Tag Archives: fashion advice

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.


A Mind Filled with Gloves, Silks, and Ribbons: 1710


A Lady, Charles Boit, c. 1710 From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

A Lady, Charles Boit, c. 1710 From the Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

[I]f ladies will take my word for it, (and as they dress to please men, they ought to consult our fancy rather than their own in this particular,) I can assure them, there is nothing touches our imagination so much as a beautiful woman in a plain dress. There might be more agreeable ornaments found in our own manufacture, than any that rise out of the looms of Persia.

This, I know, is a very harsh doctrine to womankind, who are carried away with everything that is showy, and with what delights the eye, more than any other species of living creatures whatsoever. Were the minds of the sex laid open, we should find the chief idea in one to be a tippet, in another a muff, in a third a fan, and in a fourth a farthingale. The memory of an old visiting lady is so filled with gloves, silks, and ribbons, that I can look upon it as nothing else but a toy-shop. A matron of my acquaintance, complaining of her daughter’s vanity, was observing, that she had all of a sudden held up her head higher than ordinary, and taken an air that showed a secret satisfaction in herself, mixed with a scorn of others. “I did not know,” says my friend, “what to make of the carriage of this fantastical girl, until I was informed by her eldest sister, that she had a pair of striped garters on.” This odd turn of mind often makes the sex unhappy, and disposes them to be struck with everything that makes a show, however trifling and superficial.

 Many a lady has fetched a sigh at the toss of a wig, and been ruined by the tapping of a snuff-box. It is impossible to describe all the execution that was done by the shoulder-knot while that fashion prevailed, or to reckon up all the maidens that have fallen a sacrifice to a pair of fringed gloves. A sincere heart has not made half so many conquests as an open waistcoat; and I should be glad to see an able head make so good a figure in a woman’s company as a pair of red heels. A Grecian hero, when he was asked whether he could play upon the lute, thought he had made a very good reply, when he answered, “No ; but I can make a great city of a little one.” Notwithstanding his boasted wisdom, I appeal to the heart of any toast in town, whether she would not think the lutenist preferable to the statesman? I do not speak this out of any aversion that I have to the sex; on the contrary, I have always had a tenderness for them; but, I must confess, it troubles me very much to see the generality of them place their affections on improper objects, and give up all the pleasures of life for gewgaws and trifles.  

Mrs. Margery Bickerstaff, my great aunt, had a thousand pounds to her portion, which our family was desirous of keeping among themselves, and therefore used all possible means to turn off her thoughts from marriage. The method they took was, in any time of danger, to throw a new gown or petticoat in her way. When she was about twenty-five years of age, she fell in love with a man of an agreeable temper and equal fortune, and would certainly have married him, had not my grandfather, sir Jacob, dressed her up in a suit of flowered satin; upon which she set so immoderate a value upon herself, that the lover was contemned and discarded. In the fortieth year of her age she was again smitten; but very luckily transferred her passion to a tippet, which was presented to her by another relation who was in the plot. This, with a white sarsenet hood, kept her safe in the family until fifty. About sixty, which generally produces a kind of latter spring in amorous constitutions, my aunt Margery had again a colt’s tooth in her head; and would certainly have eloped from the mansion-house, had not her brother Simon, who was a wise man and a scholar, advised to dress her in cherry-coloured ribbons, which was the only expedient that could have been found out by the wit of man to preserve the thousand pounds in our family, part of which I enjoy at this time.

The Tatler, Richard Steele, 28 March 1710

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously heard from a German alienist who felt that an interest in fashion was a kind of insanity, as well as the various persons who decreed the requirements for “perfect beauty.”  And here we have another gentleman advising those trifling and superficial ladies on their dress.  Harsh doctrine indeed from a person who benefited so substantially from a suit of flowered satin and cherry-coloured ribbons.

A Relentlessly Informative note: The fictional Mr Isaac Bickerstaff Esq. is understood to be the editor of The Tatler and the author of the piece above. This was the pen-name used by Jonathan Swift for several extraordinarily popular satirical letters “predicting” the death of a well-known astrologer. Mr Steele took advantage of this excitement to increase the circulation of his paper by listing Bickerstaff as editor.