Category Archives: Textiles

An Unpleasant Meeting over Shawls: 1877

An Unpleasant Meeting.

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

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

‘No,” was the response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

mourning hat and veil 1914

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arm-Bands Are Advocated

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

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

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Jolly “Darning Party:” 1888

 

A Jolly “Darning Party.”

There is a very clever little housekeeper living in the busy portion of town and having a family of eight to look after, who makes light of family mending. Her method of disposing of this bugbear of the housewife may aid some of her weary sisters, whose lives are weekly blighted by the stockings and underwear to be made over anew.

“In the first place,” she says, “I make the three men and one boy in my family change their socks four times each week. When socks cost only 25 cents for a good pair, why should they not own a half dozen pair? Then on Sunday morning I overlook and collect all the soiled clothes and put aside every garment that needs mending. Monday morning, while the servant girl is washing the sheets, towels and such articles, my oldest daughter and myself rise a half hour earlier and mend all the torn or ripped articles before breakfast. When the clothes come from the ironing there are but few stitches to be set. I once had a girl who always insisted on putting her clothes to soak Sunday morning, but I persistently kept back those needing mending until Monday.”

Another family of growing children have a rather novel method of darning their stockings. There are four boys and five girls, three of the latter being able to darn nicely. Every Tuesday evening they have a “darning party.” The boys thread the needles, select the different cottons or wools, and the girls do the darning. The oldest boy reads some favorite book aloud, and at 9 o’clock cake and lemonade, or some like treat, is served. Any member of the family having more than two holes in one stocking is fined a penny for each hole, and the money goes to purchase new books.

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 26 February 1888: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really… a “darning party” in which only the girls do the work yet the boys get the treats? To use an American adjective, that is “darned” unfair. Mrs Daffodil suggests sequestering girls and refreshments behind locked doors until the boys learn to darn nicely.

The gentlemen, it seems, will do anything to avoid darning their own stockings, although there was a presumption that men as a species were utterly unable to undertake such delicate work.  Some ladies found in this male ineptitude a business opportunity:

In Philadelphia a guild of kind-hearted ladies has been formed to do mending for bachelors at low rates, It is conjectured that “they sew that they may reap.’ Nelson Evening Mail, 6 May 1886: p. 2

Mrs George Washington was praised for her ceaseless knitting and darning, as were ladies who invented darning efficiencies such as this

THREADED NEEDLE CASE

At a recent entertainment the hostess, a woman high up in the social world, tore her gown so that repair was necessary, and one of her intimate friends went up to her bedroom to chat while the mending went on. The maid produced a sewing case full of needles threaded with silk and cotton in different colors, so the work was quickly done. The hostess, as they went downstairs, boasted of her foresight in having needles always ready for evening work, as it had made her nervous to see her maid try and try again for a needle’s eye when she hurried. She not only has a stock of needles on hand in black and in white, but on the day that a colored frock is to be donned for dinner needles are threaded in that color and put in place in the work basket. In fact, the system has been so perfected that the cook has a stock of threaded chicken needles handy, threaded each as it is used, so that they all will be ready if many viands need a stitch or two, as many do, to keep some fancy sharp for baking. It takes only a few moments on a bright day to thread the needles and the system really saves eyesight and time. Evening News [San Jose, CA] 14 July 1911: p. 2

What a blighted life that woman “high up in the social world” must lead if her greatest boast is of pre-threaded needles….

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 Fall of a Fall: 1865

CURIOUS EXPOSURE

The feminine appendages known as waterfalls are daily increasing in size and weight by the use of a variety of articles known as padding by many of the fair sex, who wish to obtain a “fall” of elegant proportions. The New York Sun tells of an occurrence which happened to a young woman in that city on Monday, which could induce females to be exceedingly careful in selecting suitable articles for the “filling” on their hairy appendages, which should also be properly attached to their head gear. Miss Essex, a well-dressed young woman, residing in Greenpoint, was standing at the corner of Thompson and Canal street, waiting for a car, when a man—a painter to all appearance—bearing a short ladder on his shoulder, rapidly turned the corner, and not judging the distance right, came near striking the lady on the head with an end of the ladder he was carrying. As luck would have it, or perhaps ill-luck, the ladder missed the woman’s head, but struck her “waterfall,” detached it from the back hair, and caused a general discharge of the contents which combined the following articles: Two curled hair puffs; one piece of mourning crape; two dark-colored pincushions, and one black worsted stocking. These article had previously been carefully covered up by the slender locks of the maiden. Amid many expression of regret the man commenced to pick up the padding, for the purpose of returning them to the wearer, who retreated in great confusion, without waiting for her dry goods. A little boy was sent after her with the late “fall,” but he lady refused to recognize them. The reporter gave the boy a dime for one of the pincushions, and intends to keep it as a specimen.

Western Reserve Chronicle [Warren OH] 20 September 1865: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is frankly shocked that the lady did not have the wit to keep her hair-combings in some convenient receptacle on her dressing-table so she could have a “rat” made to relieve her from the necessity of packing her water-fall with pin-cushions and stockings. If one is superstitious, one might say that her contretemps with the ladder was due entirely to the use of the mourning crape, which must be disposed of after the period of mourning lest something unfortunate befall.

For more on the perils of chignons and falls, see this post on “Dis-tress-ing News About Chignons.”   If one is in the mood for hair-piece humour, see this post about Chignon Satire.

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.

 

Hallowe’en Supper Frocks: 1894

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

PRETTY FANCIFUL GOWNS SUITABLE FOR THE FESTIVAL

The Picturesque Frocks a Brunette, Chatain and Blonde Will Wear to a Hallowmass Party.

Halloween, perhaps, more than any other fete, supplies possibilities for picturesque and effective gowns, and the end-of-the-century girl is not the one to let them slip by.

A very fashionable wardrobe now owns, along with other dainty evening toilets, a Halloween supper frock, which may be made in any mode, but which, to be just the thing, should suggest, in some way, night itself. Tints vague and intangible, hinting of darkness or the white cool moon, are preferred over glaring dark colors.

As to ornament, there may be some curious jeweled night fly fastened somewhere, perhaps spangled in the hair; and if flowers are used, they too, must propitiate the powers of night in wanes and thick perfume.

The dread witches, who on All Halloween have the threads of fate in their keeping, are said to be difficult ladies to please, but somehow one hopes they will smile on the wearers of the three charming gowns here shown, and provide them suitable husbands. The originals of these dainty costumes, which were suggested by three famous French pictures, were all made by a nimble-fingered New York girl for a Halloween supper. They are to be worn by herself and two sisters, three distinct types; and along with their exceeding effectiveness, they have the merit of having involved comparatively little expense, being all fashioned from materials at hand, some lengths of a marvelous Chinese drapery, a few yards of thick liberty satin bought in better days, and a thin, scant, old tambour muslin slip, relic of a long dead great-mamma and tea cup times.

FOR A BRUNETTE

The first dress shown was for the dark, handsome elder sister of the little Cinderella dressmaker—the type that goes with stiffness and stateliness and rustling textures. It was of the liberty satin in a dim luminous tint, too blue for gray and too gray for blue, and that will show off the wearer’s rich skin to perfection. The girdle drapery of graduating ribbon lengths and bows was of a faint dead sea rose color. This subtle and delightful tint, together with black, repeats itself in the simple but decorative embroidery at the bottom of the wide skirt. The tiny chemise gamp is of white muslin, and the short balloon sleeves are stiffened with tarlatan. To be worn with the dress, as well as the next one, both of which were entirely uncrinolined, were petticoats of hair cloth, with tucks of large round organ pipe plaits, to hold the skirt out in the present approved fashion.

FOR CHATAIN [Brown Hair] COLORING.

The second gown, though perhaps not quite so enchanting as the first, was more suggestive of the witcheries of Halloween. It was of the Chinese silk drapery, in the copper red, and with a fantastic patterning of black bats. The girdle and low neck decoration are of black velvet, and square jet buckles fasten the latter down at intervals.

The very daintiest feature of this paniered gown, however, which in style recalls somewhat little beflowered Dolly Varden, is the undersleeves, made to show off a rounded young arm and drive envy to the soul of womankind. For every woman who is a real woman has a weakness for lace, and these adorable undersleeves were made of the charming old net lace embroidery in back stitch of the long ago.

It came, like the tambour muslin, from grandmamma’s garret, where, when Halloween is over, it is to be hoped, it will be carefully put back.

A GOWN FOR A BLONDE.

The third and last dress, a tiny hint of the Directoire period, is the tambour muslin slip itself, sinfully modernized. Once white, it is now evenly mellowed to a soft caressing yellow, which is further accented by a puffing of pure white chiffon about the neck and skirt bottom. The sleeves are of a rich heavy brocade in black and white, and the belt and crescent ornaments are of silver.

This costume is to be worn to the supper by the little dressmaker herself, and its scant picture lines are sure to become her slim, shortwaisted young figure.

And may the ghost of sweet dead grandmamma not come back to reproach her for desecration.

Nina Fitch.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 28 October 1894: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Desecration, indeed….  One frequently sees examples of ancient garments re-made into fancy dress or some “amusing” pastiche; a practice which makes Mrs Daffodil’s blood alternately boil and run cold (something that takes rather a bit of doing, given her line of work.) We can only fervently hope that the antique lace and tambour muslin were, indeed, “put back” or, if not, that Grandmamma haunted the offender mercilessly.

While questioning the appalling statement that only “real women” have a “weakness” for lace, Mrs Daffodil will also adjudge the addition of antique lace to an otherwise standard Bat Queen or Empress of the Night fancy-dress costume to be utterly unnecessary.

“Night” was a popular figure in fancy dress. We see an interpretation of that character at the head of this post. An illustration and description of another version follows. Whimsical though the idea is in principal, in real life, wearing a stuffed owl must be a trifle cumbersome:

By way of preparation for it we present for our readers’ inspection a costume representing Night.

It is satin, in two shades of purple. The lighter used for lower skirt has beaded surface. The plain falls over in a plaited back and draped front; wide panel ornamented with stars, butterflies [moths?] and a very demure owl; smoke-colored vail, dotted with stars, covers the crown of hat, held by a crescent and owl; this draping over the right arm and breast, is thrown over the left shoulder and arm. Willkes-Barre [PA] Evening News 6 January 1886: p. 3

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

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

 

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Sale of Mrs Lincoln’s Wardrobe: 1867

Mrs Lincoln's wardrobe for sale

Mrs Lincoln’s wardrobe for sale in the New York showroom.

A SINGULAR SPECTACLE

Which has already too large a share of public attention and notoriety, is the exhibition which has been going on for weeks in a small room, upstairs, corner of Houston street and Broadway, of Mrs. Lincoln’s wardrobe. It is a disagreeable subject, and would not be adhered to, only to correct some misstatements and misapprehensions.

No one can look at the collection and imagine that the object in exposing them was to sell them, or make a large amount of money by their sale. With the exception of the lace and camel’s hair shawls, and a few odd pieces of jewelry, there is nothing which any lady could wear, or which in its present condition, would not be a disgrace to a second hand cloth shop. The dresses, those that have been made up and worn are crushed, dirty, old fashioned, and most of them made and trimmed in the worst way. The skirts are too short for any but a very short person, and the commonest muslins, barreges and grenadines are made extremely low in the neck and would not be available for any purpose. There are some brocaded silk skirts in large heavy patterns which have been made but not worn, but these are unaccompanied by any waist, while the price upon them, and all the other articles, is exorbitant. Had the purpose been merely one of sale it would have been better effected through any large dry goods or jewelry house, who would have taken, as they frequently do, the India shawls and diamond rings at a fair valuation, but the display evidently had another object, and for the sake of Mr. Lincoln and his family, the Union League Club, or some other organization, ought to buy up the goods and transfer them to Chatham street as soon as possible.

Daily Eastern Argus [Portland, ME] 1 November 1867: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although in receipt of a pension granted by Congress, Mrs Lincoln had a terrible fear of poverty and conceived the idea of selling off some of her clothes anonymously. When this was discovered, the President’s widow was savaged by both the Northern and Southern press for selling her “cast-off” clothes. Here is another piece, quoted by Mrs Lincoln’s former dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, in her 1868 memoir, Behind the Scenes.

“The attraction for ladies, and the curious and speculative of the other sex in this city, just now, is the grand exposition of Lincoln dresses at the office of Mr. [W.H.] Brady, on Broadway, a few doors south of Houston street. The publicity given to the articles on exhibition and for sale has excited the public curiosity, and hundreds of people, principally women with considerable leisure moments at disposal, daily throng the rooms of Mr. Brady, and give himself and his shopwoman more to do than either bargained for, when a lady, with face concealed with a veil, called and arranged for the sale of the superabundant clothing of a distinguished and titled, but nameless lady. Twenty-five dresses, folded or tossed about by frequent examinations, lie exposed upon a closed piano, and upon a lounge; shawls rich and rare are displayed upon the backs of chairs, but the more exacting obtain a better view and closer inspection by the lady attendant throwing them occasionally upon her shoulders, just to oblige, so that their appearance on promenade might be seen and admired. Furs, laces, and jewelry are in a glass case, but the ‘four thousand dollars in gold’ point outfit is kept in a paste-board box, and only shown on special request.

“The feeling of the majority of visitors is adverse to the course Mrs. Lincoln has thought proper to pursue, and the criticisms are as severe as the cavillings are persistent at the quality of some of the dresses. These latter are labelled at Mrs. Lincoln’s own estimate, and prices range from $25 to $75—about 50 per cent less than cost. Some of them, if not worn long, have been worn much; they are jagged under the arms and at the bottom of the skirt, stains are on the lining, and other objections present themselves to those who oscillate between the dresses and dollars, ‘notwithstanding they have been worn by Madam Lincoln,’ as a lady who looked from behind a pair of gold spectacles remarked. Other dresses, however, have scarcely been worn —one, perhaps, while Mrs. Lincoln sat for her picture, and from one the basting threads had not yet been removed. The general testimony is that the wearing apparel is high-priced, and some of the examiners say that the cost-figures must have been put on by the dress-makers; or, if such was not the case, that gold was $250 when they were purchased, and is now but $140—so that a dress for which $150 was paid at the rate of high figures cannot be called cheap at half that sum, after it has been worn considerable, and perhaps passed out of fashion. The peculiarity of the dresses is that the most of them are cut low-necked—a taste which some ladies attribute to Mrs. Lincoln’s appreciation of her own bust.

“On Saturday last an offer was made for all the dresses. The figure named was less than the aggregate estimate placed on them. Mr. Brady, however, having no discretionary power, he declined to close the bargain, but notified Mrs. Lincoln by mail. Of course, as yet, no reply has been received. Mrs L. desires that the auction should be deferred till the 31st of the present month, and efforts made to dispose of the articles at private sale up to that time.

“A Mrs. C__. called on Mr. Brady this morning, and examined minutely each shawl. Before leaving the lady said that, at the time when there was a hesitancy about the President issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, she sent to Mrs. Lincoln an ashes-of-rose shawl, which was manufactured in China, forwarded to France, and thence to Mrs. C __., in New York. The shawl, the lady remarked, was a very handsome one, and should it come into the hands of Mr. Brady to be sold, would like to be made aware of the fact, so as to obtain possession again. Mr. Brady promised to acquaint the ashes-of-rose donor, if the prized article should be among the two trunks of goods now on the way from Chicago.”

A detailed description of the New York visit and clothing fiasco by Elizabeth Keckley may be found here.

While Mrs Lincoln was known to be eccentric and erratic, (it has been suggested that her lavish spending was a symptom of a mental illness), few there were  who sympathised with the lady in her grief for her three dead sons and her murdered husband. Even her surviving son, Robert, felt compelled to lock her away as insane.

Mrs Lincoln had been very close to Elizabeth Keckley, her dressmaker and confidante, but when Mrs Keckley published her book about life in the White House, to, as she stated, “attempt to place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world” and to “explain the motives” that guided Mrs. Lincoln’s decisions regarding what became known as the “old clothes scandal,” she was excoriated for violating the former First Lady’s privacy.  This led to a break in their friendship, although it is possible that they reconciled before Mrs Lincoln died. Mrs Lincoln spent her last years depressed and in ill-health, dying at her sister’s home in Springfield, Illinois in 1882.

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.