Category Archives: Shoes

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898



By Emma M. Hooper

It is becoming an almost universal practice for husbands to allow their wives, and parents to make their daughters, a fixed allowance for their clothes and personal expenses, consequently the question has arisen as to how the best results may be obtained from the expenditure of a stated sum of money. Every woman should know how to spend money to the best advantage, but this she cannot do unless she is trusted with a certain sum at regular intervals—which sum, of course, must be largely dependent upon the income of the breadwinner of her home.

For the matron or young girl with fifty, one hundred or two hundred dollars a year, or, perhaps, even less, there must be a great deal of planning if the sum is to cover the necessary outlay for the year. It is for just such women that I have prepared this article.


For the muslin underwear all trimming, unless it be a crocheted or knitted thread edge done at odd times, must be omitted. Unless one is very hard on her clothes, which is usually another name for carelessness, three sets of muslin underwear added each fall to the supply on hand will answer every purpose. The material for these will cost three dollars. Two sets of wool and cotton underwear for three dollars should also be added; they will, with care, last two winters. The next year buy four cotton vests at twenty-five cents, thus alternating the expense.

A Seersucker petticoat may be bought one spring for seventy-five cents, and two white muslin ones the next for a dollar and twenty-five cents, so I will count in but one dollar for the yearly average. A black alpaca petticoat for two winters will cost a dollar. It may need a new ruffle the second year. Two heavy flannel skirts may be had for a dollar and a half, and two light ones of flannelette for ninety cents. These should last three years by making them with a tuck to let out as they shrink. Only a third of this combined expense should be charged to each year, and always arrange so that these articles are not needed the same year. The woman dressing on the sum of fifty dollars must be a manager and able to do her own sewing, or she will utterly fail to make the good appearance which every woman desires to make.


Six pairs of hose at a dollar and a half, and two pairs of shoes at two dollars and a half must keep her shod, and this will probably mean mended shoes before the year is out. A corset at one dollar and a half may be worn a year. A pair of rubbers and parasol one year, alternating with an umbrella the second, the three costing two dollars and a half for each year. A winter jacket at eight dollars and a spring cape at three, must last three years, so I will count in the yearly average expense for wraps as four dollars, as each garment may need a little new trimming or renovating of some sort. Two pairs of gloves, cotton and kid, and a pair of mitts crocheted by the wearer will cost a dollar and a half. A new hat, and an old one retrimmed each year, will mean five dollars, and it will also mean that recurling of feathers, steaming velvet to freshen it, and the cleaning of ribbons and lace must not be numbered among the lost arts, for such accomplishments prove a great saving to the woman with small means at her command.


In the line of dresses I allow two new ginghams and two cotton shirt-waists each spring, at a cost of three dollars for the materials. A Swiss or organdy, with ribbon belt and collar, every second summer, will be four dollars. A silk waist every second year will be four dollars; it will alternate with the best thin summer gown. A cheviot or serge dress in the fall will cost ten dollars with linings, etc., and will bear wearing for two years. Try and have a new fall gown one year, and a woolen one for the spring the succeeding year. A black alpaca skirt for four dollars will wear for two years. This makes a total of forty-six dollars and eighty cents, leaving a small margin for making over a gown, and for handkerchiefs, ribbons, veils, collars, etc.

These small things add much to one’s appearance, and need not be over an ordinary grade, but they should be fresh and bright. Iron out ribbon collars and veils when wrinkled, and they will last longer.


Dressing on fifty dollars a year requires careful economy, but what about the thousands who have less than fifty dollars a year for personal use? It means well-worn and carefully mended garments, and a new wrap only once in four or five years, and a very simple hat in two. One woolen dress at ten dollars must last three years. Among inexpensive dress goods it is well to remember that serge and cheviot give the best wear. Two gingham gowns will be two dollars, and two shirt-waists seventy-five cents; a crash suit for summer, lasting two years, a dollar and a half; a couple of heavy ginghams for housework in the winter, a dollar and sixty cents; six pairs of hose, a dollar and a half, and two pairs of shoes, five dollars.

Three sets of unbleached muslin underwear will be two dollars and a half, and two sets of merino, vest and drawers, two dollars; the latter must wear for two years. A seersucker petticoat made in the fall will be heavy for winter, and washed thin for the summer, at a cost of sixty-five cents. Two flannelette skirts for sixty cents, and two red flannel ones for a dollar and forty cents will wear two years, leaving half of that amount to be charged to each year. Count five dollars a year toward a wrap once in four years, and one new hat a year. Allow three dollars a year for a pair of rubbers, leather belt, handkerchiefs and gloves, and a dollar and eighty-nine cents for renovating a gown of last year, and an average of thirty dollars is reached.

Save at least a dollar and have some magazine to brighten your lives, even if it means extra darns or patched shoes, for the brain craves food, as well as the body, clothing.


This seems like untold wealth after the smaller income, but the girl or woman having one hundred dollars a year, and indulging a craving for amusement, will soon find it slip away unless she is very careful.

With this amount prepare the muslin underwear, sets of drawers and vests, cotton vests, petticoats, flannel and flannelette skirts, as described in the outfit for fifty dollars. To the six pairs of hose add two pairs of tan-colored to wear with russet shoes in the summer, adding shoes at two dollars, to two pairs for five dollars, allowing two dollars for hose. Corsets, a dollar and a half; rubbers, fifty cents. Parasol one year and umbrella the next will be two dollars yearly.

Every two years buy a winter jacket at eight dollars, and a light wrap for four, making a cost of six dollars per year. Two pairs of kid and two pairs of silk gloves will be two dollars and a half, and I will allow six dollars for millinery. Ten dollars is not too large a sum to allow for the many little accessories that add so much to a toilet, as collars, ribbons, belts, cravats, handkerchiefs, etc. Five dollars may be laid aside for the remodeling of last season’s gowns, and five more for the church donation and some especially-prized paper or magazine.


In the spring a jacket suit of serge with a silk front and linings will be ten dollars for two years. A crash skirt at seventy-five cents, two shirt-waists within the same amount, and a wash silk waist will be a dollar and a quarter extra. One season have a white organdy gown, and the next a figured dimity, each trimmed in lace and ribbon and costing. five dollars. A less expensive cotton gown will be four dollars, and an added black skirt of taffeta at seventy-five cents a yard, eight dollars, the latter lasting two years and answering for all seasons, as will a neat silk waist at the same price. One new fall suit each year will give a change, as the second winter sees the gown of the first remodeled. Allow six dollars for this each year, as it pays to buy as nice a quality of dress goods as one can afford.

The total now shows an average of eighty-five dollars and a half, and the remainder will be needed for an evening gown for holidays, changing with an organdy. For this price one of China silk at fifty cents, with a velveteen belt and shoulder bows, and lace at the neck, will be the best purchase, and make over for the succeeding year.

As white China silk washes and dry-cleans well it is a useful purchase, lasting two seasons for the evening, and then will answer for the lining of a chiffon waist. The latter would need four yards, at sixty-nine cents, and ribbon belt and collar. By having a white silk and two or more colored ribbon and velvet belts, sashes and collars, several changes may be effected at a small expense. Very pretty sashes are now made of a full width of chiffon or mousseline wrinkled closely around the waist, knotted at the back and allowed to fall in two long ends, which have been simply hemmed and tucked on the lower edge.


A person with a two-hundred-dollar income should certainly give some of it in charity. If living in the city, five dollars is a moderate sum to allow for car fare, the same for charity, and for the savings box, and another five for the church collection. An occasional concert, visit to the theatre, etc., may be counted as ten dollars, with reading matter and stationery at five. A journey for a short visit comes within the life of many, and can hardly be encompassed under ten dollars. The idea of buying the most expensive clothing in alternate years should be followed with this income, as with the smaller ones. Goods of a better quality may also be purchased with the additional sum. I can only give an average, as one person may visit a great deal, the next one seldom go out; one may be very careful in the care of her clothes, and another be distressingly careless, all of which affects the garment’s wear. With a limited wardrobe avoid striking novelties, startling colors and a large variety of shades. With the two-hundred-dollar income allow for the assistance of a dressmaker, when making the two best suits.


A winter coat at twelve dollars, a spring jacket at six, and a fur collar at eight, should last three years, at a cost of a little over eight dollars per year. Twelve dollars will cover the millinery, and six dollars the gloves. Count shoes as two pairs at three dollars, a pair of ties will make eight. A nice winter gown of broadcloth with velvet trimming may be counted for fifteen dollars, and may alternate with a stylish little dress of figured taffeta silk suitable for concerts, dinners, etc., each lasting two years. A black silk skirt, and an evening waist of light silk trimmed with lace, ribbon or chiffon, costing ten dollars each if both are made at home, will make the expense small when divided between two winters.

A dainty tea jacket of cashmere, lace and ribbon, costing three dollars and a half, will last several seasons. An evening gown of white net over percaline, with lace and velvet trimming, may be evolved out of fifteen dollars. Ten dollars will be used for freshening up the gowns of last year, and another ten will go for the little things—collars, cravats, veils and handkerchiefs.

For the spring buy a foulard or light wool gown one year, and a jacket suit of covert, serge or cheviot the next, the latter answering for traveling and outing wear, and the former for church and visiting. These gowns would certainly average twelve dollars each year. A piqué suit at three dollars, a white organdy lined with lawn for six, and a figured dimity for the same would be fifteen dollars. Three cotton shirt-waists for a dollar and twenty-five cents, and one of wash silk would answer for the summer.

In giving prices I take an average obtainable in New York, Chicago and Boston.


Eight pairs of hose for two dollars and a half, an alpaca petticoat with silk ruffles for two, a percaline petticoat for a dollar, and two white ones for two dollars would be a fair supply. Corsets, a dollar and a half; two heavy flannel skirts for a dollar and seventy-five cents, and two of flannelette for a dollar would last two years at an expense of half of that for each year. Four sets of underwear at a cost of six dollars may be allowed, though costing less if made at home. Three sets of mixed wool and cotton will last three years, and cost four dollars and a half. At least two pretty corset-covers for wearing with thin dresses will be a dollar and fifty cents.

Alternate parasol and umbrella at a cost of three dollars, rounding up a total of one hundred and ninety-five dollars. The small amount left is soon eaten up by a gift or two, an extra bit of adornment, such as a fluffy mousseline boa now so fashionable, a new purse, toilet articles, etc. If advice has any weight I would advise saving another five for the savings box, for it is such a comfortable feeling to know that you have even a small sum laid away for a the unexpected that is always sure to happen.

In selecting a wardrobe from season to season try to have a black gown, or at least a black skirt, always ready for use. If of silk, have it gros-grain or taffeta; if of wool, a serge, mohair, Eudora or cashmere. Do not buy in advance of the season, as the goods are then high in price, and beware of extreme novelties at the end of the season; they are too conspicuous to be forgotten.

Another thing to remember is that it costs no more to select becoming colors than others that do not bring out one’s good points. Having a gown made in a becoming style, simple or elaborate, does not increase the expense, or need not if the wearer knows how her gowns should be designed to suit her figure and complexion—the tests. When a limited wardrobe is necessary, avoid too great a variety in coloring, and under all circumstances have one gown of black goods appropriate for all seasons. By having a supply of colored ribbon collars, and one or two fancy vests and belts, this black dress will answer for the foundation of both house and street toilets, and you will always be ready for an unexpected journey, sudden visit or simple entertainment.

The Ladies’ Home Journal, Issue 1, 1898

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing to add to this exhaustive analysis of dress goods and ribbons except to define “crash” for those unfamiliar with the textile as a light-weight, coarse, unevenly woven cloth of cotton, linen, jute, or hemp.

The advice to frugal ladies to accessorise gowns of a single colour to simulate variety in one’s wardrobe has been repeated ad nauseam in fashion magazines since time immemorial. Mrs Daffodil has taken this good counsel to heart: her entire wardrobe of gowns is of black materials; the restful monotony varied only by aprons of white or black, as required.

Readers will find information on how wealthy ladies spend their dress allowances here.  How much fashionable gentlemen expend on their wardrobes is described here and here. An absurdly expensive bicycle costume is documented here. If one wishes to know what it would cost to be correctly presented at the Court of St James, here are all the details.

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.


Mortuary Professions for Ladies: 1889-1910

Josephine Smith, age 84, digging a grave at Drouin Cemetery, Victoria, c. 1944

Josephine Smith, age 84, digging a grave at Drouin Cemetery, Victoria, c. 1944

To-day Mrs Daffodil has invited that crepuscular person from the Haunted Ohio blog to discuss mortuary career choices for women. She frequently writes on the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning and is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead. One presumes she is au courant on these dismal trades of the past.

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While Mrs Daffodil has previously remarked on a lady undertaker, and, we know, of course, that women were often the washers and layers-out of the dead, today I present some less usual mortuary professions for the ladies. We begin with the funeral stenographer. From the late nineteenth century onward, it was considered bad form to read a funeral sermon from notes; hence the need for someone to take down the more-or-less extemporized eulogy.


There is a quiet young woman in a quiet, unobtrusive gown who has become quite a familiar figure at funerals. She is well known to the undertakers, at least. She always sits in the background with notebook and pencil, and her nimble fingers jot down verbatim the addresses and prayers that are uttered at the coffin’s side.

This young woman, it is said, up to a year ago, was a stenographer in a big mercantile house down town. She lost her place on account of the hard times and the consequent curtailing of the office force. She haunted the employment agencies at the various typewriter concerns for a time, but there were thousands of others doing the same thing—looking for a job. Her money was running low and she grew discouraged. Like many women she had a penchant for going to funerals, but she had not been able to indulge in this morbid fancy while regularly employed. She went to a big church affair one day, and took along her notebook and pencil, thinking she would take down the addresses just for the sake of practice. As the people were filing out a man asked her what she had been doing, and she falteringly admitted that she had been taking down what was said, so as to keep from forgetting her stenography. The man in question proved to be a friend of the family of the deceased, and said that if she would write out the prayers and addresses, putting in the hymns in their proper place, that he would pay her well for the transcript. She got $15 for this. It then occurred to her that here was a way of earning a living better and more profitable than anything else in her line.

She began to watch closely the obituary columns of the daily papers and to make calls on the undertakers in the neighborhood where she lived. It was not long beer she got another job, through going after the business in this way. Now she has about all she and her assistant can do. She charges from $15 to $50 for her services.

So far as is known she has little if any competition, and sometimes her earnings run as high as $125 a week. Strangely enough, however, she has been cured of her morbid fondness for funerals, and feels like giving up her curious way of earning a living for something less profitable, but more prosaic. She fears chronic melancholia. Daily People [New York, NY] 16 January 1910: p. 7

The young lady could have assuaged her fondness for funerals by becoming a professional mourner, as these funeral fans were jocularly called:


Get No More Free Rides, Says an Akron Undertaker.

“The professional mourner will get no more free rides at funerals conducted by us,” said an Akron undertaker, the other day, to a Democrat representative, with satisfaction beaming from every line of his countenance.

“Professional mourners! Free rides!” exclaimed the reporter in astonishment. “What do you mean? Tell us about it.” “Well, it’s this way,” said the undertaker. “At every funeral of which we have charge, we find three or four women, or maybe more, (professional mourners, we call them) who are in no way related to the family of the deceased, who had never perhaps even seen the person whose obsequies they are attending, and yet they are found occupying seats in the very front row, usually shedding tears copiously, and always dressed in black. When the time comes to go to the cemetery they are again found in the front rank and in spite of us, secure seats in the carriages provided by the relatives of the deceased for intimate friends, enjoy a free ride to the cemetery and back, and get all the choice morsels of news, which later is related to friends, all decked out with furbelows and embellishings with all the details of human grief and heartbreak which they have witnessed, worked in. To these people nothing is sacred, nothing too holy for them to gossip about.

“All this has been remedied, however, and the next time a professional mourner attempts to get a ride in one of our coaches a disagreeable surprise awaits her, for we have adopted a card system by which the names of the persons whom the bereaved relatives desire to have seats in the carriage is given to us. These persons are furnished with cards, and only those presenting cards to the driver will be allowed to ride.” Akron [OH] Daily Democrat 15 March 1902: p. 1

There were, in some cities in Europe and America, true professional mourners, both male and female, who were paid to look lugubrious. They had unions, went on strike, and there are records of some being arrested for pushing their services too aggressively at the graveside.

Female pallbearers were not unknown, particularly in the case of young persons, whose friends were often asked to be pallbearers. To give just two examples: “The pallbearers will be six girls dressed in white.” [1902] “The coffin was being carried into the church by four young ladies, who according to the wish of the deceased, had been selected as bearers.” [1885] We can see one pallbearer dressed entirely in white and several others with white garments in Death of Her Firstborn, by Frank Holl.

A few women found work as grave diggers, something so rare that it called for comment in the newspapers. (Mrs Daffodil has written about Elizabeth Thorn, who dug graves under dire conditions after the Battle of Gettysburg.)


London, Oct. 2 Miss Janie Beeching, grave digger of Lewes, prefers to work at night instead of by daylight. She goes to the cemetery after dinner and digs graves by candlelight. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 2 October 1919: p. 12


A woman as a grave digger! The idea seems almost impossible, but in the town of Lewes, England, there is a lady who fills of the office of sexton. Everybody knows her, and until recently she dug all the graves in Lewes cemetery. Now, at the age of 60, she contents herself with filling them up and attending to the mounds and flowers. Mrs. Steele, the name of the sextoness, if one can use such a term—is a very healthy old lady, and she has been heard to say that she will never leave her post until it is her turn to have a grave dug for her. May the time be far distant. It is a wonderful sight to witness the old lady use the spade. Omaha [NE] World Herald 4 September 1898: p. 21

If one didn’t have the stamina for grave digging and had an artistic bent, there were work-at-home design schemes:


“Lady wanted to draw, at home, original designs for coffin furniture.” The above rather ghastly advertisement appears in one of the London dailies, so that those who happen to have artistic wives or daughters pining for an opening for their talents will probably now find their homes littered with suggestive sketches of “caskets,” specially and severally designed for railway directors, Primrose League dames, members of Parliament, and others. Whether the said sketches will be calculated to promote the cheerfulness of the domestic home is quite another matter. Press, 2 August 1889: p. 3

Many milliners specialized in widow’s hats and veils. Women were also employed to design and manufacture burial robes, which were often lovingly described in the same seductive terms as fashionable clothing for the living. The one difficulty was finding shoes for the dead, but an innovative Joliet dressmaker built a thriving business on funerary footwear:


A Novel Industry in Which Chicago Supplies the Whole World.

That there is nothing small about Chicago has been so frequently demonstrated as to need no reiteration…But that Chicago supplies an article in the production of which it has no rival in the world may be news to many readers. It is an article for which there will be a ceaseless demand so long as people die and are buried in the prevailing style. To the present funeral, if it is carried out in the height of fashion, belongs a burial shoe. It is as necessary as any other part of the garments worn on the last journey by young or old of either sex.

The fact that the rigor mortis made the feet of dead persons so unwieldy as to necessitate a foot-gear several sizes too large for a long time painfully impressed a Joliet dressmaker, a Miss Loomis. She went to work and constructed a shoe which not only did away with clumsy leather encasements, but, in true feminine style, she brought her ingenuity to such a point that the corpse of a person may be buried in number 2s while the wearer in life required number 4s. Of course the invention was promptly patented, and in the course of time a company was incorporated which supplies two-thirds of all the manufacturers of and jobbers in funeral supplies throughout the United States, and sends the product of the Joliet dressmaker’s inventive genius even across the ocean.

The shoe consists of knitted pieces of wool or silk, which are inserted at the heels and at the insteps, making it possible ot cover the rigid “understanding” of dead persons not only with a snug fit but in becoming style. In a block on Dearborn street a dozen or fifteen girls are at work from morning till night of each working day to manufacture nothing but burial shoes of all sizes–from those for tiny babies to the ones for the oldest inhabitants…The firm turns out from fifty to a hundred pairs a day, and they are all taken rapidly, because burial shoes have, since the last year or two, become a necessary part of the outfit of the dead. Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 11 September 1888: p. 2

And finally, an ingenious lady in New York who found a gap in a very specialized market and set out to fill it:

Woman With a Business Head Rents Smelling Salts to Visitors at the New York Morgue.

[New York Sun:] The man in the doorway crooked his finger at the wiry little woman in black, who sat on the curbing just outside the morgue.

“See her?” he asked.

“The curiosity-seeker thus addressed said, “Yes. What about her?”

“She’s a genius, that’s what about her,” said the man. “She has hit upon a most peculiar calling, and I’ll bet she will make money out of it, too. She has laid in a supply of smelling salts and rents out the bottles at the rate of 10 cents an hour to people visiting this institution. There are five different parties in here now, and each person is provided with smelling salts rented from this enterprising old lady.

‘I am glad she hit upon the plan. I had been thinking for a good many months in a vague sort of way that some such preventive of fainting ought to be supplied to tenderfeet that come spying around down here, but I never even perfected the project in my own mind, much less put it into execution. But it was different with the old lady.

“What first suggested the scheme was her own experience, when she came down here to look for a friend who had disappeared. She got so weak and nervous that she declared she would surely die if she didn’t get a whiff of lavender salts. She didn’t get the salts, because we had none about the place, neither did she die, but when she recovered she started in business.

“The lady’s profits vary, of course, with the attendance at the morgue. Some days she earns quite a decent salary. Take Tuesdays, for instance. For some reason, which I have never been able to discover, Tuesday is the public’s favorite day for doing the morgue.” The curiosity-seeker looked doubtfully at the woman on the curbing. “I wonder, “ she said, “if I’d better rent a bottle, too?”

“Going in?” asked the man.

“Yes,” said she, “I think so.”

“Then get a bottle, by all means,” was the reply. “It will cost but a dime and will save you no end of nervous chills.” Los Angeles [CA] Times 13 July 1901: p. 15

While the article blames the necessity for smelling salts on the “weak and nervous,” the little woman in black knew what she was up against. A chapter in The Victorian Book of the Dead gives the gruesome particulars of the sights and horrific stenches of the New York Public Morgue, particularly in summer. Lavender would scarcely make a dent….

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil applauds those ladies who make a living in the mortuary professions. She herself has had frequent occasion for contact with the dead, albeit normally without remuneration or public notice, working quietly behind the scenes, as it were. Despite taking pride in her work, Mrs Daffodil shuns undue notice as she feels that assisting the police with their inquiries would take entirely too much time away from her duties at the Hall.

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 Mismatch Fad: 1912

mismatch fad

The Newest Crazy Change-Side Fad

Mismated Stockings, Slippers, Gloves and Earrings, the “Odd Eye” and “Triangular Smile” Now Make Fashionable Women Look Like Masterpieces by “Futurists.”

In the extraordinary new and fashionable attempt of women to look as though a strong gale had given them a hopeless list to starboard the only one-sided opportunity that seems to have been overlooked is a lateral curvature of the spine.

To be truly fashionable and up to the minute, a woman must contrive to appear about as symmetrical as a grapevine. One-sided costumes began it—gowns sweeping the floor on one side and revealing the ankle on the other, trimmed on one side, plain on the other; coats with a sou-west-by-west effect. But, bless us! That was only the first primmer class effort of the fair ones to get out of plumb.

Now she has to shift her centre of gravity clear down to her bones. That her legs and arms are reasonably well mated is little short of a disaster. If nature provided her with eyes that match, something must be done about it. A nose that is in the middle of the face won’t do at all, and a mouth that reposes directly beneath it is of no sort of use except for alimentary purposes.

Actually, this boxing the compass with sartorial and anatomical details has become so popular in fashionable circles that it is a wonder that any fair member of the smart set promenading Fifth Avenue, New York, with multitudes of imitators overflowing into the Gay White Way, can look Nature in the face.

She could hardly do it anyway, with her vision distorted by that “odd eye” enlarged out of all proportion to its mate by the artful use of belladonna, and her head drawn over to the “O.P. side,” as they say on the stage, by the weight of a coiffure operating like a shifted cargo of pig iron aboard an Erie Canal barge. Besides, Nature certainly would resent that brand-new “triangular smile” which women who are in mode now sit up nights to cultivate.

If the late Aubrey Beardsley should come to life and take luncheon at any of the New York’s “smart” hotels it would be impossible for him to resist the temptation to immortalize the New York woman of fashion of this day, date, and minute somewhat as is attempted on this page—the lopsided lady with a vengeance!

The whole business started with the opening of the last silly season. Last summer at Newport there were some of the oddest effects produced by the strange fad. For instance, one morning, when the Casino lawns were crowded with tennis enthusiasts from all parts of the country, Miss Eleanor Sears came in with Harold Vanderbilt. There was nothing unusual in this, of course, but everyone who saw her gave a gasp and said:

“What is the matter with Eleo’s feet?” There was nothing the matter with the feet, but there was something strange about her slippers. On her left foot Miss Sears was wearing a bright red slipper and on her right foot she was wearing a black one.

“Everybody is doing it now,” said Miss Sears when Cynthia Roche Burden asked her why she had made such a mistake, and Miss Sears was right. Everybody did seem to be getting one-sided in one way or another. The next day Mrs. Alexander Bache Pratt, one of the prettiest and one of the wealthiest brides of a year ago, appeared wearing a red silk stocking on her left foot ad a black silk stocking on her right foot. But Mrs. Pratt went even further, and on the red foot she wore a black slipper, and on the black foot she wore a red slipper!

It was young Mrs. Sidney Colford—formerly Clare Knight, of Philadelphia—who was the first matron to wear the one-sided gown. One day Mrs. Colford appeared at Bailey’s Beach wearing a marvelous creation of black and white. The left side of her costume was of oyster white satin made absolutely plain from shoulder to hem. The other side was of black satin draped in a most graceful manner at the side. The contrast between the plainness of the one side and the pannier of the other was most marked.

A similar surprise was sprung upon Newport several years ago, when Mrs. Reggie Vanderbilt’s mother, Mrs. Belle Neilson, wore one very large pearl earring and one very large turquoise earring. At that time all the Newport women thought that Mrs. Neilson had made a mistake, but she very soon told them that it was the very latest Paris fad, and the next day all her friends were wearing mismated jewels.

Last Summer Mrs. Craig Biddle revived this fad and wore one  beautiful black pearl earring and one very large emerald earring.

At the recent Horse Show the new Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt wore a curious necklace; one side was of pearls and the other of rubies.

The wonderful diamond garter—or what Mr. John R. Townsend called a “leg bracelet,” worn by a very prominent matron, was the sensation of the hour at the Horse Show. It was a broad band of diamonds clasped on the left leg just below the knee. From it hung a two-inch fringe of smaller diamonds. The matron’s skirt was slit up on the side so as to show the garter.

And then there is Mrs. Dick Stevens, the wife of the Mr. Richard Stevens who owns the “Castle” over on the Hoboken side of the Hudson. Mrs. Stevens is one of the most spectacular members of the Newport colony. She has her ball gowns slit ‘way up one side and where the slit ends she wears a bouquet of flowers. And so this peculiar fad is affecting practically everything that a woman wears and it is difficult to know where it will stop.

So the dear creatures are cultivating lopsided features to correspond with the lopsidedness of their wearing apparel. The eye on the more ornamental side of the costume is thus treated with belladonna, to enlarge and make it more brilliant, while the other eye is encouraged to look as insignificant as possible.

Even a nose can be manipulated in a way to turn it several points to the sta’board or the la’board of the course which the lady-brig has marked on her chart. This adds considerably to the irresistible piquancy of the “triangular smile,” which, in the mean-time, she has so painfully acquired and which is so subtly babyish in its effect of trustful innocence.

3 cornered smile

The “triangular smile,” when once acquired is really an economy. It is accomplished by sharply elevating the centre of the upper lip, thereby revealing only two upper incisors instead of a full set of teeth, upper and lower.

Considerable time and not a little inconvenience is the cost of acquiring this three-cornered expression of approval. You have to sleep in a sort of bridle with a vertical front strap firmly clamped to the tip of the upper lip, which, it draws upward toward your nose all through your sleeping hours—if, indeed, you are able to sleep that way.

Examination into the whole matter in a scientific spirit, however, suggests a more serious reason for the existence of the triangular lady with her pronounced list to sta’board. There is, in fact, no denying that she approaches more nearly than anything else human to the ideas of the masters of the “Futurist” school of art—as is plainly indicated by the two examples reproduced on this page. You will observe that the distinguished painters of these two portraits of women saw nothing about their subjects which did not suggest vague cubes, triangles, rhomboids and other familiar geometrical figures, some regular in form, but most of them decidedly irregular. Furthermore these ladies immortalized by “Futurist” masters have that same characteristic list to sta’board that is so pronounced in the case of victims of the fashionable, new lop-sided fad.

Perhaps the “Futurists” are right. Perhaps that is how our sisters and sweethearts really look, anyway, and that someday we’ll be educated up to seeing ’em that way even when their clothes are on straight.

mother and child lewis

“Mother and Child” Wyndham Lewis

head of a woman picasso

“Head of a Woman” Pablo Picasso

The Salt Lake [UT] Tribune 15 December 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on the eccentricities of “Polaire,” the self-styled “ugliest actress in the world,” who was trying to introduce the fad of nose-rings in 1913. Polaire at least had the merit of being an actress for whom news-worthy eccentricity was a positive virtue. One fears that Miss Eleanor Sears and Mrs. Belle Neilson really did make a pair of bloomers with their footwear and jewellery, which they hastily covered with the fig-leaf of an entirely imaginary Parisian novelty. Mrs Daffodil dislikes, but does not blame, the Futurists for the mismatching fad.  Such things come and go in the world of fashion. One anticipates that by the time the Great War broke out, young ladies had better things to think about than belladonna in the eyes and “nose bridles.”

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 Shoe in the Safe-deposit Box: 1904

Stephen Millbank’s last morning was exactly what every other week-day morning had been for the twenty-five years of his married life, except for half-a-dozen brief business absences. The excellent breakfast was put on the table at eight o’clock by the exemplary maid-servant, just as Mr. Millbank came down the wide front stairs—a handsome but not ostentatious flight—suggesting dignified and self-respecting prosperity. Mrs. Millbank complete in costume and composed in countenance, was already in the breakfast-room, a careful eye on the details. Not a tremor of premonition came to either of them, nor to the maid-servant waiting respectfully by the sideboard, as he blessed the food provided for their use and shook out his napkin. They talked cheerfully during the meal—both considering cheerful talk valuable to the digestion—of business matters and charitable projects, and decided what he should give toward the new church—a decision she afterward faithfully fulfilled. Then they took their places at the library desk to go over the household accounts of the day before. This was perhaps the most intimate and companionable moment of their daily life together—certainly the most keenly interesting. The expenses were within their margin, as usual, the balance unimpeachable. Mr. Millbank patted his wife’s hand with an approving smile.

“My dear, you are a perfect helpmate,” he said. He kissed her cheek, and as nine was striking he closed his generous front door behind him for the last time. Dignified, commanding, carrying the stoutness of prosperity but not the fat of self-indulgence, he turned toward the bank which thirty-five years before had admitted him as a serious and hardworking clerk and now opened respectfully to him as president. He had been a conscientious little boy, a model student, a vigorous worker, and then, when he had-turned his unremitting wisdom to the choice of a wife, an irreproachable husband. The city was proud of him and his flawless career, and the lapses of weaker brothers were seldom discussed in his presence. A man of his unswerving rectitude, could not be expected to make allowances. He was admittedly the leading citizen.

An hour later half the city knew that its leading citizen had been struck and instantly killed by an electric car. That the accident was entirely the motorman’s fault was little good to Stephen Millbank now; but it brought a certain dim comfort to his widow, as maintaining to the end the fact that never could a foolish or ill-considered act be laid to his account. Unexpected as his death had been, Mr. Millbank’s affairs were in perfect order, and the two executors had fulfilled their tasks within a very few weeks. It was a surprise to them, therefore, six months later, to receive a notice from a safe deposit company stating that the rent on a box held by Mr. Millbank was now due. Among all his neatly catalogued papers there had been no record of any such box. Moreover there had been plenty of boxes at his disposal in the safe deposit of his own bank, so why should Mr. Millbank maintain one elsewhere? He was not a man to pay out $22 a year for no reason.

They took Mr. Millbank’s keys merely as a formality, and made their way downtown, two keen, sober, grizzled men, not so far above the world’s weaknesses as Mr. Millbank had been, yet excellent citizens. The manager of the safe deposit met them with conviction, and showed them the entry made fifteen years before, when Stephen Millbank had rented the box. He himself had gone down to the vaults with Mr. Millbank on that occasion and, after opening the box, had turned away while something was put in. Mr. Millbank had never returned, but his check had come with perfect regularity ever since. A key was identified as that belonging to the box.

“Strange that there should have been no memorandum, with Mr. Millbank’s habits,” said Mr. Jerome, as they followed the manager to the vaults.

“And $22 a year—very extraordinary, very,” nodded Mr. Thompson.

The box was opened and the manager discreetly turned his back while Mr. Thompson took out a package clumsily wrapped in white tissue. As the shape made itself felt through the wrapping, he turned a little pale and drew nearer to Mr. Jerome, with a glance toward the waiting manager. They took off the papers in silence, then stood staring in helpless, dismayed wonder. On Mr. Thompson’s unsteady hand was poised a white satin slipper.

It was soiled and frayed with use as well as yellow with time, but it was slim and delicately shaped, curving up from a tiny, pointed toe, to an extravagantly high heel. A little ghost of a past perfume seemed to rise with the unfolding of the paper, and to hover between the two grizzled, speechless men. Suddenly Mr. Thompson, with a deep breath, gave a warning nod toward the manager’s back and thrust the slipper into his pocket.

“Doubtless nothing of importance, nothing at all,” he said. “Nevertheless, we will take them home and examine them.”

“Yes, certainly,” stammered Mr. Jerome.

Five minutes later they were seated side by side in an uptown car in profound silence. Not till they were half-way home did Mr. Thompson speak, and then his head was turned away from his companion.

“If I recollect correctly,” he said slowly, “ah—Mrs. Millbank has not a small foot.”

“Yes—that is my impression,” murmured Mr. Jerome, his eyes looking vacantly in the opposite direction.

Current Opinion, Volume 34, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is not surprised that the two gentlemen leapt instantly to a sordid (and completely unwarranted) conclusion at the contents of the safe-deposit box. To Mrs Daffodil’s mind, the slipper suggests renunciation. After all, if one were pining for a lost love, or had a fancy for ladies’ footwear, the late Mr Millbank would have visited the vault at some time during that fifteen years to reminisce or caress the adored object.  And if the affaire were ongoing, what need for a satin memento?

Mrs Daffodil, in a flight of fancy, sketches an alternate scenario: Mr Millbank, seeking to capture his lost youth after a sensible ten years of marriage, meets a young person on one of his business trips. One thing leads to another until an impending blessed event drives the frantic young person to make demands. The sensible Mr Millbank is appalled.  He thinks deeply, then he invites the young person to go for a walk in the park by the river. On the bridge, acrimonious words are hurled as it begins to rain. There is a struggle, an impulsive motion of revulsion or perhaps a despairing leap. He makes a futile grab. A splash, a white face, and a bubbling cry….

Mr Millbank is left standing alone in the rain with a single satin slipper in his hand. Mechanically he puts it into his pocket and walks back to his hotel. He is snug at home when the body is discovered. The newspapers cluck briefly over the sad, old story. The shoe is placed in the safe-deposit box. Mr Millbank does not forget.

Or, in yet another plausible scenario, if chemists examined the shoe, they would find traces of champagne from a single midnight supper decades ago. Mr Millbank, perhaps awakened to the imprudence of keeping the shoe in his home or office by an associate’s domestic embarrassment, tucked it away in the safe-deposit box. No one would have been more surprised than the lady herself, now a buxom matron living respectably in Cleveland, Ohio, to find that a long-forgotten gentleman had kept a souvenir of a memorable evening.

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.


Arranging a “Ritzy” Shoe and Hosiery Department: 1922

stockings and shoes

“A Better Tie-Up Between Shoes and Hosiery

The Woman Customer Friend Has a Few Ideas Which
Were Accepted by the Merchant

(From Queen Quality Between UsJune, 1922, Issue)

When the Wanderer put his head in at the office door of my shoe store last Saturday morning, his always pleasant face wore a broad smile.

“Come out of your shell, old turtle,” he greeted me cheerfully. “Mrs. Wanderer’s up front buying out your hosiery department. Hold on, though!” he added as I jumped up, “‘phone your wife to come down to lunch with us—so you and I can talk shop in peace.”

Now the Wanderer’s wife was not “buying out” my hosiery department. Yet she and the clerk were deep in conversation.

“I was just following in the footsteps of my illustrious husband and giving this young lady a lot of perfectly good advice about running a business she knows more about than I do,” she said as we shook hands.

Friend Wife Talks

“Charley, for goodness’ sake when you let Nick talk you into adding this hosiery department, why didn’t you make him tell you how to sell the stuff? It’s miles out of your line.”‘

“Why, it’s doing about as well as I expected,” I replied. “It’s rather a novelty yet—women haven’t got used to buying hosiery in a shoe store, I guess.”

“Suppose you tell us how it ought to be managed,” said the Wanderer, meekly.

“Tell you?” scoffed his lady. “You’d never see it. But go on back to your lair and gossip for half an hour and I’ll show you.”

Obediently we retraced our steps—nor did we reappear until my wife came to call us.

How She Trimmed the Case

Mrs. Wanderer—wearing an expression of supreme content—waited for us by the hosiery display case. This is what she’d put in it—an exact copy of the list I made that afternoon to refer to when arranging future displays.

Floor of Case (reading from left to right): a dark brown walking oxford with a pair of plain brown hose, matching exactly. Center, smoke, calf sport oxford trimmed in brown calf, accompanied by three pairs of hose, one a heavy smoke-colored silk, the second brown silk and wool clocked in orange, the third brown and gold heather mixed wool. Right end, tan walking oxford with matching hose.

First Shelf: left end, white cloth oxford, two pairs of hose, one heavy white silk clocked in red, the second a lighter weight plain white. Center, white cloth oxford with black calf trim with a pair of white silk hose clocked in black, and one pair of black clocked in white. Right end, white cloth strap pump with one pair white lace clocked silk hose, and one pair white drop-stitch stripe.

Top Shelf: left, a low heeled, single strap pump, patent vamp and beige suede quarter with a pair of beige hose exactly matching the suede, and a second pair of beige with black clocks. Center, patent two strap with Louis heel, accompanied by three pairs of hose: one black, one white (self clocked), one blond. Right, gray suede elastic side three strap, with one pair plain gray hose, matching exactly, and another of paler gray clocked with the shade of the shoe itself.

Stunts Don’t Fool ‘Em

Now I’d always made it a point to show a sample of every style and color I had in stock, and I don’t mind confessing that showcase looked mighty empty.

Guess the Wanderer thought so, too, but that didn’t stump him.

“Going on the same principle as those milliners who put just one hat in the window—only not quite so much so?” he queried.

“No, you goose, that’s nothing but a selling fad—a pose that doesn’t fool us for a minute,” was the answer. “This is sense. Show a woman how what she wants or is thinking of buying, is going to look with something she’s got,” she added triumphantly.

“Of course!” seconded my wife.

This Was Her Psychology

Then, just in time to save me from having to admit that I didn’t “get her,” she continued—

“Look at that white shoe with the black trim. Any woman would buy white stockings to go with it. The less obvious but smarter thing is white clocked in black. Show her that—and sell her the hose. If she’s just a bit daring she’ll like the black with the white clocks—and she’ll know without your reminding her that she can wear that same stocking with any all black shoe. Work it backwards. Suppose she has some black and white stockings, but no shoes like these—you’ve put into her head how stunning that combination would be with her white satin sport skirt and black silk sweater. Now do you see daylight?”

“You mean make my shoes sell appropriate stockings to go with them—and my stockings sell shoes?” I questioned.

Each Display Helps the Other

“Of course,” was the calm reply. “You’re selling ‘footwear’ now—not just shoes. Well, then, why not make your two departments help each other instead of letting your poor little hosiery department struggle along by itself?

“Why,” with a smile, “haven’t you seen shirts and the right scarfs to go with them displayed together in the men’s shops for years and years—and you never thought of anything so obvious as this? I’m ashamed of you both—but particularly of Nick, who ought to know better.”

To be perfectly truthful with you I’d not much notion that her arrangement would work such a whole lot better than mine—but fortunately I didn’t voice the thought—for right now I’m mailing orders for an extra supply of several styles of fairly high-priced stockings. And when I bought the original lots I rather had my doubts if I could sell a dozen pairs of each style!

There’s another queer twist to this little experience. A friend of mine—one of the members of our Board of Trade council— told me the other day his daughter said we had a “Ritzy” footwear shop! And she’s just home from a six months’ visit with an aunt in New York.

Oh, well, you never can tell, but it always pays to listen respectfully to a clever woman anyhow. 

Boot and Shoe Recorder: The Magazine of Fashion Footwear, Volume 81, Part 2, 1922

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: With hemlines beginning to rise in the 1910s, ornamented stockings were more popular than ever: one finds stockings embellished with beads and lace inserts, striped like sticks of candy, embroidered with whimsical figures or even the owner’s name about the ankle, or hand-painted by artists.

One of the more mystifying developments in American slang was the 1920s penchant for phrases such as “Friend Wife” and “Friend Husband,” always used in a somewhat humorous domestic context.  Surely the persons using the phrase could not all be Quakers? This 1914 squib does not illuminate the origins of the phrase, but does explain how one observer saw it.

“Friend Wife”

The slang straw shows how the thought wind blows. This term, “Friend Wife,” is now in good and regular standing with such observers as the cartoonist Briggs of the Chicago and new York “Tribunes,” colymnists like F.P.A. [Franklin P. Adams] and B.L.T. [Bert Leston Taylor], and story-writers such as George Randolph Chester. It is very doubtful is the phrase would have caught on a generation ago. To our ears it sums up an aspect of the change that has come about in the daily status of women; it recognizes in a half-humorous way the practical working equality of the sexes that is a great fact in modern life. In the light of this careless phrase we see clearly how empty is the chatter of the antisuffragists and the drivel of the so-called feminists. Most people are still very much like human beings.  Collier’s, Vol. 53, 1914


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 Chat with a Boot-black: 1897

Must Have All Colors Now.

“Shine ’em up, sir? Polish?”

He was one of the bright old-fashioned boot-blacks we read about, and as keen as a steep trap, says the Pittsburg Dispatch.

“Haven’t tan shoes hurt your business a great deal?” I asked.

“Naw! Y’see, it’s this way, mister. When everybody wore black shoes a good many men kep’ blacking kits in their bedrooms, and use to get hot in the collar every morning doing their own shines, and doing us out of the job. But when it come to tan and oxblood and pale yaller and green and veaswy kids, why, they just give it up. No man whose time is worth anything in his own business is going to have seven or eight different kinds of pastes and polishes on hand. yes, and lots of ’em even forget to keep stocked up with blacking. Honest, I think we get more nickels than before. In good neighborhoods, I mean. Mebbee business is dull in some parts, where the men aren’t very flush. I’ve seen times in Wall Street when brokers would give a quarter for a shine, and times when they’d play the limit–go without as long as they could, you know.”

“And do you bootblacks have polishes to fit all the different kinds of shoes?”

“Naw! Of course there’s stuff made for every color. The shoemaker sees to that. And some fellows who have stands in barber shops and places like that keep a good many kinds. But the kids on the ferryboats and on the street have oil and yellow paste and blacking. I keep a good many myself, though: it doesn’t cost any more in the long run; but if I get out of any of them I don’t put up my shutters. I never seen the boots yet I couldn’t do with either blacking or plain oil–if the owner is a real gentleman.

The Ypsilanti [MI] Commercial 12 August 1897: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Veaswy Kid” is a mis-heard rendition of “Vici Kid,” the “Trade name for chrome-tanned, glazed-kid leather,” according to the American Leather Chemists Association.

Mrs Daffodil does not altogether approve of these “swell” colours of shoe polish. It makes the boots-and-knife boy’s life–never a sinecure–ever so much more difficult. With blacking, you always know where you are.  Mrs Daffodil recalls with pleasure a former B-and-K boy who, in the early morning hours, “mistook” brown polish for blacking while polishing the riding boots of a visiting Major of a boorish and exacting temperament. Sadly the Major missed his point-to-point while his boots were being cleaned and repolished. He had, it was later learned, had a substantial wager placed on himself, bribed a stable lad to nobble the favourite, and expected to romp home. He lost his little all and had to go out to India where he married an heiress who keeps him on a tight rein and an inadequate allowance. How different life would have been, had there been no brown polish at the Hall.

Many thanks to Al Saguto, Master Shoe and Bootmaker and Valentine Povinelli, Journeyman Shoemaker of The Shoemakers’ Shop, Colonial Williamsburg for their assistance.

Dress Reform Through Dance, by Mrs Irene Castle: 1914

Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle

Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle


In the world of fashion, where there is no appeal from the decree of the great designers, the modern dance has come boldly to the front and demanded, and won, sensible styles. On looking back a few seasons to the clothing worn by women and girls, you will recall long, cruel corsets and garters that trussed them like fowls for the roasting. You will remember, too, the tight snakiness of the hobble-skirt and the hats that were shaped like peach-baskets.

All women will recall them because all wore them, and all wore tight shoes and heavy petticoats and high, stiff-boned collars. Then Paris began to dance, and of course once Paris began to dance all the world began to tap its feet and try to learn how to pronounce “the dansant.” Then our dancers turkey-trotted. They trotted because that was the best they could do in the fashions old Dame Style had decreed; but it was not comfortable, and they succeeded in doing away with the high collars, and introduced a little slit into the skirts. That was the beginning, the opening gun in the war of the Dance upon the Designer. The Dance has won.

To-day the average woman is wearing a girdle-like corset with elastic instead of bones, and at most two pairs of garters. All the old long, stiff tube corsets are left on the bargain-counters. Nor has this reform stopped with the abolition of the corset, for it is to be noted that the modern shoes are big enough to dance in and are held in place with ribbons. The modern frocks are collarless, and the skirts are subtly cut so that they fall freely and give the perfect ease one must have to dance the modern dances.

Simple coiffures have become the fashion because they do not become untidy when dancing; and for lingerie the dancer now wears a smart pair of silken bloomers and a plaited chiffon or crepe de Chine petticoat that fluffs out gracefully and hides her ankles when she does the little dip that comes in the Hesitation Waltz and other measures.

The long, awkward, and often soiled train that used to drag behind women in the afternoons and evenings is seen no more. The fashions of 1914 have done away with it, because-you could not dance in a train! Nowadays we dance morning, noon, and night. What is more, we are unconsciously, while we dance, warring not only with unnatural lines of figure and gowns, but we are warring against fat, against sickness, and against nervous troubles. For we are exercising. We are making ourselves lithe and slim and healthy, and these are things that all the reformers in the world could not do for us.

When Mr. Castle and I look at the girls of 1914 who come to dance in their straight, often quite full frocks of soft chiffon, their low-heeled easy slippers, their simply arranged hair, and when we see how lightly and easily they dance unhampered by uncomfortable clothes, we cannot help contrasting them with the girls who came to us only a few months ago trussed up like unhappy little fowls.

Dancing has had its influence upon the materials that have come into vogue. It is necessary to have one’s frocks soft and light. A stiff, heavy material looks awkward and makes harsh lines about the figure in the charming measures of the dance. In consequence there has arisen a tremendous demand for soft crepes de Chine, chiffon velvets, delicate crepe deteors, and the softest and most supple of taffetas, which are at the moment the most fashionable of all. Perhaps the designers and the manufacturers will not admit that the dance is responsible for the vogue of these fabrics. But we all know that the demand makes the supply, and the demand of the women who dance is, “Give me something soft and light.”

Of course it is dancing that has made the vogue for the charming plaited petticoats of chiffon edged with lace to wear under the dance-frock or the slit skirt, because without these the foot and ankle are shown too much. It is dancing, too, that has made the vogue for the new garters, with their deep lace ruffles, and the little lace pantalets–all to hide those slender ankles that show in the dip. It is dancing that has made the vogue for the Tango slippers, with their ribbons and jeweled slides; and it is dancing that has made the small hat of tulle or lace fashionable for afternoons in place of wide picture-hats. “Big hats are unpleasant to dance in.”

One might go on indefinitely telling of these things; of the return to fashion of the ankle-length skirt and of the new Paris frocks that flare out full at the hem of the skirt to give the wearer room to dance; of the new lingerie, in which everything is combined in one garment, easily slipped on, so that every muscle of the body may have full play for the lithe and lovely measures of the Innovation Waltz, the One Step, and other favorite dances.

All this proves that the modern dances are reformers of fashion. There are still, however, a few lessons to be learned about dressing for the dance. One should not wear in the afternoon a frock so light and décolleté that it looks like an evening gown. Soft silk gowns of dark shades, with black slippers and stockings, are far smarter and in better taste than either the light frock or a tailored suit, though one does see a number of blouses and skirts at thes dansants.

For the diner dansant one wears an evening gown, less elaborate, of course, than a ball-gown would be, and short, not en train like an opera frock. One should always wear white gloves, and these should not be taken off. There is a strong attempt being made by the younger set to do without gloves altogether for dancing, but it is not comme il faut.

In the evening one’s slippers and hose should match the costume, but in the daytime only black or bronze are permissible. The bronze slippers and stockings are much in vogue in Paris just now, and most lovely hosiery for the girl who dances is being shown. There are filmy stockings with anklets embroidered in colored gems, lace incrusted hose with silver embroideries, and, of course, all kinds of clocks and butterflies to draw attention to a slender foot and ankle. Any of these may be worn without violating good taste, and are the one part of a woman’s wardrobe against which dancing has not started its reform campaign, principally because it was not needed.

Modern Dancing, Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle, 1914 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle, were, of course, the toast of stage and thé dansant, popularising ball-room dance and creating dances such as “The Castle Walk” and a refined version of the Tango. The thé dansant was a dance held from perhaps four in the afternoon to seven. There would be a live orchestra, and light refreshments such as cake, ices, sandwiches, champagne-punch, and biscuits. They were especially popular with the young and informal.  

Mrs Castle was renowned for her exquisite wardrobe and her elegant figure. Earlier in the book cited above she describes the ideal costume for dancing the tango: 

The plaited skirt of soft silk or chiffon, or even of cloth, is by far the most graceful to dance in, and the one which lends itself best to the fancy steps of these modern days. Therefore, while fashion decrees the narrow skirt, the really enthusiastic dancer will adopt the plaited one.

A clever woman may, however, combine the two by the use of a split skirt, carefully draped to hide the split, and a plaited petticoat underneath. Thus when she dances the skirt will give and not form awkward, strained lines, and the soft petticoat, fluffing out, will lend a charming grace to the dancer’s postures.

The openings in a skirt of this sort can be fastened with tiny glove-snaps, so that on the street the wearer may appear to have the usual narrow costume, while at the same time she has a practical one for the daily the dansant.

The dancing-petticoats of the year are really lovely, and are quite a feature of the dancing-costumes at Castle House. Some are of crepe de Chine, some of plaited chiffon with straight lace ruffles on the bottom, or tiny rosebuds as trimming; they should always match the costume and the stockings.

Dark stockings showing through a filmy petticoat and a split skirt are very ugly. Under these petticoats the dancers are wearing the new combination of brassiere and silk bloomers, finished with ruffles of lace or sometimes ending quite plainly at the knee. These, too, give full play in the various steps….

Personally I use and recommend a special corset made almost entirely of elastic, very flexible and conforming absolutely to the figure, which at the same time it supports. It is known as the Castle Corset, and is designed especially for dancers. Many corsets are now being brought out, however, with elastic in place of whalebone; and the late word from Paris that we may again display a waist-line and hips allows even the fairly stout woman to don shorter and more comfortable “stays.” Modern Dancing, Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle, 1914  

The proper shoes were essential for the Tango:

Tango Boots. c. 1918

Tango Boots. c. 1918

For Tango Costume

Whatever pertains to the tango costume appeals to the girl who dances. Beginning with the dancer’s feet, which are of most importance, since, lacking them, she would be wholly out of the running, there are for the satin, suede, or kid slippers attachable heels in silver or gold color, which flash fascinatingly as she whisks along. The pearl, crystal, rhinestone or cut steel encrusted heels which came in for evening slippers a few years ago, are again in high favor, but chiefly for tango occasions, and to go with them come sets of ten buckles through which may be laced ribbons, that wind round about and support the ankles.

Better than the slipper and anklet lacings, however, are the high boots in kid or satin. These, while very soft and pliable, support the anklets and prevent them from turning in the swift, sudden movement of the more complicated figures of the tango. With these new boots, which are without trimmings are worn tango “wings” made of jewel-encrusted gauze or of tiny ostrich plumes rooted in a little cluster of flowers, a bowknot or a buckle in brilliants. The Ogden [UT] Standard 19 March 1914: p. 9 

See this podcast from the Bata Shoe Museum about a pair of brilliant “tango boots.”

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.