Category Archives: Lethal Clothing

An Unpleasant Meeting over Shawls: 1877

An Unpleasant Meeting.

Not long ago two ladies stood at the shawl counter of one of the two leading dry goods stores in St. Louis. They were unknown to each other, but were each intent in the examination of shawls. One of the ladies was finally handed something that struck her fancy. She turned the article over and over, with admiring eye upon it, and asked its price. She was told what is was, and with a sigh laid it down again. ‘I like it,” said she; ‘it suits me perfectly, but I can’t afford it. My husband tells me that we must retrench as much as possible.’

The sympathetic saleswoman was about replacing the shawl upon its shelf when the other lady spoke: ‘You do not intend to take the shawl, then, Madame?’

‘No,” was the response.

‘Then I think I’ll take it. It suits me, too, and I was only waiting for your determination.’ Then, turning to the saleswoman, the last speaker told her to do up the purchase, adding, ‘Charge it to Mr. ___.’

The effect the name had upon the lady who was unable to buy the shawl was electric. ‘That’s my husband!’ she shrieked, and there was a scene upon which the curtain did not fall at once by any means.”

Kentucky Advocate [Danville KY] 16 February 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil had thought to commend the two ladies for not falling into a petty squabble or even fisticuffs over the shawl, as some women do at the bargain counter and that curious ritual known as the Running of the Brides, but when a husband is at the centre of the squabble, one really can do nothing more than retire to a safe corner to watch the altercation and possibly lay a wager on the outcome.

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.

 

Advertisements

Encore: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918

mourning hat and veil 1914

On this Remembrance Day week-end we remember some of the alternative methods of mourning suggested during the Great War.

In 1917 Reformer Dorothy Dix strongly urged an end to traditional deep mourning. She pointed out that “What the psychological effect, not only upon the minds of women, but upon men of the sight of thousands of women dressed in mourning is appalling to consider…[a woman who puts on a colored dress] saddens no one else with her sorrow. She stabs no other woman to the heart with a remembrance of her own loss…Her colored dress, worn when her very soul is black with mourning, is the red badge of courage.”

Further, mourning is costly: “the cost of a complete mourning equipment for a well to do family would buy many liberty bonds…It is said that this war is going to be won by money…Therefore, the women of the country cannot only do a big patriotic duty, but avenge their dead by putting their money into bullets instead of crepe.”

And, finally, wearing mourning is literally sickening: “That women are depressed by wearing mourning and are made sick and nervous is a well-established fact…it wrecks her own health and makes her sacrifice the living to the dead…I hope that the women of America will rise above the heathenish custom of decking themselves out in black to show that they grieve. There will be no need of flaunting personal grief, for at the bier of every soldier who dies for his county the whole nation will bow in sorrow…” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 5 December 1917: p. 5

In 1914 Mrs Edward Lyttleton, wife of a clergyman soon to be criticised for his German sympathies, suggested that mourning for the dead of the War should consist of a “simple narrow band of purple cloth to be worn on the left arm by every man, woman or child who had lost a relation in the war.” She pointed out the economical advantages and that the badge “would be the same for all classes.”  In addition, “If the well-to-do women of the empire would lead the way in this matter they would make things easier for their poorer sisters, who surely must often stint themselves of necessities in order to get the “bit of black” so dear to their hearts.” The Denver [CO] Post 16 October 1914: p. 10

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

Another arm-band scheme was suggested much later in the conflict and endorsed by the President of the United States.

“No mourning costumes during war time, but rather the substitution of a mourning badge or an arm-band of black with a gray star,” was the recommendation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs at a session at Hot Springs, Ark. Mrs. L. Brackett Bishop, of Chicago, suggested that the conventional period of mourning be abolished during the war. Mrs. Bishop has made an extensive study of colors and concludes that the wearing of black causes many mental disturbances. “Certain colors are avoided by women because their nature resents them,” she said. “But the general effect is happiness. If happiness is to be won in the world, color will do it. Another reason for this strong need of color is the fact that the earth revolves each twenty-four hours a day, and each day we are in the same plane as was the fighting of yesterday. We must be bright and cheery to overcome the cloudy days. Color will win the war for us, and it is going to be won by the colors we wear and by the brightness we can thus add to the world and to the people about us through the mental attitude expressed in our costumes.” A standard arm-band furnishes an excellent substitute for the wearing of black. It has all the objectionable features of black removed and still serves the purpose of indicating that a death has occurred.

Arm-Bands Are Advocated

Patents for a standard arm-band have been applied for. This arm-band consists of a black background symbolizing the black war-cloud with the blue sky beyond. A torch indicates the blazing path of national attainment and a lyre symbolizes the rejoicing at valor and sacrifice, while the dove of peace hovers over all. These bands are to be made in the colors of the Allies. [This design does not appear in the patent records.]

The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has suggested an arm-band with a gold star for the death of each member of the family in service. President Wilson has given his approval of the suggestion in the following letter made public by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, chairman of the committee:

“My Dear Dr. Shaw: Thank you for your letter of yesterday. I do entirely approve of the action taken by the Women’s Committee in executive session, namely, that a 3-inch black band should be worn, upon which a gilt star may be placed for each member of the family whose life is lost in the service, and that the band shall be worn on the left arm. I hope and believe that thoughtful people everywhere will approve of this action, and I hope that you will be kind enough to make the suggestion of the committee public, with the statement that it has my cordial indorsement. Cordially and sincerely yours, WOODROW WILSON.”

In an explanatory statement on the subject the Women’s Committee says:

For a long time the Women’s Committee has been receiving letters from women urging some such action on their part. The determined avoidance of mourning by English women has been much commented on and praised. One woman. who advocates this step has four sons in the service one of whom has already been killed. She wrote recently: “I know the costliness of such supreme glory and sacrifice, and have felt both the selfish temptation to hide my pain behind a mourning that would hold off intrusion and the inspiration and stimulus of keeping up to my gallant son’s expectation that I should regard his death as a happy promotion into higher service. Patriotism means such exalted living that dying is not the harder part.”

The insignia which has been chosen by the Women’s Committee is of a kind that can readily be made at home out of whatever material can be procured. The band is to be black and 3 inches wide—the stars gilt, and one for each member of the family who has lost his life in service. These stars may be gold, of gilded metal, or satin, or of cloth. The design will not be patented, and the insignia will never become a commercial article. Dry Goods, Volume 19, July 1918, p. 5

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A return to a Victorian insignia of mourning was also suggested.

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

Now that almost all American women are joining it the movement to help win the war by banishing from the streets the depressing sight of crepe and deep mourning garments, the need is felt for some expressive symbol that shall be the privilege of those bereft by death, whether through the war or through other causes….every woman who feels it a sacrifice to give up her mourning apparel would appreciate some distinguishing symbol the wearing of which would satisfy her own heart.

When the question was being discussed the other day in a room full of women, knitting for the Red Cross, one sweet-faced little woman pointed to a beautiful old-fashioned jet brooch at her throat. “This,” said she, “is my mourning. It is a treasured family heirloom full of dear associations. The members of our family do not believe in mourning apparel, but this brooch represents to me, mourning. It is never worn except at such periods, and is then worn constantly—with all costumes. When I wear this brooch, I am in mourning as truly as though clothed in deepest black.” The idea seems a very beautiful one which may well be passed on. In every family there is some piece of jewelry of this sort beloved because of association with those who have gone before and worthy of being the special symbol of remembrance and a time set apart from worldly pursuits. Oregonian [Portland, OR] 23 June 1918: p. 73

For more information on mourning in the Victorian era, with some notes on the Great War, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil’s previous Remembrance Day post on the Peerage in mourning is here.

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.

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

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.

 

Bonnets in Limbo: 1883

BONNETS IN LIMBO.

In a recent conversation with the Rev. George Hough, chaplain at the Westminster House of Correction, he took occasion to remark, in terms emphatic and forcible, on the growing evil arising out of the unwholesome craving after “finery ” indulged by the number of the ornamental sex. It would appear that the pernicious maxim, ” One may as well be out of the world as out of the fashion,” is taken so earnestly to heart by hundreds of maid-servants and workers in factories and City warehouses, that they act up to it literally, and stake honesty, honour, and liberty on the chance of winning and wearing a style of attire, as unfitted to their station as was the plumage of the peacock with which the vain and ambitious jay in the fable attempted to adorn itself.

The Rev. George Hough is a gentleman whose voice, on a matter of such importance, should command respectful attention, since there are few in England who, on account of experience, position, and shrewd sense, could be better entitled to speak. Mr. Hough is chaplain in one of our largest prisons—a prison that is occupied solely by women— and he has held that position for a number of years. It is part of his duty to see, and converse with, every prisoner on her admittance, with a view to gaining a knowledge of her antecedents, and so ascertain if her disposition may warrant his intercession to reclaim her from ways of sin, and to place her, on discharge, in some home or reformatory. At present there are shut up, in the twenty-one blocks of grim brickwork and iron grating that the walls of the Westminster House of Correction enclose, over eight hundred female prisoners ; and since the term for which they may be committed is as little as three days, it may be easily understood that the inflow and outflow must be tolerably constant.

On the day when I visited the prison there were forty “new” cases; and there they were, looking the very perfection of penitent thieves, in their sable serge gowns and their plain white calico caps tied under the chin, all in a row in a lobby outside the chaplain’s office, in the custody of two female warders with clanking chains at their waists. The majority of the new comers were young—twenty or twenty-five. It was not easy to realise that they were gaol-birds but newly trapped: that only yesterday, or the day before, many of them were gaily-bedizened creatures, with freedom to flutter about wherever they choose—light-hearted roysterers, on whose giddy heads was built a fashionable pyramid of horsehair and padding, on which to perch the modern monstrosity humorously called a bonnet. There are no chignons here— no crimping, waiving, and plaiting. I am not sure, but I was led to infer from the awfully plain manner in which the hair under every calico cap was worn, that not so much as a hair-pin is permitted. Straight and flat on the temples, with a crisp knot behind, is the stern fashion for female coiffure at Westminster. Truly it has always seemed to me one of the most faulty features of the criminal law, that only those who feel it can form any idea what is the weight of the law’s chastising hand, and what a terrible purge for pride and vanity awaits those that ride in the black coach through the prison gates. Bang goes the door, click goes the great bolt in the socket, and good-bye to the pleasant vanities of the world!

I had come, however, to see the feathers, rather than the birds of this great and gloomy aviary. That which happens to the still inmates of the Morgue at Paris befalls the unwilling tenants of the House of Correction; for they are deprived of all articles of apparel in which they arrive. Who does not know that grim sight of the French Mortuary —the suits of clothes hanging by scores above the silent dead upon the slabs? Blouse and victorine, pardessus and pelisse, sabot and slipper, swing in mid-air, and tell many an eloquent tale of those who wore them.

I wanted to see the cast-off raiment of those who, for the time, are civilly dead in the Westminster House of Correction, and to judge how far the chaplain was borne out by the general appearance of this plumage of crime and sin. Every new prisoner is stripped to the skin, and, when she has passed through the water of the jail, is clothed from crown to sole in an infamous garb—coarse clout shoes, prisonwove stockings of heavy worsted, under-clothing that is little better than canvas and is branded with a prison mark, and a gown of common serge, such as pauper’s cloaks are made of, and as plain as a winding-sheet. This, with the hideous cap, is the dress.

A female convict of a later period–1907

The occupation is working in the prison laundry, or scrubbing prison floors, or tearing to shreds, with the fingers, masses of old ship cable with a fibre close set with tar, and hard nearly as wood. The lodging is a little whitewashed vault, with a brick floor, lit by a grated window; the food is wholesome, but grimly “plain”—dry bread of unbolted meal gruel; that is, simply oatmeal boiled in water and flavoured with salt; and pudding of Indian meal, which, to the unused palate, resembles a preparation of fine sawdust. And in hundreds and thousands of cases this is the ending of a rash and reckless—not invariably a naturally vicious—girl’s craving after that flimsy and ridiculous finery which her honest means will not enable her to obtain. As I have already stated, forty women had just been admitted; next morning there were possibly as many more; and out of that number, according to the worthy chaplain’s correct reckoning, at least one-fourth find their way there through yielding to the insane weakness of dress. One cannot help thinking that if the hundreds of foolish ones who at the present time are resolving, “come what will” by hook or by crook, to become “fashionable” members of female society, could be favoured with a sight of this sad company of Westminster prisoners who have soared as they meditate soaring, and have fallen so miserably low, it might lead at least those who have not quite taken leave of their senses to reflect whether the delight of wearing for a brief space a headgear trimmed with ribbons and flowers, high-heeled boots, and a flashy dress with a “pannier” should be indulged in the face of a probable three or six months’ banishment from the world, the white-washed cell, the harsh fare, and the oakum-picking—to say nothing of the disgrace that sinks in so deep, and can be eradicated but with such miserable slowness.

But not for the sake of inspecting the prison arrangements had I visited the Westminster House of Correction: my curiosity was centred in one department. Said the reverend gentleman already mentioned in this report: “If any proof were needed as to the reasonableness of my statement regarding ‘dress,’ I could, if it were necessary, quote the names of some hundreds of girls who, according to their own statements, have commenced their downward career in consequence of their having yielded to the temptation I have just named. I would point out the wretched exhibition which may be seen in the rooms set apart in our prison for the reception of the private clothes of prisoners during their detention in custody.”

My purpose was to obtain a view of that exhibition, and I succeeded in doing so. It was a curious and, until one got used to it, a somewhat bewildering spectacle. The two rooms which I was favoured by being permitted to inspect were not the only ones pertaining to the establishment that are set apart for the purpose; for, as well may be imagined, it requires no inconsiderable space to stow away the wardrobes of eight hundred women. Under such circumstances it is necessary to economise space; and this is done at Westminster in a very methodical manner. I had expected to see the moulted plumage of every female prisoner hung up on its separate hook against the wall; but the authorities have a neater way. From floor to ceiling, on all sides, are what might be called ” pigeon holes,” if they were smaller. Each compartment is about eighteen inches square, and contains a prisoner’s clothes, including even her boots, tied up in a bundle, every bundle being surmounted by a hat or bonnet. This was the remarkable feature of the exhibition. The pigeon-holes were, as a rule, shady recesses; and as the bonnets were, 30 to speak, planted each on its bundle, it seemed at first glance as though so many women were lurking in the pigeon-holes, and thrusting their heads out.

But. one did not need the living face and form to tell you the story—the bonnet told it plainly enough. In common with all mankind, I had been accustomed to regard bonnets as meaningless and frivolous things; but that review of bonnets in prison converted me. There are articles of attire that are always more or less eloquent of the habits and conditions of their wearer. Old gloves are so, and so are old boots. I would in many cases sooner trust to a pair of ground-down-at-heel, time-mended, weather-tanned boots to tell me the story of their master’s travels, than I would trust the man himself. Similarly, I believe one might place the most perfect confidence in the dumb statements made by the bonnets and hats perched atop of the bundles.

As bearing out the worthy chaplain’s declaration, it is a fact that at least seven in every ten were headgears of a “dressy” type, and the crowning glory of the wearers. Here was a hat, a tiny coquettish article of the Alpine order, with a flowing feather, and ribbons that were scarcely creased. The process of compression which they had undergone betokened the ample skirts of silk and velvet, and possibly the expensive and fashionable mantle, confined within. No other than an expensive and fashionable mantle could be associated with such a hat as that; and, as plainly as though it were there substantial and visible, appeared, under the rakish little lace “fall,” the elaborate chignon on which it was mounted. The warder reaches down the humiliated “Alpine,” and there, pinned to its ears, as it were, is a paper ticket, on which is written the simple record: “Maria B , four months.” Four months, and of that weary time barely two weeks have elapsed. Here is Maria B ‘s Alpine hat. Maria B ‘s chignon is ruthlessly crushed in her bundle, thrust into one of her high military-heeled boots perhaps; and Maria herself, who, for a little while commonly drank champagne, and wore rings on her white fingers, is plunged elbow-deep in prison suds, washing dirty worsted stockings; while, if she works well and sticks to the tub without flinching for a matter of nine hours or so, her reward will be nearly half-a-pint of prison beer.

Who can doubt that “Maria B——,” in the loneliness of her whitewashed cell, does not often wonder what has become of her clothes and her hat? They will be hers one day again. At the expiration of four months the bundle and the hat will be rendered up to her, and she will have to give a written acknowledgment of their restoration. Will she ever find courage to wear that hat again? In four months it will have faded, and the depressing atmosphere of the prison will have taken the crispness out of its trimmings; but, even had it been kept in a bandbox—there is the ticket on it. She will unpin it, of course; but there are the pinholes in the ribbon, and she will hate it on that account, and her ears will tingle with guilty shame should she suspect that any human eyes are attracted to that particular spot—as if all the world knew that the hats of those consigned to prison were condemned to share their owners’ disgrace by having a convict ticket affixed.

Bonnets in limbo keep strange company. In the next nook to that where roosted the haughty Alpine, reposed, atop of a bundle no larger than a quartern loaf, a confused saucer-shaped mass of plaited straw and dirty ribbon, that looked as though it had long been used to the pressure of a basket, and smelt as though that basket had been accustomed to contain fish. It had the better of the Alpine, however, despite its ill condition and general appearance of blowsiness; for, as its ticket declared, it was only a drunken and abusive bonnet, and would be free to go about its business in a fortnight. In the next compartment was a hat with feathers, and in the next, and the next four—all as much alike in style as doubtless their owners were in character. Such, at least, might be inferred from their sentence of durance, which in each case was four months.

Then came a very remarkable bonnet—a gaunt, rawboned, iron grey straw, of parochial breed. It was such an enormous bonnet, and the bundle it accompanied was so diminutive in size that the former was not perched atop of the latter as in other cases; indeed, unless it had been proficient in the art of balancing itself on its front rim, it would have found the feat impossible. It straddled over its bundle, which was partly lost within its iron grey jaws, as though bent on swallowing it. How the workhouse bonnet came there I did not enquire, nor did I ask for how long its lodgings had been engaged, or of what crime it had been guilty. Perhaps it was for “making away ” with a portion of its clothing— the diminutive size of the bundle certainly favoured this supposition, and getting drunk with the money. This, however, must be said, that it looked much more abashed at its degrading position than many of its sisters there; and one could not help hoping that the wizened old face it had been accustomed to overshadow would soon be restored to it, and convey it out of that shameful place.

In some of the nests I observed that there were two bonnets, and when this was the case it happened pretty often that they were exactly alike. Here were a pair of the sort— of French grey velvet, trimmed luxuriantly with green grapes and the foliage of the vine. They were slightly the worse for wear, and battered in at the crowns, which had a pulpy look, as from constant battering. At a glance one might perceive the class to which they belonged—the night-prowling, tavern-frequenting class, so well known to the police that a tremendous amount of daring and dexterity on the part of its members is required to enable them to “pick up ” enough to procure gin and finery. They are thieves of course, and they hunt in couples. The two grey bonnets were a pair, the tickets pinned to them showing that they had been convicted on the same day for the same term. Knowing that both bonnets and bundles will be required on the same day three months hence, they are thus conveniently kept together by the prison authorities. So surely as the warder at the gate has let them out, so surely will he, a month or so afterwards, let them in again, and the bonnets will be once more stowed away, while the women, in a perfectly free and easy manner, will take to the serge gowns and calico caps, and make themselves at home. Indeed, creatures of this class—and at Westminster House of Correction alone they may be reckoned in scores—appear to regard the prison as their proper home, and their freedom as a mere ” going out for a spree,” which may be long or short, according to luck.

A remarkable feature of this prisoners’ wardrobe is, that the more magnificent the bonnet the smaller the accompanying bundle—a fact which tells most eloquently what a wretched trade these women follow, and how truly the majority of them are styled “unfortunate.” I am informed that nothing is more common than for these poor creatures to be found wearing a gaudy hat and feather and a fashionably made skirt and jacket of some cheap and flashy material, and nothing besides in the way of under-garments but a few tattered rags that a professional beggar would despise.

And these are the habiliments in which, on bitter cold winter nights, they saunter the pavements, and try to look like “gay women.” Gay! with their wretchedly thin shoes soaking in the mud, and their ill-clad limbs aching with cold, until they can get enough to drown sense and memory in gin. Gay, with their heart aching and utterly forlorn, and hopeless, and miserable, homeless, companionless, ragged and wretchedly clad, except for the outer finery without which they could no more pursue their deplorable calling than an angler could fish without bait—is it surprising that they drink until they are drunk, or that they steal when money to supply their desperate needs can be obtained in no other way?

It may be love of finery that in the first instance lures hundreds of girls from the path of virtue; but it is altogether a mistake to suppose that, despised and outcast, they are still content because they wear many flounces on their gowns, and flowers and feathers on their heads. They would reform if they could reform. They hate the life they lead, they hate themselves, and so they go from bad to worse; and the temporary deposit of these bonnets in the prison clothes-room finishes with their leaping a bridge in the delusive gay garb, or carrying it away with them to some distant convict station.

In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent, James Greenwood 1883: pp 100-07

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is curious how gentlemen of all stripes: clerical, philanthropic, or journalistic, feel that it is somehow their duty to chastise females for their “insane weakness” or “unwholesome craving” for finery. It really is enough to drive one genuinely mad, or to murder. But, of course, these gentlemen, in their handsome broadcloth suits, their sleek silk hats, and ornamental vests draped with substantial watch chains, would have rejected the notion that their attire was a reflection of personal vanity.  They viewed it, rather, as the honourable badge of respectability, but to these gentlemen, a fashionable bonnet carried no such guarantee.

Mrs Daffodil has previously censured a German gentleman for calling an interest in fashion a kind of lunacy.

 

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.

 

“I’m Not Superstitious, But–“: 1926

“I’m Not Superstitious, But—“

Nina Wilcox Putnam

America’s Only Woman Humorist [!!?!?!]

As Sir Walter Raleigh said, when spreading his coat over the mud puddle for Queen Elizabeth, “Step on it, kid, this is your lucky day and mine, too. I only regret that I have but one coat to lay down for my country.”

And how true it is that some things bring you luck, providing you believe they do, certainly was proved to me not long ago when I luckily picked up the telephone receiver on a busy wire and heard that the cook was leaving over at Miss Demeanor’s. I was lucky and quick enough to beat all the other ladies in Dinglewood to luring her.

The cooks, if any, which we have had this part year have positively caused a draft going through our kitchen, that’s how fast they went. And now, quite by accident, I run across the fact that this cook was leaving, so naturally I ran across and asked would she come to us, and she said she would, and so I went right on back home and scrubbed the kitchen floor, washed the windows, tied red bows on the kitchen curtains, moved the best easy chair, radio and five-foot bookshelf out there, also a few little other odds and ends into her quarters such as my long mirror, my best red room slippers, and etc. to make her feel thoroughly comfortable.

The Conquering Cook Comes

Well, the next morning, which was when we was expecting her, I fixed myself up as attractive as possible and sat down to wait for her. Pretty soon the doorbell give a loud ring, and my heart give a ditto leap, and I though, oh heavens, there she is and hurried to answer. Well, it was, actually she had showed. I took her bags and carried them upstairs and showed her her room, asked was there anything I could do for her, found she would fancy a little cake and tea, and then I left her in privacy while I went down to fix things up like she wanted, and while I was doing so, the bell rang again, and this time who would it be only that Mabel Bush, the one that’s married to Joe Bush of the Hawthorne Club.

Well, at first I thought where Mabel must have been shopping, on account she had something with her from pretty near every department of the Emporium. But no, she was merely going away for a coupula weeks and had brought some stuff she wanted to park with me while she was gone.

Say dear, she says when she had got her breath. I wonder would you mind taking care of my goldfish while I and Joe is out in Kansas visiting mother. He’s a real sweet little feller, ain’t you, Otto? See how cute he is, Jennie? And he don’t bite or anything unless he’s crossed. With that she hauled out one of the meanest looking goldfish I ever saw in my life. It gives me an awful funny look right off, but naturally I merely says why hello, Otto, nice Otto, pretty feller, of course I’ll take care of him, Mabel, what does he eat? Oh, fishcakes, she says, or any old thing. Now go to your Aunt Jennie, Otto, that’s the boy!

Mabel Dodges the Jinx

Well, I took his glass globe and put I on the table, a little uneasy over how the new cook would feel about another mouth to feed after I had told her there was only three in the family. But before I got a chance to go do any heavy worrying, Mabel had pulled a wild-looking fern out from a handbag, and set the poor helpless thing at my feet. ‘There!’ she says “I’m sure you don’t mind looking after that; all you got to do is water it once a day with double-filtered water, brush its leaves, pick the spiders and seeds off it, and give it a little sunshine.

Then before I had a chance to kick she was after me with another coupla bundles. “This is just the canary,” she says, “and here, my dear, is my peacock fan and my opal pin. Of course I’m not a bit superstitious, but I always say there is no use taking silly chances, and there have been three wrecks around mother’s neighbourhood lately, and I hate to leave them in the house in case burglars was to break in, so you don’t mind if I leave them with you, do you?”

Why Mabel Bush, I says, do you mean to tell me you are superstitious about taking them things with you? I says, why you ought to be ashamed of such ideas. I wouldn’t be so childish, why what harm can a father fan and few opals do? Well, she says, of course they can’t do any harm, I know that, so you really won’t mind keeping them until I get back? I says of course not, dear, but honest, I think you ought to take them along, just to overcome such nonsensical ideas.

Jennie Takes no Chances.

Well, Mabel wouldn’t insult my intelligence by taking them things off the place once she had brought them, so she left them and went on her way. And after she had done so, why I put the livestock around the dining-room, and then I didn’t quite know where to put that opal pin and Mabel’s peacock fan for safe-keeping. Of course I didn’t have the faintest feeling about keeping them in the house, even with a new cook there, so I left ‘em lay where she put them.

Then I picked up a pin off the floor, walking around so’s to make sure the point was towards me, and went out in the kitchen to ask Mary, the new cook, did she know anybody owning a second-hand black cat they didn’t need? Not that I really thought it would do any good, but some people have the idea a black cat is lucky, and while I personally myself certainly don’t believe in any such nonsense, why as long as I had the idea in my head I thought I might as well get a black cat to kinda counteract the idea of that fan and opals. Well, it seems Mary had a cat meeting my specifications up to her house and she offered to go right up and get it, but I wasn’t taking any chances of letting her out. So  says, oh no, don’t bother, I will go, where is it? And she says no. 13 West 113th St.

Luck Looks Up.

That number, of course, didn’t sound awful good to me, but I says to myself, now don’t be silly, it is a pure coincidence, you go get that cat just the same. So I did, and there was a ladder standing over the front door when I got there. Not that I minded this any more than poison, and naturally I hadn’t come all that long way in order to be turned back by a mere childish superstition. So I went under the ladder and knocked on the door and after a while somebody put their head out the window and says what do you want? And I says, Mary, that’s my cook, at least she was when I left home, told me her daughter had a black cat. And the party in the window says Mary’s daughter ain’t ever here Fridays, but I’ll get you the cat. So she done so in a bag, and my good luck started right away.

Well, anyways, I was lucky enough to get home alive and without being arrested in spite of the bloody murder that animal was yelling. And I was lucky with it another way, on account no sooner was that cat established in our home than I no longer had to bother feeding my goldfish. I didn’t haf to bury it, the nice kitty attended to all that.

Naturally, however, I had to replace Otto, so I ordered another poor fish of exactly the same pattern, ordered it kept down in the fish department of the Emporium until Mabel got ready to come back. It was just as well, anyways, on account the new cook claimed she never could of stood the noise it didn’t make.

Welcoming the Horseshoe

Now of course I wasn’t one bit superstitious about them opals being in the house, but I have to admit I commenced dropping tea spoons right after Mabel parked stuff with me. Not that I believe it really is unlucky to drop a spoon, but once I got the idea why I felt there wouldn’t be any actual harm in doing everything I could to counteract the thought. And so it was certainly rather cheering when Junior brought in a nice horseshoe with three nails in it. I had a good time gilding it up, and panting a few forget me nots on it, so’s nobody would think anything peculiar when I hung it up over the parlor mantel.

Ad nobody did, not even when by accident in hanging it, I happened to brush Mabel’s peacock fan off the mantel and into the open fire. I felt awful bad about this and what to do certainly was the question. It was one thing to page a new gold fish, but not a soul I knew kept even one peacock, and so he only thing I could hope for was that Mabel had her stuff well insured.

I wouldn’t want to lay the blame on any of Mabel’s belongings. I am not that kind of a fool, but it’s the truth that the very day I bought a picture postal of a peacock in order to make things up to Mabel the best I could, why somebody, the cat, so the cook said, left the dining room window open, let Mabel’s fern freeze, and of course, the only one of the same style our florist had in stock was twice as big and four times as expensive. But that didn’t matter so bad, because all I would have to do when she come back would be to say look, dear, what wonderful care I have taken of your plant, just see how it has grown and etc.

Worse and More of It.

Hot Bozo! As if that wasn’t enough the darn canary bird she had left on my hands commenced moulting. We could hear him at it every morning earl, and never once got dressed and down in time to stop him. So I had to go spend a couple or three dollars on hair tonic and after he drank the first couple of bottles he begun to look better. Just the same he had a distinctly shingle bobbed appearance by the time I got a letter from Mabel telling where she would be home in two days and if it wasn’t too much bother, would I mind ordering milk and ice, and loaning them a little coal, and running over to air the house and tell the furnace man to build a fire and ask the newspaper man to commence leaving the Morning Yell again. And she hoped it wouldn’t be too much bother.

So I done like she asked, and I addition carted all her stuff over for her—all, that is to say, except them opals. Look as I could, I wasn’t able to locate that pin any place. I stubbed my toe looking and every one knows that meant you’re going some place where you’re not welcome without that jewel? The cook got sore when I asked if she had seen the darn thing, and says well, if she wasn’t trusted, there was no use in he r staying any longer. So she took her bag, wages and departure.

And still I couldn’t find no pin, so I decided, well, that cook never would of left me flat like that and walked out unless she really had stolen it, after all! Not that I’m the least superstitious, but I might of known I wouldn’t have a minute’s luck with opals in the house. I don’t believe in any superstition in the world, but there has certainly been nothing go right since Mable left them stones here, and what and the world am I gonner tell her when I see her tomorrow?

One Superstition Left

Well, naturally there wasn’t nothing to do except tell her the truth. And so when Mabel come home and I was over there to her house with everything ready for her like she had asked, and she says how lovely and neighborly of you, dear, I’m afraid it’s been a terrible lot of bother. Why, of course I says, not in the least, darling. It’s been no bother at all. It’s been a pleasure. But, I says, I got bad news for you. I lost your opal pin, dear, not that I’m one bit superstitious, but it certainly brought me bad luck all the while it was with me and now it’s gone.

And she says, why Jennie Jules, she says, it was never there at all. I didn’t leave it there. I took it along with me after all, on account of the way you kidded me about being superstitious! And I give her one look. No! I says, meaning yes. So you never left it! I says. Well, I do guess there is one superstition I do believe in, after all, which is that when a person’s nose itches it means they are going to kiss a fool, and so, if you’ve got a mirror handy, I believe I’ll get the job over with right now.

The Sunday news [Charleston SC 17 January 1926

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just in time for the 13th of the month, this whimsical account touches on just about every common superstition of the early twentieth century, as well as the problem of Keeping a Cook. Peacock feathers, opals, and black cats were all considered unlucky, although sceptics tried to reason people out of their fears of jinxes and hoodoos and fashion tried to trump superstition, all to no avail; some individuals still believe these articles to be problematic even to-day.

That rankly superstitious person over at Haunted Ohio has a theory, writing:

“Judging by the persistence of ‘superstitions,’ one wonders if, in the same way humans need certain vital gut bacteria and an exposure to dirt in childhood to maintain a healthy immune system, humans need a salutary dose of the illogical from time to time to top up whatever part of the brain it feeds.”

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 Dangerous Pair of Stockings: 1883

A Dangerous Pair of Stockings

A man at Albert Lea, Minn., had the worst time explaining a telegram to his wife. He is a sporting man, who does a good deal of fishing and hunting, and he had a pair of rubber wading stockings which he wore when hunting marshes. A friend of his wanted a pair of them, and he promised to send to New York and get them. The two men were great friends, and the man who had been promised the wading-stockings, and who lived at North Branch, got ready to go hunting last fall, and wanted them, so he telegraphed to his Albert Lea friend, as follows:

“Send my stockings at once, as I need them bad. YOUR BLONDE DARLING.”

The dispatch came to the man’s residence, and his wife opened it, and her hair stood right up straight. When the innocent husband came home she put on a refrigerator expression, and handed him a pair of her own old stockings, done up in a paper, and told him he better send them to his blonde darling at North Branch. He was taken all of a heap, and asked her what she meant, and said he had no blonde darling at North Branch or any other branch; and after he had said he did not know a woman any-where, and never thought of supplying stockings to anybody but his wife, she handed him the telegram. He scratched his head, blushed, and then she thought she had him, but finally he laughed right out loud, and went to his room, where he keeps his guns and things, and brought out the new pair of rubber wading stockings, that he had bought for his friend, each of which would hold a bushel of wheat, and handed them to his wife, and asked her how she thought they would look on a blonde darling. Then he told her they were for his sporting friend, of a male persuasion, and she asked his pardon, but insisted that the telegram had a bad look on the face of it, and was enough to scare any wife out of her wits and stockings. The wading stockings were expressed to the friend with a letter, telling him to be mighty careful in future how he telegraphed.

New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette [Concord, NH] 25 January 1883: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil must  take the wife’s side: the telegram certainly did have a “bad look” to it and one cannot blame her for being upset.  For all she knew, it could have been a genuine instance of a stocking mis-communication which would inevitably lead to a domestic tragedy. One is relieved that this was not another and hopes that the “blonde darling” ceased his “kidding” in future.

Mrs Daffodil is reminded of a wag who, as a “joke,” sent out half a dozen telegrams to random acquaintances, reading: “All is discovered. Fly at once!”  The men decamped and were never seen again. In the wrong hands, telegraphy is a dangerous weapon.

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 Mourning Droop: 1931

vogue-vol-59-widow-garden-dress

A MOURNING DROOP

A pretty mannequin who appeared in a Berlin Court to sue her employers for wrongful dismissal saw her case turn out happily, says the “Daily Mail.”

It was admitted that she was a great success in the mourning department of the establishment in which she was employed, but it was alleged that she was an utter failure when transferred to the frivolous department for evening frocks.

“It is difficult to wear evening gowns in the daytime successfully if one is dancing all night in an evening frock,” was her reply.

The manager dismissed her as a pleasure-loving trifler.

“The truth is, I have sacrificed myself for the business,” she said to the Judge.

“When I began in the mourning department, the manager told me that I killed the dresses with my cheerful face and merry expression, and suggested that if I danced half the night I should have an appropriately weary expression.

“I took him at his word and had a wonderful time night after night, with the result that I was almost dropping with fatigue during the day.

“I drooped so beautifully that people bought freely the expensive Paris models which I wore.”

The Judge thought over this singular story.

“I suggest,” he said to the manager, “that you take this young woman back and put her again, in the mourning department.”

The manager consented, and the pretty mannequin looked delighted at the prospect of dancing gaily all night and drooping plaintively in black gowns all day.”

Evening Post, 28 February 1931: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the pretty mannequin shortly danced her last dance and drooped her last droop unless she was able to carved out some time for wholesome slumber.

Selling mourning goods required sympathy, tact, and a fine sense of propriety to appeal to the vanity of the bereaved who were supposed to just then be thinking that “all is vanity.” It was essential to find a shop-girl with exactly the right temperament to serve in the mourning department: not so lively that the bereft were disheartened; not so melancholy that they despaired of purchasing

In another store in Fifth Avenue a handsome girl had been saleswoman in the fancy lace section for two years. Her record was admirable until she was transferred to the mourning counter early in the third year. The sales at the mourning counter immediately fell off and the manager started an investigation.

Going down the aisle one morning he noticed this girl with a customer. The customer was robed in deep black and was evidently depending on the girl to sustain her interest in the goods she needed, but the girl was answering inquiries in an absolutely perfunctory manner, with her eyes glued to a bargain table in the next aisle where a sale of laces was advertised. At a question sharply put by her customer she turned her attention to her own counter, and the manager caught the look of distaste and hatred which she flung upon the black things which surrounded her.

This girl disliked mourning, sorrow, death and all things connected with them. She had never known any particular trouble, had a desire for the gay bright colors and things of life, and refused to consider anything but her own needs. She had no sympathy with the black robed mourners who came to her. The manager, being a far-sighted mortal, saw this and realized the girl’s capacities in another branch. He put her at the colored goods counter and sales looked up. 

Crerand’s Cloak Journal, October 1912: p. 166

You will find more information on mourning costumes and customs in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.