Tag Archives: transvestism

The Scotsman and the Lady of Doubtful Propriety: 1870

Francis Leon,  Harvard Theatre Collection



Some months ago, in Melbourne, when the noonday sun was at its height and the main thoroughfare of the city, Bourke street, thronged with its usual crowd of sight-seers, business people, and members of tho “upper ten doing the block,” no little sensation was created by the appearance of a more than ordinarily showily dressed lady, chignoned and panniered in the latest fashion, who threaded the busy and wondering crowd and disappeared through the portals of a well-known photographer’s doorway not a hundred miles from the gateway of the Theatre Royal. Arrived in the studio the lady’s portrait was taken, apparently satisfactorily, for she retired to an inner room, which was furnished among other surroundings, with articles of the toilet, provided for the convenience of “gentlemen only” awaiting a sitting. Seated in the further corner of the room, patiently biding his time, was an elderly gentleman of Scottish extraction, prim, sedate, adamantine of feature and sparing of speech. The lady of fashion, with but a passing glance at the staid old person, took her position opposite the cheval glass, and after an admiring gaze at the face reflected therein, proceeded to divest herself of the head appendage, yclept in the 19th century a bonnet, “Eh, but its a braw lassie, and a vera fine head o’ hair too!” said the Scot, surveying the flaxen ringlets and tail which reached far below the waist of the lady in question.

“‘Tis a braw lassie,” he repeated to himself with a chuckle, evidently enjoying his contemplation of the fair belle before him. But his delight gave way to surprise as he perceived the lady deliberately proceed to unbutton her dress, and shaking its folds from her, step forth from them to the centre of the room. The old gentleman was bewildered and highly distressed. He was a decent modest man, with a wife and “bairns at hame,” and here he found himself in the presence of a lady evidently of doubtful propriety. Coughing, sneezing, and loudly blowing his nose for the purpose of calling the attention of the damsel to the fact of his being in the room, only convinced him that she was already aware of that fact, for casting a slight glance over her left shoulder, she threw him a look which he at once interpreted as seductive and bold to a degree. Still further was the old man astonished when the fair creature proceeded to unhook and cast aside her (it must he said) stays, and audible mutterings arose from him. “Eh, but it’s right down immodest, it should na be allowed in a Christian country; it’s dreadfu immoral and I’ll no stay to see it.” Thus determined, the indignant and terrified Scot rose with the intention of leaving the room, but easier said than done, the flaxen-haired beauty had possession, and turning full round, she, to the intense horror of the immaculate man, proceeded to disencumber her legs of her—but this was too much: human nature in the shape of a virtuous and indignant Scotchman could stand no more, so with a smothered “Heaven a mercy me” and a frantic bound, he cleared the room and fled. But not so easy to escape; for the fair unknown, with lengthy agile strides, pursued, and was beside him ere he reached the outer door; one more gaze, and the now terrified man fairly shrieked and darted forth unto open air; whilst peal upon peal of laughter followed from the operator, his assistant, and the fair and frail one also, who turned out to be no other than Mr George Darrell, in his burlesque costume of the “Young Girl of the Day,”

Evening Star 9 August 1870: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Darrell was a well-regarded Australian actor, singer, and playwright. He was known as “Gentleman George,” and usually played male roles. However, in 1869 he took the part of “Marina” in the burlesque HMS Galatea and sang “The Young Girl of the Day”, and one of his own songs, “Doing the Block,” to much acclaim.

The illustration at the head of the post is of Francis Leon, one of the most acclaimed of 19th-century female impersonators.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


A Gentleman in Favor of Short Skirts on Both Sexes: 1898

A little boy in a dress leans on his rocking horse. See more Victorian boys in dresses at http://arollingcrone.blogspot.com/2012/05/tots-with-antique-toysboy-or-girl.html

A little boy in a dress leans on his rocking horse. See more boys in dresses at http://arollingcrone.blogspot.com/2012/05/tots-with-antique-toysboy-or-girl.html



To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: I am curious to know what statutes on dress the women violate who wear short-skirted costumes in the city or at the seaside. I have seen it stated that those who do so and do not have bicycles with them or show checks for wheels are liable to arrest.

I have searched the states of Connecticut in vain for laws which regulate the attire of the people and the distinction of the sexes, and am thus forced to the conclusion that convictions for violations of common customs in such matters must be made under what is known as common law, because it does not seem possible that our judges would convict without sanction of law.

It seems to an observer that such arrests and convictions are an inhuman encroachment of the rights and liberties of a people. If a person drove his horse along the streets in fetters he would be likely to be called to account for cruelty to animals, but here we have a mean attempt of the male authorities practically to fetter the other half of humanity.

Short-skirted costumes would seem to be an ideal attire for either man or woman. No one who claims any artistic taste will deny that there is a picturesqueness in a gathering of girls, even when the distance is such that features are unrecognizable, which a collection of boys never has. And I doubt if there is an intelligent boy in the land to-day who does not in his heart fell that it is so. On the other hand, skirts, if long, are inconvenient, cumbersome and a constant source of danger. The attire of the sexes as at present managed has resolved itself practically into garments of mere comfort and convenience, having a lack of all really artistic beauty in the men’s dress as well as of elegance and attractiveness.

Men and boys are expected to take to trousers and women and girls to long gowns and petticoats as naturally as ducks to water, and every one is supposed to be perfectly satisfied. As a person’s attire really concerns no one else except in looks, a philosopher would expect that in a land of professed liberty the dress of citizens might be taken as a symbol of the liberty with which each may deport herself. And it would undoubtedly long since have been so if persons had sufficient confidence themselves as to the correctness of their taste to put them in unclouded light for other men to view. In dressing as she does, Dr. Mary Walker has shown us an example of surpassing courage, but at the same time by adopting the uniform of the male sex without any modification in appearance, at least, she sinks her individuality almost as low as if she had always worn petticoats.

I think, too, that mothers should not too greatly control the taste of their children in matters of dress: it should be allowed a certain individuality. One mother I know of observed this right in her children, and when her boy of between the age of six and seven years pleaded for a dress instead of trouser she got him one.

Another mother that I knew said: “My little boy made an awful fuss when I put him into ‘pants.’ He cried and was inconsolable, but I was bound to have him out of dresses, it made so much less work for me. I told him to kiss all the pretty things goodbye, and that he could go every day and look at them in the bureau drawer where they were all laid away. He went several days, but it soon got to be an old story; the trouble was quickly over and his love forgotten.”

Some women writers have much to say about rational dress, and they usually refer to trousers as being more rational than skirts, but what is rational really depends on the climate and the employment. If I were asked to describe what I would consider the most comfortable costume for hot weather I would say canvas-top shoes, a loose gown and a well-designed sunbonnet. It would be almost Oriental and delightful if the business of the wearer was such as allowed the wearing of a robe. There is an airiness in a gown which makes anything of the trouser kind seem close, stuffy and comparatively uncomfortable in comparison on a hot summer day, and there is a loose, comfortable protection in a good sunbonnet that ninety-nine men in a hundred have never suspected. But such is the force of custom that not one man in a million would now dare to wear a bonnet, be his yearning ever so strong. The bicycle has given women the first right to wear bloomers and knickerbockers, and the colleges and vested choirs, bathrobes, etc., are leading men toward gowns. The time may be said to be here now when the gown is not a sign of effeminacy, and a woman can be thought womanly even in knickerbockers. Trousers are nice in their place, and so are cowhide boots, and there is about as much grace in one as in the other, but neither should be seen in full dress, because they are really as much out of place there as petticoats in a snowbank. There is a gracelessness about men’s evening costume which makes it a disgrace to our sex and civilization, and woman’s shows a want of consideration for health and comfort which is lamentable and a sin of the race against the individual. He is a poor prophet who cannot see by the signs of these times that there will be a change in some of these costumes and customs before another generation passes.

There is a tendency of late years toward fancy dress parties and masquerades for diversion during the cool season, but to my mind the most appropriate place for fancy dress is on excursions, picnics and like festivities in hot weather, and it would seem natural to have variety in costumes encouraged instead of frowned upon at all the pleasure resorts.

Monotony is wearing to the mind and a bane to humanity, but, thanks to our changeable climate, we can have no monotony in clothes if comfortably and wisely dressed. Who would not gladly help to hasten the time when actual individual liberty in attire is a glowing symbol of the liberties we boast? Truly yours, J. M. Hubbard New-York, Sept. 10

New York Tribune 12 September 1898: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The eloquent Mr Hubbard makes a compelling case for gentlemen in skirts. He seems ignorant of the existence of the kilt, which, when worn in its traditional manner, is superior to a gown in its airiness. And one could scarcely call a sunbonnet “Oriental.” While he pleads the aesthetics and comfort of gowns and sunbonnets, one wonders if he is remembers and is compensating for days when he cried bitterly when his mother locked away his pretty dresses in a drawer.

Nearly two decades previous, Mrs Stanton, an advocate for women’s rights, made a similar case for the utility and convenience of trousers for ladies. She was, alas, wrong about her third point.

Wearing the Breeches.

Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is out flat-footed in favor of women wearing men’s’ dress. She says:

The true idea is for the sexes to dress as nearly alike as possible. We have seen several ladies dressed precisely like gentlemen, who appeared far more elegant and graceful than any real man we ever saw. A young lady in Fifth avenue dressed in male costume for years, traveling all over Europe and this country. She says it would have been impossible to have seen and known as much of life in woman’s attire, and to have felt the independence and security she did, had her sex been proclaimed before all Israel and the sun. There are many good reasons for adopting male costume: First, it is the most convenient dress that can be invented; second, in it women could secure equal wages with men for the same work; third, a concealment of sex would protect our young girls from those terrible outrages from brutal men reported in all our daily papers. The Highland Weekly News [Hillsboro, OH] 5 August 1869: 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.


Breeches and Petticoats: Cross-dressing Fancy Dress



There is hardly a fancy dress ball given that some man does not bedeck himself in the finery of a woman and that a girl does not appear in the more or less modern habiliments of a man, but it is quite certain that such a costume as this is not often seen at an American fancy ball. It is an ingenious boy-girl costume, one half or side of the person being clothed in man’s attire and the other half in a girl’s. The idea is carried out to the minutest detail, even to the man’s glove and walking stick on one side, to a woman’s white lisle glove and a sunshade on the other. On one side of the head rests a man’s soft hat and on the other a neatly coiffured arrangement of feminine hair. Popular Mechanics, Volume 11, 1909

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil supposes that an alienist somewhere would have something to say about how the transgressive (a professional term for “naughty”) aspects of fancy-dress and masquerading encourages ladies and gentlemen to disguise themselves as the opposite sex in order to act out their forbidden desires. All tosh. One doesn’t need fancy dress to go off the rails, as one may observe at our police courts, which are packed with criminals in decidedly un-fancy dress. What the alienists forget is the pure pleasure of wearing a costume. What lady would not want to be a bold pirate or a swashbuckling cavalier at Hallowe’en? And what gentleman who secretly yearns to wear lady’s underthings would not want to be a saucy milkmaid or Little Bo Peep? The young man pictured above has chosen the best of both worlds.

Another example:

Amongst a variety of others, there were two very singular Masks at the Masquerade at the Opera House, on Monday night, viz. A Lady in a very large pair of breeches that reached from her feet to the top of her head, where the waistband was fastened, and crowned with a prodigious bunch of Ostrich feathers; and a Gentleman in a petticoat that covered his whole figure, with a ducal coronet ornamented with jewels on his head. This petticoat and breeches afforded much diversion to the company throughout the whole of the evening’s entertainment.  Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 24 June 1775

A traditional licence is usually granted by the authorities for the innocent amusements of Hallowe’en. One wonders why the young man in the following was charged with masquerading as a woman on such a holiday. His costume must have been seductive in the extreme to attract the attention of so many followers, as well as that of the police.


Sailor of Cruiser Chester Attracts Crowd and Is Jugged.

Fully 500 lads celebrating Hallowe’en followed a sailor from the U.S.S. Chester, dressed in feminine attire, through the streets of Charlestown last night, cheering and yelling at the top of their voices. Patrolmen Norton and Horgan saw the ‘woman’ at the head of the mob and placed ‘her’ under arrest charged with disturbing the peace.

When the ‘woman’ arrived at the police station, Lieut. Ringer summoned the matron to search the prisoner. As soon as the matron had removed the large picture hat, it was discovered that the supposed woman was a man, giving the name of Conrad Brazenberg of the U.S.S. Chester.

An additional charge of masquerading as a woman will be placed against him by Officers Norton and Horgan in the Charlestown court this morning.

A large number of sailors from the ships were given liberty last night, as the ships leave the yard tomorrow. Several of them were locked up charged with drunkenness. Boston [MA] Journal 1 November 1910: p. 14

In this case dressing as a boy for a masquerade led to domestic trouble:

Lending Trousers Causes Trouble

Husband Furnishes Woman Friend With Masquerade Costume

Wife Demands Return at Party and Starts Hostilities

Marion, Ind., Nov. 7 C.E. Beatty loaned a pair of his trousers to a woman friend, who wore them to a masquerade party. Mrs. Beatty learned of it, went to the party and found her husband’s trousers covering the graceful form of a pretty young woman.

Mrs. Beatty tore the mask from the face of the young woman, pulled her hair, scratched her face and demanded an immediate surrender of the trousers. She then returned home and told Mr. Beatty what she thought of him. Beatty is said to have sworn. Mrs. Beatty filed a charge of profanity against her husband. He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was fined $12.30, which he paid. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 7 November 1905: p. 1

Jane Asher’s Fancy Dress book continues the tradition with a variation on the theme with this costume: “A Pair of the Same Suit.”

pair of the same suit

Mrs Daffodil reminds her readers to put safety first this Hallowe’en. Ladies, do not borrow the clothing of married gentlemen. Gentlemen, do practice walking in those high heels before trying to dance in them or a spill, a torn frock, and a nasty sprain may result. One might also wish to avoid the streets of Charlestown if wearing an inflammatory picture hat.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.