Tag Archives: theatrical costumes

Shoeing for a New Play – Theatrical Footwear: 1901


Footwear a Big Item in a Stage Production—Cost from $1000 to $1600

Some Trials of a Theatrical Bootmaker.

Through some oversight the manager of a theatrical company that is soon to “try” an elaborate costume play upon an Eastern city has neglected to make arrangements to have the company shod, and the anxiety into which the cast has been plunged by this carelessness gives some idea of the importance which attaches to the matter of shoeing for a modern stage production. The actors who have been engaged for this one took it for granted that the usual arrangements had been made with the usual bootmaker for providing them with the proper footgear, and all that they would have to do would be to drop in any day and leave their measurement. That is the way they have been accustomed to buying their stage shoes, and they have been dropping into a little shop in Union Square, which has practically a monopoly in theatrical bootmaking, every day for the last week. The woman who is in charge of the shop during the proprietor’s absence says: “It will teach them all a lesson.”

A man, who from dress and manners was obviously from stageland, entered the shop and with an air of easy assurance took a chair and announced that he had come to be measured.

“For what?” asked the woman.

“For what?” repeated the actor, “why, for the shoes I am to wear in -—,” mentioning the title of the play.

“We know nothing about the boots you are to wear in that piece,” said the woman; “but possibly if you will leave your order we can get them out for you in time—what style is it you want?”

The actor’s easy assurance gave way instantly to bewilderment, and from bewilderment to mental stampede. “Style,” he echoed, gazing helplessly around him, “why, classic, Spanish, Louis XIV.—I don’t know, how should I know? Something like that thing there in the show case,” and he pointed to a black satin Spanish slipper with high heels slashed with yellow and trimmed around the top with silver, “that’s what I want, isn’t it? something on that order, anyway.” The woman told him that it would be impossible to fill an order from so meagre a description, and advised him to go around to the costumers’ and obtain details. The actor humbly promised to do so.

When he had gone the woman turned to another customer. “That man,” she explained, “would have known all about the boots he is to wear, if he had seen them; that is, if we had made them for him he could have pointed out where they were historically and otherwise wrong. As it is, you can see for yourself how ignorant he is, and how helpless. It is customary for a manager, when a new play is to be put on, to leave the order with a bootmaker for all the footgear that are to be worn by the cast; the style and the designs are sent to us by the costumer, or in some cases, are left to our own judgment,”

“What does it cost to shoe a company for a first-class production?” inquired the customer.

“From $1000 to $1600 dollars,” the woman answered. production will cost about $900.

“And who pays for all that?”

“Why, the actors themselves. It costs each one from $80 to $100, according to the number of changes he or she has to make in the course of the play. The supers, of course, do not have to pay for the shoes they wear—they are included in the company’s property.”

The popularity of historical plays has made the high kid boot extending above the knee, and known to the trade as a “knickertaur,” in greater demand than any other style. They cost from $10 to $18 a pair. Other costume boots vary in price from $8 to $40 a pair.

“How many dancing shoes,” said the woman in the shop, “do you suppose that young woman there (pointing to a photograph of a woman balancing airily on one great toe) how many shoes do you suppose she ordered here yesterday? Two hundred pair. Almost as many as some people wear in a lifetime, isn’t it? She’s going to Australia, and she doesn’t want to run short of shoes.”

The shoes which the young woman had ordered and which are kept in stock were quite shapeless and heelless affairs. A pronounced box toe explained the ease with which ballet dancers pose for minutes at a time on them. “And all the glittering tinselled sham,” continued the shopkeeper “which you read about as ‘existing behind the footlights, does not apply to these wares. They are of the best material and best workmanship, and cost more than any shoes of any sort sold in this country.”—[N. Y. Evening Post.

Boot and Shoe Recorder: 4 September 1901: p. 29

pink boots

Bejewlled satin boots worn by music hall variety artiste Kitty Lord, 1894-1915 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-91634&start=34&rows=1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has shared information about theatrical costuming and some unusual special effects such as stage thunder and lightning, sandstorms, and giant dragons. Theatrical footwear, despite the “sock and buskin” being shorthand for the profession, has received much less attention than its costumes and special effects. Yet where would our chorus be without ballet shoes? Where would high-kicking music hall artistes be without tall satin boots? Where would our leading men be without their discreet lifts to allow them to tower over their leading ladies? For example:

“There is the raising of the actor’s shoes. We can make a man two inches taller, without spoiling the shape of his foot; this enables many an artist to hold positions that he could not fill without these raised shoes. Some of our leading artists wear them. The giants in the museums wear them to make them still taller. I remember once a friend of mine, an actor, came to Chicago to join ‘The Burglar’ company. The manager noticed at rehearsal that he was shorter than the leading lady—that would never do. He came to me and told me his troubles. I told him to cheer up—sit down and let me take his measure, and explained to him the process of raising shoes. On the opening night he was one inch taller than the leading lady, and every one was happy. It may be remarked that many people resort to this device in their street shoes.”

The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 12 April 1897: p. 8

Smaller feet were also part of stage wizardry and this “Cherman” shoe-maker [Mrs Daffodil cannot do the dialect] also elevated actresses with what sound like chopines:

“I suppose,” said the reporter, “that it’s part of a theatrical shoemaker’s art to make women’s feet appear smaller?”

“Women?” he said. “Vy do you say only women? Let me dell you dat men are shust as vain as women. I make de feet look smaller for both. Don’t ask me how, for dat is a secret of de craft. Most beople dink de high heel does it. But it’s more dan dat. You must get de heel shoost so. I also make bedple taller. Dere’s Janauschek—I fill her up mit cork and sawdust.”

“Fill her up with cork and sawdust?”

‘‘Dat is, de shoes of her. I make her two or tree inches higher dan she is.”

Time 26 September 1885: p. 102

slap stick shoes

Music Hall “slap-stick” shoes worn for the “Big Boot Dance” by Sammy Curtis. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1114606/theatre-costume/

Mrs Daffodil is reminded by the shoes above of the host of a vintage variety television show, a Mr Edward Sullivan, who used to announce that his viewers were about to witness “a really big shoe.”


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 Picture Actress and Her Gowns: 1916

Dressmaker Is the Skeleton in The Picture Actress’ Closet

Brand-new Gowns Are Demanded For Almost Every New Scene in Photoplays.


Film Patrons Also Insist on Creations of Famous Modistes, and Players Provide Them.

“Gowns! Gowns!”

“And then some more gowns!”

This is the reason given by a motion picture star who is well known in Washington, why young girls should take something strong and positive when the symptoms of a desire to become a motion picture actress first appear.

The business of dressing a motion picture play is more serious than the play itself, declared this actress. She has had considerable experience on the stage, and has become very well known in motion pictures. As she has been a great stickler for proper costuming in her picture work, she desires that she shall not be named—but she is one of the real stars of the film.

“The average stock actress has a lot more trouble with her costumes than she has with her lines. And she thinks her troubles are the worst,” declared this actress. “But the stock leading lady has a comparatively easy time when compared with the picture player.

Cannot Wear Gowns Twice.

“Did you ever see your favorite staress in the same gown twice?”

“You never did. And, furthermore, you never will. She wouldn’t scintillate long if she wore the same gown twice. The stock actress when she gets tired of buying new gowns can go to a different town and wear her old dresses all over again, with a little fixing over.

“But the motion picture actress cannot do that. Her public follows her from place to place. I have worked for five motion picture companies—but my public has been the same. I’m glad to say my public has grown a lot in numbers since I started motion picture work. But the point I want to make is that I can’t change my audience like the stock actors. The same people go to see my pictures.
“And, furthermore, none of my stock wardrobe—the gowns I wore in stock company productions—will go in pictures because the public has seen me in all those gowns! The result is that every time I put on a picture I have to put on several gowns.

“And believe me, the public is becoming rather captious as to the number of gowns one must wear in the various scenes of a picture. We must appear in a different gown for every day the picture is supposed to cover.

New Dress for Each Day.

For instance, if I am to appear in scenes covering several days I must have a new gown for each of those days. It wouldn’t be right for me to appear in the same gown two days in succession.

“It seems absurd, of course, in parts where the character is a girl in moderate circumstances. I know that before I went on the stage, I considered myself lucky to have half a dozen gowns—one of which would be a regular-honest-to-goodness stylish affair. And when I went out I wore that stylish gown time after time. I couldn’t do it with the same sort of a character, in the same situation in life. In motion pictures though, I must have a new gown for every day the action covers.

“And the quality of the gowns must be right. You hear a lot about ‘Lucile’ and ‘Redfern’ creations on the screen, and you think the labels are sewed on by press agents instead of the people who own the copyrights to them. But that is not true.

Public Demands the Best.

“The public demands ‘Lucile’ and ‘Redfern’ and all the rest of them. And we must furnish them. It’s a horrid shame, too. I actually spend more time with a dress maker than I do with the play I am appearing in.

“I would ask a young girl anxious to go into pictures if she can stand quietly day after day and permit herself to be draped and stitched and pinned into something she must pay for, but will never have an opportunity to wear—nine cases out of ten—because she can’t afford to go where the gown belongs? That is totally aside from the business of trying to figure out something new.

“That is one of the real tests. One of the things I want to take a vacation from is gowns. Honestly, I almost cry when I think of a new play. It means new gowns—more gowns—and I’ve got so many already that I can’t do a thing with!”

The Washington Times 13 April 1916: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Poor thing! Sacrificed to the relentless whims of the public! What a horrid nuisance, having to be fitted for all those Redfern and Lucile confections! The anonymous narrator may be one of the genuine “staresses” of the Silver Screen, but she seems to be ignorant of the well-known solution to the problem of her bulging wardrobe: the second-hand clothes trade. This well-known dealer reported a brisk trade with stage actresses:

I deal extensively, too, with actresses. They can find among the stock of stage dresses gowns that are suited to the role they are to play, and the reduced cost of which is very gratifying both to their managers and themselves. In fact, the stage dresses go back and forth among the actresses, many times before they begin to show wear. I act the part of the middleman, you see, in these cases, and get paid for the bother of caring for the garments properly while they are here awaiting a new purchaser in the interval when they are not being worn on the stage.

Some of these richer gowns are sold to me by actresses who have no need for them off the stage, and dispose of them as soon as the play in which they were worn has run out its course at the theater.” The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 May 1891: p. 1

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.


Sarah Bernhardt and the Dying Costumer: 1880


Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre by Racine.

Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre by Racine.

An episode from the life of the great actress:

I was given, on signing the contract, 100,000 francs as advance payment for the expenses of departure. I was to play eight pieces: “Hernani,” “Phedre,” “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” “Froufrou,” “La Dame aux Camelias,” “Le Sphinx,” ” L’Etrangere,” and ” La Princesse George.”

I ordered twenty-five costumes for town wear at Laferriere’s, with whom I then dealt.

At Baron’s I ordered six costumes for “Adrienne Lecouvreur,” and four costumes for “Hernani.” I ordered from a young theater costumier named Lepaul, my costume for “Phedre.” These thirty-six costumes cost me 61,000 francs; but out of this my costume for “Phedre” alone cost 4,000 francs. The poor artiste-costumier had embroidered it himself. It was a marvel. It was brought to me two days before my departure and I cannot think of this moment without emotion. Irritated by long waiting, I was writing an angry letter to the costumier when he was announced. At first I received him very badly, but I found him looking so ill, the poor man, that I made him sit down and asked how he came to be so ill.

“Yes, I am not at all well,” he said in such a weak voice, that I was quite upset. “I wanted to finish this dress and I have worked at it three days and nights. But look how nice it is, your costume!” And he spread it out with loving respect before me.

“Look!” remarked Guerard, [Madame Guerard, Mme. Bernhardt’s long-time family friend and assistant] “a little spot!”

“Ah, I pricked myself,” answered the poor artiste quickly.

But I had just caught sight of a drop of blood at the corner of his lips. He wiped it quickly away so that it should not fall on the pretty costume as the other little spot had done. I gave the artiste the 4,000 francs, which he took with trembling hands. He murmured some unintelligible words and withdrew.

”Take away this costume, take it away!” I cried to my petite dame and my maid. And I cried so much that I had the hiccough all the evening. Nobody understood why I was crying. But I reproached myself bitterly for having worried the poor man. It was plain that he was dying. And by the force of circumstances I had unwittingly forged the first link of the chain of death which was dragging to the tomb this youth of twenty-two—this artiste with a future before him.

I would never wear this costume. It is still in its box yellowed with age. Its gold embroidery is tarnished by time, and the little spot of blood has slightly reddened the stuff. As to the poor artiste, I learned of his death during my stay in London in the month of May, for before leaving for America I signed with Hollingshead and Mayer, the impresarios of the Comedie, a contract which bound me to them from the 24th May to the 24th June (1880).

Memories of My Life: Being My Personal, Professional, and Social Recollections as a Woman and Artist, Sarah Bernhardt, 1907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have read about the Divine Sarah in these pages before, in the story of her visit to a séance. We have also read of Eleanora Duse’s exacting costuming demands on Jean-Phillipe Worth. Mme. Bernhardt set the bar high for histrionic behaviour. She was prone to rages and horse-whips, particularly when criticised. She used a skull as a letterbox and had herself photographed in her coffin, which was normally kept in her drawing-room. This pre-mortem photograph is said to have started a fad among young women. Here is a particularly dire example of Mme. Bernhardt’s self-centredness:

A Death-Bed Scene

Of all the stories about M’lle Sarah Bernhardt, her experience in a hospital is surely the most remarkable. The tragedienne was, it is said, anxious, for purposes of dramatic study, to see some people who were on the point of death. She was taken to the bedside of a girl who was not expected to live for more than few minutes. Now, it is needless to say, the actress is not exactly the picture of sunny health. Dressed in black with a long, pale face, which I am too gallant to call cadaverous, the lady might give a fright to a man of robust nerves if he met her suddenly in a lonely place. It is not surprising that to the poor creature whose soul was just leaving her body this apparition at her bedside was appalling. “Ah! I know you,” she cried; “you are the angel of death; you came the other day to take away one of my neighbors; but I am too young—I will not die. Begone, terrible specter!” And then in a paroxysm of fear the poor thing died. The actress fainted away at the foot of the bed. It was a dramatic tableau she could not have conceived in her wildest dreams. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 10 December 1881: p. 12

In fairness, this story is likely to be apocryphal; the newspapers were full of reports of the actress’s eccentricities and scenes. Still, one suspects that Mme. Bernhardt was a trifle disingenuous in claiming that she wept for the dying costumier. It is more likely she got the hiccoughs from sheer pique at the blood spot. Actors are notoriously superstitious so Mme. Bernhardt may very well have not worn the Phèdre costume. History records that she was quite lavish in her costume expenditures, requiring the finest embroidery and real jewels. (See her Lalique lily tiara here.)  Perhaps she was only crying over the wasted 4,000 francs? Mrs Daffodil has her doubts that the actress would have packed away any costume she thought would enhance her stage presence.   

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.



Theatrical Animals: 1890, 1904

Papier-mache animal heads in the theatrical workshop.

Papier-mache animal heads in the theatrical workshop.


How Ideas of Actors are Worked out by Men Who Use Papier Mache and Wires with Skill

With the increase of popular interest in musical extravaganzas on the stage an art unusual and almost uncanny has sprung into being. With costumers and decorators the stage folk have long collaborated, but with the artisans who now, with a few wires, some papier mache, much skill and more patience, convert a good looking actor, as actors go, into either a laughable parody of some well-known domestic animal or some beast truly hideous and repulsive the stage is yet not well acquainted.

“But they’ve got to have us; they can’t get along without us,” commented one of the foremost in this particular line of art the other day. And there was more truth than fiction in the remark. When shows such, for instance, the “Babes in Toyland,” now at the Majestic Theatre, come upon the stage, these men who work the seemingly impossible in wire and papier mache are almost as essential to success as the audiences themselves.

Probably not one in ten of those who have seen the “big black spider sit down beside her and drive Miss Muffet away” at the Majestic has sympathized with the spider, or even given a rap how he came to be a spider, anyway. Those overgrown frogs with their awkward hops have a wonderfully lifelike appearance, but they owe it all to the artist in wire and papier mache.

Persons witnessing a performance in which several of these extraordinary creations are produced together cannot realize the amount of study and work required to make each move as smoothly and naturally as it does.

“There’s an awful amount of detail in this work<” said an artist in an uptown shop the other afternoon, as he rested for a moment in his endeavors to make a huge donkey head as lifelike in every particular as possible. “That’s right,” agreed his assistant, as he straightened his back and shifted the close-fitting head he had been wearing while his chief adjusted it.

“Now, take this head for instance. It’s to be worn by—by—who’s this—why, that Jack in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’—you know who I mean.”

“Well, now, look here. See those strings?” and he pointed to two rows of thin, but very strong cord hanging at either side of the donkey’s neck.

“Now, watch them,” and he pulled first one and then another, until all of the twelve had been pulled. As each was worked the papier mache donkey did the unexpected. His lips rolled back in a broad grin, his mouth flew open in a hearty, “ha! Ha!” his ears turned in every conceivable position and entirely independent of each other, his eyelids blinked naturally, and he made “goo-goo” eyes, in response to the twitching of another string in a manner to excite the envy of the author of that art.

“Now, that was no fool of a job,” explained the chief, as he relieved his assistant of the cumbersome headgear, “to work out hat thing. Of course, this isn’t dressed up yet. This is just the foundation; just wire and papier mache. This has to be coated with hair and painted up to make it look natural.

“Took a whole lot of figuring to get that thing right. You see, the actor gets an idea; he comes to us and outlines what he wants. We get together on it. Of course, the actor generally has big ideas about what can be done. We know, however, and just do the best we can.

“Yes, it is pretty expensive work. For instance, that head there we’ve just been looking over is worth, roughly, about $50. These others,” and he pointed to the array of apes’ faces, lions, tigers, elephants, and other animals grinning down from the rafters and from nearly every side, “are also very expensive things, some of them costing more than this head and some of them less.

“Just before the theatrical season opens is our busy time. Then they come in on us with a flood of new ideas, and they are always in a great hurry for us to work them out.”

To many of the actors taking animal or kindred parts on the stage much credit is due for the ingenuity they display in devising and carrying out their parts. One of the most striking illustrations of the amount of study that can be put into such a part is afforded by the spider in the “Babes in Toyland.” Off the stage the spider is Robert Burns—“Bobbie” Burns his friends call him when in poetical mood. Unlike the poet, however, this Mr. Burns is an athlete. When Julian Mitchell conceived the idea of having a giant tarantula gyrating about the stage during the scene laid in the spider’s forest, Mr. Burns was called upon. His costume as first designed was two legs short, according to the fashions prevailing in the best tarantula society. Mr. Burns proved this by purchasing a tarantula brought from California. This tarantula he kept in a bottle in his room. To perfect his imitation of the insect’s movements he studied its motions closely. His imitation of the slow, hesitating movement of the insect is now said to be as near perfect as it is possible to get.Theoretically, the imitation of a huge spider is easy; in actual practice it is not so easy.

“It is a hard strain on a man’s arms and legs,” says Mr. Burns, “to move about supporting the weight of the body upon them, spread out as they must be to imitate the legs of a spider.”

While acting his part Mr. Burns wears a tight-fitting jersey suit, colored and posted to imitate the body of a spider. About his waist is strapped what may be styled an elongated bustle. This is colored and spotted to represent part of a spider’s body. Fastened to the sides of his suit are three long, padded legs or claws. These rest upon the floor as he crawls about upon his hands and feet and give him the appearance of a huge spider, having five legs on either side of the body. All of the legs on each side are made to move in union by means of rubber bands passing from the actor’s hands over and around the artificial legs back to his own legs. To the neck of the suit is fastened a hood, shaped and painted to imitate the head of a big spider, while a face mask of mosquito netting does away with the necessity for making up. In the dull green light which follows him about the stage, Mr. Burns looks extremely spiderlike, and the tropical growth of scenery overhanging the stage makes the little ones in the audience tremble in ecstasy of mingled fear and delight. A cross piece of tough wood, on which are fastened cleats two feet apart, furnishes the grasp needed by the athletic spider to suspend his weight aloft.

Hardly less interesting than the big spider are the ten frogs figuring in the show. When the curtain is up and the performance on, they are ten of the most sedate frogs to be encountered anywhere in New York City. When the curtain is down, however, they are just mischievous boys, glad of a chance to frolic after sitting froglike inside big papier mache cases, made in the shape of and painted to imitate a frog’s body. They wear tight-fitting jerseys, colored like a frog’s legs, and on their hands and feet are big webbed frog feet.

spider and frogs on stage

No self-respecting frog would act as these frogs at the majestic act at times. Their respect of the huge spider vanishes with the fall of the drop curtain, and they like nothing better than b out with him. It is a funny spectacle which is presented when three or four of the frogs, with their slim little legs, great green bodies and tea saucer  eyes, run about standing erect and pummeling the spider, with their webbed front feet in an extremely unfroglike manner. The spider, his head covering thrown back, his artificial legs flip-flopping back and forth, and his body bustle bobbing up and down in a laughable manner, is a sight to throw any well-ordered spider community into hysterics. Should a naturalist come along just at the moment one frog is hanging around the spider’s neck, another tangled up in his artificial legs and still another belaboring the bustle part of his anatomy, he might well be pardoned for thinking himself the victim of some terrible nightmare. Occasionally the big bear “butts in,” and then the whole order of natural history is indeed upset. The limit is reached when the bear or the spider “treats,” and the frogs are obliged to devised ways and means of getting chocolate drops safely through their yawning frog maws into their own personal mouths.

But though it may have some pleasant features, the task of those actors taking animal or insect parts on the stage is by no means easy.

“It’s no cinch,” admits the spider, as he sheds his belegged and padded suit.

“The song and dance for mine,” chimes in a precocious youth, as he wriggles clear of one of the big frog body cases.

While the comment of children in the audience is: “My, but wasn’t it fine!”

New York Daily Tribune 6 March 1904: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil understands that there was an American comic, one W.C. Fields, who declared that he would not work with children or animals. A sensible fellow! Leaving aside the question of finding, let alone training, a giant spider and life-sized frogs, animals, delightful though they may be in the wild at a shooting party, or on a silken cushion in the boudoir, pose certain difficulties on the stage. Mrs Daffodils offers a single, telling anecdote:

Someone connected with “The Soudan,” the English romantic drama which has already surpassed every theatrical record in Boston, thought that a live lion led on the stage among three other beasts of prey which are rolled on in cages in the wake of the British regiments, representing the return from the Soudan engagements, would be a strikingly effective addition to the play’s realistic features. It was soon discovered, however, that no lion could be found humble enough to submit to such an indignity. A way out of the dilemma quickly suggested itself and was quickly adopted. A big St. Bernard dog attached to the theater was pressed into service and a commission given to a celebrated taxidermist of the Hub to costume the dog in all the ferocity of a huge jawed lion .The taxidermist’s work was a masterpiece. When the St. Bernard issued from his dressing room preparatory to making his entrance on the stage he resembled a perfect specimen of the dread beast of the jungle. Nature was perfectly counterfeited. Everyone interested in the work fairly reveled in satisfaction at the great result. The play progressed and the time for the triumphal procession arrived. The procession started. The time came for the entrance of the unfettered lion. Success was sure. The lion started. Two steps more and he would be in full view of the audience—when lo, the bottom dropped completely out of the chimera. The fierce, fiery jawed king of the desert suddenly and altogether unexpectedly revealed a cruel flaw in his armor—he barked.  Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 28 December 1890: p. 10

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 House of Worth Breaks a Dressmaking Record: 1898

The record of rapid dressmaking has been broken by M. Worth. Some weeks ago the Duse was to play at Monte Carlo, and found at the last moment that none of her gowns were worthy of appearing at that paradise of frocks.

So she wired late one evening to Worth: “The day after to-morrow I am acting in the ‘Dame aux Camellias.’ I have simply nothing to wear. Can you let me have four dresses, one for each act. Mind, they must be as beautiful as you can possibly make them.”

This was rather a large order, for the journey from Paris to Monte Carlo alone occupies twenty hours. However, the great dressmaker set to work, and the whole house of Worth was ransacked from cellar to garret for its choicest brocades and cloths-of-gold. He created a marvelous ball-dress of white satin, incrusted with gold and pearl embroideries and sparkling with diamonds, with a long train smothered in priceless point d’Alencon. His young women sat up all through the night puckering and gathering into countless tucks and folds more than a hundred yards of white mousseline de soie for the gown which Marguerite Gautier was to wear in the death scene. And yet, in spite of the delirious hurry, everything was finished off as perfectly as if a month had been given to their preparation. In less than fifteen hours the four dresses were safely packed away in their big boxes and dispatched to their fortunate owner.  It goes without saying that this is Worth the Second and not Worth the First, who died some time ago.  

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 21 March 1898

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “The Duse” was Eleanora Duse, one of the most celebrated actresses of the 19th century. She and Sarah Bernhardt were rivals. Trouble ensued when Duse began acting in Bernhardt’s favourite roles and when Gabriele d’Annunzio, with whom Duse was having an affair, wrote a play– ostensibly for his mistress–but gave the lead to Bernhardt. Duse was considered to be the more subtle actress while Bernhardt got the lioness’s share of publicity.

“Worth the Second” was Jean-Philippe Worth, who continued the business after the death of his father, Charles Frederick. The House of Worth dressed both Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse, but Jean-Philippe was devoted to the latter, a lady noted for her complicated love-life.  Obviously, she felt she had some claim on Jean-Philippe’s friendship and could make outrageous demands entailing hundreds of yards of mousseline de soie. Charles Frederick Worth would never have stood for such a thing.

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.