Tag Archives: silk stockings

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.

Arranging a “Ritzy” Shoe and Hosiery Department: 1922

stockings and shoes

“A Better Tie-Up Between Shoes and Hosiery

The Woman Customer Friend Has a Few Ideas Which
Were Accepted by the Merchant

(From Queen Quality Between UsJune, 1922, Issue)

When the Wanderer put his head in at the office door of my shoe store last Saturday morning, his always pleasant face wore a broad smile.

“Come out of your shell, old turtle,” he greeted me cheerfully. “Mrs. Wanderer’s up front buying out your hosiery department. Hold on, though!” he added as I jumped up, “‘phone your wife to come down to lunch with us—so you and I can talk shop in peace.”

Now the Wanderer’s wife was not “buying out” my hosiery department. Yet she and the clerk were deep in conversation.

“I was just following in the footsteps of my illustrious husband and giving this young lady a lot of perfectly good advice about running a business she knows more about than I do,” she said as we shook hands.

Friend Wife Talks

“Charley, for goodness’ sake when you let Nick talk you into adding this hosiery department, why didn’t you make him tell you how to sell the stuff? It’s miles out of your line.”‘

“Why, it’s doing about as well as I expected,” I replied. “It’s rather a novelty yet—women haven’t got used to buying hosiery in a shoe store, I guess.”

“Suppose you tell us how it ought to be managed,” said the Wanderer, meekly.

“Tell you?” scoffed his lady. “You’d never see it. But go on back to your lair and gossip for half an hour and I’ll show you.”

Obediently we retraced our steps—nor did we reappear until my wife came to call us.

How She Trimmed the Case

Mrs. Wanderer—wearing an expression of supreme content—waited for us by the hosiery display case. This is what she’d put in it—an exact copy of the list I made that afternoon to refer to when arranging future displays.

Floor of Case (reading from left to right): a dark brown walking oxford with a pair of plain brown hose, matching exactly. Center, smoke, calf sport oxford trimmed in brown calf, accompanied by three pairs of hose, one a heavy smoke-colored silk, the second brown silk and wool clocked in orange, the third brown and gold heather mixed wool. Right end, tan walking oxford with matching hose.

First Shelf: left end, white cloth oxford, two pairs of hose, one heavy white silk clocked in red, the second a lighter weight plain white. Center, white cloth oxford with black calf trim with a pair of white silk hose clocked in black, and one pair of black clocked in white. Right end, white cloth strap pump with one pair white lace clocked silk hose, and one pair white drop-stitch stripe.

Top Shelf: left, a low heeled, single strap pump, patent vamp and beige suede quarter with a pair of beige hose exactly matching the suede, and a second pair of beige with black clocks. Center, patent two strap with Louis heel, accompanied by three pairs of hose: one black, one white (self clocked), one blond. Right, gray suede elastic side three strap, with one pair plain gray hose, matching exactly, and another of paler gray clocked with the shade of the shoe itself.

Stunts Don’t Fool ‘Em

Now I’d always made it a point to show a sample of every style and color I had in stock, and I don’t mind confessing that showcase looked mighty empty.

Guess the Wanderer thought so, too, but that didn’t stump him.

“Going on the same principle as those milliners who put just one hat in the window—only not quite so much so?” he queried.

“No, you goose, that’s nothing but a selling fad—a pose that doesn’t fool us for a minute,” was the answer. “This is sense. Show a woman how what she wants or is thinking of buying, is going to look with something she’s got,” she added triumphantly.

“Of course!” seconded my wife.

This Was Her Psychology

Then, just in time to save me from having to admit that I didn’t “get her,” she continued—

“Look at that white shoe with the black trim. Any woman would buy white stockings to go with it. The less obvious but smarter thing is white clocked in black. Show her that—and sell her the hose. If she’s just a bit daring she’ll like the black with the white clocks—and she’ll know without your reminding her that she can wear that same stocking with any all black shoe. Work it backwards. Suppose she has some black and white stockings, but no shoes like these—you’ve put into her head how stunning that combination would be with her white satin sport skirt and black silk sweater. Now do you see daylight?”

“You mean make my shoes sell appropriate stockings to go with them—and my stockings sell shoes?” I questioned.

Each Display Helps the Other

“Of course,” was the calm reply. “You’re selling ‘footwear’ now—not just shoes. Well, then, why not make your two departments help each other instead of letting your poor little hosiery department struggle along by itself?

“Why,” with a smile, “haven’t you seen shirts and the right scarfs to go with them displayed together in the men’s shops for years and years—and you never thought of anything so obvious as this? I’m ashamed of you both—but particularly of Nick, who ought to know better.”

To be perfectly truthful with you I’d not much notion that her arrangement would work such a whole lot better than mine—but fortunately I didn’t voice the thought—for right now I’m mailing orders for an extra supply of several styles of fairly high-priced stockings. And when I bought the original lots I rather had my doubts if I could sell a dozen pairs of each style!

There’s another queer twist to this little experience. A friend of mine—one of the members of our Board of Trade council— told me the other day his daughter said we had a “Ritzy” footwear shop! And she’s just home from a six months’ visit with an aunt in New York.

Oh, well, you never can tell, but it always pays to listen respectfully to a clever woman anyhow. 

Boot and Shoe Recorder: The Magazine of Fashion Footwear, Volume 81, Part 2, 1922

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: With hemlines beginning to rise in the 1910s, ornamented stockings were more popular than ever: one finds stockings embellished with beads and lace inserts, striped like sticks of candy, embroidered with whimsical figures or even the owner’s name about the ankle, or hand-painted by artists.

One of the more mystifying developments in American slang was the 1920s penchant for phrases such as “Friend Wife” and “Friend Husband,” always used in a somewhat humorous domestic context.  Surely the persons using the phrase could not all be Quakers? This 1914 squib does not illuminate the origins of the phrase, but does explain how one observer saw it.

“Friend Wife”

The slang straw shows how the thought wind blows. This term, “Friend Wife,” is now in good and regular standing with such observers as the cartoonist Briggs of the Chicago and new York “Tribunes,” colymnists like F.P.A. [Franklin P. Adams] and B.L.T. [Bert Leston Taylor], and story-writers such as George Randolph Chester. It is very doubtful is the phrase would have caught on a generation ago. To our ears it sums up an aspect of the change that has come about in the daily status of women; it recognizes in a half-humorous way the practical working equality of the sexes that is a great fact in modern life. In the light of this careless phrase we see clearly how empty is the chatter of the antisuffragists and the drivel of the so-called feminists. Most people are still very much like human beings.  Collier’s, Vol. 53, 1914


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.

His Little Valentine: 1911



Against a Man’s Giving Birthday Gifts


Mrs. Peeved hummed a little tune as she busied herself in sorting out a tangle of embroidery silks, and glanced coquettishly across at her husband.

“John,” she said, “do you remember you used to call me your little valentine, because my birthday came such a little while before St. Valentine’s day itself.”

“Uh-huh,” said Mr. Peeved, looking as uncomfortable as a man usually does when wooing days are recalled. “What of it?”

“Well, I just wondered, that’s all,” said Mrs. Peeved. “I was thinking how nice it would be if you would buy me one of those lovely heart-shaped boxes with silk stockings in them for a present.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” retorted Mr. Peeved. “You’re old enough to wear lisle ones. Besides, there’s no use giving birthday presents when you get to be over for-…”

“John!” interrupted his wife, and Mr. Peeved subsided.

“It’s nice of you to pretend to hide it,” she went on, shaking a playful finger at him, “but the secret’s out.”

“What secret,” blustered Mr. Peeved, “come—out with it; what’s your game? Can’t a man read his paper in peace without being badgered about birthday presents and such stuff?

“Don’t I support you? Buy your clothes? What’s the use of asking me to buy silk stockings. You’d better ask for a ton of coal.”

Mrs. Peeved took up her embroidery scissors thoughtfully.

“There’s a mistake, I guess,” she said. “They called me up from McCary’s today and asked for you. I told him I could tell them anything they wanted to know, and they said they’d lost the card to go in with the silk stockings and what should they do.

“Of course I thought it was a surprise for me—I told them to  send them right along.”

Mr. Peeved retired behind his newspaper and Mrs. Peeved looked at him grimly.

The Washington [DC] Times 10 February 1911: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is an entire play by Ibsen in that last sentence….

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.


Queen Victoria’s Cast-off Stockings On Sale in New York: 1881


Victoria’s Old Stockings Sold in New York

Its Belles Coveting Royalty’s Cast-Off Clothes.

The following decidedly curious advertisement appeared in a morning paper last week:

“Ladies desirous of purchasing articles from the wardrobe of Queen Victoria can do so by calling on Mrs. Martin, __ W. Fortieth street”

A Mercury reporter found the designated address to be—most appropriately, perhaps—an English basement house let in lodging-rooms, of which Mrs. Martin occupied a back parlor, with a very obese bed in a very contracted alcove, squeezed into the genteel semblance of a book-case. When he shut the door after him, the bed came tumbling down with a violent clatter, and a stout lady in a dingy red wrapper, who was reading a newspaper at the window, said: “Drat it!” with much vehemence. The reporter apologized to both the bed and himself, and explained his errand. Having jammed the bed up again, Mrs. Marti made assurance certain by rolling an arm-chair against it, and, sitting down in it said:


You saw, sir, and you could have seen many others if you had so pleased. It’s not the first, nor the second, nor yet the tenth, and I have the receipts to prove it, not to mention the ladies who has bought of me, if I was so disposed as to name them—some of the first ladies in the land, sir, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Not that it’s any wonder, for the chance they get is not one that comes to them every day.”

“You mean the chances of purchasing the cast-off clothes of a queen,” observed the reporter.

Mrs. Martin surveyed him with a glance of suspicion and replied: “Who said cast-off clothes? If they don’t suit them, they don’t need to buy them, do they? Which, as far as that goes, the


As you call them, young man, is a deal better than some folks’ best. Look at this hosiery now,” and she handed the reporter a black ball from the mantel. The ball unrolled into a pair of silken hose of the finest texture, which presented the appearance of having invested the Royal extremities a couple of times at most. If the irreverent suggestion may be permitted, however, Her Majesty’s pedicurist had been derelict in the performance of his duties about the time she wore those stockings, for at the point of each great toe the delicate fabric had been cut, evidently by the pressure of a sharp edge. The heels and toes were white, or rather had been before Her Majesty’ had walked in them without slippers. The size of the pedals which had filled them was evidently that of an ordinary woman’s and the measurement in other particulars, as far as the reporter was permitted to make it, was in proportion. Altogether, they did not present any particular difference, except in absence of newness, to similar objects which are displayed to the vulgar gaze on those plaster of paris works of art which have become an attribute of most of our dry goods store windows, and the reporter said so. But Mrs. Martin pointed to the white band in which the upper portion of them terminated and remarked, “Don’t they?” And, indeed, woven in the band in open work, were the


Surmounted by a crown. This regal stamp, Mrs. Martin assured the reporter, is permitted only upon articles manufactured from the Royal wardrobe, and in corroboration she produced several other pairs of stockings, which she declined to unroll, however, all of which bore the same mark. It likewise existed on some cambric handkerchiefs, which she took out of a hairy trunk. Her collection, she stated, had included several sets of underclothing, gloves, lace and plain collars, fans and cuffs and shoes and slippers. Most of these had been already disposed of. Such as remained were of a character to be held sacred from the gaze of man.

This led quite naturally to the interesting point of their origin and destination .According to Mrs. Martin, every three months witnesses a complete renewal of Queen Victoria’s wardrobe. In spite of the popular impression that this consists mainly of muslin caps and black gowns, it is really very extensive, and much of it is almost unworn; still it has to give place to the new supply. It falls the perquisite, says Mrs. Martin, of the Maids of Honor, who, in fact, receive no other reward. These exalted, but frugal ladies sell it in a lump and divide the money it brings among them. The method by which it is disposed of partakes of that species of mystery G. W. M. Reynolds use to revel in when he prodded the effete and profligate monarchy with his red-hot pen. [Reynolds was a journalist and the author of Mysteries of London, a sensational fictional mystery serial exposing the sordid underbelly of London society.] The discarded garb of Britain’s greatness having been packed in bundles, is transported by night to the residence of a Mrs. Marks, who receives it from the trusted carrier and returns the money. She does with it what ladies and gentlemen, who deal in cast-off clothing, plebeian or regal, the world over, do with their wares. Mrs. Marti rejected with much scorn the suggestion by the reporter that she was an agent of Mrs. Marks, and held forth certain vague suggestions of relationship with a Maid of Honor as an explanation of her possession of the precious relics she traded in; the said lady being wealthy in her own right, so that she was able to forego her share of Mrs. Marks’ cash and send her portion of the Queen’s wardrobe to Mrs. Martin, whom “she had always thought a good deal of.” Who her generous connection was, Mrs. Martin answered the reporter was a secret wild horses could


The Queen’s wardrobe finds a ready sale in London, at comparatively enormous prices, to ladies who desire to possess some souvenir of their Sovereign. In free America the demand is equally great, Mrs. Martin says, and there is no reason whatever to doubt her. Her customers are all natives, but they gush over the remnants of royal finery with as much fervor as any full-fledged cockney toady ever could. “The first thing they do is to kiss them; the next is to try them on; then they commence to criticise them; but there’s one thing they never do, which is to refuse to pay the price I ask. I never had but one customer haggle with me. I found out afterwards she was the wife of a man who has a museum and who wanted the things to exhibit. I made him pay for them, you may be sure. He has got a full set, dress, lace cap and all, down to the shoes and stockings, but they cost him all they were worth. Never mind how much that was. If people want to know my prices, they can ask ’em, young man. That is what I advertise for. There was a carriage with a liveried coachman at Mrs. Martin’s door when the reporter got to the corner. Another republican admirer of monarchical customs was about to pay her respects at second hand.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 June 1881: p. 10

Another view of the royal stockings.

Another view of the royal stockings.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The custom of allowing the maid the mistress’s cast-off clothes is one that extends even into the lower middle-classes. However, even in titled houses, misunderstands may arise about these perquisites in such wise that Mrs Daffodil has known an acquisitive maid to pack her bags and flit before she is called upon to assist the police with their inquiries. There was a thriving second-hand trade in all cities, including Paris, where this dealer found that the cachet attached to certain names materially improved his business.

Hints for Old Clothes’ Dealers

It is reported that a dealer in second-hand clothes living in the Quartier Latin in Paris has hit upon a somewhat ingenious idea of disposing of the garments which are too old-fashioned or too dilapidated to fetch anything like a good price. Attached to the various articles hanging outside his shop are modestly-written cards containing announcements like the following: “Pair of trousers worn by M. Guizot on his arrival in Paris”—“Overcoat belong to Mr. Littre before he became celebrated”—“Dressing gown formerly belonging to Alexander Dumas”—“Vest worn by M. Thiers when President of the Republic.” It is, perhaps, needless to say that those interesting relics are rapidly bought and proudly worn by the economical students notwithstanding the scepticism of some of the purchasers. “Would you have me believe,” said a young artist one day, as he inspected a velveteen coat, “that this belonged to Victor Hugo? Plainly, it is too small for him.” “Do you think,” replied the unabashed dealer, “that Victor Hugo would have sold so good a coat if he could have worn it with any degree of comfort?”  And the bargain was struck. Richwood [OH] Gazette 29 March 1877: p. 1

You will find another story of the rag trade here.

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.

For stories of Victorian mourning, coffins, crypts, and crape, please see The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.