Category Archives: Professions

The Scotsman and the Lady of Doubtful Propriety: 1870

Francis Leon,  Harvard Theatre Collection

“THE GIRL OF THE PERIOD.”

A TRUE TALE.

Some months ago, in Melbourne, when the noonday sun was at its height and the main thoroughfare of the city, Bourke street, thronged with its usual crowd of sight-seers, business people, and members of tho “upper ten doing the block,” no little sensation was created by the appearance of a more than ordinarily showily dressed lady, chignoned and panniered in the latest fashion, who threaded the busy and wondering crowd and disappeared through the portals of a well-known photographer’s doorway not a hundred miles from the gateway of the Theatre Royal. Arrived in the studio the lady’s portrait was taken, apparently satisfactorily, for she retired to an inner room, which was furnished among other surroundings, with articles of the toilet, provided for the convenience of “gentlemen only” awaiting a sitting. Seated in the further corner of the room, patiently biding his time, was an elderly gentleman of Scottish extraction, prim, sedate, adamantine of feature and sparing of speech. The lady of fashion, with but a passing glance at the staid old person, took her position opposite the cheval glass, and after an admiring gaze at the face reflected therein, proceeded to divest herself of the head appendage, yclept in the 19th century a bonnet, “Eh, but its a braw lassie, and a vera fine head o’ hair too!” said the Scot, surveying the flaxen ringlets and tail which reached far below the waist of the lady in question.

“‘Tis a braw lassie,” he repeated to himself with a chuckle, evidently enjoying his contemplation of the fair belle before him. But his delight gave way to surprise as he perceived the lady deliberately proceed to unbutton her dress, and shaking its folds from her, step forth from them to the centre of the room. The old gentleman was bewildered and highly distressed. He was a decent modest man, with a wife and “bairns at hame,” and here he found himself in the presence of a lady evidently of doubtful propriety. Coughing, sneezing, and loudly blowing his nose for the purpose of calling the attention of the damsel to the fact of his being in the room, only convinced him that she was already aware of that fact, for casting a slight glance over her left shoulder, she threw him a look which he at once interpreted as seductive and bold to a degree. Still further was the old man astonished when the fair creature proceeded to unhook and cast aside her (it must he said) stays, and audible mutterings arose from him. “Eh, but it’s right down immodest, it should na be allowed in a Christian country; it’s dreadfu immoral and I’ll no stay to see it.” Thus determined, the indignant and terrified Scot rose with the intention of leaving the room, but easier said than done, the flaxen-haired beauty had possession, and turning full round, she, to the intense horror of the immaculate man, proceeded to disencumber her legs of her—but this was too much: human nature in the shape of a virtuous and indignant Scotchman could stand no more, so with a smothered “Heaven a mercy me” and a frantic bound, he cleared the room and fled. But not so easy to escape; for the fair unknown, with lengthy agile strides, pursued, and was beside him ere he reached the outer door; one more gaze, and the now terrified man fairly shrieked and darted forth unto open air; whilst peal upon peal of laughter followed from the operator, his assistant, and the fair and frail one also, who turned out to be no other than Mr George Darrell, in his burlesque costume of the “Young Girl of the Day,”

Evening Star 9 August 1870: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Darrell was a well-regarded Australian actor, singer, and playwright. He was known as “Gentleman George,” and usually played male roles. However, in 1869 he took the part of “Marina” in the burlesque HMS Galatea and sang “The Young Girl of the Day”, and one of his own songs, “Doing the Block,” to much acclaim.

The illustration at the head of the post is of Francis Leon, one of the most acclaimed of 19th-century female impersonators.

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 Painter of Black Eyes: 1880

Eye miniature with "tear," early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

Eye miniature with “tear,” early 19th c. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

A NEW ART

Black Eyes, Bruises and Blemishes Bleached

By Paint, Pond’s Extract and a Polite Professor,

Who Beautifies Belles, Beaux, and Beaten Wives

“Cress,” the gossipy correspondent of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, has discovered in New York a profession hitherto unknown, which she describes in the following letter.

Reading the advertisements in the daily papers, one involuntary wonders why we are not all “things of beauty and joys forever.” For we are promised compounds that will give us adipose tissue or deprive us of the same when too much has accumulated. We are insured hair in any quantity or color we choose; we are assured that our forms may be developed into molds of grace and beauty, while such trifling accessories as coral lips, pearly teeth, luminous eyes, and dazzling complexions are kept bottled up and to be had for a mere trifle. Beside that there are people who stand ready to puncture dimples, and make you false noses, glass eyes and ivory teeth, furnish you with artificial necks, false calves, arched insteps, etc., until one is impressed with the fact that if it was not for that necessary thing called the breath of life we could do without a Creator, as far as the perpetuation of the race is concerned, keeping up the supply by liberal orders from these factories of imitation humanity, with a clever foreman to put the bits together. Then to lose a limb or two would be a mere trifle; to grow bald or blind, a bagatelle; and when one went travelling it would be easy enough to tuck in a Saratoga trunk a few odd pieces in case of accidents. But without speculating further your correspondent will add that a few days ago she discovered a hitherto unknown profession, lately sprung into life and advertisement, which merits description. The following is

A Sample of the new Notices:

BLACKENED OR BRUISED EYES MADE NATURAL instantly; skin disfigurements concealed. Ladies, send for artist. Studio, 28 West Fourth street.

Calling at the studio, I was surprised to find the owner a gentleman with no small pretensions to the title of artist. The room itself was large and almost filled with oil paintings, among which I recognized the portraits of Rose Eytinge, John Raymond, John McCullough, Charles Pope and others. A large copy of the celebrated “Last Supper” hung on one wall, and studies in oil, lithographs and crayons filled the interstices. However, I was not in search of high art, and far more interesting was the live tableau in the centre of the room that met my gaze. Imagine seated in a steamer chair, in an easy, reclining position, a very fashionably-attired youth (this was early on the day after the Fourth), whose patent-leather boots, white tie, and dress coat would indicate that a lark of the night before had just been finished—the results of the said lark being visible in a large and exceedingly dusky horseshoe heel somebody’s fit had imprinted under one orb. The artist, a pleasant-faced, stalwart young man, was busily engaged in mixing some preparation, and hardly looking up he waved me to a seat, saying, “I will attend to your eye in a moment, Madame!” Glad for this opportunity for observation, I picked up a newspaper, and watched with interest the young “swell” who had been “seeing life” have his acknowledgment of the same obliterated. First the artist poured into a bowl a liberal amount of Pond’s Extract, which, with a soft sponge and the air of a mother administering soothing syrup to her babe, he applied to

The Injured Cheek

During this process he remarked, “I’m afraid you have been trying to cure it with something cold.”

“By jove, how it hurts!” ejaculated the patient. “Yes, she put some ice on it afterward, but it didn’t seem to do any good.”

“Of course not,” said the oracle, severely; “I don’t know why people will persist in making such a mistake. Ice, or oysters, or cold water they will apply in spite of the fact that anything cold makes the blood concentrate beneath the skin and turns it black. What they should do it to bathe the bruise in water as hot as they can stand it; that scatters the blood and keeps the skin from discoloring.”
“Well,” said the exhausted hero of a fracas, with a feeble attempt to be witty, “when a fellow gets into hot water he don’t think of pouring it on.”

By this time the live canvas was ready for coloring, and, with a tiny brush and delicate strokes, the artist proceeded to lay on the flesh tints. For nearly half an hour he worked steadily, pausing frequently to add another shade, then toning the edges down. Then allowing the paint to dry, and then softly rubbing on a fine powder that removed the gloss. Then he stepped back and viewed his handiwork with the air of a stern critic, finally holding a small mirror before the youth, who expressed my thoughts when he exclaimed in admiring accents, “By George, judging from the looks, I couldn’t tell which eye was blacked!” Then with as much of a smile as he had energy for, he added: “How much is it, old boy?”

“Five dollars,” was the answer.

“It’s worth that to

Keep Me Out of a Row With the Governor,

But, deuce take it, I haven’t a fiver left; but take this until I call for it,” and he thrust upon the artist a handsome pearl scarf-pin.

“Now, what can I do for you, ma’am?” queried he of the brush, after a disappointed look upon my unblackened countenance. Whereupon I explained my mission, and the artist, not averse to the idea of being written up, assented to my staying awhile to take notes. “For,” said he, “the day after a holiday I always do a rushing business.” Scarcely had he spoken when a little lady entered. She was modestly dressed in black, and had a rather pretty face, though terribly disfigured by a deep semi-circle of black and blue under one of her eyes. She seemed a little embarrassed, and was profuse in her explanations of how she came by it.

“Indeed,” she said, “I never had such a thing happen to me before in my life, but you see I was going down stairs with a tray full of dishes, and my foot caught in the matting and tripped, and I fell all the way down. Such a thing never happened to me before, and I wonder I did not break every bone in my body. Such a shame it should have come on my eye. I never had a black one before, and it’s so mortifying.”

Again the artist plied his art, taking great pains to match the color of her complexion, and persevering until the ugly-looking mark was rendered invisible. Adding, as he concluded; “You can wash your face in cold water, but don’t use hot or soap, because it will bring the paint off. With a little care it will last

Until the Eye is Cured.”

The lady, after careful examination, expressed herself satisfied, and inquired the cost. “Two dollars,” said the artist, considerately, after a glance at her modest toilet.

“Two dollars!” fairly screamed the lady. “Two dollars for such a pesky little job as that. I never heard of such an imposition. Why, young man, in all my life, I never paid more than fifty cents before!”

This assertion, coming after her profuse explanations, had a very comical effect, which she was quick enough to perceive, and without further parley, she put down the money and departed. When the door closed on her your correspondent inquired if the artist had many lady callers.

“They are not uncommon, and they come as this one did, with profuse apologies and explanations, thinking, poor things, that their stories about tumbling down stairs and running up against doors will be swallowed by me, as if I didn’t know that the brutes who beat their wives are not confined to the wearers of fustian and cowhide boots, and you would be surprised to see some of the ladies who come here in carriages. Ladies living in fine houses, and dressed in silks and diamonds, that would die of shame to have the truth suspected, and come here to have the blows of the coward who pass for fine gentlemen hidden. They would sooner be torn to pieces than own up, and I never knew of but one lady that did. She was a bride, only been married three weeks, and lived on Madison avenue. One day her husband got into a rage and threw his boot at her. It struck her on the forehead, leaving

A Terrible Mark;

But after the shock was over all the poor thing thought of was to keep it from her parents, for she had married against their wishes.”

“Do you ever have any members of the demi-monde here?”

“Oh, yes; though not of the lowest class. They generally get hurt at wine parties, where, after they have drank all they can stand, they commence throwing things at each other, especially fruit. One of the worst black eyes I ever covered was caused by an apple being thrown with considerable force, and fresh lemons can do considerable harm. The gashes from wine-bottles and broken glass generally go to the doctor.”

“What other disfigurements are you called upon to conceal?”

“Why, for ladies generally moles and birthmarks. You see a lady may have a very beautiful white neck or snowy, well-molded arms, but be unable to wear a low-necked party dress on account of one or more of these blemishes. I have regular customers, who, whenever they go to a ball, send for me to paint over these marks. And it is singular the shapes they are in. There is one belle in this city who has on her right arm a regular cross and crown, bright red in color, and large enough to be seen across the room. Another young lady, who has the shoulders of a model, has upon one the initials C.L., in red spots about the size of currants. Still another lady has on her forearm a perfect miniature ladder, though, of course, the majority of these marks assume no distinct form.”
“You must sometimes have ladies who have really suffered from an accident?”

“Oh, yes. There was one young lady here last week whose face was

Covered with Crimson Spots

Big as silver quarters. She was engaged to be married, and to please her betrothed had taken a course of lessons in cooking from Miss Corson. The day before the wedding she invited him to a little supper of her own preparing, intending to give him a pleasant premonition of bliss to come, in the shape of good housekeeping. Her chef d’oeuvre was a dish of soft-shell crabs, and, alas, as she was in the act of frying them, the hot grease sputtered up and burnt her face badly in half a dozen places. It was too late to defer the wedding, and, accordingly she had to have her face done entirely over for the ceremony, but it turned out such an improvement on her natural complexion that I do not think she minded it much.”

“Do you ever ‘make up’ people?”

“Yes, often for dinners and balls, for besides making the complexion, I can fill up wrinkles, and dimples, etc. I do a great deal of this for the dramatic profession. I have made up Rose Eytinge 126 times as ‘Rose Michel,’ and all the Union Square Company during their run of ‘Smike,’ and I used to make up Mr. Palmer whenever he was to make a speech before the curtain. Sara Jewett, Maud Harrison, Linda Dietz, Charles Thorne, Charles Coghlan, Charles Pope, Frederick Paulding, and lots of others, though generally

My Patrons in the Profession

Are debutantes who have not learned the art of making up.”

“I should think this branch of art would exclude any other.”

“Oh, no; I have two gentlemen in the business with me, and I devote most of my time to portrait painting. Barrett, Booth, McCullough, Florence, Sotherns, Raymond, Pope, Brougham, and others have sat to me. McCullough I have painted four times,” concluded Mr. Lysander Thompson, for such is the artist’s name. Before leaving, I asked from what class of men he drew the largest number of blackened-eye customers.

“From sporting men and wealthy business men. The latter class, of course, would be injured by being seen with such disfigurements. There is one gentleman on Wall street who has hardly missed a visit to me this year. Every Saturday night he starts off on a tare that lasts him until Monday morning, when, bright and early, he comes here to get fixed up before going to business. One funny case I had last winter when two gentlemen conspicuous in the management of the Madison-square Garden, got into a quarrel, in the course of which one had both eyes blackened; the other only one. He of the two black eyes came here to be painted over, and told me if I would refuse to fix the other man’s eye he would pay me three times what it was worth. This I promised not to do, and in consequence the worst punished of the two men went round boasting how he had come out ahead, as no one could detect his bruises. The ridicule fell on he of a single and apparently blackened orb.

The Boston [MA] Weekly Globe 28 July 1880: p.7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil scarcely knows what to add to this exhaustive discussion of a little-known art except her horror at the headline’s jaunty linking of “beaten wives” with “belles and beaux” and of the artist’s insouciant and dismissive comment, “poor things!”

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 April Fool: 1898

AN APRIL FOOL.

Rowland Grey.

Mrs. Chetwynd, wife of the eminent publisher, had been a trying wife to an excellent husband for thirty years. When she died, it must be confessed that it was something of a relief, though John Chetwynd, decorous in all things, scarcely acknowledged it even to himself. The big house at Surbiton, in which Philistia had so greatly triumphed, speedily becoming intolerable, the widower, in very deep black, went to do his mourning abroad. He was a handsome, well-preserved man of sixty, who had eschewed society and stuck to business, with the result that he was the predestined victim of the first clever woman who might come in his way.

He had had no time for travel till now; had actually never even done tourist Switzerland. It was in the middle of a balmy September when he drifted to Montreux; and the blue lake, the scarlet creepers, the great beds of begonias, the gay, white hotels, came on him as a startling surprise. Montreux is a naughty little town in winter. By the time the lovely white narcissus has covered the green slopes of Les Avants, no one has a rag of reputation left.

But when Mr. Chetwynd came out into the garden of the Hotel d’Edelweiss et de la Grande Bretagne on a dazzling, dewy morning, Montreux had not quite awakened from her summer somnolence, and was innocently charming. Truth to tell, Mr. Chetwynd was first bewildered, then bored. The hotel had misled him by its sub-title, and was full of chattering old foreign ladies. Besides, an orthodox widower, in deep mourning, does not make acquaintances. He was one of those uncomfortable men who do not smoke, and, in consequence, have never properly learnt to be idle. Nor did his French go beyond a timid petition for that menu that has become an English word, because the Briton simply cannot pronounce it.

It was three days before he became aware of the presence of a compatriot in the person of a very pretty young governess called “mademoiselle” by two weedy, overdressed French bits of precocity. It was many a long month before he knew that Miss Violet Baynes had found out all about him before he had been at the Edelweiss a night. This young person was twenty-four. She dressed with an ingénue simplicity that was the perfection of well-concealed art, and Mr. Chetwynd thought she was eighteen. Her grey frock, big, shady, white hat, and peach-blossom complexion, were set off most happily by a background of flaming crimson foliage, a foreground of turquoise lake. Pierre, with lean legs in striped socks; Camille, en bébé, though much too old for that style of costume, only set off her natural grace to further advantage. Mr. Chetwynd was struck by the group. For two days he looked and longed. On the third he daringly ventured on “good morning,” and was rewarded by a dimple-revealing smile. On the fourth he was entering a small summer-house, where he was in the habit of reading the Times, when, to his surprise, he found it tenanted. Miss Baynes sat there sewing at something frilly, minus the big hat, and plus a vision of hair in curly disorder.

She exhibited all the shyness the publisher felt, and then broke the ice with such success that, within half an hour, they were chattering as if they were old friends, Pierre and Camille meanwhile making mud-pies on the gravel with toy alpenstocks. Lesson time came too soon. There was no sign of Miss Baynes at table d’hôte. When Mr. Chetwynd strolled in the garden after dinner, and looked at the moon on the lake, his mind was so pleasingly engaged, he hardly felt lonely.

Next morning they met again. The publisher heard, with much satisfaction, that Madame de Fauche, the mamma of the smirking Camille, was an invalid, wintering at Montreux. Also that Miss Baynes was an orphan. He did not move on to Glion, as he had intended, and informed his confidential clerk that he should be abroad some time longer.

One day Violet confided to him, with the prettiest hesitation, that she had tried to write; that little stories of hers had appeared here and there. He had never alluded to his own vocation, and Miss Violet was all astonishment when she heard of it.

“You are really Mr. Chetwynd? Oh, if I had known, I should never, never have dared to tell you. Only you have been so good and kind, and I am so lonely.” She raised a great pair of dewy grey eyes to her companion irresistibly as she spoke.

“Now you must promise to let me help you,” began the publisher of two leading magazines into which a legion of beginners had striven in vain to enter.

Miss Baynes showed her lovely curling lashes, and hung her head. “Oh, I could not,” she began, bashfully. “My work is so poor. I know I am not clever, and you__” She broke off most expressively, and refused to renew the subject.

Next morning she sat mending a pathetically shabby little glove. “Such hands as hers ought never to go shabby,” thought the solid Chetwynd, and the thought so haunted him that he finally creaked into a shop in the Grande Rue and bashfully bought half a dozen pairs of a wary vendor, who thus disposed of the worst, dearest, and ugliest of her stock.

He rather dreaded being thanked, but he could not keep away from the little summer-house that was redder with autumn tints every day. On this occasion it disclosed an affecting little tableau, framed in bowery creepers. Violet Baynes sat at the table, with her face hidden, her slender shoulders shaken with sobs. She was all in white, and there was no sign of Pierre or Camille, no sound of their shrill voices. Round her lay a snowstorm of manuscript sheets, a few partly torn across. It was too much for the elderly lover to see unmoved.

“Miss Baynes, Violet, what is the matter? Do let me try and comfort you.”

“Oh, my kind friend, I am very, very silly, I know, but Harvey and Medway have refused my poor novel, and I had so hoped to have been able to tell you good news about it. I did want you so to read it!”

“Did you send it in like that?” asked Chetwynd, waxing practical, and gathering up the sheets with an accustomed hand.

The artful Violet was playing her trump card now. She had only just finished the novel, and she had been engaged to a sub-editor long enough to know that only type-written copy gives a novice any chance of being read.

“Of course I did. I am much too dreadfully poor to pay for type-writing.”

Mr. Chetwynd had by this time picked it all up, and noted that it was very illegible. But he was too much in love to be daunted. He held it tightly, and said firmly, “Now I have got it, I shall read it!”

An April smile came across his tearful listener’s pretty face. She put her small hand upon his with an appealing sweetness that thrilled him.

“I will read it to you,” she said, softly, “and you shall tell me if the poor thing is worth typing.”

It took four mornings. She used to sit in a low deck chair that afforded distracting glimpses of ankles and small shoes. She had the “excellent thing in woman,” a low voice, which sometimes seemed to tremble a little when the middle-aged hero talked to the young heroine. The heroine—Gladys, of course– refused a baronet and a captain, and was finally landed in a pair of rather elderly arms. It was neither clever nor original, but it was not worse than books often issued by other firms, if never by that of the pre-eminent Chetwynd and Chetwynd.

That love is blind, proved true, as usual. Mr. Chetwynd had married his senior’s mature daughter early, after the manner of the good apprentice. But he had never loved till now.

“There is charm and freshness in your little story, and the ending is particularly good. If we can come to terms, I shall be quite willing to publish—let me see, what is it?—‘A Heart of Gold.’ Give me the copy. I will see to the typing.”

That evening Miss Baynes found a note in her room containing a cheque for fifty pounds.

Two days later Mr. Chetwynd took his courage in both hands, and proposed to his new writer. He did it so well that Mr. Jim Beresford-Smith quite enjoyed the letter telling him all about it, and the pleasing reflection that he was engaged to one of the smartest little girls in England.

Miss Baynes listened with the grace of a Récamier, but her reply was rather disappointing: “I cannot answer you at once. I am too surprised, too unworthy of the great honour you have done me. Besides, it is too soon after. We must wait. Let us say good-bye till the spring, till my book comes out, and then I will give my decision.”

“Of course she was right,” reflected Mr. Chetwynd, after he had agreed to the hard condition, comforted by that small word, “we.”

He went back, and was horribly afraid to face his own press readers. The acceptance of “A Heart of Gold,” without their intervention, filled these worthies with an excusable indignation. “Flimsy rubbish,” was the kindest verdict privately recorded against it. Then it was found that the title had been appropriated, and there was quite a buzz among the minor paragraph-mongers. Gradually an uneasy conviction stole over Mr. Chetwynd that there was a lot of unaccountable log-rolling in connection with “George Henderson.” He was old-fashioned, and detested the modern method.

No answer had as yet come from Violet, in spite of another Grandisonian appeal on his part, and the book would be out next week.

The thirty-first of March found Mr. Chetwynd seated alone in his severely mahogany dining-room, with a howling East wind making the rain clash against the panes. A wet Sunday is always abominable, and this was a peculiarly depressing specimen. Surbiton, from the window, was a dismal contrast to a memory of Montreux, all sunshine, flowers, and soft, sympathetic grey eyes, above a grey frock.

He had little appetite for breakfast, and looked to his letters for the amusement the post so seldom affords. There were two papers, halfpenny evening papers of the sort he abhorred, with great red marks.

“George Eliot, George Sand, George Fleming, and George Egerton. It is, perhaps, premature to suggest that the new recruit to the formidable ranks of the Georges will equal these; yet George Henderson, whose first novel is to appear on Monday, makes her literary début under fortunate circumstances. Issued by Messrs. Chetwynd and Chetwynd under the pleasing title April Folly, it is whispered that the book has already received the hall-mark of distinct literary approval.”

“Slovenly, vulgar trash!” growled Chetwynd, adjusting his pince-nez for the second, but in no way prepared for the blow it was destined to inflict.

“Our Swiss correspondent informs us that an interesting literary wedding has just taken place at Montreux. The charming young lady who prefers to be known as ‘George Henderson,’ was privately married to the energetic sub-editor of Mr. Worthingham’s new venture, the ‘Merry-go-Round.’” There was a further panegyric of “this thoroughly up-to-date journal,”—but poor Chetwynd read no more.

It began to dawn on him that this simple little girl had been an actress from first to last, and it was hard to tell whether he was most hurt or angry. The rain poured down in torrents, and he felt the East wind in his aching bones. He saw his own bald reflection in the looking-glass. “No fool like an old fool,” he murmured, bitterly, and “April Folly,” “April Folly,” stared at him from all the advertisement columns till he was fairly sickened.

The weather was very different in Montreux, where Jim Beresford-Smith had had rather a nasty fall from his bicycle because he had imprudently tried to put his arm round his wife’s waist in an unfrequented bit of the road to Villeneuve. She had been telling him how she had written her first novel, and how she had got it accepted.

“You see, Jim, he fell in love with me directly, and that made it easy enough. Men are blind, though, for he believed all my nonsense about having tried Harvey and Medway, and never seemed to see I’d put him in.” “Poor old chap,” said Jim, with a pitying air of magnanimity; but it is possible that, later, he learnt to feel less compassion for Mr. Chetwynd.

To-Day 16 April 1898: pp. 320-5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has a strong suspicion that “Rowland Grey” is the nom de plume of a young person possessed of a peach-blossom complexion and dewy grey eyes.

In fact, Miss Rowland Grey was associated with the Savoy circle (her brother was an intimate friend of W.S. Gilbert) and wrote novels such as Lindenblumen and Other Stories and In Sunny Switzerland.

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 Wardrobe Peculiarly Suited to the Bereaved One’s Conditions: 1905

Casting Off the Widow’s Weeds, Henry James Richter, 1823 http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_231401/Henry-James-Richter/page-1

Mourning Gowns That Harmonize with the Bereaved One’s Complexion and Spirits

The genius of a Washington dressmaker has conceived the idea of specializing for the bereaved. “Widows’ outfits” are the objects of her particular attention, and upon them are brought to bear all her creative power.

“Widows’ outfits” does not appear upon her sign, which is merely a very high sounding name on a small and thoroughly correct name plate that has adorned her front door for a generation past. It is only to the initiated of a very select clientele that she has imparted the information that wardrobe peculiarly suited to the bereaved conditions may be obtained from madam for a consideration.

According to her theory, not only must a widow’s weeds be an expression of her grief, but they must convey in them the depth of it as well as the previous state of happiness or the reverse. For elderly widows who have jogged happily through forty or fifty years of conjugal congeniality she advises lightweight drap d’ ete with heavy crape bands and folds, lightening into black crepe de Chine as time goes by.

In the case of a young woman sincerely mourning a much loved husband, one to whom she was wedded in every sense of the word, there is the “creped becomingness” of the softer fabrics such as chiffon cloth, &c., and her costume generally looks as if she had been dipped to her ears in the blackest ink obtainable. For grief that is genuine and inconsolable madam advises only the softest, sheerest fabrics, as customers are apt to be unmindful of their appearance, and careless of their attire, and the softer the material the better it will stand hard usage. For mourning meant to be worn all day without change for the evening, the clinging stuffs make the best gowns.

In all cases madam thinks it is impossible to have the collar too high, and sometimes, if madam sees fit and they are becoming, two little points, to go up under the ears, are added to the already chokingly high neckband. These are most frequently an adjunct to the collar when there is a tendency toward extreme thinness, as it not only hides the lines in the neck, but adds a something to the face that heightens the woefulness of the moral atmosphere.

For a young and beautiful widow of an old man, “well, youth is youth, and black is a trying thing at best—trying alike to complexion and spirits, and it would be far better if madam’s customer would leave the matter to her judgment, for you know madam has been long in the business, and well, you know white crepe is just as much mourning as the most unrelieved black, when it comes to that, and besides, the French always give a suggestion of it to their deepest mourning.”

For this gown madam makes a tentative suggestion as to the advisability of a lightening effect produced by a tiny vest of white crape, “which will relieve the severity of the dead black, which is apt to make even the fairest look a wee bit sallow.”

As soon as the bereaved one begins to make a more active interest in her fellow man and commences to realize that “grief is a selfish thing, and that every one owes it to society to take up one’s duties in it again,” madam sets her uncommon wits to work and provides her with gowns that, as an indication of her mental state, are quite as adequate as a sworn statement.

There are street clothes that express to a thought the degree of mourning, walking gowns of varying depths of woe, afternoon toilets of chiffon cloth, crepe de chine, and dull taffetas, each displaying in its cut and trimming a pleasing melancholy, while into matinees is allowed to creep a suspicion, and that the barest, of frivolity, in the shape of ruffles of mousseline plisse.

A dinner gown is, of course, included among these. It is but slightly décolleté, just sufficiently so to give the necessary air of smartness to the gown to make it suitable for the occasion, and “prevent one from being so gloomy looking as to affect the enjoyment of the assemblage.”

“The sleeves? Well that is entirely a question of—are madam’s arms plump? No? Then perhaps it would be better that the sleeves be to the elbow that is always—Oh, madam’s wrists are large? Well, as madam was saying short sleeves are a little uncomfortable at a dinner, and elbow sleeves are sometimes trying even to the prettiest arms, so possibly it would be wisest to make one of those half-concealing, half-revealing sleeves that madam thought so charming on that gown she saw yesterday.”

“Then the skirt! Could anything be straighter than its lines? Not unless carved from ebony, and then only in reality, not in effect. Severe simplicity in its most exaggerated form is the keynote of this frock that breaks the ice after the period of seclusion from the world and its frivolities, and then comes the next step in what madam considers the right direction. This is signaled by a gown all white, like a debutante’s, but what a difference! This gown is equally suitable for dinner or dance.

Does madam trim black gowns with violet, and violet gowns with black? Does she make a dark gray silk for church and a light gray for parties? Heaven forbid! Madam is an artiste. The second mourning of her clients is composed of dark violet, untrimmed; light violet, also untrimmed; soft grays without a touch of either black or white, and creamy white gowns galore. With each gown for the street madam insists that a hat of exactly the same color be worn, with absolutely no hint of contrast. When the time comes for the final doffing of all that pertains to woe in the shape of clothes, madam strongly advises that one take the plunge boldly and at once, making the change as decided as is possible.

The Washington [DC] Post 29 October 1905: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is somewhat appalled at the suggestion that a widow coming out of mourning is like a “debutante.” Still, there are reports of ladies who took the piquant idea to heart.  Here is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead to illustrate the concept:

Some widows made their coming out of mourning tantamount to a debut, complete with a new wardrobe.

AN AMERICAN’S FAD

A Fanciful Widow Who Celebrated Her Abandonment of Mourning

English newspapers and magazine paragraphers who delight to select and repeat for their innocent auditors all the curious fads and caprices of fashionable American women will doubtless remark with grave wonder on one of the last and most absurd arrangements in dinners lately given by a New York woman who is a lover of harmonies. Two years ago she suffered the loss of her husband.

After many months of travel abroad she returned home this autumn with boxes of exquisite creations of silver grays, violet, lavender and heliotrope, fresh from the hands of French modistes. After receiving many attentions from home friends, she decided to give what she chose to call “a going out of mourning dinner.” Her idea was carried out to the last detail, and the whole filled her guests with amusement and surprise. Her gown was a superb combination of silk, velvet and chiffon, running through every tint of violet, lavender and heliotrope, and lavishly ornamented with jet and black lace. Her ornaments were black pearls and enamelled violets.

The dining table was laid with a white cloth overspread with a scarf and central square of white silk, and lines embroidered heavily in the delicate gray stems and lavender flowers of wisteria. Violets, heliotrope, and lilies-of-the-valley were the flowers used in decorating the table and for the men’s boutonnieres. The candles, in silver candelabra, were of violet-tinted wax, with violet silk shades. The opalescent glass glowed with tints of violet and lavender, sugared violets were the only bonbons on the table, and great bunches of violets tied with violet satin streamers were attached to the right-hand side of the back of every woman’s chair.

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 December 1891: p. 4

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

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

 

The Ladies’ University (As it Should Be): 1875

THE LADIES’ UNIVERSITY.

(AS IT SHOULD BE.)

SceneThe Examination Room of the University.

Professor Punch seated at table, writing. Enter Candidate for Matriculation.

Professor. My dear young Lady, pray take a chair. First let me saу that I am glad to see you have adopted a very proper costume in which to present yourself before the Authorities. A plain stuff gown, a neat cap, and a brown Holland apron. Nothing could be better.

Candidate (seating herself). I am delighted to have gained your approbation, Professor. My choice was regulated by the reflection that I intend to work and not to play.

Professor. Well said! And now, are you desirous of becoming a Member of this University?

Candidate. I am. I covet the honour.

Professor. It is necessary to ask you a few questions. What do you consider to be the “Rights of Woman”?

Candidate. She has but one right, which involves many duties— the right to be the Sweetness and Light, the Grace and Queen of home.

Professor. Very good. You would not wish to sit in Parliament?

Candidate. When my household duties were over, I should not object to an occasional seat in the Ladies’ Gallery—that is, supposing my husband were a Member of the House fond of addressing the Speaker.

Professor. A very proper reply. You do not wish to be a doctor or a lawyer?

Candidate (laughing). Certainly not. My ambition would be quite satisfied were I a good nurse and an efficient accountant.

Professor. An efficient accountant?

Candidate. Yes—that I might be able to check the butcher’s book.

Professor. Very good, indeed! Now do you know the chief object of this University?

Candidate. I believe so. It is to elevate the art of Cooking into a Christian duty. As Mr. Buckmaster said the other day at York,

“Our health, morality, social life, and powers of endurance depend very much on our food, and if it be a Christian duty to cultivate the earth, and make it bring forth food both for man and beast, it is equally a Christian duty to make that food enjoyable and wholesome by good cooking.”

Professor. You are quite right. I too will quote from Mr. Buckmaster’s very excellent speech. He said—

“So long as people prefer dirt to cleanliness and drink to food, and who know nothing, and don’t care to know anything, of those processes and conditions or laws which God has ordered as the condition of health, and without health there can be no happiness, so long as this ignorance and the prejudices which flow from it exist, all efforts except teaching will be comparatively useless. No law can prevent people from eating improper and unwholesome food, or accumulating heaps of filth in the dark corners of rooms, or compel them to open their windows or wash their bodies. Nothing but knowledge or a better education in common things will ever bring about these desirable results. It is for these and many other reasons that I am most anxious about the education of girls. The future of this country depends on their education. Every girls’ school should have a kitchen, with such appliances as they would be likely to have in their own homes, and every young lady should bе able to prepare, from first to last, a nice little dinner.”

Do you agree with Mr. Buckmaster?

Candidate. Most cordially. I think Mr. Buckmaster deserves the thanks of every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom.

Professor. And so do I. What classes do you wish to join?

Candidate. The Cooking Class, the Dress and Bonnet Class, the Furniture-Judging Class, and the Domestic Economy Class. After I have passed through these, I should very much like to finish my University career by undergoing a final course of Music, Painting, and Modern Languages.

Professor (signing certificate). I have much pleasure in informing you that you are now a Member of the Ladies’ University. You have passed your preliminary examination most creditably.

Candidate. A thousand thanks, Professor.

[Rises, curtsies, and exit to join the Cookery Class.]

Professor. A sensible girl that!

[As the Scene closes in, Professor Punch smilingly returns to his work.]

Punch 20 March 1875: p. 123

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As Mrs Daffodil’s readers will ascertain from the citation, this is cutting satire for 1875, when university education for women had scarcely begun to be bruited in public discussion and when Mr Patmore’s poem, “The Angel in the House,” was the pattern for feminine behavior. To be Relentlessly Informative, Mr J.C. Buckmaster, a chemist and  associate of a number of scientific societies and the Royal Polytechnic Institute, was the author of Buckmaster’s Cookery, Buckmaster’s Domestic Economy and Cooking. He lectured on cookery at the Great Exhibition.

Punch seemed fond of using culinary references in their barbs directed at women’s education. In 1894, under the heading “The Girton Girl, B.A.” it was announced that a female student at Girton, Miss E.H. Cooke, was on the list of Wranglers for Cambridge University. (This means that she placed in the first class in the very difficult Mathematics Tripos, even though, at this time, women were still not yet allowed to officially take the Tripos.) Punch commented:

Bravissima Miss E.H. Cooke. No difficulty in securing a first rate-place for so excellent a chef. Of course, so admirable a Cooke will at once receive the cordon bleu!

Punch 23 June 1894: p. 297

Really, it is enough to make one slip a little undetectable poison into that “nice little dinner.”

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.

 

Women in 1900: A letter from the future: 1853

The New Woman

Letter Written in 1900.

Mr. Editor: How the following letter came into my possession, I leave you and your readers to conjecture. It may have come through a “medium” from the Spirit of Prophecy, but this I only throw out as a suggestion. Meanwhile, rest assured, Mr. Editor, that should I be favored with any more communications from the same source, they shall be transmitted to you without fail.

Your friend and correspondent,

Annie Elton.

Washington City, Jan. 1, 1900.

My Dear Friend: Writing to you, as I now do at the commencement of the twentieth century I am naturally led to speak of the wonderful changes which have taken place within the last half of the century just past. I remember very well when men were considered the lords of creation, when all the offices of honor and profit were in their hands. Women were at that time held in subjection by their haughty oppressors, and women’s rights were almost unknown. Now, thank Heaven! All this is reversed. Instead of lords we have ladies of creation.

Our navies do not now consist of men of war—they are all women of war. Now, happily, a woman occupies our presidential chair, while our halls of Congress are filled with a body of intelligent females, from all parts of the country. Formerly we had professional men—now we have professional women.

But, without further preface, let me give you a little sketch of Washington, which I am at present visiting. Everybody is praising the administration of Hon. Mrs. Betsey Jones, who has just assumed the reins of government. She has filled her Cabinet with some of the most distinguished stateswomen in the country. Where, for instance, could she have found a better Secretary of War than Gen. Abigail Chase, of Massachusetts, who covered herself with glory in our late war with the Sandwich Islands?

I went to the President’s levee, a few evenings since. Among the crowd who were present, I noticed Hon. Mrs. Jenkins, the distinguished Senator from the new State of Patagonia. The Russian Minister, Mrs. Orloff, had on a splendid fur cape, which attracted the attention of all the ladies present. I was sorry not to have seen the Secretary of State—but she sent word that her baby was sick, and she couldn’t come.

I called to see the Attorney General the other day, and found her husband setting the table for tea, and taking care of the children. He said his wife was so much occupied with the cares of office, that she had but little leisure for her family.

This morning arrived the steamer America, Capt. Betty Martin, commander—bringing the latest news from Europe. It seems that the Queen of Austria has just issued a womandate, ordering all the men in her dominions to have off their whiskers. In consequence of this very reasonable edict, an insurrection took place among the men, which, however, was soon quelled by the efforts of Gen. Polly Kosciusko.

I heard last Sunday an eloquent sermon, from the Rev. Sally Sprague, minister of the first Church in this city. I understand that it is to be published.

I see by the papers, that a man out west attempted to lecture on men’s rights recently, in which he foolishly insisted that men had a right to vote. I was glad to hear that he was pelted from the stage by a volley of stones from the females (dear creatures) whose rights he had assailed. Poor man! He quite forgot that, in the words of the poetess—

“Times aint now as they used to was been,

Things aint now as they used to was then.

Paulina Pry.

The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 5 February 1853: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, International Women’s Day. The article above is what passed for wit about women’s rights in the newspapers of 1853. It took 67 years after this article for women to receive the right to vote in the United States. In Switzerland, it took until 1971. There was one ingenious critic who said that the right to vote was unnecessary; that women around the world already wielded unlimited political power and that American women ought to seize that power:

Much as we may admire the conservatism that governs, or that should govern, the influence of women in the White House, we may wonder if the higher politics of America, what may be called the diplomatic politics, is not neglecting a potent weapon. It is not a little strange that women should be least powerful in republics and democracies and most powerful in monarchies. When one of the great Indian princesses was recently in America some of our prominent society women sought to interest her in the feminist movement and to stimulate the ambition of Indian women to a share in the government of the Indian provinces. The Maharanee was much amused. She said that the women of India might live in seclusion, but it was actually they who governed the country. Their husbands sat upon the thrones and filled the offices, but only to carry out the advice that came from behind the purdah curtains. The women of India, said the princess, were much more influential in politics than their sisters in America, no matter how many votes they might have.

Much the same is true in England, where women have no votes, but where they have a political power that our women have hardly dreamed of. It does not matter very much who is the wife of an American President or cabinet officer, provided always that she is a lady and is willing to be inconspicuous. But the English statesman is well-nigh a lost soul without his wife. She is expected to be minutely familiar with domestic, imperial, and international politics and to take a practical view of advancing the various causes with which her husband is identified. A ball by the wife of the prime minister may easily have wider reaching results than a meeting of the cabinet. Here it is that the most delicate webs of diplomacy are spun, and spun very largely by women, who have unsurpassed opportunities for exercising the clairvoyance of their sex. Some of the most remarkable political revelations that have ever been made are to be found in the published diaries of women….

The fault, if fault there be. is not with the American government, but with the American woman. If the American woman were capable of exercising a political influence she would exercise it. and nothing could prevent her.

Vanity Fair 1 July 1916

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.

 

Secrets of the Theatrical Costumer: 1903

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Where the Gorgeous Costumes of the Stage Are Made and Rented.

There are lots of people who can manage to push their way behind the scenes at a play, but there are very few who ever get as far behind the scenes as the shop of the theatrical costumer. In these days of elaborate staging, when the frocks make the actress, the costumer is the heart and soul, the alpha and omega of the play. Without him the prima donna and the problem actress alike would be birds of very shabby feathers, while the show girls would not attract a dozen patrons of the bald-headed row.

He is a mysterious person, whom nobody ever sees. Beyond his name, which is sometimes printed on the program, he is less known than the boy who gives out programs or the ticket taker at the gate. Yet, in his way, e is an artist who deserves to rank beside the manager and the playwright. If, at the last moment he should fail to be on hand with his production, the show could not go on; for the leading lady could not play Juliet in a sailor hat and the leading man could not do Romeo in a white flannel shirt.

The shop of the theatrical costumer is a fascinating place, smelling of moth balls and lavender, glittering with spangles and satins, jewels and tin armor, piled high with boxes and shelves, cluttered with costumes, thrown here and there, picture hats, kimonos, slippers, boots and frock coats lying around in what appears to be the wildest confusion, but what is in reality the most perfect order—so perfect in fact that any employe in the shop can lay his finger on any garment or part of a garment at a moment’s notice. Entering the place is like passing into a sort of fairy land where every character out of every play you have ever seen is dressed and ready to greet you. In a corner the short skirts, flowered petticoats, and shepherdess hat of Perdita lie disconsolate, her little slippers peeping from beneath them. Yonder you might almost fancy that Miss Marlowe had just stepped out and left her Beatrice frocks behind her. Over there is a suit of doublet and hose flung aside by some amateur Cyrano de Bergerac; and a ross the way madam Butterfly might just have taken wings, dropping her fluttering kimono as she went.

But all of the paraphernalia is only the theatrical costumer’s “junk,” hired for the most to amateurs for fancy balls. It is the odds and ends leftover from his big orders for regular customers, the driftwood from the great productions which he has staged. He could not make a living out of such stuff.

His real business is filling big orders of the large and elaborate productions which are put on every autumn. Summer is his great season. In the spring he takes his orders and employs his staff of hands and all through the hot days his shop is the busiest one in town. The machines are buzzing in his work rooms, leading ladies pass one another in disdain upon his stair; chorus girls flit in and out for fittings; managers wait upon him in his office. The president of the Untied States is no more important and no more sought after than is he. Sometimes the theatrical costumer is a designer, an artist of no little merit. He knows history from the flood down and can take his pencil and sketch you a picture of Noah correct to the very curl of his hair. But more often he employs his staff of designers as he employs his cutters, fitters, stitchers, basters and pressers. Every workman in his shop is a specialist, even down to the girls how sew on spangles and mend laces.

A Side Line on the Business.

There is a side line to the costumer’s business which is almost as remunerative as his regular business. It is the making of evening dresses for society women who hire them for a ball or for a season, paying an enormous rental, but not half so much as the frock would have cost them if they had had it made outright.

“You might not fancy,” remarked Carl Wustl, one of New York’s leading costumers, “that there would be a great deal of money in hiring gowns to society women, but there is. Even though the frocks we make cost a small fortune apiece and are designed by French artists and lined throughout with the most costly silk and chiffon, the profits are something extraordinary.

“Your society woman is after all very frugal and once a costumer gets a reputation among the upper ten he will supply half the elaborate costumes for great occasion> You see a society woman does not care to wear a dress more than once or twice, yet she wants the most expensive sort of gowns with the finest workmanship upon them. To hire a French designer and makers such as a costumer must have at his command would make each of her gowns cost a small fortune. Now she can come to us, order any sort of gown she wants, pay about one-third of its value and wear it as often as she would wear it were it her own.

“Here, for instance, is a gown with a remarkable history,” continued the costumer, taking down a gorgeous creation in white satin, tulle, and spangles, which looked as though it had been through an army campaign, so frayed were its ruffles and so tarnished its spangles.

“This gown cost $1,000. There are just 75,000 spangles on it and every one was applied by hand. It was designed and made for one of our best patrons. She is a society woman who is famous for her gowns and is known never to wear a frock on more than one occasion. Her husband is wealthy, but her lavishness in dress astounds even her intimate. This frock she wrote to the famous Bradley-Martin ball. With it she wore hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry. And what do you think the gown cost her? Just $300 for the night. In the morning papers her costume was described in elaborate detail.

Of course a responsible costumer would never by any chance rent a gown to two women in the same set or even in the same class of society. After the Bradley-Martin ball that dress saw no more of the four hundred. It was then let for the season to a certain smart looking woman in quite a different set, who wore it on five occasions only, but paid $500 for having it reserved for her exclusive use for three months. The next season a stock company star saw it. It was renovated and remodeled to her taste and she hired it off and on by the week during the season, paying $50 a week for the use of it. By that time it had pretty well paid for itself. But it was so substantial that it bore renovating once more. A little Jewish bride, who wanted to make a stunning effect and could afford only $10 for her wedding dress, saw it and hired it. After that I seemed that every Jewish bride on the East Side knew of it and it did service at ten or twelve weddings during the winter. With such hard service it got pretty soiled and shabby and I was going to hang it up as a souvenir, when a little Irish girl came in to hire a dress for a fireman’s ball. She saw the $1,000 frock, got stuck on it and it saw one more night of service. Now I am going to keep it as a relic and for good luck. It shan’t go out again,” and the costumer lovingly tucked the soiled satin folds once more into the box.

Sometimes a set of costumes made for a production will have almost as varied a history as the society woman’s frock. Their first appearance in all their pristine freshness is of course in the big metropolitan production for which they are designed. If the play is a success, they are worn by the company or an entire season and carried all over the country. In the spring, when the play closes, they are brought back by the management and bought in once more by the costumer, who gets them for a song. They are then renovated and kept for local stock companies, wo hire them again and again as long as they are presentable. After that they do service in amateur productions and for fancy dress balls.

“The making of theatrical costumes,” said a famous costumer, “is more of a fine art than ever before. The costumes are much more expensive than they used to be in days gone by when the leading lady wore white muslin or black poplin and the kings wore cotton-backed ermine. Costumes now have to be the real thing, inside and out. The satins must be silk backed and heavy enough to stand alone, the laces must be fie and delicate, even the roses on the hats must be silk or velvet, and the gowns must fit without a winkle and be as artistic in cut as the frocks of the wealthiest society women. Managers are as particular as old women and electric lights show up every detail, even to a spangle. The costumer who deals in cheap stuffs and cheap labor will soon lose his custom.”

theatrical-chorus-girls-with-parasols

“Yes, odd things do happen sometimes,” went on the maker of theatrical togs, meditatively smoking his cigar. “Our costumes have some remarkable experiences, and if they could talk might tell some funny stories. I remember once that I was called into court on a curious mission. It was to vie evidence against a chorus girl. I had just the week before made up and sent out a full set of costumes for a comic opera. Six of the costumes were conventional evening frocks of a very elaborate order. They were very expensive and the show girls wore them for only a few moments during the play. After that they were carefully put away in cotton-lined boxes by the maid. With them were large picture hats, silk stockings, gloves and satin slippers.

Her Costume Familiar.

“The first week of the production I dined one night at an up-town restaurant. I had just finished my coffee and was lighting my cigar, when a beautiful young woman entered, followed by a gilded Johnny in full dress. Something about the woman struck me as very familiar, but I could not place her among my acquaintances. As she took her seat she lifted her skirts and, as I caught a glimpse of her satin slipper, it flashed upon me where I had seen it before. She was wearing one of the six costumes I had made for the comic opera production. She was without exception the most stunning woman in the room, and the way she kept the other people turning their necks and trying to guess what famous member of the four hundred she might be would have made any chorus girl want to borrow the company’s costumes for a night.

“But it seems that her glory was only for a night. Somebody must have peached; for next day I was called into court to identify the costume, and a more irate stage manager or a more humiliated chorus girl, I never saw. She confessed, of course, that she had bribed the maid and borrowed the gown for the evening, and protested with many tears that she had not hurt the gown a bit. But she was fined just the same. It was only one of the sad little scenes that pass with the rest of the tragedies and comedies under the nose of the theatrical costumer.”

Denver [CO] Post 25 October 1903: p. 36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on moving-picture actresses who are martyrs to their public’s demand for the latest in fashionable frocks.  This peep at the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatrical costumer sheds a fascinating light on where the “Four Hundred” get their gowns.

Mrs Daffodil once knew of a lady whose beauty and title could not obscure her lack of breeding. She had contracted with a costumer (as did the lady of the one-thousand-dollar dress above) for a unique and exquisite ball gown in which she hoped to burst upon Society as the wife of an elderly Duke. (They had been hastily married abroad and His Grace wished to show off his new acquisition to his friends and disapproving children of his first marriage.) For a young person who had just risen from a theatrical background (second chorus, mind…) she had been most exacting and disagreeable with the costumer and particularly with those ladies who were in charge of sewing on the spangles. The costumer, who knew a parvenu (and a potential annulment) when he saw one, supplied his spanglers and dressmakers with some aged thread which he had been meaning to discard.

Her Grace was the cynosure of all eyes in the breathtaking gown, particularly when she began to shed her spangles. A little drift of the glittering objects swirled about her hem in the receiving line and several guests were seen discreetly removing sequins from their soup at dinner. His Grace got several spangles down his throat during the first waltz with his new bride and had to be assisted back to his quarters, red-faced and choking. Her Grace had no shortage of partners, and so carried on, until, about the third Waltz-Gallop, the well-fitted seams of her gown began to show the strain. First she shed a sleeve, then the bodice fastening parted, and when her train gave way abruptly, Her Grace found herself in the embarrassing position of a Nymph Surprised While Bathing, with rather more Valenciennes insertion.  The Duke’s children instituted legal proceedings for a swift annulment; and, although she received ample heart-balm through the courts, the young person is now back in the chorus.

Surely a lesson for us all to be kind to those who have been placed in humbler circumstances than ourselves.

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.