Tag Archives: Victorian dressmaker

The Dress-Maker’s Lover: 1879

The Dress-Maker’s Lover.

Cupid is at work again in our community, and this time he has rammed an arrow right through the swain, but it seems has only tickled the gay young dress-maker a little with the feathered end of his dart. The following poem written by the victim tells the whole story:

Only this one dear boon I ask,

That you will give me your a dress,

That in your smiles I yet may basque,

And gain new life at each caress.

 

The blushes mantle on your cheeks;

Deny me not, it’s dread foulard;

I’ve pressed my suit for days and weeks,

And sent you letters by the yard

 

Oft at your feet I’ve knelt and braid,

But you have cut me short and square;

It lace with you, but I’m a frayed

You will not make up to me fair.

 

It’s sashy pale has grown my face,

Though all things look most navy blue;

I’ll collar mine, or I will face

Whatever evils may ecru.

The State Rights Democrat [Albany, OR] 19 September 1879: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A Valentine’s effusion of the most cutting pattern…. It is obvious that the speaker considers himself incom-pleat without his be-stitching companion. Mrs Daffodil feels that he is waist-ing his time. A man who took such liberties with the language would be ill-suited to matrimony and without stay-ing power. He might wish to so-lace himself with Mr Hugh Rowley’s jokes:

Why is love like Irish poplin?

Because it’s half stuff.

Why is a deceptive woman like a seamstress?

Because she is not what she seams!

Puniana, Hugh Rowley, 1867: p. 213-4

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the happiness of loving and being loved on this Valentine’s Day.

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.

Hallowe’en Supper Frocks: 1894

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES

PRETTY FANCIFUL GOWNS SUITABLE FOR THE FESTIVAL

The Picturesque Frocks a Brunette, Chatain and Blonde Will Wear to a Hallowmass Party.

Halloween, perhaps, more than any other fete, supplies possibilities for picturesque and effective gowns, and the end-of-the-century girl is not the one to let them slip by.

A very fashionable wardrobe now owns, along with other dainty evening toilets, a Halloween supper frock, which may be made in any mode, but which, to be just the thing, should suggest, in some way, night itself. Tints vague and intangible, hinting of darkness or the white cool moon, are preferred over glaring dark colors.

As to ornament, there may be some curious jeweled night fly fastened somewhere, perhaps spangled in the hair; and if flowers are used, they too, must propitiate the powers of night in wanes and thick perfume.

The dread witches, who on All Halloween have the threads of fate in their keeping, are said to be difficult ladies to please, but somehow one hopes they will smile on the wearers of the three charming gowns here shown, and provide them suitable husbands. The originals of these dainty costumes, which were suggested by three famous French pictures, were all made by a nimble-fingered New York girl for a Halloween supper. They are to be worn by herself and two sisters, three distinct types; and along with their exceeding effectiveness, they have the merit of having involved comparatively little expense, being all fashioned from materials at hand, some lengths of a marvelous Chinese drapery, a few yards of thick liberty satin bought in better days, and a thin, scant, old tambour muslin slip, relic of a long dead great-mamma and tea cup times.

FOR A BRUNETTE

The first dress shown was for the dark, handsome elder sister of the little Cinderella dressmaker—the type that goes with stiffness and stateliness and rustling textures. It was of the liberty satin in a dim luminous tint, too blue for gray and too gray for blue, and that will show off the wearer’s rich skin to perfection. The girdle drapery of graduating ribbon lengths and bows was of a faint dead sea rose color. This subtle and delightful tint, together with black, repeats itself in the simple but decorative embroidery at the bottom of the wide skirt. The tiny chemise gamp is of white muslin, and the short balloon sleeves are stiffened with tarlatan. To be worn with the dress, as well as the next one, both of which were entirely uncrinolined, were petticoats of hair cloth, with tucks of large round organ pipe plaits, to hold the skirt out in the present approved fashion.

FOR CHATAIN [Brown Hair] COLORING.

The second gown, though perhaps not quite so enchanting as the first, was more suggestive of the witcheries of Halloween. It was of the Chinese silk drapery, in the copper red, and with a fantastic patterning of black bats. The girdle and low neck decoration are of black velvet, and square jet buckles fasten the latter down at intervals.

The very daintiest feature of this paniered gown, however, which in style recalls somewhat little beflowered Dolly Varden, is the undersleeves, made to show off a rounded young arm and drive envy to the soul of womankind. For every woman who is a real woman has a weakness for lace, and these adorable undersleeves were made of the charming old net lace embroidery in back stitch of the long ago.

It came, like the tambour muslin, from grandmamma’s garret, where, when Halloween is over, it is to be hoped, it will be carefully put back.

A GOWN FOR A BLONDE.

The third and last dress, a tiny hint of the Directoire period, is the tambour muslin slip itself, sinfully modernized. Once white, it is now evenly mellowed to a soft caressing yellow, which is further accented by a puffing of pure white chiffon about the neck and skirt bottom. The sleeves are of a rich heavy brocade in black and white, and the belt and crescent ornaments are of silver.

This costume is to be worn to the supper by the little dressmaker herself, and its scant picture lines are sure to become her slim, shortwaisted young figure.

And may the ghost of sweet dead grandmamma not come back to reproach her for desecration.

Nina Fitch.

The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 28 October 1894: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Desecration, indeed….  One frequently sees examples of ancient garments re-made into fancy dress or some “amusing” pastiche; a practice which makes Mrs Daffodil’s blood alternately boil and run cold (something that takes rather a bit of doing, given her line of work.) We can only fervently hope that the antique lace and tambour muslin were, indeed, “put back” or, if not, that Grandmamma haunted the offender mercilessly.

While questioning the appalling statement that only “real women” have a “weakness” for lace, Mrs Daffodil will also adjudge the addition of antique lace to an otherwise standard Bat Queen or Empress of the Night fancy-dress costume to be utterly unnecessary.

“Night” was a popular figure in fancy dress. We see an interpretation of that character at the head of this post. An illustration and description of another version follows. Whimsical though the idea is in principal, in real life, wearing a stuffed owl must be a trifle cumbersome:

By way of preparation for it we present for our readers’ inspection a costume representing Night.

It is satin, in two shades of purple. The lighter used for lower skirt has beaded surface. The plain falls over in a plaited back and draped front; wide panel ornamented with stars, butterflies [moths?] and a very demure owl; smoke-colored vail, dotted with stars, covers the crown of hat, held by a crescent and owl; this draping over the right arm and breast, is thrown over the left shoulder and arm. Willkes-Barre [PA] Evening News 6 January 1886: p. 3

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 Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

The Little Seamstress, John Fae, courtesy of Dumfries nad Galloway Council

The Little Seamstress, John Fae, courtesy of Dumfries nad Galloway Council

This is certainly the day of utilizing one’s talent, whatever it may be. A woman who lives in another city found herself, after 20 years of happy sheltered married life, a widow with two daughters, 16 and 18, to make a home for, and an income so small as to be scarcely worth mentioning. The elder daughter was delicate, and the younger had two years of her college course to complete. To meet the crisis and tide over an interval which would give one child health and the other education confronted the mother. For a time she saw no way to pursue. Then a clear-headed friend came to her one day for a talk over affairs.

“No, Isabel,” she began, “I know your liabilities, what are your assets? I mean beside your little income. What can you do absolutely well?”

“I’ve a general knowledge of many things,” was Isabel’s discouraged reply, “but the only thing I can do absolutely well,” and her laugh was mirthless, “is to make over old clothes. You know I’ve always had a great aptitude at that for the girls and myself.”

“To be sure you have, and I believe you can do that now,” came the prompt answer to astonish Isabel.

Further talks followed, and in the end the friend persuaded her companion that something could be done with this talent. The beginning that spring was small and merely among her circle of wealthy friends. She did not actually make over the old clothes, but spent a morning or a day with the family seamstress, carefully inspecting accumulated materials and suggesting designs and combinations which permitted the continued use of dresses and fabrics. She charged by the day, and her rate was not low, but she saved it often a dozen times over to her patrons. The autumn saw her clientele increased, and now, after three years, she is busy nine months of the year at good prices.

Before other women embark in the same occupation it must be understood that this woman has little short of genius for her unique calling. It is positive pleasure to see her at her practice, for she jocosely styles herself doctor of robes, and certainly her skill and deftness are closely allied to the surgeon who fits and restores humanity’s broken bones and misplaced anatomy.

She is shown a fine Paris dress bodice of black satin, whose sleeves have vanished, and of whose skirt is left a single straight breadth. She looks them over critically.

“Have you any velvet or figured heavy silk or silk and wool cloth or any handsome black novelty material?” she asked.

A piece of frise velvet is found which will do for full sleeve tops with some other cuffs and leave two or three straight pieces. Then the odds and ends trimming box is looked over, and a few detached ornaments and some black lace are found. The waist is fitted, the long postilion back carefully opened and pressed and left to hang. The pieces of the frise velvet are set on for skirt fronts and hip pieces joined by jars of the black satin skirt breadth. The jet ornaments are put on the waist and at critical points on the hip skirts. Puffs of lace laid over white silk and a collar to match are made and the end is a costume jacket of imported elegance that looks as if it might have cost $150 and did cost not a penny beyond the seamstress’ time and the designer’s suggestion, as the black silk lining in this case was produced from a discarded coat.

If something extra is needed, she can tell to the shade, quality and fraction of measurement what it must be. And her customers are no longer confined to the wealthy. Persons in moderate circumstances realize that their need of her is quite as great. Did space permit, the recital of her many triumphs in evolving a Worth gown from the family ragbag would be most interesting. Her work is carried on quietly, her patrons advertising her, from one to another and her excellent social position, which has undoubtedly much aided her, has never been in the least impaired. New York Times.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 21 August 1894: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only applaud the lady’s ingenuity in dress-doctoring and her willingness to accept the advice of her sensible friend. But we really are intensely interested to hear the details of that “Worth gown from the ragbag…”

Remodeling gowns was done by all classes of society.

“Those who are still deep in the fascinating whirl of society engagements do not need to trouble themselves much on this subject [the remodeling of one’s wardrobe.] They usually employ a dressmaker, as they do their household help, by the year, and she assumes the duty of remodeling and making over what she deems worth the labor; but there are many who at best can but afford to employ a clever seamstress to do this kind of work. There are others, again, who must do the greater part of it themselves, or see many dresses laid aside before they have done full service. There is hardly a gown, whether designed for parlor, bedroom, or ball room, but will bear making over once. The clever dressmaker can take out a breadth here, put a panel there, place a Spanish flounce where skirt front has been soiled, or set in a pleating somewhere else. Slashings can be cut, or covered, vests inserted or removed, etc. etc., till any half worn or half soiled gown may be restored to almost its pristine freshness. Even ball costumes can, by skilled hands, be so reconstructed and remodeled as to last and look well after three alterations, and prove satisfactory to any ordinary society goer, unless she be one of those who consider a wholly new costume sent over by Mons. Worth indispensable to her comfort at every evening out.”

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 January 1889: p. 10

One reason that remodeling was so popular was that ready-made clothing was not always of good quality or plentiful, while there was a surplus of seamstresses and dressmakers. In 1892, these were just a few of the many ladies advertising their talents as dressmakers in The New York Herald. Note the range of fees:

*A dressmaker and ladies’ tailor, “an artist in cutting, fitting, designing; just returned from Paris; late with Worth, Rhodnot, Mrs. Connolly; carriage and tea gown creations; garments made from $12 up…$3.50 per day or at home.”

*Experienced dressmaker in wealthy society family to remodel evening street dresses; superior judgment, good style $2.50 per day.

*Seamstress, First Class, Hand or Machine…will furnish W.W. sewing machine free of charge $1 day.

*Seamstress, Understanding Dressmaking, to go out by the day $1.25 $6 per week.

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.

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