Tag Archives: fashion

Sixteen-button Bouffants: A Chat with the Fashion Gazette Editor: 1888

A late 1880s ball gown with a shockingly long corsage hanging down at the back.

A late 1880s ball gown with a shockingly long corsage, ripe for dragging through the mud.


The genuine fashions man was busy at his lunch. The editor-in-chief was lounging in his chair, devising ways and means of a financial character when she entered.

“Is the gentleman who knows everything about the fashions column in?” stammered a vision of golden hair and sea-blue eyes, as she stood timidly beside the managing editor’s desk.

“Every thing about what?” asked the editor, clawing around under his desk for his shoes, and trying to hide his stocking feet under him. “Upon which particular branch do you seek information?”

“I don’t exactly know what to do,” pouted the strawberry lips. “Pa says I can have one dress this spring, and I don’t know how to make it up. I thought the gentleman who answers fashions questions could tell me.”

“H’m,” muttered the managing editor. “He has gone up to Maine to find out why geese always walk in single file. An ‘Anxious Inquirer’ wants to know. What kind of a dress had you thought of getting?”

“That’s what I want to know. I want something that would look well with terra-cotta gloves.”

“Yes, yes,” murmured the editor. “Then you should get one of those green things with beads that turn all kinds of colours, and some fringe and fixings of that kind.” “Would you have it cut princess or wear it with a polonaise?” she inquired, looking at him searchingly. “You might have it princess around the neck and a row of polonaises at the bottom,” suggested the editor. “That’s going to be very fashionable, and a couple of hip pockets would set it off royally.”

“I don’t know,” murmured the beauty. “I haven’t seen any of that style. Do you know whether panniers are worn bouffant this season or whether the skirt is tight?” “Oh, certainly!” replied the editor. “They are made with all the bouffants you can get on ’em. Some have even sixteen-button bouffants, and there was a lady in here yesterday who had a pannier that came clean up to her neck. I should have it pretty bouffant if it was my dress.”

“Well,” stammered the blushing blossom, “would you box-plait the skirt or shirr it?”

“Shirr it, by all means,” exclaimed the editor. “Shirr it straight up and down, and fasten it with those loops of black tape.”

“You mean frogs?” asked the beauty.

“No, no. Those big loops that slip over two buttons. That sets off the shirrs and gives a sort of tout to the ensemble,” and the editor leaned back and smiled superiorly.

“Don’t you think revers of a lighter shade would look pretty?” she inquired.

“They’ll do to fix up the back, but I wouldn’t put ’em on the front,” answered the editor sagely. “Revers are very well to trim a hat with, but they don’t set off a dress front.”

“How would you have the corsage?”

“I wouldn’t have any at all. You would look much better without one.”

“Sir!” she exclaimed, rising.

“Oh, if you insist, you might have a small one, certainly not over three inches long, for short dresses are the style now.”

“You—you don’t seem to understand—-” she commenced.

“Oh, don’t I?” he retorted. “That’s what I’m here for. I think there’s nothing so lamentable as to see a young lady dragging her corsage through the mud and dust. Still, if you want one, you should have it so you can take it off when you go on the street and only wear it at home. They are hard to handle, and not one woman in a hundred can kick her corsage gracefully.”

“I—I am very much obliged to you,” she murmured. “You are very good, I’m sure.”

“Don’t mention it,” replied the editor, politely. “I think when you get it shirred, and revered, and polonaised, and princessed, you’ll like it very much. You might get a sash and some big buttons to put on behind; or if you’d like another style better, you might trim the whole front with bouffants and wear the pannier for a hat.”

“Oh, thank you sir!” exclaimed the blushing bud, as she scuttled down stairs.

“Swipes!” roared the managing editor, with a complacent smile and a glance of approval at himself in the glass, “Swipes, you may tell the foreman to send me a proof of the fashion notes as soon as they come in. I have observed that a great many errors have crept in lately, and we should be strictly accurate in all our statements, or the public will lose confidence in us.”

The Two Worlds 26 October 1888

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The foregoing reminds Mrs Daffodil of an amusing parody of fashion reporting from that American savant of humour, Mr Mark Twain. And of this would-be seller of dress goods who mistook a polonaise for Appolinaris sparkling water.

The title refers to the anxiety many ladies felt over the correct number of buttons on their gloves. This excerpt gives some guidance on this important question:

 Twelve-button gloves are generally used with three-quarter length sleeves and sixteen-button gloves are intended for any sleeve cut just above the elbow, permitting a little fullness on the arm, while twenty-four button gloves are correct for full dress. Notions and Fancy Goods, Vol. 50, 1918

Of course, the indecorous suggestion that a young lady would look better without her corsage would have had the audience ’round the stove at the general store (Mrs Daffodil divines that this piece is for an American readership) guffawing and slapping their thighs.

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 Dude in the Dress Goods Department: 1880s

dress goods clerk


Do you think you can sell dress goods and ribbons?” inquired Mr. Nathan Waltrous, senior member of the retail firm of Waltrous and McGill of Houston, Texas. The party addressed was a florid young man with a florid nose, florid moustache and florid hair. He was, in short, quite a Florida youth, and his name was Theopolis Duggan.

“I reckon so,” he replied.

“Can you be suave?”


“Can you support a becoming address in the presence of ladies—politeness, suavity. you know? “

“Oh, yes,” answered Duggan. “in the last place I worked the boys all said I was the suaviest man in the troupe, and a rustler among customers.”

“What business was it?”

“Pumps—wooden and iron pumps and hydraulic rams.”

“Quite a different line from dress goods and ribbons.”

“Well, yes, but l ain’t afeard to tackle ’em.”

Mr. Waltrous gave him a trial. The boys in the store labelled him “Pumps” from the first moment of his initiation into the dress goods and ribbon department. The second day a petite brunette inquired for some “chicken down” nun’s veiling. Pumps commenced to sweat.

“What color is it?” he blurted out.

The girl only rewarded him with a stony stare. Pumps rushed off after a new stock of information and inquired:

“Is this a provision store or a butcher shop?”

“Why?” asked a one hundred and fifteen pound salesman.

“Because there’s a gal there by the show case who wants some chicken down.”

The one hundred and fifteen pounds of pure and unadulterated suavity waited on her.

“Show me some elephant’s breath cashmere,” said an elderly lady in gold bowed spectacles. Pumps dropped a roll of paper cambric, and again started down the road after some more information.

“What’s elephant’s breath?” he gasped. “Hanged if I ain’t thinkin’ l’ve struck a menagerie.”

“It is a shade of woolen goods,” murmured another salesman, moving up towards the elderly lady and selling her a large bill.

“Bet your boots l’ll catch on,” said Pumps swaggering before the glass where ladies try on bonnets and hats.

Another young lady interviewed Pumps in the afternoon and said: “You know soutache on grey velvet is considered very chic.”

“It is just the chickiest thing agoin,” observed Pumps.

The young lady looked grieved.

“Show me some giraffe colored cashmere,” she said quietly.

“Another animal wanted,’ muttered Pumps breathlessly, as he reached the other end of the store. He, of course lost the sale.

“Show me some crinolettes,” demanded a spare woman with a cast in her eye. Pumps was nonplussed.

“If I was you I wouldn’t get a crinolette,” he ventured.

“You wouldn’t! ” sneered the lady.

” No, not at this season of the year. I’d get a pair of striped stockings and a poke bonnet.”

The lady walked out.

“What did she want?” inquired Mr. Waltrous, who had kept his eagle eye on the proceedings,

” She was hankering after a crinolette,” said Pumps, “and I don’t think we have them in stock.”

“These are crinolettes,” said Mr. Waltrous sternly, and pointing to a pile of garments.

“Them! Why I took them for base ball masks,” said Pumps.

“You will have to do better than this,” remarked Mr. Waltrous, impressively.

“There is a woman up at the front end who wants some Apollonaris. Hadn’t I better go out and get her a glass of seltzer?”

Some more condensed suavity waited on the lady and sold her a polonaise, a moliere waistcoat, an ostrich feather fan and ten yards of plum-colored velveteen. Pumps was paralyzed.

“You fellows have got the thing down midlin’ fine,” he said, pulling his vermillion moustache before the mirror.

“Evidently you have considerable to learn in this business,” said the head salesman to Pumps.

“All I ask is a fair show for my money,” returned Pumps, dejectedly.

“What would you do if a lady were to inquire for an imported jersey?”

“What are you giving us?” whined Pumps. “This is no stock yard or dairy farm.”

“That, my dear friend,” said the head salesman, ” is a short jacket introduced into this country by Mrs. Langtry. What if she should inquire for a tournure?”

“ Me-oh–I’d– “

“That will do,” shouted Mr. Waltrous, bobbing up from behind a bale of sheeting ; “you can just tournure back on this establishment, and hunt work in a lumber yard.”—Texas Siftings 

New American Speaker and Reader, 1901

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One understands why the “dude” mistook crinolettes for base-ball masks:

Chicken down” was “the newest shade of yellow” in 1885. “It has a green tinge, and is particularly unbecoming to blondes.” Godey’s Magazine, 1885

“Elephant’s breath” was a shade of grey with a hint of purple.

The Moliere waistcoat was a long, square-bottomed vest or faux-vest, usually with jeweled or enamelled buttons.

A polonaise (or Apollonaris as pronounced by “Pumps,”) is a gown with a draped skirt, looped up to reveal a decorative underskirt. It was a very popular 18th-century style (1770-1780) and was revived in the 1870s-1880s, starting with the “Dolly Varden” costume.

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 Mismatch Fad: 1912

mismatch fad

The Newest Crazy Change-Side Fad

Mismated Stockings, Slippers, Gloves and Earrings, the “Odd Eye” and “Triangular Smile” Now Make Fashionable Women Look Like Masterpieces by “Futurists.”

In the extraordinary new and fashionable attempt of women to look as though a strong gale had given them a hopeless list to starboard the only one-sided opportunity that seems to have been overlooked is a lateral curvature of the spine.

To be truly fashionable and up to the minute, a woman must contrive to appear about as symmetrical as a grapevine. One-sided costumes began it—gowns sweeping the floor on one side and revealing the ankle on the other, trimmed on one side, plain on the other; coats with a sou-west-by-west effect. But, bless us! That was only the first primmer class effort of the fair ones to get out of plumb.

Now she has to shift her centre of gravity clear down to her bones. That her legs and arms are reasonably well mated is little short of a disaster. If nature provided her with eyes that match, something must be done about it. A nose that is in the middle of the face won’t do at all, and a mouth that reposes directly beneath it is of no sort of use except for alimentary purposes.

Actually, this boxing the compass with sartorial and anatomical details has become so popular in fashionable circles that it is a wonder that any fair member of the smart set promenading Fifth Avenue, New York, with multitudes of imitators overflowing into the Gay White Way, can look Nature in the face.

She could hardly do it anyway, with her vision distorted by that “odd eye” enlarged out of all proportion to its mate by the artful use of belladonna, and her head drawn over to the “O.P. side,” as they say on the stage, by the weight of a coiffure operating like a shifted cargo of pig iron aboard an Erie Canal barge. Besides, Nature certainly would resent that brand-new “triangular smile” which women who are in mode now sit up nights to cultivate.

If the late Aubrey Beardsley should come to life and take luncheon at any of the New York’s “smart” hotels it would be impossible for him to resist the temptation to immortalize the New York woman of fashion of this day, date, and minute somewhat as is attempted on this page—the lopsided lady with a vengeance!

The whole business started with the opening of the last silly season. Last summer at Newport there were some of the oddest effects produced by the strange fad. For instance, one morning, when the Casino lawns were crowded with tennis enthusiasts from all parts of the country, Miss Eleanor Sears came in with Harold Vanderbilt. There was nothing unusual in this, of course, but everyone who saw her gave a gasp and said:

“What is the matter with Eleo’s feet?” There was nothing the matter with the feet, but there was something strange about her slippers. On her left foot Miss Sears was wearing a bright red slipper and on her right foot she was wearing a black one.

“Everybody is doing it now,” said Miss Sears when Cynthia Roche Burden asked her why she had made such a mistake, and Miss Sears was right. Everybody did seem to be getting one-sided in one way or another. The next day Mrs. Alexander Bache Pratt, one of the prettiest and one of the wealthiest brides of a year ago, appeared wearing a red silk stocking on her left foot ad a black silk stocking on her right foot. But Mrs. Pratt went even further, and on the red foot she wore a black slipper, and on the black foot she wore a red slipper!

It was young Mrs. Sidney Colford—formerly Clare Knight, of Philadelphia—who was the first matron to wear the one-sided gown. One day Mrs. Colford appeared at Bailey’s Beach wearing a marvelous creation of black and white. The left side of her costume was of oyster white satin made absolutely plain from shoulder to hem. The other side was of black satin draped in a most graceful manner at the side. The contrast between the plainness of the one side and the pannier of the other was most marked.

A similar surprise was sprung upon Newport several years ago, when Mrs. Reggie Vanderbilt’s mother, Mrs. Belle Neilson, wore one very large pearl earring and one very large turquoise earring. At that time all the Newport women thought that Mrs. Neilson had made a mistake, but she very soon told them that it was the very latest Paris fad, and the next day all her friends were wearing mismated jewels.

Last Summer Mrs. Craig Biddle revived this fad and wore one  beautiful black pearl earring and one very large emerald earring.

At the recent Horse Show the new Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt wore a curious necklace; one side was of pearls and the other of rubies.

The wonderful diamond garter—or what Mr. John R. Townsend called a “leg bracelet,” worn by a very prominent matron, was the sensation of the hour at the Horse Show. It was a broad band of diamonds clasped on the left leg just below the knee. From it hung a two-inch fringe of smaller diamonds. The matron’s skirt was slit up on the side so as to show the garter.

And then there is Mrs. Dick Stevens, the wife of the Mr. Richard Stevens who owns the “Castle” over on the Hoboken side of the Hudson. Mrs. Stevens is one of the most spectacular members of the Newport colony. She has her ball gowns slit ‘way up one side and where the slit ends she wears a bouquet of flowers. And so this peculiar fad is affecting practically everything that a woman wears and it is difficult to know where it will stop.

So the dear creatures are cultivating lopsided features to correspond with the lopsidedness of their wearing apparel. The eye on the more ornamental side of the costume is thus treated with belladonna, to enlarge and make it more brilliant, while the other eye is encouraged to look as insignificant as possible.

Even a nose can be manipulated in a way to turn it several points to the sta’board or the la’board of the course which the lady-brig has marked on her chart. This adds considerably to the irresistible piquancy of the “triangular smile,” which, in the mean-time, she has so painfully acquired and which is so subtly babyish in its effect of trustful innocence.

3 cornered smile

The “triangular smile,” when once acquired is really an economy. It is accomplished by sharply elevating the centre of the upper lip, thereby revealing only two upper incisors instead of a full set of teeth, upper and lower.

Considerable time and not a little inconvenience is the cost of acquiring this three-cornered expression of approval. You have to sleep in a sort of bridle with a vertical front strap firmly clamped to the tip of the upper lip, which, it draws upward toward your nose all through your sleeping hours—if, indeed, you are able to sleep that way.

Examination into the whole matter in a scientific spirit, however, suggests a more serious reason for the existence of the triangular lady with her pronounced list to sta’board. There is, in fact, no denying that she approaches more nearly than anything else human to the ideas of the masters of the “Futurist” school of art—as is plainly indicated by the two examples reproduced on this page. You will observe that the distinguished painters of these two portraits of women saw nothing about their subjects which did not suggest vague cubes, triangles, rhomboids and other familiar geometrical figures, some regular in form, but most of them decidedly irregular. Furthermore these ladies immortalized by “Futurist” masters have that same characteristic list to sta’board that is so pronounced in the case of victims of the fashionable, new lop-sided fad.

Perhaps the “Futurists” are right. Perhaps that is how our sisters and sweethearts really look, anyway, and that someday we’ll be educated up to seeing ’em that way even when their clothes are on straight.

mother and child lewis

“Mother and Child” Wyndham Lewis

head of a woman picasso

“Head of a Woman” Pablo Picasso

The Salt Lake [UT] Tribune 15 December 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on the eccentricities of “Polaire,” the self-styled “ugliest actress in the world,” who was trying to introduce the fad of nose-rings in 1913. Polaire at least had the merit of being an actress for whom news-worthy eccentricity was a positive virtue. One fears that Miss Eleanor Sears and Mrs. Belle Neilson really did make a pair of bloomers with their footwear and jewellery, which they hastily covered with the fig-leaf of an entirely imaginary Parisian novelty. Mrs Daffodil dislikes, but does not blame, the Futurists for the mismatching fad.  Such things come and go in the world of fashion. One anticipates that by the time the Great War broke out, young ladies had better things to think about than belladonna in the eyes and “nose bridles.”

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.


“They look as if they were somebody:” Two Would-be Swells: 1891


“Van Gryse ” reveals the Devices of two Female Would-Be Swells.

Any one who has been a student of life in the metropolis, who knows the faces on the avenue and in the lobby on first-nights as well as he knows those on the Rialto and Wall Street, can not but have noticed that new feminine type which has come to the fore in the last twenty years, but which is as yet unclassified.

No one seems to know under what head this type should come, or what name to call it. Yet every one knows of it, and a few people have watched its gradual development with thoughtful interest. It has two or three salient characteristics, but none of these are as yet prominent enough to warrant one in classifying it as a new specimen evolved by metropolitan life.

The women of this class seem to be female prototypes of the cheap swells among men. At certain places during certain hours of the day you may see them — not in large quantities, for they are not a numerous order, but scattered through the crowd of well-dressed fashionables. The casual way-farer, though he may have been born and bred between four brick walls and have never seen the sunset except at the end of a street through a cobweb of telegraph wires, may pass them by unthinkingly as women of the patrician rich world. For they are perfect in every outward appointment of elegance and good taste.

An accomplished and sharp-eyed flaneur will notice that their smooth completeness of appearance is here and there ruffled— there is too strong a suggestion of rice-powder about their faces, their shoes are worn a little, and though they assume a look of bland and somewhat haughty complacence, their glance is at times restless and quick. They appear to be nervously on the alert to apprehend every admiring and approving look directed toward them. They expect and desire admiration, and though they make a good attempt to hide this expectation, it sometimes will not be hidden.

There are generally two of them — a mother and a daughter — and a stranger passing them would say to himself: ” There go two typical, well-dressed, aristocratic New York women of the highest class.” It is a natural supposition. They look as if bom to every luxury and comfort. In dress they are perfect — not merely perfect in the general air of their clothes, but perfect in detail. They look healthy and fresh and blooming. Their hair shines as though a maid brushed it by the hour every day. Their lips are red and smooth, and their eyes clear. They wear the newest fashion in everything — not such new fashions as will grow cheap and shoddy, but the new fashions which will only be adopted by the rich and exclusive. When a fashion falls to Fourteenth Street, they are done with it forever.

In air and appearance they look as if they were somebody.

They do not appear to notice the passers-by, but they forge along with a self-confident, haughty swing, their eyelids indolently drooping and their mouths curved into smiles of rather blase indifference. The daughter — you may see her almost any week-day morning, shopping on Twenty-Third Street — is rather pretty and very good form. She is a slender girl, about twenty-five, dressed always with quiet elegance. Her face, which is delicate, almost sallow, with dark eyes and a few locks of hair on her temples, is marred by a somewhat arrogant and cross expression. She looks like a young lady who was spoiled and could be querulous if she were thwarted.

She appears to lead the life of a woman of means and fashion. In the morning, in her warm street-suit and rich furs, she goes shopping. Sometimes her mother is with her–a pleasant-faced and refined-looking woman — but generally she is alone. She always shops in the best and most expensive stores, and she has a way of asking for what she wants which makes you think she could buy up the whole place if she wanted. On the contrary, however, she is almost invariably dissatisfied with the wares placed before her. She seems to disdain them, and an air of scornful irritation crosses her face as she pushes them aside and goes away. When she does make a purchase, were it but a spool of thread or a handkerchief, she would not dream of carrying it. It must be sent. And, as she gives the address, she leans across the counter and speaks it very low.

At all the openings of the most expensive places for hats and women’s clothes she is present. With her lorgnon up, she goes peering about at the new chiffons. She takes many of them in her hand and examines them disparagingly. They rarely suit her. When she was in Paris, last year, she saw just those same things — and now they are old and passe. The only way to get your clothes and have them at all chic is to go over there yourself and buy them. A modiste’s taste is invariably inclined to be shoddy.

When she gets out into the crisp winter sunshine, she tucks her trim little hands into her sable muff and walks briskly up the avenue, “toward home.” All the fellows in the club windows make flattering comments upon her as she swings along — a most attractive figure, with her neatly hung skirts, her pointed shoes, her close hat setting so snugly over her beautiful, smooth-braided hair, her sallow, high-bred face, with the rice-powder thick on the bridge of her nose, and her general air of calm unconcern. When she gets far uptown, she turns suddenly to the left, and, walking down a block, waits on the corner for a car. While she stands here, one sees how nervously alert and sharp this young woman’s indifferent eyes can become. They shoot anxious glances up and down the street. When the car comes, she springs into it with undignified speed, and nestled in a corner of it, her feet buried in the straw, the draughts blowing her hair about, she is borne across town to regions of corner-groceries and dingy boarding–houses, unkempt children, and frowsy maids-of-all-work.

She does not stay in this obscurity for long. That evening, at half-past eight, she and her mother have just rustled into their seats in the parquet for a Bernhardt first-night. She has on a pale-gray dress and wears some long-stemmed Jack roses fastened on her corsage. Her pale-gray wrap is thrown back to show these, for Jack roses are very rare at this season.

Her black hair is braided up under a little gray-gauze theatre-hat. She is altogether as well dressed as any one in the house, and many people look at her and ask who she is. Nobody knows, however. This is particularly strange, for she appears to know every one who is any one. She points them out to her mother, speaking of them with intimate personal comment, as though they were her friends since childhood :

The lady to the right, in the red hat, is Mrs. So-and-So. She has grown fat since she was at Lennox — the So-and-So women were always inclined to run to fat. That was Tommy Thingumbob there by the door. Isn’t he getting bald ? He must be tired, poor fellow ; he was up till all hours last night leading Mrs. Montgomery-Jenkins’s german. That girl there, with the turned-up nose, is the youngest of the Marshmallow girls — Toosie. They say she is going to marry young Doosenbury — the Doosenbury whose sister eloped with the coachman. Awfully sad affair. It nearly killed her mother. Betty Smith is sitting in the first row of the balcony with the Tompkinses. Betty looks very pretty to-night, yellow becomes her — and so on, and so on all through the evening. To hear her talk, you would think this young woman the most intimate friend of these people, upon whom she comments in rather a loud key. Then, when the lady next her is looking at her with curious admiration, she suddenly feels that the little filagree-edged comb is slipping out of her back hair, and draws off her glove that her hand may be free to readjust it. The hand thus revealed is wonderfully slim, white, and delicate, and is covered with pretty rings — not magnificent rings, they are not the thing for a young lady, but dainty, pretty rings of small, glittering stones.

Half-an-hour after the performance is over, she and her mother are in the corner of the cross-town car, on the last stage of their homeward journey. They sit close together, for it is biting cold. The people in the car are a sordid-looking lot, who stare stolidly at the two ladies. Through the rattling windows come in freezing blasts of air, and no matter how deeply you bury your feet in the straw, it is impossible to keep them warm. When they finally get to the wretched boarding-house where they live, it is past twelve and the house is dark. They stumble upstairs, tired and stiff, to the two tiny rooms, under the leads, which is their home. It is so cold up here that there is already a skim of ice on the water in the pitchers, and before they retire they spread their heavy ulsters and cloaks over the beds to act as coverlets. The mother is soon asleep, but the daughter, the ruling passion strong even in an atmosphere like that of a cold-storage warehouse, dallies long and lovingly over the putting away of her finery, smoothes it out, hangs it up, puts it into boxes, and folds it into bureau-drawers, finally becomes so engrossed that she takes out some of her new costumes still in process of construction, and, shivering in her meagre deshabille, holds them off at arm’s length, rapturously gloating on their beauty.

The creating and wearing of a new dress is the great event of her life. All morning she and her mother sit up in their little room, their feet against an oil-stove, cutting, snipping, and fitting on. The solemnity of the occasion is such that they do very little talking, but bend over their work in absorbed silence. An observer would hardly recognize them as the two aristocratic ladies who created quite a sensation at “Fedora” last night. The mother is now a fat and somewhat blowsy person, shrouded in a voluminous “Mother Hubbard,” her front hair twined round hair-pins. The nymph-like daughter looks thin and haggard in the searching light; her curls have gone, and her hair is wound up in a tight little knob on the back of her head. Her wrapper is dirty and faded, and hangs round her long, straight figure in limp folds. Even her rings have disappeared, locked up in a little box on the toilet-table.

In the afternoon she will go for a stroll on the avenue, and come home at half-past four, happy in the consciousness that for two hours she has been a swell. Such is the life of this modern Cinderella. She cares for nothing but this daily masquerade. Her existence is singularly lonely and profitless. She has no “circle,” no friends. She will not associate with the people in the boarding-house — the feeble, half-starved, shabby-genteel kind which haunt such barren places — and she has no means of knowing any other sort of people. The goal of her ambition is to be a fine lady, not in fact, but in appearance, and for this she lives.

She and her mother have a tiny income, left them by her dead father. They are both remarkably clever dress-makers, and if they had chosen to ply this trade, they could have placed themselves in thoroughly comfortable circumstances. But the daughter would not hear of such a thing. Their talents are employed to copy the various dresses she sees in the shops, on the streets, at the theatres, in order that she and her mother may make a good showing when they walk abroad.

Their manner of living is poor past belief. They are only half-fed, and certainly half-frozen. For sometimes the materials that the daughter chooses to buy are extremely expensive, and when there is a particularly fashionable first-night, they save out of their breakfasts and dinners enough to buy the two best seats in the house.

They always buy these themselves. The young lady has no followers, no beaux, no best man. The men whom she sees at the boarding-house are not of a kind to suit her elegant taste, and the men whom she sees on Fifth Avenue are unattainable. For, with all her faults and frivolities, she is a cut above vulgar sidewalk flirtation. She wants always to do the correct thing, and she would as soon think of bowing to a man she did not know as she would of wearing a bustle. Moreover, she is not particularly fond of men or flirtation. If they look at her admiringly on the avenue, she is quite satisfied. She would rather a great deal have one of those long, new cloaks, edged with Russian sable, than a lover. Such capacity for feeling or emotion as she possesses has all been swallowed up in her inordinate love of dress. She is one of the products of the life of a metropolis — the husk of a woman, a creature entirely passionless, heartless, and soulless.

New York, January 7, 1891. Van Gryse.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 14 August 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well, really…. Mrs Daffodil feels that the author is being unduly severe upon the young woman who would rather have a cloak edged with Russian sable than a lover. The cloak is assuredly a better value. The mother and daughter lead a sad enough life without being excoriated for their little deception. One suspects that class distinctions and the vulgar subject of money enter into this prejudice. It is doubtful that the author would have called Mrs Vanderbilt or Mrs Marshal Field of Chicago, “heartless” or a “husk of a woman” for her “inordinate love of dress.”

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.


Marriage a la Mode: Three Would-be Brides: 1730, 1778, 1820

An 1824 wedding gown. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

An 1824 wedding gown. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


JULY, 1730.

Extracts from the Diary of my Great-grandmother.

Five o’clock.— Got up an hour before my usual time to distil surfeit-water. Said my prayers. Finished one of my father’s new shirts. Mem. To send to town for some currants, raisins, and ratafia water. Six .— Some poor women came for medicine to my mother; gave out of the store-room several doses, and a pint of sack. Mem. To carry two shillings to Tom, the carpenter’s wife, who is ill. Seven. — Breakfasted. A card has come from Mr. Jenkins, to let us know he will do himself the pleasure of dining with us. The match debated during breakfast. My father says, if he finds him a man of good morals, he’ll not differ as to the settlements. I am ordered never to be alone with Mr. J. until all the writings are drawn. Eight.— Read the Psalms and chapters for the day. Taught little Jemmy his catechism. Mem. Betsey has marked J. in her sampler to-day: that stands for Jenkins. Nine.— Darn some old point-lace tuckers. Do some clear-starching and ironing for next week. Ten.— Go see the carpenter’s wife. Her family in very great want. Give them a shilling from my own pocket-money. Eleven .— Sit down to my cross-stitch. A shepherdess the subject, for an urn-rug. Twelve.— My mother orders me to make a custard-pudding, to show Mr. Jenkins what I can do. Orders me to wear my best gown at dinner, and only two patches. Mem. I mean to appear in my new hoop and laced stomacher. Mr. J. is a man of figure, so will look to my appearance. One.— Too much ratafia water in the pudding. Mr. J. praised some hare of my potting. I begin to like him vastly well, but must not let him perceive it. Mem. Our currant wine just out. Mislaid the key of the corner-cupboard. Thinking of Mr. J. Two.— Miss T. and her lover stepped in to tea. Promise her receipt for pickling mushrooms. Mem. Mrs. Hart’s receipt for burns very good. Must have it in the house. Garlick syrup excellent for coughs. Eight. — Supper. My brother tells me Mr. Jenkins is very wild. Mem. Never to see his face again!

A 1779 wedding gown

A 1779 wedding gown


Notes from my Grandmother’s Pocket Diary.

Two o’clock.— Arrived this moment in town. We have been three days coming from S—– in our own coach. Just put off my riding-dress, and huddled on my green gown, to get to the milliner’s, mercer’s, &c. Overjoyed to be in town; so have no appetite for my dinner. Four.— Going out with Miss Tendrill. She tells me coque de perle necklace and ear-rings are much in vogue. Mem. To teaze my mother until she gets them for me. Arrive at Truefit’s. N. B. Truefit the first modeste in the world. Ordered a cane hat, lined with cerulean blue Persian, trimmed with blonde lace and ribbons, for walking in the Park, and making morning calls. Mem. Must bespeak two pairs of white leather shoes, with red heels, and bindings to correspond. Advised to have a Saint Teresa of sarsnet and blonde lace, as ’tis the latest mode. Ordered it at once. Mem. Blonde lace ruffles, with a large slope, vastly genteel. Uneasy till I get them. Eight.— Go home, fearing I may miss Mr. Cleveland. He advises, as my shoulders are rather round, that my stays be made high behind. He says ’tis quite the thing to have them so. I have desired they should be cut low before, as it shows the chest off to advantage. Sunday. Eleven o’clock.— Had no rest last night, anticipating the pleasure of the week to come. Too late for church. I shall dress in time enough for a ride in the Park. One. — Miss Wyndham has called for me. Go to Mrs. Emerson, to engage her to matronize us to an assembly to-morrow night. Mr. —– walked up to speak to us. An acquaintance of Miss Wyndham. A fine well-made man; improves on better acquaintance. He took great notice of me, and told Miss W. I was a prodigious fine girl. Miss W. jealous, and anxious to return home; he offered to escort us. Miss W. complained of headache, and would not speak. I improved the opportunity, by chatting away merrily to Mr. —– all the way home. Mem. To get green Persian calash, same as Miss Wyndham’s. Mr.—– praised it, so I won’t be outdone. Seven.— Mr. —– invited to dinner by my mother. I engrossed all his attention. He is very rich. Eleven.— Desired Mary to waken me at two in the morning, to have my hair dressed. It will be done in about four hours. Monday. Two in the morning.— Crumpe just arrived. Read Damon and Ella, whilst my head is being operated on. A sweet book! Seven.— My hair finished. Mem. Crumpe the first hair-dresser in Europe. Only 463 black pins in it. No other could have accomplished it with less than 470. Eleven. — Out shopping with Mrs. Emerson. Take the round of the fashionable milliners. Bespeak a grenadier cap of blonde lace, with a Mary Stuart peak. Saw a lovely clouded lute-string at Ball and Campbell’s. Resolved to have it. ‘Tis very much genteeler than Miss Wyndham’s. Twelve.— Had a glance at Mr. —–. They say half the reigning belles are dying for love of him. Charming creature! Mem. To dance the first minuet with him to-night, if possible. One.— Much fatigued from tumbling over silks, &c. Tried on my new negligee. Mem. Must not go to the assembly until ten. Country hours will not do here. Tuesday. One.— Paid so many visits yesterday before the assembly, that I was tired and out of sorts. Mr. —– danced with Miss Wyndham half the night. Well, to be sure, what taste some people have! She looked downright frightful. Her fortune is a large one; that covers all defects, I suppose. I am mortified, have a bad headache, and wish our stay in town was at an end. I have just heard that Mr. —– proposed for Miss Wyndham last night. I shall cut her acquaintance most certainly.


Leaves from my Mother’s Journal.

Tuesday, Dec. 2.— The boxes containing my trousseau have just arrived. My cousin Annie and I busy unpacking them. Annie to be my bridesmaid. How brilliant her color is to-day: she looks very lovely, and will grace our wedding. Of course, dear Edward is charmed with her, for my sake. My wedding-dress is of white lace, gored on the hips, and quite tight down to the knee, where small flowers, headed with thick wadded rolls of white satin, commence. The body is just one finger deep in front, and a little deeper behind. The dress is made low, for the ball on the evening of the wedding; and with it has come a white flowered satin spencer, covered with small white tassels on the front, and with a stiff standing collar, which looks very stylish. My hat is composed of blonde and satin, and has six full ostrich feathers in it, three at each side, the two end ones being very long, so as to fall gracefully on the shoulders. Madame Lion has sent, amongst other things, a blue cloth pelisse, trimmed with sable; the price of it is thirty-five guineas. Edward made Annie try on some of my things to see how he liked them. Strange that it was not me he wished to see them upon! Dear Edward, how thoughtful he is— he made me retire to my room very early, saying I looked fatigued. Annie did not follow me until twelve o’clock, and seemed flushed and slightly agitated on entering the room. She says I look so pale I should wear a little rouge. ‘Tis a fashion I never yet adopted. Wednesday, Dec. 3.— Papa and dear Edward all day in the study, closeted with Mr. Grabb, our attorney, arranging about settlements. Tomorrow I shall be the happy bride of him whom I adore. Guests arriving all day. I saw Annie coming out of the shrubbery with dear Edward, before the dinner-bell rang. What could they have gone there for? The hour late, too, for walking, and the evening cold and damp. Twelve o’clock.— Just retired to my room for the night. Take one more peep at my wedding dress, laid on the sofa, and now retire to dream of the happy morn fast approaching.

* * * * * *

Here the manuscript ceases; for, when morn came— that morn so longed for— Edward was missing; and, stranger far, Annie was nowhere to be found, and was sought for in vain. The faithless pair had eloped together, and the following day were united at Gretna Green. Long did my poor mother pine and mourn her sad fate. But at length brighter days arose for her; and in my dear and honored father she found what she had long searched for— a congenial loving, and honest heart. M.E.H.

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] June 1854

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders what the author’s Great-Grandmother would have thought of Dollar Princesses, or flapper-brides, or today’s faux-celebrity weddings with sponsorships and paparazzi. Obviously her daughter did not absorb that lady’s sensible character or her notions of useful service and parental obedience. And with such a flirt for a mother, the 1820 bride could scarcely choose wisely, no matter how fascinating Dear Edward.

But to some extent, the essentials have not changed: weddings bring on an onslaught of fashion, rather than thoughtful contemplation about how to pass the time after the Happiest Day of one’s life has passed. Marriage ought to mean more than a trousseau, champagne toasts, and the cover of Hello Magazine.


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.


What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907


An Edwardian gentleman in morning suit.

An Edwardian gentleman in morning suit.

An ingenious engineer has been at some pains to discover what it costs the aristocratic young Englishman to protect himself against the elements. It must not, of course, be supposed that all aristocrats dress well in England any more than they do in America. Mr. Gladstone, for example, was notorious for his shabby clothes, while his great opponent Lord Salisbury was once excluded from the inclosure at Ascot by an over-zealous official, who very naturally mistook him for a tramp.

But the gilded youth, the male butterfly, certainly knows how to spend money on clothing, and he does it with a will. At any hour in the afternoon one may meet men in Bond Street or Piccadilly who spend far more for their dress than does the king, and who give the subject far more thought — if indeed that word may be so far profaned.

To begin with, the gilded British youth will spend $500 a year for his underclothing, and it must be remembered all the way through that these figures represent an amount nearly their double in America, where clothing is so much more expensive. His neckties and gloves will cost him about $150 a year, and his tailor’s bill will be a moderate one if it does not run to about $1500. This will include three riding suits, 1 at $40, six lounge suits at $35, six flannel suits at $25, twelve pairs of trousers at $6, six dress suits at $73, and a whole host of  odds and ends, such as fancy waistcoats, motorcoats, overcoats, and waterproofs. Hats, boots, and sundries will run away with S350 a year, and then there will be jewelry, to which of course there need be no limit at all. When we remember that the butterfly’s sister or sweetheart — if, indeed, he possesses anything quite so common as a sweetheart — will spend about twice as much for dress as he himself, it is easy to see where the money goes.

To do him justice, he does not spend very much on jewelry, as anything of a showy or a flashy nature is considered bad form. But in the matter of waistcoat buttons he allows himself a special extravagance. He will probably have three sets for white waistcoats and two for fancy waistcoats. Sometimes these sets are of turquoise, and they may cost $1,000 a set. Those worn by day are of a quieter kind and will cost perhaps from $5 to $10 a set. Studs are another expensive item, because they have so much of what has been called the innate cussedness of inanimate objects, and so frequently get lost. The well-dressed man favors pearls for his studs, and a set of these will run from $10 up to $500, according to size and quality. The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 20 July 1907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously remarked on the “dudes” who wear corsets. While the ladies have been censured for their absorbing interest in costume and for those innocent deceptions used by fashion to heighten a woman’s beauty, they have also been praised for giving work to so many: milliners, modistes, boot-makers, jewellers, lace-makers, &c., &c. The same might be said for the gentlemen, as we observe in this article from 1916, which, as the vulgar might say, “ups the ante:”

How to Become a Gentleman.

It takes nine tailors to make a man, but fourteen or even twenty-four, if it be a rush job, to make a gentleman. The members of the National Association of Merchant Tailors of America are themselves authority for the computation. They arrived at it very simply, indeed. No gentleman, they say, can have less than fourteen suits and ten overcoats in his wardrobe. Should one decide to become a gentleman in a hurry, starting, say, from scratch or a state of nature, then each item of clothing mentioned would necessarily engage the attention of a different artificer, making twenty-four in all. But, of course, if a man start with a handicap, half a dozen suits and a couple of overcoats it may be or any other variation of fractional gentility why then, the number of tailors required to bring the product at once up to specifications differs according to the gap in the wardrobe.

It is needless to speculate on the uses and character of the two dozen units of dress prescribed. Every gentleman must know them by heart, and even an editor is too sensitive to risk displaying his ignorance in the matter. Suffice it to say that they should represent an outlay of $2,060, which very conveniently reduces gentility to the time honored basis of dollars and cents. Take the amount named to any first-class moulder of fashion or to several simultaneously, and he or they will guarantee the result, and no questions asked. New-York Tribune 13 February 1916: p. 2

The perfect 1907 gentleman of fashion. An Arrow Shirt ad by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

The perfect 1907 gentleman of fashion. An Arrow Shirt ad by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

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.

Eleven Modes of Suicide: 1868

One of those lethally thin tulle ballgowns.

Death lurks in the folds of this deadly ballgown. Ladies–don’t forget your wrap!


1. Wearing thin shoes and cotton stockings on damp nights and in cool, rainy weather. Wearing insufficient clothing, and especially about the limbs and extremities.

2. Leading a life of enfeebling, stupid laziness, and keeping the mind in an unnatural state of excitement by reading trashy novels. Going to theaters, parties, and balls in all sorts of weather, in the thinnest possible dress. Dancing till in a complete perspiration, and then going home without sufficient over-garments, through the cool, damp night air.

3. Sleeping on feather beds in seven by nine bedrooms, without ventilation at the top of the windows, and especially with two or more persons in the same small, unventilated bedroom.

4. Surfeiting on hot and very stimulating dinners. Eating in a hurry, without half masticating the food, and eating heartily before going to bed, when the mind and body are exhausted by the toils of the day and the excitement of the evening.

5. Beginning in childhood on tea and coffee, and going from one step to another, through chewing and smoking tobacco and drinking intoxicating liquors; by personal abuse, and physical and mental excesses of every kind.

6. Marrying in haste and getting an uncongenial companion, and living the remainder of life in mental dissatisfaction; cultivating jealousies and domestic broils, and being always in a mental ferment.

7. Keeping children quiet by giving paregoric and cordials, by teaching them to suck candy, and by supplying them with raisins, nuts, and rich cake; when they are sick by giving them mercury, tartar emetic, and arsenic, under the mistaken notion that they are medicines and not irritant poisons.

8. Allowing the love of gain to absorb our minds, so as to leave no time to attend to our health; following an unhealthy occupation because money can be made by it.

9. Tempting the appetite with bitters and nicotine where the stomach says no, and by forcing food into it when nature does not demand and even rejects it. Gormandizing between meals

10. Contriving to keep in a continual worry about something or nothing. Giving way to fits of anger.

11. Being irregular in all our habits of eating and sleeping. Going to bed at midnight, and getting up at noon. Eating too much, too many kinds of food, and that which is too highly seasoned.

The Ladies’ Repository, Volume 28, 1868

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Given this lengthy list, the reader may consider that she has been lucky to escape with her life. Mrs Daffodil herself does not indulge in trashy novels, bitters, nicotine, marrying in haste, mental excesses or ferment, nor anything highly seasoned. She does, however, have a soft spot for the irritant poisons.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find more fashion hints, fads and fancies, and no irritant poisons.

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 Hats from the Washington Monument: 1896

birds on hats

A stylish bird hat. Image from http://thegraphicsfairy.com

One of the most singular stories that may be told about the Washington Monument is hardly credible, yet it can be vouched for as perfectly true. There are hundreds of ladies in Washington who wear upon their hats the plumage or the entire skin of a bird which has lost its life flying against the tall mass of marble in the dimness of twilight or daybreak. Every morning one of the watchmen who spends the night in the monument find about its base quite a number of birds who have lost their lives in this way. This mortality is not limited to any one species, but includes nearly all the birds known in this region. Strange to say, few English sparrows lose their lives by flying against the monument, but the beautiful golden finches, cedar birds [waxwings], starlings, tanagers, grosbeaks, and many others of bright plumage and great rarity have been found. The watchman takes these birds up town to a taxidermist, who stuffs and mounts the rarer specimens, which are sold for a good round price to collectors, and the skins of those less rare are prepared for the milliner. Hardly a morning comes that there are less than a score of dead birds about the base of the shaft.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 29 October 1896: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This was, of course, the era of the overstuffed hat, laden with plumes and entire stuffed birds, making ladies look rather like those sable-clad feather men at funerals, bearing trays of black-dyed ostrich feathers above their heads. Movements to ban the slaughter of birds for adornment were well underway by 1896. One wonders if the reformers would have objected to this singular, but cruelty-free method of collecting specimens for the milliner?

You will find this an absorbing article on the saga of the Boston ladies who stood against the rising tide of feather fashions and possibly saved the egret and the heron from extinction. The classic book on the subject is Feather fashions and bird preservation: a study in nature protection, Robin W. Doughty.

On the subject of other queer doings at the Washington Monument, including a widower anxious to do his best for his wife’s remains and several persons who believed that they could defy gravity, see this post over at the Haunted Ohio blog.

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.