Tag Archives: millinery

The Problems of Shopping in Paris: 1909

1909 House of Paquin evening frock. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ask any American woman you meet if she has been in Paris, and if she cannot answer yes, she will say, with brightening eyes, “No, not yet, but I expect to go,” or, if the trip across looks doubtful, “No; but I do hope to go some time!”

I have never met an American woman who had not either been to Paris was expecting to go, or “hoping” to go. And one of the principal reasons why she expects to go or hopes to go is to shop. She has this ambition to shop in Paris, whether she lives away out on a Western farm on the outskirts of nowhere, in the town of Kalamazoo, the village of Some-thingsburg, or the city of New York. I suppose this is the foundation for the orthodox belief that all good Americans go to Paris when they die.

I am not particularly surprised that American women who have not shopped in Paris have the keenest desire to do so, since the majority of American women who have shopped in Paris are so continually writing or talking about it. “O, the Paris shops!” they say, adding nothing more, as though the delights of a shopping tour in the gay city were too wonderful to be described in English.


La Samaritaine, vintage silver print, eBay listing by photovintagefrance

I have yet to meet an American woman who seemed willing to tell what I believe she knows in her heart of hearts is the truth about the Paris shops, and therefore I will here essay to tell the truth for her–that there is not in all Paris one solitary large shop worthy of comparison with the great department stores of New York, and not being myself a New Yorker, I do not think I can be accused of undue prejudice in favor of a native city.

When I say the Paris shops do not bear comparison with the New York stores, I speak after having just spent the autumn months in Paris, where I saw whatever was latest in the way of prices and fittings and goods. Take, for example, the matter of window dressing. In the large “magasins” the Parisians do not display the slightest taste when it comes to making their windows attractive. Only in the smaller shop windows does one find an arrangement of goods and colors that does not offend the eye. Along the Avenue de l’Opera there are a few jewelers who make an attractive display in their small windows, and over in the little streets of the “Quarter” one occasionally comes upon a dealer in antiques, who shows taste in displaying his wares behind glass.

But I speak now of the large establishments which are to Paris what the department stores of Broadway, Sixth avenue, Twenty-third and Fourteenth streets and Fifth avenue are to New York. Take the “Louvre,” the “Galerie Lafayette,” “Princeton,” “Samaritaine” and “Bon Marche,” for example. At first approaching them it seems to me any New Yorker must at once be reminded of Baxter street and other such parts of New York, for all the pavement surrounding these large “magasins” is lined with little booths where sundry garments of the most horrifying aspect are displayed for sale, and the clerks in attendance are calling your attention to their wares. These booths, let it be remembered, are a part of the great magasin. Back of the booths are the windows of the store, and how any New Yorker can find them attractive is beyond my comprehension. Paris knows nothing of the art of large window dressing. Indeed, if one were to judge of the contents of the store by those of the windows, one would certainly pass it by. However, it is a tradition in Paris that you must not judge of a shop by its outside appearance, so let us enter and examine the bargain tables and the regular counters. Here are coarse handkerchiefs, 75 centimes, or 15 cents. Handkerchiefs 10 times more beautiful and much finer may be bought in any of the Sixth avenue department stores for 12 cents. Here are gloves–yes, let me admit, they are very much cheaper than one can find them in New York, and, therefore, if one is over in Paris, one should lay in a good stock of gloves if she can evade the customs inspectors.

Here are ready-made collar supports, with whalebone and ruchings, all prepared to sew in the neck of a bodice and reach quite to the ears. These also are 75 centimes each, 15 cents, while they may be bought two for a quarter in Twenty-third street, or Broadway. Last September I bought a set of combs for the coiffure. I had mislaid my good London set and wanted something cheap on the spur of the moment, I paid 4f. for them, or 80 cents. I find prettier and stronger ones for 69 cents.


French trousseau petticoat, c. 1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Of course, everybody looks at handmade underwear when in Paris–it is the only kind worth looking at. No body would ever dream of buying machine-made lingerie or blouses in Paris. They are simply impossible. The handmade garments are dainty and attractive and comparatively cheap. That is to say, if a woman is able to pay $15 for a lingerie blouse, or $5 for a chemise or nightgown, she can do very much better in Paris than in New York. The $15 blouse will be $10 in Paris, and the $10 nightgown will be $5 or $6. But the woman who is accustomed to paying $1.50 each for her dainty surplice-shaped nightgowns and $2 for her smart machine-made summer blouse should not dream of buying these garments in Paris. For those prices, she cannot find anything she will be willing to wear. The fact is that there is no city in the world where such dainty machine-made garments of all sorts can be found at such low prices as in New York.

Do you want a pair of pretty little slippers for the opera or a party? If you have only $2 to pay for them, buy them in New York. If you can afford more than that, try Paris. Do you always wear silk stockings? Then by all means get them in Paris when you are over there–unless you will listen to my advice and get them in Regent street, London. If you are accustomed to wearing cotton hose always, and want to get the finest and daintiest possible stockings for your quarter of a dollar, buy them in New York.

Do you want dress goods by the yard? If you wish cotton goods, don’t fail to get it in New York. It is daintier and cheaper here. If you are going across and must have yards and yards of cloth or silk–still I say don’t get them in Paris. London is the place for your purchases. Do you anticipate going over in the summer and remaining till the chilly October weather will necessitate a good heavy steamer coat which you can wear in New York when you return here? Of all things, don’t waste your time hunting for that coat in Paris unless you have a large amount of money to spend for it. You will find what you want in St. Paul’s Churchyard or Oxford street. London, but not in Paris at your price.

1909 lampshade hat, Paris, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In thinking of Paris one’s thoughts turn instinctively to hats and gowns. Certainly it is the place where the fashions originate and whence they are imitated, but come you and walk along the principal shopping streets of Paris and look in the windows during the months when Americans most congregate there. Let us fancy it is August, and we must return to New York in September. I defy any American woman with good taste and with mind not warped with the idea that anything that comes from Paris must be right, to find displayed in any Paris window a hat marked below 25f. that she would wear in the backest of New York’s back streets and not feel ashamed to meet her friends. Now 25f. is the equivalent of $5, and the shop windows of New York are bursting with beautiful $5 hats at this season and at all other seasons. I say at once these hats are not “exclusive.” Buying one, I would not feel at all sure that wearing it to the matinee I would not become amazed and dazed by seeing myself in exact duplicate sitting in front of me. But the same thing could happen in Paris. The point is that the $5 “window hat” of New York is to be preferred to the same thing in Paris.

The only way to procure a hat in Paris is to go inside a shop that does not look like a shop, and tell the madame in charge that you have been sent there by Mrs. So-and-So, who bought her hats there last year. Then you will have brought forth from secret receptacles wonderful specimens of millinery that fairly turn your head, and if you are able to pay $15 or more, you will obtain a real “creation” for which you would pay a third more in New York.

In the matter of gowns one has the same experience. Really well-made and attractive gowns are not often displayed in the windows, nor can you see them in the shops except by special maneuvering. If you can afford to patronize the shops of the Rue de la Paix (and you must be a millionaire to be able to do so), you will certainly see gowns that are gowns, although even those that are shown to you–if you speak with an American accent–are not at all like the gowns that are displayed for the inspection of Madame la France. A special line of gowns is originated for Americans, as any American woman would soon see who, after having bought her gown in August, should go back to Paris in November and note what is being worn by the real Parisienne.


Oh, yes, I know all about those “little dressmakers” and those “little milliners” of Paris. That is to say, I know nothing whatever about them, except by hearsay, and have never been able to find them, though I have taken a half dozen taximeters in hot pursuit of them, thrusting the addresses given me by my English and American friends in the very faces of the red-faced cabbies and demanding to be driven to them instantly. Somehow they have always moved away from the addresses that have been given me, or their prices have increased tremendously since the foregoing summer, or I have made a mistake, indeed I have. Madame never, no, never, made a gown for the American mademoiselle under 300f., nevaire, no, nevaire!

Myself, I came back to New York recently without the gowns I had intended to buy, and am now rejoicing in the fittings of my little Irish-American dressmaker, who, though she knows it not, is quite as clever as the “little French dressmaker,” and is able to do me very well indeed for the American equivalent of 300f.

I do not depreciate Paris as a center of art and fashion. I think that every American woman who is able to do so should visit Paris. Certainly she ought to go through the principal shops, visit the great opera house, the art galleries and wander about the fascinating streets. Paris gets a hold on one, and to her one returns again and again. So great is that hold that, with but a few hundred dollars, many an American and English girl will remain there and suffer untold discomforts for the mere sake of living and perhaps, “studying” in Paris. She will eat one-franc dinners, that are a horror to remember, sleep on beds that for their hardness penetrate into the very bones and marrow and cause a lifelong ache. She will wander about the Louvre Museum, copying pictures for the price of a Latin quarter meal. She will climb seven flights of stairs to her attic abode and sleep five in a room, each on a four-folded quilt in a corner, and go bathless for a fortnight at a time. She will, under these circumstances, write home letters to the old folk by the country fire side or the city radiator, telling of the glories of Paris, her ambitions, her chance for success. And surely Paris has her glories, her chances, and sometimes her fulfillment of ambitions.

But Paris is not cheap. If one desires ordinary comforts one cannot live there more cheaply than in New York. The far-famed flats of the Latin quarter, where one gets four rooms with a kitchenette for $12 a month, are comfortless, desolate and dirty when compared with the cheap tenement house apartments of New York.

Paris is the city for those who have learned, or are sure they are willing and able to learn, the art of “doing without.” All its conveniences are expensive, most especially such conveniences as baths, laundry work, good beds, cleanliness.

There is no food so deliciously cooked and served as one finds in Paris, but food of this sort is not particularly cheap. Your American art-student may find many a one-franc dinner served in the open air along the boulevards (including “wine,” if she is fond of vinegar), but it is the sort of dinner she would not eat at home. She can find rooms in the Latin quarter for 25f. a month that is to say, for $5. She must climb many stairs to them, dress by the light of a solitary candle (for which she will pay five times as much as she will pay in New York), and shiver during the winter for want of a fire. She will either wash her own clothes or wear them soiled, unless she can pay an exorbitant price to have them laundered. She can put up with these discomforts and many other things too many to mention, while she “sees Paris” and “studies art.” If she is made of the right stuff and does not break down physically, it will do her good and perhaps make a strong, capable woman of her, destroying certain provincial notions that are death to advancement. Unless she becomes so wedded to Paris that she cannot leave it, she will return to her native land and her own people all the better and more interesting for the experience she has had. She can laugh over it afterward and warn her friends what they have to expect if they go to Paris without a really snug little income.

I do not discourage any American girl or woman from going to Paris. I hope I merely lift my voice against the strangely prevalent notion that Paris is a surprisingly cheap city, that its shops are especially attractive, that one can really get more for one’s money than in New York or in other large American cities. For this is a delusion.

Pittsburgh [PA] Daily Post 21 March 1909: p. 33

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Well. That is “telling them,” as they say in the States. Blunt Yankee candour. Or perhaps the author was paid for this “puff piece” by the New York Chamber of Commerce.  

The author is cynical about the “little dressmakers” of Paris, but does not breath a word about the salons of the House of Worth, Paquin, Poiret, Lanvin, Doucet, or Callot Soeurs. Mrs Daffodil raises a skeptical eye-brow. Perhaps those establishments felt that their client lists were filled and they did not feel it necessary to pay to be “puffed.”

While Mrs Daffodil has heard of exploitation in the work-rooms of couture houses, she wonders how it compared with the sweat-shops of New York for making dainty surplice-shaped nightgowns and smart machine-made summer blouses.

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 anecdote

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 Virot Label: 1909


They Are Meretricious Things If They Misbrand an Article.

“You can go right on talking to father, Mr. Jerrold,” Madge Roberts said, gaily, “but I want Mrs. Jerrold to see my Virot hat.”

“I am sure, just because I happen to be a mere man, you wouldn’t be cruel enough to deprive me of a pleasure,” Mr. Jerrold retorted.

Madge dimpled, and made him a courtesy. She could not help being happy that the hat was so becoming.

“And it cost, exclusive of the label that I begged from Cousin Adelaide, exactly six dollars and seven cents,” she explained triumphantly, to Mrs. Jerrold. “Every girl I know, except one that I’ve let into the secret, really thinks it is a Virot.

“Why not let them think it is a Roberts and get the credit you deserve?” Mr. Jerrold suggested with, beneath the light words, a gravity which Madge was too absorbed to notice.

“If that isn’t a ‘mere man’ question!” she responded. “To get looked down upon by lots of people when a simple little label ca get me looked up to! I made my suit myself and it’s as a big a success as my hat—and everybody thinks it came from Hammond’s. It’s my good luck to have rich cousins who can furnish the labels of the swell shops. I’m quite willing to keep my talents in the background; it counts a great deal more to be stylish than to be talented. I must run now—and take my Virot to the recital. Goodbye, both of you!”

It was a careless scrap of talk—nothing was farther from the girl’s thought than that it would influence her life. Yet only four months later, when her father’s sudden death made it necessary for her to become a wage-earner, that winter evening returned to her in a way she was never to forget. She had gone to Mr. Jerrold to ask his influence in obtaining a secretaryship of which she had heard.

Mr. Jerrold was kindness itself, but he shook his head gravely.

“Miss Madge,” he said, “I would rather lose a thousand dollars than say what I must say, yet I should not be fair to you if did not say it. I cannot recommend you for the secretaryship because it is a position of responsibility and demands a woman of irreproachable honesty and honor. It is the Virot label that stands in the way, Miss Madge. It is not that I should not trust you as far as you saw, but –I could not be sure that you would see clearly. I will do my best to help you obtain some other position, but I could not in justice to the trust imposed upon me recommend you for this.”

Two minutes later a girl hurried down the street, her cheeks burning and her eyes full of tears. But she had learned her lesson. Youth’s Companion.

The Daily Herald [Chicago IL] 4 June 1909: p. 3

mourning hat virot paris 1902

Mourning Hat, Virot, Paris 1902

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have previously read the breathless confession of another lady who basted a Paris label into her home-made hat and yet we do not hear that she suffered by her little deception. Frankly, Mrs Daffodil is inclined to be tolerant of such minor impostures, particularly when they are perpetrated by a very young woman, the petted daughter of the house. In the hierarchy of Deadly Sins, they rank rather lower than say, Wrath or Lust, hovering around the moral level of Filching the Last Chocolate Biscuit in the Tin.

Mr Jerrold may have been kindness itself, but he seems to have had no understanding of those “careless scraps of talk”  heedless young persons are apt to utter. For one ghastly moment Mrs Daffodil thought he was going to decline to help the newly bereaved girl at all, leaving her to drudge and starve, exposed to all sorts of terrible temptations!

Certainly the gentleman was well within his rights to decline to give Miss Madge (yet who, after all, was industrious or thrifty enough to make her own suit) a recommendation for that sensitive secretaryship, but one hopes he had more congent reasons for his priggish refusal than a deceptive label from Virot.

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.



Making Straw Bonnets: c. 1800


A late-18th / early 19th-century straw bonnet http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/womans-bonnet-326663

That spring brought a new fashion in head gear. Straw bonnets came into vogue. Peabody, Waterman & Co. received an invoice from England, and Mrs. Peabody presented one to her sister Hannah. I greatly admired this bonnet, but mother said she could not afford to buy me one that season. Aunt Sarah, noticing my discontented visage, inquired the cause, at which she signified her readiness to teach me to braid straw, and make myself a bonnet. Much surprised, I asked how she had learned. “As I have most things, I taught myself,” was the reply. “During the Revolutionary war two British cruisers for two days lay off the mouth of the Merrimac. The inhabitants of the “Port” were greatly alarmed, momentarily expecting a bombardment. Your great-aunt Mollie Noyes packed her effects, and, with her children, came here. Though the men-of-war withdrew without any demonstration, as the news immediately came that Captain Noyes’s vessel had been captured, and himself and crew were prisoners at Dartmoor, Mrs. Noyes remained some time. Your father was troubled with headache, and often complained of the heat of his wool hat. One day during haying, Aunt Noyes brought him a straw hat, which she said Captain Noyes had brought from foreign parts. After it was worn out your father missed it so much that the idea struck me of braiding one. We had a field of oats. I cut some straw, took the old hat, and, after patiently unbraiding and braiding for a time, at length succeeded in obtaining the secret. I braided and sewed a hat, which, though not as handsome as the foreign one, did very well. I braided several, and can teach you. When the oats are large enough to cut you can make a pretty bonnet.”

Mother tried to dissuade me from this project. She didn’t believe I could “make anything decent.” I was strong in faith, and my aunt upheld this determination. As soon as the straw was ripe I began to plait, and soon had sufficient for a bonnet. The straw was finer than Aunt Hannah’s, but, as no knowledge of bleaching had been obtained, it was not as white; still, it looked very well. Aunt Sarah fashioned it in the prevailing mode, but a difficulty arose respecting pressing. The front was easily managed, but how could the crown be shaped? Aunt Sarah was a person of expedients; I never knew her frustrated in anything she set about. A mortar was turned bottom upward, paper fitted over it, and the crown shaped to the requisite form. I was jubilant over this bonnet, and my Aunt Peabody sent a white ribbon to trim it, like Aunt Hannah’s. Neither before nor after do I think I was ever so proud of an article of dress as I was of that bonnet. After this we cut a quantity of straw, and I braided father a hat…

Early 19th-century straw bonnet with chevron plaiting http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/womans-bonnet-326722

Early 19th-century straw bonnet with chevron plaiting http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/womans-bonnet-326722

With my multifarious duties, I had contrived to plait a new straw bonnet for myself. Aunt Sarah assisted me to make common hats for father and the boys. We also fashioned a cunning bonnet for my little sister Susan to wear upon her first advent at meeting. Upon sight of this head gear, little Joe demanded a Sunday straw hat. Aunt Sarah said that was a good idea. I plaited a fine braid; the hat was made and lined with green silk. Jim thought he should like one, only the braid might be coarser. When father saw this hat, he asked us to make one for him; the light hat was “so comfortable in warm weather.” The gentlemen and youth of the neighborhood and vicinity, seeing and liking these hats, came to solicit us to braid some for them. In a short time quite a lucrative business was established. In the midst of the hurry, one of our cousins, Patty Noyes, came in, to beg us to braid her a bonnet; she “must have one for the very next Sunday.” “That is an impossibility.” “Then sew one from this!” she exclaimed, seizing a roll of the hat braid. “That is too coarse.” “That is a matter of taste,” she returned; “if I have a coarse straw it may set the fashion. Just sew the braid as I direct.”

Remonstrance was useless. The bonnet was sewed. It looked very well, and when trimmed was really pretty. Patty’s joke proved a prophecy,—she did set a fashion. Orders came for several similar bonnets. This extra straw work brought a great hurry in the autumn….

A quantity of straw had been stored the summer before; this spring, orders for bonnets and hats came as fast as they could be filled.

As I have stated, Uncle Thurrel’s only daughter had married Mr. Jonathan Smith, the son of the Rev. Dr. Smith, the first Baptist clergyman in Haverhill. Mr. Smith kept a store in that town. Straw bonnets were becoming so fashionable, Mrs. Smith conceived the idea of our supplying the sale at her husband’s establishment. Hitherto our bonnets had remained the natural color of the straw. Straw work had been commenced in Providence, and through some relatives there, Mrs. Smith learned the process of bleaching. We were greatly pleased to become initiated into the mystery, and with her native ingenuity, Aunt Sarah contrived a bleachery. Holes were bored in the head of a barrel, strings were attached to the bonnets and passed up through the apertures, which were then plugged with wooden spiles; sulphur sprinkled over embers put in the dish of a foot-stove was placed beneath; the whole being tightened by an old quilt, not a fume escaped, and the bonnets came forth as white as the imported. To this period the braid had been plaited from whole straw; this year the split straws began to come, and Aunt Sarah finding that she could split straw with a coarse comb, concluded to have some combs made for the purpose. Comb making had been an industry of the town since its first settlement.

Mr. Noyes was a great oddity. He would run half over the parish bareheaded and barefooted. It was no uncommon thing for him to appear at our house, after dinner of a hot summer day, in only a shirt aud breeches, having run across the fields two miles, “jest to take a nooning.” A great joker and a capital story-teller, his appearance was the signal for a general frolic. He was fond of telling strangers that his father used to say he had “four remarkable children: Molly was remarkably handsome, Tim was a remarkable sloven, John was remarkably wicked, and Enoch was remarkably cunning.” To this gentleman Aunt Sarah applied. As might have been expected, he entered into the business with characteristic zest, and in a short time we were supplied with half a dozen different-sized straw splitters.

Early 19th-century straw bonnet with ornamental edging. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/bonnet-326664

Early 19th-century straw bonnet with ornamental edging. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/bonnet-326664

Mrs. Smith, having cut a tiny piece of trimming from an imported bonnet, brought it for me to imitate. How vividly I recall the two long hours which I passed, sitting on the chamber floor surrounded by the litter of straw, patiently weaving and unweaving until the secret was obtained. Having acquired this ornamental cue, I invented several other decorations with which to finish the edge of the bonnets. I also learned to make straw plumes and tassels from examining those of the foreign bonnets. Miss Mary Perkins kept a fashionable millinery establishment in Newburyport. Hearing of our straw manufacture she rode up to see us and immediately ordered bonnets. After a time the plain straw became superseded by diamond and other fancy plaits. These being the ton, Miss Jenkins also purloined a bit from the inside of a diamond satin straw, and brought it as a pattern of a braid. It looked so intricate I nearly despaired of my ability to copy it, but Miss Jenkins would not permit me to demur, and as every one spoke encouragingly I made the effort, and in two or three hours accomplished the task. This was a timely achievement; our bonnets were in great demand, and we continued the business through the warm season for several years until the establishment of straw factories and my approaching marriage curtailed the work; but Aunt Sarah continued to braid men’s hats and supply her friends’ bonnets for a long time.

Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian, Sarah Smith Emery, 1879

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can highly recommend the delightful memoirs of Mrs Emery; she tells of the homely minutiae of life at the turn of the nineteenth century and restores to us details of women’s work that otherwise would have been lost to history. The lady has the additional merit of being a charming and engaging narrator. 

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 Easter Bonnet in Miniature: 1903

 The Easter Bonnet in Miniature

Already the shops are blooming with cards and booklets for Easter. The usual crosses of lilies and books of forget-me-nots are in evidence, and the Easter rabbit and his friend the March hare are to be had in velvet and cardboard and candy. The jewelers will send home the costly gift of coral and diamonds or pearls and jade in a white box shaped like an Easter egg, and the florist will supply exquisite blossoms in baskets of nest-shape, made of twigs and pussy-willow, gemmed with violets and primroses. But probably the sauciest of all the Easter symbols is a wee hat-box—a gorgeous affair of flowered paper such as is used by the smartest of milliners—which, when opened, reveals a hat of coquettish demeanor and great chic.

It is trimmed elaborately and with daintiest skill, and the ribbon and flowers and bows and feathers are all very fine and very smart. Two hatpins with fancy heads are thrust into the sides of the hat, and a sheet of white tissue paper, about as big as a fairy’s pocket handkerchief, is laid carefully over this precious chef d’oeuvre when it is in the box. This pretty little joke is for the young husband to send to his bride.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 24 March 1903: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The joke would be on the young husband if the bride did not also get a new, full-sized Easter hat of the latest design, costliest  trimmings, and a very smart bill to match.  The expense of the yearly Easter hat was a sore subject for many husbands and it was an ongoing joke that the “little woman” would have her Easter hat at any cost.

Her Modus Operandi.

On a fine morning, when the sun is shining, the birds singing (or caroling, as they say in springtime) and every one should be happy, she broaches the dismal subject. “Dearest,” she begins, trying to cuddle up as close as possible (too close for torpid weather), “do you know, I saw the most b-e-a-u-tiful hat downtown yesterday?”

That is the tip for you to break away. If you don’t you may never get another chance.

“Ah, did you?” you ask vacuously. “Do you know where my pipe is? I’ve misplaced it somewhere,” you add very quickly, indicating your anxiety for a smoke.

“Here it is! I’ve found it for you, sweetest. Don’t you love me? And do you know it was the most reasonable price I ever heard for such a beautiful hat?” Escape seems impossible, but you venture on another tack. “Now, I’ve gone and lost the evening paper. Will you find it for me?”

“Of course I will, beautiful. I will find anything that you want me to find. Oh, how I do love you. And how I do long for that hat. It is only $39.”

It is useless. You might as well give up. You may have to work overtime for three months to pay for it, but where is there any loophole of escape? Yes, there is one. You can skip town suddenly, telling no one your destination. But if you ever come back you will have to pay for that Easter hat.

Pan American Magazine Vol. 9 1909

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.


How Hats are Sold in America and in Paris: 1909, 1922

A contrasting look at how hats are sold in the States and in Paris.

Hat by Joseph G. Darlington of Philadelphia, c. 1908 http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/59888.html?mulR=1719427611|161

Hat by Joseph G. Darlington of Philadelphia, c. 1908 http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/59888.html?mulR=1719427611|161

Art in Selling Hats.

“It makes you look small,” says the saleslady to the big woman who is trying on the hat. Sold.

“It makes you look plump,” she says to the slender woman. Sold.

“It makes you look young,” she says to the obviously middle-aged woman. Sold.

“It makes you look tall,” she says to the short woman. Sold.

“It makes you look short,” she says to the tall woman. Sold.

“It brightens your face,” she says to the dark woman. Sold.

“It brings out your color,” she says to the pale woman. Sold.

And all the hats were alike.

Woodbury [NJ] Daily Times 14 August 1909: p. 2

By Lanvin, c. 1920 ttp://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/52254.html?mulR=374194346|53

By Lanvin, c. 1920 ttp://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/52254.html?mulR=374194346|53

Buying a Hat In Paris

Paris, Dec. 2.

Buying a hat, for a French woman, is a very serious business, not lightly undertaken, but with consideration and great deliberation.

She takes stock of her wardrobe, for the hat must not alone suit her head, but it must suit her clothes. Madame does not buy one hat today and another one tomorrow. The best type of Frenchwoman has her hat fitted to her head, just as one has a coat fitted to the figure.

In other words, it is made for her, the shape is cut for her, it has to suit her face, her figure, her style.

A Frenchwoman is never satisfied with the front view, the profile is of the utmost importance to her, and also the back.

The French milliner is a real artist, not merely a saleswoman. She spends endless time shaping a brim. One side perhaps is charming—a la bonne bonheure; the other side has got to be made charming too, and the clever milliner will not be satisfied until it is made so. That is the origin of the high-priced French hat—it takes time and infinite labor.

The Frenchwoman, above all, wants her hat to be comfortable. Her hat is returned to the milliner time and time again until it is comfortable, and until the line is absolutely correct for nose, chin and shoulders.

Men say no one in the world can put on a hat or wear a hat like a Frenchwoman. But they little know the time, thought, care, and fittings that are expended in making the Frenchwoman’s hat. Even women of small means have their hats made. Some there are, of course, who buy a ready-made hat, but that hat will be pulled to pieces, changed, and more or less remade before Madame wears it. That is the secret of the Frenchwoman’s hat.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 3 December 1922: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is the week-end of the Kentucky Derby, an American horse-racing contest known perhaps more widely for its liquid refreshments and, of course, for its hats, which, Mrs Daffodil must admit, begin to rival those worn at Cheltenham and Royal Ascot in their size and garishness. Mrs Daffodil (who had her fill of caps while working, early in her career, as various species of maid) has a wardrobe of only two hats, neither suitable for the race-track, but useful for days out and more formal events such as coroner’s inquests.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of a strange way of collecting feathers for millinery, Parisian styles of hats for horses, a hoodoo hat, and a ghost who ordered a 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.

Parisian Styles in Hats for Horses: 1902

horse hats


If you happen to see a horse stop and crane its neck at a certain bright show window on any of the streets you can set it down in your notebook that some especially fancy bit of horse millinery has caught its eye. The displays in that line are unique this year and gorgeous to a degree; in fact, they rival the array set forth for the delectation of the fair sex and the depletion of the purses of the sterner portion of humanity.

As in the fashions for women, so in those for horses. Paris leads the way. Some of the brightest minds and the most artistic have been engaged to turn out the most rakish headgear for horses and the results are something almost beyond belief. There are hats and hats and then bonnets. There are sweet little bonnets for the gay and skittish colts, tall hats for race horses, flat hats for elderly equines, bonnets for the very aged and poke for those who like that sort of thing. The variety is great and the trimming may be as elaborate as the fancy of the owner may desire.

Some of the hats shown are trimmed with ruffles of ribbon and have little knots and clusters of flowers placed coquettishly at the side. Other hats are as plain in appearance as Quaker bonnets or the sort prescribed for members of the Free Methodist church. Ribbons, laces and flowers are piled on the straw foundations in reckless extravagance. There is no limit to the expense of the things and the millionaire can get his favorite mare a hat that will rival that of his wife if he so desires.

According to the French horse milliners, elaborate coiffures are, to be the vogue this year. Foretops are to be crimped and curled in a variety of fashions, but the accept form is a straight bang, falling just below the hat. Small braids are also in vogue. Most of the hats shown have strings to tie them on with, but those who prefer can fasten the headgear on with ribbons.

A very fetching thing for a coltish young animal is a bonnet tied on with wide streamers. A cluster of flowers placed between the earholes adds much to the appearance of the bonnet. Of course the trimming must be selected to go well with the horse’s complexion. It would never do to trim a bay equine’s hat with a brilliant cerise or a roan with a maroon color.

Some of the economic women have taken to making over their last year’s hats for their horses, and some surprising results have been obtained. In this way hats are to be made to do two season’s work. The first year they appear in church on Easter morning, at afternoon receptions and carriage rides and perhaps in the theater where they obstruct the view plentifully, and then next they appear only on the street or in the stable. A woman with deft fingers can make over one of these hats in a short time and at a very little cost.

Dame rumor has it that the fashionable hat for the horses next year will be the Panama, as it is said the headgear will not be fashionable for men any longer than this year. In this way a great many of the hats will be able to serve two donkeys, the first year a two-legged animal and the second a four-legged animal.

Time was when any old hat was good enough for the horse, but that time has passed. Now there are hats for all sorts and conditions of horses and mules. The truck horse may wear a plain slouch-straw hat, with red braid around the ear holes and the edges and the curette horse may wear an asbestos hat, or some other inedible substance, but your true plutocratic horse will have something more elaborate. Poke bonnets are fashionable for slow horses.

There is an inventor in St. Paul who has the welfare of the horse at hear. Not being content with seeing that the animals have been provided with hats and bonnets to keep their foreheads form being tanned he is about to devise a new sort of heat that will combine all sorts of comforts for the equine. in the first place he has designed a hat that will be light, becoming and comfortable. Beyond this, he is contriving a little electric motor to be fitted into the top of the headgear. This will propel a fan to keep the horse’s head cool and at the same time blow a number of little colored ribbons at a brisk rate to shoo away the flies. Later he may devise some little tubes to run the cold air to different parts of the horse’s body and thus not only keep the animal cool, but also keep away the flies.

Modes to Suit all Sorts.

In the accompanying illustrations are to be found modes for different animals. The poke bonnet is for a curette horse, or some other animal that goes at a slow and poky rate. The other sort, which appears very much like a Panama in the latest block, is for a young, brisk horse with a rather short nose and a coquettish leer in her eyes. For mules, plain hats with bunches of thistles are shown. For very young colts, lawn bonnets may be used, made with wide ruffles that fall around the ears in soft folds. Race horses should always have their hats trimmed in fast colors.

The St. Paul [MN] Globe 10 August 1902: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Daffodil feels that horse headgear takes away from the essential dignity of the animal, she assures her readers that, despite the jocular tone and perhaps a certain hyperbole in this article, the fashion for hats for horses was no laughing matter. Campaigners for animal rights and welfare encouraged hats to protect horses from the sun and heat; some organizations would provide simple hats at no cost. In hot weather, it was recommended that a wet sponge be placed in the crown. There were regional variations as illustrated by the Boston and Chicago hats in the photographs.

A sober "Boston" style hat for horses. From New-York Tribune 12 June 1904: p. 2

A “Boston” style hat for horses.

The "Chicago" horse hat from New-York Tribune 12 June 1904: p. 2

The “Chicago” horse hat

The tradition continues today, not only in the close-fitting caps worn by sporting animals, but in the many embarrassing photographs of ponies in party hats to be found online. And one wonders why ponies are so peevish…. One may also see pictures of magnificent horses wearing elaborate Ascot or Derby confections, which make Mrs Daffodil long to draw the creatures aside and murmur: “Wear it if you like, but it doesn’t suit you.”


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 Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900


Since we are devoting this week to the subject of hats, Mrs Daffodil thought her readers might enjoy an encore posting of this millinery ghost story.


Returns to Earth and Leaves Order at Millinery Shop.

Strange Customer Shows Rare Taste in Selection of a Bonnet Which Has, Thus Far, Not Been Called For.

That spirits do return from the grave and appear to mortals is a proposition that for ages has had its believers and disbelievers, but in the little town of Dublin, Ind., there is now only one opinion, and that is that spirits do walk the earth at times in mortal form. The reason for this pronounced belief at Dublin is an occurrence which has recently taken place there and which is so well vouched for that there is not a skeptic in the town.

Dublin, says the Chicago Inter Ocean, is occupied by a well-to-do and intelligent class of people, shrewd, hard-headed specimens of the Hosier type, a class that is not led away by its emotions, and is intensely practical. Among the residents is a Mrs. Sallie Smith, who has lived there many years and who conducts a millinery store.

One day last May a nice-looking old lady came into Mrs. Smith’s store. She appeared to be about 70 years old, and was tastefully dressed in black. She introduced herself to Mrs. Smith as Mrs. M___, and said that she had only recently come to Dublin and wanted to order a bonnet. The selection  of this and the determination of its trimmings proved to be a long operation, for old ladies are quite as fastidious as the young ones when it comes to the selection of a bonnet.

During the work of choosing the bonnet Mrs. Smith and her customer got quite well acquainted. In the course of their conversation Mrs. Smith learned that her customer was the sister of Mrs. Rhoda Scotton, of Brownsville, Ind., who is well known to her, and that Mrs. M___ was well acquainted with many of Mrs. Smith’s people. When the customer left she said she felt as if she had always known Mrs. Smith because she knew her family so well and had heard her sister, Mrs. Scotton, speak of Mrs. Smith so often. The last seen of Mrs. M___ she was standing underneath a shade tree in front of Mrs. Smith’s house.

A few weeks later another lady called at Mrs. Smith’s store to order a bonnet. She, too, gave her name as Mrs. M___, and said that she had only recently moved to Dublin. There was a decided resemblance between the former customer of that name and the last, and yet the last had something about her that puzzled Mrs. Smith and made her doubtful of the identity. Finally Mrs. Smith became satisfied that it was the same woman, and remarked that the bonnet ordered some weeks preceding was ready for her.

The customer was greatly surprised.

“You must be mistaken,” she remarked to Mrs. Smith. “I am a stranger in the town and have not only not ordered any bonnet of you, but have never been in your place before.”

Mrs. Smith looked at the woman and was puzzled. She looked like her former customer, and yet there was a something about her that did not appear the same. Mrs. Smith finally became convinced that she had made a mistake, and this led her to tell her customer all about her previous visitor. Mrs. M___ appeared greatly interested in the narrative and asked Mrs. Smith to describe her former customer. When the latter had done so Mrs. M___ said:

“You have described by dead sister. She was older than I, and we married twin brothers.”

Mrs. M___ then told Mrs. Smith that her sister had died at Indianapolis in September, 1900, and was buried in the cemetery in the west part of Dublin. Mrs. M___ is 68 years old, while her sister, had she lived, would have been 70. She is not a spiritualist, but is satisfied that it was her sister that called on Mrs. Smith and ordered a hat. The bonnet that was ordered, a small black Tuscan straw, prettily trimmed with black chiffon, is still in Mrs. Smith’s possession, and she does not expect it to be called for.

“And I’m not going to sell it, either,” she says. “It’s the first bonnet I ever had ordered by a spirit, or that I ever heard of one ordering, and I’m going to keep it just as a specimen of the taste of spirits in millinery.”

Daily Herald [Biloxi, MS] 14 September 1901: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil was skeptical of this interesting, but rather predictable tale. However, in consulting the census reports for 1880 we find Rhoda Scotton, age 50, at Brownsville, Indiana keeping house with her 17-year old son.  One supposes that the author might have inserted the name of Mrs. Scotton to add a touch of verisimilitude to the thing, although one doubts that readers in Biloxi, Mississippi or any of the other newpapers where this story appeared would know, or care, about that detail.  Alternatively–and certainly more unnervingly–one might believe that the story is  true.

This story and others in a similarly blood-curdling vein may be found in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales From the Past, by Chris Woodyard. You may peruse a table of contents here. If you enjoy historical ghost and horror stories, you might also enjoy Mrs Woodyard’s The Face in the Window and The Headless Horror.

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.

An Easter Hat Design Contest: 1915

As Easter weekend approaches, Mrs Daffodil thought her readers  might like to try their hand at designing an Easter bonnet. This was a contest run in a number of United States newspapers in 1915. The illustrations were printed, one a day, for a week, doubtless boosting circulation. If you are feeling creative, please fill in your own design and post on Mrs Daffodil’s Face-book page. Mrs Daffodil has no prizes to award, but would be delighted to see her readers’ millinery creations.

easter bonnet - draw your own contest


Design Your Own Spring Hat and Get It Made Up By an Expert, All Free of Charge

Girls of Tacoma and Southwest Washington

Here’s your chance to design your own spring bonnet along the most fashionable lines and have it presented to you, all made up, by one of the big millinery establishments of the city—FREE!

Every day next week The Times will print a two-column dummy head, leaving space for your design. Each face will be of a different type, so as to give wide variety. The general spring styles must be adhered to, but you may make it a small, chic hat, or a big, artistic one, as you please.

It’s Artistic Ideas That Will Win

Fine drawing won’t count—but you must make your ideas clearly understood.

The last picture will be printed a week from today.

The drawing must all be in by noon of Tuesday, March 30. The name of the winner will be printed in the home edition of March 31. The judges will be the fashion editor of The Times and Mrs. Cash H. Johnson, designer for the Floriece Millinery Shop.

And then—girls, here’s the big news—the Floriece Shop will set its best maker and trimmer at the task of building in the best possible shape the hat as designed by the contest winners.

Winner To Wear It Easter Sunday

The hat will be finished as fast as careful workmanship can accomplish it and will be exhibited in the Floriece display windows, 914 Broadway, all of Saturday, April 3, and any part of Friday for which it may be ready.

AND on Saturday night, April 3, this nifty creation will be handed over by Mrs. Johnson free of charge, to the winner for her to wear Easter Sunday, the next day.

Read These Rules Carefully

No sketches will be returned.

There is no age limit. Any girl or woman, except milliners or those connected with millinery shops or with The Times—may compete.

You can send in as many drawings as you wish, provided, of course, that in each case one of the dummy heads printed in The Times is used.

The prize will be awarded for the best single design no matter to which one of the six heads it may be adapted.

Now, girls, watch for Monday’s paper—AND GET BUSY.

The Tacoma [WA] Times, March 20, 1915, Image 1

This is a smaller picture of one of the hatless heads on which the girls of Tacoma and surrounding territory are asked to draw “the most attractive Easter hat.” But do not send in designs on this cut. Wait until next week when it will be reprinted in larger size.

hat contest

One of our own artists (a mere man) was asked to try his hand at designing a bonnet for the hatless head.

He did the following:

hat contest2

What do you think about it?

Can’t some of you girls do better?

Of course, this is printed just to show you one way to get into the Easter Hat Contest. This style must not be copied. Yours must be your own idea.

hat contest3

hat contest4


easter hat contest 2easter hat contest 1915 The winning entry appears below. Mrs Daffodil found it to be serviceable, rather than artistic in nature.

This is the hat design of the 804 submitted, which took first prize in The Times’ Easter Bonnet Contest. It is the work of Miss Emma Curtit, Avalon Apts. Miss Curtit is a stenographer in the city engineer’s office. For all the details of the judges’ report see page. 5.

Her design is of a large hat on sailor lines with a flat brim. It is quite simple in pattern and calls for trimming in black and white, which is extremely modish this season….A few boys competed; in all cases, we believe, with the laudable idea of giving the prize if they won, to their mothers. We wish there were prizes enough to go around, so they would have the pleasure of doing this. Robert Nutt of Alderton, age 13, and Elmer Haaland, 322 East Spokane St., were among the boys with a millinery bent of mind.

The Tacoma [WA] Times 31 March 1915: p. 1

easter hat winner

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 History of a Gauze Hat: 1833

In honour of “Hat Day” (Celebrated, apparently, in the States. One wonders who thinks of these things…) a piece about a “lyric” Parisian hat. The narrator is a young man waiting for his new mistress, who is at her toilette. He is watching the milliners in the shop opposite.


There were present eight young and handsome girls,— some carelessly reclined, as if half asleep; others standing, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, laughing unrestrainedly, singing, and talking wildly.

As for the various stuffs with which the table was covered, no one was busy about them — no one seemed to think of them. No doubt these young ladies had just dined; — for these grown-up children it was the hour of recreation and repose,— as, for the little boarders, at the convent, after luncheon.

In the midst, however, of these fair girls, so wild and careless, there was one pensive and thoughtful. From the place which she occupied at the upper end of the table, near the casement, and still more, from her air of distinction and superiority, she was easily recognized as the premiere demoiselle.


Here, necessarily present themselves certain considerations, which are by no means to be taken as a digression, but which, on the contrary, result essentially from the subject. In the first place, this is an axiom: —There are marchandes de modes everywhere : there are modistes only at Paris. A true modiste, be it observed, is not a workwoman who fits corsets or makes embroideries, by the day. She is one who works only at her own time — a modiste is a poet.

A hat is not, like a handkerchief or a gown, a work of calculation and of patience. It is a work of art and imagination; — it is poetry!

It is, however, important to distinguish; —There are different kinds of hats.

There is, in the first place, the hat made to order;— that which is made for customers. That hat, undoubtedly, requires talent and skill. To execute it well, however, a modiste has need only of observation and cleverness. All that is required, in fact, is to adapt it suitably to the character and physiognomical habits of the person who is to wear it. That is not the true poetic hat!

But, there is the impromptu hat,— the hat which should not and cannot fit any other than one head,— a head which the artist has never seen, but of which she has, nevertheless, dreamt. Oh, that hat! — That is indeed the hat of inspiration,— the lyric hat!


It was one of these hats that the premiere demoiselle of our Magasin de Modes was in the act of meditating. One arm, resting on the table, sustained her inclined head; — her other arm fell carelessly over the back of her chair. She was in an attitude nearly resembling that of Corinna, at the Cape of Mycenum. She, too, in fact, like Corinna, was busy with an improvisation. But, assuredly, it was not intended to be a mournful one. Quite the contrary!

A careful observer of the expressive physiognomy of the young modiste might read there all the early symptoms of a poetical creation; and that approaching creation was certain to be of an elegant and graceful character, —for, assuredly, at that moment, the thoughts of the young woman were, themselves, smiling ones. The brightness of all her features betrayed her inward satisfaction. Oh, yes! Some fair project gave her the assurance of deep happiness for the close of that evening. The thought which was working in her, under the influence of those precious inspirations, was about to produce itself starred and coloured with all their rays. This meditation lasted several minutes.

At its close, the modiste turned suddenly towards the table; and seizing, with energy, a large piece of lilac gauze, which lay before her, measured several times its alnage [Alnage was a law regarding standardization of fabric. “Yardage” is probably what is meant.] upon her arm, from the forefinger and thumb to the shoulder. She examined it in all ways, turned it, folded it, puckered it several times and in several shapes ; and, finally,— its dimensions well considered, — spreading it on her knee, she suddenly snatched a pair of scissors, and boldly cut right into the gauze.

‘Twas done! She had said, ‘ This shall be a hat!’ — It was a hat!


That the work might be finished before the night, it was necessary to lose no time. There was but one hour more of daylight to reckon upon. In an instant, recalled to order by the voice of the premiere demoiselle, all the young girls betook themselves obediently to work; each one busying herself ardently with the share which was allotted to her. To one was entrusted the brim, to another the form, — to this one bows, and to that one rolls — to a fifth the lining, and to a sixth the trimmings.

It was a fine spectacle to behold these active workwomen emulating one another in the dispatch of their task, — tilting with their long needles and long scissors. For it may not be useless to remark, in passing, that, — distinguishing themselves, also in that matter, from the common herd of workwomen, as the cavalry are distinguished from the infantry, by their long sabres and tall lances, — the modistes use only scissors and needles of a prodigious length.

At the end of a quarter of an hour, the main works of the hat were brought to a termination. For, into the construction of a woman’s hat — frail, gentlemen! as that slight edifice may appear to you, — there enter more solid elements than you imagine. The coarse lawn, the thrice-stiffened tulle, the pasteboard, the edging, and wire, which form its skeleton and scaffolding, — are not these, truly, carpentry and locksmith’s-work!

Be that as it may, these different preparations were successively laid before the premiere demoiselle. It is she, the architect, — she, the real artist, — she alone who is destined to unite them, and form them into a whole. She only who had conceived this hat could give it breath — life, — and realize in it her own dream!

On a pasteboard doll, which she held between her knees, the skilful modiste had quickly, by the aid of pins, adjusted to one another the form and the brim of the hat. The long needle concluded the indissoluble union of these two principal parts of the structure. Then, in a few minutes, under the light fingers of the artist, the gauze inclosed and covered the vivified skeleton of the hat, and folded over it in graceful plaits. Some twists of straw were added round the brim and round the form ; and a pretty bavolet [a species of headdress worn by country women] was placed behind, above the border. All this had been performed with great rapidity, and with incredible energy.

The young ladies, who had, each, finished her particular task, sat watching, with curious and attentive eyes, the interesting labour of applying their various preparations. The modiste, wholly absorbed in her creation, smiled calmly on its progress. She raised the hat in air, on one hand, turned it lightly round, examined it under all its aspects, inclining the crown to the right and to the left, and from time to time, with her other hand, pressing the edge of the brim in divers places, rectifying some of the folds of the gauze, and giving, thus, harmony and perfection to the ensemble of the work.


This was not, however, all. The most difficult and most important part remained yet to be done. The point was, now, to place the bouquet. Every one knows that this is the decisive moment; and that on the fixing of the bows, the flowers, or the feathers, depends the whole fate of a hat, however well it may have succeeded up to that point.

The deepest silence reigned in the work-room. A lively anxiety was depicted on the faces of all those young girls, gazing on the hat, which was drawing towards its accomplishment.

But our artist was not abandoned of her inspiration. Under her hand, the corn-flowers and the wild-poppies mingled with the knots of gauze, and grouped themselves in an enchanting manner, divinely inclining to the right of the form of the hat, and reposing on its brim.

The last bow fixed, the artist set gently down the frail head-dress at the edge of the table; and with folded arms, leaned back in her chair, to contemplate her work. A satisfaction not to be described beamed on the features of the young woman;  it was evident that she was saying to herself—’1 am content ; behold my idea expressed !’

But her reverie was not of long duration. Rising and approaching the glass, she called to her one of the young girls. Then suddenly sprang forward one of the most arch and roguish faces of a young girl ever seen at the Grande-Chaumiere, or at Tivoli. The hat was placed upon her pretty head, to be definitively proved. It was the final trial. Nothing could be better! One burst of enthusiasm filled the work-room. The hat had universal success. Indeed, it became the lovely girl enchantingly. And so pleased was the giddy thing with the head-dress, that she would not part with it; but, holding it to her cheeks, with the ends of her fingers, danced with joy before the glass, in admiration of herself.

She was obliged, however, to give it up—the dear hat! — as soon as the strings were attached to it, it was taken down into the shop, where it was immediately placed in the show-glass, on the first rank, on one of the mahogany stands.

Our beautiful modiste had been busy repairing the disorder which her labour had produced in her dress. She had carefully re-curled her hair — she now took her bonnet and shawl, and went out.

I followed her with my eyes, as far as the Rue Colbert. There stood sentinel a tall and good-looking young man, wearing spurs and mustachios. She took his arm familiarly, and they departed together. Did I not tell you that she reckoned on some happiness, for the close of that evening?

Her work completed, let us leave her, satisfied with herself, to go where she pleases, with her friend so true to his rendezvous. Assuredly, she has earned her walk and her happiness.

But, what will now be the fate of our hat? —


It was still daylight, the modistes had closed the window of the work-room. I opened mine, and looked out into the street. At that moment, I observed approaching, from the direction of the Palais Royal, a couple whom I at once singled from the crowd of passers, and who soon attracted all my attention.

They were evidently man and wife, and had been so for about the period of twelve moons, including that one which, no doubt, had been of honey for them. The husband, a personage of an appearance sufficiently ungainly and slovenly, was apparently a clerk in some office. Having probably spent the whole day stooping over papers and registers, he was in a hurry to reach the boulevard, for the purpose of getting fresh air, and breathing a little. It was, however, by no means an easy undertaking for him. His wife, a charming creature, well formed, well dressed, but certainly the most giddy and curious wife in the world, rendered that task truly arduous and painful. For, that head of hers turned incessantly to the right and left, on her pretty neck, like a weathercock. And then, if she happened to catch sight of the shop of a linen-draper, or Marchand de Nouveautes, it became absolutely necessary that she should approach it and make a pause. It was, however, before the Magasins de Modes that she stopped, in preference to all others. They are, as everybody knows, infinitely numerous in the Rue Vivienne, and every one of them was a Calvary, to which the poor husband was compelled painfully to carry his cross.

Thus, they came forward slowly, — he pulling with all his might, like a free and generous thill-horse, [yoked cart horse]— she not suffering herself to be drawn along without a vigorous defence, and disputing the ground valiantly, foot by foot. It was a regular joust, and of the most obstinate kind. In this manner, they had arrived under my window, and opposite the Magasin de Modes which faced it.


I ought to declare, here, that I really make no pretence to more penetration than has been bestowed upon me! — but scarcely had I seen the restless and capricious face of that young woman, before, at one, and the first, glance, I had discovered the secret relations and affinities which existed between it and our hat of lilac gauze. There was, in both, the same coquetry, the same lightness, the same fantasy. Assuredly, at the very first moment, I thought to myself, ‘behold the foolish head which must have appeared to our modiste when she conceived her foolish hat! And you, Madam,’ I added, ‘ you are looking for your head-gear, are you not ? — Oh ! come quickly, then. It is ready, — it is waiting for you.’

Every thing happened just as I had foreseen. In spite of the resistance of her husband, the young wife had stopped before the Magasin de Modes; and, in an instant, she had distinguished, in the show-frame, amongst all the other hats, the one destined for her, — the one which had been created expressly for her.

There, then, at the very door of the shop, a contest speedily arose between the two spouses, — very different, in point of gravity and seriousness, from the little skirmishes which had preceded it. The young wife, this time, did not confine herself to looks of admiration and envy. She insisted upon entering the shop, — she was determined to try on the hat, and ask the price of it. On his part, seeing the danger imminent, and judging, like a man of sense, that if the threshold of that door were once passed, the cursed hat would not only be tried on, but bought, at the expense, probably, of a whole month’s savings, the husband stood firm, and defended his purse, like a desperate man.

Unfortunately, two of the modistes, who happened at this moment to be in the shop, having observed the struggle, readily divined its object. Whereupon, without regard to the law of non-intervention, the malicious creatures came to the assistance of the young wife, by opening the door, the handle of which they saw her grasping and endeavouring to turn. The fight was no longer equal. Without making a scene in the street, there was no escape from entering. — The husband resigned himself to his fate. As he had but too justly apprehended, — in a few minutes the purchase was made, and the hat paid for, with seven beautiful five-franc pieces, all new, — which I saw glisten through the glass of the shop door, and could count gradually, as the unfortunate husband reckoned them mournfully into the hand of one of the marchandes de modes.

I think he was a little consoled and cheered to the endurance of his destiny, by perceiving how slight would have been his chances of success, even if he had endeavoured to struggle longer against the inclination of his wife. It was evident that she had, herself, yielded to a powerful and irresistible temptation; — for, it was not enough for her that she had bought the hat, but she must carry it away on her head. It was necessary to her that the enjoyment of it should commence on the instant. Leaving, then, in the shop, the straw-hat which she had brought with her, and which, though simple and modest, was certainly by no means deserving of disdain, she departed with the new one, all smiling and glorious. In truth she had a good deal of cause for pride, — for, really, she looked adorable in it!

Her husband himself, it was evident, however great his wrongs from her, could not resist the seduction of this magic head-dress; — for, as he pursued his path up the Rue Vivienne, towards the Place de la Bourse, with his pretty wife on his arm, I saw him cast upon her, frequently enough, glances of complacency and reconciliation. I would not answer for it, however, that, in the midst of the disenchantments of the sleeping-room, he did not experience, that night or the next day, a re-action against these good feelings.

However, that is not our affair. We are writing the history of a hat, and not of a household.

This frail head-gear, — that we have watched forming, thread by thread, ribbon by ribbon, flower by flower, — behold it, then, launched into the world, on a very charming head, but endowed with very little more brains than the dolls of our modistes! I pray that, in the keeping of such a fool, no evil happen to this rare child of genius!

Paris: or, The Book of the Hundred-and-One, Volume 2, 1833

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is an excerpt from a much longer piece, “The History of a Hat,” by an unknown author. It well illustrates the way in which a hat was designed by the modiste and then manufactured by a team of young women. The entire story also shows, according to the narrator, the fleeting nature of both fashion and woman’s love. Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a ghost who ordered a hat, and a hoodoo 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.

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.