Tag Archives: victorian gentlemen

She Wasn’t a Dummy: 1886


Couldn’t Play Any Wooden Women on Him More Than Once.

Every old Sacramentan will remember the French millinery firm of Mme. Llanos & Co., and most of them–the ladies, especially–can recall with equal distinctness the smiling and imperturbable “clerk” of the fancy department of the madame’s establishment, Charley Dexter. A young fellow from some backwoods region of Michigan, having come to “Californy” to seek his fortune, called at Mme. Llanos’s to see his old school-mate, Charley Dexter. In those days it was the style in shops devoted to the sale of ladies’ apparel to have a number of waxen-faced lay figures all temptingly arrayed for the display of the latest novelties. It was a dull summer afternoon when Bill dropped in on his old acquaintance and found that young gentleman listlessly lolling over the counter, happily disengaged. In the course of a reminiscent conversation the country youth used some expression that apparently jarred on Charley’s fastidious ear, for he ejaculated, hurriedly, “Sh!” at the same time nodding mysteriously toward some object over Bill’s shoulder. The latter turned, and to his shocked amazement beheld a stately and fashionably dressed lady, who must have overheard his unlucky speech. Abashed and confused, he hurriedly whispered: “Great Scott! Charley, what shall do?”

“Do? Why, apologise at once!” was the peremptory response.

Clearing his throat, and with a tremendous effort, the awkward and blushing offender began “Madam, I beg–”

Here Charley deftly swung the figure around, and poor Bill saw that the joke was on him. Peace and conversation were soon renewed, and, unperceived by either, a lady quietly entered and began examining some article at the opposite counter. Just as the unconscious visitor had clinched some statement with another lapse into profanity, the horrified Charley glanced up and caught sight of the newcomer opposite. His “Sh!” and accompanying pantomime were genuine this time; but the truculent Bill was not to be sold twice by the same trick. Lifting his dust-covered “stogy,” he dealt a practiced, bucolic kick at the supposed milliner’s doll, at the same time shouting: “Can’t play any more of your ___ wooden women on me!”

Fancy can but feebly picture his horror when a lovely being fixed one terrified glance on the supposed madman, and then with a wild shriek fled into the inner sanctuary to seek protection among the pretty milliner girls and their presiding goddess. It was a question of who was most scared, for the unhappy Bill shot through the front door with equal celerity and a settled sorrow at his heart that nothing but the joker’s blood could assuage; the while Charley dropped under the counter, and rolled there In an agony of mingled mirth and remorse over an accident of which he was the innocent yet guilty cause.

Sunday Truth [Buffalo NY] 14 March 1886: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously told of  the waxen charms of The Dudes in the Shop Window.

When first introduced, the shop mannequin was a novelty. There were performers, not unlike to-day’s “living statues,” that posed in shop-windows, drawing crowds who debated their status as human or wax.

“That’s the most lifelike wax figure I ever saw,” said somebody in the crowd that had gathered in front of the display window. “It winks its eyes.”

“It has genuine eye-lashes, too,” said another.

“It’s hair is jute,” observed a third.

“Jute nothing! That’s real hair. But its mouth is too large and its cheeks are a little too red. They always overdo it when they attempt to imitate nature.”

“It’s a good imitation,” said an old gentleman, surveying the figure critically through his glasses; “the best I ever saw. But the movement of the eyes to too mechanical, and one of them is a trifle out of focus.

At this juncture the wax figure, after a brief preliminary paroxysm, sneezed violently, and the procession moved on.

Chicago [IL[ Tribune 29 April 1894: p. 38

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.

The Point-Lace Handkerchief: 1871

A reporter, who witnessed the re-opening of a great dry goods establishment in Chicago, which had been burned out on the 8th  of October—mentions that he saw a point-lace handkerchief sold to a lady for $59. This little commercial transaction has been much and severely commented on, and we are told that it is even a disgusting incident. We can’t see it, the exceeding sinfulness of the conduct of the lady who bought the handkerchief. All depends upon circumstances, whether she was right or wrong in investing so liberally in a “wiper.” If the money she gave for the handkerchief was honestly hers, she committed no sin whatever in exchanging it for point-lace, unless we are prepared to say that all expenditure save for the absolute necessaries of life is sinful. Is it more sinful to give $59 for a handkerchief than it is to give $10,000 for a horse? Yet there are men who spend thousands, yearly, on horses—and whose rings are many, and rich. Is it a greater offence to lay out money for lace than it is to lay it out in keeping a yacht? A veteran smoker, who consumes many cigars, and those of the best brands, expends every month more for tobacco than the Chicago lady expended once for a handkerchief—and her handkerchief may last for years, and even decades—perhaps for generations, and become the property of her granddaughter—whereas the man’s cigars must vanish in fumo, or they are worthless. In some old European families they have lace that was made and bought, and originally worn, hundreds of years ago. Lace, if it be really rich is an investment that endures, keeping its worth for ages, and growing more valuable as it gains in time. Cigars burn up, horses die, and yachts are lost, but lace lasts. Who knows but that the fair Chicagoan is a prudent, sensible woman, who was only making a sound investment of some of her floating capital? But, we are told, she should have given the $59 to relieve some suffers by the great fire. How do you know that she had not given liberally in aid of the sufferers in her city? It is going rather far to assume that she had given nothing for that purpose. If it be said that she should have given all she had to the sufferers, the obvious answer is, that she was no more bound to do so than were the men who gave something to relieve the persons who were burned out, but who did not give all their possessions. They have many articles in their possession quite as superfluous as her lace handkerchief, and yet they do not think of parting with those articles, because many persons want food or clothing, or both. Why should she not have her luxuries as well as they? It is not fair to censure her while extravagant men are allowed to pass uncensored.

Boston [MA] Traveller 16 December 1871: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Lace, although enduring enough to be heritable by another generation, is still more ephemeral than the poor and the suffering, who are always with us. It would have taken more than the cost of a point-lace handkerchief to restore the losses of victims of the Great Chicago Fire, although a gentleman’s outlay for his yacht might have aided a significant number of the displaced.

Mrs Daffodil considers that the lady in the example above was quite thrifty compared to  these titled and royal personages who paid sinful prices for their lace-edged handkerchiefs.

It took seven years to make a handkerchief for which the Empress of Russia paid $5,000.

New York American 20 October 1898: p. 8


The late Marquess of Angelsey owned three dozen handkerchiefs for evening dress wear. They were of the purest white linen, with his crest worked in human hair in the corners. They were made in Switzerland at a cost of $6 apiece. The late Duc d’Albe, Spanish grandee and uncle to ex-Empress Eugenie, was in the habit of ordering twelve dozen handkerchiefs at a time, for which he paid $120 a dozen. But the most expensive handkerchief is in the possession of the Queen Mother of Italy. It took three women five years to make it, and it is valued at $30,000.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 November 1913: p. 8

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.


How to be a Well-Dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

The well-dressed young man.

How to Be Well Dressed

The New York Star

Every man in New York who has any pride whatever about him likes to be well dressed. This is especially true of the young man, and if he is a discerning one, he soon learns that being decently clad is no drawback to him. On the contrary, he finds that, if anything, it tends to push him along a bit. No staid business man would admit that a good suit of clothes and spotless linen ever made an impression upon him. At the same time he is likely to have remarked to his partner that he favored so-and-so, among a long line of applicants for a subordinate position, because he appeared very respectable. The speaker would never add, of course, that the trim outward appearance of the applicant had materially aided in forming his judgment. He would probably charge the opinion to his ability as a character reader, and flatter himself that he had read the young man with the nice clothes through and through.

There is no doubt about it. A good outfit is a credential that waives considerable examination. A well-dressed man can go through life with his head in the air, and it will be generally concluded that he knows what he is about, while an infinitely superior being, with seedy apparel, will be harassed and cross-examined by lackey as well as master. The first will be given credit for an unusual amount of ability in his line, whether he possesses it or not. If the latter proves the case, surprise will be expressed. In any event, he won’t be hurt by the good start he gets. But the man who is not well groomed will suffer a succession of petty oppositions. He will be set down as worthless at the beginning, and he must have wonderful talents to override the prejudice. He is on the defensive with the world all the time, being constantly called upon to demonstrate that he is not what he seems to be.

Besides, a well-dressed man is nearly always a better man for being well dressed. He takes more pride in himself, his conduct, and his work. What he does he does better. He instinctively endeavors to ” live up to” his appearance. A neat and conventional dress is an easy guarantee of politeness from those you meet, and is a better recommendation than most of the commendatory letters that you may carry. It serves as a ready passport in the business community, and squeezes many a man into good society. Relative to this subject, I once heard a gentleman tell this story: “I believed that clothes never made the man,” said he, “until I started out in life for myself. I was rather indifferent then regarding my attire—in fact, I think it might have been deemed shabby. Well, what was the consequence? Every hotel I went to made me pay in advance if I stayed but a single night. I noticed then that others with better clothes than mine were treated with greater confidence. I took the hint and braced up, and, would you believe it? I could remain at a strange hotel for three and four weeks, after that, and never be presented with a bill. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is unprofitable to dress badly.”

Dr. [Josiah] Holland, who became famous as Timothy Titcomb, made the subject of dressing an important part of his published letters to young men, and the soundness of his philosophy was never questioned. Ten dollars a year spent in neckwear, he declared, went further toward dressing a man well than one hundred dollars a year spent in clothes. Timothy did not assume that a man could neglect his clothing because he wore fine neckwear. But he made the broad claim that a man with spotless linen, a becoming and well-arranged cravat, well-polished shoes and a clean suit of clothes would be described as well-dressed by the casual observer, even if the garments were very much the worse for wear. The greatest compliment that could be paid a man with respect to his apparel, Timothy Titcomb wrote, was to refer to him as one whose cloth and general outward appearance had made no impression, save that it was pleasing or neat. It indicated that nothing striking had been worn, yet an artistic effect had been produced. [Mrs Daffodil suggests that Beau Brummel may have had a prior claim to this idea. He is quoted as having said, “To be truly elegant one should not be noticed.”]

Another philosopher describes the best-dressed man as “he who wears nothing out of the common, but who wears that so well that he is distinguished among his fellows.” Dr. Holland’s idea respecting the necktie and linen is undoubtedly one of the secrets of good and cheap dressing. Scouring and renovating without stint might be added as another. A poor man who wants to dress well and as cheap as he can should not discard a suit so long as its color is firm and its fibres hang together. No man knows how far fifteen dollars a year spent for repairs will go toward making his appearance presentable, nor how large an expenditure for new garments it has saved him, until he tries it.

If men with moderate incomes, who feel obliged to dress shabbily six months out of the year, observed a woman’s way of sponging, overhauling and retrimming they might get a useful object-lesson from it. It is often remarked as being beyond explanation how that fellow can pay his board and dress so well on a salary of fifteen dollars a week or less. I happen to know a young man who does that very thing, and he dresses as well as any of the men about town who have far greater means, and says the cost of doing so is the smallest portion in his expense account. He contrives to own a dress suit, a suit for occasional wear and a business suit. His dress suit he has worn five years already, and has no idea now of replacing it with another. Frequently he has had it altered, to keep nearly apace with the decrees of fashion. In doing this he has practised some original ideas. For example, here is a bill he showed me:

To putting new broadcloth collar on dress suit $2.50

Widening trousers .50

Total – $3.00

The first item is decidedly unique. The present make of the coat might seem an anomaly to tailors, but it is strictly first-class in the public eye. The sleeves of the garment appeared a little bit threadbare, and the owner declared that he would remedy that defect in a couple of weeks by having a pair of new sleeves put in. I asked him how he prevented the new cloth being distinguished from the old, and he replied that his bushelman [one who alters or repairs clothing] managed in some way to sponge them up even. With his other suits he could not resort to such devices, but he keeps them looking new until, I might say, they are worn out. He buys coat and vest buttons by the box; so that they cost him about a cent a dozen. The moment the old buttons grow rusty he plies the needle himself in putting on a new set, and the appearance of the cloth is at once heightened. When binding breaks or gets glossed, he has the garment rebound, and at a very moderate cost it bobs up again in attractive shape.

Now, if one wants to pursue this sort of economy he can do so still further. A silk hat can be made over with any style of brim, washed, blocked and ironed, for one-third the price of a new one. This expenditure will include the cost of new lining, a new leather sweatband, and a new silk band and lining. Between it and a new hat, then, where is the difference? Some small cobblers make a business of vamping patent-leather shoes for two dollars. Nine hundred and ninety-five men out of a thousand throw away their patent-leathers as soon as they crack. The same proportion of men discard light-colored neckties when they become soiled. Various establishments clean them for fifteen cents each, or to practise more economy, a can of ether for sixty cents will clean two dozen and a half of them. Summing the whole thing up, I should say that a man can dress handsomely on from seventy-five to one hundred dollars a year, and very well on much less. [Citing again, Beau Brummel, who replied to a widow who asked how much it would cost for her son to be fashionably dressed: “My dear Madam, with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred a year.”]

Current Opinion, Volume 4, edited by Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Frank Crane, June 1890 p. 451

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is long past the time that the gentlemen should have been inducted into the sartorial secrets of the lady type-writer and  stenographer who make-over, make-do, turn, press, sponge, and re-trim and who, in the words of a somewhat dreary exponent of domestic thrift, make “economy in dress an art.”

But where does a young gentleman learn to “ply the needle” to sew on one of those buttons so economically bought by the box?  Sisters are an excellent resource or the young lady in the room down the hall at the boarding house might be flattered to be asked to share her knowledge of needle-arts. For the cost of an occasional box of chocolates the young man may find himself freed from the button-sewing altogether, although there is always the danger that he may also find himself betrothed. While such a state could have its disadvantages, he might console himself with the thought that henceforth the care of his wardrobe would devolve upon his wife.

Mrs Daffodil has been reminded that it is the long-suffering tailor who is the best ally of the well-dressed young man. This young gentleman, who was not worried about economy, hired his own personal tailor. There were also second-hand and rental establishments to aid in the refurbishment of one’s wardrobe. And this post is a look at the cost of a Gilded Youth’s summer costumes.

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.


Fingernails of Destiny: 1887, 1891, 1900

fortune telling hand

The Language of Nails.

[Baltimore News]

He who has white spots on his nails is fond of the society of ladies, but is fickle in his attachments. He who keeps them well rounded at the tips is a proud man. He whose nails are detached from the finger at the further extremities, and when cut showing a larger proportion of the finger than usual, ought never to get married, as it would be a wonder if he were master in his own house, for short nails betoken patience, good nature, and, above all, resignation under severe trials.

Nails which remain long after being cut level with the finger end are a sign of generosity. Transparent nails with light red mark, a cheerful, gentle and amiable disposition. Lovers with transparent nails usually carry their passion to the verge of madness. If you come across a man with long and pointed nails you may take it for granted that he is either a player of the guitar, a tailor or an attorney. He who keeps his nails somewhat long, round and tipped with black is a romantic poet.

The owner of very round and smooth nails is of a peaceable and conciliatory disposition. He who has the nail of his right thumb slightly notched is a regular glutton, even nibbling at himself, as, when having nothing eatable at hand, he falls to biting his own finger-nails. And, lastly, he who keeps his nails irregularly cut is hasty and determined. Men who have not the patience to cut their nails properly generally come to grief: most of them commit suicide or get married. Kansas City [MO] Times 7 April 1887: p. 2


What White Marks and Various Shapes Are Supposed to Signify

A white mark on the nail bespeaks misfortune

Pale or lead-colored nails indicate melancholy people.

Broad nails indicate a gentle, timid and bashful nature.

Lovers of knowledge and liberal sentiment have round nails.

People with narrow nails are ambitious and quarrelsome.

Small nails indicate littleness of mind, obstinacy and conceit.

Choleric, martial men, delighting in war, have red and spotted nails.

Nails growing into the flesh at the points and sides indicate luxurious tastes.

People with very pale nails are subject to much infirmity of the flesh, and persecution by neighbors and friends. The Hocking Sentinel [Logan, OH] 29 October 1891: p. 1

In days when superstition was more prevalent than it is now the shape and appearance of the fingernails were considered to have reference to one’s destiny. To learn the message of the fingernails it was necessary to rub them over with a compound of wax and soot and then to hold them so that the sunlight fell fully on them. Then on the horny, transparent substance certain signs and characters were supposed to appear, from which the future could be interpreted. Persons, too, having certain kinds of nail were credited with the possession of certain characteristics. Thus a man with red and spotted nails was supposed to have a hot temper, while pale, lead colored nails were considered to denote a melancholy temperament. Narrow nails were supposed to betray ambition and a quarrelsome nature, while round shaped nails were the distinguishing marks of lovers of knowledge and people of liberal sentiment. Conceited, narrow minded and obstinate folk were supposed to have small nails, indolent people fleshy nails and those of a gentle, retiring nature broad nails. The Christian Recorder [Philadelphia, PA] 31 May 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes to contribute several observations about finger-nails and character that may be pertinent in this context. They are 1) Nails bitten to the quick suggest either a timorous personality or someone with a guilty secret. Either may be useful to a blackmailer. 2) One can never be too scrupulous about nail hygiene. Scrapings from beneath a victim’s fingernails have convicted many a murderer. A nail brush is as essential a part of the assassin’s kit as his revolver or dagger.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find more fashion hints, fads and fancies.

The Dude’s Trouser Bug: An 1888 Fad



From The Philadelphia News


“What’s the matter?”

“There’s a horrid bug on your trousers. Brush it off, Jack!”

A pretty girl and a particularly well-dressed youth were walking out Walnut Street yesterday afternoon about 3 o’clock. The pretty girl’s face filled with horror at the sight of a long, brightly colored caterpillar, which extended itself lengthwise on her companion’s pantaloons just above the knee. She struck it deftly with her parasol, but the insect clung to the cloth, which was a fine quality of black cassimere. A second poke failed to dislodge it. Finally she stopped and tried to pick it off, but it refused to move.

“Better leave him alone, sis,” laughed the young man, and upon her asking what it was, remarked as follows:

“It’s a new wrinkle. You order a jet black pair of trousers with a shine on the cloth. Then, after your tailor has cut the pieces, have a spot marked over the left knee and get somebody to embroider there a bug or butterfly, or some such insect. It’s only been out a week, and nobody has it outside of Philadelphia. Great idea, eh, sis?”

“Who embroidered that?”

“Fannie; great scheme.”

His sister curled her lip. “I don’t like it,” said she.

New York Tribune 12 September 1888: p. 3

Mrs. Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: So reminiscent of the deliberately ripped jeans and safety-pinned holes of the so-called “punk” and “grunge” adherents. The young and rebellious are often tediously derivative. Mrs Daffodil finds it a shocking waste of good cassimere.


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.


Rules for What Gentlemen May and May Not Do: 1848

What a Gentleman may do, and what he may not do. —He may carry a brace of partridges, but not a leg of mutton. He may be seen in the omnibus box at the opera, but not on the box of an omnibus. He may be seen in a stall inside of a theatre, but not at a stall outside one. He may dust another person’s jacket, but must not brush his own. He may kill a man in a duel, but he mustn’t eat peas with a knife. He may thrash a coal-heaver, but he mustn’t ask for soup. He may pay his debts of honor, bat he need not trouble himself about his tradesmen’s bills. He may drive a stage-coach, but mustn’t take or carry coppers. He may ride a horse as a jockey, but he mustn’t exert himself in the least to get the living. He most never forget what he owes to himself as a gentleman, not he need not mind what he owes as a gentleman to his tailor. He may do anything or be any body, in fast, within the range of a gentleman—go through the insolvent debtor’s court, or turn billiard markers, but he must never, on any account, carry a brown paper parcel, or appear in the street without a pair of gloves.—N. Orleans Delta.

The Liberator [Boston, MA] 22 September 1848

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  In Mrs Daffodil’s experience, there are two kinds of gentlemen. One wears lemon yellow gloves, sucks the silver knob on his stick, drinks nothing stronger than cocoa, and listens diffidently to yet another indifferent rendition of “My Rosary” by a girl he is being prodded to marry.  The other rides like the very Devil to hounds, smokes like a fiend, slaughters coveys of grouse, and chucks parlour-maids under the chin in a most offensive manner. If Mrs Daffodil had to choose one as a life partner, she would select the latter, as he could be more easily disposed of in a hunting “accident” or by an anonymous note to the husband of his latest inamorata. The knob-sucker, while malleable, never does anything dangerous and, having a fussy disposition, would be too apt to detect a foreign substance like arsenic in his cocoa.