Tag Archives: Victorian men’s fashions

The Smoking Suit: 1880s

red velvet smoking cap and smoking suit 1868

Red velvet smoking suit c. 1880 https://collections.lacma.org/node/222900

It is quite the thing now in English country houses, where the guests are on intimate terms, or where there are no ladies, for the men to come down to dinner in their smoking suits; but then these suits have more silk than smoke about them. In fact, they are more like what one sees on the stage, and in point of richness of material and beauty of color what belonged to the time of the cavaliers. At a country house in Yorkshire, the other day, one man came down in a richly stamped poplin, quilted with satin throughout; another in a suit of a new terra-cotta tint, with quilted black satin collar and cuffs; another, in scarlet plush, with black points; another, in Prussian blue, with orange facings; while another combined the Household Brigade colors of dark blue and red. It is said this style will shortly supersede the present funereal arrangement, and the blue and white and swallow-tail will be relegated to the waiters.

The Argonaut 20 January 1883: p. 2

Why, at Harborow’s they told me that they had just made for a gentleman who liked colour a smoking-suit of crimson plush, lined with yellow satin. Not many go to that length, however. Smoking-jackets are made of plush and silk in the same pattern they were fifteen years ago. Only the materials and the trimmings differ. Silk, plush, or a light cloth, lined with quilted satin, and with quilted satin cuffs and collars, are the best-known materials. The silk jackets cost about £10. Each.

Birmingham [West Midlands England] Daily Post, 25 October 1889: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Smoking suits, jackets, and caps were designed to keep the smell of tobacco, said to be offensive, particularly to the ladies, off the gentleman’s person. No doubt there were some households where smoking was forbidden and visiting smokers had to lie on their backs and smoke up the chimney, but it is also a fact that many ladies also enjoyed cigarettes in the privacy of their own boudoirs.

The code of the smoking suit was, according to this story, quite severely enforced by one’s peers. One suspects that the tale originated with the makers of such garments.

A Practical Joke.

London Letter to the San Francisco Argonaut. It is the custom at English country houses for the gentlemen who smoke to go to the smoking-room after the ladies have retired, and there, with the accompaniments of spirits and soda water, to smoke and chat as long as they like. On these occasions “smoking suits” are worn. Nearly every man who goes out much has his smoking suit, and some worn by heavy swells are very elaborate and costly. I have heard of one that cost its owner the modest sum of £40. It appears that a certain gentleman was making his first visit to Sandringham, and made his first appearance in the smoking-room in his evening clothes. He was hailed with shouts of derision by all the others, and informed that he must go and put on his smoking suit.

“But I don’t happen to have one,” he quietly replied.

“Not got a smoking suit? What rubbish!” exclaimed a little chap in the Blues; “the idea of a man not having a smoking suit. What shall we have next?”

“Haven’t all the same,” said the other, as he proceeded to fill a pipe and light it.

The others looked from one to the other, as much as to say: Shall we put him out?

“I’ll tell you what, ” said one, “we’ll let him off to-night, but if he comes down to-morrow night in these things, we’ll tear his coat off his back. Hear that old man?”

The man in the plain swallow-tail nodded and smoked on.

The next night he didn’t make his appearance, nor the next, and everybody thought, of course, he had sent up to town to his tailor for a smoking suit.

On the third night, after all the rest of the usual habitues of the tabagie had assembled in their accustomed chairs, in he walked. But deuce the bit of smoking suit had he on. He wore evening clothes as before.

With a shout like so many jackals, the others jumped from their seats, and in a jiffy his coat was split up the back from waist to collar, and dragged off. He stood it quietly without a word until the others sat down. Then, with the ruined coat clutched in his hand, he asked: “Are you quite done, gentlemen?”

There was a chorus of “quite,” embellished with loud and prolonged laughter.

“Because, if you are,” he went on, “I should like to say to you”–and he threw the coat into the lap of the man who had suggested the treatment he had received–“that this is your coat. I went into your room after you had changed your clothes to-night, and put it on. Mine is packed up in my portmanteau, upstairs, and the key is in my servant’s pocket. I dare say you may want a dress coat for dinner to-morrow; I shan’t. I’m going away in the morning; so I’ll advise you to telegraph to your tailor to send you down a ready-made  ‘stop-gap’ till he can make you another. Good-night, I’m on to bed.”

Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester NY] 14 December 1884: 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 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.

Capers of Some Clothing Cranks, As Told by a Talkative Tailor: 1881


Strange Revelations of the Sartorial Trade.


The Painful Self-Denial Which makes Kearny Street Fashionable

Traits of the Tough.

“I should say that a tailor’s life in San Francisco is a hard one,” said a well-known and popular knight of the shears to a Chronicle reporter the other day.

The communicative craftsman was standing in his doorway, whence he could see in all directions gorgeous signs such as “Pickle, the Tailor,” “Sowfine, the Solid Tailor,” “Rosenheim, the Ready Tailor,” “Bosenheim, the Boss Tailor,” etc.

“You see,” said the loquacious but rather disconsolate Sartorian, “what competition there is in our business. The town seems to be populated with tailors, and you will observe that none of them show any of the mawkish delicacy about parading their profession that prevailed when a tailor was supposed to be but a small fractional part of a human being. Instead of regarding themselves as the ninth part of a man, they act as if they considered themselves equal to any twenty-nine ordinary storekeepers. Look at their electric lights and the portraits of themselves that they stick on the walls. It’s a good thing for the originals that most people here can read, or their portraits would make them think that the police had begun to use the dead-walls of the town for the Rogues’ Gallery.

“But the competition among the tailors themselves is not the worst thing in the trade,” said the disgusted knight of the shears. “It’s the cranks who patronize us that shorten a man’s life, and make him lenient toward all murders.


“Here’s one of them just coming,” whispered the tailor, as a shabby genteel young man with the weird history of cheap lodging written on his lank jaw, sauntered into the store and addressed himself to one of the salesmen.

“That’s what we call the expert fiend,” said the tailor, nodding his head towards the visitor. “Watch how he paws the cloths. He is an assistant bookkeeper in a toothbrush factory at $17 a month, and never wore a fine suit of clothes in his life; but he knows more about cloth than my best salesman, who has spent a lifetime in the business. When he is getting measured he will give the cutter a fill about wanting the suit in a hurry for a reception on Nob Hill, but a dressmaker’s soiree on Natoma street is about his fit. Just hear him talk about what he used to do in the East and the distance this one-horse town is behind New York. He can’t get anything here like in the East. Just watch how the salesman will get to his collar,” said the tailor, as he gleefully jingled several half-dollars in his pocket and proudly eyed his assistant. The latter, after showing the expert enough cloth to dress the whole police force, Captain Kentzel [a famously stout police officer] included, whipped out a piece with a great display of animation.

“Ah! Here you are, sir,” said he, with a triumphant flourish of the goods; “something nobby and durable. The only piece left. Sold the rest of it to the French visitors. Genuine imported goods, and the very latest pattern. Let you have a suit for $45, as it’s the last piece in the house.”

The effect of the salesman’s sudden earnestness was a prompt sale. As the captured expert was led away to the recesses, where the cutter lay in wait for him with his remorseless shears, the proprietor chuckled audibly.

“That piece of goods just sold,” said he, “is about the worst in the house. It went on the vaudoo counter months ago, and I was thinking of sending it to the Orphan Asylum as a Christmas gift. We always keep such goods for the expert fiend, and, at the right moment, yank it out and nail him. It takes a man of some experience to know just when to show the expert the piece of cloth he wants to get rid of, but the competent salesman never slips up.


“No, sir. The expert fiend is our Injun. We scalp him just as we do his first cousin, the dry goods fiend, who thinks because he handles a few domestic lines of goods that he knows all about the trade. His ignorance wouldn’t make so much difference if he was willing to pay like anyone else, but he wants to get the best in the house for little or nothing and a discount, because he is in the trade. He generally winds up by leaving his watch as security and sauntering around for a month or two with a door-key or a chronometer. I have a dozen dry goods men’s watches in my safe now and more on the way. If you say anything in your paper about this business, please state that the dry goods man wants more and pays less and pays it more unwillingly than any man in town, except the lawyer. No, sir; we have no use for dry goods men as customers.”

“You don’t do much a credit business,” said the reporter, “or your collection of watches would not be so large.”

“I do none. Mine is a second-class business. The tailors of this town are of three orders. The first class is supported by Nob Hill and does a credit trade exclusively. The second class is supported by a business section of the town and does a cash business. The third class is kept up by Tar Flat and does a cash business. It is the style for the young bloods about town to boast how they hang up their tailor, but you can bet even money every time on the tailor not getting left. Of course there are dead beats who get away with almost any one, but whenever a fellow begins to lay around the store and drop in of a morning to ask after his health, the tailor gets into his shell.


“I will give you the true business how these lords in disguise that you see every afternoon on Kearny street get their good cloths. Getting a new suit is no sudden idea with them. When one of these aristocratic young men wants a suit he comes in and states his case plainly. He is perhaps working in a barber-shop at $7 a week, or more likely doing nothing, and of course his word is very bad. He has no credit at all, in fact. He picks out the cloth for his suit, and pay what he can as a deposit. If the tailor was to go and make the suit, the fellow would never take it unless he got a reduction of about 50 per cent, but the tailor, unless he is very green in the business, insists on a remittance every week until about two-thirds of the price of the suit is paid in dimes and quarters, when he cuts the suit and proceeds to make it. It generally takes about four months to make one of these suits, and when there are only about $5 or $10 due on it the finishing touches are given. About a week before the suit is ready the owner assumes a hauteur that freezes his companions, and announces that he is going to invest in a new suit. He extorts the last installment from some confiding female friend, and next week blooms out in all the glory of the loudest suit in the market and breaks the boys all up. Nobody except the tailor ever knows how much the young man denied himself and how many petty larcenies he had to commit before he could amaze the street with his style. He never does get much style though, for the tailor regards him as his legitimate prey, and shoves on him all the old flash patterns that the expert fiend won’t buy. He gets very nearly as badly treated as the sample fiend, who is a full brother to the expert fiend.


“The sample fiend, having made up his mind to get a new suit, resolves to get the best of the whole trade, and goes down to the wholesale house and gets a sample of the goods he wants. Then he starts out among the retail stores. He is not the man to be fooled. Oh, no! He strolls in and looks at the goods, prices them all, and when he thinks you are quite unprepared, he shoves the sample under your nose and inquires how much can you make a suit the same as that for. We get to such a customer as that at once. The salesman takes the sample and pretends to look at it thoughtfully for some moments, and then says:

“’Now this is very find goods—very fine. In any other store in town, they would charge you $50 for a suit of that; but as we have a big line of the goods, brought from the East, we can afford to make it for $45.’

“This generally fetches the sample fiend as he pays his money and goes off chuckling to himself over his smartness. Instead of getting ahead of us five dollars, though, he loses three times that much. The prices of suits are graded on the work put into them, and we can make more out of a $45 suit than a $50 we cut from the same piece. When the sample fiend goes out, the salesman quietly marks opposite the price of the suit on the books, ‘undersold $5,’ and the trimmer plans the work accordingly. Fifty cents is saved on the vest. The coat is given to some poor workman, and the pantaloons are cheaply trimmed; so the smart sampler gets his suits so badly strung together that the first breeze that strikes it blows all the buttons off. The sample fiend is generally old enough to know better than to try and beat a San Francisco tailor.


“He is as much behind the age as the man who brings his wife with him to select a suit. The average tailor would as soon see the Devil coming into his store as a woman, and I never heard of but one salesman who got even with the sex. One day a man and his wife came in and pulled around all the cloth in the store before the woman found anything to please her. When the man stepped up to be measured the salesman whispered to him so that he could be heard all over the store;

“’This is a very embarrassing position for me, sir.’

“’Why so?’ asked the much-married customer.

“’Because,’ said the malicious salesman, ‘I don’t know which of you I’ve to measure for the pants.’

The loquacious tailor paused to exchange greetings with a motherly-looking lady who passed out of the store with a pale-faced young man, possessing all the characteristics of the embryo “tough.’

“There,” said the tailor, “is a specimen of a customer we often have. That young man is the son of respectable parents, and his mother has a fond hope that some day he may go to the Legislature or own the biggest coal yard in the Tenth ward. The salesman has his work cut out for him to please the pair. The mother would like to dress the lad in broadcloth, like a divinity student, but nothing but the toughest of tough suits will suit him. Twenty-five-inch spring-bottom pants is the height of his ambition, and he has to get them or the suit will never be paid for. If we were to follow the old woman’s instructions the lad would steal off to some hoodlum store, and get rigged out in the highest style of Tar Flat—skin-tight pants, double-breasted, low-cut vest and sack coat with gold-shot buttons and three-inch braid. The salesman has to make the old lady believe that the boy will be dressed for a funeral, but the lad has to be convinced that he will be the envy of Tar Flat in his new suit. Of course it is business for us to respect his wishes, and when he gets into his new clothes every policeman in town will shadow him.”


“Have the second-class stores much of the hoodlum trade?” asked the reporter.

“No, the hoodlum trade is almost confined to the hoodoo stores, where the salesman is a big tough, dressed in the height of the hoodlum fashion. The salesman spends his evenings in the social headquarters of Tar Flat drumming up trade for his establishment. When a suit is finished the news is sent all over Tar Flat and the natives assemble as soon as possible at the tailor store. No hoodlum ever does anything so reckless as to fit on a new suit without the moral assistance of at least six companions. If the new garments have the proper depth of braid and the regulation “spring” the owner is allowed to accept them, and all hands adjourn to the nearest beer saloon, where the tailor does the honors. The hoodlum tailor periodically gives a prize dance, at which the tough salesman acts as floor manager and the cappers of the establishment as the reception committee. The hoodlum tailor finds it hard work to keep his customers, for everything depends on how he stands with the leaders of the gang. Any insult to a prominent tough, such as the reduction of the spring of his pants or the depth of the braid of his coat, is likely to cost the tailor his entire trade. In former years the hoodlum trade was done by one shop, but latterly, owing to the rivalry between Tar Flat and North Beach and the Mission, the trade is divided. It keeps constantly shifting. The true tough never estimates the cost of a suit in dollars. His basis of valuation is a five-cent glass of beer, and when he figures on a garment he judges of the amount of pleasure it will cost him. I once had a customer of that kind who came in and selected a $45 suit and would have paid a deposit if one of his crowd had not figured up how many five-cent beers it would cost him. When the astonished tough was informed that the suit would deprive him of 900 glasses of beer, besides what the barkeeper might stand, he was paralyzed, and went off reflecting sadly on the vanity of dress.”


There is one thing to be said in favor of the tough, and that is that he knows what he wants and is willing to pay for it. In this respect he differs greatly from the doctors and the lawyers, who can discount even the dry good man in shuffling away from their bills. In the long run, though, the tailor gets ahead of them.”

It would seem to me,” said the reporter, “that the tailor gets ahead of most people.”

“Not always,” said the confiding knight of the shears. “The tailor has his honest instincts like any one else, and I can give you this pointer: When an unassuming citizen comes into tailor store and says ‘I want a suit and am willing to pay so much for it,’ he generally gets the worth of his money, as things go. He always proves a great deal better than the smartie who comes in for the express purpose of showing us how little we know about our business, and how much he can teach us.”

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 18 December 1881: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is always a pleasure to hear from a trade “insider,” who can do the dialect. This “confiding knight of the shears,” in an interview richly laden with the vernacular, opens a window into a hitherto mysterious world.

For example, most of Mrs Daffodil’s readers will have an idea of what a hoodlum is. An 1897 dictionary of slang adds the interesting information that

In San Francisco hoodlums, are a class of young fools, corresponding in some degree to the English ‘Arries. The hoodlums, walk the streets arm in arm, upsetting everything in their passage “just for the sake of a lark.”

Spring-bottom pants are wide-bottomed trousers cut on the pattern seen in the tailor’s diagram above. One young man recollected: “I remember one spell in Silverton that we were having our trousers cut with so much spring on the bottom that only the end of our toes were exposed.”

There are subtleties of class-linked location—Nob Hill, Kearny Street, and Natoma Street—implied by context, but now mostly lost to all but the most assiduous historians. Tar Flat, on the other hand, was, as it sounds, a refuge for the “tough.”

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.


Gentlemen in Borrowed Finery: 1886

Have you any second-hand clothes? No, never wear ‘em. Elderly Man Asking Young Man For Clothes, William Henry Hyde, 1888 https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ea4a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Old-Clothes Man: Have you any second-hand clothes?
Algernon: No; never wear ‘em.
Elderly Man Asking Young Man For Clothes, William Henry Hyde, 1888 https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ea4a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99



Secrets of the Business Disclosed

Common Clothes More Valuable Than Fine Fabrics

The “Change Act” and the Economy.

A reporter desirous of obtaining some information in regard to the old clothes trade in Brooklyn called on a local dealer. The reporter’s obliging informant was found surrounded by huge piles of clothing. He was intelligent and seemed to thoroughly understand his business. After making the reporter promise not to mention his name, he said:

“At certain seasons of the year the old clothes business is better than at others. More trade is done during April than in almost all the other months of the year put together. In April, gentlemen shed the clothes worn all winter and don spring attire. The clothing that has been worn in cold weather is, of course, unfit to wear during the heated term, and is usually pretty well used up. The prudent man, rather than put his winter clothes away, and in the fall take them out moth-eaten, sells them. I know men who can well afford a dozen suits, but who have none other but the one on their back. When they get a new one the old suit is sold or given away. It seems strange, but rough, common clothes are more valuable to dealers than fine fabrics. Fine broadcloth suits are not salable when they become a little worn. Much of our trade is done with poor people, who prefer rough to fine clothing.”

“Are the clothes bought by Brooklyn dealers all salable here again?”

“Oh, no; a big trade is, of course, done with residents, but a larger part of the old clothes purchased are sent south or to Ireland….In former years and during the famines, business with the Emerald Isle was brisk. Many strange and incredible scenes are often enacted in old clothes dealers’ shops. There is one branch of the business which I don’t think is done so much here as in New York. This is called the change act. Chatham street and the Bowery contain many dealers who make a specialty of the change trade.


“The change act consists of changing a good suit of clothes for an inferior one, and in receiving a sum of money as an equivalent for the difference in value of the two suits. When a man is broke he will do anything to get money, and if he has a good suit and knows the ropes, he soon disposes of his own good clothes for some of inferior quality. For instance, if a man enters my place with a $40 suit of clothes on his back, and I trade him one worth $10, I can well afford to give him $5 or $8 cash to boot. Some fashionable gentlemen who are seen in a dozen different suits each month own but one.

“The manner in which they are enabled to cut a swell is as follows: Some old clothes dealers do a pawnbroking business in a mild way. If a man has a good suit he can, by paying a small sum, always exchange it for one of equal quality, and still not lose all ownership in his original suit. After he has worn the suit hired a few days he can, by paying a sum, wear still another suit. This arrangement can be continued indefinitely, and finally the lessee, if he desires, can have returned to him his original suit. I have one customer, an impecunious young man who is well known in society. If he is going out in the evening and wishes to appear in full dress, he comes here, leaves the suit of clothes he has been wearing and dons one of my dress suits. In the early morning the young man again appears, takes off the dress suit and puts on his own clothes. For the accommodation I charge only a small fee.”

Bismarck [ND] Tribune 28 August 1886: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has reported before on the “rag” trade, the “misfit clothiers,” as well as the second-hand market in ladies’ clothing, particularly patronised by actresses. Why should the gentlemen not take advantage of the old-clothes market to refresh their wardrobes? It sounds an easy and pleasant trade. Yet, something always comes along to spoil the fun; in this case, the Great War:

There is great mourning among the “hand-me-down” dealers. The marts where the impecunious were smartly endowed with West End “misfits” have closed down. “We cannot get the stuff,” is the cry of the beady-eyed salesman with the crisped hair who lurks mournfully behind a deserted counter. The war affects the second hand clothing trade because, you see, the young knut worn cast-off raiment was the mainstay of the business is now in khaki. He has not troubled his tailor in the matter of civilian clothing for many moons. Formerly a brisk trade was done in the morning coats and lounge suits discarded by young and fastidious officers. These were eagerly bought up by City clerks and others whose means were not equal to their taste in attire. Now, alas, they must dress as they can afford! Harper’s Bazaar February 1916


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.


Young Mr Van Gilder’s Summer Outing Costumes: 1892

The Summer Man at the helm. J.C. Leyendecker (The Arrow Shirt Man artist)

The Summer Man at the helm. J.C. Leyendecker (The Arrow Shirt Man artist)



Its Perusal Will Also Assist the Correct Young Man to Steer Clear of the Shoals of Giddiness and Gaudiness in Summer Outing Costumes.

New York, May 17. The midsummer meanderings of young Mr. Percival Van Gilder, told upon the basis of his complete outing repertory, would be a faithful chronicle of what the warm weather swell of dressy inclinations will possess, and when and in what manner he will wear it.

It is not without a feeling of pleasurable expectancy that Mr. Percival Van Gilder contemplates the abrupt and contrasting metamorphosis from the comparative quietude of the spring fabrics to the livelier tinted products of the outing regime. The swagger whipper snapper club man has, moreover, made his purchases with a greater sense of security than in previous seasons, for the shoals of giddiness and gaudiness are less dangerous in the apparent moderation shown by the designers of negligee stuffs.

“There is no reason why one should not be well dressed, when one has the time to think about it and the money to carry out one’s ideas,” mused Van Gilder, and then arousing himself from his philosophizing mood he summoned his valet.

“Buttles,” said he, when that worthy had appeared, “let us go over the route I have laid out for the summer campaign. There is nothing lacking, I fancy, in the essentials—although of course certain minor articles, such as neckwear and the like, must be had from time to time.”

man in casual summer attire

“Everything is ready, sir,” answered Buttles. “I have packed your yachting suits in a separate trunk, sir.”

“Ah, yes; let me look them over. Have you arranged them just as I shall wear them—for you know I cannot take you with me, as there is no extra room for body servants on Hammersford’s big schooner.”

“Yes, sir; I have put the white and blue suits together.”

“Wrong, Buttles; rearrange them. The white altogether is too monotonous, and with the blue altogether one looks like a portah. Did you notice that the white trousers had a wide blue stripe down the side and the blue trousers had a white stripe down the side? That is the very latest, Buttles.”

man in boater

Buttles, with great diplomacy, shows his appreciate of these nice distinctions by nods and smirks, while he redistributes the yachting suits in accordance with directions. The white reefing jacket Mr. Van Gilder puts on. It is the very acme of swaggerness. Made of the finest flannel, it looks like a piece of box cloth. The welt seams are wide, it hangs loose to the figure, although shaped slightly at the sides; it is three buttoned, double breasted, of good length for a roundabout, with big white, real ivory buttons.

Buttles also lays aside in this lot several all silk, solid color, negligee shirts in dark shades, and two of fine merino with silk stripes. When an uncounted bunch of pongee silk handkerchiefs and several smart sailor ties have been added, the supervising clubman smiles approval and remarks: “You know the rest, of course, in the regulation way. Mawning suit, evening suit, and the fixings that go with them, in case of any affayah not having an aquatic flavah.”

Thus the first station in the route was passed.

“Newport next, sir?” queried the man-servant, and then at asset he continued, “I have included your driving coat and riding trousers and polo pantaloons and”—

“Never mind those Buttles—they go along to be shuah, but that is another story. The strictly summer duds, the striped and plain tennis suits—the one to lounge in, and the one to play in—there you have them.”

The tennis suit for play consisted of white flannel trousers and an outing coat of a peculiar wide plaid pattern in high colorings, blue predominant. The cap was of blue flannel and to be worn with it was a soft blue Windsor tie. The outing lounge suit for general wear about the Casino or during the informal hours of the day is of light gray through which is traced indistinctly a mauve stripe of about an eighth of an inch in width that gives but a gentle livening to the fabric. With this is worn a fine Madras negligee shirt in quiet combination, the collar and cuffs being attached to the shirt and laundered.

Mr. Van Gilder handles with a caressing touch the big unlined heliotrope Ascot scarving which he will tie in a four-in-hand knot with this ensemble. The quietude of this makeup, more particularly the cassimere effect of the tropical weight suiting, makes the young exquisite in this garb dressed as well for town or country during the warm spell, and in this view will warrant the donning of it by Mr. Van Gilder, should he desire to run into town some sweltering day for an hour’s chat with his financial manager in Wall street.

man in striped suit and bowler

The newest and lowest crowned from of the Sennett straw hat completes this aggregation. “And, Buttles,” exclaimed his master suddenly, as though the thought had just come to mind, “did my new sun umbrella come home? Let me see it.”

The sun umbrella is the very latest summer fad of the swells, and as Mr. Van Gilder had had this example made to order under his especial direction he was naturally anxious to behold how his instructions had been followed.

It was certainly a unique and beautiful specimen of the umbrella maker’s handicraft. The material was fine pongee and the stick was of Scotch thistle—a light colored wood. The handle was in knob design accentuated with silver upon the root marks, while silver wire tracery around the neck formed the letters P.V.G. This sun umbrella was rolled as close as the finest rain umbrella, and its owner contemplated his new acquisition with undisguised admiration. “I know of nothing more rational or useful than that,” said he in a half tone of soliloquy. “I shall take comfort out of that. A hot sun is quite as disagreeable and necessary to ward off as a fierce rainstorm. Buttles, strap that up with my canes; I shall take it with me wherever I go this summer.”

Having settled in a general way the question of yachting and tennis wear the Van Gilder rubbed his hands in contemplation of Cape May. “Buttles, two bathing suits. Yes, to be sure—and the double breasted white waistcoat, and the small check flannel suiting. Oh, yes—need braces for that—ever wear belt when a waistcoat is worn, Buttles, just as one must never wear suspenders when one wears the belt—when of course the waistcoat is to be omitted. The wearing of belt and suspenders at one and the same time implies a lack of confidence, Buttles, somewhat humoresque.

“For Narragansett Pier, sir; shall I put in a sash and several of your negligee shirts?”

“Yes, Buttles, and let them be the liveliest you have.”

A consultation of his engagement book was followed by a rehearsal of the outing programme for Richfield Springs and Bar Harbor. In deference to the craze for riding and driving at the first named al the essentials of attire in these two fads were carefully considered and a programme of distingue outing wear was laid out.

“Include all the fanciful stuff I have, Buttles, for Mount Desert. There one revels in yachting, boating, lounging, rocking and bathing. And don’t forget the knickerbockers, Buttles. I don’t know why I wear them, for I never ride a bicycle, but the other fellows who are not wheelmen wear knee breeches and Buttles”—Mr. Van Gilder paused and gave a glance down at his well shapen calves, the badge of his sturdy Dutch ancestry, and added laconically, “why not?”

“Indeed, there’s no reason, sir,” answered the loyal manservant, “as any one can see.”

“Then the windup in the Berkshire hills. I do not see what I dare venture to take with me there. They are so howling formal at Lenox. Still, Buttles, make a note for some of the quietest toned and richest negligee shirts, a couple of outing suits and one or two fancy waistcoats, and I will risk it. And now, Buttles, that will be all. I shall have you but a short time this summer, and while you are at home you will better know from this going over what to send me at different points. Perhaps I may run back to town once or twice to keep things straight. And, by the way, Buttles, don’t forget about the pajamas. No nightgowns—only pajamas during the warm weather.”

It will be seen from this manner of allotment and selection that being a well-dressed man is, with young Van Gilder, largely a matter of expert individual judgment.

But while the swagger club man consults no code of rules for guidance, certain axioms upon the question of summer garb that he follows are well worthy of reproduction.

Here are a few of the ore palpably cogent deductions.

Never wear a waistband or sash when the waistcoat is worn.

Nor a fancy waistcoat with a flannel shirt.

Nor a pot hat with negligee costume.

Nor a high hat with a colored shirt or suiting.

Never wear a stiff shirt with a reefing suit.

Nor any of the fanciful adjuncts of outing with the tropical weight suiting for town wear.

Nor negligee costume indoors in ladies’ society after 6 p.m.

The sash may be worn with the Tuxedo sack, as may also the straw hat for evening wear, but any innovation of negligee with the swallowtail should be frowned upon.

It can be easily figured out that the expenditure for exclusively outing stuffs by this exemplar of heavy swelldom amounts to over $500.

If dapper Mr. Kutadash, who is a clerk in a down town store at from $800 to $1,200 per year, wishes to put in his two weeks’ vacation at any of the summer resorts and make an impression he may get the gauge of what is correct from the campaign mapped out for young Mr. Van Gilder. He can, moreover, bring the outing within his more limited means and yet figure conspicuously for a brief period as a well ordered type of the outing young man.

To do this it would be advisable to purchase ready made for from ten to fifteen dollars an outing coat and trousers. The cassimere serge, gray background striped design would be a more useful suiting, for this might be worn in town occasionally and upon the short out of town trips to Coney Island, Long Branch and other nearby points.

In outing caps the tennis pattern for seventy-five cents; a Windsor tie, fifty cents; a leather waist belt, seventy-five cents; a good negligee shirt of silk and wool for two or three dollars, and he is rigged out at an outlay of from fourteen to twenty dollars. This amount may be built upon as the would be swell’s salary and inclination warrant.

The two extreme types of the outing young man here presented will be reproduced all over the country by contemporaneous thousands, illustrating the intermediate degree of exploitation.

But it is well to have in mind for emulation some such authentic figure of fashion as young Mr. Van Gilder when the outing purchases are being made.

“Buttles,” said Mr. Van Gilder, as the cab was announced a few days later, “I have not forgotten anything? The tennis and yachting shoes I have included!”

“No, sir, unless you would take your mackintosh.”

“By all means, Buttles. It rains in summer as well as in April, and one needs one’s rain coat for the rainy days, or one will be suspected of not being the owner of so essential a garment.”

Thus will it be seen that underlying the finical consideration the swell gives to his attire there runs a logical vein of clear cut common sense

William Addison Clarke.

Harrisburg [PA] Daily Independent 20 May 1892: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil shudders to think what the effect would be should the “swell” marry a “Summer Girl” who had an equal preoccupation with her wardrobe. We have seen how much “The Season” can cost for the lady with a $10,000 dress allowance. And the male butterfly was not much better. The efficient Mr Buttles would probably have to be given notice in the face of mounting bills from dressmaker and tailor.

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.