Category Archives: Lethal Clothing

The Weight of Fashion: 1883

WOMAN’S BURDEN OF DRESS.

The Danger in the Folds of Heavy Shirts and Cloaks—Weighing Garments Which Women Wear—How the Heavy Burden May Cause Disease or Exhaustion.

[New York Times.]

I feel called upon to correct some of the nonsense uttered and written about the injury done to women by their costumes.

High-heeled French shoes and tight lacing have hitherto borne the burden of blame for the sufferings of women. But now comes the Lancet, of London, in the track of other iconoclasts, and casts at least a doubt upon this favorite theory by an article in regard to the weight of women’s clothes. The article in question is brief and pointed, calling attention in a few words to what the writer regards as a serious evil. It was printed in the issue of December 2d, and the principal part of it reads as follows:

“The clothes worn by women are, as a whole, too heavy, and, by a perversity of fashion, they receive an enormous increment of weight at this season in the shape of cloaks and mantles of sealskin or plush with quilted linings. The attention of medical practitioners needs to be specially drawn to this matter in order that they may remonstrate with their female patients, and also avoid misconception as to the actual strength of some who complain of fatigue in waling, which may be mistaken for a token of weakness, whereas it is only natural exhaustion from carrying a burden that few strong men would care to bear.

The waist is encircled as with a belt or hoop, to which a load heavier than a felon’s chains is attached, and the shoulders and chest are compressed by an additional burden. Breathing is laboriously performed, and the contents of the trunk and pelvis are thrust down with a force which, if represented in pounds, would occasion considerable surprise.”

In order to ascertain how far the statements contained in this article were borne out by facts, a Times reporter investigated some of the mysteries of the feminine toilet at Lord & Taylor’s by exploring a number of the departments and having the weight accurately ascertained of every article under examination. Four dresses of medium size were weighed. Six pounds was the weight of a dress of velvet and cloth; a silk dress weighed three and a half pounds, a plush five and a quarter pounds, and a dress of ladies’ cloth on a cloth skirt five pounds three ounces. Dresses of ladies’ cloth are very generally worn, and, with fur trimmings, are still heavier. Twenty years ago dresses had plain underskirts and waists, and were not loaded down with elaborate trimmings, which are now the rage. Steel trimmings, now happily gone out of fashion, were very heavy adornments, but the real jet trimmings worn in certain circles are also a load to carry. When a lady’s heart is set on having a stylish dress she seldom entertains the problem of weight. Dresssmakers try to make them as light as possible, but with plush and silk this is no easy task. With all these trimmings dresses will continue to be burdens until the old-fashioned skirt, gathered at the waist, comes in vogue again. The reporter timidly investigated those articles of dress which may be boldly characterized as ladies’ underwear. He was informed that the gossamer gauze for summer use and the silk goods in pink, blue and flesh colors were as light as a fairy, and could hardly be weighed; but a cold, scientific inquiry, with the assistance of scales, showed a weight of six to eleven ounces for gauze cassimere suits, according to size, and eight to fourteen ounces of the silk. The latter is expensive, costing from $4 to $15 a garment, but it fits closely to the skin, is a preventive against cold, and affords as much comfort, they say, as wool. The heavy merino underwear for winter weighs from twenty-two to twenty-eight ounces a suit. Many ladies wear gauze or silk all the year round, as they want to look as symmetrical, and in some instances as aesthetic, as possible. Closely fitting underwear, it is reported, is an advantage in securing a perfectly fitting dress. Muslin underwear has also its claim for popularity on this score, and the sum total of an outfit runs from twenty-three to twenty-eight ounces. The underskirt is an important factor in determining the weight of a lady’s clothing, a colored underskirt weighing fourteen ounces, and a plain or cambric underskirt eight ounces. A satin waling-skirt scores twenty-nine ounces, and one of flannel twenty-one ounces. The latter, it is needless to say, sells by the thousands on the shopping thoroughfares of the city. When the reporter asked the weight of the seal-skin dolman the young weigher declared it to be four pounds. As this was evidently inaccurate the reporter sent it back to be reweighed. Six pounds was the result this time, and the weigher pleasantly excused the discrepancy by saying he thought he was “doing it for the express company.” Fur-lined dolmans were found to weigh exactly five pounds and sealskin sacques four pounds each. The young lady who would be comfortably and fashionably shod for the street, must wear cork-soled shoes whose average weight is a pound. If she dons a pair of rubbers an additional five ounces will be added. For stormy weather a pair of arctics may be desirable, a matter of fifteen ounces. The problem of stockings depends on whether the lady under discussion is going to the ball and will wear a pair adorned with beads, heavy bangles, and what not, and weighing five or six ounces, whether she will be content with silk stockings weighing two or three ounces, lisle or cotton stockings of three or four ounces’ weight, or even  Derby ribbed cotton at six ounces. Gloves are light eight; a six-button pair registering one ounce; a twelve-button pair two ounces, and fur-topped dog-skin pair three ounces. A lady’s handkerchief weighs an ounce, her collar and cuffs one and two ounces respectively, and her walking-hat, say of plush, beads and feathers, nine ounces.

At Arnold & Constable’s store, Mr. Walker, manage of the manufacturing department, afforded the reporter an opportunity of seeing the various heavy garments worn by women at this season of the year, and gave him estimates of their weights. The first garment examined was a satin-lined sealskin dolman. “That,” said Mr. Walker, “is a favorite covering with ladies, and is quite warm. It weighs about—I can only give you my estimate—eight pounds. Here is a sacque, also lined with quilted satin, under which is laid light cotton wadding. That weighs about twelve pounds. It is no warmer than a sealskin and is more cumbersome, but is not so expensive. Here is a sealskin dolman lined with plush, which I should think weighs a good twelve pounds. I don’t wonder that women get tired if they carry those around much. How, here is the most sensible garment that has ever been adopted by American women. This is a close-fitting pelisse. They are very much worn this season, and are as warm and comfortable as can be desired. They weigh from six and one-half to eight pounds, the weight of the heavier ones being caused by trimmings of braid, &c., which add nothing to their warmth. They combine lightness and warmth with the placing of the weight upon the shoulders.” Mr. Walker then showed the reporter a number of heavy winter skirts. A plain one of cloth, with a few trimmings of plush, weighed about nine pounds, and hung wholly from a waistband. Another, of cashmere, weighed about the same. “That’s nothing,” said Mr. Walker; “think of a woman’s having carry this around all day.” The skirt to which he referred weighed fully twelve pounds and was of plain cloth. Several other skirts of the same kind and weight were exhibited and all were found to be such as are commonly worn in the street at this season. Mr. Walker afterward took from a box a ball dress of blue and white satin and plush, which looked as light and airy as clouds. It had a long train and a low corsage.

“That doesn’t weigh much,” said the reporter. “About twelve pounds,” said Mr. Walker, smiling. The reporter lifted the garment, and judged that Mr. Walker was right. The bulk of the weight in the dress was in the skirt. A number of heavy felt skirts, such as are worn under light dresses, were examined and found to weigh from eight to ten pounds. “Are there any substitutes for these skirts?” inquired the reporter. He was told that there were, and was shown some quilted satin skirts lined with cotton wadding. These weighted about two pounds each, and ranged in price from $5 upward, while the felt skirts cost as high as $8. Consequently, a felt skirt weighing eight pounds could be replaced by a satin one weighing two pounds and costing no more. Skirts of quilted Japanese silk, filled with eider down, were also shown. These weighed about a pound, or a pound and one-half, and were declared to be very warm. Of course they were expensive, but not beyond the reach of a large class of women who tired themselves out in carrying much heavier garments, under the impression that they were warmer. The young woman who was in attendance at the skirt counter was asked if women often wore a heavy cloth or felt skirt and a heavy sealskin dolman at the same time. She said they did so very frequently, thus carrying a heavy burden.

C.C. Shayne, a fur manufacturer, said that when a sealskin sacque did not fit a lady she complained that it felt heavy, whereas, in the case of a good fit, the weight was more evenly distributed. Mr. Shayne saw in a milliner’s shop the other day a dress whose trimmings alone weighed more than sealskin circular. Sealskin was not much heavier than cloth, and otter was a trifle lighter than seal. Fur-lined circulars or dolmans weigh from four to six pounds—about the same weight as that of seal dolmans untrimmed—and otter sacques about seven pounds. These heavy garments are still growing in favor with the fairer sex, more sealskin having been sold this year than last, while otter is making inroads, it is said, on its popularity. Gentlemen do not take so kindly to sealskin overcoats, as a handsome fit can not be made with this material, but it is available for driving-coats and trimmings. A lady’s fur jacket weighs about the same as a gentleman’s, and a lady’s sealskin Derby hat does not tip the beam so much as a man’s double-banded hat by a quarter of a pound more. The heavy coachman’s capes are no longer worn by ladies with sacques, which, being made of beaver, are a little heavier than seal.

Several physicians who were seen expressed interesting opinions on the subject. Dr. Robert F. Weir said that fatigue was one of the most common causes of nervous disease, but it was almost useless to fight against a prevailing fashion. The harm from wearing heavy clothes about the waist lay in the pressure on the abdominal cavity. The lower classes particularly wore heavy weights about their waists and wore ill-fitting corsets. Dr. Weird spoke of a hospital case that had come under his notice in which a woman’s liver was almost cut in two by wearing skirts tightly around her waist with worn-out corsets. He added that fashionable women did not lace to tightly nowadays as formerly, owing to the spread of a knowledge of physiological principles. The dolman having over the shoulders by diffusing its weight, did not do as much harm as the skirts. Stockings held up by supporters were an additional strain on the waist. Many women were daily fagged out by the heaviness of their dress, and especially was this true of a convalescent who is just out of the house to resume her wonted round of gayety. “A great deal of the evils of dressing could be obviated by shoulder supports,” said the Doctor, “but they would be visible with the low-neck style of dressing in the winter and the diaphanous materials in use for summer toilets.” Dr. Weir said he would like to see reform in woman’s dress, but it was like running one’s head against a stone wall to attempt any thing of the sort…

Dr. Mary P. Jacobi said that it was plain that women wore too heavy clothes, which, hanging about the waist, caused troubles of the pelvic organs. Heavy clothes interfere with muscular activity, and, as women were hampered by their dress, walking with them was less valuable than it otherwise would be. Their clothes should be as light as is consistent with warmth. There is an expenditure of force in carrying too many clothes which should be spent in other directions….

Dr. Lewis A. Sayre handed the reporter his twenty-pound ulster, and jokingly said he could hardly blame a woman for wearing heavy clothes while he sported such a weighty garment. He was inclined to find fault with the shoes they wore, their high heels and narrow toes, which made it impossible for them to walk with grace or stand with ease. If a woman would properly distribute the weight of her clothes, the Doctor thought, she could carry enough to keep warm and suffer no inconvenience. Clothes should be so adjusted as to permit the circulation of blood, and should not be so girded around the waist as to cause engorgement of the pelvic organs. A woman gets tired from her clothes simply because she is not properly dressed.

For the purpose of providing date for comparison the reporter called at a large retail clothing house and had some men’s garments weighed. The heaviest ulsters were found to run as high as fifteen pounds. Ordinary winter overcoats weighed from six to eight pounds. A suit of winter clothing, consisting of a Prince Albert coat, waistcoat and trousers, weighed six pounds. An English cheviot suit, with sack coat, weighed four pounds.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 27 January 1883: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This was, of course, a time of heavily-upholstered ladies, fashion favouring brocade, velvet, and plush. All that was lacking was the ornamental brass upholstery tacks.  As is usual, the medical profession had strong opinions on the subject of what women should wear, although, unusually, one of those physicians was a woman. This article originally appeared under the name of “Clara Belle,” a syndicated fashion writer. The Cincinnati newspaper left out her final word:

So I am down on those alleged reformers who would have us hang every thing from our shoulders, instead of letting the weight rest harmlessly on our hips. In my opinion, the chief reason for the superiority of woman over man in grace depends on the freedom of her shoulders from constraint. If you have any doubt that women really are more graceful than men just put some fellow into skirts and see what a hulking, awkward, outlandish figure he cuts. But if for 100 years all of the women were to shift the weight of their clothes from hips to shoulders the sexes would be brought to a par, the gentler having in the meantime become as lumbering and heavy as the rougher. Believe me, we have no reason to put the upper parts of our torso in bondage.

Springfield [OH] Daily Republic 18 January 1885: p. 3

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 Monkey at the Masquerade: 1908

Worked Out All Right.

One of the clerks of a well-known City merchant recently received an invitation to a masked ball at his employer’s, and was the envy of his comrades. Resolved to do all he could to make the occasion a success, he spent a good deal of time in devising and making his masquerade costume, which, after long deliberation, he resolved should be that of a monkey. Then he spent a week learning a number of tricks —grinning, clambering on the chimney-piece, springing on to the table, and balancing himself on the back of a chair.

The evening came. He rang the bell, gave his overcoat into the servant’s arms, and, with a grin and chatter, turned a somersault under the chandelier. The gentlemen stood stupefied, the ladies screamed. His mask prevented him from seeing much, but the noise encouraged him to bound over a sofa and throw down a cabinet of old china. At this moment a hand seized him, tore off his mask, and the voice of his employer asked him what he meant by his idiotic conduct. Before he could explain he was hustled out of the house, learning by one glimpse that the rest of the company were in evening dress.

The next day he was sent for, and entered the office with trembling knees.

“I had the pleasure of a visit from you last evening,” said the gentleman.

“Yes. sir; that is—I—”

“No excuses,” said the other; “no excuses. I have doubled your salary. I noticed that you were overlooked for promotion last year. Good morning. Shut the door after you.”

“Well, I’ll be blessed!” said the clerk, going out. His employer had made an early investigation into the matter, and found that the other clerks had “put up a job” on the young man by sending him a bogus invitation. The employer made things even by promoting him over their heads.

Otago Witness 7 October 1908: p. 88

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the newspapers and women’s magazines, invitations to masked balls issued to young clerks by their employers almost always end happily, as we have seen previously in the story of The Four Red Devils.

Mrs Daffodil does not think that this is a common occurrence in Real Life. She is puzzled by the extraordinary forbearance of the employer in not summoning the police or a lunacy commission, but perhaps the gentleman knew that the cabinet of old china was insured for far more than he had paid for his aesthetic-minded wife’s tiresome collection.

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.

Married in Black: 1919

mourning frock 1916

THE BLACK DRESS

Carlotta Thayer sat crumbling her unpalatable sandwich and forcing herself to eat it between sips of tea from a thick cup. She sold neckwear in the big department store around the corner and had been busy all day handing out jabots and collars and cuff sets to eager buyers. Her face was so pleasant above her own white collar that it attracted quite as much as her wares.

Some day Carlotta hoped to earn really living wages. In the meantime she made $6 a week answer for all her needs. She had resolved life into “making the best of all that comes and the least of all that goes.” Even a poor sandwich was better than none at all. She saw people every day who looked as though they would be glad of what she found so difficult to swallow. Sometimes Carlotta got her suppers in her room as she got her breakfast, but if the weather was pleasant, she was apt to run into the “White House” for her sandwich and tea and afterward stroll home at leisure.

She was only halfway through her sandwich when she turned her eyes just in time to catch the glance of a young man who was entering the door. He stopped, continued to look hard at her for an instant and then hurried down to the table where she sat alone.

“Why, Carlotta!” he exclaimed, bending over her and holding out his hand. “Isn’t it strange? I was thinking of you and then I saw you.”

“I’m awfully glad to see you, Will,” Carlotta said, letting her hand stay in his and looking up into his brown, clear, serious face. “You look like home to me.”

“I’ve just come from there.” He drew off his overcoat and sat down opposite her. “It’s just the same. But you don’t deserve to know about it, Carlotta. You haven’t thought enough of any of us to come back even for a week.”

“I’ve worked every minute since I left,” Carlotta explained. “You see, Will, it’s different here in the city from what it is at Otisville. If you once get behind you never catch up. Things move so fast. I’m working at Davern’s—selling neckwear. It’s real pleasant.”

“You don’t look as though it agreed with you. You’re getting scrawny,” he said conclusively. “Well, Carlotta, I’m hungry as a bear. I’m going to order some supper, but you must stay and help me eat it.”

“Oh, I’ve had mine, thank you,” Carlotta returned lightly. She flushed as she saw his glance fall upon the telltale morsel upon her plate, and again as she heard him ordering chicken and mashed potato and salad and apple cobbler—for two.

“And coffee. You still drink coffee, don’t you, Carlotta? I remember your Aunt Jane’s and how good it tasted, coming hot and fragrant out of that old tin pot. Coffee making is getting to be a lost art with these new contraptions called percolators. My sister’s got one. You know she and Ed had moved into their new house, didn’t you? That leaves the old home empty except for me. And I shan’t be there, for I’m going west.”

“Going—west?” Carlotta repeated. The news gave her a curiously sick feeling. She covered her cheeks with her hands to hide them.

“Yes, clear to San Francisco. The firm’s sending me. I start tonight. Don’t you envy me?”
“Yes, I do,” Carlotta said. “You’ll have a wonderful trip. Just__”

He interrupted, leaning toward her across the table. “Wouldn’t you like to go?”

Carlotta sighed. “I don’t dare think about it. Of course, I know, I never shall.”

The waiter put the food between them and departed. Carlotta lifted her fork and first mouthful took the taste of the sandwich out of her mouth forever. “Oh, it’s so good,” she murmured. “I believe I am hungry, after all. Will, this chicken is almost as good as Aunt Jane’s used to be, isn’t it?”

He shook his head, smiling: “Nothing could equal that. Do you remember how we used to save the wishbone to break when it was dry? And once we both wished for sleds and it flew all to pieces. But we got sleds just the same. Carlotta,” continued Will, earnestly, “don’t you think it a pity that all that old comradeship should be wasted? We never quarreled as children. We wouldn’t quarrel now. We’re in the same key, and that always makes for harmony. Carlotta, say, marry me and go west with me tonight.”

“Marry you!” Carlotta exclaimed. She dropped her fork. “Oh, Will!”

“Why not? What’s to hinder? Telephone to the store manager. Pack what you must have. We’ll get a license, find a ministers and—won’t you, Carlotta?”

“You’ve known me always. I’ve know you and–. Why, I love you, Carlotta. I can make you so happy. We’ll make our trip, then we’ll settle down in the old house. You know what that is. Don’t you see, Carlotta, I can’t go and leave you here in this place? Now that I’ve seen you I can’t possibly. You must come with me. The train leaves at 11:15. It’s 6:30 now. Plenty of time.”

Carlotta felt dazed. To marry Will Galt and go to California with him, and to live in the dear old house where she had played so much in her childhood! To be back in Otisville, loved, secure, at rest! Heaven scarcely offered more. She felt like throwing out her hands to him and crying: “Oh, Will, take me! I’ve always cared for you! I went away because I was too proud to stay when I thought you didn’t care for me. And it’s hard—hard for all my courage and resolve.” Instead she drew back. “I can’t,” she faltered.

Will’s face grew long and stern. “Some one else?”

“N-no, no, indeed!”

“What then?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you!” Tears came stingingly at the end of a hysterical little giggle.

In the glass beside them she saw herself, black frock, shabby black coat, still shabbier black hat, the last of her mourning for Aunt Jane. She had nothing else, not another thing that she could wear to be married in. And how could she be married in mourning? It made her shiver to think of it. And she could not tell Will. If she told him he would rush out to some place and buy her a dress, and she could not permit that. In the town where she had been brought up men did not buy frocks for their brides to be married in. She would rather wear the black dress than incur such a shame. And she could not wear the black dress.

If she had any money at all she could buy the dress for herself, but that morning she had paid her room rent, which left her exactly 87 cents to tide her over until her next pay envelope.

“It’s no use, I can’t.” She had gathered all her forces. “Don’t let’s talk about it any more, Will. Let’s be friends.” She drew on her gloves so nervously that the thinnest one split across the palm. She gazed awestruck at the disaster, then clenched her hand on it and stood up. She was about as white as her collar. And Will, on the other side of the table, was white, too.

“Well, I can’t kidnap you, that’s certain,” he said. “You’re old enough to know your own mind. But I think you’re making a mistake.

They did not speak again until they were on the street. Then he said rather brokenly: “If—if you should change your mind, Carlotta, you can ‘phone me at the Carlton. I’ll be there until my train leaves. Now, which car shall I put you on?”

When 15 minutes after she entered her own room Carlotta felt she had put aside her one chance for happiness and the great adventure because she could not be married in a black dress. She sank upon the bed and buried her face in the thin pillow For a few moments she had all the agony of tears without any tears at all. Then suddenly she became aware that some one else was crying near at hand, on the other side of the thin partition. She turned her head and listened. In that room lived a girl whom she did not think much of –a fussy little person who jingled and swished when she walked and left trails of scent behind her. She worked in the ten-cent store, Carlotta believed.

Carlotta had always avoided May Bagley like the plague, but now the sound of those sobs aroused her pity and made her forget her own trouble. Maybe she could do something for the poor little butterfly suffering so audibly from singed wings. A moment later she knocked at the other girl’s door. A piteous voice bade her enter and she walked in. May Bagley sat huddled in a chair and beside her on the floor was the letter which evidently had caused all her woe. She lifted her wretched face to Carlotta’s.

“Oh, it’s you, Miss Thayer!” she tearfully said. “I’m so glad. You’ll understand. I was afraid it was that horrid old Miss Dix that was never young or anything in her life. She’d tell me it served me right not to have a decent thing to wear to Uncle Nat’s funeral or any money to buy with. And—and I’ve got to go, for you see—“ She was sopping at her wet face with a little pink and white rag, which was still wetter. Carlotta silently held out to her one black-edged handkerchief. May looked at it. “That’s just what I need,” she said. “Oh, Miss Thayer, it’s—it’s awful. If I don’t go to Uncle Nat’s funeral dressed appropriately Aunt Hat will never speak to me again. And there’s money coming to me if I do. Oh, I wish I were dead!  What’ve I been thinking of all this time to buy pink and blue and green things that I can’t wear at all?”

As Carlotta looked down at her fluffy blond head she suddenly remembered herself and her own predicament and a thought came to her—a thought so scintillant and joyful and daring that she laughed out loud. She knelt beside May. “Listen!” she said. “We’re about the same size. You take my clothes and lend me some of yours.”

The girl looked up hopefully. “Honest? Do you mean it?” she cried.

“Yes. It will help me out. For while you want mourning” –here Carlotta smiled—“I need a colored dress and I haven’t one or any money. If I don’t have it—“

“You’ll lose some money, too?”

“No,” Carlotta replied: “I lose more than money. I lose the chance to marry the man I’ve wanted all my life.”

May Bagley leaped up and snatched Carlotta to her in a hug. “There’s a man in my story, too,” she said; “a home man. Now, let’s swap.”

From her closet she brought a pink dress and a taupe hat, with a pink rose and a corduroy coat edged with fur—cheap, showy garments, but the most beautiful to Carlotta at that moment of any she had ever seen. A few moments of deft movements and the transformation was complete.

And then the telephone! Just for a moment Carlotta lost her voice when she heard Will’s voice over the wire.

“You’ve changed your mind? God be thanked! I’ll be there in 15 minutes in a taxi, Carlotta. Oh, you darling girl!”

At 11:20 that night a radiant young pair sat holding hands on the west-bound limited. The girl had just told the story of the black dress. At that moment on the platform of a little country station another girl in shabby black was being folded in the arms of a stern faced old woman. But being an experienced little person she kept her story to herself.

Honolulu [HI] Star-Bulletin 4 December 1919: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders if working in a ten-cent store makes one a more experienced little person than working in cuffs and jabots. Perhaps the clientele consisted of Mashers and Dudes. Mrs Daffodil also wonders why the well-set-up Will was not off fighting the Hun in France.

There are several elements of lingering superstition in this story: Carlotta (and that is quite the exotic name for someone from Otisville with an Aunt Jane) may have also felt sick because Will’s phrase “going West,” was a common euphemism for dying. We may wonder at Carlotta’s hysteria about her black wardrobe, but readers would have remembered a well-known rhyme: “Married in black, you’ll wish yourself back,” which explains Carlotta’s refusal to be married in mourning. Mrs Daffodil cannot help but think that cheap, showy garments cannot be much luckier. “Married in tat, his love will fall flat” about sums it up.

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 Crying Child: 1880s

“ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES ”

By E. M. DUCAT

Mr. and Mrs. Davis are Anglo-Indians, the most hospitable of a proverbially hospitable class. Mr. Davis is also a great sportsman. In India, during one cold weather, they were exceedingly kind to, and entertained for several weeks, a certain Mr. Thompson, who had been, previously, a complete stranger to them, but who had come to their part of the country for big game shooting, and between whom and Mr. Davis a great friendship had sprung up, on account of their mutual sporting proclivities.

On his departure, Mr. Thompson gave a most pressing invitation to his hospitable host and hostess to come, on their return to England, and pay a visit to himself and his wife at their country home in __shire.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis accepted the friendly invitation, and the next time they were home on leave in England they duly paid the visit. They had never before seen Mrs. Thompson, and knew nothing about the family; but Mr. Thompson had told them that his children were grown up, and had left home.

The evening of their arrival, Mrs. Davis went up rather early to dress for dinner. The door between her room and the large room allotted to her husband as a dressing-room was a-jar. She was pottering about her room, arranging her belongings and settling herself comfortably into her new quarters, when she heard a most piteous sobbing and moaning, which seemed to issue from somewhere close by.

She stopped her occupation and listened. Ever persistently the sounds continued, without intermission —emitted evidently by some child in dire distress, who was crying as if its heart were breaking.

Such inconsolable grief was terrible to hear, and Mrs. Davis felt she could not stand it any longer without trying to find out where the child was and what was the matter with it. The noise sounded so close—apparently in the adjoining room— surely no child could be in there, in her husband’s dressing room? Mrs. Davis advanced towards the communicating door to investigate the affair.As she did so, she caught sight of a small figure at the further end of the large room.

It was a little girl of about four years of age, dressed in a brown-holland over-all tied under the arms with a wide, blue ribbon sash. She stood wringing her hands and moaning, and anon bending down and tearing with her wee fingers, and with an air of despairing pertinacity, at one particular spot in the carpet, while tears coursed down her cheeks and sobs convulsed her tiny frame.

For one instant astonishment arrested Mrs. Davis and held her dumb, gazing at the spectacle; the next, she advanced into the dressing-room, exclaiming with concern—“My poor little girl! What is the matter?”

The child took not the slightest notice of the interruption, but continued her strange behaviour and sobbing, as if she had not heard Mrs. Davis speak. Mrs. Davis walked right across the room towards her.

“Tell me, little one, why are you crying?—and what are you trying to do to that carpet ? ”

She was just about to stoop down and touch the child, when, without uttering a word, it turned suddenly away, and burying its face in its hands, ran, still sobbing, out of the room.

Mrs. Davis followed instantly to the door and gazed up and down the passage, looking to see where the child had gone; but not a trace of it was visible in either direction.

It having vanished into thin air and all sounds of sobbing having completely ceased, Mrs. Davis, after standing for a few minutes irresolute in the doorway, turned back and re-entered the room. When her husband came up to dress, she recounted what had taken place, and wondered who the child was, as Mr. Thompson had told them his children were all grown up, and none of them here.

Mr. Davis agreed that it was rather curious, but suggested that probably the little girl was a grandchild, and said, as his wife seemed so concerned about the matter, that he would ask Mr. Thompson who the child was, and tell him it was in distress over something.

Accordingly when they entered the drawing-room—where Mr. and Mrs. Thompson already were—Mr. Davis went up to Mr. Thompson and remarked—“Didn’t you say your children are all grown up? Is that then your grandchild upstairs, who has been crying in our room?”

Mr. Thompson started violently. He turned a countenance towards Mr. Davis the expression of which dumbfounded the latter. Never had he seen any face express such scared agony.

“There is no child in this house,” said Mr. Thompson hurriedly, in a low voice, and speaking as if with difficulty.

“Oh! but pardon me, my dear fellow, there is!” laughed Mr. Davis, “for my wife saw it not an hour ago! It was in our room, sobbing and crying and seemingly in great distress over something or other. Freda is quite concerned about it, and hopes you will find out what is the matter with the child and do——”

*”Hush-sh!” whispered his host in his ear, laying a restraining hand upon his arm, while he cast an apprehensive glance towards his wife, as if dreading lest she should have overheard Mr. Davis’ speech. ” After dinner I will tell you all about that child; in the meantime, pray say nothing more on the matter. I will explain all, afterwards, in private.”

Following Mr. Thompson’s glance, Mr. Davis perceived that Mrs. Thompson had turned ashy white, was trembling like an aspen and clutching at the edge of the table near her, as if to prevent herself from falling in a faint.

Realizing that he had unwittingly made a faux pas, Mr. Davis hastened, with ready tact, to change the conversation, and welcomed the opportune arrival of the butler, announcing the dinner, as putting an end to a more than proverbially trying mauvais quart d’heure.

After dinner, over their wine, Mr. Thompson, on his own initiative, confided to his friend the following explanation of the skeleton in his cupboard that had that day been laid bare to the gaze of his friends.

The child that Mrs. Davis had seen crying in the bedroom was Mr. and Mrs. Thompson’s own child; but it had been dead for years.

Throughout those years it had continued, at intervals, to appear to various people—always sobbing and wringing its hands and moaning in the broken-hearted manner that Mrs. Thompson had described. It took no notice of any one, and although more than once it had been spoken to by different people who had seen it, it had never paid the slightest attention, nor had it ever replied to any one’s interrogations.

The subject was the more intensely painful to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, for the reason that the child had died under distressing circumstances, believing itself to be in disgrace and still unforgiven.

The facts were, that the little girl one morning was, as usual, playing in her mother’s room while the latter was dressing, and was amusing herself with her mother’s rings, which were lying on the dressing-table. When the nurse came to fetch the child, it, unknown to any one, went away still holding in its hands one of the rings.

As soon as Mrs. Thompson was dressed, she found that this particular ruby ring was missing, and went at once to the nursery to recover it from the child, who, she felt convinced, must have gone off with it. The children, however, had already departed with the nurse for their walk, and there was no sign of the ring anywhere to be seen.

At midday, when the children returned, Mrs. Thompson immediately sent for the baby and questioned her about the ring. The child at once admitted having taken it, but said she could not tell where it was now, because she had lost it.

Very much vexed, for the ring was a valuable and favorite one, Mrs. Thompson asked the child where she had lost it? The little girl replied that she could not remember.

Mrs. Thompson urged her and coaxed her to try and remember where she had lost it; but all the child would reply was that she had “lost it down a hole,” and whether indoors, or out-of-doors, or where, she could not, or would not, say.

From the child’s manner, Mrs. Thompson felt sure she knew, really, perfectly well where the ring was, but that she didn’t wish to have to part with it, and had, for that reason, hidden it away somewhere on purpose, and refused, willfully, to divulge where.

She therefore told the child that she was a very naughty girl to have taken away the ring and to have lost it, and until she could remember and confess where she had lost it, and restore it, she must consider herself in disgrace.

The child, who was a most sensitive little thing, was very much upset on being told this, and went crying out of the room, reiterating her former asseveration that she could not remember where she had lost the ring, but it was “down a hole.”

Two or three days passed and still the child never divulged where she had put the ring, although she seemed to feel very keenly being in disgrace, and was most unhappy and always begging to be forgiven.

As every one was convinced she could very well tell, if she chose, where “the hole” was, in which she had hidden the ring, it was thought advisable to continue to keep her in disgrace, in order that she might the sooner confess, and the valuable ring be recovered.

Not many days later, however, the child fell ill, and rapidly developed a serious fever. In her delirium she did nothing but rave about the subject of the lost ring. She maintained just what she had declared when well, that she had dropped the ring down some hole, but that she could not remember where the hole was. She implored deliriously for forgiveness.

Mrs. and Mr. Thompson, the nurse, the doctor, every one who attended her bedside, assured her over and over again that she was believed and forgiven,—but in vain. The words conveyed no meaning to the poor little delirious brain ; and it was without regaining consciousness, and while still believing herself to be in disgrace, that the child died.

This was the tale that Mr. Thompson related that night to Mr. Davis, as the two men sat over their wine. The unfortunate father was quite overcome with grief, even at recounting the tragedy. At the conclusion, he said to his friend, in a choked voice—“Neither I nor my wife has ever got over the loss of that child, and this periodic reappearance of our poor little dead girl, still wailing for a forgiveness that we were, and are, unable to make it understand was long ago granted, keeps perpetually opening and bleeding a wound that is too deep ever to heal.”

This painful story, Mr. Davis, at his host’s request, repeated that night to his wife, in explanation of the sight she had witnessed. Miss. Davis, naturally, was much moved at the narration— not only that, she was also greatly excited.

“And has the lost ring never been found?” she inquired eagerly.

Her husband replied no, that he believed that, to that day, it had never been recovered.

“Then I am convinced that where the child was scratching at the carpet is where the ring is! ” exclaimed Mrs. Davis. “It was trying to get at something, in or under the carpet at that spot! That would explain perfectly its extraordinary actions! And all its grief seemed to be caused by its inability to accomplish its purpose! You may be sure that is for what the child comes back!—it wants to recover that ring which it believes must be found before it can obtain its parents’ forgiveness. Do let us ask Mr. Thompson to have the carpet taken up and a search made! I can show the precise spot which the child indicated. Surely it is worth a search!”

“My dear Freda,” replied Mr. Davis, you forget. The child has been dead for years. The carpet must have been up a dozen times between then and now.”

“But no search has ever been made beneath it at that spot, you may be sure ! ” said Mrs. Davis. “Do, do ask to have the carpet taken up that we may see what is under it!”

“I really don’t like to broach the subject again,” said Mr. Davis; “I can’t tell you how frightfully cut up poor Thompson is still about this whole business. He says he shall never get over it. I should hate to have to mention again such a terribly painful subject. We had much better say nothing more about it.”

But Mrs. Davis was so insistent, she prevailed.

Mr. Davis repeated to his host his wife’s remarks and request.

Mr. Thompson said he would be most glad to have a search made if Mrs. Davis would point out the spot. He said that as that room had been the children’s day-nursery formerly, it was quite possible that it was in that room that the ring had been lost by the child, and if the desire to recover and restore the missing property was what prevented the child from resting in her grave, willingly would he order the whole house to be pulled down if there were any chance thereby of obtaining the desired result.

Accordingly, after Mrs. Davis had marked the position where the child stood, the carpet was removed. No ring was to be seen; but there was a tiny chink between two of the boards in the floor, just at that spot.

There had been no carpet in the room in the days it was used as a nursery—the child had always said the ring was “down a hole ”—perhaps it had fallen through that chink in the boards? A carpenter was called in and the boards were taken up.

Beneath, on the lathes of the ceiling of the room below, like a drop of ruddy heart’s-blood, gleamed the red ruby of the long-lost ring!

Many are the years that have now elapsed since that eventful day, but never, during the whole of that time, has any living soul in that house again set eyes on a forlorn little figure, weeping and wailing and wringing its hands.

The Occult Review January 1909: pp. 19-24

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A painful story. Mrs Daffodil hopes that none of her readers would be so unfeeling as to keep a child in disgrace over a piece of jewellery, no matter how prized or valuable. Mrs Daffodil does not like to be severe, but she feels strongly that, although Mrs Thompson suffered dreadfully in the loss of her little daughter, the mother must accept some blame in the matter for leaving the rings on her dressing-table. When finding the ring gone, Mrs Thompson’s first thought was not to suspect the servant of having taken the ring, but that her daughter had pilfered it. This obviously was not the first time; sadly, it was the last…

Eva M. Ducat was a writer of pony stories, the Ponies of Bunts series, written with Marjorie Mary Oliver.  Mrs Daffodil regrets that she does not know any more about Miss Ducat or how she came to write this story.

Mrs Daffodil has previously shared another story of a lost ruby ring and how it was found in this post.

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.

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.

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.