Tag Archives: shopping

Lure of the Silk Stocking: 1903

pink stockings with butterfly lace

Pink silk stockings with butterfly lace inserts, Paris, c. 1875-1910 http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/pair-of-womens-stockings-121138

Lure of the Silk Stocking,

Filled and Unfilled, It Has Manifold Attractions for Mankind

Beautiful Specimens Seen in the Stores

So sheer a thing is a silken stocking that when empty it may be passed through a finger ring, and yet when it is filled it takes a goodly circlet–sign of a king’s gallantry and a knightly order–to encompass it.

In itself, a silk stocking is something to admire merely for the delicacy of its fabric. A Frenchman once wrote a musical comedy based on the misadventure of a girl who fell out of a tree and displayed a dainty stocking, but nobody has ever written yet the tragedies–some greater, some less–of the lure of the silk stocking. For of all things that attract rather by what they reveal than what they conceal, the silk stocking takes the palm.

Much as women like them, men like them the more. A man’s first cigar, his first love, his first sunrise at sea–these are timeworn themes. But of a man’s experience when buying his first pair of silk stockings! His first experience in pawning his watch is mild excitement compared to it.

A girl at one of the counters where these things are sold can tell at glance whether a man has ever committed this crime before. After the first plunge it is never quite so difficult again, and the habit grows on a man like any other. The average man who has the silk stocking habit acquires it long before he marries, so that when he takes a wife to himself that only means more silk stockings to be bought.

A man went into hosiery shop here the other day and picked out a dozen pairs of costly and varied patterns and then ordered a dozen pairs of perfectly plain ones that were not so costly. “For heaven’s sake!” he implored the shopkeeper, “don’t mix them up. One dozen is for my wife.”

The shopkeeper, with a philosophical eye, had no difficulty in determining which dozen was for his wife.

Of course there is a type of youth who cannot at first face the ordeal; and so, when it becomes absolutely necessary for him to buy a pair of silk stockings he takes refuge behind a letter to the girl he knows best in his own set and gets her to do it for him. She should not execute this commission, but, sad to state, she always does, and usually buys much prettier ones than he would have done. And then she will take the trouble to do them up in tissue paper and colored ribbons–just like a man would! Yet it is a fair bet that if the silk stocking habit gets a grip on that same youth within a year he will examine “opera-length stockings at the most crowded counter and will indulge in pleasantries with the young woman attendant about the possibilities of her showing him how they looked by trying them on.

A boy of this type came into the dining room of a Broadway hotel one day last week while the silk stocking reporter was trying to find the cheapest thing on the bill of fare. He was accompanied by a young man and a young woman, and the trio sat down at the next table to that at which the reporter was trying to figure out how a sixty-cent dish could go into a fifty-cent piece and leave anything for a tip and carfare to the office. It was clear that the youth and the young man had been engaged in an alcoholic contest at catch weights, and that the young woman was cross. The first thing she said to the young man was: “Did you get those silk stockings?” and her voice and her question attracted the attention of every one at that end of the room. The young man declared he hadn’t, and that he had no money, at which she began to upbraid him for his neglect to obey her commands. After this had been going on for ten or fifteen minutes the youth leaned across the table, and, putting his hand on the young woman’s arm, said with drunken solemnity: “Don’t you mind him, Minnie. I bought a pair for you.”‘ And then he pulled a package out of his pocket, opened it carefully and held up to the gaze of all the persons in the room a pair of stockings that probably cost nineteen cents and were fearfully and wonderfully ringed with stripes of black and red and yellow.

The silk stocking habit is rather an expensive one, as minor habits go, for they cost anywhere from $5 to $50 pair. For $3 one may buy a pair that will easily slip through a man’s finger ring. And for $50 anyone who has the price and cares for Her that much may send Her a creation of silk and lace that no mere man can appreciate unless it, is in active use.

Of course these fine ones have the disadvantage of being rather plain compared to the cheaper grades at $7 or $8 a pair. No loud designs in. blue or red or yellow appear on the fronts of the costliest ones nor climb up the clocks. Long snakes with forked prongs, all a-glitter of green and white cut glass beads, do not twine themselves over the instep and up the leg. The highest priced ones are beautiful in a quiet way, while the cheaper ones are produced in bizarre designs, often made to order, as in the case of one dozen turned out by a local dealer, which showed a design of red flames, leaping upward, on a black ground. A dozen pairs of silk stockings at $50 is not an unusual sale in one of the department stores, while the highwater mark of a sale of this kind in one shop was $100.

The Narka [KS] News 16 January 1903: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The author is right to reference “the tragedies–some greater, some less–of the lure of the silk stocking.” The dainty accessory is fraught with peril. Mrs Daffodil has written before about the domestic trouble that ensued when a shop-keeper inquired of the wrong lady about silk stockings in “His Little Valentine,” while a telegram about a pair of stockings to be sent to a “blonde darling” nearly caused a divorce in a Minnesota household.

And one shudders to think what mischief could be gotten up to with “Cross-Word stockings.”

cross word stockings

Cross-Word Stockings American Fad in Paris

Paris, Jan. 2. The “cross-word puzzle” stocking is the latest novelty among Paris hosiery makers.

When the first really cold days of Winter came, silk stockings of gossamer texture were gradually discarded and many women adopted fine hand-made Angora wool stockings.

This is the material of which the “cross-word puzzle” stockings are made. A shopkeeper got the idea from a puzzle design which he saw two American women working over while waiting to be served. A few days later he displayed in his windows a stocking of checker-board design with the squares in black and white, about the same size and distributed haphazard in the manner which has become familiar to lovers of cross-word puzzles.

The novelty has found good customers among American women, but French women call it hideous. The cross-word fad itself has not reached France as yet.

Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 2 January 1925: p. 2


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 Nation that Shops: 1906


Christmas Holiday Shopping Begins


By Mrs. John Van Vorst

Some distinguished Englishman, after visiting the United States, remarked that Americans “would be a great people if they didn’t shop so much.”

Shopping is, it must be admitted, the national American occupation.

The city of New York, built on a long and very narrow island, suggests the tube of a thermometer, and the population can well be likened to mercury: they fluctuate in a mass, now up, now down, moved by the impelling atmosphere of the shopping centres. Apart from the business men, who, on their way to and from their offices, crowd the subways and elevated roads in the morning and evening hours, there is a compact body composed chiefly of women and girls in the surface cars at given moments of the day. Towards 9 a.m. they are transported to the shopping district centred about Broadway and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, between Eighth and Fifty-ninth Streets. They shop assiduously until hunger calls them, reluctant, homeward; but, having lunched, they return for a further fray, which lasts until five or six o’clock in the afternoon.

Pouring into town from another direction, are the suburbanites, whose exile from the island-city compels them to take a ferry in order to reach the field of chosen activities. With tender consideration, the needs of these “out-of-town shoppers” have been met by the stores, which provide cheap lunch-rooms or restaurants situated in the upper regions of the lofty store buildings. Given such facility for eating, away from home, the serious bargain hunter can continue throughout the day, uninterrupted, her work.

Where do they all come from, you ask? Who are they, these women with nothing to do but shop?

America, it should always be remembered in judging it, came into existence definitely at about the same time with the so-called “labour-saving” machine. There is no country in the world, doubtless, where in all classes womanly pursuits have been so wholly abandoned, and the “ready-made” so generally substituted for the “home-made” in the household organism. A single instance is striking enough to give some idea, at least, of what the American woman doesn’t do.

Wishing to buy a gold thimble when in New York not long ago, I went to the most fashionable jeweller’s, and was somewhat surprised when the clerk drew from the depths of a drawer a tray with three thimbles on it.

“Are these all you have?” I asked.

He answered rather peremptorily: “We can make you a gold thimble to order. We don’t carry any assortment. There’s no sale for them nowadays.”

So here, to begin with, is one category of shopper: the woman who never sews, but who buys ready-made her own and her children’s clothes and underclothes. She chooses the cheapest confections, gets what wear she can out of them, and discards them when they begin to give way, arguing that it “doesn’t pay” to mend. This convenient logic, together with a very conscientious scanning of the advertised bargain lists, leads her to consider shopping in the light of an economy, a domestic necessity, and herself as a diligent housewife.

“But when she has children,” you very justly exclaim, “what does she do with them?”

If they are too young to go to school, she brings them with her into the overheated, dusty rooms of the crowded stores. When they are babies in arms, she trundles them in the perambulator to the threshold of the inward whirlpool, and there, in the company of other scions, she abandons them temporarily. At a popular shop I have seen a side vestibule crowded with little carriages. Now and then, as the wail of some one infant rose, heart-rending, above the others, an anxious and busy mother, having recognised from within the call of her young, rushed out, readjusted conditions for the immediate comfort of the baby concerned, and returned to the more alluring considerations of a bargain counter.

It is perhaps for such domestic reasons, perhaps for causes which affect more generally the evolution of retail shop keeping, that trade of every sort is concentrated more and more under the single roof of the so-called department store in America. As in London, so in New York, everything from the proverbial elephant to the ordinary toothpick may be bought at the stores….

Aside from the primary category of women who shop with the idea of domestic economy, there is another class who likewise no doubt exist only in the United States.

Talking not long ago with a rising young lawyer about the American habit of “living up to one’s income,” I was interested in what he told me, for it represents the situation of a large class of American business and professional men.

“They often reproach us Americans,” he said, “for our thriftlessness. They don’t realise how many expenses are forced involuntarily upon us. I, for example, was recently given charge of an important case with the condition specified that part of the large fee I received was to be immediately re-expended in making more of an outlay, generally. My offices were considered too modest for the counsel of a great financial company. I was obliged to move. I had also to rent a larger house in the country, to have more servants, and the rest. Materially, so to speak, I represent my clients, and if they keep on increasing in importance I shall be obliged to buy property and to own a motor car!”

All these enforced expenditures entail a multitude of minor extravagances which devolve upon the wife, who becomes, in consequence, an assiduous shopper. She shops, not because she has any especial needs, nor because she entertains, or has even any social life whatever, but because her husband is making money, which must be spent as a testimony to the world of his flourishing position. This category of shopper buys the finest linen for her vacant house, the most costly silver and china; she chooses diamonds which are to glitter unseen unless she wears them in the street—which, it has been observed, she very often does. She buys laces and furs, and what she has is “of the best, the very best.”

How does she educate her taste, we ask? For her taste is remarkably good, and bears even a high reputation among the Parisian dressmakers with whom she soon begins to deal.

She is imitative, she is adaptable, she seems to have no ingrained vulgarity, no radical commonness which, given the proper example to follow, she cannot shake off.

And where, in the matter of shopping, does she find this example?

In the newspapers, in the reports of what is being purchased from day to day by the élite circle who have devoted their lives to the cultivating of their tastes.

The owner of one of the largest stores in New York said to me: “In France they have periodical sales, which are advertised by the different shops a year in advance. Such a thing is impossible here. If you go any day to one of the big dress stores in Paris, you will see exactly the same pattern that you saw there ten years before: there is a whole class of people who, no matter what the passing fashion may be, dress about alike. Here”—he threw up his hands and laughed—“everybody wants to be dressed like the leaders of Society. If they see in the paper that one of them has worn some new thing at a ball, there are five thousand of them the next day who want that thing, and who are going to have it, whether they ran afford it or not.”

“So you give it to them? ”

“That’s our business—watching every caprice of the buying public. We can’t plan for any sales, we can only every now and then take advantage of a chance we may have to get cheap something the public is after. Then we can offer them a bargain.”

This lightning communication of the fashion news among shoppers extends to the smallest towns. One of the “queens” of society having appeared at the races last spring in a plum-coloured Paris gown, a ripple of “plum colour” ran over America, sounding in the ears of the manufacturers, ever on the alert. One of them said to me: “There’s nothing pretty in that plum colour, but our mills have had to put everything aside and run the looms on plum colour for five solid weeks.”

When it comes to these worldly “queens” who set the fashion, shopping in New York takes formidable proportions. We have here the estimate of the amount spent on dress per year by many a rich American woman. The items were given by the “fournisseurs” themselves.

shopping in New York annual expenditure.JPG

The number of women in New York who spend fifteen thousand dollars a year on clothes is estimated at two thousand! It is not surprising, is it, that the New York shops should have the air of existing for women only? There are a few men’s furnishers and tobacco dealers who have made a name for themselves, but one finds them in the basement entrance of mansions whose facades are gay with the hats and gowns and laces that form such a gigantic item in the New York woman’s daily expenses…

The fact that two thousand women, without arousing even passing comment, should each of them spend annually on her clothes so important a sum as fifteen thousand dollars, sufficiently proves how exorbitantly expensive every trifling luxury becomes when it has been produced in or imported to the United States.

The Empress Eugenie, deploring the faux luxe of to-day, and recalling, no doubt, certain reflections made, at an unhappy moment, upon her own extravagance, wrote recently in a letter: “During all the time I was Empress I had only three dresses which cost each as much as a thousand francs: one for my wedding, one for the christening of the Prince Imperial, one for the Exposition of 1858.”

This thousand francs, which clad an Empress in such gowns as will long be remembered, is the price paid by the ordinarily successful New York broker’s wife for her ordinary little toilettes. But, while it is difficult for her to obtain a walking frock for less than two hundred dollars, her poor sister of the tenement district finds American machine-made clothes cheaper even than they are in Europe. And so it goes through all the category of articles to be found in the New York stores: the very rich and the very poor find what they are looking for. Those who have “moderate incomes” are constantly embarrassed between wanting the nice things they can’t afford and having to buy the nasty productions they don’t want.

The result is just this: everything that is fashionable is hastily copied in cheap qualities. If you are looking in a New York shop for solid, sober dress-goods, for example, to offer to a family retainer, you will be given, unless you are very explicit, the flimsy, low-grade copy of some stuff you have just seen on the backs of the rich.

This system has its advantages: in the matter of boots and shoes the cheapest ready-made dealer provides his clients with foot-covering copied in form at least from the best models procurable. And his customer, whatever may be his rank in life, car conductor or country store clerk, wears good-looking boots of which he is very evidently proud!…

In all the large department stores, and in the first-class boutiques generally, the credit system is in vogue. Doubtless this is a whet to the reckless spirit of the assiduous shopper. We read of a certain lady belonging to this category, who died quite recently in Brooklyn, New York. It was found that her “mania for shopping” was such that, during four years’ time, she had had charged to her account at the stores two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of things for which she had no use whatever! Her spacious home was filled with unopened parcels! One room, it was found, contained nothing, from floor to ceiling, but handkerchiefs. Shopping at this rate, it will be seen, becomes something in the nature of a passion, and perhaps it could not reach this degree of intensity without the facility for “charging.”

If the American shopkeeper be lenient, and very cunningly so, in trusting his customers, he is uncompromising about taking back things that have once been delivered. “No goods exchanged” is the warning which stands in glaring evidence at the threshold of the different departments. Exceptions, of course, are made for customers of long enduring reputation.

As for advertising, it suffices to scan a Sunday newspaper, or to lift one of the American magazines with its hundred and fifty pages of advertisements, to realise how keenly alive to shopping suggestion is the American woman. It is commonly understood, in fact, that the “wash day” in the middle-class American family has been changed from the traditional Monday to Tuesday, so that the housewives can take advantage of the “bargains” set forth in alluring type among the folios of the Sunday journals.

In a recent book on “Modern Advertising,” We learn that preparing the réclames for a large department store is almost as complicated an affair as compiling a daily paper. What the influence of these announcements is, is proved by a single resulting fact. For years there was a prejudice in America against doing anything—even shopping-on a Friday. So gradually, in order to attract shoppers on that ill-fated day, the storekeepers adopted the habit of proclaiming special Friday bargains and sales. Next to Monday there is no day now when the shops are so thronged as on Friday!…

The “strenuousness” of the shopper’s life is indicated by the presence in all large stores of an emergency hospital, a physician and a trained nurse to take care of the “women who faint” or collapse on their busy rounds…

The usual traditional empressé manner of clerks is debarred in American shops. Urging and coaxing, proposing, suggesting, are the salesman’s trump cards in France. They act only as an irritant with the Westerner, whose psychology, as we have seen, is somewhat peculiar. At one of the large New York stores frequent complaints were preferred, by the customers, regarding the “eagerness” of the clerks. “They only annoy us,” the fair shoppers explained, “by their politeness. We can choose for ourselves, I guess—that’s just what we go shopping for!”

The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 37 1906: pp. 744-748

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The hurly-burly of the so-called “Black Friday” is celebrated in legend and song in the United States. Every year, it seems to Mrs Daffodil, there are more casualties in the “Run for the Large-Screen Television Sets;” the “Dash for the Very Latest Video Game,” or “The Race for the Last Must-Have Toy.”  It is always a matter of wonder that there are so few fatalities.



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 Mourning Droop: 1931



A pretty mannequin who appeared in a Berlin Court to sue her employers for wrongful dismissal saw her case turn out happily, says the “Daily Mail.”

It was admitted that she was a great success in the mourning department of the establishment in which she was employed, but it was alleged that she was an utter failure when transferred to the frivolous department for evening frocks.

“It is difficult to wear evening gowns in the daytime successfully if one is dancing all night in an evening frock,” was her reply.

The manager dismissed her as a pleasure-loving trifler.

“The truth is, I have sacrificed myself for the business,” she said to the Judge.

“When I began in the mourning department, the manager told me that I killed the dresses with my cheerful face and merry expression, and suggested that if I danced half the night I should have an appropriately weary expression.

“I took him at his word and had a wonderful time night after night, with the result that I was almost dropping with fatigue during the day.

“I drooped so beautifully that people bought freely the expensive Paris models which I wore.”

The Judge thought over this singular story.

“I suggest,” he said to the manager, “that you take this young woman back and put her again, in the mourning department.”

The manager consented, and the pretty mannequin looked delighted at the prospect of dancing gaily all night and drooping plaintively in black gowns all day.”

Evening Post, 28 February 1931: p. 22

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suspects that the pretty mannequin shortly danced her last dance and drooped her last droop unless she was able to carved out some time for wholesome slumber.

Selling mourning goods required sympathy, tact, and a fine sense of propriety to appeal to the vanity of the bereaved who were supposed to just then be thinking that “all is vanity.” It was essential to find a shop-girl with exactly the right temperament to serve in the mourning department: not so lively that the bereft were disheartened; not so melancholy that they despaired of purchasing

In another store in Fifth Avenue a handsome girl had been saleswoman in the fancy lace section for two years. Her record was admirable until she was transferred to the mourning counter early in the third year. The sales at the mourning counter immediately fell off and the manager started an investigation.

Going down the aisle one morning he noticed this girl with a customer. The customer was robed in deep black and was evidently depending on the girl to sustain her interest in the goods she needed, but the girl was answering inquiries in an absolutely perfunctory manner, with her eyes glued to a bargain table in the next aisle where a sale of laces was advertised. At a question sharply put by her customer she turned her attention to her own counter, and the manager caught the look of distaste and hatred which she flung upon the black things which surrounded her.

This girl disliked mourning, sorrow, death and all things connected with them. She had never known any particular trouble, had a desire for the gay bright colors and things of life, and refused to consider anything but her own needs. She had no sympathy with the black robed mourners who came to her. The manager, being a far-sighted mortal, saw this and realized the girl’s capacities in another branch. He put her at the colored goods counter and sales looked up. 

Crerand’s Cloak Journal, October 1912: p. 166

You will find more information on mourning costumes and customs in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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.


“It was the season of sales:” 1914

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

The Dreamer

by Saki (H. H. Munro)

It was the season of sales. The august establishment of Walpurgis and Nettlepink had lowered its prices for an entire week as a concession to trade observances, much as an Arch-duchess might protestingly contract an attack of influenza for the unsatisfactory reason that influenza was locally prevalent. Adela Chemping, who considered herself in some measure superior to the allurements of an ordinary bargain sale, made a point of attending the reduction week at Walpurgis and Nettlepink’s.

“I’m not a bargain hunter,” she said, “but I like to go where bargains are.”

Which showed that beneath her surface strength of character there flowed a gracious undercurrent of human weakness.

With a view to providing herself with a male escort Mrs. Chemping had invited her youngest nephew to accompany her on the first day of the shopping expedition, throwing in the additional allurement of a cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light refreshment. As Cyprian was not yet eighteen she hoped he might not have reached that stage in masculine development when parcel-carrying is looked on as a thing abhorrent.

“Meet me just outside the floral department,” she wrote to him, “and don’t be a moment later than eleven.”

Cyprian was a boy who carried with him through early life the wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and invests the commonplace things of this world with qualities unsuspected by plainer folk – the eyes of a poet or a house agent. He was quietly dressed – that sartorial quietude which frequently accompanies early adolescence, and is usually attributed by novel-writers to the influence of a widowed mother. His hair was brushed back in a smoothness as of ribbon seaweed and seamed with a narrow furrow that scarcely aimed at being a parting. His aunt particularly noted this item of his toilet when they met at the appointed rendezvous, because he was standing waiting for her bare-headed.

“Where is your hat?” she asked.

“I didn’t bring one with me,” he replied.

Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.

“You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are you?” she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the idea that a Nut would be an extravagance which her sister’s small household would scarcely be justified in incurring, partly, perhaps, with the instinctive apprehension that a Nut, even in its embryo stage, would refuse to carry parcels.

Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy eyes.

“I didn’t bring a hat,” he said, “because it is such a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward if one meets anyone one knows and has to take one’s hat off when one’s hands are full of parcels. If one hasn’t got a hat on one can’t take it off.”

Mrs. Chemping sighed with great relief; her worst fear had been laid at rest.

“It is more orthodox to wear a hat,” she observed, and then turned her attention briskly to the business in hand.

“We will go first to the table-linen counter,” she said, leading the way in that direction; “I should like to look at some napkins.”

The wondering look deepened in Cyprian’s eyes as he followed his aunt; he belonged to a generation that is supposed to be over-fond of the role of mere spectator, but looking at napkins that one did not mean to buy was a pleasure beyond his comprehension. Mrs. Chemping held one or two napkins up to the light and stared fixedly at them, as though she half expected to find some revolutionary cypher written on them in scarcely visible ink; then she suddenly broke away in the direction of the glassware department.

“Millicent asked me to get her a couple of decanters if there were any going really cheap,” she explained on the way, “and I really do want a salad bowl. I can come back to the napkins later on.”

She handled and scrutinised a large number of decanters and a long series of salad bowls, and finally bought seven chrysanthemum vases.

“No one uses that kind of vase nowadays,” she informed Cyprian, “but they will do for presents next Christmas.”

Two sunshades that were marked down to a price that Mrs. Chemping considered absurdly cheap were added to her purchases.

“One of them will do for Ruth Colson; she is going out to the Malay States, and a sunshade will always be useful there. And I must get her some thin writing paper. It takes up no room in one’s baggage.”

Mrs. Chemping bought stacks of writing paper; it was so cheap, and it went so flat in a trunk or portmanteau. She also bought a few envelopes – envelopes somehow seemed rather an extragavance compared with notepaper.

“Do you think Ruth will like blue or grey paper?” she asked Cyprian.

“Grey,” said Cyprian, who had never met the lady in question.

“Have you any mauve notepaper of this quality?” Adela asked the assistant.

“We haven’t any mauve,” said the assistant, “but we’ve two shades of green and a darker shade of grey.”

Mrs. Chemping inspected the greens and the darker grey, and chose the blue.

“Now we can have some lunch,” she said.

Cyprian behaved in an exemplary fashion in the refreshment department, and cheerfully accepted a fish cake and a mince pie and a small cup of coffee as adequate restoratives after two hours of concentrated shopping. He was adamant, however, in resisting his aunt’s suggestion that a hat should be bought for him at the counter where men’s headwear was being disposed of at temptingly reduced prices.

“I’ve got as many hats as I want at home,” he said, “and besides, it rumples one’s hair so, trying them on.”

Perhaps he was going to develop into a Nut after all. It was a disquieting symptom that he left all the parcels in charge of the cloak-room attendant.

“We shall be getting more parcels presently,” he said, “so we need not collect these till we have finished our shopping.”

His aunt was doubtfully appeased; some of the pleasure and excitement of a shopping expedition seemed to evaporate when one was deprived of immediate personal contact with one’s purchases.

“I’m going to look at those napkins again,” she said, as they descended the stairs to the ground floor. “You need not come,” she added, as the dreaming look in the boy’s eyes changed for a moment into one of mute protest, “you can meet me afterwards in the cutlery department; I’ve just remembered that I haven’t a corkscrew in the house that can be depended on.”

Cyprian was not to be found in the cutlery department when his aunt in due course arrived there, but in the crush and bustle of anxious shoppers and busy attendants it was an easy matter to miss anyone. It was in the leather goods department some quarter of an hour later that Adela Chemping caught sight of her nephew, separated from her by a rampart of suit-cases and portmanteaux and hemmed in by the jostling crush of human beings that now invaded every corner of the great shopping emporium. She was just in time to witness a pardonable but rather embarrassing mistake on the part of a lady who had wriggled her way with unstayable determination towards the bareheaded Cyprian, and was now breathlessly demanding the sale price of a handbag which had taken her fancy.

“There now,” exclaimed Adela to herself, “she takes him for one of the shop assistants because he hasn’t got a hat on. I wonder it hasn’t happened before.”

Perhaps it had. Cyprian, at any rate, seemed neither startled nor embarrassed by the error into which the good lady had fallen. Examining the ticket on the bag, he announced in a clear, dispassionate voice:

“Black seal, thirty-four shillings, marked down to twenty-eight. As a matter of fact, we are clearing them out at a special reduction price of twenty-six shillings. They are going off rather fast.”

“I’ll take it,” said the lady, eagerly digging some coins out of her purse.

“Will you take it as it is?” asked Cyprian; “it will be a matter of a few minutes to get it wrapped up, there is such a crush.”

“Never mind, I’ll take it as it is,” said the purchaser, clutching her treasure and counting the money into Cyprian’s palm.

Several kind strangers helped Adela into the open air.

“It’s the crush and the heat,” said one sympathiser to another; “it’s enough to turn anyone giddy.”

When she next came across Cyprian he was standing in the crowd that pushed and jostled around the counters of the book department. The dream look was deeper than ever in his eyes. He had just sold two books of devotion to an elderly Canon.

From Beasts and Super-Beasts

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a consolation it must have been to Aunt Adela to find that Cyprian was not a Nut.  Or “Knut,” if you prefer the orthodox spelling from “Gilbert the Filbert,” for the idle, if decorative young Man About Town.

Mrs Daffodil trusts that all of her readers who had the strength to venture out on the so-called “Black Friday” found bargains enough to please and that no one got injured.  Mrs Daffodil counts herself fortunate that she has Staff to do most of the Hall shopping; she spent a pleasant afternoon with a cup of cocoa and an improving book.

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.





Ann Sawyer: Personal Service Girl: 1920

salesgirl and customer

It Goes Down on the Books as Profit, But It Really Is Capital

Yet Where’s There a Statistician or C. P. A. Who Could Mathematically Dissect and Apportion Such a Personality as Ann Sawyer’s?

She’s a “Personal Service Girl,” of Course

Up on a balcony over the main floor of the department store of Wm. Taylor Son & Co. in Cleveland sits a young woman…This young woman’s nom de commerce is Ann Sawyer. She has jet-black hair, indescribably-blue eyes that crinkle all up at the corners when she smiles—but this is a business story. Of Ann Sawyer more later. She has been introduced.

Taylor Was a Pioneer.

When the late William Taylor, with his partner, established his business fifty years ago on a street facing the Cleveland Public Square, his was the first mercantile enterprise of any kind of Euclid Avenue. Also it was the first one-price store in the Middle West.

Mr. Taylor knew his customers and many of them knew him. Cleveland was then only a “good-sized town.” But the store grew, as successful stores have a way of doing, moved to a location farther out Euclid Avenue where it would have more room to expand, and kept right on growing. To-day it would take an army of a reception committee bigger than the store’s corps of 1,600 employees to greet the customers at the door.

True, there has always been maintained the personal touch with a limited-and somewhat exclusive—clientele of customers who, for one reason or another, have come into closer contact with the store than have the general run. They are the ones that have asked for special service, or special attention of one sort or another. For these special customers the store has always had to provide facilities that, intermittently as the demand required, could be turned to these special applications.

To Restore Personal Basis

The fiftieth anniversary of the store was approaching. Preparations were in progress for the golden jubilee. Automatically, the collective mind of the management turned to retrospect—to the days when William Taylor used to meet his customers at the front door. It was a woman that voiced the question, “Why cannot the store be placed back on a personal basis?”

“It can,” the collective management grandly opined. But how? The store director, C. H. de Acres and the advertising manager, Amos Parrish, conferred on ways and means. Out of that conference there came… the Taylor Personal Service Bureau. The possibilities of the service of such a bureau were roughly outlined. The one thing that was not outlined was the scope of that service. Its limits were left to the imagination—and to eventualities—to define. And now who was to head such a bureau? De Acres and Parrish spoke one name in unison.

Who and What Ann Is

She was the girl that, so far as her mercantile activities are concerned, has been rechristened Ann Sawyer. She had been in the Taylor store for several years. She had sold goods over the counter. She had worked in the offices, where she had seen things from the management’s point of view, and she had had experience in the adjustment department, where she had come into contact with mass personality in the raw—sometimes exceedingly raw. She was blessed with imagination, initiative, tact and personal charm. And she was and is—as has been hinted at—strikingly good-looking.

The name Ann Sawyer was taken out of the telephone directory; that is, its two component parts were so derived. “We wanted a real, honest-to-goodness girl’s name,” Parrish explained. “And so we picked ‘Ann.’ You notice it has no final ‘e.’ And the last name, ‘Sawyer’—it was just made to fit “Ann.’ Our Ann couldn’t possibly have had any other last name.”

She Begins to Be Busy

Ann Sawyer was placed in charge of the Personal Service Bureau. She was given a corner and a desk and a telephone all to herself, and told to go to it. An announcement embossed on expensively simple stationery, went out to the “hundred-thousand-dollar” list of customers. Another announcement, of the same purport but worded differently, went into the Taylor space in the one morning and two afternoon papers in Cleveland. Ann Sawyer settled down to just about the busiest and most interesting job a business woman could want.

This was just before the holidays of 1919. Before the Christmas rush was over the Ann Sawyer bureau had “sold” itself most solidly and most unanimously to the management. The bureau was enlarged until it consisted of seven young women—seven Ann Sawyers including the original. And its work branched out as to variety until it touched virtually every phase that service to the public can include. For instance—

A substantial-looking he-citizen, resembling the gray-mustached banker in the movies, presented himself at Miss Sawyer’s desk one day shortly before Christmas.

One of Her Jobs

“I’m in a pickle,” he announced. “I’ve got to buy Christmas presents for four people. I don’t even know what to get. The presents are to be for my niece over in Pennsylvania, who is eighteen; a maiden aunt who’s about seventy-five and likes lace things; one of the men at the office who bought me a Christmas present last year and the postman on our route. Here’s seventy-five dollars. I wonder if you can, and will, get these things for me, and I’ll drop in for them this afternoon.” Ann Sawyer could and did. “I’m sending my little girl for a pair of pumps for her,” read a note from a mother. “Will you see that she is properly fitted with pumps that look good enough to suit her, and yet are sensible enough not to injure her feet?” Ann Sawyer would and did. Taylor’s happened not to have in stock exactly that compromise between good looks and good sense that she knew to be requisite; and so she took the little girl over to another department store and bought the pumps there.

To the Last Detail

A woman in Warren, Ohio, wrote to Ann Sawyer for a wedding veil, and a suitable wreath, in a hurry. Taylor’s had the veil, but no floral department. The order for the wreath, with definite specifications, was placed with a Euclid Avenue florist. Late in the afternoon of the day the ensemble was to be mailed to the Warren customer, the wreath was delivered to the Taylor store, packed and ready for shipment.

Was it shipped? Well, not until Ann Sawyer had opened the package to inspect the creation for herself. And her erudite vision showed her it was all wrong. There at her desk, working long after the store had closed, Ann Sawyer re-made that wreath with her own hands and to her own enlightened satisfaction. Then she shipped the veil and wreath.

“I’m writing a fiction story that’s to be located partly in Paris,” said a man’s voice over the telephone one day. “I wonder if you can tell me what the well-dressed men in Paris are wearing to afternoon functions this spring?”

A Competitor’s Curiosity

Ann Sawyer could and did. Later it turned out that the questioner wasn’t writing a fiction story at all, although he had told one over the ‘phone…This particular man, in fact, was an executive of a competing department store and he sought to have a little fun with Ann. But he got the correct information, and that spoiled his fun.

These are but typical cases. A detailed description of Ann Sawyer’s work would burden a five-foot book shelf. The bureau, it almost goes without saying, has been made a permanent institution. There are comprehensive plans for its extension and enlargement.

Her Own Column Every Day

Personally, Ann Sawyer deals with and talks to hundreds of persons in her bureau. Through the Cleveland newspapers she talks every day to hundreds of thousands. In the Taylor advertisement every day in each of the papers she has a column of her own. That column has come to be one of the features of the dailies…Although the column seems to have neither policy nor plan, it really has both. There are certain characteristics that it must have and certain specifications that it is expected to meet.

What the Column Must Have

The column must have life. It must have a cheerful, sprightly style, without ever being “smart-Alecky.” It must have humor, and, what is even more unorthodox—for some department store copy, at least—occasionally it may “kid” the merchandise. It must, of course, be religiously accurate in every one of its statements; and, more than that, it must be informative with advance tips on styles and modes and materials, and in this respect it must “scoop” the weekly and monthly style publications that women read. It must have something of service, for that is the beginning and the end and the middle of its mission. , And, finally, and all the time, it must be human, everlastingly human—as human and as comfortable as an old shoe…

“Even if we had no personal service bureau behind Ann Sawyer, the column would be worth what the space costs us. It makes the page ad, or half-page ad look more attractive, easier to read. Because it runs every day, it has established itself as an institution. We know that readers turn to it with anticipation. Furthermore, we know that the column has real, downright pulling power in itself. For instance, there was the matter of the elephants.

“We’d bought some little watch-charm elephants that were to retail at 75 cents. Ann Sawyer commandeered those elephants and announced them with a little eight-line ‘squib” in her column. On that day, before 10 o’clock, we had two long-distance ‘phone calls from people more than 75 miles from Cleveland, wanting two of those little G. O. P. elephants. The whole lot didn’t last three days. We’ve had similar experiences with staple merchandise.”

Assembling Its Personality

“What we are trying to do is to realize on mass personality. To do this, we must first have a personality of our own…We must show the public that, big as this store is, it’s still human.

“We can’t make over our organization in a day; nor can we make over in a day the public’s conception of a department store. And so we have made our start with the Personal Service Bureau. We maintain that bureau because we want people to come to know that here their wants and wishes and whims are looked after by real, human persons–not by a department. We call Ann Sawyer’s corner up there on the balcony a bureau, but that’s only because we had to have some sort of name for it. We don’t want it ever to become that inhuman, mechanical thing that generally is a bureau.

“At first we had one woman in the Personal Service Bureau, one personality, one Ann Sawyer. Now we have seven persons there, but we still have one personality—Ann Sawyer’s…

What has Ann Sawyer done in the way of sales—in actual figures on the departmental recap? I had expected that question and I had sought to fortify myself by putting it to Mr. Parrish. “Well,” said he, “she’s costing us about $100 a day and she’s not there, exactly, for her health. We don’t object, seriously, to her making a few sales. Her bureau has had to sell itself to a mighty discerning management…made up of business men who aren’t in business for sentiment.

“We definitely know of a number of large orders that have been obtained and sold because we had the bureau. And, I suppose, if we’d do a lot of digging around we’d find another considerable amount of business that should be credited to Ann Sawyer. But, is that the point? When we’re trying to put over this bigger idea of a store personality, is it quite fair to count the profits and losses on the instrument we are using?”

A Personality Hard to Parse.

Can you value personality, either in the mass or in one individual? Can you measure it, or weigh it, analyse or assay it—and reduce it to symbols on your balance sheet? Can you, just as a starter, appraise the personality of one human being?”

If you think you can, I have an excellent subject for your talent. You will find her in the southeast corner of the balcony over the main floor of the store of Wm. Taylor Son & Company, 630 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.

Her name is Ann Sawyer.

Dry Goods Economist, 24 July 1920

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wonders if this is a notice of the earliest “personal shopper,” although a “professional widow,” who suggested personalised mourning articles is mentioned in the newspapers of 1912. [See The Victorian Book of the Dead for details of this intriguing profession.]  In an advertisement in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of 1935, Miss Sawyer cheerfully offers to do your shopping, “with you or for you.” On 24 December, 1920 she suggests letting her finish your holiday shopping.  In 1923, Miss Sawyer describes a party given to celebrate the store’s 53rd anniversary. “We gave a party for the Taylor Golden Jubilee Babies who were three years old the same day.” Also in 1920 she touts toy automobiles, swagger sticks for children, and the colour “toast.”  It is all very light-hearted and ephemeral. One can see the appeal. Miss Sawyer also narrated fashion shows and spoke to women’s groups and teen organisations, suggesting “what to wear and when to wear it.” She really must have been worth her weight in rubies. Mrs Daffodil had hoped to find a photo-gravure of the lady, but since there were several versions, one expects that photography of the helpful Miss Sawyer was discouraged.

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.


Prepared to Carry Off the Store: Lady Kleptomaniacs: 1894


Devices to aid in shop-lifting.

Devices to aid in shop-lifting.


The Terrors of the Great Dry Goods Stores Everywhere.

Amateurs Steal From Impulse, but Professionals Go Fully Prepared to Carry Off the Store.

Washington Post.

The governmental system in our large stores has been brought to a miniature perfection. Each big house has its executions, its police, its laws and people. There are penalties and punishments, rewards and promotions, while every penny is accounted for to the powers who mete out recompenses to the just and the unjust. By appeals to personal interest it becomes the object of every employe to make money for his governmental rulers and to aid them in withstanding those whom, like the office seekers, we have always with us.

But each year thousands of dollars are lost from the pockets of the firm despite the legislations, bribes and adroit detectives. For what avail all these things against the half crazed, half cunning or wholly professional trickeries of a class of women who are interesting to the doctors, moralists and lawyers? As a class these women are the products of feverish, unwholesome mental and physical life in our great hysteric trade centers and they are little understood by even those who have to deal with them. Shoplifting is a profession and a disease; less a profession than it used to be, perhaps, because of the detective systems, and more a disease, as we dash with high pressure down the fin de siècle slope. Or, so the detective said when this suggestion was offered, the professional shoplifter poses as a kleptomaniac, knowing that it is her one sure means of escape. And if her haul is not too big and if too elaborate preparations are not found upon her, her chances of escape are excellent. The kleptomaniac acts with wonderful cunning and without any precautions save those of insane cleverness in blinding the eyes of detectives, floor walkers and employes not three feet distant.

The businesslike shoplifter is thoroughly equipped with every trained sense upon the alert, and her eyes on the good only when their guardians are at a reasonable distance. The kleptomaniac seizes small articles, often valueless. The shoplifter is out for “big pulls,” and can make off with 200 worth of merchandise in a morning.

A few days ago the clerk in one of the best managed shop in New York laid three rolls of silk, valued at $180, upon the counter to ship out of town. He was called to the further end of the counter for a moment and returned to discover that the cardboard from three bulky rolls of silk was all that remained of his shipment. There was no disturbance in the room, which was not crowded. Floor walker, shoppers, and employe had suspected nothing as some woman stowed sixty yards of silk upon her person and walked silently out of the door.

Spurred by his wrath over this bold stroke the detective in charge was moved to disclose some of the bitterness of his lot.

“The wickedest male criminal on earth,” said he, “can’t hold a candle beside a mild, shrinking, respectable little bit of a woman. I’ve been here twenty years ,and I know every mother’s daughter of ‘em who has been up to tricks for a living. But when a new one comes in she is bound to swipe something unless one of the two girls who work with me have the luck to spot her as suspicious.

“Our method of capture is this. I see a woman, dressed neatly and quietly, walking slowly through the store. Probably she carries a shopping bag on her arm and wears a long, full cloak. Sometimes she carries a baby, but in such a store as this that dodge attracts too much attention. But there’s nothing like a baby to stow the stuff away in. Why, once in an east side store, where I began my career, the searcher took twelve bottles of cologne, six handkerchiefs, and a lot of jewelry from a baby’s toggery. I suppose that kid was what you people who don’t know anything about it would call a kleptomaniac, because she yelled and kicked and looked surprised when we took the things away. That’s just what you have to expect though, when you’re dealing with a woman. Well, we follow the woman until she stops at a counter. Then one of my girls or both if necessary, takes her position close by, and asks the salesman, who is trained to treat her as an unknown customer, to show her certain goods. The foxy shoplifter sometimes sees through this, and then the girl guys outright and pays on the spot. That is the only absolute safeguard known to detectives. For unless sharp eyes look down in her lap, the woman can slip a piece of silk into her sham pocket or over her arm while the salesman calls ‘Cash!’ These new capes you’re wearing are a great snap for the shoplifters, almost as good as the shawls. How do we get the goods back after we have tracked the thieves? We don’t try to unless we are dead sure that she has them on her person the moment we accost her. I follow her into the street and ask her to kindly accompany me to the room where the stolen property she has on her person may be removed. She threatens and blusters and calls for a policeman. I show my badge and tell her the game is up, and she comes back quietly enough. What happens next this young lady can tell you better than I.” And the detective glanced at a handsomely dressed girl who sat tapping her gold- edged lizard skin purse on the lace counter nearby.

The bored-looking aide rose, pulled her veil, dabbled at her eminently correct gown, and advanced to be questioned concerning the queer characters in her charge.

“It’s a hard life, a responsible position, and I don’t think it worth the big pay,” she said, leading the way to a tiny room under the stairs, where many hundred women have been searched. “They act like fiends when I undress them, and work themselves into dangerous frenzies, if I show the least sign of mercy. Last week a German—just over—came in with diamonds on her fingers and an 1830 gown under her black satin cape. She was fool enough to wear the shoplifter’s pocket in her skirt, which is a punishable offense, you know. The opening was at the edge of her round belt, and the bag fell straight to her knees. There were a lot of little trinkets in it, and when I discovered them she threw herself around so that I had to call the detective. He couldn’t do anything with her, and before she left the store three men almost literally sat upon her, while we tried to bring her to reason.

“The cutest pocket is a long piece of cloth fastened with pins at each side. Though the lower edge is a draw string which may be wound about the pins when in use. But the instant I discovered that pocket, the wearer pulls the string, and the good tumble to the floor under her skirts, and I have absolutely no evidence against her, since neither pocket nor goods are found on her person. A common trick is to sweep small articles into an umbrella. Another is to lay a jacket or any other wrap upon the counter and pick up with it cloth, ribbon, lace, or almost anything. Then, if worst comes to worst, the lifter can throw the whole apparatus away. Yes, it is hard to know whether a woman is a kleptomaniac or not, but there are a few pretty good proofs. The professional comes in here, cool and collected, very much annoyed at the indignity, and perfectly overcome with surprise when discovered. She sobs and shrieks and hurls herself against the wall, offers immense bribes, and wants to draw checks in her husband’s name. If we agree to that settlement she would bring a blackmail case against the house next week, you know. Yet, it’s a good policy to let the toughest cases go on the plea of kleptomania, because we know their faces so well that they never venture to return. But the poor women who come to me by the dozen, half crazed with fright! Ah, it is enough to make one wonder if the next generation won’t be safest behind asylum doors,” exclaimed the competent young cynic, who is herself a type of the time.

“The men in this house and the detectives at police headquarters don’t believe there are kleptomaniacs, but they know better. What reason has a woman who is one of our best customers for stealing sponges? And yet she was brought here one day with two squeezed in her handkerchief. The detective had aroused her to her condition, evidently, for when I took her she was cowering with shame. Her hand was clasped so tightly that I could hardly open it. “They weren’t worth buying,” she said, “but they are so soft I must have them for my bath.” We let her go, of course, but now she shops with a maid. Her check is good for any amount. Most of them can’t resist the jewelry counter. The glitter seems to mesmerize them. And it’s so easy to drop a handkerchief over a pin or bracelet! The kleptomaniac ever has any professional apparatus about her. Her muff, parasol or handkerchief is enough, because it’s the little things she can’t resist. Do you remember that case which got into the papers a while since? The woman was an old customer of a big firm and well-known kleptomaniac. For a long time nothing was said, only the items were put into her bill and were paid without question. Finally some friend or other told, and her rooms were searched. Under the carpets, in drawers, and on shelves were dozens and dozens of tiny toys, worth about 3 cents apiece. She was a perfect nutter on toys, and she couldn’t help; taking them—even from under the detective’s very nose. As a class they are hysteric omen with no aims in life. They are weak and nervous, well-to-do without much to long for. They aren’t bad or unprincipled, because their shame and anxiety for their friends’ sake is greater than for themselves.

“’My husband ‘ is almost the first thing they say when they come before me. It’s like the opium habit. We ought to have physicians as well as detectives in these shops. I’m a  woman detective, you know.”

Dallas [TX] Morning News 1 January 1894: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The lady kleptomanic of a certain age was a familiar figure in the popular press. Well-to-do, handsomely-dressed gentlewomen, relicts of clergymen, daughters of noble houses—all varieties of these “silk and satin thieves” were represented. One particularly notorious specimen was America’s own Miss Lizzie Borden, who, four years after she was acquitted of being unkind to her Papa and Step-mamma, was tempted by some porcelain pictures at an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island. The matter was finally settled without going through the courts, but not until Miss Borden had loudly protested that she had not stolen the articles and the matter had been aired in the local newspaper. Victoria Lincoln in her admirable book, A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight, suggests that Miss Borden suffered from seizures and may have killed without knowing what she had done. One wonders if Miss Borden so vehemently denied pilfering the pictures because she truly had no memory of it.

For more valuable information on lady kleptomaniacs, including Jane Austen’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot, please see this link.

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 Charge of the Bargain Brigade: 1898

victorian shopping

The Charge of the Bargain Brigade.

“Bargain Sale! Bargain Sale!”

Newspapers thundered.

Up to the Palace of Trade

Strode the Six Hundred.


“Forward! Our fortune’s made!

Charge on the clerks!” they said.

Into the Palace of Trade

Rushed the Six Hundred.


“Goods sold for half their worth.”

Was this a cause for mirth?

Women who saw the sign

Not even wondered.


Their’s not to make reply,

Their’s not to reason why,

Their’s but to simply buy,

Buy in the Palace of Trade —

Thought the Six Hundred.


Bargains to right of them,

Bargains to left of them,

Front of them — back of them —

Volleyed and thundered.


What they bought none knew well.

Weak ones grew faint and fell,

Tho’ dresses ripped, ker-r-r-rack!

Into the crush pell-mell

Dove the Six Hundred!


Boldly and well they fought;

Then home her spoil brought

Each wife and daughter.

Let this be their defense.

All saved at least ten cents —

Some saved a quarter.

— Frank Sawin Bailey in Puck.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 May 1898

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This “spoof” on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem about the tragic events at the Battle of Balaclava on this date in 1854 is, as many of us blush to know, all too accurate. Newspapers routinely write of strategies for shopping the upcoming “Black Friday” that would shame a military tactician. And we have all seen the images from the Running of the Brides. Mrs Daffodil simply implores her readers to wear low shoes, preferably with steel toes.