders, equilibrists, aerial specialists and trapeze performers wear corsets. They do their most wonderful acts in corsets. Contortionists are the only class who habitually work without them.

These women are the most energetic of their sex, noted for their endurance, activity, fine physical development, and especially for length of wind. Now if corsets are such deadly articles, why don’t they take effect on the queens of the sawdust rings?

Imagine being introduced suddenly into the dressing room of Barnum & Bailey’s circus, where 15 stellar performers of whom you had intended to ask, “Do you wear corsets?” had just reached the corset stage in their toilets. Every one of the 15 had either just clasped on a pair or was about to do so. The sight was convincing. No questions were necessary.

“Oh, you do, don’t you?” was the natural exclamation.

“Do what?” asked a young woman in lavender tights.

The wardrobe woman, who was the intruder’s chaperone, made a speech.

“Ladies, this newspaper woman wants to know how many of you wear corsets when in the ring, and if the most difficult feats can be performed in them.”

Linda Jeal 1879

Miss Linda Jeal in her “jockey” costume. designed to help her avoid catching her hair and skirts on fire during her act. http://www.bulibstats.net/illinoiswomen/files/is/htm1/jeal.htm

Then Lavender Tights, who was recognized as Linda Jeal, who flies through paper hoops and does daring bareback hurdle acts, said:

“Everybody that I know wears them. I’d have a broken back if I didn’t, and I guess all the others would. There’s nothing the matter with corsets if they aren’t laced to death. If I left them off I’d never be able to do a thing.

Don’t they disturb the action of your heart? Can you use your intercostal muscles?”

“Well, I’ve been in the business over 20 years, and I guess I’d have been dead before now if corsets affected the heart, and I’ve got the use of about every muscle there is in my body,” and the girls all joined in Miss Jeal’s merry laugh as she turned to them for confirmation.

“Of course, you can’t use the lower part of your lungs in breathing. No anti-corset preacher would allow you that privilege.”

“That’s just what a doctor said to me when I went to be examined to get my life insured. He said I looked ‘delicate.” So I let out my breath and then, while he held a measure, I inflated my lungs. The doctor said I was ‘very deceiving.’ In this business a woman has got to have as much wind as she can get. If she don’t she can’t work. I can do anything in corsets I can without, and for that matter, I can’t do some things at all without the corsets.”

The insurance company accepted Miss Jeal at a very moderate premium, because they decided she was an exceptionally good physical risk.

“Doesn’t corset reform ever get into the circus?”

Sometimes, but not much. My niece has been riding for six years and she got an idea she couldn’t perform with corsets on. Her mother and I had always worn them, but she had her own way. I saw she was getting a stoop in her back, and last fall I told her she must come out in corset. She did, but she was sure she never could bend this way nor that” (drifting backward and forward). “But she did. One day when the corsets burst she insisted on stopping practice to take them off. I said ‘Go ahead.’ When she came back she found she couldn’t get along without them, and now she’s converted to corsets. I read everything I see in the papers about dress reform and the evils of corsets, but it is only necessary to see what acrobatic feats women performers do in corsets to see the holes in anti-corset arguments. There’s Mary Wentworth. Ask her.”

Miss Wentworth came over from her dressing trunk.

“I’m dressed now for a contortion act and haven’t any corsets on. I don’t know any contortionist of first rank who does wear them. But in everything else I do I wouldn’t think of going without them. Yes, I practice in them, as well as perform. I always wear them in trapeze acts.”

Miss Wentworth is one of the all-around performers, who is considered to have a long career ahead of her, and she expects to wear corsets to the end of her days.

miss lonny contortionist elastic lady acrobat 1900

Miss Lonny, “Elastic Lady Acrobat” or contortionist, c. 1900-1909 http://cdm15847.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15847coll3/id/78662/rec/5

Just then along came a little woman in pink, simply one bunch of exquisite muscle from neck to heels. “Come here, Miss Julietta. You always wear corsets, don’t you?” called Miss Wentworth.

“I never go without them. But what’s all this about?”

“Why, you know there are folks who are trying to get women to stop wearing corsets, because it injures their health,” explained Miss Wentworth.

“Injures the health? Look at me. How could I do my tricks if I wasn’t healthy? I’ve been training since I was 3 years old, and have worn corsets ever since I can remember. Do I look as if they hurt me? See that,” and Miss Julietta threw up a muscle on her arms like rock, and took a couple of deep breaths that were like filling a balloon. “Why, I can do anything in corsets,” and the muscular little woman hurried to her corner to change her dress, and in a few moments was saying good-day.

circus performers in corsets dance on the slack rope

Miss Julietta is a gymnast, an acrobat and about everything else except a contortionist. She does a wonderful high-rope act now, where she jumps up and down on the rope, changes her costume, and keeps the audience breathless, wondering why she doesn’t shake herself to pieces.

circus performers weara corsets swinging from the rings

Two aerial performers are Josie Ashton and Miss Potter. One works with a partner on a double flying trapeze, and Miss Ashton in pendulating rings. Both are devotees of corsets. It has become the fad now among dancers on the stage to scorn corsets. Miss Girdelles performs some eccentric dancing feats and high kicking, which has been considered feasible only sans corsets. Grotesque acrobatic tricks are combined with the dancing. “All in corsets,” she says, “and couldn’t be done without them.”

Josie Ashton circus bareback rider

Miss Josie Ashton was also an equestrienne.

At this point a little woman in street clothes came in. An English sailor hat was perched on an elaborate coiffure, and as she appeared Miss Jeal called out:

“How do you do, Miss Pink Cheeks? Do you wear corsets?”

“Miss Pink Cheeks,” who is one of the flying Dillons, looked surprised at such a question, and dropped into her dressing chair.

“Do you wear corsets in your act?”

“No, I don’t.”

The girls looked surprised as she went on. “I never have worn them while performing.”

“Why, you look just as if you did when you walk into the ring.”

“I know it; that is because every muscle in my body has been developed, and the body has got its natural shape.”

Miss Dillon has an idea that will delight women who are tired of having the Venus de Milo and the Medici lady’s waist held up to them as models. When asked to account for the discrepancy between her idea of the shape of a woman’s waist and that the Venus exploits, she said:

“Why, Venus didn’t take any exercise. If she had used her muscles as she ought, she would have lost that lumpy look about her waist, worked off some extra flesh and had a respectable shape instead of looking like a dowdy.”

flying dillons circus

Miss Dillon at one time was part of “The Flying Dillons.” trapeze act.

Miss Dillon’s act is exceedingly daring. She works on a high trapeze, and after exploits that make timid women wish she wouldn’t do so any more she takes a dive from the top into a net below.

Mme. Catroni, who had been listening to her side partner, Miss Dillon, said: “I didn’t take to wearing corsets until I was 20 years old, but I think you’ll find that most women performers, unless they are contortionists, wear corsets into the ring. There may be a little fondness for making a good appearance, and nobody would want to see a woman without them unless she was very slim and compactly built. I never heard of a woman’s being injured by a broken corset steel. I got my head smashed and a rib broken in a four-horse tandem hurdle race a year ago, but the corset steels didn’t even scratch me. Even the lady clown wears corsets, and she can turn somersaults, backward flips and handsprings. She doubles herself up and rolls around the ring, and all those things that dress reformers would say were impossible.”

the meers sisters circus

The Meers Sisters performed an equestrienne act.

The Meers Sisters, who perform four times within eight hours what would seem to be most exhausting bareback acts, and at the end of each number still are able to go into the dressing room smiling and joking, looked scornful and the mere idea of not wearing corsets.

“What a silly notion,” one said.

“We never could do without them,” exclaimed another. “Corsets give the back support. Sometimes a steel smashes, but that never stops us.”

“Which all goes to bear out the speech of Dr. Mary Green of Detroit sprung on the dress-reform session of the National Woman’s Council in Washington when she declared that corsets, when properly worn, were not injurious in any way, and that she had even prescribed them. If Dr. Green wants any arguments, get the records of these champion women performers, who all wear corsets.

Boston [MA] Herald 28 April 1895: p. 29

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have seen a debate about the use and utility of corsets before–by ladies of the stage.  It continues to-day among historical re-enactors and tight-lacing enthusiasts, some of whom are known as “waist-trainers.” The dress-reformers of the age were, of course, ever-ready with statistics of consumption caused by corsetry and often advocated less stringent “waists” or “bodices.”

Circus performers often used different names in the course of their careers so accurate biographical data is sometimes hard to find.  Linda Jeal was known as a “hurricane rider” and “The Queen of the Flaming Zone” for her fiery equestrienne act.   Mme. Girdelle was one of The Three Girdelles, described as “grotesques.”  Mme. “Catroni” was Mattie Robinson Castroni, a “mounted broadsword fencer” who fenced on horseback in velvet Renaissance costumes and armour with her husband, Prof. G.M. Castroni. Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was not able to find an image of this diverting act.

 

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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The Velvet Coat: 1883

oscar wilde velvet coat

The Velvet Period

A Notable Season in the life of Every Young Man.

A couple of old fellows were standing in front of the Plankington House, smoking five cent cigars, one evening, when a young fellow passed along with a velvet coat on, and before he had got out of sight, an old fellow about sixty years old passed the same place, and he had on a velvet coat. One of the two old fellows knocked the ashes off his cigar, and said: “It catches them all, sooner or later.’ ‘

“What do you mean?” asked the other, as he borrowed his friend’s cigar to light his own.

“Why, the velvet coat period,” said the first man, as he took his cigar back, and puffed on it to keep it going. “Every man, some time in his life, either as boy or man, sees a time when he thinks the world will cease to revolve on its axis if he does not have a velvet coat, and he is bound to have one if he has to steal the money to buy it. It is bad enough for a boy to have the period come on, but it is infinitely worse to escape it in youth and have it attack a man in middle life, but it always hits them, some time. Now, you wouldn’t think, to look at me that I ever had the velvet coat fever, but I had it once in its most violent form.

“About twenty years ago, at the time of the oil excitement, I made a little money in oil, and I got to thinking how I could show how I was no ordinary son of man, and all at once it struck me that a velvet coat could do it for me, and 1 had a surveyor measure me, and had a velvet coat made. I was anxious to have it done so I could put it on and go around among the boys, but when it was done and had been brought home, I all at once lost my grip, and could hardly get up courage to put it on. I let it lay for a week, until my people got to making fun of me about being afraid to wear it, and finally I put it on and wore it down town after dark. Only a few people saw it, and I went home feeling satisfied that the worst was over. What I wanted was to have the community get accustomed to it gradually.  After a while I wore it to my office on days that I was to be busy, so I knew I wouldn’t have to go around town. After the boys in the office got so they could witness my coat without going behind a partition to laugh at me, I concluded to wear it on the street.

“Well, there was an organ grinder with a monkey, out on the sidewalk, when I went out, and the beastly Italian had on an old velvet coat, like mine, only soiled. The monkey was jumping around, picking up pennies, and all at once he saw me. I shall never forget the expression on that monkey’s face. He seemed to take me for his master, and clearly realized that his master had procured a new coat without asking the consent of his little brother. There was a look of pain, as though the monkey felt hurt that such duplicity had been practiced on him, and then the monkey would look at the clothes in which he was dressed up with contempt, and then he would look at my coat with envy. I never felt so sorry for a monkey in all my life. I could stand it to hear strangers say, as I passed by, ‘What fool is that?’ but to see that poor monkey grieve over the style I was putting on was too much, and I resolved if I ever got that coat home I would put it where it could never be seen again. The organ-grinder became alarmed at the actions of the monkey, and jerked on the chain, causing the monkey to tum a back summersault, and the poor animal came up standing in front of his master. He looked at him, and seemed to be at once reassured, and to feel that the apparition was only a horrid dream, and then he looked over his shoulder toward where I had stood, to make sure, and there I was in all my glory. Then the monkey was mad and began to make up faces at me, and I got out of there and went home, with shouts of the monkey’s audience sounding in my ears, and I took off that coat and gave it to the man that took care of my horse, and I never see a velvet coat, either on a boy or man, but I think of what a confounded fool I made of myself in my Oscar Wilde days. If you have a boy, teach him to go through the velvet coat period young, and he will thank his stars.’–Peck’s Sun.

The True Southron [Sumter, SC] 6 November 1883: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Oscar Wilde days,” indeed. Mrs Daffodil has known two gentlemen who went through a velvet coat period: one was an elegant professor of French, whose students all sighed for him; the other was a fair young man with the pale tresses and long nose of a borzoi. The garments are undoubtedly becoming to their owners, and young ladies seem desirous of petting them, but too often a velvet coat brands a young man as “artistic,” with all the opprobrium so frequently directed at that species by doting Papas. Still, many gentlemen remember their velvet coats fondly. Mrs Daffodil appends a poem of nostalgia for such a garment:

My Old Coat

Mortimer Collins

This old velvet coat has grown queer, I admit,
And changed is the colour and loose is the fit;
Though to beauty it certainly cannot aspire,
’Tis a cosy old coat for a seat by the fire.

II.

When I first put it on, it was awfully swell,
I went to a pic-nic, met Lucy Lepel;
Made a hole in the heart of that sweet little girl,
And disjointed the nose of her lover, the earl.

III.

We rambled away o’er moorland together,
My coat was bright purple, and so was the heather;
And so was the sunset that blazed in the west,
As Lucy’s fair tresses were laid on my breast.

IV.

We plighted our troth ’neath that sunset aflame,
But Lucy returned to her earl all the same;
She’s a grandmamma now and is going downhill,
But my old velvet coat is a friend to me still.

V.

It was built by -a tailor of mighty renown,
Whose art is no longer the talk of the town;
A magical picture my memory weaves
When I thrust my tired arms through its easy old sleeves.

VI.

I see in the fire, through the smoke of my pipe,
Sweet maidens of old that are long over ripe;
And a troop of old cronies, right gay cavaliers,
Whose guineas paid well for champagne at Watier’s.

VII.

A strong generation, who drank, fought, and kissed,
Whose hands never trembled, whose shots never missed;
Who lived a quick life, for their pulses beat high,
We remember them well, sir, my old coat and I.

VIII.

Ah, gone is the age of wild doings at Court,
Rotten boroughs, knee-breeches, hair-triggers, and port;
Still I’ve got a magnum to moisten my throat,
And I’ll drink to the past in my old tattered coat.

Modern Merry Men: Authors in the Lighter Vein in the Victorian Era, William Andrews 1904

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

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

An Awfully Handsome Thing: 1889

SENT HER A SHROUD

A Young Fellow Made His Girl a Present and Nearly Lost a Bride.

The number of packages left carelessly lying around in different places in the city and lost must run up into the thousands in the course of a year. According to Billy Meech, a railway ticket office in a prominent hotel is the great receiving basin of such truck. Many of the articles left are found to be trifles of no account whatever, but occasionally it happens that something of value is found. Billy Meech tells the following incident in this connection. Said he: “One day I found on my counter a package some one had left, and, as usual in such cases, laid it back, thinking the owner would call again and claim it, as is usually the case, but in this instance no one came. After it had been in our hands about two months my clerk one day suggested that we open it, and agreeing, the string was cut and enough of the contents exposed to satisfy us two fellows that it was an exceedingly handsome nightgown for a lady. The fabric was very fine and the lace upon the front would have made any woman’s mouth water with envy. Our curiosity satiated, the paper was readjusted and the package laid back on the shelf. My clerk was engaged to be married, his fiancée living down in Indianapolis.

“The wedding was to come off in a short time, and about two weeks before the time he said, referring to that package: ‘I wonder if it would do an harm if I sent that garment to my girl. It’s an awfully handsome thing and I can write a letter explaining why I send such a present; I don’t think she would care, do you, Billy?’ I told him no; to send it, and he did, with a long letter of explanation. The girl got the package all right, for about the right time the clerk received a letter. It was a stunner, I can tell you. By one of those mishaps that always occur when they should not, she failed to get the letter with the bundle. Her letter was short but sharp. It read: ‘What do you mean by sending me a shroud?’ Just think of it. The young fellow, with the best intentions in the world of sending his girl a beautiful present, had sent a garment for a dead body. I did not wonder she was angry about it. I shouldn’t like it myself. Well, she wrote a few lines about it not being much of a joke, and about bad luck and all that, and wound up by saying the match was off. But the young man wouldn’t have it that way. He got leave and down to Indianapolis he went flying. He squared things all right, for I got a dispatch from him saying, ‘All right; we are married.’ So it rather hurried the matter after all. It was a queer accident, though, and might have proved serious, but it did not, for the couple are living together now as happy as turtle doves, but I cannot help thinking what a chump a man is who can’t tell a woman’s night gown from a shroud.”

Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune [Knoxville TN] 19 April 1889: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written before of a verdant young man purchasing a widow’s cap for his sweetheart and of an elegant shroud being mistaken for a fashionable night-dress.  “Chump” is perhaps too strong a word. It was a natural mistake and certainly one easily made by an innocent unfamiliar with the niceties of  ladies’ nocturnal garb.

Still, Mrs Daffodil is troubled by a singular point of etiquette. A gentleman would never send so familiar a gift, even to a fiancee. Was the young groom-to-be truly that ignorant of the rules of decent society? Chocolates, a volume of poetry bound in limp mauve morocco, flowers, or (one blushes to relate it) a pair of gloves, were the only gifts permitted by etiquette. So, even if one grants that the Benedict was a chump, his eagerness to send a robe de nuit to an unmarried girl renders him a cad and Mrs Daffodil is sending censorious glances in his direction. One is dubious about how long such a union would last.

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.

Making Easter Bonnet Flowers: 1903

summer flower hat

Flower garden hat, just right for an Easter bonnet, c. 1915 http://www.augusta-auction.com/list-of-upcoming-sales?view=lot&id=15341&auction_file_id=33

Making Flowers for Gorgeous Easter Bonnets

By John Mathews

The door flew back suddenly—and I stood in the midst of an artificial-flower garden. The air was filled with a song and the voices were those of women. About me on long tables were heaps of half-finished blossoms. Around the tables sat the flower-girls, singing, as their fingers flew rapidly over bits of colored cloth. Roses and daisies and violets were blooming by the hundreds; leaves were unfolding, green branches were growing before my very eyes. And the flowers which were being produced in this atmosphere of song were Easter blossoms, the most brilliant and the most conspicuous of all that are seen on that beautiful holiday, for they were the flowers of the wonderful Easter bonnet .

And this was the busiest season in the big New York flower factory, which produces every year hundreds of bushels of the artificial floral gems. I saw at once that the making of flowers has become an art, for by the cunning combination of muslins and silks, velvets and satins, with amazingly delicate tints, a picture is made of the real rose or the real violet or daisy—a picture that, while it is only an imitation, possesses beauty in itself, just as a landscape, while only a copy, has much of the charm of that from which its inspiration comes. Here was a most unusual situation in this flower garden. If the flowers had been real, and the place where they bloomed a garden, instead of a big, dingy room, it would have been only natural for the gardeners to be gayly singing. But for factory workers to be making music as they toil is a thing not often known.

I have heard of great cigar factories in Florida where an orchestra plays to lift the spirits of the men while their backs are bent in labor. And I have heard, too, of other factories where the women who are employed are cowed and suppressed and not permitted, on pain of fine, to speak to each other excepting in a low tone of voice. But here was a factory where the workers were allowed and even urged to sing. And it seemed a particularly appropriate combination — the song and the flowers for the Easter time. A dozen of the girls were singing in strong, clear voices a popular air, one of the sort that lend themselves to notes long-drawn-out. The chorus ran something like this:
There are eyes of blue,
There are brown eyes too,
There are eyes of every size and eyes of every hue.
But if you are wise,
You’ll take my advice,
And be careful of the maiden with the dre-a-my eyes.

There was no weariness, no doleful note, in the song, for it bore the joy which it, also gave. And while they sang the women worked the faster, their fingers performing the routine to which they were accustomed, while their spirits, no doubt, floated away very pleasantly on the wings of the music. Not only is there a humanitarian, but a practical business purpose, as well, in this musical accompaniment to the daily toil of the factory. Men and women both work best when they are most happy and contented. If the girls in this flower factory were not finding relief from the drudgery of their work in song they would be talking, and when they grew emphatic or their conversation became descriptive, these persons, being women, might frequently illustrate what they said with motions of their hands; and hands thus employed would not be making flowers. There would be more gestures than blossoms. But as they sing, their hands never stop. Thus these girls and women become happier and more efficient at the same time, for there is great power in music.

In the centre of this scene of industry and song stood a tall, graceful young woman who is of first importance in this story because it is she who makes the first designs of the blossoms, and also conducts the department which finishes them.

-

Artificial flowers packed in their original box, c. 1875-1900 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1349734.1

The manufacture of artificial flowers is one of the great industries. Formerly the best flowers and the largest quantities came from abroad, the most beautiful and costly from Paris, the cheaper grades from Germany and Austria. Millions of artificial flowers are still brought from Europe for the American woman’s hat, but the American factories are growing fast, and are becoming rivals of those of France in the perfection of their product.

The smallest varieties of flowers, the forget-me-nots, for instance, are seldom made here. They can be bought more cheaply in Germany, for there they are manufactured at small cost by women in the prisons, girls in convents, and even by school children after school hours. This labor is cheaper than any that can be found in America. But they make the roses, daisies, geraniums, violets, pansies, and all of the others in the largest and best factories of the United States. And some of the copies of these bright gems of the floral world are so skillfully and artistically made that one hesitates before deciding that the artificial is not, after all, a real flower.

The tall young woman, designer of the blossoms and captain of the flower-girls, showed me exactly how a rose was made, a great pink French rose of delicate tint, growing deeper toward the centre.

“Beginning with the petals,” she said, separating a large rose into its parts, “you will see that each is a single bit of muslin—a sort of three-cornered piece, you will notice. The outer petals are the largest, and they decrease in size as they near the centre of the flower.”

She spread the pink pieces out on the table before her. There were forty-eight of them.

“I determine the size of the petals from the real rose,” she said, “pulling out its petals and then copying them on to a pattern. From this pattern a stamp is made. It is like a pinking iron, or a chisel. You hit it on the end with a heavy hammer and drive it through the cloth.”

On the top floor of the factory two strong men were carving out the flowers with these tools. The stamps were driven with each blow of the hammer through several thicknesses of cloth, cutting out the rose petals, or daisy blossoms, or poppy blooms. Before the flowers are stamped out the cloth is first starched in preparation. It is stretched on perpendicular frames and the starch is applied with a brush. When it has dried the cloth is placed before the two men who handle the blacksmith’s hammers.

Then the different parts are colored, and this, as well as the designing of the shape of the flowers, is all-important. In the coloring room are huge bowls and pots filled with coloring matter, for many hundreds of tints are mixed and used in a single factory. A rose petal is pink at the outer edges and light green around the part where it adheres to the flower head. The petals are dipped by hand, first into the green coloring fluid, which contains alcohol to “set” it, and then into the pink color when the green has dried. And there is a great steam-heated drying room where the parts of flowers are put on shelves in trays to dry. The rose petals are then sent to the flower room, which is presided over by Miss Essie Hoar, the designer of flowers in this factory of David Spero.

The petals are put between sheets of thick blotting paper which are moistened. They are taken out of this to be crimped and rounded, for you know there are many curves and swells in each little rose petal. The shaping of the petals is done while they are still damp. A pair of small hot pincers is used to make the convolutions in the surface of each petal. To give the flowers their proper curve and form, a large number of little machines are employed. They are operated by girls and supplied with heat by gas jets, so that while the flower is pressed it is dried and held in shape by the starch which it contains. The rose petals are now ready to be placed on the head of the stem.

Here, again, deftness and skill are required. A cluster of starched threads with tips of a yellow composition is imported from Germany. These threads become the stamens and pistil of the rose. Miss Hoar took the cluster of threads, fastened it to the end of a wire stem, and then began to place the petals around it, dipping the end of each of them in glue. And her fingers moved very rapidly and the rose grew fast, each petal assuming its proper place and position. In less than a minute it was a gorgeous, full-blown flower. Then its stem had to be put on.

Rose stems are made of small hollow tubes of stiffened muslin stained green and cut in the factory to the length desired. But the thorns of the artificial rose are of soft little rubber tips which are put on with glue at regular intervals along the stem. This hollow green tube is slipped over the wire about which the rose blossom grew, and is held there by glue. A tiny green, hollow cup is placed under the head of the flower, the stem being pulled through it. The leaves are fastened to the stem, and the rose is a rose indeed.

The flower factories in the United States buy most of their material from abroad. The stems of various sizes come in coils like rope and are called tubing. The leaves, already stained green, are brought to the United States in boxes, but in the flower factory they must be put on their stems and the veins put in them by a stamping machine. The petals of many flowers are two-colored, the top being of one shade and the under side of another. This fact presents another problem in flower-making. The cloth for such flowers must be painted before the petals are stamped out. The muslin is hung in frames and then one side is painted the tint desired. When that is dry the brush is used on the opposite side with another color, and then the cloth is laid before the stamping iron.

Some one from the flower factory goes every year to Paris. His eyes follow the hats of the women as he sees them on the fashionable boulevards, in the cafés, or at the theatres. And he writes home describing the flowers that he has seen on these hats. The factory at once begins making these flowers with might and main, for it is an absolute certainty that the flowers worn on hats in Paris will a little later be worn on hats in American cities. There are flowers, however, which are in steady demand for several years together. One of these, designed by Miss Hoar, was a velvet daisy of dark red, lustrous hue. Of these 150,000,000 were sold in two years.

with grapes and leaves dec 1917

1917 hat decorated with grapes and leaves

During some seasons cherries are worn on hats; sometimes grapes adorn the feminine bonnets. And the making of this artificial fruit becomes a part of the industry of the flower factory. When grapes are in vogue an entire glass-blowing establishment may be employed to supply the large flower-maker with the little, thin, glass balls which form the body of the grape or cherry. This glass fruit is then dipped in coloring matter and, if it is a grape, is sprinkled, also, with potato flour before the color is dry. This gives the velvet effect of the real fruit, so that the artificial grape is one of the most luscious-looking creations imaginable.

Frank Leslies Weekly 16 April 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A fascinating look at a pretty trade and how delightful that the flower-makers are encouraged to lift their young voices in song!

It grieves Mrs Daffodil to undermine this charming picture of embowered maidens, but what the author does not mention is that the green of the leaves and stems was Scheele’s Green–an arsenical green also known as Paris Green–which, although known to make the complexion pale and interesting, was slowly poisoning these young women. Given the insouciant view of many factory owners, one shudders to think what other hell-brews were used in the making of these lovely objects.

 

 

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.

A Skirt for Nothing: 1903

pink satin post2

HOW A CLEVER WOMAN GOT A SKIRT FOR NOTHING

They entered the street car, en route to the matinee, with a swish of silk petticoats and happy in the possession of the latest creations in French millinery and this season’s models in feather muffs and boas.

“What do you think of my skirt?” asked one of them, glancing down at an affair in fancy novelty silk of the latest cut which she wore.

“A dream,” replied her companion, “I have been admiring it all along. You are certainly growing extravagant, dear.”
A look of satisfaction spread over the other woman’s countenance. She lowered her voice impressively, but not enough to prevent the other passengers in that end of the car from hearing. “It didn’t cost me a cent,” she said.

“A present! You lucky mortal. I wish I had a half a dozen sisters, cousins and aunts to give me lovely things once in a while!”

“Not a present, either. Just the luckiest chance in the world,” replied the owner of the skirt with increasing satisfaction in her voice. “You see, I went out Monday to buy a skirt. I wanted something rather smart for an afternoon, something like this, in fact; but I had been so liberal with my other clothes that I really didn’t see how I could afford one. I spent the entire morning trying to pick up a bargain, and finally I went to Jones & Smith’s. I have an account there, you know. Well, I couldn’t find a thing I would look at for less than twice what I was able to give, and as it was 1 o’clock and I was cross and worried and worn out, I decided to go into their lunch room and treat myself to something dainty and refreshing, just to cheer me up.

“Well, my dear, it was too fortunate. It had looked like rain that morning, and I had put on that old green skirt—you remember, part of the suit I had made to order last autumn.

“Well, as luck would have it, it was a new waitress who took my order. She was awkward and nervous, and as she was placing my tea on the table she stumbled and spilled the whole thing, cup and all, right into my lap.

“I didn’t even wait to eat lunch. I went right down to the office and complained. The men were extremely polite when they found out I had an account there. Besides they could see that the skirt was of expensive material, and somehow—I’m sure I didn’t say so—but somehow they seemed to be under the impression that it had been made last spring. Anyhow I told them that I considered it good for another season’s wear—which was true, if only I hadn’t been seen in it a whole season already—and that it belonged to a suit which had cost me $90, and that I thought they should at least make it good to me with another skirt. And it ended in my going back and getting this dream of a skirt for nothing. What do you think of that for luck?”

“But,” protested the other woman whose face had grown grave as she listened, “Didn’t the poor girl have to stand the cost of that skirt?”

“Oh—hm—well, now, I never thought of that. Perhaps she did have to pay something; but of course they would never have charged her with the whole price of that skirt. And, then, it was entirely her own awkwardness.”

“Of course, if she spoiled your skirt—“    her friend began, thoughtfully.

“Oh, my dear, that was the best part of it,” exclaimed the piece of selfishness incarnate, with a jubilant laugh. “The other skirt wasn’t spoiled at all. You see, it was only tea. And after it was sponged off and pressed one could never tell the difference.”

Great Falls [MT] Tribune 6 December 1903: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  “Selfishness incarnate” rather unstates it…. The “poor girl” probably lost her job. She was awkward and nervous because she–the sole support of her invalid mother, drunkard father, and five brothers and sisters–had landed a job after many months of searching and was anxious to make a success of it. One can be sure that the store docked her pay for the full amount of that “dream” of a skirt, just as one can be sure that, feeling that nothing mattered any more, the former waitress either went on the bottle or on the streets. Fashionable clothes have been the ruination of many a good girl….

 

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 Virot Label: 1909

LABELS.

They Are Meretricious Things If They Misbrand an Article.

“You can go right on talking to father, Mr. Jerrold,” Madge Roberts said, gaily, “but I want Mrs. Jerrold to see my Virot hat.”

“I am sure, just because I happen to be a mere man, you wouldn’t be cruel enough to deprive me of a pleasure,” Mr. Jerrold retorted.

Madge dimpled, and made him a courtesy. She could not help being happy that the hat was so becoming.

“And it cost, exclusive of the label that I begged from Cousin Adelaide, exactly six dollars and seven cents,” she explained triumphantly, to Mrs. Jerrold. “Every girl I know, except one that I’ve let into the secret, really thinks it is a Virot.

“Why not let them think it is a Roberts and get the credit you deserve?” Mr. Jerrold suggested with, beneath the light words, a gravity which Madge was too absorbed to notice.

“If that isn’t a ‘mere man’ question!” she responded. “To get looked down upon by lots of people when a simple little label ca get me looked up to! I made my suit myself and it’s as a big a success as my hat—and everybody thinks it came from Hammond’s. It’s my good luck to have rich cousins who can furnish the labels of the swell shops. I’m quite willing to keep my talents in the background; it counts a great deal more to be stylish than to be talented. I must run now—and take my Virot to the recital. Goodbye, both of you!”

It was a careless scrap of talk—nothing was farther from the girl’s thought than that it would influence her life. Yet only four months later, when her father’s sudden death made it necessary for her to become a wage-earner, that winter evening returned to her in a way she was never to forget. She had gone to Mr. Jerrold to ask his influence in obtaining a secretaryship of which she had heard.

Mr. Jerrold was kindness itself, but he shook his head gravely.

“Miss Madge,” he said, “I would rather lose a thousand dollars than say what I must say, yet I should not be fair to you if did not say it. I cannot recommend you for the secretaryship because it is a position of responsibility and demands a woman of irreproachable honesty and honor. It is the Virot label that stands in the way, Miss Madge. It is not that I should not trust you as far as you saw, but –I could not be sure that you would see clearly. I will do my best to help you obtain some other position, but I could not in justice to the trust imposed upon me recommend you for this.”

Two minutes later a girl hurried down the street, her cheeks burning and her eyes full of tears. But she had learned her lesson. Youth’s Companion.

The Daily Herald [Chicago IL] 4 June 1909: p. 3

mourning hat virot paris 1902

Mourning Hat, Virot, Paris 1902

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously read the breathless confession of another lady who basted a Paris label into her home-made hat and yet we do not hear that she suffered by her little deception. Frankly, Mrs Daffodil is inclined to be tolerant of such minor impostures, particularly when they are perpetrated by a very young woman, the petted daughter of the house. In the hierarchy of Deadly Sins, they rank rather lower than say, Wrath or Lust, hovering around the moral level of Filching the Last Chocolate Biscuit in the Tin.

Mr Jerrold may have been kindness itself, but he seems to have had no understanding of those “careless scraps of talk”  heedless young persons are apt to utter. For one ghastly moment Mrs Daffodil thought he was going to decline to help the newly bereaved girl at all, leaving her to drudge and starve, exposed to all sorts of terrible temptations!

Certainly the gentleman was well within his rights to decline to give Miss Madge (yet who, after all, was industrious or thrifty enough to make her own suit) a recommendation for that sensitive secretaryship, but one hopes he had more congent reasons for his priggish refusal than a deceptive label from Virot.

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 Slop Shop Trade: 1887

1841 skeleton tailors in sweatshop

CHEAP CLOTHING

LIVES OF WOMEN WORN OUT ON READY MADE SUITS.

What It Costs to Put “Bargain” Price Marks on Wearing Apparel

Dangers of the “Slop Shop” Trade

Business Needing Ventilation

The slop shop is the biggest thing in the cheap clothing trade, and the slop shop keepers are the hardest taskmasters of the poor slaves of the metropolis. Competition in the retail clothing business has brought this condition of things about. Besides, the whole system on which the manufacture of cheap clothing is carried on is as bad as it can be, and its continuance is a menace to public health and a danger to the general welfare of the community beside which the much talked-of tenement house manufacture of cigars is nothing.

There are comparatively few clothing factories in New York. Most of what are called such are simply shops where the cloth is cut. It then goes, each sort of garment separately, to the “tailors,” so-called, who have their shops all over the city, but chiefly in the most densely populated tenement house districts and in the very slums. One tailor will take out hundreds or thousands of pairs of pantaloons in a week, another carries off the coats, and the vests go somewhere else. If these men or women have any shops at all they are simply their living rooms in the tenements where they hire girls to come for from nothing to a few dollars a week and work at sewing machines making up the garments. In many instances men instead of girls are hired, especially on heavy work, but in either case the people are crowded as closely as the machine can be put together, often four or five in one small room where all the household lives and all the domestic work is carried on. In these places, reeking with all the vile odors of the tenements, with dirty children crawling over the filthy floors, playing among them by day and sleeping upon them at night, in an atmosphere, in short, of dirt, disease and death, the garments are finally made up.

They may be “finished” —that is, have the buttons put on and the other hand sewing done—in the same place, or this work may be farmed out to still more abject slaves than those who toil over the machines—to women who are prevented by invalid husbands, young children, or other reasons from leaving their homes, and who are therefore obliged to take up for their work whatever pittance the slop shop barons will dole out to them, and trust to charity for enough more to stave off starvation.

In the barren rooms of these lowest of slaves the garments have a change to get a new variety of odors and disease germs. Then they go, most likely, to the button hole factory, where they touch shoulders with similar lots from dozens of other tenement house shops, and when their own odors and germs have thus been amalgamated with the odors and germs of all the tenements for half a mile around, they go back to the original slop shop, and thence in the course of time to the alleged manufacturer, who sells them to a wholesaler, maybe, from whom they go to the retailer, and after all these different hands have taken their toll the general public is invited to come in and look at the wonderful bargains in clothing.

Often they are wonderful bargains, indeed, in spite of the numerous profits that have been made off of them; but if they are cheap it is because women have turned their sinews into thread and their blood into sewing machine oil in the making of them. They are aired and fumigated, and cleansed, maybe, before they are sold, but a man in the business says; “If people knew where those clothes have been they would never buy them.”

Philip Leidesdorff has been in business for eighteen years. His brother is with him now, and they have a buttonhole factory. They take the work after those who get it from the manufactures have made it up and put in the buttonholes for so much a hundred.

“This tenement house work,’” he says, “is the ruin of the clothing business, and worse yet, it’s the ruin of those that work at it. Someday people will wake up to what this cheap clothing business means. Go into some of these tenements and you’ll find in some of the little rooms a whole family living, and three or four girls working at machines all day. They take the goods from the tailor’s and make them up in the rooms where they cook and sleep. Why they use the clothes for bedding, even. If people could see once the vile holes in which the clothing is made up they’d never buy any of it. I wish they could see some of it when it comes here to have the buttonholes put in. It gets aired and cleaned before it is put up for sale.

“The way these people do is to get young girls to come and learn the business. They make them work six weeks for nothing, or, maybe $2 a week for their work, and they pack just as many of them as they can get into one room, along with the children and the cooking and all the rest. That way they make a little money for themselves at the expense of the girls, but it don’t do them much good, for pretty quick the manufacturer grinds down the price another peg, and the more they grind the girls the more the manufacturer grinds them, until nobody is making more than a bare living. The people that take the work out in the country to do are pretty near as bad as the tenement house people for prices, but, of course, they’re cleaner. If it wasn’t for them prices would be a good deal higher in the city. New York is the worst city in the country for sewing women. In Philadelphia, even, they pay them a good deal better. It’s all on account of this tenement house work, and it’ll never be any better till they pass laws making it illegal for more than one machine to be put in an ordinary living room.”

“There’s another thing,” said David Leidesdorff, a brother, “and if cholera or any such disease ever gets a start in this city people will find it out mighty quick. These tenement house factories would spread the disease through the whole country. I’ve always said that if cholera ever got a start in New York I’d drop this business and get out right away, and I’d do it, too. They have a board of health and laws enough here, but I’ve never been in a city yet, and I’ve been all over the world, where they allowed such things as they do here. Only last winter, at a place in a street right near here, the children in a family were sick of small pox in the same room where the clothing was being made up and sent out every day. These people don’t have any more regard for the laws or for other people’s health than they do for their own health, and if you have ever been in any of the holes where they live and work you know how little that is. This whole business of the manufacturer of cheap clothing needs a showing up.” New York Sun

Canton [OH] Repository 28 December 1887: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is fascinated by how the buttonhole factory brothers are well aware of the dire conditions in sweatshops and condemn sweated labour—while benefiting from it. Of course, to-day New York is one of the leading fashion capitals of the world, yet cheap clothes are more prevalent than ever, manufactured  under conditions their purchasers can only guess at.  Enslaved persons toiling in “sweat-shops” may be found, even in many of the world’s most affluent countries. Tragically, plus ça change…

Contagion from textiles has been a consistent theme in world history: Mrs Daffodil cites the plague begun in Eyam by flea-infested fabric from London; a fatal shawl, said to be behind a Russian plague outbreak in 1878, remonstrances about disease in hired mourning clothes, and the ghastly traffic in clothing stolen from corpses. A good deal of the pressure to unionise garment workers arose from fashionable ladies’ fears of contagion in sweated clothing.

To be Relentlessly Informative, “slop shop” comes from “slops,” the full breeches worn by sailors. They could be purchased ready-made and the term came to be attached to establishments selling any  cheap article of clothing.

 

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.