Tag Archives: Christmas shopping

What the Draper Sees at Christmas: 1903

WHAT THE DRAPER SEES.

(From the Red Letter.)

Christmas Eve: fine, bright, frosty weather; for a time hatred, malice, and uncharitableness seem to be dying away. Some purses are heavy. more are light, but the hearts of their owners seem alike touched by thoughts that bring all that is best in them to the surface.

Fathers, who perhaps in the ordinary way would seek employment at the public-house to-night, assist their wives with the shopping. Plum puddings are a recognised Christmas institution, but in many families new pinafores for the little girls are almost as much so.

“I want to see some pinafores,” says a customer. Then going to the shop door, she sings out, “Come in, Joe.”

Joe appears doubtfully but when the pinafores are produced his shyness wears off, and his interest is keen. Nellie’s eleven, Marjorie’s eight, Jane is three, and baby’s 9 months. “We want one for each of them.” says the mother. They look at several.

“I say, mother, wouldn’t Nell look fine in that?” says Joe.

“Too dear.” says the careful housewife.

“’Ow much?” asks Joe.

The price quoted, and the generous father declares it is not a ha’penny too much. The selection is completed, and away they go happy. A minute or two after Joe reappears alone–left his stick, he says. “I say, show me some haprons, quick, miss, to fit the missus.” He buys a good one, and, cramming it into his pocket, goes out flourishing his recovered stick, left for the purpose.

Later his wife will dodge in and purchase a tie for Joe, bright enough to dispel a fog of the “London particular” variety.

Such is the pleasant scene enacted again and again in many a fancy shop on Christmas Eve, telling of a fund of affection which seldom finds expression.

Bashful young men appear to buy gloves, fur necklets, or silk ties for their sweethearts. Many come for gloves with no idea of size. One blushing swain informed me that her waist was 23 inches, but didn’t know her size in gloves. A few years ago girls were fond of buying braces and tobacco pouches, which they would embroider with their own fair hands for their beloved ones, but these are not so greatly favoured now, mufflers and silk handkerchiefs having replaced them. And. indeed, generally in present giving there seems to have been a movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental.

One Christmas Eve incident to close with. I was once employed in a shop the proprietor of which his assistants generally spoke of as the “Curmudgeon”–a name his character apparently justified. Just as we were close upon closing time a poor woman in widow’s weeds who had been a good customer in happier times came in and asked for pinafores. There had been a great rush of business, and all the cheap ones of the size she required had been sold. Her eyes tilled with tears to think that her little one must be disappointed.

Just as she was going the “Curmudgeon” came forward with a pinafore, saying. “This has been badly inked. and if it is of any use you may have it for six-pence.” The widow went away happy. The “Curmudgeon” had deliberately inked one of the best pinafores, knowing that she would not accept a big reduction as a matter of charity.

I am persuaded that the half-sovereign he gave me that night was meant to close my lips about the incident, but I refused to be bribed, and his name is no longer the “Curmudgeon.”

Waikato [NZ] Times 24 December 1903: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is always pleased to hear of kindly and generous fathers and husbands and of Scrooge-like employers who show unexpected flashes of liberality in the Christmas season. One hopes that the missus was pleased with her apron and Joe was delighted with his brilliant cravat. The Curmudgeon receives a reverential tip of a figurative cap for his delicate handling of a situation that called for the nicest diplomacy.

A “movement in favour of the useful as opposed to the purely ornamental,” was certainly all to the good. Young men groaned under the weight of the fancy-work inflicted on them by industrious young ladies and longed for a misfit holiday gift exchange where one could trade six pairs of nicely embroidered slippers for a serviceable jacket or cap. Even better would be if the ladies would not send the fad du jour done up in tissue. Mrs Daffodil shudders as she remembers a certain “singing fish” that was all the rage one Christmas.

THE CHRISTMAS FAD. 

I would put forth a yearning prayer

That these, the loving ones, and fair,

Who keep unworthy me in view

As one for Christmas presents due.

Might each, though generously inclined.

A separate inspiration find.

One year with handkerchiefs I’m showered.

The next by neckties overpowered:

Again more slippers than I’d need

Had I been born a centipede.

Another year, both maids and wives

Embower me in paper knives.

Then gloves came in, pair after pair

 Of every sort— from everywhere—

And smoking caps, whose sizes strange

From infants’ up to giants’ range!

Sweethearts, I pray you. list to me!

Whatever gift is said to be

The proper thing to send— the “fad”—

If you would make my poor heart glad

And cause my bosom joyous swells—

Don’t send it–please, send something else.

Feilding [NZ] Star 24 December 1901: p. 8

Of course, some gentlemen, driven to extremes by an excess of fancy-work might do as this man did:

For this man, who as a terrible fellow with the girls, no less than seven fair creatures manufactured pairs of slippers, all delicious things of embroidery, ribbons and velvet, and presented them to the lucky favorite at Christmas.

This was an embarrassment of riches, and the wretched man, having picked out the finest pair for his own use, quietly placed the remaining six pairs of slippers in the show window of a drygoods store downtown for sale. And they fetched fancy prices, I am told.

Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 7 May 1890: p. 4

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

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 Sensible Christmas Gift: 1910

wrapped christmas gifts with holly

The Sensible Christmas Gift

Sophie Kerr Underwood

The question that has always puzzled me when I have heard people ardently discussing the subject of the sensible Christmas present is this: What is, really, a sensible Christmas present? One good soul will tell you that it is anything which is truly useful, such as a dozen tea-towels, a box of soap, a dust-cap, a cook-book, a gingham apron, a patent can-opener. But somehow, I can not happily put the Christmas giver so summarily into the Martha class.

Then there are good folk with floppy flowers in their hats and floppy sentiments in their heads who say rhapsodically that one should give only the beautiful, the aesthetic, to be truly sensible. “Give the poor factory girl a lovely rose,” they cry. “Give your cook an exquisite French print to wean her mind away from the sordidness of her work; give the little lad who sells your paper a beautifully bound book; give only beauty—beauty.”

Of course, that’s all very well, but I don’t want to give my cook an exquisite French print because she’d be furious and leave, and I would much rather have helpful hints as to what to give my best friends, Alice and Mary, and my cousins and my aunts, than suggestions for the boy who sells papers and the factory girls. I know very few newsboys and factory girls, not because I am snobbish, but because I have never had the chance to meet them. Some one else tells me “Give what you yourself want,” but that’s a poor rule. For instance, I would love to have a French edition of Beranger, and an armful of the poems and plays and stories of the modern Irish writers, but what would it avail if I give these to Aunt Julia, who reads nothing but lives of the saints? And can I give to Louise, who wears only mannish stocks—because they are most becoming to her—the frilly jabots which I dote upon, but which make her look dowdy? Nay, nay, I must seek fresh advice.

It seems as though there must be some people somewhere, who know how to choose Christmas gifts sensibly. Yet each year I hear post-holiday wails about the quantity of useless trash, mere dust-catchers, which has been exchanged under the guise of loving Christmas greetings, and to the great fatigue of the postman. I have seen my own mother, gentle soul that she is, look with undisguised wrath on a cushion-cover reeking with raw color and garnished with screaming cord and tassels, and wonder how in the world any one could dare to buy the thing, much less tie it up in a holly box and send it to her with “Merry Christmas” written on the donor’s card. And I have heard a-plenty of things like this: “Of course, I shall never use it, it’s quite impossible, but I can give it away next year.” And “That makes nine pincushions this year. I, who live in a hall room in a boarding house, have so much need of pincushions.” And “I am perfectly certain that is the centrepiece Mrs. Smith gave Mrs. Jones last year—and now Mrs. Jones sends it to me.” And, “That’s a perfectly beautiful veil-case, of course, but I never wear veils and she knows it.” And so on, and so on, and so on—you could each of you furnish a posy of such sayings, I am sure.

Perforce I must turn to my own gifts. Here is the most prized one that I ever received. It is a square of perforated cardboard with a flower neatly sewed into it with bright yellow worsted. It was made at kindergarten by my own little nephew, my godchild, and he brought it home and announced to his mother that it was for me. It certainly isn’t beautiful and it certainly isn’t useful, but I don’t care, it is a sensible gift, and I’ll maintain it so against all the law and the prophets. Don’t you understand, those little chubby hands toiled patiently at it, working the tedious thread back and forth until the thing was done, and was, in his eyes, a very beautiful and wonderful piece of handiwork. And then—why, he wanted to give it to me, and so it is the gift of a dear, loving little child, and wholly priceless.

And her is a gift which is not sensible. It is a very handsome bowl of Benares brass and it was sent to me by Emily, who visited me last summer and was not a pleasant guest. She required a great deal of attention and entertainment and she told me that she made better mayonnaise than I did and that I looked my age. Both of which statements I know to be utterly untrue. Well, I think, if she didn’t want to be nice when she was staying with me, I would much rather not have an expensive gift from her. I don’t think it expresses honestly her feeling for me. I would much rather have a pleasant memory of Emily’s visit and a little Christmas card than to think of her unpleasantly and be perpetually reminded of her by this truly lovely gift. I shall take no pleasure from the bowl. I insist that it wasn’t sensible of her to give it.

Another Instance: Two Christmases ago I received a big box of candy from a very nice man. Now I never eat candy for it makes me very sick, but I knew that he didn’t know it. And I could see exactly the workings of his perfectly masculine mind. He said to himself, “I’d like to give her something. Let’s see, flowers, books, candy. I can’t send her flowers, for she’ll be away down in the country and they’d be ruined when they get there. There’s no use getting books for her, for she’s so fussy about books and I’d never be sure that she really liked them. But candy—every woman likes candy—I’ll send her a lot of it.” And so Christmas morning when I looked at a most lovely box of sweets and at the pencilled card that came with it, I liked them both very much, and I think it was a perfectly sensible present.

Now as I go on, it is beginning to be borne in on me that a sensible present is a present you want to give and one which you honestly think will be appreciated. The oh-anything-will-do-for-her present is not sensible. Better a two-cent card that you really want to send than a golden platter and a feeling that you had to give something handsome.

When I see the groups of scrambling women battling about the bargain-counters at Christmas-time, I always feel that there lies a good part of the general dissatisfaction with Christmas giving. Going home on the cars, I heard, “well, I’ve got all my relatives’ presents purchased, thank heaven, and to-morrow, I start in on Jim’s. I think grandma will like that scarf, don’t you, even if she never does wear anything but black? Of course, it’s pink, but it’s a lovely pink, and it was only ninety cents marked down from a dollar and a half, and I was so tired looking around I thought I might as well get it and have that off my mind.”

“Well, poor grandma,” thinks I!

“But you aren’t being helpful at all,” somebody complains. “It’s all very well to talk about other people and not being able to choose sensible gifts, but I notice you haven’t made a single suggestion that will help a tired and bewildered Christmas shopper with a list as long as her arm.

All right—listen. Here’s the way I look at the sensible present. First off, cards for everybody you just want to say Merry Christmas to, and buy them early because you have so much better chance to get pretty ones; silk stockings and really fine handkerchiefs for girls, for no girl ever had enough of either; books that you absolutely know he wants, for a man; money for servants, but put it in a pretty envelope and ask each member of your family for a list of the things he or she wants and stick to that list; and nothing, no, not so much as a Christmas post-card, to any one unless it is sent with hearty good-will.

Please remember, except for this last clause, I do to set up to be authority on the subject of sensible presents. I am seeking light on the subject earnestly and humbly. I have merely made this plan for myself because I am too busy a woman to fashion gifts with my own fingers, and my time is so closely occupied that I cannot afford to waste it in aimless shopping through over-full shops. And when I say that I wrap up and address—and sometimes put the stamps on—each gift as soon as I buy it and everything is always ready at last three days before Christmas, you’ll probably think I haven’t much holiday sentiment. But I can’t help that. I’ve had to work out my plan at Christmas giving to suit my own time and strength and this is what I would urge every woman who values her peace of mind to do.

The Sensible Christmas gift must be sensibly selected and sensibly given. It isn’t a gift of policy or obligation, but of affection. It taxeth not unduly the purse, the time or the eyesight of the giver, nor the taste and patience of the recipient. It may be beautiful or useful, both or neither. It brings its welcome with it. It is not laid away and passed on to someone else next year. It says “Merry Christmas” to you sincerely, because it can truly make your Christmas merry with kind thought and loving memories. Oh, dear, all this sounds so nice! Why doesn’t some good fairy give us a magic wand so that, as we choose our gifts, we might be sure to understand which are the truly sensible and which are the utterly foolish and vain.

Woman’s Home Companion, Vol. 37, 1910: p. 65

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil heartily seconds the notion of considering carefully which presents are truly sensible or utterly foolish and vain. If any of Mrs Daffodil’s mistresses had so much as considered an exquisite French print as an acceptable gift, she would have given immediate notice or poisoned her bouillon.  Such aesthetic-minded women have no business employing servants and should be reported to the authorities for abuse.

Previous posts have dwelt on the evils of fancy-work , Reginald on Christmas presents, and the special kind of hell that is the holiday bazaar.

Mrs Daffodil has added “magic wand” to her gift list. Most useful.

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 Anti-Fret Christmas Shopper: 1898

late christmas shopper

Some Buy Their Christmas Presents in July and Some on Christmas Eve

Perplexities of Holiday Shopping

There is a Christmas shopper who stands aloof from the hurrying throngs in the stores at this season and regards with smiling complacency their frantic efforts to be served.

She is the Christmas shopper of the new era. For want of a better name we will call her the Anti-Fret Purchaser. Her method of purveying Christmas presents may have slight drawbacks, yet it saves worry, care and vexation.

It is better to give than to receive. It is still better to purchase Christmas presents in peace and quietness than to join the frantic throng of belated buyers who are now besieging the counters from nine o’clock in the morning until late at night. It gives a more benevolent feeling to know that the Christmas present which you have sent was purchased while the mind was free from distracting thoughts.

There is no care resting upon the soul of the Anti-Fret Purchaser, for she bought her Christmas presents weeks and months ago. Last year’s New Year resolutions had hardly begun to weaken before she was giving thought to the gifts which she would bestow on the Christmas nearly twelve months away.

Her Christmas is distributed over the entire year. The glow of benevolence rests upon her like a halo from January till December. She is Lady Bountiful always. Wherever she goes her mind is filled with the thoughts of Yuletide. If she is in the dry goods store she may see some dainty trifle worthy of being stored up against that day. When humanity five deep stands before the Christmas counters. In the jewelry store, in the book shop, and in scores of places she calmly selects Christmas gifts and has them sent to her house in mysterious parcels, which nobody but herself is permitted to open.

Buys Furs in August.

She goes to the stores of those who sell furs while an August sun is beating down upon her sailor hat. It may be that furs are cheaper in summer than in winter. Supposing that they are, the Anti-Fret Purchase has a chance to distribute her holiday largess over a larger area. It is true that it requires a great deal of time, care and moth balls to keep fur garments presentable until the season when the air is filled with snowflakes instead of humidity. It was only the other day that one of the Christmas shoppers of the new school showed me a box of cigars which she had purchased last July as a Yuletide gift for her brother. It may be that the Havanas lost somewhat of their pristine freshness, but think of the Christmas benevolence which filled that young woman’s heart for half the year. The fifty “Dusty Beauties,” as Kipling calls the rolls of the fragrant weed, are, no doubt, somewhat dry by this time, but the spirit in which they were bought is as fresh and generous as it was on the day the girl bought those cigars with the “lovely red bands.”

No plan ever worked with absolute perfection. There is another drawback to the purchase of Christmas presents many months in advance. Friendships here on earth are apt to fade. The young man for whom a young woman would embroider the uppers of slippers last July may not be thought worthy of such a remembrance in December. The neck-tie pin which the youth was to receive for Christmas may never reach him, for in six months lovers may quarrel and drift far away. Then it often happens that slippers are consigned to a fiery furnace and that necktie pines are given to the gardener and hired man.

Some of the Drawbacks.

Then, there are times when vain regrets enter like iron into the soul of the Anti-Fret Purchaser. It is not a pleasant thing to discover that those things which were fashionable six months ago have gone out of vogue, especially when some of them were laid away for Christmas presents. The pangs of anguish which the beforehand shipper feels at that time is not to be compared to the dark  woe which descends upon her soul when she finds that the price of what she has purchased is half as much now as it was a few months ago. It is enough to make any woman shed tears of remorse to see the label “49 cents, marked down from $1.25,” when she realizes that last July she paid the 1.25.

Yet, what are these slight circumstances compared to the general feeling of relief and rest which comes to the Anti-Fret Purchase when she sees her friends plunging into a wearisome campaign of Christmas shopping. Sometimes she actually goes with them in order to behold their looks of discomfiture when they stand an hour waiting to be served and half an hour longer to get their change. Then it is that she smiles and remarks that she secured her presents long before the holiday rush began. She thinks of various nooks and comers at home where there is a Yuletide treasure trove. She thinks of neatly tied packages laid away in chiffoniers and dressers. She knows that each package has been carefully marked months ago. She has a list on which are the names of all those whom she planned to remember. Opposite each name is a check mark, which signifies that the present has been duly marked and is ready to be sent away.

Her friends meanwhile are trying to remember whether it is “Johnnie” or “Jimmie” who would like to have a drum. They are vainly seeking to recollect the age of Aunt Sarah’s boy and to decide whether he should have a doll or a shotgun. It is hard to keep in mind such details when one is in a hurry.

Her List Complete.

It is not so with the Christmas shopper who has been slowly accumulating her budget of gifts. She has taken pains to inquire concerning the wants and the preferences of her kith and kin. Quite incidentally she discovered the kind of cigars her brother smoked and learned whether another young man will like to have a matchbox or a neck-tie pin. It is very awkward to ask point blank questions within a few days of Christmas. The wherefore of the inquiries is too apparent. Months before, however, the investigation can be conducted without exciting the least suspicion.

It is not at all likely that the Anti-Fret Purchaser will forget anybody whom she should remember. She has taken months to deliberate and to plan, and it is practically impossible for her to leave anybody out whom she should remember.

Even in the best regulated stores the delivery of packages is often delayed around Christmas time. Parcels are piled in the basements to a height of many feet. It is necessary to fairly scoop them up and place them in the wagons. It often happens that the packages which were to have been delivered the day before Christmas does not arrive until three days after the turkey and cranberry sauce have been served. There have been innumerable cases when the hearts of children have been broken because the presents expected on Christmas morning did not arrive. Then it is that the woman who has delayed her Christmas until the last minute uses language only fit for the recording angel to hear. The Anti-Fret Purchaser, however, has sent all her presents away the day before Christmas and is spending her hours in beneficent calmness.

The New York Herald 11 December 1898: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is certain that all of her readers fall into the prudent, pre-holiday-shopper category…. Labour reformers were also in favour of “anti-fret” shopping policies. A heart-rending tale entitled “The Toxin of Christmas: The Story of a Little Shop Girl; Her Struggle with Late Christmas Buyers That Might Easily Have Been Spared,” related the horrors of exhausted shop girls forced to contend with heartless floorwalkers and demanding Christmas Eve shoppers, poisoning the weary workers’ Christmas celebrations. Editorials also urged merchants to close earlier and hailed the merits of shopping early in the holiday season, not least of which was consideration for the working girl. Mrs Daffodil notes that this year saw a controversy over “early openings” of stores for the holiday shopping season. Plus ça change….

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.