Category Archives: Textiles

Bonnets in Limbo: 1883

BONNETS IN LIMBO.

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

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

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

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

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

A female convict of a later period–1907

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Girls Who Collect Gentlemen’s Hats: 1893-95

If the Saratoga girl has a fad, quite new with the season, it is the collection of straw hats which are plucked quite heartlessly from the devoted heads of her admirers.

The fad is managed this way: The summer young man goes to call upon the summer girl. He spends an evening pleasantly upon the piazza, or in the cosiest corner of the parlor, and when it comes time for him to go home, he finds his hat firmly clasped by a pair of adorable little white hands, while a pair of blue eyes beseech him to leave his hat, as a reminder of a pleasant evening.

“But,” murmurs the Saratoga unfortunate, “how am I to go home without my hat?”

“Oh, dear,” pouts the pretty miss, “can you not walk home without it? Are you afraid of catching cold? Here, take my handkerchief,” handing him a tiny lace-trimmed absurdity, “and run just as fast as you can.”’

And so it comes to pass that the Saratoga young man has, for a summer fad, a collection of dainty pocket handkerchiefs, bearing different and delicate flower perfumes. While the young woman has her boudoir trimmed with broad-brimmed straw hats.

In one of the big hotels, there is a darling little sitting-room which belongs to a dear little southern heiress. She is from Louisiana, I think, and looks not unlike her southern sister, Mrs. James Brown Potter. Well! Upon a spindle-legged Josephine table in that sitting room, there is a straw hat, with the blue ribbon of Yale around it, and inside the hat there are the sweetest bon-bons, of which a supply is sent daily by him from whom the hat was wrested. Upon the wall there hangs a hat, glorified by painted daisies, and another one, trimmed with natural flowers also sent daily. Upon the floor, daintily lined with blue satin, is hat which must have been worn by a youthful Daniel Webster. It is so very large! And in the hat there sleeps—the Louisiana girl’s pet poodle.

There have been fads and fads. But this summer the straw hat fad rages above and beyond them all…

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 16 July 1893: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  When the Summer Girl tired of collecting hats, or perhaps ran out of hat-pegs in her darling little sitting-room, she turned to a new fad: collecting hat-bands.

The girl who can boast a number of beaux, owns hat-bands of all of the college colors, and also those pertaining to the various athletic clubs; when her best young man pro tern is a Princetonian, she sports the tiger black and yellow; when he hails from Harvard, red is her favorite for the nonce; then there is dark blue for Yale, and white and light blue for Columbia. There are any number of diverse colors for the minor colleges throughout the United States to which a girl professes devotion, if her best young man belongs to one of them.

The up-to-date girl is an authority on such matters, and is proud of her collection of hat-bands, most of which are trophies of conquest wrested from the unwary college man. Verily this rage for hat-bands is an expensive fad, as the fellows declare, for when a young lady raves over a hat-band, a gallant youth can do no less than present it to his fair companion.

Of course these bands are adjustable by means of silver or gold slides or buckles; these ornaments have become of considerable importance, the jewellers being kept busy in devising novel designs.

Almost as many girls are seen wearing college-pins as boys; some of them are acquired by purchase, while others are exacted as tribute from obsequious admirers. The girls, however, in the different colleges are adopting distinctive badges, and these societies bid fair to rival those of the male colleges in the beauty and diversity of their college emblems. Godey’s Lady’s Book August 1895

Such trophies of conquest could easily have been purchased, but where was the fun in that?

…I know a little miss—and legion is her name—who will most conspicuously sport the crimson when she goes boating with a Harvard man on Monday; who will wear blue for her Yale cavalier of Tuesday; appear on successive days in Boston University’s scarlet and white, McGill’s blue and white, Pennsylvania’s blue and red, Princeton’s scarlet and black; yes, who will wind up the week by going to church on Sunday in Brown’s brown and white. The minx!

Coquetry made easy was ever the motto of the shops, and it has for years been easy to get the colors of the best-known nearby colleges, but never before has it been so easy to fit a single sailor hat with five hundred different adjustable bands, each representing some college, tiny or the reverse, and to match each band in the sober or flaming tints of a yachting tie. Evening Star [Washington DC] 6 June 1896: p. 18

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.

 

Hints for Summer Travellers: 1913

Good Ideas for the Summer Traveler

By Companion Readers

Making Children Intelligent Travelers—A mother with two children of grammar school age found it necessary to take a long journey. She provided herself with folders containing a good map of the section to be traversed and brief descriptions of the important towns. A time table giving the time of arrival and departure from each station, the altitude and distance from the starting point, aroused great interest.

The children had their own inexpensive watches, and thoroughly enjoyed following the time table to see if the trains arrived and departed from the stations on time; and also, at their mother’s suggestion, they noticed the altitude of certain important points and whether they were going up or down grade (by the direction of streams, etc.). They also noticed the distance from their original starting point. Early training of this sort produces intelligent travelers. K. E. A.

A Steamer Box

By Clio Mamer

For a friend who was given a trip to Europe by her father, I decided to get up a steamer box. She was to be on the water six days, so I asked eleven of the girls with whom we were both upon intimate terms to send me a little present for her. I asked them to send gifts small both in size and price. I wrapped each gift in tissue paper and tied it with baby ribbon. On the outside of each package I wrote the day upon which it was to be opened, and these packages were then packed in the smallest box that I could squeeze them into. I gave my friend instructions that she was to open only two of the packages a day. Among the contents of the box were: a diary, an ink pencil, a package of envelope paper, a wash cloth in a rubberlined case, a powder bag. an embroidered jabot, and small boxes of candy and nuts.

An impeccable shoe trunk from Yantorny, c. 1914-1919

Summer Trip Shoe Bag
By C. S. Spencer

Make a cretonne shoe bag the size of the back of your trunk, and tack it with four thumb tacks in the top tray. It is easily adjusted to the back of the trunk when your destination is reached, and will not interfere with raising the lid.

Trunk and Tray Cloths
By Mrs. F. W. Terflinger

A set of trunk and tray cloths make a most acceptable and inexpensive gift to a traveler. They are to be placed between the underwear and other clothing, or between dark and light gowns. One should always be reserved to be tucked neatly over all when the main part of the trunk is filled. Cut your material an inch or two larger than the body of an ordinary trunk, and bind with bias seam tape before placing two or three initials in the center of each cloth. There should be two or three of these cloths for the body and two smaller ones for the tray. The larger of the two for the tray should be double and bound only on three sides, finishing the fourth side with a hem and casing for drawstrings. This serves as laundry bag. I have seen sets made of white indian head and finished on the edge with a heavy lace, but the prettiest of all are made of light blue linen or chambray. bound and worked in white. Embroider on each tray cloth the initial of the friend for whom you make it. Woman’s Home Companion, Volume 40 1913: p. 21

Women who travel a great deal are including sets of pyjamas in their outfits far wear on sleeping-cars and steamers. They are made of silk, either white or colored, with full Turkish trousers and a loose jacket to the knees, large turn-down collar trimmed with lace, which is cascaded down the front, frills of lace at the wrists and edge of the jacket. A loose girdle is worn or not, as the fancy dictates. In the Red Sea or Indian Ocean most of the women passengers aboard ship wear this arrangement, and the custom is being adopted in this country. The Argonaut March 21, 1898  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Useful suggestions, all, to which Mrs Daffodil would add an affecting incident, which suggests an article which might best be left at home:

A SLEEPING-CAR EPISODE

The Uniontown (Pa.) Standard narrates this exciting incident: “A few nights ago a passenger on the western bound train, Connellsville route, engaged a berth in one of the palace sleeping coaches. When she was ready to retire she took from her satchel a gum bed, which she inflated and placed upon the regular bed in the berth she was to occupy. It happened that her berth was very close to the stove, and the night being rather cold the porter fired up pretty lively. The heat from the stove caused the gum bed to expand until the pressure got so great that it collapsed with a tremendous shock, similar to that of a cannon, and the passengers jumped out of their berths in their night clothes, thinking there was a collision. The force of the collapse threw the lady against the ceiling of the berth, but did not hurt her beyond a slight bruise. When the real state of affairs was known and the lady was found to be unhurt, the thing created considerable merriment among the passengers, and that lady vows she will never take any more gum beds with her when she goes a traveling. The Fremont [OH] Weekly Journal 15 January 1875: p. 2

And do avoid wearing wool when travelling with the tots:

Kiddie-Kar Travel

In American there are two classes of travel—first class, and with children….

I had a cousin once who had to take three of his little ones on an all-day trip from Philadelphia to Boston. It was the hottest day of the year and my cousin had on a woollen suit. By the time he reached Hartford, people in the car noticed that he had only two children with him. At Worcester he had only one. No one knew what had become of the others and no one asked. It seemed better not to ask. He reached Boston alone and never explained what had become of the tiny tots. Anyone who has ever travelled with tiny tots of his own, however, can guess. The Benchley Roundup, Robert C. Benchley: p. 66

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 Great Grampus Bath-house Tragedy: 1875

The Sad Result of Using Patent Bathing Houses.

New Orleans Picayune.

A harrowing story comes to us from one of our sea side watering places. Old Mr. Grampus was in Paris last spring, and he brought home with him one of Baptiste’s patent bath houses. It was made of vulcanized silk with steel ribs, and it shut and opened by a spring. Open it had the appearance of a beautiful blue and buff striped pavilion, octagonal in shape, and covering a superficial area of some ninety or a hundred square feet. Shut up, it looked like a huge Brobdignagian umbrella, though, being very light, Mr. Grampus could carry it to the beach as easy as he did his camp stool. The Grampuses were very proud of this bath-house. They used to take it down to the most crowded point on the sands and flaunt it in the faces of their rivals. It afforded to Mrs. Grampus and the Miss Grampuses a satisfaction more ecstatic than they had ever known before to emerge from this gorgeous edifice just as those odious Millers came sneaking out of their dingy old wooden huts under the cliff. The crowd gazed at them with envy and admiration, while they either pitied or ignored the Millers. Baptiste’s patent bath-house was an object of respectful amazement to the whole caravansary, and the Grampuses came in for no little social eminence and superiority in consequence.

This sort of thing went on smoothly for a fortnight or so, until the Millers and the Joneses and the Snagsbys were absolutely on the point of leaving Jolimer for sheer mortification. And perhaps they would have gone the very next day, but for the singular adventure which little Blinker had with his donkey. It was about 11 o’clock; the beach had been crowed for an hour or more, and as usual the centre of attraction and of interest was the Grampus bath-house. They had lately embellished this beautiful structure with a pair of golden horns [antlers] and a silk centennial flag, and in the eyes of the unhappy Millers it looked more insolent and gaudy and overwhelming than ever. The Grampus ladies had been inside for a quarter of an hour or so, and the spectators conjectured, rightly as it afterward transpired, that they were almost ready for the surf, when all of a sudden little Blinkers was seen descending one of the winding paths astride a particularly contumacious and evil-minded donkey. His agonized cries and expostulations attracted attention, and in less than a minute every eye, except those of the doomed and unsuspecting Grampuses, was riveted on Blinkers. Here he came, his donkey churning away at the bit, and buck-jumping like a mustang, and be miserable, frantic and helpless with terror. Blinkers stuck, though, and the donkey lunged away down the path like something mad, without shaking off the stricken wretch who rode him.

There were a few Ravelian acrobatics, a wild lurch, and then Blinkers and the donkey went kerslap again the Grampuses’ patent bath-house! One complicated shriek shot through the air, a flutter and a rattling as of machinery, and the next instant Blinkers was dashed upon the sand in a crumpled heap, and a haggard and affrighted donkey with his ears pinned back and his tail between his legs, was seen hustling down the beach like some panic-stricken meteor. And then the great Grampus pavilion with a creak and a snap, suddenly shut itself up into umbrella shape, and waddled hysterically toward the surf on a pair of elephantine legs—identified by a spectator as the legs of the Mrs. Grampus—suggesting the idea, with its towering outline and its antlers and its flag, for some gigantic species of horned giraffe which had just taken the blue ribbon at the fair.

And that was the end of the great Grampus bath-house tragedy. Old mother Grampus pranced about the beach awhile with the patent bath house sitting on her head like a long but emaciated extinguisher, and the two Miss Grampuses who had escaped the collapse rushed frantically into the surf, with a good deal less bathing dress than they would have had if Blinkers and his donkey had given them a little more time. Next day the family departed before the rest of the world had wakened, and the Millers and the Joneses, and the Snagsbys are having their own way. Now, if this narrative should reach the eye of any family using Baptiste’s patent portable bath-house, we trust they will take warning, and never afterward trust to its protection until it has been enclosed in a serviceable picket fence.

Fort Wayne [IN] Weekly Sentinel 18 August 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Truly, a useful warning about bathing-pavilion hubris, which we all should take to heart. How are the Vulcanized fallen!  Mrs Daffodil has sought casually, but in vain for the inventor. Considering his role in submerging persons in water, he must have been called “Jean Baptiste.”

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a bathing machine as the scene of scandal, as well as the ideal bath-house, which will, indeed make one the envy of one’s friends, if not one’s maid.

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.

 

Rubber Fashions at the Sea-side: 1914-1919

Rubber swimming ensemble, 1914

Each succeeding summer brings with it new styles in bathing caps, which as a rule follow as closely as possible the prevailing modes in millinery, but the array of styles and colorings available to the bathers of this particular season is even larger than usual, and includes bonnets, caps and hats in endless variety and in all the most desired shades, made of rubber, as well as of rubberized satin, etc., and adorned with berries, fruit, leaves, flowers and ribbon—all of rubber or rubberized to stand any amount of wetting in either salt or fresh water. Four especially attractive models are here illustrated.

Rubber bathing caps, 1914

Rubber bathing hats, 1914

The first is an all-rubber cap, which can be obtained in blue, cerise or emerald green, with the rubber rose at the side in contrasting color. The second model, with rosette trimming, is of the “Castle” type and comes in black and navy blue. The third model is a rubberized silk turban and is made in black, navy blue and purple, with the wired donkey ears of the same material as the cap. The last of the four is an all-rubber cap, decorated with velvety rubber flowers and obtainable in blue, cerise, coral, and purple.

But the manufacturers of rubber goods have not been content this season to supply a variety of new and pleasing models of bathing caps. They have extended their line of accessories for the bathing costume to include numerous other articles, several of which are also shown. The first of these cuts shows an all-rubber sailor collar, the edge of which is decorated with tiny rubber roses—something that is bound to add an air of up-to-dateness to any bathing suit. This cut also shows a pair of rubber buckles, a decoration that can be appropriately applied not only to the belt or girdle, but with perhaps even greater effectiveness to the bathing slippers, which have heretofore presented rather a bare appearance because of the lack of a buckle that would withstand the effects of frequent immersion in salt water. The next figure [at the head of this post] shows a bather to whose costume has been added a rubber sash or girdle, which close under a bunch of rubber flowers, the ends of the sash being in Roman stripes in colors to match the plaid cap. As will be noted, this bather is also equipped with a cape of rubber, an accessory which has become very popular this season for wear over the bathing suit. Wreaths of rubber roses are also obtainable for use in trimming the extremely popular beach hat—and they are very genuine appearing and highly decorative. In fact, the line of rubber accessories for the present season has reached a degree of elaborateness never before attained, and would seem to be complete. India Rubber World 1 July 1914: p 547

Very simple, but hygienic, are the lines of a bathing corset made of rubber sheeting. This material is not stiff but sheds water like a duck, and proved itself a comfort last season to many a plump mermaid who “did not feel comfortable without a corset.”… Oregonian [Portland, OR] 18 June 1916: p. 6

Neckwear, sashes, garters, flowers, beach balls of inflated rubber, and long fringe-edged scarfs, are also made of the rubber sheetings in gay colors and of gum rubber. A beach scarf of white rubber is a very handy thing to wrap oneself up in when coming in out of the sea. These scarfs are quite wide and long and have striking designs in contrasting rubber at the ends above a deep row of rubber fringe. Oregonian [Portland, OR] 18 June 1916: p. 6

Smart one-piece bathing suit of navy blue taffeta with rubber parasol and hat, 1919

Rubber Hats and Parasols

In many instances the new rubber bathing hats are fashioned with quite a wide brim and a crushed close-fitting crown, held with a rubber band, so that the hat is adjustable to any size head. One of the precautionary measures to be taken before putting one of these rubber hats on is the removing of every hairpin, as even one hairpin forgotten will often puncture the hat and render it useless. These wide-brimmed rubber hats are trimmed with rosettes and flowers of rubber, and when properly adjusted the effect is as modish and smart as though the hat were a typical sports hat or picture hat. These hats are developed in various gay colors or in soft shades of red, green or gold, and while they are rather expensive they are nevertheless in great demand.

The rubber parasols fashioned with four sections are very unusual in style and shape and are considered one of the exclusive novelties of the season. The great advantage of having the bathing suit parasol of rubber is that it is in no danger of being harmed when it is picked up by a bather who has just come out of the water and whose hands are still dripping with the salt brine. Everything worn by a bather or carried by a bather to the beach is not only apt to get wet, but almost sure to get wet before the day is over, so that the idea of the rubber parasol is a very practical one. American Cloak and Suit Review, Volume 17, 1919

 

An attractive example of the abbreviated type of bathing suit now worn by the smartest American women, 1919

Freakish and Startling Costumes Worn by Ladies at Beach.

The newest fashion for lady bathers is to wear artificial flowers made of India rubber. This certainly sounds a very extravagant fad, but seeing that these adornments are said to be wonderfully effective in beautifying the bathing costume and cap, there is every reason to expect this craze to be extremely popular all along the coasts. The art of making India rubber flowers has been brought to a state of perfection for this purpose, and instead of being merely clumsy sprays of colored rubber, as one might at first imagine, the buttonholes and wreaths thus manufactured are wonderfully artistic creations, varying from rich, massive peonies to dainty buttercups and lilies of the valley.

This novel fashion should prove a really pretty one, provided it is not carried too far and indulged in by the well-known type of “non-get-wet” bather, who may possibly welcome a bouquet of artificial flowers as an additional charm whilst “sun-bathing” in a pretty costume by the “briny.” Grand Forks [ND] Daily Herald 25 June 1914: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The rubber bathing costumes were not without their critics. They were banned from several beaches as indecently form-fitting. All-rubber suits also were clammy and easily torn. It was not until “Lastex”—rubber enveloped in other fibres—was introduced that their utility ultimately triumphed over wool swimming costumes. As Harper’s Bazaar wrote in 1934:

“There’s no wrinkle, no bag, no sag, even under the most ruthless sun! No other human device can even approximate that utter freedom, that perfection of fit, at rest or in motion, that airy but strictly legal sense of wearing nothing at all. There is no substitute for this elastic yarn, which imparts lasting elasticity to any fabric.” Harper’s Bazaar June 1934: p. 9

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.

 

Fashionable Shagreen: 1917-1923

It is, Mrs Daffodil has been reliably informed, something called “Shark Week.” Mrs Daffodil does not, as a rule, celebrate ocean-going predators, but it is an excellent excuse to discuss the fashionable uses for shagreen.

FASHIONABLE SHAGREEN.

WONDERFUL EFFECTS.

Four centuries ago shagreen—a handsome Chinese presentation of fish skin was the envy of all the young dandies about town, says an overseas fashion recorder. But shagreen was exclusive and expensive, cured and cut and shaped by hand, and it was only the dandy with a long purse who could afford to have this lovely decoration on his sword sheath or snuff-box. Once again Bond Street has revived shagreen. It has been displayed in the shop windows for some months, and just around the corner, off Old Bond Street, you will find the workers of the Chinese fish skin busy curing, “kneading,” and dyeing it to the perfection of its finished state.

Just as was the case 400 years ago, it is still exclusive and costly.

The process of manufacture is long and difficult. The skin does not lend itself to factory production, so that in shagreen articles you have one of the most beautiful of the hand-made productions.

Shagreen experts tell me that the skin is “practically everlasting,” and, what is more delightful, age intensifies its beauty. It looks lovely bound with silver in brush-and comb sets. There are complete outfits for the secretaire, and endless small things like scent sprays, cigarette and match cases, and a few book-bindings are shown. The colours are exquisite—soft blue, grey, rose and especially green. It was the green that was used in the early 17th century—for the art of making shagreen take subtle dyes was not then known—and some fortunate people have pieces of green among their family heirlooms. In the little “factory ” 1 was shown shagreen as it arrives from the Orient. Actually it is (he skin of a small rare shark, and the raw material is as stiff and hard as a board. The placoid scales of the shark give it a very rough surface. It looks as if tiny pebbles have been embedded in the skin. They feel like stone. In the old days the skin of horses and wild asses was treated to imitate shagreen and part of the process was to embed a certain seed in the skin while it was soft, and so artificially manufacture the knitter 1 surface. As a rule the real skin arrives in a creamy tint and often in a colour that requires no dye. Many hours of labour have to be spent filing down the hard scales and kneading the buckram like texture to the softness of kid When ready for mounting the hard nodules have been transformed to a pearl-like pattern and even after dyeing this creamy colour remains where the scales were, and on this particular shark every pore seems to be a scale. No two skins are alike. Frequently two skins put into a bath of green dye will take the colour in two totally different shades. This not only annoys the worker but adds to the price of the finished article. Shagreen is used effectively to line the bathroom walls in the Queen’s dolls’ house, where the ceiling is of snail shell and the bath of rose rock crystal.

New Zealand Herald 27 November 1926: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When we speak of “shagreen” and sharkskin, these, of course, refer to the actual skin of a shark rather than the louche shiny suiting fabric favoured by cads.

While sharkskin has long been in use as a luxe leather, it was not until the Great War’s leather shortages that its potential was once again explored.

Shortage of Leather

Demand for Military Purposes Leaves Little for Civilian Uses.

America’s entrance into the war has created a demand for fancy leathers.

For example, more leather has been cut up for wrist watch straps this year than ever before and the demand is increasing. Officers’ vests are being made from chamois skins. Leather is required for binding army manuals and reports and there is a big demand for leather for covering field glasses, cameras, surgical instruments, cases, etc. Steel helmets must be lined with leather. Leather is also needed for automobile and airplane equipment.

There is a great demand for leather for straps, revolver cases, harnesses and saddlery, not to mention money belts, pipe cases, trench cigarette cases and the like.

Pigskin for Leggings.

It is said that the demand for pigskin for leggings and other military equipment has practically exhausted the supply of this leather and cowhide is now being used by manufacturers of these articles.

No Walrus for Bags.

Little walrus will be seen in bags and cases this year as the Newfoundland catch of this animal was the smallest in many seasons and, due to the war conditions, no Norwegian skins came to this country this year. It is said that the high price of those skins which were obtained in Newfoundland practically prohibits their use.

Unless next year’s American catch is unusually large and some way is found for releasing Europe’s supply of these skins, genuine walrus leather will probably be conspicuously absent in bags in this country for the rest of the war.

Seeking a Substitute

Dealers and manufactures ware now concerned with the question of what is to take the place of walrus. Alligator skin, once so popular, is out of the question. Alligator skin went out of fashion when its growing scarcity made its price prohibitive.

In the years since his tanned hide furnished the most popular bags of the day, the alligator has not increased in numbers. The Florida supply is practically exhausted. It has been suggested, though, that the hunting of these reptiles in Mexico and South America might be profitably developed.

Finding a Use for Sharks.

Sharkskin is the newest and most likely addition to bag leathers. Like that of the walrus, the skin of the shark is about an inch thick when it is removed from the fish. It is soft and spongy before it is tanned, but becomes a tough, fibrous leather when cured.

A special process of tanning has been developed for shrinking fine, scaly, file-like surface of sharkskin until it assumes a grain similar to walrus. This process makes the skin practical for traveling bags.

Sharks are already being hunted by two companies formed for this purpose and a number of skins are being made up into bags. One manufacturer is said to have taken 2000 of these skins. If a dependable supply of skins can be obtained, sharkskin may become a factor in the leather trade. At present the uncertainty of the supply and the high prices which must be realized naturally restrict its sale. Dry Goods Economist, Vol. 71, 17 November 1917: p. 81

When we speak of “shagreen” and sharkskin, these, of course, refer to the actual skin of a shark rather than the louche shiny suiting fabric favoured by cads.The “special process” was the key to shark skin leather:

SHARKSKIN SHOES

Hides of Sea Fish Used in Lieu of Cow Leather.

Ft. Myers, Fla., April 4. Sister in devilfish dancing pumps. Dad in sharkskin shoes. Mother in stingaree slippers.

These things will soon come to pass. A plant at Sanibel, Fla., is making them now.

These fish, heretofore useless to man, are being caught and brought to the plant. Their skins are tanned. The tanning process was invented by Ehreinrich, president and promoter of the Ocean Leather Company.

Ehreinrich has become wealthy by selling the European and South American rights to his process.

Suit Cases and other leather goods will be made.  Salisbury [NC] Evening Post 4 April 1921: p. 6

To Mrs Daffodil’s chagrin, she has not been able to locate an image of early 20th-century shagreen shoes. These are from Persia, c. 1800

The steaming jungles and the rolling ocean alike are being ravished for materials for feminine footwear. Many a debutant today selects shoes of snake skin in which to scale the social scarps. In supply this new and crying need, many a python has wrapped its last.

However, the real hippopottomus’ hip, as one Broadway comedian expresses it is sharkskin. Shoes of this type are gray in tone and the supply of material, so far as New York is concerned is inexhaustible. Any hook for an attractive feminine bait will catch a dozen thick skinned gray sharks any day in any pool between the Waldorf and the Westchester road houses. The Bee [Danville VA] 12 December 1923: p. 3

“The real hippopottomus’ hip,” is the youthful slang used to express the notion that sharkskin shoes are the dernier cri. One suspects that “sharks” is the vernacular for “not quite a gentleman.”

SHARKSKIN IS SWAGGER SAYS THE EFFETE EAST

It’s Used Now to Trim Motor Coats, As Well as for Smart Accessories.

New York, Oct. 30. A football game at the polo grounds serves to emphasize the esteem in which shark skin is held at present. The rough and swagger and sporty looking leather is made into any number of articles such as purses, cigarette cases and hand bags. Sometimes the skin is used to cover the handle of an umbrella, and it formed the cuffs and collars of one remarkable motor coat seen at the polo grounds Saturday. Rockford [IL] Republic 30 October 1922: p. 4

A Shark Skin bag, 1922

Shark skin and white leather form one of the large, unusual bags carried by the Duchess Sforza, who favours rare design and dimensions. Vogue Vol. 59, 15 May 1922: p. 33

Silver-mounted shagreen clock, 1904 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21325/lot/105/

In addition to its uses in fashion, shagreen was popular for furniture inlays, cases for scientific instruments and cutlery, and desk accessories such as stamp cases, calendar frames, and bell pushes. It is rather nubbly in texture and is usually dyed a soft, arsenical green colour. The parlourmaids will attest that the texture gives it a special propensity to collect dust.

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 Little Children’s Watches: 1882

The Little Children’s Watches.

Yesterday an old man entered a Little Rock store, and taking from his pocket an old buckskin pouch he emptied two coins on the counter, and the, after regarding the silver for a few moments said; “Mister, I want to buy some goods to make a dress.”

“That money is mutilated, old gentleman. This twenty-five-cent piece has notches filed in it, and this fifty-cent piece has been punched. You see they have been abused. I can’t take them.”

“Abused,” said the old man. “Abused,” and he took up the fifty-cent piece and looked at it tenderly. “And you won’t take it on account of the holes. Heaven grant that I did not have to offer it to you. Years ago, when my first child was a little girl I punched a hole in this coin and strung it around her neck. It was her constant plaything. At night when she went to bed we’d take it off, but early at morning she would call for her watch. When our John—you didn’t know John, did you? No. Well, he used to come to town a good deal.”

“Where is he now?” asked the merchant, not knowing what to say, but desiring to show appreciation of the old man’s story.

“He was killed in the war. I say that when John was a little boy I strung this quarter around his neck. One day his watch got out of fix, he said, and he filed these notches in it. He and his sister Mary—that was the girl’s name—used to play in the yard and compare their watches to see if they were right. Sometimes John wouldn’t like it because Mary’s watch was bigger than his, but she would explain that she was bigger than him and ought to have a bigger watch. The children grew up, but as they had always lived in the woods they were not ashamed to wear their watches.

When a young man came to see Mary once she forgetfully looked at her fifty cents. ‘What are you doing?’ asked the young man, and when she told him she was looking at her watch, he took it as a hint and went home. After this she did not wear her watch in company.

Well, Mary and the young man married. John went off in the army and got killed. Mary’s husband died, and about two years ago Mary was taken sick. When her mother and I reached her house she was dying. Calling me to her bed, she said: ‘Papa, lean over.’ I leaned over, and, taking something from under her pillow, she put it around my neck and said: ‘Papa, take care of my watch.’”

The old man looked at the merchant. The eyes of both men were moist. “Do you see that boy out there on the wagon?” he said. “Well, that is Mary’s child. I wouldn’t part with this money, but my old wife, who always loved me, died this morning, and I have come to buy her a shroud.”

When the old man went out he carried a bundle in one hand and the “watches” in the other.

Little Rock (Ark.) Gazette.

The Abbeville [SC] Press and Banner 22 March 1882; p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Shrouds, strangely enough, could be purchased from one’s local dry-goods store. Here is a more light-hearted account of such a purchase: The Trousseau Night-dress.

Mrs Daffodil’s readers will, she hopes, excuse her from further comment, as she has something in her eye.

 

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.