Tag Archives: dress reform

Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919

Miss Fannie Harley, magazine writer and traveler, in her chic walking costume. It was in this costume that Miss Harley recently appeared in a New York street and attracted considerable attention. Miss Harley in her house costume of blue and white plaid gingham. The suit is trimmed with plain blue gingham bands and with white cords and tassels. Street costume of which yachting serge with a girdle of cerise taffeta and cuffs trimmed with cerise buttons. Marabou around the neck and the skirt. The French parasol is of cerise.

‘Harleys’ for Housewives and Business Girls

Wear ‘Em to Work, Walk Instead of Hobble, Get Around Better, Have Comfort and Ease and Health—And Put Skirts on Bow-Legged, Knock-Kneed and Pigeon-Toed Men.

By Fay Stevenson.

New York, Oct. 8 Young ladies of the business brigade, stop wearing décolleté blouses and tight skirts. Be modest and wear trousers! Now, don’t all blush and gasp until you finish reading what sort of trousers they are.

Miss Fannie Harley 1910-1915 in the street costume that caused a sensation in New York. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ggbain.19904/

Dr. Mary Walker wore men’s clothes several years ago, but they were so very, very masculine that no typically feminine woman wanted to don them. Now we have Miss Fannie Harley, who has come on from the West and dazzles us all by walking down Fifth avenue in a costume of white serge trousers, or harleys, as she prefers to call them, spelled with a small “h.” But call them what you please, there is absolutely nothing masculine about them, for they are made of silks, cretonnes and challis, and trimmed with marabout, chiffons, buttons and roses.

“I don’t advocate trousers for all other women,” Miss Harley told me, as we sat in her room at the McAlpin, surrounded by the most feminine materials you can imagine, even if they were cut in two pieces instead of one at the base. “I can see how the woman who has worn skirts all her life would find it very embarrassing to jump into a pair of harleys and walk right out before the public. But at the same time I think my harleys twice as modest with their round-necked smocks and coatees as the décolleté blouses and ridiculously tight skirts I see. For instance, if I were a business girl, say a stenographer in an officer where there were a number of men, I would much rather appear in a pair of harleys and one of my smocks than in the sleeveless, backless, ankle-binding dresses so many young women wear. Is there any immodest about me?”

Keeps Touch of Feminine.

Miss Harley stood up and let me survey her form head to foot. She is tall and slender, with the firm and supple form of one who has lived much in the open. She wore what she termed her “utility” harleys, which are made of khaki soutache and reach clear to her ankles.

While not the Utility Suit mention in the article, this is the walking suit pictured at the head of the post, with matching hat, 1919 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/173563?sortBy=Relevance&ft=fannie+harley&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

A little white linen smock very similar to our middies came just over her hips and over this she slipped a khaki jacket with a belted effect. Her feet were clad in tan, round toed shoes with a military heel. But Miss Harley’s love of the feminine, despite her preference for trousers, displayed itself in a touch of blue. The harleys were bound with blue braid and trimmed with big blue bone buttons. All of Miss Harley’s clothes match in color schemes. Her smock also bore traces of the same shade of blue in embroidered initials.

I was forced to admit her harleys do not display her figure as much as the present-day tight skirts would. They are loose over the hips and shirred along the outer seam. At the base they measure sixteen inches.


“Your modern skirts are one-legged trousers, mine are two,” she laughed as she strutted about the room in a free and lively manner unhampered by swaddling clothes. “Now see how much better a business girl could get on and off cars and elevators and go back and forth from desk to desk and corridor to corridor.

And the housewife could be so much more efficient about her work if she could walk instead of having to hobble. Nurses and waitresses, all women who work, could get about their work so much better in harleys. Oh, how I hate skirts!

Not Limited to Khaki.

“Of course this would be a perfectly appropriate rig for the business girl,” she continued, walking about the room, “but I know right well it is not dressy enough for her. However, she need not choose khaki for her materials; she may have serge or broadcloth, satin or silk, or any of the new fabrics. And as to blouses she may have cerise or any color she loves. I believe in every woman keeping her feminine love of color and frills and furbelows, but I hate to see her incase her limbs in skirts as the Chinese used to bind their feet.

“Now when a woman wants to go to the matinee or to an afternoon reception or just to take a stroll down Fifth avenue, what prettier gown can she desire than this?” asked Miss Harley, making a lightning change from her khaki harleys to a pair of peacock blue silk ones. These harleys are shirred in even more artistic designs than the others. And they are trimmed in fancy silver-toned buttons which are heirlooms of Miss Harley’s. Her blouse is of crepe meteor with a band of Venise reaching to the hips and a dainty ruche of maline at the rather high V-shaped neck. Over this Miss Harley slipped a charming little coatee all shirrs and ruffles with a delightfully long cape collar. It, too, is trimmed with the heirloom buttons. A dainty pair of black velvet pumps and a walking stick complete this frock, giving it a decidedly Parisian touch.

Hats to Match.

If you are wondering about Miss Harley’s hats, they are all the same shape, and she has a different one for each pair of harleys. She is her own milliner as well as her own designer and dressmaker. And the reason she always wears her hats and gowns made from the same model is because she insists that when a woman finds that she looks well in a certain style of hat or suit she should always keep that standardized style for herself. She may change in material and color scheme as much as her nature demands, but she should appreciate what lines and angles belong to her.

One time I met a lady whom I thought was perfectly beautiful,” said Miss Harley, “but the next time I met her I wondered why my first impressions were that she was so beautiful, for this time she was positively ugly, and then it dawned upon me, ‘she is wearing a different hat and gown.’ The first time it was in the spring and she wore a chic little mushroom shape which hid an enormously large nose and brought out her best lines, the next time it was in midsummer and she had changed to a large flat hat which openly displayed all her worst points, especially the large nose. Now, if that woman had only clung to that little mushroom shape, no matter whether she changed it to felt or straw or what shades she selected, she would have always passed for a beautiful woman. Personally I prefer the tam style, only I look well with my tam slightly trimmed. I know that is my style of hat and I shall always cling to it.

“And now if I want to be a real dandy and go to a dance or a social affair I have this.” Another lightning change and Miss Harley stood before me in a pink chiffon over pink satin.

The harleys were not only shirred but slit just the tiniest bit and lace inserted. The smock was trimmed with cabochon and strands of pearls in motifs: in fact, there were fifty feet of pearls and seventeen of cabochon. So you see harleys, or trousers, can be worn and one still retain an enormous portion of femininity.

“But what about coats for cold weather?” I asked. “Those little coatees to your khaki and peacock blue silk suits would not be warm enough.”

“A large cape or a big overcoat with an artistic cape collar is what I always wear,” was Miss Harley’s immediate reply. “I think the dolman and cape about the only graceful garment that women of today wear.

“If I had my way from an artistic point of view I would put all slender willowy women in harleys and many men in skirts!”

“But why in skirts?” “Well,” continued Miss Harley between her giggles, “once I stood on a public corner and watched the men file by and of all the knock knees, bow legs and pigeon toes that were displayed I decided that they ought to hid under petticoats and give us a chance to don trousers.

“But there is one thing I don’t like about the woman who slips into a pair of trousers,” added Miss Harley, “And that is she must avoid all masculine attitude, keep her hands out of her pockets and not smoke cigarettes. My idea of harleys is for comfort and ease and health, but I think every woman ought to be as feminine as she can always.

The Weekly News [Denver CO] 9 October 1919: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Miss Fannie Harley (and Mrs Daffodil assumes that small boys and young men snickered privately at her Christian name in this sartorial context) was well-known as a travel writer, and although she disliked the term “lecturer,” she did the circuit, speaking on dress reform and “The Irony of Fashion,” as well as  “Mexico, Anti-capital Punishment, Prison Betterment, Bird Protection, Anti-vivisection, Muzzling Hat Pins, etc.”

She was much in the news between 1915 and 1919, and, possibly due to her youth and beauty, was treated with less mockery than most dress reformers. She also repudiated that name:

“Do not say I am a reformer for I am simply trying to give the fruits of my labors to the world that all may profit by my efforts.”

“My costume consists of two pieces, an upper garment and a bifurcated lower garment which I always designate by the name of harleys. The upper garment is always worn over the harleys and fitted at the shoulders, falls in graceful and natural lines to a point between the hips and knees and does not define a waistline. The harleys fitting easy around the waist and about the hips, slightly taper to the ankles, and cover each leg separately. The corset is absolutely eliminated. Ridges and rigidity would spoil the whole thing.”

Miss Harley survived into the 1950s, seeing her bifurcated costumes vindicated as working women adopted them during the Second World War.

One of Miss Harley’s house costumes

A gentleman makes the case for short skirts for both sexes in this previous post.

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.



She Dressed to Please Her Husband: 1916

Georgette frocks, 1916

Georgette frocks, 1916


Before John had read an article on dress reform, he had thought his wife the most attractive woman in the world.

After reading the article and pondering deeply thereon, he decided that things were all wrong, at least in so far as his wife’s clothes were concerned. Also he resolved that a change must be brought about. Therefore it was with just a hint of severity that he opened the subject on the evening following his perusal of the article.

“Miriam,” said he, “I have been thinking a good deal about the way the modern woman dresses.

Miriam looked up from her sewing with a tender smile. Secure in the consciousness of perfection in her husband’s eyes, she could afford to be generous with the faults of other women.

“Yes?” she replied, encouragingly.

“And I’ve come to the conclusion that these thin, flimsy blouses; these low necks and short sleeves are immodest. And high heels are injurious to the health. They throw the weight of the entire body onto the ball of the foot and the pressure reacts upon the nerves in such a way as to hurt the eyes. In time…”

“Goodness, John,” laughed Miriam, “where did you get all those ideas? You’ve been reading something!”

“Yes, I have. And I agree absolutely with what I have read. Women’s clothes are all wrong, and I am going to insist that you, at least, dress sensibly in the future. I want my wife to look like a woman—not a public exhibition!” And laying aside his paper he glared defiance across the table.

“John Foster! An ‘exhibition,’ indeed. When, may I ask have I been that?”

“Well, I didn’t mean that you had, purposely at any rate,” John conceded. “You have only dressed as all the others do, and we have become so accustomed to seeing those things that we think nothing of it. I mean, simply, that if you want to please me that you will dress as modestly as possible in the future. But I shall insist upon no more high heels or low necks. The other things you may use your discretion about. I believe you said something about getting some new things next week? I shall expect to see a radical change. And I am sure you will agree with me once you have tried out my ideas.”

Miriam’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Yes, dear,” she said meekly. “I’m sure we shall agree after we’ve tried it out.”

And John retired feeling very well satisfied with his position as the head of the house.

Next morning Miriam telephoned to three friends whose husbands belonged to John’s clubs. They met at Miriam’s for luncheon, and there was much laughing over what appeared to be a huge joke. And that night at dinner John again congratulated himself upon the docility of his wife.

“I got my suit today, John,” she said, “and some shoes.”

“Good!” beamed John as he carved the steak. “Get something nice?” “O, yes, dear. It’s very nice. Plain blue, but nice quality. I can’t show you because it is being altered. And I had to get some new waists since you don’t like my thin ones. I shall have them all tomorrow. Couldn’t you meet me in town for dinner somewhere?”

“Fine. Make it a quarter of six. Be on time, and perhaps we can go somewhere afterward.”

Punctual to the moment John entered the waiting room and glanced about. Miriam had not arrived, and it was with a sense of pleasure that he sat down to await her coming. Miriam was not a pretty girl, he told himself comfortably, but there was something irresistibly attractive about her. She knew how to wear her clothes; that was it! Now, there are some women and they would not look well if they had all Paris to put on their backs. Dowdy—that was the word to describe them. For instance, that girl over there! How unattractive she looked and yet her clothes were good! Now the other women in the room looked nifty! Yes, sir. Those high, light-colored boots were sure classy, and he did like those big, floppy hats. Now, Miriam—“

But here his soliloquy was rudely interrupted. Unnoticed by him “that girl over there” had approached and was standing before him.

“Hello, dear,” she said, sweetly, “I’ve been here 10 minutes. Didn’t you see me?”

Like a man suddenly awakened from a pleasant dream John sat up and gasped. So great was his astonishment that he forgot to rise and sat staring at his wife with an expression of amazement very funny to behold.

“Well, how do you like my suit?” she asked brightly. “It’s just what you wanted!”

Slowly John’s eyes took in every detail of the costume, from the high-necked linen shirtwaist to the clumsy, broad-toed, low-heeled shoes which showed beneath the long, ungraceful skirt.

“It is very neat,” he murmured politely, “very neat indeed. Er—shall we eat here, or go out somewhere?”

“Here, of course,” said Miriam decidedly, and led the way to their usual table.

With her coat off she looked worse than with it on. High collars did not suit Miriam’s short, plump neck, and she looked chokey and uncomfortable. John felt somehow as if a trick were being played on him—the way he was sure a fellow feels who has just purchased a gold brick. But the dinner was unusually good and Miriam as entertaining as ever, although not so good to look at, and all was progressing nicely when the arrival of a party of six at a near-by table attracted their attention.

“Why, it’s the girls!” exclaimed Miriam in pleased surprise, and in a moment she and John had joined the jolly group. Ordinarily John enjoyed anything like this, but tonight he was keenly conscious of the dowdy appearance Miriam made among these daintily dressed women, whose filmy blouses and low necks seemed eminently the proper thing. Savagely he cursed the day when he had “butted in” on his wife’s affairs. And the worst of it was that she seemed utterly unconscious of her drab appearance. A cold horror gripped him. What if she should refuse to give up her homely, comfortable clothes and go back to “fussing!” Thoughts of never again seeing the pretty, stylish figure as he had so loved to see it, filled him with hopeless rage. “Whoever wrote that article is a boob” he muttered savagely, “and I was worse than a fool to swallow it!”

But all things have an end, and at last the dread evening was over and they were at home.

“It has been such a happy evening,” sighed Miriam, “and I am not the least bit tired. These nice broad shoes are so comfortable. I just pitied the girls in those high boots. And I’m so glad you like my suit, dear. I always want to please you, you know.”

This was the last straw, and John’s patience, never very strong, gave way. “You do, eh?” he snapped. “Well, there may be some women who look well in a rig like that, but you’re not one of them, and if you want to please me, you will give those things to the cook the first thing in the morning, and never let me see them again. What I don’t know about women’s clothes would fill a barrel, and I’m ready to admit it. Tomorrow, you go in town and get some CLOTHES. Mind you, I mean clothes!—not merely coverings. And say, Miriam, get lots of that soft, thin stuff like Bill’s wife was wearing. It looks mighty good to me!”

And Miriam, being wise in her generation, said nothing at all.

The following day saw a merry party of four young matrons gathered for luncheon in one of the big shops. There was much laughter over what appeared to be  huge joke, but at last the party arose en masse.

“Come on, Miriam, we have still to choose your Georgette crepe frock, you know,” said Bill’s wife. “Aren’t you extravagant, getting a whole dress of Georgette?”

“A little perhaps,” said Miriam demurely. “but John particularly asked me to get something like that!”

Boston Post.

Norwich [MA] Bulletin 25 July 1916: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoireDress reform, which had been a subject of absorbing interest and satire in the 1880s and 1890s, was seeing a revival around the time of the First World War. The self-important husband who thought he could choose his wife’s clothes was a figure of fun in the popular press, blundering over appropriate styles and colour choices and invariably outwitted by his clever wife. There was also debate among fashion experts as to whether a husband should choose (or have the right of approval over) his wife’s clothes and how much of a dress allowance” was appropriate.

Not many years after the date of this article, the United States was led by a President who was deeply interested in his wife’s clothing and, it is said, chose much of her wardrobe with excellent taste. President Calvin Coolidge adored his wife, Grace, and often brought hats and frocks home for her to try. He was said to have been displeased if she wore the same gown twice during their stay in the White House. Mrs Coolidge’s social secretary, Mary Randolph remarked that she never knew a man more interested in his wife’s attire, adding, “Nothing was too much for her. No expense was too great. He always gave her his opinion of her gowns. It was his one extravagance for a man known for his thrift.”

Let us see how the immodest silhouettes of 1916 looked in actual georgette. This is a Lanvin creation.

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 Rational Dress Show: 1883

"The Bicycle Suit" 12 January 1895 Photo-engraving of ink drawing Punch, p. 23 Courtesy Athenæum Club Library London Bicycle, sewing machine -- it's all technology Scanned image and text by George P. Landow

12 January 1895
Photo-engraving of ink drawing
Punch, p. 23
Courtesy Athenæum Club Library
Bicycle, sewing machine — it’s all technology
Scanned image and text by George P. Landow



(By Our Fair Correspondent.)

In the Hall of the Prince is a Show—stuffs and chintzes—

(O Maidens of England, pray list to my song!)

For all there displayed is a warning that Ladies,

In matters of dressing, are terribly wrong!

I thought my new bonnet, with roses upon it,

And tasteful costume, was complete, I confess.

But now I ‘m reminded my eyes have been blinded

To all the requirements of Rational Dress!

We look at the models—they puzzle our noddles—

Regarding them all with alarm and surprise!

Each artful costumer revives Mrs. Bloomer,

And often produces an army of guys.

The costume elastic, the dresses gymnastic,

The wonderful suits for the tricycle-ess—

Though skirts be divided, I’m clearly decided,

It isn’t my notion of Rational Dress!

See gowns hygienic, and frocks calisthenio.

And dresses quite worthy a modern burlesque;

With garments for walking, and tennis, and talking,

All terribly manful and too trouseresque!

And habits for riding, for skating, or sliding,

With “rational” features they claim to possess.

The thought I can’t banish, they’re somewhat too mannish,

And not quite the thing for a Rational Dress!

Note robes there for rinking, and gowns for tea-drinking,

For yachting, for climbing, for cricketing too.

The dresses for boating, the new petticoating,

The tunics in brown and the trousers in blue.

The fabrics for frockings, the shoes and the stockings,

And corsets that ne’er will the figure compress.

But in the whole placeful there’s little that’s graceful

And girlish enough for a Rational Dress!

‘Tis hardy and boyish, not girlful and coyish—

We think, as we stroll round the gaily-dight room—

A masculine coldness, a brusqueness, a boldness,

Appears to pervade all this novel costume!

In ribbons and laces, and feminine graces,

And soft flowing robes, there’s a charm more or less–

I don’t think I’ll venture on dual garmenture,

I fancy my own is the Rational Dress! 

Punch Vol. 84, June 1883

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Rational Dress” (and much hangs on what one thinks of as “rational”) was an easy target for critics with its lack of corsetry, its mannish bloomers, and its association with both the stoop-shouldered Aesthetic Movement and the more rabid Suffragettes.

The “Rational Dress Exhibition” of 1883 was held at Prince’s Hall, Piccadilly, arousing much curiosity from the public and hostility from the press. It emphasised health and “hygiene” and sensible clothing for sport. All well and good, but what the press (and Punch) most deplored was trousers for women. For example, this London correspondent:

I deeply regret to announce that the question of “rational dress” for ladies is again inflicted upon a suffering public by the misguided ladies who want, and apparently must have, a separate visible covering for each leg. Lady Harberton, whose maiden name I believe was Legg, is at the head of this deplorable movement, and has actually lectured upon it at St. James’ Hall before a large audience. The Rational Dress Society is represented at an exhibition of hygienic dress and sanitary domestic appliances and decoration, where the divided skirt is seen in all its horror, together with dresses for boating, tricycling, lawn tennis and other pastimes which in every other country but this are considered unfeminine. In the exhibition there is a gallery for ladies only, the mysteries of which no male eye may explore. Doubtless the ridiculous and futile agitation will fizzle out, owing to the natural disinclination of the majority of women to make guys of themselves and the equal disinclination of the men to have anything to do with women who wear visible trousers. New York Herald 3 June 1883: p. 15

A visitor to the exhibition described this suit, which, in view of its description as garb for mountain-climbing, seems the height of irrationality.

Another dress, the like of which is said to have been worn by a Mrs. King, of Brighton, when climbing the Alps, is a daring affair indeed. Rather loose knee breeches of black satin (not Knickerbockers) are surmounted by a black satin kilted flounce about a foot long, which is the only visible semblance of the time-honored female skirt; the bodice is a sort of bob-tail coat affair, and there is a waistcoat and neck-tie of cherry satin, long black silk stockings and low-cut shoes with red rosettes. The Times [Philadelphia, PA] 10 June 1883: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of dress reform here and here. She is thankful that she is free from the need of any dress reform whatsoever. Her clothing is functional, well-suited to its purposes, and hygienic, thanks to the well-trained laundresses at the Hall.  Perhaps the dress-reformers so interested in hygienic dress merely need to find a laundry able to cope with the soil from a ladies’ rugby scrum or an Alpine ascension.

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.

Dress Reform Through Dance, by Mrs Irene Castle: 1914

Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle

Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Dancing, Mr and Mrs Vernon Castle, 1914 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proper shoes were essential for the Tango:

Tango Boots. c. 1918

Tango Boots. c. 1918

For Tango Costume

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

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

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

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

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


Mrs Jenness-Miller, the Apostle of Culture in Dress: 1890, 1894

One of Mrs Jenness-Miller's creations. From The New York Library Digital Collection

One of Mrs Jenness-Miller’s creations. From The New York Library Digital Collection


Mrs. Jenness Miller Entertains a Large Audience of Trenton Ladies

Association Hall was again crowded yesterday afternoon with an assemblage of ladies who had gathered to hear and who listened delightedly to the apostle of culture in dress. Mrs. Miller appeared in a princess gown of old rose brocade satin, with Watteau back and side draperies. She advocates dress improvement, not dress reform. The old reform was offensive and inartistic. She spoke of the relation of women and their dress, of the Syrian women and their costumes, of the peasant women and how their lives are in harmony with their apparel.

Women ask, can these changes be made? Yes, and with less trouble than the ordinary changes of fashion, and Mrs. Miller cited the wonderful changes in dress made in the past thirty years. In the age of the hoop skirt women appeared as animated pyramids. Next was the pancake age, then the kangaroo with hump on back and hands in that fashion. Then came the pancake fashion with the skirts tied back, displaying the entire form. That style was worn by saint and sinner alike and was not considered vulgar.

The next style was the Hottentottish bustle, when the greatest changes occurred. The principal reason for desiring and advocating a change of dress is to make a better race of men and women. Had the speaker the training of the coming generation of girls, she said, there would not be so many invalids. The specialists’ signs might be taken down from Maine to California. What we need is that mothers of the coming race shall have freedom of the vital organs according to the laws of nature. To accomplish this, moral courage is necessary, but in that respect most women are deficient. We are too prone to follow a leader and care too much for public opinion. Mrs. Miller then illustrated the fashionable pose and caused much laughter.

Nature provides curved lines while fashion, on the contrary, converts them into angles. Art must be true to itself and not to fashion. Art has no novelties, the human figure never changes, it is always in proportion. The women who contemplate this change need not expect to appear better at first; there will be a transition period in which they must exercise and learn to pose correctly.

Then Mrs. Miller appeared in a street costume of tan silk, trimmed with heliotrope velvet and lace. The skirt had box plaits inserted in the seams and presented a very graceful appearance. The waist was fastened on the shoulder and under the arm. Being asked how she fastened the dress, she showed a new device which is quite novel. On the shoulder seam, around the armhole and on the underarm seam, was sewed a cord, into which the hooks could be easily fastened, without the inconvenience of looking for the eyes.

While in this costume, Mrs. Miller explained her manner of dressing and the undergarments she wore, viz., a union suit, a divided skirt of pongee silk, supported by low neck waist of the same material, and occasionally an equipoise waist without bones.

The next dress she wore was her girl’s dress, of which she is particularly fond. It was made of pale pink China silk, with Grecian border on skirt. There was a plain fitting foundation with several rows of shirring around the waist, the upper part being full and loose allowing much freedom for the raising of the chest and the expansion of the ribs. This dress is suitable for a miss or a woman of thirty years. Mrs. Miller then illustrated the ungraceful position in which many women site, having the waist line totally obscured caused by sitting on the spine. Then the rolling movement of the body was given, which, if properly exercised, places the vital organs in their proper relations, and with a regular diet will greatly improve the health.

Development of the throat and neck is desired by most ladies, but all are not aware that by tight lacing the floating ribs are compressed and necessarily push the neck bones into prominence. The two beautiful curves of nature of sacrificed for the waist line.

The fashionable woman of the period is a series of bulges that were not seen in the Venus of Milo. Upon asked her weight, she replied: “One hundred and fifty pounds in sheets and Turkish baths.”

Conventional summer dress was Mrs. Miller’s next theme. The material was an olive green lace-striped silk, with dark green velvet, lace, and gilt braid for trimmings. The dress was draped to form an overskirt which Mrs. Miller said breaks the long graceful lines and renders it unbecoming.

The rainy day costume consisted of a navy blue waterproof serge. The skirt reached halfway between the knee and the ankle; the waist consisted of an ordinary Eton jacket and silk vest. Leggings completed this outfit. In winter equestrian trousers, which furnish protection from cold and rain, are worn. Here Mrs. Miller related an amusing incident which indicated the difficulties a woman experiences in stormy weather:

A poor working woman with a bundle, baby and an umbrella in crossing a gutter was obliged to hold up her dress and in this attempt turned the little one upside down, which at first amused the speaker, but which afterward she regarded as a very pitiful sight, which showed the absolute necessity for a reform in rainy day costumes.

Many women consider the short skirt vulgar, and raise their skirts in crossing the street and display an array of underwear which is quite immodest. “I believe in legs,” said the speaker, “I am sorry for the people who have limbs.” The Almighty gave us legs as well as the men and they are not ashamed of them. Why are there so many moral cowards? We must have the courage of our convictions. When asked if the skirt could not be worn a little longer, Mrs.  Miller replied that it would not be artistic and that more foot would be visible than leg, making the foot appear much larger.

Mrs. Miller believes in plenty of pockets and thinks that man’s superiority began with them. The next costume was an evening gown. It was a combination of rose satin and brocade, trimmed with ribbon, and as she was in a great hurry to conclude her address she removed her dress before the audience and put on her maternity gown. It was a princess dress which could be unlaced and enlarged by means of a cord inserted in one of the darts and another one across the front below the waist line. A Grecian drapery was fastened over it and made a very appropriate gown. Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 5 May 1894: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As may be obvious from this article, Annie Jenness-Miller [1859-1935] was a dress-reformer and popular lecturer. Her “improved” gowns were often made of exquisitely rich materials by European couture houses to her designs. Illustrations of her improved fashions are less the greenery-yallery favoured by aesthetes and ridiculed by  Punch, and more conventionally fashionable garments, which appear a bit blousy around the waist without a corset. She lectured around the world, except in Britain, where no agent would book her lectures and where the British public, ever conservative, refused to adopt her divided skirts. She was a prolific writer and published her own magazine, first titled Dress, but later called The Jenness-Miller Magazine. One might suggest that she enjoyed the limelight and controversy arising from her choice of crusade. Certainly Mrs Jenness-Miller had her critics: 



To the Editor of the New York Times:

To be a successful reformer one must be able to demonstrate in one’s own person the perfect confirmation of one’s theories. A homely woman might as well attempt to change the order of the universe as to influence her sex on the subject of beauty.

The success with which Mrs. Jenness-Miller, the dress reformer, has met is due not to a mental capacity in the last unusual or to any very original ideas, but entirely to the fact that she is a rather handsome woman with a fine figure, and her gowns are artistically beautiful. So far as physical well-being goes, Mrs. Jenness-Miller does, indeed, make a charming illustration for her lectures. Inadvertently and unconsciously, however, she contradicts herself when she tells her audience that divided skirts, chemilettes [a union suit meant to replace corset and petticoat], spiral garters, and the like will affect the honesty, truthfulness, and general uprightness of the race. If Mrs. Jenness-Miller really believes this, how does it happen that she, who has lived, so to speak, in these moral elevators—divided skirts, chemilettes, spiral garters, and the like—for the past five or six years, regards it as perfectly honest to sell tickets at $1 each, or $5 for a course of seven lectures, advertising seven different topics, and to make the third lecture of the course simply a repetition of her first, with fifteen minutes at the utmost devoted to the advertised subject?

Mrs. Miller’s wit cannot be listened to twice without a feeling of ennui. Her hits at man’s curiosity, suspenders, and legs, the unwinding of petticoats on a windy day were amusing when first hear, but fell decidedly flat the second time. Nor was her lecture sufficiently profound for even the dullest not to grasp her meaning in one hearing. Obviously it escapes the mind of this charming woman that although she herself has reached such a high plane in the march of progress as to call legs by their proper name and wears divided skirts, the rest of the world cannot rashly venture to put so great a strain on their mental powers as to listen to these thought-burdened theories twice in so short a time.

Mrs. Jenness-Miller by no means confines herself to the reform of undergarments. Our watches are attacked! In the first lecture, according to the watch which millions of unreformed people are stupid enough still to regard as nearly veracious, the fair lecturer greeted her audience at 11:25, and at 12:35 by the same timepiece she was gone. Yet this Venus of Reform calmly and positively declared that she had talked two full hours. When some one in the audience demurred she smilingly remarked: “Women never realize how time slips by when they are looking at pretty gowns.” We must acknowledge that if chemilettes make truthful men and women the watch had best hide its face forever.


New York Times 30 March 1890

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.