Tag Archives: debutantes

The Bore of a Ball-room: 1832

The Tricolored Quadrille Ball, New York City 1830

The Tricolored Quadrille Ball, New York City 1830


From a London Journal.

It is an amusing thing to stand in the outskirts of what Lord Mulgrave terms the gown-tearing, tugging, riving mob of a London ballroom, and speculate on the motives and views of the individuals of which it is composed. “Je suis ici pour mon grandpere,” said the Duc de Rohan, at a seance of the French Academy. “Et moi pour ma grammaire,” replied the Abbe de Levizac. “I am here in honour of my grandfather,” might be observed by many a Fitzroy, Seymour, Somerset, or Bentinck at Almack’s; – “And I, in honour of my daughter, or niece, or protegee,” would be an apt rejoinder from half the ancient dames stationary on the satin sofas of the sanctuary. For a given number of personages, of proportionate means and condition of life, to meet together for purposes of mutual amusement, is, in the abstract, a very reasonable employment of their superfluous time and superfluous coin. But in these days of sophistication, few things are to be considered in so bald and definite a point of view; and of the three or four hundred human beings congregated together during the months of June and July, in certain “matchless and magnificent mansions,”—garnished by Gunter with a sufficiency of pines and spring chickens, and by Michaud with minikin Collinet and his flageolet—we venture to assert that scarcely fifty are brought within its portals by a view to mutual entertainment.

First, in the list of guests, are those who go because they are apprehensive of being classed among the uninvited; labouring through the toils of the toilet solely to prove their right of being there. Next come the idlers, who fly to the throng in the hope of getting rid of themselves; finding it far more charming to yawn away the evening, and grumble over the weariness, staleness, flatness, and unprofitableness of life among ladies in satin gowns, and gentlemen in satin cravats, than in the domestic desolation of home.

After these, we rank the routineers, who order their carriages to the door at eleven o’clock P.M., every night between April and July, merely because they have done the same every season for the last ten years;  persons, in fact, who go everywhere, and see every thing, because. every body of their acquaintance does the same. Then we have the dowagers “on business;” intent on exhibiting “my youngest daughter—her first season,”—or “my sweet young friend, Lady Jane, quite a novice, as you may perceive, in gay scenes of this description.” A little further may be seen certain fading beauties, whose daughters and Lady Janes are still with the governess; profiting by their absence to listen to the whispers of the Colonel and Lord Henry, who are either already married, or not “marrying men.” Close at hand are two or three husbands of the fading beauties; either perplexed in the extreme by the mature coquetry of their worse halves, or taking notes for a curtain lecture, or gathering data for conjugal recrimination. Others, both of the Lady Janes, and the married beauties, are there at the hollow impulse of mere vanity; to show the beautiful robe a la Grecque, smuggled from Paris through Cholera and quarantine, or anxious to prove that, though the Duchess of Buccleugh’s diamonds are very fine, their own are more tastefully set. A few “very good-natured friends” of the hostess go in hopes of discovering that the supper is deficient by a dozen of champaigne and half a dozen pounds of grapes; while one or two flirts of a somewhat pronounced notoriety, go that their names may be included in the Morning Post list of persons present, (or our own,) which thus endorses their passport to other and better balls. The young men go to prove that they are in fashion; the middle-aged to show that they are not too old to be asked to balls; and the elderlies because they find themselves shouldered at the Clubs, and can bestow in a ball-room their tediousness without measure or limitation on any unlucky person whose carriage is ordered late.

“I did not expect to see you here,” observes Mrs. A. to Mrs. B. on the landing-place leading to Lady F’s. ball-room, which neither has any chance of entering for the next half hour. “I dare say not;  this is the first time I ever ventured here. But, to say the truth, I want to show people I am in town, without the bore of sending round my cards.” “How old Lady Maria is grown! And what in the world does she mean by coming out so soon? It is very little more than a year since she lost her husband.” “If you had such lumber to dispose of as four ugly daughters, you would ‘take no note of time,’ as far as the forms of widowhood are concerned.” “And there is the bride, Lady Mary Grubb! In my time people did not allow the world to encroach upon their honeymoon!” “But you see she has forfeited caste by marrying a parvenu, and loses no time in showing people that the creature has less of the shop about him than might be expected.” “And her mother, the marchioness, I protest!” “Of course. She is very wise to put a good face on this awkward business of her eldest daughter.” “And poor Mrs. Partlet—taking care that her great, gawky, silly son, does not commit himself by blundering into the nets of the marrying young ladies.” “And Lady Helena watching her husband’s flirtation with Mrs. Tomtit, while her eye-glass actually trembled with jealous fury!” “And little Clara Fidget, trying to find out by what vile designing damsel Lord Charles has been kidnapped away from her.” “There is scarcely any one here to-night,” cries Mrs. A., standing aside a moment, to make way for the crowd, which has already torn away a yard of her sabots. “What can you expect in a house where they ask every body. Lady F. is in the popularity line. She invites whole families—from the great grandmother in her diamond stomacher, to the open-mouthed hobbledehoy in loose nankins, at home for his Easter holidays.” “It is a great impertinence in people to inflict one with an indiscriminate mob. I shall never come here again. Ah! Colonel de Hauteville, I see you have struggled through the billows. What chance have we of getting into the ballroom.” “Luckily, for you, very little. It is a very bad ball—hardly a face one knows.” “Sir William, you have been dancing, I perceive?” “There is no other way of getting room to stir in a crowd of this sort. I was obliged to ask one of Lady F’s. daughters to waltz, to escape from between two great fat women, who were squeezing me into gold-beater’s skin. Dunbar! How are you?” “How am I? why, very much bored, of course. What shall we do? Is there a supper?” “Not such a one as a Christian man should venture on. Let us go to Crockford’s.” “With all my heart. Make haste. Lady P. will be laying violent hands on you, and wanting you to dance.” “If I do, &c. &c. &c.”

In nine cases out of ten, such, or such like, is the dialogue of the very people who have passed two hours between dinner and dressing time yawning on a sofa, lest they should be betrayed into going unfashionably early—who have endured for another hour the pains and penalties of being laced, curled, rouged, stuck with a paper of pins, and fidgetted by the difficult coalition of three dozen hooks-and-eyes, in order to do honour to the assembly; and who, at last, insist on dragging two unoffending quadrupeds, and two or three wretched domestics, out of their beds in “the sweet o’ the night,” in order that they may be seen and see, by candlelight, a crowd of idle men and women of fashion, whom they may see by daylight any day in the week. Yet hence the poor are clothed, the mean are fed; and the philosophy of the ball-room compels us to acknowledge, that of the persons thus occupied, very few are capable of employing themselves to better purpose.

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] August, 1832

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such delicious gossip overheard at a ball!  What backbiting, and conjugal recrimination, and smuggled gowns! And those ageing beauties and ugly, marriageable daughters displayed for the market! Mrs Daffodil figuratively rubs her hands together in anticipation when she thinks of the many murderous possibilities so conveniently assembled in a single room.

Gunter is, of course, the purveyor of ices and confectionary. “Minikin Collinet” is Hubert Collinet, a flageolet virtuoso of such small stature that it was frequently remarked upon in his notices. Michaud was a musican impressario, who arranged programmes and musicians for balls in England and France.

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 Court Hair-dresser: 1892


A London Court Hairdresser Chats About His Patrons.

A Woman’s “Greatest Glory” Is Her “Weakest Point”

The Most Popular and Becoming Coiffure

The Princess of Wales Style is Her Own.

Mr. Walter Trueffit’s hair establishment is in the fashionable quart of Bond Street, and by virtue of his situation and renown princesses, duchesses and lesser women of English nobility bow down to his taste and submit to his dictation.

He can thus afford to be frank and discuss with me the fearful and wonderful processes of a fashionable coiffure. “Some poet said,” he remarked, “that a woman’s greatest glory is her hair. It isn’t so. A woman’s most uncertain beauty and her most deceitful charm is her hair.

“Why, you would scarcely recognize some of these court ladies whom you see at functions if you saw them as I do with locks au naturel.

“A woman’s whole manner and appearance is at stake when she places herself in my hands. I can make her or I can mar her,” said this tyrant of the court.

But Mr. Trueffit is a clever artisan and he has had twenty years’ experience to back his statements, so I listened while he reviewed the subject from his trade standpoint.

“How long does it take you to dress a head of hair?”

“Oh! It takes the average hair surgeon an hour and a half, but I once operated on five cases between the hours of ten and one. It was a great rush, I tell you, to get the women ready for the drawing-room at Buckingham. That performance beat any other record in my line of business.”

I asked him why he didn’t write a book on his varied experiences, and he replied that he couldn’t afford to ruin his trade by destroying a charm in women that most men believe to be natural. “Better fool ‘em as long as you can,” he said, very sensibly, and I agreed with him. He was something of a historian, this hairdresser, for he told me that the Greek warriors were the first to discover that a woman’s hair was her first assailable feature, and he referred to a stone frieze form the temple of Apollo exhibited among the antiquities of Athenian sculpture in the British Museum and representing a battle scene between the Greeks and the Amazons in which Athenian heroes drag the Amazons to earth by twisting their long hair about their muscular arms.

It was this knowledge which produced the Grecian style of headgear, for then, as now, it was a species of coiffure built in curling parapets, spiked to the topmost curl with various descriptive weapons in the form of Greek ornaments that no man could seize with impunity. Fashion, which in many ways is leading society back into the pretty galleries of past styles, has taken a stride from the present century into the age of early Athens, and in London, as in Paris, the prevailing fashion of dressing the hair for ladies is Grecian, said my instructor.

“What is the style of hair dressing used by the court dames in England?” I asked.

“The Grecian coiffure, of course, is the most popular,” he replied, “although it is not becoming to all faces. The best reason I can assume for the prevalence of this style is that fact that it shows the shape of the head and poise of the neck better than any other fashion. With some ladies I have found it necessary to dress the hair higher or lower in angles according to the outline of the face and the curve of the neck. English women of the aristocracy generally have a liberal supply of their own hair and do not require the addition of false twists to any great extent. I have rarely been called up to use any false hair in the coils at the back, but more often find it necessary to attach a fringe of curls to the natural growth in front over the forehead. It is the custom among all titled women when going to a grand ball to employ a hairdresser. His skill and taste sometimes contrive a complicated style that has no artistic precedent of any kind. The princess of Wales, for instance, never wears her hair in the Grecian fashion because it is not becoming to her. Therefore she has a style of her own which very few faces can carry successfully.

“What is the rule for wearing the hair at court entertainments?”

“It is generally founded upon the prevailing fashion of the times, allowances being made for the hairdresser’s judgment upon certain complications which are suitable to the face and head of the wearer. For young ladies the Grecian style is most becoming. On court occasions a delicate tulle veil is fastened with a diamond star, sun tiara or coronet of diamonds, and other valuable ornaments, generally heirlooms in the family, to the crown of the coiffure, while in front three ostrich tips are set drooping a bit over the fringe of curls. These plumes are usually white, sometimes pale blue or pale pink, but if the court be in mourning of course they are black.”

“What is the cost of a court coiffure?” I asked.

“Oh! Some of the ladies carry enormous fortunes in ornaments on the head. I have known one coiffure to represent a cash value of £10,000, nearly $50,000. Great care has to be taken in fastening diamonds and gems in the hair securely, and this branch of the hairdresser’s art is perhaps the most important.

“With elderly ladies the style of court hair dressing varies according to the quantity and quality of the hair. Ladies of advanced age usually wear lace mantillas or lappets fastened to the hair and falling over the shoulders. We have one set charge for dressing a lady’s hair which is never varied.”

“How much is that?” “Half a guinea ($2.52). Every court hairdresser carries a case of tools like a surgeon, and he travels from one mansion to another in a carriage like a doctor.”

“Where do the styles for court coiffures originate?”

“That would be hard to say. Of course we are always watching the fashion journals and studying the fashion plates and we get a great many ideas from the Paris papers.”
Very few American ladies apply for hairdressers, I was told, but when they do it is always in preparation for a presentation at court.

There is a special superiority in the Grecian style of hairdressing, and that is it can be bought in separate pieces or complete, so that with the very slightest natural foundation one can create as graceful and artistic a coiffure as fancy may dictate. And the whole wig is made of human hair, too. I went out into the fog and wondered no more at the frailty of my sex when I thought of the many odd and fascinating scalps that had been presented a court this year.

The Repository [Canton, OH] 23 October 1892

A 1923 Court presentation ensemble. Victoria & Albert Museum Collection

A 1923 Court presentation ensemble. Victoria & Albert Museum Collection

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Queen Victoria was still on the throne at the time of this article, yet the same requirements obtained–sponsor, train, feathers, veil, and curtsy–until court presentations were discontinued by our present Queen in 1958. Incidentally, Mr Truefitt–the correct spelling of his name–later went into trade manufacturing gentlemen’s razors.

At the time of King Edward’s coronation, court hairdressers were much in demand.


Early Coronation Hour Brings Services of Coiffeuses Into Big Demand.

London, Saturday, April. 5. The early hour fixed for the coronation ceremony has had the effect of sending many ladies to their hairdressers. The smart hairdressers will spend all the day before the ceremony in crimping and waving the hair of the ladies who will be in the Abbey and the night beforehand they will go from house to house dressing the locks they have previously attended to with irons. Every appointment has already been made. One lady who objected to half past six o’clock in the morning as too early for her was told that it must either be then or not at all, as the artist had every other moment filled. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 6 April 1902: p. 3

Sensible ladies sent their maids to school for specialized hair-dresser training so they did not have to compete for appointments. No lady of title looks her best when she has to rise before six in the morning to have her hair dressed.

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 Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

London, June 29. The court held this week by King Edward and Queen Alexandra lends interest to the inquiry as to what it costs for a debutante to make her curtsey to the king and queen.

A certain amount of exaggeration has attached itself to the expenditure which is cited as necessary for a court outfit. The all important dress may cost thousands and tens of thousands of collards, but on the other hand, a very dainty little debutante at the last court only spent $25 on her frock. It was made by a good dressmaker and the train was lent by a friend.

A calculation has been made to decide the maximum and minimum cost of a presentation at court. There is, of course, practically no limit to the expenditure, which might be involved. A gown may be sewn with real jewels. A petticoat may be fashioned of priceless lace; a feather fan may be adorned with sticks of gold. All that can be done is to take a fair average of the sum total which would be considered necessary by a society debutante.

The minimum cost is a more difficult matter. The most rigid economy must be practiced, and the greatest difficulty which will present itself will be to invest a comparatively small sum on the outfit and yet to compare favorably with the woman who has spent three times the amount.

The fact that it is now possible to hire a court train has proved a veritable boon to many debutantes. The price varies from $12 to $30, but a very dainty train of chiffon, lace and touches of silver embroidery can be procured for the evening at a charge of $15. Bouquets are not so fashionable now as white feather fans, but not everybody can afford one of these fragile luxuries, and in that case flowers must suffice. A firm of court florists will make up a bouquet of white poppies and marguerites for an extremely small sum.

A visit to the photographers might even be omitted but it would be a pity to economize in this respect. Every woman is anxious to hand down to posterity a picture of herself gowned for the great event.

As a last word of advice to the would-be debutante who is faced by the problem of a moderate dress allowance, it is interesting to note that the ladies, some of the most noble in the land, who go often to court, do not agitate themselves on the question of the outfit. They wear the same costumes, sometimes with a slight alteration, on many occasions and constantly borrow a train.

The Maximum Cost.

Court gown $525; petticoat $50; lingerie $50; corsets $25; silk stockings $10; satin shoes $15; veil and feathers $25; gloves $5; bouquet of orchids or white feather fan $50; cloak $165; real lace handkerchief $25; photographs $30; hairdresser (at the house) $5; manicure (at the house) $5; face masseuse (at the house) $5.

From this it will be seen that the grand total is about $1,000.

The Minimum Cost

Court gown $50; hire of court train 15.00; petticoat $5; lingerie $10; corsets $5; silk stockings $5; veil and feathers $5; gloves $5; bouquet $5; cloak $25; real lace handkerchief $5; photographs $10; hairdresser (at the shop) $2.50; manicurist (at the shop) $250; face masseuse (at the shop) $2.50.

From this it will be seen that the minimum is approximately $150.

The largest amount ever expended on a presentation outfit was paid by an American bride. The gown was made of white silk chiffon embroidered with real seed pearls and moonstones to represent lilies of-the-valley and white forget-me-nots. The court train was composed of real lace mounted over cloth of silver. The lace for the lingerie was specially made at Honiton for the occasion. The petticoat was composed of rich brocade and hand-painted chiffon.

The “Record” Outfit.

Court gown $7,500; petticoat $130; lingerie $150; corsets $50; silk stockings $35; shoes; $75; veil and feathers $35; gloves $15; bouquet (rare exotics) $75; cloak $250; real lace handkerchief $50. [$8,365 in total.]

From this it will be seen that the lingerie of the “record” outfit cost approximately as much as the “lowest possible” outfit.

The queen wore a mauve gown embroidered with gold in India; corsage and train to correspond; tiara of diamonds; ornaments, rubies, diamonds and emeralds; orders, the Garter, Victoria and Albert, Crown of India, and the Danish family order. It was a night of pretty debutantes, among whom may be mentioned Lady Helen Grosvenor, who was presented by her mother, Katherine, Duchess of Westminster, the latter dressed in black with a lovely diamond tiara and a necklace of pearls. Then there was Lady Cynthia Needham, presented by her mother, Lady Kilmorey, who wore a wonderful Paris gown with a tiara in the form of a waving ribbon in diamonds. Miss Drexel, as was anticipated, was one of the sensational debutantes of the evening, and looked perfectly lovely, her mother, Mrs. Anthony Drexel, blazing with jewels, presenting her. Miss Millicent Grosvenor, a daughter of Lord Henry and the late Lady Henry Grosvenor, was also presented by Katherine, Duchess of Westminster.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 30 June 1907: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has been ransacking her Debrett’s to discover the identity of the “American bride” whose presentation attire was so costly. She thought first of Miss Mary Leiter of Chicago, later so successfully Lady Curzon, whom we have met before in this forum. However, the new Lady Curzon’s gown is described thusly:

She wore a magnificent court train, suspended from the shoulder, of white cloth and silver moiré antique lined with the palest of green satin and embroidered with large bouffon. Her gown was of rich ivory and silver duchesse, the corsage being arranged with silver wings back and front. The under bodice was of soft tulle finished with exquisite point d’Alencon lace… Her head dress was of plumes and she also wore a white veil. She carried a Goodyear bouquet of white orchids. [Alexandria [DC] Gazette 22 May 1895: p. 2]

A “Goodyear bouquet” was not, as Americans might presume, rubber flowers, but an exclusive nosegay from Edward Goodyear of the Royal Arcade in Bond Street, holding a Royal Warrant  first from Queen Victoria, and thence to the reign of her present Majesty. Due to some unpleasantness during the last War, the firm is no longer located in that desirable location.

Consuelo Vanderbilt, the Duchess of Marlborough, wore her wedding gown “cut low,” at her court presentation, but descriptions of the garment are scant. It seems to have been ordered in Paris before the Duke of Marlborough proposed; Consuelo’s mother, Alva, was as optimistic as she was ruthless.

The newspapers who printed the description of the “record outfit,” are all equally discreet, mentioning only “an American bride.” If Mrs Daffodil may speak frankly, she is surprised that only one “American bride” could be cited for this lavish expenditure.  In her persual of Debrett’s Mrs Daffodil sees scores of possible candidates. Britain has always been a fertile field for opportunists. First it was the Romans, then the Vikings and their little smash-and-grab raids; and in 1907 it was the dashed Americans baying after a coronet.

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.