Tag Archives: Victorian actresses

The Theatrical Hairdresser’s Revenge: 1880s

hairdressers manual parting 1906

POMATUM POTS AND BRUSHES.

The Theatrical Hairdresser’s Cruel Revenge.

The theatrical hairdresser generally has a shop in some street which is in a transition condition from that of residence to business. His establishment is on the parlor floor of what was once a handsome mansion, and he has had the two front windows knocked into one, to accommodate a big affair in which he displays wigs of all sorts, false hair of all colors and no end of an assortment of adjustable beards, whiskers and moustaches. In addition to these he deals in cosmetic powder and mysterious face washes, which he purchases by the gallon at a drug store for next to nothing and retails at a profit of several thousand per cent, as his own secret composition. He also rents beards and wigs out, but as he has exaggerated ideas as to rates, it is a little cheaper to purchase outright than to lease from him. Still, he does a heavy business in the leasing line with the amateurs, who not only hire all their capillary decorations from him, but also employ him on the occasion of their performance to attend on them and make them up for their parts.

His professional connection is his most interesting one, however. At the back of his shop is a little room strongly scented with fancy soaps and perfumes. In it, of an afternoon, he is to be found operating on the heads of ladies who have a free-and-easy manner and chat about scenes, hits, calls before the curtain and the like to other ladies who wait their turn very much as men wait in a barber shop on Sunday morning.

When his afternoon’s work is done, and the last of his fair customers has gone away with her hair elaborated into artistic and bewildering forms,

The Artist Prepares for His Evening’s Work.

This consists in the packing up of an endless assortment of grease paints, chalk balls, oil pots, pomatum pots, scent vials, scissors, tweezers, combs and brushes, not to mention a hundred or more of other objects in a morocco-covered case. An hour before the curtain rises he passes the back doorkeeper and vanishes in the gloom of the unlighted stage.

It you happened into the dressing-room of the leading lady or the star, fifteen minutes later, you would find him hard at work. The lady herself, in her corsets, with a towel over her shoulders and her heels on the dressing-table, is seated pulling at a cigarette or lazily conning her part. While the hairdresser performs his work, the waiting maid moves about arranging her mistress’ attire for its coming use. When the momentous task is accomplished, all my lady has to do is to slip into her dress and wait for her call.

Having finished the customer who, by reason of her superior position, claims precedence, the hairdresser extends his artistic favor to such of her less important sisters as have not been dressed during the day. Then he devotes himself to the gentlemen.

The leading man wants a shave, and gets it in locomotive time. The lover must have his hair patted in the middle and his moustache waxed; it is scarcely hinted at than done. The comedian’s wig needs dressing–it is brushed into form while he is making up his nose. The hair dresser is never idle. If he has nothing else to do, he may be lending slicks of cosmetic and balls of grease paint out of his box to people who have forgotten theirs.

The hairdresser does not take much Interest in the drama, except that which his instinct of business inspires him with. But on opera he comes out strong.

If he can insinuate himself into the service of some singer, no matter how humble, he is in his glory. He performs his professional duties toward him or her with the loving tenderness of a true artist. I know a tonsorial artist who in his day was the special hair-dresser of Grisi, Mario, and other famous singers of both sexes. He knows more stories about them than their biographers do, and is always telling them. One of his favorites is to the effect that he used to preserve all the combings from the heads of his patrons in the operatic line, which he made up as souvenirs, tied to a card with pink, blue or whatever colored ribbon their one-time owner favored.

The Mementos Commanded a Ready Sale

among the admirers of the divinities they represented. At one time there was such a run on the hair of one singer that he could not supply the demand legitimately. Happily, however, his wile’s crowning glory was of the same color, so he cut it off close and got enough for it in retail lots to open one of the finest shops in New York.

At least, so he told me; and as he was shaving me at the time I did not like to run the risk of impugning his veracity.

There is a legend current in the craft of a theatrical hairdresser who fell in love with a popular actress he was frequently called upon to beautify. He confessed his devouring passion on his knees but she laughed him to scorn. More than that, she insisted on his continuing his ministrations to her and made him the butt of her heartless gibes while he was devoting himself to enhance her loveliness. The iron entered his soul and he swore vengeance. One night, when he had to prepare her for a most important part, he surpassed himself in the splendor of her crowning decoration. Having finished, he anointed her golden locks with a compound of a peculiarly fascinating aromatic odor, which so attracted his callous enslaver’s notice that she asked him what it was.

“It is a mixture of my own, madame,” he replied. “I call it the last breath of love.”

The actress remarked that she would call him a fool, and he bowed and withdrew. A few minutes later, when she appeared behind the footlights, instead of the roar of applause which she expected, she was hailed with a tempestuous scream of laughter.

Her discarded lover had had his revenge. He had dyed her golden locks with a chemical which turned pea green as soon as it was dry. She dresses what hair she has left herself now, while he is boss of a five-cent shaving emporium, never speaks to any lady but his landlady, and has a Chinaman to do his washing. But he buys a seat in the front row every time she plays, and feasts his eyes on the remainder of his vengeance.

The Boston [MA] Globe 13 January 1884: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt the would-be lover found this a most piquant revenge, despite his demotion to the five-cent emporium. Mrs Daffodil suggests that the verdant-haired actress could have easily made a career change to the circus where brightly-tinted hair is desirable, if not a requisite. She also would have made a brilliant mermaid-in-a-tank attraction.

As for the opera-lover, one hopes that he compensated his wife for the loss of her hair with a selection of stylish wigs and a holiday in Paris.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a noted theatrical wig-maker and a Court Hairdresser. Other discussions of historic barbering and hair-dressing may be found in this page’s “Hair and Hair-dressing” category.

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.

 

 

Noted Ladies of the Stage on Corsets: 1890

Adelina Patti endorses the Chicago Corset Company, c. 1880s https://www.rubylane.com/item/398016-4878/Chicago-Corset-Adelina-Patti-Advertising-Trade

A SYMPOSIUM ON CORSETS

The Theories and Practices of Some Noted Singers and Actresses.

[Chicago Tribune.]

A cablegram printed in the Tribune a few days ago said that Mrs. James Brown Potter had abandoned the corset.

A murmur was heard in certain quarters. What had Mme. Patti to say on the subject? A Tribune reporter found the diva in a room filled with the odor of roses. The reporter went at the subject without having been compelled to do so strategically.  Madame motioned Nicolini [her second husband] to a far corner in the room. Then she said in her own peculiar way:

“I think corsets are the correct thing. Some absolutely perfect figures may dispense with them, of course, but the average woman, and especially the stout ones, can not afford to eschew stays. I myself invariably wear them.” “And do you find them injurious?” “Not in the slightest. But, then, my stays are always extraordinarily loose. Interfere with singing? Why, people don’t sing with their stomachs, do they? It must be an oddly formed person who would. As long as one doesn’t wear stays about one’s throat there can be no interference. Now, I can not sing with as much as a ribbon confining my throat.”

Mme. Emma La Jennesse-Albani-Gye’s apartments at the Grand Pacific were as bright as a glowing fire when the reporter called. When “corsets” were mentioned a slight frown deepened in the clear gray eyes, but it passed as quickly as it came, and in her musical voice Mme. Albani gave her views.

“I believe in stays because I have always worn them. I shouldn’t like at all to go without and I’m sure the public wouldn’t like it. Imagine me, for I am a little stout, you know.”

“Plump, Madame, only plump.” “Ah! That is kind of you. Nevertheless you know I shouldn’t look well without a corset. I do not think I could keep up even. I believe the support to be essential absolutely.”

“And not detrimental?”

“Not unless so tight as to interfere with breathing, for breathing is singing. You have seen ‘The Huguenots,’ haven’t you? Yes, well, you remember we all have to wear long pointed bodices there—it was the style of the times—now how could we possibly do so without stays? I don’t know, do you?”

There was an all-pervading odor of roses and white hyacinths through Mme. Nordica’s apartments at the Richelieu. The songstress lay wearied and nervous beneath the eiderdown while her devoted sister tenderly bathed her throbbing brow. The dainty little lady mother sat amid the ruins of Madame’s floral offerings and chatted.

No, Lillian never wears corsets. That is, she never does now—not even for the street or salon. There was a time years ago when she wore them, but they were soon discarded. It was simply a matter of comfort with her. After a while she concluded to try them again. She had several pairs manufactured—little loves of stays, all in delicate satins

“How long did she wear them then?”

“Scarcely at all. One day she said to me: ‘Mamma dear, I am not as comfortable as I used to be; I shall return to the old ways.’ Since then she has never put a corset on.”

“Does she substitute a stiff waist?” “No; she simply wears a thin silk waist, without a suspicion of whalebone in the back and the merest hint of it at the front and sides. We make them all ourselves, so you may be sure they are simplicity personified.

“Cecil, dear, please put your head out of the window; we are having a costume talk and you really must not listen.”

Considering that a fierce rainstorm was raging without, Miss Rosina Vokes was making a cool request of her notably loving hubby.

Mr. Clay merely grinned quietly and sank back further into the recesses of the carriage, shutting his eyes as an indication that his ears were closed.

“My dear child, I couldn’t dream of not wearing corsets. I should not be able to dance or sing or anything. I should be tired to death in no time. Injurious! Fudge! Don’t you pin your faith to loose-seeming dresses. I know a lot of these Greek-draped actresses who lace tight-tight underneath the flowing draperies. Forgive me if I’m positive—that is my way—but I believe in corsets, pure and simple. I believe corsets are just as essential for a woman as suspenders are for a man, and one must wear them if one doesn’t want one’s things all slipping around and off. And then the support. Every decently formed woman needs support, of course. O! women who are excessively thin could go without stays, I fancy; but then they look all up and down, you know. When to put on corsets? As soon as the figure gives the merest hint of development. It is on the same principle as pinning a band tightly round a baby’s dear little body so that its precious back will not get broken. Every woman needs the support of corsets.”

Just then Mr. Clay opened the eye and directed an aside to his wife.

“Tight? Gracious, no. I should not want you to suppose I advocated such a thing for a moment. I honestly don’t believe in that. Don’t tell, though, but I used to be horribly vain. I once wore seventeens—just fancy! Seventeen corset—laced tight. I was off the stage then, and one day was at the Newmarket races. I was fancying myself, I assure you, when I heard an old English lord remark, apropos of me: ‘Good Gawd! She’ll come in half.’ It wasn’t pleasant, so now I wear my stays loose—quite.”

When Mary Anderson was here a Tribune reporter called on her in reference to this all-round question of corsets. Miss Anderson, in her artistic house gown, looked as innocent of stays as Perdita.

“Corsets?” with a cold, pale smile. “No, I don’t wear them. I see Mrs. Croly (Jennie June) has been telling tales out of school, so I may as well confess. I don’t wear stays.” “How did you come to discard them?” “It was after I went to England. My health was poor, and the doctor ordered out door exercise. I took off corsets then, and never put them on again. But then I have no superfluous flesh and am rather too slender. They did not interfere with my posing, but I feel better without them. It’s all ‘as you like it.’ I like it better without.”

“You wear a corset with conventional dress?”

“Never under any circumstances! And the ladies of my company do not wear them on the stage. Stage dressing is nearly always unconventional, except in society plays, the draperies being from the shoulder and armpit, and stays are manifestly out of place from artistic reasons alone.”

“Corsets? Of course I wear them. Who does not? Think of me as ‘Nadjy’ with nothing to tie those black spangles to. I’d drop to pieces,” said Miss Janson. [Miss Marie Jansen] “Then the Tribune might ask its readers to listen to the ‘Tale of Woe’ in earnest. Are they an inconvenience? Look!” She got behind a door in the parlor of the Grand Pacific hotel, and after a furtive glance down the corridor, daintily kicked the palm of her outstretched hand, executing a pirouette after it.

“I’m all right and my stays are as taut as a sail in high wind. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if the strings should break. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe,’” she hummed, casting her eyes meditatively on the chandelier.

“Pauline Hallo wears them, too, and all the chorus girls. Some of them would be sad figures if they didn’t. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe.’ Of course, anyone who sings must wear them loose. I have one now, but look.” She took a deep breath which distended the region just above her fluttering heart that is nightly clasped in a jet black vise, and trilled airily “Listen to the Tale of Woe,” and had plenty of breath to spare after the effort.

Kansas City [MO] Times 19 January 1890: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Operatic ladies, were, of course, known for their famously opulent figures; some even said that slimming cost them their voice. It is rather fascinating that four out of the six ladies who weighed in, insisted on the benefits of corsets. Reform Dress did not make much headway among denizens of the stage.

Adelina Patti was, of course, the prima donna assoluta of nineteenth-century opera. She was one of the financially shrewdest theatrical ladies of her day and, as we see from the advertising card at the head of this post, she endorsed the California Corset Company.

Madame Nordica was the so-called “Yankee Diva,” Maine-born Lillian Nordica, another opera star, famous for her collection of husbands and jewels.

“Listen to the Tale of Woe” was the signature tune of the once wildly-popular opera Nadjy.

Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on gentlemen, including actors, who wear corsets as well as the controversy over tight-lacing, The Flapper and Her Corset, and “The Autobiography of a Corset,” as well as several other posts on this absorbing subject, which may be found by looking under the “corset” filing tab.

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.