Tag Archives: eccentrics

The Most Eccentric Dresser in America: 1916

Barbara Craydon

There is in America at least one woman to whom the styles do not matter. Styles may come and styles may go but Baroness Else von Freitag leaves them out of her calculations altogether. She is her own designer and dressmaker. One might say that she dresses as she paints, for as an artist this highly temperamental woman is a follower of the futuristic school.

Seven years ago Baroness von Freitag came to America from Germany. It was not until she entered the art field in New York that she began dressing otherwise than in a semi-conventional way. In fact she seems to have caught her inspiration from the riotous colors of the futurists, and was seen in some of the most marvelous clothes New York has ever observed.

Everything that comes to her hands may be turned to a use in her art of dress. One electrifying costume is trimmed with common meat skewers painted in most intricate design. Another is ornamented with the gilt spiral springs such as one uses in hanging bird ages. Elaborate bead work, resembling the wampum of the Indians figures largely in her scheme of decoration, and heavy embroideries of futuristic design and brilliant colors are made from nothing else than knitting wool. The baroness never throws anything away, and the effect in her clothes is marvelous.

“Clothes,” said the baroness in her studio, “should always be a matter of inspiration not of one person for thousands of different style women, but of each individual. When one follows the styles and makes herself a slave to those who invent the fashions she might just as well be in the uniform of an institution as not for all the individuality expressed in her garments. The only difference between the conventionally dressed persons and the inmates of an institution is that the style and texture of the garment is changed several times a year. While there is little expense in charity uniforms there is a demand for great outlay of money by those who are slaves to the fashions and listen to the dictates of the fashion makers.

“How often have you heard a woman say, ‘yes, the dress is pretty but I cannot wear it, I do not feel right in it.’ What more than an expression of that kind does one need to show that clothes ought to be made for the individual character? It does not matter from what materials things are constructed as long as they suit the personality of the wearer, as long as the colors blend harmoniously.

“Look about you at nature. It is seldom that the landscape presents a pale, fade-away pastel appearance. Flowers are bright with color, greens are vivid, all colors are bright. Why not use them in one’s garments? I revel in color, I must have color and plenty of it, but the colors must be put together artistically. I have found that persons who generally cling to one color have a mental attitude toward the world and things in general that harmonizes pretty well with their colors. Drab clothes fit drab-colored minds. Perhaps that is why people who have been gifted with brilliant minds have worn clothes that have been called fantastic in cut and in color. They have been criticized for such things and have been called eccentric, but then the world always calls persons whom they do not understand eccentric. It is the simplest way out for simple minds, a way that does not demand analysis, and removes all necessity of particular thought.”

Among the studios of New York City the baroness von Freitag has frequently been urged by fellow-artists to pose for pictures and it sometimes amuses her to do so. Her poses are full of imagination, full of life. There are times when she refuses to pose, especially if she does not like the style of work that the artist is doing. She insists that she must be in sympathy with the artist’s work, must understand what he is doing before she can give him a satisfactory pose. The baroness says that just standing or sitting still for an artist is no posing.

The baroness has a most marvelous collection of rings, many of them are silver set with dull stones, others she was made herself from artistically arranged beads. Some of these that she has made are futuristic in the extreme. One might say that she practically paints with her needle and the beads. The result is weird but extremely interesting.

“Why should I not cover my hands with rings if I wish?” she said, looking up from her work. “Others cover their hands with gloves. I think gloves ugly. I would certainly to feel at home with my hands encased with gloves. But my rings are a joy and pleasure to me. Sometimes I can wear only one. It depends upon my state of mind. But when I am very happy and gay I like to wear them all. Barbaric? Perhaps it is. If so, I like the barbaric.”

Shoes, also, the baroness thinks, ought to be a matter of artistic work on the part of the wearer. One pair of slippers of black satin she has made into footgear to suit her. These are Oriental to an extreme, beaded and ringed. And from the back of one hang two large beaded tassels.

When an ordinary “slave to fashions” might spend a day in selecting a hat the baroness will spend a week in making one to please her. One creation is made from the crown of a derby hat which this original woman has painted and glazed until it looks like a highly lacquered helmet. On top, for a decoration, is a long bone hair pin partly sheathed in an intricate bead design. At the back of the hat coming down to the nape of her neck she has added a strip of silver-covered cardboard edged with a gilt trimming. The effect is that of a headpiece of an Amazon, and when dressed in the costume she has designed to go with the hat the baroness carries with her one of her pet alligators.

Truly if one searched the United States from coast to coast, from north to South, it might be difficult to find a more amazingly gowned woman than the baroness, and it would also probably be difficult to find a woman who spends less in money or more in energy on her clothes than she does. As for the enjoyment derived from clothes, the baroness takes a delight in her costumes that is extremely frank and genuine enough to suggest that clothes pleasure may have been neglected by the philosophers as an element of the art of life.

New Orleans [LA] States 1 October 1916: p. 45

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Baroness (the newspaper misspells her name, which is correctly rendered Else von Freytag-Loringhoven) was born Elsa Plötz in the supremely un-futuristically-named town of Swinemünde, Germany.  She came to the United States after helping her second husband fake suicide to escape his creditors. She was a luminary of the Dada and avante-garde movements.  Mrs Daffodil must confess that she is inherently unsympathetic to movements known as “Futuristic” or, indeed, as any sort of “istic,” as they suggest those who advocate the wearing of tin-foil head-gear.

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.

Burning the Possessions of the Late Duke of Bedford: 1891

The late Duke of Bedford is now about six pints of beautiful white ashes. Cremation is the leveler of all ranks. Boston [MA] Herald 8 February 1891: p. 21 


The great holocaust or pyre which burned at Woburn Abbey for the purpose of consuming the personal effects of the late Duke of Bedford, was a strange and uncomely function enough. A week ago two loads of faggots were arranged after the fashion of the inquisition in the middle ages in a lonely spot near the abbey. When the pyre was complete several boxes and packages closely wrapped up in cere cloths were brought and cast on the pile of faggots. The bystanders were wildly excited and leaped

“Around, around, around, around,”

“About, about, about, about,”

like the “Macbeth” witches round the magic caldron. The boxes would not burn. Mysterious rumors were breathed from mouth to mouth and the more superstitious hinted that the manner of the duke’s death had something to say to the incombustibility of his boxes. They would not burn any more than a witch’s cat would drown. However, at last, with fear and trembling, the boxes were broken open, and all the wardrobe, from boot to bonnet, of the deceased magnet [sic] littered the ground. One of the canes was a portentous affair, presented to the late duke by some foreign potentate. A the sight of this wonderful staff Lord Hildebrand [Herbrand] Russell started and grew pale, then, with an excited and nimble leap, he snatched it from the flames and brandished it in triumph. [A Herbrand snatched from the burning?]

The cause of this incineration was a codicil to the duke’s will, which commanded that all his belongings be burnt with him, after the fashion of the King of Dahomey. Had there been a duchess she would doubtless have been made the heroine of a grand “suttee,” but in default the boots and breeches were made to take the place of honor. The late nobleman was determined to have a full kit of clothes to stand up in at the great uprising. After the sacrifice the people felt relieved and went away with chastened exultation. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12 

A published report states that in addition to the destruction of his personal effects the will of the Duke of Bedford calls for the destruction of his carriages and the shooting of his horses. San Francisco [CA] Bulletin 16 February 1891: p. 1

 Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

A strange story about a strange gentleman: Francis Charles Hastings Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford. His Grace was dead and ash (cremated at Woking) for days before it was revealed that he had committed suicide. The coroner ruled that he shot himself through the heart, while temporarily insane and ill with pneumonia. The incident and the secrecy surrounding it caused a sensation in Society and the press. 

The Duke was an advocate of cremation, which was viewed by his contemporaries as a proof of his eccentricity. Lord Herbrand, who is mentioned in the article, succeeded his elder brother George William Francis Sackville Russell, 10th Duke of Bedford, to the title. As 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Arthur Russell (1858-1940) was a patron of the Cremation Society of Great Britain. Like father, like son.  I can find no further mention of the Duke’s horses and carriages being destroyed, so possibly they survived the post-mortem holocaust.

Oddly enough, there is a moving picture from British Pathe of another huge pyre at Woburn Abbey lit under the auspices of John Ian Robert Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford: the 1966 Guy Fawkes bonfire. If one has any interest in antiques, one will recoil at the fine old furniture being cast upon the pile for burning.