Tag Archives: dressmakers

The Dress-maker’s Duty to Humanity: 1886


“Dressmaking has its humorous side as well as anything else,” remarked a little black-eyed dressmaker on North Clark Street.  “There is the thin woman who will dress in snaky stripes, the scrawny girl who insists on a  décolleté gown, the matron of embonpoint who pleads for flounces to the waist, the matchlike maiden who wants a torturingly tight bodice, and the fluffy-puffy little body who wants gathers.

“But I never give in to them,” she continued with a snap of her eyes.  “I think too much of the human race.  I believe we all have one duty toward humanity.  Mine is to keep women from committing artistic suicide.  The little idiots come into my parlors, look at a fashion-plate, discover the picture of a lady in green gloves holding her fingers as if they were covered with molasses-candy, and decide that they want a dress like hers.  Now, there are nineteen chances out of twenty that the dress was never meant for her at all.  If they think so much of dress, why don’t they make a study of it?

“There is a certain rich lady here, with the face of a Madonna, who came to me with goods for a plaid dress.  I wouldn’t make it for her.  ‘Madame,” I said, ‘you must dress in gray silk.’ I had my way.  There wasn’t a bit of trimming on that dress—nothing but draperies—and she looked like a goddess.  Then another mistake is the universal adoption of color because it is announced to be fashionable, regardless of the fact that the majority of the wearers are making perfect guys of themselves.  Heliotrope is a point in question.  There is a young bride on State Street who came home from Europe last week with a dress of heliotrope.  Her skin is as dark as a Spaniard’s, and her hair and eyes are jet black.  She would have been magnificent in dark red or a cloud of black lace – but heliotrope!” and of this the dressmaker nearly died… [Chicago News]

The Lamar [AL] News 1 April 1886: p. 4


The Little Seamstress, John Faed, Artuk.org

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire We can but respect the dress-maker’s scruples and punctilious devotion to her calling!  The great Charles Frederick Worth himself was similarly conscious of his duty to humanity.

How Worth Makes The Woman.

Very many ladies of this city send regularly to the great man-dressmaker, Worth, in Paris, for their dresses, both summer and winter. Do not for a moment suppose all these women have seen Worth. The greater proportion send a photograph to him, with a description of the complexion, the color of hair, eyes, etc. It is not an infrequent occurrence to have the photograph returned to the owner with regrets at being unable “to compose a toilet for Madame.” A lady of high fashion in this city relates how she went to Worth on one occasion to have a number of dresses made. He asked her to walk across the room. It was a medium-sized apartment. When she was about half across, he called to her from the sofa where he was sitting, “Madame, that is enough; I cannot invent a dress for you; your figure does not please me. Good morning, Madame.” A mother and daughter in this city, charming women, but newly rich and over-anxious about dress, wear the most exquisite toilets of Worth’s composition, which are entirely unique. They have never been to Paris, or “waddled through the Tuileries,” yet Worth has seen them—that is, he has their life-sized pictures; he admires them, and sends then; poetical and ravishing dresses.

The Millinery Trade Review 1876

Miss Maude Annesley, who spent a fruitful year in Paris chronicling French life and fashion, wrote about the tactful Parisian dress-makers.

Even in the rooms of the humbler dressmakers there is a faint echo of the method of the great ones. There is a drawer full of pieces of many colours, wherewith effects can be tried, there is a long glass in three parts in which to study “all sides of the question,” there are thick curtains ready to be drawn when artificial light is needed. Then, although there are no mannequins to prance about in wonderful confections, there is the dressmaker herself, who sees at a glance what Madame ought to wear, and will proceed to illustrate her notion with silk and pins to her customer’s entire satisfaction. They all have taste and ideas, these dressmakers. They would never think of allowing some one to choose anything unbecoming. There is the difference between an English and French dressmaker. In London a woman enters a well-known dressmaker’s establishment, or goes to some old favourite — it is the same thing everywhere. She chooses what she wants, and her taste is rarely disputed.

I will not say that a Parisian couturiere is always right, no one is infallible; but I aver that she very rarely is mistaken in her ideas of what will or will not suit her customers.

And she is so clever in inventing little notions to hide or lessen some imperfection. If Madame is too thin (very rare in these days of the thin woman rage!), if she is too fat, too short, too tall —then it is wonderful to watch the skillful hands manipulating drapery and trimmings. And the tact shown is remarkable.

I was once waiting in the waiting-room at my dressmaker’s when, from the fitting-room, I overheard an enlightening conversation as follows: —

Customer — “I want the neck cut low. No collar.”

Dressmaker — “Parfaitement, Madame.”

Pause. Some action which I naturally could not see.

Dressmaker — “How charming Madame looks with that white tulle edged with pink against her cheek!”

Customer, in “purry-purry” voice — “It is rather becoming. You can use that for the guimpe.”

Dressmaker, sorrowfully — “Alas, Madame, impossible. One cannot edge a guimpe with pink, one can do it only on a collar. It is a thousand pities Madame is to have no collar, her complexion looks ravissante with this pink. However, it is no good discussing it.”

Pause. Some talk about a sleeve.

Customer, in doubtful voice — “Do you think the dress would look as well with a collar?”

Dressmaker, still sorrowful — “Much better, Madame. However, we will not talk of it. . . Does Madame like this band of lace straight or crosswise?”

Customer, after much talk of lace and frills, and several pauses — “Do you know, I think I will have a collar after all! That pink is so charming.”

Dressmaker, joyfully — “Oh, I am glad, Madame. I would not have thought of trying to persuade Madame, but I am sure it will suit Madame admirably.”

Some time afterwards the lady who was “not persuaded” passed through my room. She had no collar to her dress, and her neck was short, her chin double, and two deep wrinkles surrounded the yellow “column.”

I told my dressmaker what I had overheard, and she chuckled. “Well!” she said. “What else can one do with ladies who are unreasonable?”

I agreed, and admired her diplomacy.

My Parisian Year, Maude Annesley, 1912

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

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


Fashionable Benevolence: 1866

The Empty Purse, James Collinson, 1857. Tate Gallery

The Empty Purse, James Collinson, 1857. Tate Gallery

An improving work of fiction to inspire us all to thankfulness and a zeal for charity in this holiday season.

“And she works exquisitely, too, so much better than that impudent Mrs. Blanchard , who, if you will believe it, Ann, never put on that double frill, even after my express direction; and I, not doubting but that the creature had done as I told her, never perceived the omission until I put on the dress to wear to the ball.”

“But where did you hear of this poor woman, Emma, who works so well and so cheap? She must be destitute, to do it for such a trifle.”

“Oh! yes, she is wretchedly poor, with a family of children, and her husband dead or absent. Our girl, Mary accidentally found her out, and told me she thought Mrs. M—, that is the woman’s name, would be glad to sew for me; so I sent for her, and bargained her down, until she was willing to do it for almost anything, rather than not at all. But all this is entre nous , for you know I could not withdraw my former seamstress to bestow on a new one, unless she was cheaper. I thought she might sew for you, when she was not engaged for me. It is something of an object to save more than half what we give Mrs. Blanchard .”

“I am half delighted to think that you have met with such a prize, for I am convinced that these fashionable milliners and mantua-makers are very expensive; and most all of the work this woman can do just as well, I dare say.”

“She works beautifully, although Mary says one would not think, to see her wretched condition, that she could have the heart to do anything; that is what makes her willing to throw away her work so, as Mrs. Blanchard would call it. Are you going to the ‘Social Circle’ this afternoon, Ann?”

“Certainly; Mr. Handon is to read us some extracts from the new novel; and besides the object is so good. ‘Angels of mercy,’ you know he called us. But do you know, Emma, why Jane Gleason has never joined? She must have been invited.”

“No; for I asked her myself, and her reply was, that she would inform me if she concluded to become a member of the ‘Circle,’ and I have never heard a word from her on the subject since that.”

“She is very peculiar; but, as it is whispered that she does good to the poor, I thought she would be among the first to aid an enterprise like this. Did you read a description of the fair at P—? We shall have a splendid one soon, and then Jane will repent of her oddity. Is it time to go?”

“Yes, a little past the hour appointed; and I must hear that affecting scene in the new novel, if it is read.”

Shall we follow our young friends to the scene of their charity? Attractive as it was, we fear that it is impossible to do justice. Bright faces might be seen grouped here and there, and fair fingers employed in every kind of fanciful and ornamental devices. Gentlemen too, who, although not privileged “to wield the polished shaft,” yet creditably sustained their part as the inspirers of the inspirees. Books, though sometimes listened to with tolerable attention, were soon thrown aside as less interesting, than conversation. Dress, manners, and characters were fully discussed; parties and balls projected; flirtations canvassed— “all the endless round of nothings.” Emma Roberts and her cousin Ann, were among the most zealous; Emma being one of the directresses of the “Social Circle.”

“How handsome she is!” said Henry Benton to his friend Harwin; “and so benevolent, too. Did you hear how enthusiastically she spoke of the approaching fair? I heard her tell sister Catherine that it would do so much good. How unusual to hear young ladies talk of such things. I must become acquainted with her,” and crossing the room he began an animated conversation with Miss Roberts, who failed not to convince him still more, that she was truly and uncommonly disinterested.

“I had no idea,” said Henry, to his sister, on their return home, “that your Circle was so pleasant. I think I shall accompany you more frequently in the future.”

“It is sufficiently pleasant,” replied Catherine, “but I sometimes doubt its utility. The work which is accomplished by the young ladies, I have feared was taken from, and thus injuring the interests of the poor persons, and the time, exertion, and money thus spent in ostentation and parade, might be employed in a more simple and private way by individuals.”

“You are too scrupulous, my dear Catherine; surely united effort must accomplish more than individual; and sociability, and friendly feeling are thus promoted, and, as Miss Roberts told you others are benefitted.”

“I hope it may be so, but do not think me censorious if I say that sometimes others might be benefitted still more if these young ladies were each of them to visit those scenes of poverty and distress, and give their counsel, sympathy, and assistance. Now, it seems pleasant to them to meet together, when they have no other engagements, and talk in general terms of charity, etc., but how few, it is to be feared, know what are self-denial and perseverance against obstacles, in order to do good.”

“I cannot judge them so harshly. It seems to me that ladies like Miss Roberts, for instance, are more likely to be admired for the sincere benevolence of heart which they display, than for all the charms of person or even of mind.”

“I know nothing of Miss Roberts which would contradict that appearance of kindness, so delightful, so praiseworthy, where-ever and whenever seen, of which you speak. With you, I have often admired the interest she manifests in everything relating to our circle, and I only hope my dear brother, that public and private charity may accompany her. But I have been surprised not to see Miss Gleason at any of our meetings; she always seems social and friendly, and I expected to meet her there.”

Months passed by, bringing the wished-for fair near at hand, and report said that Henry Benton was becoming daily more pleased with the pretty, interesting, and benevolent Miss Roberts. No one could approve these on dits, or wished they might prove true, more ardently than the lady herself; for Mr. Benton was, as the fathers would have styled him, a safe party, to mothers a desirable one, and the daughter a perfect one. With wealth, rank and talents, joined to accomplished manners, and firm integrity, his society was universally courted. As yet, however, he had never paid his devoirs at any fair shrine; but, like most of those whom fashion or interest has not moulded to do her bidding, he had a beau ideal in his own mind of the being he should wish to call his, and that had never yet been realized. Miss Roberts, attractive as she was person, would probably have excited in him no peculiar interest, had not her apparent benevolence of heart won his attention. One who could talk thus eloquently of relieving suffering, must, he thought, be amiable to no common degree. She cannot be one of those frivolous heartless beings, absorbed in selfish gratification, thinking not of the responsibility devolving upon them, and forgetting the sacred ties that bind us each to each.

It was a cold and dreary night when Henry Benton and his sister sat by their cheerful fire conversing on the merit of a book, from which he had just been reading. Everything around looked bright and pleasant, and it might well seem almost impossible for the inmates of that dwelling to think that any one could be less happy than themselves. It seems to be the natural effect of extremes of joy or sorrow, to prevent us from realizing the misery of others. It is difficult for the heart bounding with joy, to whom all things round bear la couleur de rose, to imagine the smaller miseries and greater sufferings of others, and one who is himself plunged into the depth of unhappiness, is too apt to be absorbed by the consideration of his own calamities. Our friends were not selfish, but certain it is, that the misfortunes that “flesh is heir to” were not then present to their minds, when Catherine was informed that a poor woman lived near her, who was or had been very sick.

“You were going out for a short time, Henry,” said she to her brother, “and I will go with you to this woman’s house, where you can call for me as you return.”

“Do not venture out such and evening as this, Catherine. You can send some one to inquire into her circumstances, and give her aid.”

“But I shall feel better satisfied to see how she does, myself—nay, do not object, my dear,” said she smiling; “do you think the cold can penetrate through all this fur? I know the exercise will benefit me. Come, let us go. This is the house,” said she, as they arrived at the dwelling where she had been told the object of her visit resided. “Now you can come for me as you return,” and she gently opened the door of a room where a light faintly glimmered. But she was not, as she afterwards declared, prepared for the scene that met her view. In a miserable hut insufficient to protect its inmates from the inclemency of the weather, was extended the sick woman on a low bed, supported by Miss Gleason, who was administering a cordial. The apartment, too, though indicating poverty, bore an air of neatness, and little comforts were strewed here and there, as if some kind hand had lent its aid.

“And you are here before me, Jane?” said Catherine, advancing towards her.

“Yes, I have been here some time. Mrs. M. has been very sick, but she seems more comfortable now.”

“I had never heard of her until to-day,” replied Catherine, “or I should have visited her before. I have brought some trifles, which I hope may benefit her till we can do something more.”

The sick woman groaned—”Oh! if I had what is justly my due, I need not trouble others so much. Lady,” said she, striving to speak distinctly, “long, long nights have I never closed my eyes to sleep, striving to earn something for myself and my poor children. She told me unless I did the work cheap, I could not have it, and I did it almost for nothing rather than not do it at all; but I have never been paid even that.”

“Who employed you, Mrs. M—.”asked Catherine.

“Miss Roberts sent for me, and gave me her sewing to do, and last night she sent me word, unless I completed some work which I have had out for a week, she must withdraw it all from me.”

“Do not agitate yourself about it Mrs. M—,”said Miss Gleason gently; “your wants shall be supplied, until you are able to exert yourself without injury.”

“But, my dear young lady, I cannot but think of it. I should not have minded it for myself, for I am sure, unless I could hope to show my gratitude for your kindness, and, watch over my children, I have nothing to live for; but to think of them!”

Mr. Benton at this instant stepped into the door, but not being perceived, he did not interrupt her by accosting his sister.

“I have seen them cry for bread, and I told Miss Roberts that destitute as I was, I could sew for anything that could procure them bread. Long nights have I never slept, but labored without a moment’s rest to procure them something. And when I asked her for the money, she said she never paid those little sums till they amounted to something; and added, she could not stop, either, for she was going to some society or circle as she called it, and could not listen. I came home, but could support it no longer; I could not even go out to beg food, and oh! my children, I must have perished had not this angel”—said she, turning to Miss Gleason, with tears in her eyes, and then sinking back, exhausted with the effort of speaking.

“She shall not be alone for the future, in her errands of mercy,” said Catherine, hardly able to speak. “Rejoice,” added she, turning as she perceived her brother, “that I came here, Henry, for I have learned a lesson not soon to be forgotten.”

The character and life of Jane Gleason were indeed worthy of being remembered and imitated. With a gifted and cultivated mind, she had a feeling heart and firm principles. Although every way fitted, if she had been so inclined, to become “the glass of fashion and the mould of form,” she chose rather to improve the talents committed to her charge, to higher and nobler purposes. In her charity she was constant and kind, and scrupulously followed His example who “went about doing good;” and although her name might never have been seen in public prints, as “lady president,” or directress of public societies, or a graceful presider over a fair, it was graven in the heart of many a widow and orphan, whom she gladdened by her kindness. To those who feel interested in the fate of Mrs. M—, we will add, that she did recover, and through the efforts of her friends, was enabled to maintains herself and family comfortably—of course with more generous employers than Miss Roberts, who still continued her enthusiasm for public charity, although we will confess, it has never since excited so much admiration in Henry Benton. The scene at the cottage often recurs in his memory.

Since the evening of which we speak, he has seen Jane Gleason the centre of attraction in the circle of her friends, exhibiting all the graces of mind and person, but never has she looked more lovely in his eyes, and never has he found her less worthy to be the companion of joy and sorrow, the sharer and heightener of one, the reliever of the other, than when in that poor cottage, dispensing alleviation to the afflicted, and affording such a striking contrast to “fashionable benevolence.”

The Vincennes Weekly Western Sun 4 August 1866

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, good gracious! The moral could not have been more pointed if the author had knocked the reader on the head with a pick-axe.  Happy endings all ’round!

Mrs Daffodil is always astonished how effective moral fiction can be and how it insinuates itself into the conscience, should one happen to possess such an article.

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 Milliner’s Shop, a Rhapsody: 1823

A Morning Ramble or The Milliners Shop, print from the British Museum

A Morning Ramble or The Milliners Shop, print from the British Museum

The Margaret Hunter Shop at Colonial Williamsburg is hosting a conference this weekend: “Millinery Through Time,” to celebrate its 60th anniversary. The milliners and mantua-makers of the shop have recreated the clothing in the print above.


I know of no situation more agreeable than that of a fashionable Milliner. Everything around her is seducing:–the gauze and lawn take whatever shape her fancy directs. She arranges those flowers fashioned by art, whose vivid colors dare to rival the brilliant productions of nature. This handsome hat, this aigrette, this bouquet, acquire triple value from her plastic hand!

Beyond that glazed partition behold that assemblance of young beauties; they hold the needle and the scissors—how happily employed! Taste, or rather Fashion, directs their labor. The Graces preside over their dress; coquetry beams in their eyes;

Here on the right are the three Graces; this is the freshness of Hebe, the gait of Juno, and the beauty of Venus. There, on the left, is a sprightly brunette, a wood nymph, whose furtive glance inflamed the satyr. At the further end is a fair damsel with blue seducing eyes: it is the Queen of Cypress, who holds even the most rebellious hearts in subjection. In the morning the fashionable milliner resembles the artificial flowers around her; –at night she is the rose in all its lustre! Her worshippers increase as the star of day proceeds in its course; when Phebus has completed his career she enjoys her greatest triumph. She is the finest production of nature—the most desired.

Corinna holds the needle with grace; Victoria forms the bonnet with delicious taste; Agale plaits the gauze! What a charming occupation! Oh! That I were a milliner, or a milliner’s girl—happy young beauty, who in the closet of love preserves a heart as pure, as fresh, as the color of the flowers! What coquetry in her gait!—what a divine waist!—it is a young milliner who walks before me; she carries a light bandbox full of ribbons and roses—what grace!—what attractions!—all eyes following this charming object!—they cannot lose sight of her!

Amiable modesty! May you be ever the favorite virtue of the young milliner’s girl!  Paris paper

Dutchess Observer [Poughkeepsie, NY] 13 August 1823: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is enchanted–as who would not be?–by this seductive encomium to the coquetry of the fashionable milliner.  The 18th-century print at the head of the post shows just what was reputed to go on at the average millinery shop: flirtation and intrigue with young ladies who were no better than they should be. Amiable modesty be d_m’d, the young gentlemen might respond. Yet, should we condemn the young milliner-girls for taking advantage of their youth and beauty, so soon fled or drudged away?

Mrs Daffodil previously wrote about milliners in this history of a gauze hat, in the story of a ghost who ordered a hat, and in the pathetic tale of the umbrella girl.

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.