Tag Archives: fancy dress

The Lost Columbine: 1922

the lost columbine illustration2

The Lost Columbine

By Julian Street

“About this fancy-dress ball at the country club tonight,” said Archibald Welkins, as his wife, looking very lovely in a French-blue housedress, poured the morning coffee, “I don’t quite like the idea, do you, Eleanor?”

Her large blue eyes turned up to him inquiringly.

“What don’t you like about it, dear?” she asked.

“Oh, this fool notion of husbands and wives dressing separately–not knowing about each other’s costumes.”

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him, and now, as she did not reply, he stated more explicitly what was in his mind, saying: “I think we’d better tell each other what we’re going to wear.”

“We’ll find out when we unmask,” she said.

“But I think the idea of secrecy is all nonsense,” he insisted with a little show of heat.

“Pass Mr. Welkins the marmalade,” his wife said to the maid.

He helped himself, then repeated: “I think it’s all nonsense!”

But she did not answer. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

“The steward at the club told me they’d had over five hundred acceptances,” he went on. “That means a mixed crowd, and I’d like to know what your costume is going to be so I can look after you.” “That’s sweet of you,” she answered, “but I’m sure I shan’t need looking after.”

“You might,” he declared.

“Oh, I don’t think so not at our own country club.”

“But I tell you it’s going to be a mixed crowd. You’re a darn pretty woman–and a blonde.” And as again she was silent, he added in a tone that held a hint of accusation: “Blondes always attract more attention.”

“Take some hot toast,” she said to him as the maid appeared. He took some, and waited till she left the room. Then he said:

“I wonder why men always think good looking blondes are–” But he did not finish the sentence.

“Are what?” she asked.

“Well, anyway,” he declared, “fancy dress makes people reckless. They feel that the lid’s off. There’ll be a lot of flasks, too. There’s so much more drinking since prohibition. That’s another reason why I want to know.

“Know what?”

“What?” he repeated irritably. “Just what I’ve been asking you what you’re going to wear.”

“I don’t think it would be playing the game to tell,” she said. “How do you like this bacon? It’s a new brand.”

“Look here,” he said sharply, “you can’t put me off that way! You say you don’t need looking after, but your memory doesn’t seem to be so good as mine! Before your flirtation with that dolled-up French officer you fell for, I used to think you didn’t need looking after, too! But I guess I–” He stopped.

Having thrown in her face the one indiscretion of her married life, he instantly regretted it. He always did. He always told himself that to keep referring to it was to take a mean advantage of her, and that he would never speak of it again. Strange that he could not overcome the jealousy left with him by that episode of several years ago, when, ever since, she had been so circumspect. After all it had been only a mild flirtation, and the Frenchman wasn’t very young. He was a fool to keep thinking of it, and a greater fool to harp upon it.

He said no more, but left the table, angry with her and angry with himself.


In the interest of secrecy it had been arranged that the wives should dine and dress together in certain houses in the neighborhood, while the husbands dined and dressed in others, and that all should arrive at the club masked. Archibald Welkins consequently left the limousine to be used by his wife and her friends, and taking the bag containing his costume, which was supposed to resemble King Charles II, drove in his roadster to Tom Bayne’s house, where he found a group of men, some of them already in their finery, some dressing, all with cocktail glasses in their hands.

By the time he had donned the regal wig and knee breeches, and drank three cocktails, he began to change his mind about the fancy dress ball. It was an amusing idea, this secrecy. He was going to have a good time. Nevertheless, when he asked Eleanor what she was going to wear she should have told him. He still felt some resentment about that.

Tom Bayne had an excellent cellar. With dinner he served large highballs, and his Scotch was exceptionally good. As Archibald Welkins was leaving with the others, he caught his reflection in a mirror and approved thereof. The jewelled star shone brilliantly upon his breast; the black silk stockings admirably set off his leg, which was a good leg, and the long, dark, curly wig gave him, he thought, a mysterious appearance. What did he care, after all, about Eleanor’s refusal to tell him what her costume was to be? He wasn’t going to worry about Eleanor tonight. Not he! He had offered to–that was enough. She didn’t know what he was wearing, either. Yes, he was going to have a good time!

With an Arab sheik, a Chinaman, and a soldier in the buff and blue of the Continental army as his passengers, he drove to the club, handling his roadster dashingly, and to avoid being recognized by his car, parked beside the drive at some distance from the door, and walked with his companions to the clubhouse.

The doors and the French windows were open; dancing had already started; they could hear the music as they walked across the grass. Inside the ballroom Welkins paused to review the animated spectacle. Masked soldiers, clowns, coolies, court beauties, bullfighters, odalisques, woman jockies, geisha, harlequins, cowboys, Spanish senoritas, mandarins, pirates, nymphs, Turks, vaqueros, peasants, whirled to the music of the jazz band.

Looking them over as they circled past, he presently thought he recognized his wife. She was dressed–if indeed it was Eleanor–as a French court lady, with patches, a high, powdered wig and a panniered gown of flowered silk, and was dancing with a Roman gladiator. He watched her around the room. Her height, her figure, her carriage were Eleanor’s, and the costume had a dignity characteristic of his wife’s taste. When she had passed several times he was quite certain of her.

Presently he became interested in Cleopatra, who fox-trotted into view with Napoleon. Eleanor would have made a handsome Cleopatra, too, but he felt sure she would never appear in public in such scant attire. That Cleopatra woman was certainly attractive, though! He cut in on her and, as they danced, talked in a false voice, endeavoring to guess at her identity. But the fair Egyptian was popular. An Indian Rajah soon snatched her away, leaving King Charles II free to seek out a fascinating Columbine who, several times, had passed near him in a dance, and seemed responsive to his glances. Presently, with a beau of the Colonial period, she came down the floor, a sprightly figure in a short black satin dress with a waist cut to a deep V In back, springy little skirts, thin openwork stockings and ballet slippers. With her huge white ruff and her black cocked hat pulled down at a saucy angle over bobbed red hair, she looked the incarnation of irresponsible gaiety.

He cut in and found that her dancing confirmed his impression. How light, how responsive she was!

“I’ve been aiming to catch you!” he told her, disguising his voice by pitching it low.

‘”Ave you, monsieur?” she chirped. “Well, zen, we are sympathique, for I too ‘ave look at you, you beeg, ‘andsome man!” The minx. She gave his hand a squeeze which he promptly returned.

“Are you French?” he asked in his assumed voice, “or are you putting on that accent?”

“What you sink, monsieur?”

“I think,” he said, “that if you’re putting it on you do it very well.” “An’ you, you bad, weeked king! ‘Ow is your Nell Gwyn?” she asked.

“Never mind Nell Gwyn,” he said. “It’s you I’m interested in. Don’t tell me you’re just a nice little married woman in disguise wife of some man who commutes to business in New York and drives a ball around these links on Sundays.”

“You ‘ope I’m real naughty French girl?” she asked, archly.

“Indeed I do!”

“Well. Zen, follow me! And with that she disengaged herself and flitted swiftly through a French window leading to the terrace.

Pursuing, he lost her momentarily, for in the darkness her black dress gave her an advantage, but as she scampered down the steps toward the lawn and the links, he caught sight of her white ruff, and sped after her. As she disappeared behind a large syringa bush he heard a rippling laugh, and running to the other side, caught her in his arms. Then, as she was panting and laughing, and as it was dark, and they were masked, and the syringas smelled so sweet, he placed his hand beneath her chin, tilted it up, bent over, and was about to seize the fruits of victory, when she eluded him and ran off laughing, in the direction of the drive.

A prisoner who escapes and is recaptured pays an added penalty, and when after another chase over the silver-green of moonlit grass, Charles II grasped the elusive Columbine, and exacted what he deemed just tribute from her lips, he was surprised and flattered by the apparent willingness with which she paid.

Indeed it was that willingness which made him confident that she would not again become a fugitive, and he was holding her lightly when, in a flash, she was off once more, this time running toward the clubhouse.

Just at the doorway he caught up; but his appeal to her to stay outside was unavailing. “No,” she said, firmly, “you are a naughty boy, an’ I ‘ave foun’ you out. My ‘usban’ would not like.”

“Your husband does not need to know,” he urged, “nor my wife, either. That’s what makes a party of this kind such fun–husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes.”

“Yes,” said she, “but I ‘ave already ‘ad fun enough, my king.” And with that she moved into the ballroom.

By the door they stood for a moment watching the dancers.

“Look!” he exclaimed suddenly. “There’s another Columbine. She’s like you exactly like you, even to her red hair!”

“Yes, we came togezzer.”

“But suppose I were to lose you,” said he, “how could I find you again? How could I tell the two of you apart?”

“Zat is a question !” she said.

“Let’s dance and talk it over.”

“No, monsieur.” replied the Columbine, “now I mus’ dance wiz some wan else.” As she spoke a cowled monk came up, and in a moment she was dancing off with him.

“Meet me here afterwards,” urged King Charles as she moved away. But she shook her head.

“How shall I find you, then?” he demanded, following.

“I don’t sink you can!” said she, and again he heard her tantalizing laugh.

He retired to the doorway and watched for her, but by the time she came around again she was with a Sicilian brigand. He cut in. But apparently this was the other Columbine, for she did not seem to know him. Her step was not so light as that of the one he sought, nor did she speak with a French accent.

Never mind! He would find his lost Columbine. He was determined to find her. And when they unmasked he would learn who she was. Time and again, when he saw a Columbine wearing a black cocked hat over bobbed hair, he cut in and danced with her, but only to be disappointed. Always it was the wrong one. He questioned her about the other, but could get no satisfaction.

When, at midnight, the dancers unmasked, he hastened about the ballroom and the adjacent apartments looking for the Columbines, but now he could find neither of them. Nor could he find his wife, nor yet the white-wigged lady of the French court whom he had identified with her.

Where could Eleanor be? She ought to be in the ballroom. That was where a well-behaved woman belonged at a party such as this. It wasn’t wise for a pretty woman to go wandering about outside, in the moonlight, with a strange man, masked. Since prohibition there had been a lot of drinking, and fancy dress made people reckless, anyway. Temporarily he forgot the Columbine in his concern about his wife’s behavior, as he looked for her upon the terrace and the lawn.

Failing to find her he returned to the club and telephoned home. “Hello?” He was surprised to hear Eleanor’s voice upon the wire. “I’ve been hunting for you all over the place.” he said. “What took you home so early?”

“Oh, I got enough of it.”

“Didn’t you have a good time?”

“I had an exceptionally good time,” she assured him.

“But I don’t understand why you went home, then.”

“Fancy dress makes people do all sorts of things.” she said, and before he could comment upon the cryptical character of the remark, she asked: “Have you been enjoying yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve had worse times,” said he. And thinking to have one final look for his lost Columbine, he added: “I guess I’ll hang around for a while if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind at all. Good night, dear,” and she hung up the receiver.


“Well, dear,” said Archibald Welkins next morning as his wife, locking very lovely in a shell-pink house gown, poured the coffee, “it was a pretty good party, wasn’t it?” And as she nodded, he went on in an expansive tone: “Made it rather amusing, after all— husbands and wives not knowing each other’s costumes don’t you think so?”

“Yes, very amusing,” she said.

“I was quite sure I recognized you,” he told her.

“Oh, were you?”‘ She looked up quickly.

“Yes. In a French court costume with a black-powdered wig.”

When she smiled and shook her head, he was surprised.

“That wasn’t you— honestly?”

“No. Honestly.”

“What was your costume, then.”

“I went as a Columbine.” she said and addressing the maid: “Pass Mr Welkins the strawberry Jam.”

In silence he helped himself, spread jam upon a piece of toast, ate it. And drank his coffee. Then:

“There were two Columbines dressed exactly alike.” he ventured

“Yes.” Said Eleanor “This is the last of that new bacon. Have you made up your mind yet how you like It?”

“Oh, it’s very good.” he answered abstractedly. “But the Columbines I saw had red hair”

“Wigs.” she returned succinctly.

“Wigs?” he repeated, surprised .’They didn’t look like wigs.”

“Men aren’t very quick at detecting such things.” said’ she. Then, to his infinite surprise, she added: “Do you remember that nice French officer I liked so much three years ago?”

“Why, yes.”

“Well, he wore a toupee.”

“He did? How do you know?”

“I noticed it the first time I saw him.”

“Um.” he said, and sat reflective for a time. Then: “Look here, dear,” he went on “Let’s never speak of that French officer again. It was long ago, and anyway It really didn’t amount to anything.”

If he expected recognition of his magnanimity he was disappointed, for she did not speak.

“Who was the other Columbine?” he asked in a casual tone as he was about to rise from table.

“Evidently someone who went to the same costumer I did,” his wife replied.

“But–.” He checked himself, then with some feeling, added:  “I don’t think they ought to send out duplicate costumes for the same party, do you?”

But she failed to reply.

Often in the eight years of their married life he had been disturbed by her trait of remaining silent when she disagreed with him. He had never known a woman with Eleanor’s capacity for silence. It gave her a mysterious power.

The Hartford [CT] Courant 9 July 1922: p. 47

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What’s good for the goose….  Still, unless Mr Welkins wishes to find himself in divorce court, he would do better to try to check his jealous impulses. His pretty blonde wife, who looks equally fetching at the breakfast table in French blue or shell-pink, is, Mrs Daffodil suggests, the enigmatic sort whose blameless character might equally plausibly conceal an adventuress or a dutiful wife who felt her husband needed a moonlit flirtation of his own that she might throw in his face as needed.

One may be certain that if the charming Mrs Welkins put her mind to be cheerfully and silently indiscreet with anyone besides her husband, she would be clever enough to make sure that that gentleman would never know of it.

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 Head-Dress Party: 1904-1927

"Snow-Queen" wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/

“Snow-Queen” wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/


For a head-dress party ask each guest to dress the hair in some fancy way. The men dress in Washington, Jefferson and other wigs noted in history, while the ladies fix their locks according to noted beauties, queens, and others. Strings of pearls, tiaras, and jewels make a beautiful display. Conventional evening dress is worn in most instances, save where a ruff or frill is added to heighten the effect of the headgear. A prize is offered for the best head-dress. The minuet makes a pretty dance to finish the evening. Novel Suggestions for Social Occasions, Paul Pierce, 1907

Hallowe’en was not the only occasion for a head-dress party.


Christmas wouldn’t seem real without parties, would it? One of the jolliest you can possibly give is the Fancy Headdress Party, and if you can persuade mother to help with it, you and your guests are sure to have a wonderful time.

In one corner of each invitation card yon might paint a little cocked hat; this will give your guests some idea of the kind of party it is to be.

On the great day you must have ready lots of sheets of different coloured crepe paper —be sure to get the non-inflammable variety; then there won’t be so much danger of your setting yourselves alight if you venture too near the Christmas tree candles.

You’ll also need several pairs of old blunt-pointed scissors (one pair between two children), a few little jars of paste, and lots and lots of ordinary pins.

When all the guests are assembled, you must pair them off; give every couple a supply of papers, and explain that each child must make a head-dress for his or her partner. Allow about a quarter of an hour, or a little longer, for the competition; when time is up, ring a bell as a sign that everyone must stop work.

All the head-dresses must be kept on during tea—you’ve no idea how jolly everyone will look, wearing some gay and absurd head-dress. It will make a splendid start to the party, and is a very good way of getting shy children to know each other.

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses: Princess, Man’s Hat, Turkish, Automobile Girl, Spanish Girl The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

After tea, comes the judging; and perhaps daddy or uncle will help you with this. There will be one prize for the most original head-dress, and another for the one which best suits its wearer, and finally, a prize to be won by the child who guesses correctly what most of the head-dresses are supposed to represent. Papers and pencils will be needed for this last competition. And now for a few ideas for the headdresses. One of the easiest and most effective would be that of a Rajah. For this, two lengths of coloured paper, say emerald green and red or orange, should be loosely twisted together and wound round the head, with the ends tucked in and secured with pins; a fringed “feather” ornament could be stuck on to the front as a finishing touch. Another good idea would be to make one like an Egyptian lady wears—with woven bands round the head, and great discs of contrasting hued paper to go over the ears. “Jewels” can be cut out of different coloured paper and pasted on with very good effect. A Dutch cap of white paper would look very pretty, while a chef’s cap or a dunce’s cocked hat, might be made by the younger children.

A mediaeval lady’s cone-shaped headdress, with long hanging ends, will be easy to manage; so will big flower hats such as poppies, sun-flowers, dahlias and roses.

In fact, it is surprising how much you can do with coloured paper once you start—and you will probably find that the child who says: “Oh, I’m sure I couldn’t make anything,” will be the one to fashion the best head-dress of all! Just try one of these parties, and see. Auckland Star, 24 December 1927: p. 3


One imagines that this windmill hat–part of a “Moulin Rouge” fancy-dress costume–would be ideal for a head-dress party. http://europeanafashion.eu/record/a/f520eae436196aa36b5e9082511918262ecd5435d2bbb911f7d1dbb3aec6c14e


Society Women in Ordinary Ball Costumes, But Wearing Novel Makeup of Hair.

London, Feb. 13. Altogether the feature of the week was the amusing and picturesque headdress party given by Mr. and Lady Fedorovna Stuart, at 18 Portman square, the sine qua non of which was that all the guests had to wear fancy headgear, an exception being made only in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught.

Undoubtedly the most becoming and most effective costume was that worn by the hostess herself. With a beautifully made white muslin dress and a blue sash she wore a high hat of white muslin and lace, trimmed with an edging of lace around the brim. Her hair was beautifully coiffured and powdered with gray.

Mrs. George Cornwallis West caused great amusement when she arrived. She had donned a blond wig like that worn by Marguerite with long plaits, which completely changed her appearance. Her husband was completely disguised under a coal black wig and mustache.

Mrs. George Keppel’s headdress was very novel. It was a wig of the Louis XVI period, made in the palest green blue, with one long curl falling down the neck. In this novel wig was fastened a large blue and silver bat, with electric eyes. Her dress was of white satin, trimmed with white lilies, cherries and lace.

Mrs. John Mendies looked pretty in an enormous white mob cap, trimmed with a great bow of cherry colored ribbons

Mme. Von Andre looked handsome, but one missed her beautiful hair under a fair wig of the period when hair was dressed high with great combs at the back. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 14 February 1904: p. 12


A Students’ Association had a very successful party, carrying out an idea that is especially good for a lawn party. Each guest had to wear a headdress belonging to some special century, or country, or suggestive of some idea or joke. The headdresses were supposed to be made by the wearers at small cost; prizes were given for the most artistic, the most effective, the most ingenious and the most comical.

The prize for the most artistic headdress went to a high, white medieval cap made of cheesecloth and stiff muslin worn in England in the time of Edward I. The most effective headdress was an enormous white ox-eye daisy made of paper; the most ingenious was a cat’s head that fitted like a mask all over the head, and was made of stiff muslin covered with gray packing paper and painted; the most comical was a caricature of the prevailing fashion of the time, worn by a tall, red-haired young man. The Book of Games and Parties for All Occasions, Theresa Hunt Wolcott, 1920

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Head-dress parties are frequently described as “amusing.” Perhaps she is too severe, but to Mrs Daffodil, they seem tailor-made for those too parsimonious to hire fancy dress for the evening or too indolent to chose a costume from the stock of original eighteenth-century garments kept in the box-room for family amateur theatricals. “A failure of imagination” about sums it up. Still, Mrs Daffodil realises that it is not an ideal world and there are times when an office Hallowe’en party demands, not a full super-hero costume, but merely a funny hat.

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.


Book Fairy Fancy Dress Costumes: 1899

At the Children's Masquerade, c. 1905

At the Children’s Masquerade, c. 1905



Descriptions That Offer a Mine of Helpful Suggestions to Ambitious American Hostesses—Other Hints.

The fashion of fancy dress balls has taken a strong hold this fall, and it offers vast scope for the ingenuity of hostesses and guests. Nothing is more attractive than to give a literary flavor to such an entertainment, and there is a mine of helpful suggestions in the following descriptions of costumes modeled after the book fairies of Hans Christian Andersen, which were worn at a London bal masque not long ago.

One of the costumes was “The Sunbeam.” It was a dress of azure satin, the skirt having a copper colored sun setting in the midst of gray clouds painted on it. Sun rays of gold gauze, stiffened with gold wire, edged the bodice and clouds of gray tulle fell gracefully from the shoulders.

“The Little Mermaid,” who tended the “Sea Garden,” so gracefully pictured by Andersen, looked much like what earth dwellers would expect her to be. Her dress was of pale sea green, covered with silvery gauze and embroidered with a large sun, in pearls, green sequins and shells. The top of the bodice and the edge of the skirt were edged with sea weeds of various colors, and ropes of pearls and fringes of crystal fell over the bodice. The mermaid’s tail, when peeped from beneath a long, silvery, white gauze veil, was embroidered with large sequins, the end being cut out and stiffened with whalebone to keep it straight. The tail might be painted instead of embroidered, if the wearer preferred that method of decoration. The mermaid’s veil was dotted with pearls and scraps of seaweed, and her flowing hair, covered by a lily wreath of pearls, completed the delightful illusion.

The “Marsh King’s Daughter” wore a cloak of cloth of silver, embroidered with storks and rushes and lined with thin marsh brown silk. The dress was of pale green, with Egyptian border embroidered in green, terra cotta and gold. A cap in the shape of a frog’s head and shoulders completed the costume.

A dress of ice green satin was worn by “The Snow Queen,” the sleeves and the top of the bodice being puffed so as to represent blocks of ice and covered with frost powder. A diamond star was worn in the powdered and frosted hair. The whole dress was veiled with frosted tulle, and a long fringe of crystal hung from the bodice and sleeves.

The “Elderflower Maiden,” looked charming in a simple dress of green liberty silk and white elder blossoms. As a background for the trails of elder flowers and leaves that entwined the wearer’s hair there was a corselet of green velvet, a bodice of pale green gauze and a handsome sash of green ribbon.

Of course, “The Tempest,” or “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” or Spenser’s “Fairie Queene,” or Tennyson’s “Princess,” or Longfellow’s “Evangeline” might be used to good advantage to furnish a list of characters for grown people. As for a children’s ball, “Mother Goose” might be made immensely amusing, or “Alice in Wonderland” might be relied upon for a lot of costumes after the style of the Andersen efforts. The possibilities of the literary fancy dress ball are almost without limit.

New York Herald-Tribune 31 October 1899: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil regrets that this article was not illustrated. The book-fairies sound delightfully sumptuous. You will find previous articles on dressing (or undressing) like a mermaid and on hints on fancy-dress for ladies and for gentlemen.  Do check the “fancy dress” section for some amusing photo-gravures. Mrs Daffodil is certain that she saw the “Marsh King’s Daughter” frog-cap, moulded in rubber, for sale in the Archie McPhee catalogue.

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.


Electric Lights and Squirrels in Fancy Dress: 1909


Alice Vanderbilt as the Electric Light. See more images of the surviving dress at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/

Alice Vanderbilt as the Spirit of Electricity. See more images at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/


Unique and Weird Effects in Fancy Dress Costumes in London.

London, January 23. Pageantry has seized the popular imagination, and in consequence there are to be an unprecedented number of fancy-dress balls and head-dress dinner and tea parties.

Already the head-dress parties are in full swing, and quaint head-gear descriptive of various advertisements and the titles of notable books are adding to the gayety of country house parties. The “Merry Widow” hat and other footlight favorites are also in demand.

The fancy-dress ball this season is taking precedence over all other forms of private entertaining, and it is already rumored that a royal fancy-dress ball is to be a fixture of the future. Every day brings increasing orders to costumers for fancy dresses of original design; for those of Shakespearean and Wagner’s heroes and heroines, for historic modes, for popular stage frocks, for the numberless old-time favorites representing the seasons, and for “Salome” dresses.

Strange as it may seem, there has been a great demand for “Salome” robes, modeled after Maude Allan’s own, for wear at private balls and parties. These robes are made of sterner stuff than that used by the famous dancer and the garish bosses and jewels, reflecting a myriad lights, are strikingly effective among the black swirling draperies.

The modern costumer must be up to date, and each passing event, therefore, has some suggestion for him: hence the robe “Penny Post to U.S.A.” Again, pink satin is used, and the panels of the Princess robe are painted with pictures of the different post offices of England and America. The head-dress is composed of photographs of the Postmasters-General of England and America. In the hand will be carried a tiny barrow full of parcels and on one shoulder will be a perfect model of the Lusitania, gleaming with electric lights, and on the other piles of letters.

Of exquisite beauty is a design called “On the moors.” It is in mauve satin, with a jaunty little tight-fitting coat, and the skirt is covered with purple and white heather. A squirrel sits perkily on one shoulder and a pheasant graces the other. The head-dress is also of heather, but it is lit up with a myriad lights.

A new dress for men is the “Flip-flap,” which is most ingeniously devised. The knickers and coat are made of white satin and light arms are attached which can be revolved at will. The end of the arms are filled with tiny figures representing people, and are lit with electricity.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 24 January 1909: p. 35

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Maud Allen was a dancer, notorious for her sensational “Dance of the Seven Veils,” in her production of “Vision of Salomé.” This photo-postcard will suggest why. In 1918 she was accused of obscenity, espionage, and various other crimes as popularised by Mr Oscar Wilde.


The up-to-date Penny Post fancy dress celebrates the new Transatlantic Penny Post–a penny an ounce for letters sent to or from England. The Lusitania was mentioned as carrying the first mailbags in October of 1908. One cannot imagine the Postmasters-General of England and America being a picturesque feature of those headdresses. The Lusitania was of course, torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 with a loss of 1,198 souls. This was one factor that brought the Americans into the War in 1917.

The “Flip-flap” was an early roller-coaster amusement park ride. Mrs Daffodil hopes that the squirrels and pheasants used to accessorise “On the moor” were specimens of the taxidermist’s art.

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.


Hints on Inexpensive Historical Fancy-dress: 1896



In large cities, character dresses may be procured from the costumer, but are an expensive luxury. In small towns they cannot be had at all, and those who desire to attend a fancy-dress party must perforce construct their own costumes.

It is a mistake to choose historical dresses, for without every detail is perfect, the effect is entirely spoiled. However, with the aid of books of costumes and a few inexpensive materials, even this may be happily accomplished.

The reigns of Louis XV. and XVI. were prolific of splendid styles of costuming, and the gowns of this period are especially adapted for such purposes. Pompadour silks are so cheap nowadays as to be within the reach of almost every purse; however, the pretty cretonnes, flowered sateens and calicoes may be used with excellent effect. A charming Pompadour gown is inexpensively fashioned as follows: Use a breadth of pale pink sateen, covered with puffs of white organdie or lace, for the front of the skirt; get cretonne in pale blue, strewn with pink flowers, and make a full ungored skirt, which must be fastened to the front, and caught up on the hips to form panniers; the waist should be long and pointed, cut square-necked and edged with lace; the sleeves are flat, reaching to the elbow, and finished with deep ruffles of lace. The hair must be drawn back over a cushion and powdered; an enormous hat, loaded with flowers and feathers may be worn.

A Directory costume is of eccentric and exaggerated style, and made with not too full a skirt of gay silk or sateen, and a mannish coat turned back with wide lappels of faille or moire, and ornamented with enormous buttons; a voluminous Robespierre jabot of lace fills up the front; the hat is an elaborate affair adorned with nodding plumes and floating ribbons. A long cane with a gold or silver head and a knot of ribbon is held in the hand.

The Empire gown, with its clinging skirts of gauze or silk, its décolleté bodice, belted beneath the arms with a broad sash or a girdle of ribbon or metal, is picturesque and easily fashioned; the sleeves are short and met by long gloves; the hair is worn high, curled in front and stuck through with jewelled pins; low heelless slippers complete the toilet.

A Spanish costume is an easy thing to manage; it consists of a full skirt of silk or colored cambric, reaching well above the ankles and covered with flounces of black lace; red, pink, or yellow are the most characteristic colors; the waist is pointed and finished with a girdle of gold-embroidered black velvet or a short Spanish jacket; ropes of pearls, gold beads, or strings of coral encircle the throat; a veil of black lace, with a red or yellow rose stuck just above the ear, gives a coquettish finish to the costume. A tambourine is held in the hand.

A Greek costume is admirably adapted for certain styles, and is to be commended for its inexpensiveness; ten yards of cheese-cloth in cream, white, or a pale color are necessary; the cloth must be cut in suitable lengths, and each breadth twisted and wrung out as if wringing clothes; after being well twisted, it is shaken and the process repeated; this imparts the soft, clinging effect noticeable in Greek statuary, causing the drapery to hang in classic folds; a key-border pattern may edge it; a narrow belt of gold is passed about the waist and a fillet of ribbon or a gold band confines the hair, which is knotted low in Psyche style.

The peasant dresses of France and Italy are easily made. A Roman girl may be dressed in a red or blue woollen skirt trimmed with several rows of gold braid, with a white lawn waist very full, and confined by a pointed girdle of black velvet; a flat piece of pasteboard covered with a bright Roman scarf adorns the head, the ends flowing behind.

Flower-dresses are dainty and picturesque, and the pansy in yellows and shaded purples is exceedingly effective; the skirts may be of several shades of purple tulle or tarlatan, and the bodice of yellow velvet; the rose has a pink skirt with leaf points of green falling over it; the daisy has a full skirt of white India silk with a yellow corsage.

A butterfly and wasp ball is a novel idea, and one not very difficult to carry out. The bodies of the butterflies and wasps may be of different shades of brown or gray velvet, which represents the bodice in the girls; for the boys, Jersey jackets of brown or closely adjusted pourpoints of velvet may be used. For example, the wasp has a skirt of pale yellow and a pointed bodice of golden brown veined with gold color. A blue-and-gold butterfly, with glittering wings dotted with iridescent spangles, makes a most brilliant and becoming costume; tiny golden wings may be worn in the hair.

The wings may be made of a light wire framework covered with gauze and embroidered in tinsel and spangles. A butterfly ball is particularly adapted for a children’s party.

Godey’s Lady’s Book January 1896

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Since it is that time of year when Mrs Daffodil’s American readers will be attending masquerade balls, it seems appropriate to discuss the subject of costuming. Mrs Daffodil is horrified by the shoddiness and distressing scantiness of the costumes one finds at the shops. Some ingenuity is required to avoid causing a scandal by dressing as a “Sexy Lady Berserker.” One mother of Mrs Daffodil’s acquaintance used to outfit her children in historical costumes made from jumble sale or charity shop finds. Her daughter was a very successful “Princess Elizabeth” in a red velvet gown made from a “Frederick’s of Hollywood” jumpsuit and some curtain brocade. Mrs Daffodil understands that time constraints may preclude home-made costumes, for children and adults, but she implores her readers to resist the “Naughty Florence Nightingale” costume.

Please see all entries under the “Fancy Dress” category for fancy-dress fads and fancies.

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.


Breeches and Petticoats: Cross-dressing Fancy Dress



There is hardly a fancy dress ball given that some man does not bedeck himself in the finery of a woman and that a girl does not appear in the more or less modern habiliments of a man, but it is quite certain that such a costume as this is not often seen at an American fancy ball. It is an ingenious boy-girl costume, one half or side of the person being clothed in man’s attire and the other half in a girl’s. The idea is carried out to the minutest detail, even to the man’s glove and walking stick on one side, to a woman’s white lisle glove and a sunshade on the other. On one side of the head rests a man’s soft hat and on the other a neatly coiffured arrangement of feminine hair. Popular Mechanics, Volume 11, 1909

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil supposes that an alienist somewhere would have something to say about how the transgressive (a professional term for “naughty”) aspects of fancy-dress and masquerading encourages ladies and gentlemen to disguise themselves as the opposite sex in order to act out their forbidden desires. All tosh. One doesn’t need fancy dress to go off the rails, as one may observe at our police courts, which are packed with criminals in decidedly un-fancy dress. What the alienists forget is the pure pleasure of wearing a costume. What lady would not want to be a bold pirate or a swashbuckling cavalier at Hallowe’en? And what gentleman who secretly yearns to wear lady’s underthings would not want to be a saucy milkmaid or Little Bo Peep? The young man pictured above has chosen the best of both worlds.

Another example:

Amongst a variety of others, there were two very singular Masks at the Masquerade at the Opera House, on Monday night, viz. A Lady in a very large pair of breeches that reached from her feet to the top of her head, where the waistband was fastened, and crowned with a prodigious bunch of Ostrich feathers; and a Gentleman in a petticoat that covered his whole figure, with a ducal coronet ornamented with jewels on his head. This petticoat and breeches afforded much diversion to the company throughout the whole of the evening’s entertainment.  Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 24 June 1775

A traditional licence is usually granted by the authorities for the innocent amusements of Hallowe’en. One wonders why the young man in the following was charged with masquerading as a woman on such a holiday. His costume must have been seductive in the extreme to attract the attention of so many followers, as well as that of the police.


Sailor of Cruiser Chester Attracts Crowd and Is Jugged.

Fully 500 lads celebrating Hallowe’en followed a sailor from the U.S.S. Chester, dressed in feminine attire, through the streets of Charlestown last night, cheering and yelling at the top of their voices. Patrolmen Norton and Horgan saw the ‘woman’ at the head of the mob and placed ‘her’ under arrest charged with disturbing the peace.

When the ‘woman’ arrived at the police station, Lieut. Ringer summoned the matron to search the prisoner. As soon as the matron had removed the large picture hat, it was discovered that the supposed woman was a man, giving the name of Conrad Brazenberg of the U.S.S. Chester.

An additional charge of masquerading as a woman will be placed against him by Officers Norton and Horgan in the Charlestown court this morning.

A large number of sailors from the ships were given liberty last night, as the ships leave the yard tomorrow. Several of them were locked up charged with drunkenness. Boston [MA] Journal 1 November 1910: p. 14

In this case dressing as a boy for a masquerade led to domestic trouble:

Lending Trousers Causes Trouble

Husband Furnishes Woman Friend With Masquerade Costume

Wife Demands Return at Party and Starts Hostilities

Marion, Ind., Nov. 7 C.E. Beatty loaned a pair of his trousers to a woman friend, who wore them to a masquerade party. Mrs. Beatty learned of it, went to the party and found her husband’s trousers covering the graceful form of a pretty young woman.

Mrs. Beatty tore the mask from the face of the young woman, pulled her hair, scratched her face and demanded an immediate surrender of the trousers. She then returned home and told Mr. Beatty what she thought of him. Beatty is said to have sworn. Mrs. Beatty filed a charge of profanity against her husband. He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was fined $12.30, which he paid. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 7 November 1905: p. 1

Jane Asher’s Fancy Dress book continues the tradition with a variation on the theme with this costume: “A Pair of the Same Suit.”

pair of the same suit

Mrs Daffodil reminds her readers to put safety first this Hallowe’en. Ladies, do not borrow the clothing of married gentlemen. Gentlemen, do practice walking in those high heels before trying to dance in them or a spill, a torn frock, and a nasty sprain may result. One might also wish to avoid the streets of Charlestown if wearing an inflammatory picture hat.

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.


Dr Stork: A Fancy Dress Costume: 1922

Stork costume

THE OLD BOY HIMSELF, none other than Dr. Stork, mysterious deliverer of soft fluffy bundles of pinkness—and sometimes two—made his appearance at the Ayle Art Students’ Bal Masque, with G.W. Harley doing the impersonating. Needless to say, he flew off with first prize.

The Washington [DC] Times 8 May 1922: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil is really quite speechless.


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.


Independence Day Tableaux: 1918

Liberty and Columbia [Library of Congress]

Liberty and Columbia [All photographs from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.]

As a loyal subject of the Crown, it would be inappropriate for Mrs Daffodil to celebrate Independence Day, particularly as she feels that much in American life would be improved under the reign of a female sovereign. She does, however, send the best compliments of the day to her American readers,  along with these vintage images of patriotic tableaux held on the Ellipse in Washington D.C., circa 1918, just before the end of the Great War. Mrs Daffodil further hopes that the champagne will be properly chilled and the hampers packed with all good things for your holiday picnic luncheons.

Mrs Daffodil is uncertain what this lady represents--the Spirit of Electricity? The Spirit of Freedom? Liberated France?

Mrs Daffodil is uncertain what this lady represents–The Spirit of Freedom? Democracy? Liberated France? The Spirit of Electricity?

The entire Ensemble. It seems as though there were Druidesses present.

The entire Ensemble. One crosses Miss Columbia at one’s peril.

An American Druidess? with the Capitol Dome in the distance.

An American Druidess? Her costume is a bit of an enigma, as is the building in the background. It seems too near and the wrong shape to be the Capitol Dome.

A more martial version

The stalwart Miss Liberty

Washington 4th of July tableaux

And a stern, martially attired Columbia in her Liberty cap, who seems in need of a spear.

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog you will find this post on the “haunted” Statue of Liberty.  If Mrs Daffodil loses too much sleep from the din of firecrackers (certain persons in the neighbourhood celebrate by setting off early-morning mortar rounds) she will return to her digressions on Sunday.

How to Dress (or Undress) like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921


The photograph above shows Miss Carruthers of Kingston as “Undine,” the water spirit, in a costume created by Louis Hammondi of Saint John, New Brunswick. Undines did not have fish tails, so one stretches a point by including this charming water-nymph costume.  “Skirt made of watered green French satin with full train, trimmed with puffs of pale green tulle and alternate rows of water grass fringe and lilies, tunic of pale green tulle, looped on each side with large pearley shells and finished round the bottom with sea weed and fringe made of small shells and corals, with clusters of dew drops. Here and there in the dress could be seen large dragon flies; bodice of green satin, trimmed to match the skirt. The most conspicuous part of this costume was the headdress. A large shell rested on top of the head with a wreath of water lilies. The whole costume was almost enveloped in pale green tulle, dotted with small shells and dew drops.” St. John Daily News 24 February 1876. Quoted in Magnificent Entertainments: Fancy Dress Balls of Canada’s Governors General 1876-1898.

A story is going the rounds of the press that at a late Parisian party, one of the lady guests appeared in a mermaid costume—naked to the waist. On being requested by the hostess to throw something over her shoulders, the guest departed in a rage. Helena [MT] Weekly Herald 9 July 1868: p. 2

Unique Costuming at a Recent Fashionable Fish Feed.

New York, April 17. A fish dinner has been the fashionable novelty of the week. It had numerous predecessors during lent at a restaurant where, in fancy or reality, the chef is wondrously expert in cooking fish. It has been considerable of a fad to get up parties to dine at this place, where astoundingly high prices helped the exclusiveness of the indulgence. The feasts have been curiosities of cuisine and cost, but this one is regarded as a climax. Not only was the menu unique, but so also was the costume of one of the belles who graced the occasion. The private dining-room was turned into a bower of bright green, with seaweeds in profusion and quaint embellishments of shells, while borrowed pictures of pisciculture and water completed the aquatic decoration. However, it was in one of the elaborate toilets that a clever conceit was most remarkably carried out. The wearer was a pretty girl and belonged to a distinguished family. Her hair was loosened and embellished with sea-grass, a necklace and bracelets were pearls and coral; the sleeveless and low-cut corsage was delicate pink satin, shading off into the green of draperies fashioned in artistic imitation of a mermaid’s lower half. The scaliness of a fish was imitated by means of beadwork, the skirt was narrow, and a short train was shaped like the tail of a fish. The design had been realized by a famous man dress-maker [Charles Frederick Worth?] but the girl got credit for the original idea, and is, consequently, socially famous. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 Apr 1886: p. 9.

A certain beautiful Russian princess [Princess Zenaide Yusupov ?] residing in Paris went last week to the theater. Her costume was of sea green satin in the skirt, the corsage was of darker green satin covered with green crystal spangles overlapping each other and with little balls hanging from them now and then. The sleeves were of dark green velvet and the whole reminded one of a mermaid, for with every movement the green crystal shook and caught the light like scales of a fish. Omaha [NE] World Herald 19 January 1890: p. 12

“A Real Mermaid Frock”

[in article about actresses’ gowns on the London stage.] The most remarkable dress, however, was one worn by Mrs. Sam Sothern, another American. This was a mermaid costume made in Veronese green satin cut in the conventional lines of the DIrectoire. The swathing body was meshed in an overdress of black resembling the scales of the mermaid. A tailed fringe completed the effect which was further accentuated by a twist of the train around the feet and ankles. New York Times 18 October 1908

A Green Mermaid Gown Worn Coronation Week.

An American woman stopping at the Savoy on the Thames Embankment during the Coronation festivities appeared at dinner one evening in a sea green gown that attracted tremendous attention. This gown was worn at two important balls and received the name of “Lorelei” gown. It was also called the “Mermaid” frock. … Over the foundation of shimmering sea green crepe meteor which clings in sinuous lines about the figure is a heavy and also clinging tunic of net made of tiny cut steel beads strung on silk. The inverted V of darker green fabric in the skirt accentuates the clinging effect of the gown and emphasizes the peculiar mermaid effect. A little fish tail train at the back is weighted with steel fringe and this fringe also trims the transparent sleeves of pearl and steel embroidered net. Not only the lines of this clinging and steel weighted gown, but its wonderful shimmering green color made it the sensation of the evening whenever it appeared. Canton [OH] Repository 9 July 1911: p. 25

Mermaid Costume Startles Atlantic City

Atlantic City, N.J., June 3. The mermaid girl was the sensation of the formal opening of the summer season here today. Attired in a beach garment of silvery texture, cut short as to skirt and low as to bodice, with hosiery simulating fish scales to match [!!], she formed a striking picture.  San Diego [CA] Union 4 June 1917: p. 1

Mermaid Frock Startles English

London. Dame Fashion has been having a confab with Father Neptune and the net result is decidedly “fishy.”

One of them is the mermaid frock, which is a close-fitting affair entirely composed of pailettes which overlap one another in the approved fish-scale style. These pailettes are of iridescent shades of silver, green and blue. No trimming or ornament of any kind is worn with the frock and corsets are doffed so that the sinuous mermaid effect is complete.

Another fishy fad is the girdle composed of painted sea-shells. With this is worn a head-dress of similar design; or maybe, of tinted pearls. Riverside [CA] Daily Press 18 April 1921: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

The credulous 19th-century public flocked to see “mermaids” at dime museums such as Barnum’s “Feejee Mermaid,” the unholy alliance between a shaven monkey and a fish tail. More attractive sirens were a popular motif in the fine and decorative arts. For how such impostures were perpetrated, please see this Haunted Ohio blog post on “A Maker of Mermaids.”

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.