Tag Archives: victorian shopping

The Baroness is Mistaken for a Shop-Lifter: 1871

baroness burdett-coutts

An Anecdote of Baroness Burdett Coutts.

By Mrs. Laura Curtis Bullard

Miss Burdett Coutts, upon whom Queen recently conferred the rank and title of baroness, is a tall, gaunt, angular woman, who more nearly resembles the traditional and popular type of the strong-minded female than any one of the prominent members of the woman’s rights party whom I have ever met.  A tolerably wide acquaintance with the leaders of this movement on both sides of the Atlantic has convinced me that scragginess is not a characteristic of the genuine “woman’s rights woman.” But in justice to Miss Coutts, I must hasten to say that her personal resemblance to the typical strong-minded female does not result from sympathy-with the sisterhood. On the contrary, she cherishes for this class the most wholesome aversion, and has taken pains publicly to disavow all participation in their sentiments, aims and purposes.

Miss Coutts is no longer young, but she has a fancy that juvenile bonnets become her—which it is scarcely necessary to say, a mistake on her part. In short, neither in person nor in dress is she the attractive woman she would be if nobility of soul, of heart and purity of character revealed themselves in personal beauty or accompanied by an instinctive knowledge of the sources of good taste which is unfortunately not often the case.

But where Miss Coutts is known no one would ever give a thought to the minor and external defects of this truly noble-souled and generous-hearted woman, whose generous  liberality is as widespread as the fact that she is the wealthiest commoner in England.

Angela Burdett-Coutts 1882 National Portrait Gallery

Angela Burdett-Coutts, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, 1882, National Portrait Gallery

Of course she is a well-known and most welcome customer at all the fashionable shops in London, but she is not so familiar a habitue of the shops of Paris. During a visit to this latter city, not long since, she learned of the death of a distant relative, and she went to purchase mourning  to the shop, the Trois Quartiers, a large dry goods establishment something like, “to compare great things with small,” our own Stewart’s. She asked for mourning dress goods, and was shown, by one of the attentive shop-men to the proper department. “Please show this lady mourning stuffs,” he said, “two-ten.”

Miss Coutts made her selection and then asked for mourning collars; the clerk who waited on her accompanied her to the proper counter. “Please show this lady mourning collars-—two-ten,” said he, and left her. From this department she went look for mourning pocket handkerchiefs, escorted by the clerk, who passed her over to his successor, with the request, “show this lady pocket handkerchiefs—two-ten.”

As she had still other articles to buy, she was escorted from counter to counter, department to department, and everywhere these cabalistic words, ” two-ten,” were repeated by one clerk to another.

Struck by the peculiarity of this refrain, asked the proprietor, as she left the establishment, “Pray what does two-ten mean? I noticed each clerk said it to the other in your shop.”

“Oh, it is nothing,” he replied; “merely a password that they are in the habit of exchanging.”

But Miss Coutts was not satisfied with explanation. Her woman’s curiosity was piqued, and she resolved to unravel the riddle. So, in the evening, when the porter,  a young boy, brought home her purchases, after paying her bill, she said, “My boy, would you like to earn five francs?”

Of course the lad had no objection to and only wanted to know in what way he could do it.

“Tell me,” said the lady,’ “what does ‘two-ten’ mean ? I will give you five francs.”

“Why, don’t you know, ma’am?” said he, evidently amazed at her ignorance; “it means keep your two eyes on her ten fingers.”

The mystery was solved at last. All the clerks of the Trois Quarters had taken the richest woman in Great Britain for a shop-lifter.

She tells the story with great gusto, and one of her friends to whom she had related it in Paris repeated it to me.

The Titusville [PA] Herald 6 October 1871: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906) was (after the Queen) the wealthiest woman in England. A practical and an energetic woman, she used her fortune for the benefit of a large range of charities including co-founding the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which became The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. While she might have fallen prey to fortune-hunters, she lived with her governess for much of her life, although she did propose to her neighbour, the Duke of Wellington, who at the time was seventy-eight to her thirty-three years. He refused her gently and they remained friends. After the death of her governess, (and a decade after the story above) she shocked the world by marrying her protégé and secretary, a young American named William Ashmead-Bartlett, who was twenty-nine to her sixty-seven. In so doing, she forfeited most of her fortune, (the terms of her inheritance did not allow marriages to foreigners)  but by all accounts she counted all well lost for love. Her husband became an MP and carried on a legacy of philanthropy after her death.

We have read of refined lady shoplifters before in Prepared to Carry off the Store, The Lady and the Laces, and The Rat in the Muff.


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 Fashion Demonstrator: 1898

worth eau de nil 2


Supple, Shapely Forms Assisted by Nimble Wits in Setting Off the Good Points of Wares

Variety of the Goods Sold by Women

Elaborate Procedure of Foreign Dressmakers.

The demonstrator is to the front now. There are demonstrators of household appliances, demonstrators of food products and medical appurtenances, demonstrators of wearing apparel, demonstrators of everything under the sun except matrimony, and the tenantable qualities of flats and apartments to let. You may notice a bustling, wide-awake-looking woman rustling about almost any boarding house nowadays, and you are told, on making inquiry as to her calling or occupation, that she is a demonstrator. Whether it is some newly invented contraption for light housekeeping, or a new face mask, or complexion wash, demonstrated on one side of her own face and the back of one hand, whether it is a corset, or a combination garment, or a glove fastener that engages her efforts, she is certain to be busy.

In the world of wearing apparel it used to be the model upon whom much depended; the model with so many inches of bust measure to her credit, so many inches of waist measure, so much length of limb. The model stood like an inanimate statue and allowed capes, coats, street suits, and reception gowns to be placed upon her at the will of the saleswoman, taking really very little interest in the proceeding. Occasionally she submitted to having a hat perched on her head to see how it went with the suit. The demonstrator is of a different pattern. She is all alive, all pliancy. A certain grace of bearing and movement is as essential to her calling as a well-developed figure.

wedding corset 1898

Manufacturers with a new make of corsets to put on the market, for instance, begin by engaging a demonstrator to show its advantages to the woman buyer of a big store, and having won approval, gets the firm to give a special view of the corset. Cards are sent out to selected customers announcing this special view. The new corsets and the agile demonstrator have a room to themselves, a room gas lit, warmed, and properly decorated, where Miss B., the shapely demonstrator, may shine out as a central figure. None of those who attend this opening (men are excluded of course) is left in the slightest doubt as to how far the bones in the corsets will bend without breaking; how strong and durable they are; their weight, length, and their special advantages. Miss B., has three or four other makes of corsets at hand and tries them all on in turn in order the better to demonstrate the superiority of her own goods. The demonstrator’s business is not all in one direction. She must be as quick to show the weak points in rival wares as to exhibit the rare qualifications of her own.

The guests at the special view are not alone the customers of the retail house. Cards have been sent to representative trade journals in the manufacturer’s interests, and these papers send women to report upon the merits of the corsets. Representatives of retail houses in other cities are also on hand. Miss B. has enough spectators to give her inspiration in her task.

As with corsets, so with everything new in the way of women’s wear, whether outer or under garments. No longer though is the model or the demonstrator a mere lay figure. The new-style demonstrator who tries on a gown or a coat, must walk well and enter into the spirit of her business, displaying to the best advantage certain ins and outs of the garment that otherwise might pass unnoticed.

“A good demonstrator can sell any amount of goods that otherwise might be passed over as unattractive, or of little worth,” said the head saleswoman in one store. “Say a woman comes in here looking for a gown and does not know exactly what she wants. All our gowns valued at $100 or more are shown on the demonstrators. In looking over the assortment, the shopper may find a costume that suits her in every respect, but for a certain arrangement of the trimming. Perhaps the effect that she objects to may be new in style, and for that reason may strike her as odd, when in reality it is a great addition to the costume. The demonstrator puts on the gown and walks about in it for inspection. She lifts her arms to her head and puts her figure in graceful poses; she gives the gown a style that never would have been made apparent, had it been put on a wired frame or an inert model. The idea that the modiste had in view when she designed the gown is made really chic and original, and will suit her perfectly.”

The demonstrators in the big wholesale Broadway houses are kept busy in winter trying on thin, unlined summer gowns for the next season’s wear. They try these on over tight-fitting jerseys. The out-of-town merchant who comes in to see the effect of the new styles may be wearing a heavy overcoat at the time, but the demonstrators are usually hearty, healthy young women who do not suffer from fluctuations of temperature.

irish crochet summer dress

“Trying on these flimsy, thin things in winter isn’t near as bad as bundling up in furs and heavy jackets for the trade in the summer time,” said a demonstrator, and then she went on to say how well she liked the business and what excellent opportunities she and her mates had for getting really first-class gowns and coats for much less than actual cost.

“A demonstrator has a much better time than a salesgirl,” she said. “Our hours are shorter, and we generally get off at half past 5 the year round. Of course a demonstrator in a wholesale house is in much better luck and has less to do than one employed in a retail house. In the months when we are busy we are rushed to death, but for a good deal of the time there is very little to do and our wages go on all the same. August and September are busy months for us, and from the middle of January to March is the rush season.”

It seems that the animation and power of expression demanded of the present-day demonstrator on this side of the water are qualities that have long been required abroad.

“At the famous outfitters in Paris and London,” said a business woman, “there are demonstrators not only of one style of beauty, but of all the varying types—blond, brunette, and intermediate colorings. One demonstrator will be tall, slender and willowy in form; another will be plump and small; another tall and of Juno-like proportions. The visitor is shown into a room that gives no indications of the nature of the business to be transacted. A few good pictures and some flowers may be about, but the furnishings and appointments are very plain, so as not to detract from the gown that is to be the main object of interest.

“‘What style of gown does madame require?’ has been asked at the door; and according to the kind of gown desired is the special room into which the customer is shown. One apartment is devoted to ball and reception toilets, another to street suits, yet another to outing costumes or gowns for house wear. Madame waits in the empty room and soon a demonstrator comes in and walks quietly about as if looking at the different objects in the room, so that the customer may see to advantage the gown she has put on for her benefit. The demonstrator is as near in appearance to madame’s physical type and coloring as the assortment of demonstrators permitted. Every aspect of the gown—sideways, back, front, three-quarters view—is shown. Then the demonstrator withdraws, and another of the same type, but wearing a different gown, comes in to take her place. So the different toilets are show until one is chosen. Of course this is in one of those establishments where the artist will not make a gown or a garment for a woman which he thinks unsuitable for her, even if she orders it. The demonstrators both here and abroad are often pressed into service to sit for pictures to be used as advertisements for the house. The demonstrators in the high-priced establishments are courteously reticent, and seldom have a word to say, throwing all their force of expression into poses and gestures. Demonstrators like Miss B., who shows corsets or some new-fangled stocking supporter or combination garment, are glib of tongue, and emphasize every motion with a flow of words. They are energetic and pushing, and to a certain degree, modifications of the woman drummer.”

The Sun [New York, NY] 9 January 1898: p. 26

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As this article observes, the work of the fashion demonstrator is much more akin to that of a woman drummer than that of, say, the French mannequin.  The vendors of the ever-changing world of fashion were constantly in search of the latest line of patter or display. This novel tactic for showing gowns was adopted by a London dressmaker:

Some clever dressmaker in London has chosen to be original, as though we would not all choose if we could. Each one of her young women attendants is dressed in some costume that the firm wishes to advertise. One glides about in a soft clinging dress of the first Empire. Another is jaunty in one belonging to the Directoire period. One with rosy cheeks, that the fogs of London and long hours of standing have not paled, stands blushing in the dress of a debutante. Leaning in pensive attitude with sad looks, here is one in long, sweeping robes of mourning and dainty and exquisite in lace and soft silks sits someone by a tea table handing steaming cups to ladies worn out with the task of choosing gowns to outrival those of their rivals. Otago Witness 20 June 1889: p. 34

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 Nice Equipments of a Dainty Person: 1839

The Luxuries of Commerce An extract.

Even in the simple business of refreshing ourselves with a good breakfast, we employ or consume the products of many regions. The tea we drink comes from China, or the coffee, is from Mocha, in Arabia; the sugar with which we sweeten it, from the West Indies; our porcelain cups and saucers were probably made in France; the silver spoon with which each is provided, once lay dark and deep in the mines of South America; the table itself is mahogany, from Jamaica Honduras; and the table-cloth was manufactured from a vegetable production in Ireland; the tea-pot is probably of English block-tin; and the steel of which the knives are wrought, may have come from Germany or Sweden; the bread is made of wheat, raised probably in Michigan; and the butter, if particularly good, must have come, a Philadelphian will say, from the neighborhood of his own city. If we are in the habit of eating relishes at breakfast, we discuss perhaps a beef-steak from Ohio, or a piece of smoked salmon from Maine, or it may be a herring from Scotland. Or suppose we take so very useless a personage as one of the foplings, whose greatest pleasure is in the decoration of their persons, and whose chief employment is to exhibit themselves at stated hours in Broadway, for the admiration of the ladies—and see how many lands are called upon to furnish the nice equipments of his dainty person. His hat is made of fur, brought thousands of miles from the north-west coast of America, or from an island in the South Antarctic ocean; his fine linen is from Ireland, inwrought with cambric from British India; in the bosom glitters a diamond from Brazil, or perhaps an opal from Hungary; his coat is of Saxony wool, made into cloth in England, and it is lined with silk from Italy; his white waistcoat is of a fabric wrought in France; the upper leathers of his morocco boots have come from Barbary, and the soles are made of a hide from South America. His white hand, covered with kid-leather from Switzerland, jauntily bears a little cane, made of whale-bone from the Pacific, the agate head of which was brought from Germany; and from his neck is suspended a very unnecessary eye-glass, the golden frame of which is from Africa. His handkerchief is perfumed with scents of Persia, and the delicate moustache that shades his upper lip, has been nourished by a fragrant oil from the distant East, or by the fat of a bear that once roamed for prey amid the wastes of Siberia; while its jetty blackness has probably been artificially bestowed, by the application of the same Turkish dye that gives its sable hue to the magnificent beard of the sublime Sultan.

The Knickerbocker, July 1839: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although to-day one hears complaints about the “global economy,” it was ever thus. One is grateful to the particular gentlemen who scrutinise the details of their wardrobe so carefully. They enrich our vocabulary with words like “beau,” and “dude,” and the admirable “fopling.” Mrs Daffodil will suggest the latter to a marchioness of her aquaintance, who keeps Pekes.

For more on the niceties of a gentleman’s wardrobe, see How to be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget and Young Mr Van Gilder’s Summer Wardrobe.

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.

Bargaining for a Bonnet: 1890


New York, Jan. 8. The woman with a genius for bargains is now in her element. All the shops have reduced their winter stock that they may be rid of it and bring in the spring one, and she who gazed longingly at a Virot bonnet, who sighed and went away, looked and longed, now may possess it and her soul in delight and at very little cost. In parentheses, I would like to say that the cost refers to her bonnet, as she is quite too nice a woman to have her soul on sale.

Some woman body says: “I have $10 that I may spend on a bonnet—I scorn any but a French one—therefore, I shall beard the lion in his den, go to the most chic of milliners and get what I want.” Does she go in her shabby clothes? Dear no; she would get nothing cheap if she did that. She wears her smartest get up, and she enters the shop as if she were a millionaire, instead of a daughter of toil, who gets her bonnets by her glibness of pen. The ideal bonnet is simple, but is chic, it is quiet and it comes from Virot. She looks and longs, but she realizes that now is her time to be diplomatic.

The smiling saleswoman is asked how much it is. “Thirty-five dollars,” she responds, “reduced from $50.” Then a request is made that madame will try it on. “Oh, no,” says she, “it is scarcely worth while; I do not intend to pay that much for a bonnet, and it will be only taking up your time.” However, after some persuasion, she yields. It is found becoming, and the milliner dilates upon its harmony, its beauty, and its cheapness. Madame quietly removes it, and says, “It is very cheap, but are you thinking or remembering that this is midwinter; that you have gotten probably 10 times the value of that bonnet in the copies you have made from it, and that in two weeks from now there will be absolutely no sale for it, as you will have to have your spring goods on exhibition?” This is practical common-sense that appeals to the milliner and a jump to $25 is made at once. The would-be buyer again comes out with a bit of truth. Says she, “I like the bonnet—I think it cheap, but I have just so much money to put into a bonnet, and not one more cent can I give.” The price then goes down to $15. By this time madam is arrayed in the bonnet in which she appeared and tells the milliner that she thanks her very much for her kindness and that as her things are all so pretty she will be certain to come in when she has her spring opening. Quickly she is asked, “How much will you give?” She says $10 in cash.” As a last straw the milliner suggests that she pay $8 and let $7 stand on account; but Madame is too old a shopper for this. Ten dollars or nothing. She has reached the door; she is almost out when she is stopped, and after all this diplomatic manoeuvring the milliner has $10, she has the bonnet, and both are satisfied. Cheat the milliner? Certainly not. What she said in the first place was absolutely true. Profit comes in the copying of the French bonnet and not in the sale of it, and this is perfectly well known both by good buyers and good milliners.

St. Louis [MO] Republic 11 January 1890: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil appends the above story as an inspiration to any lady who has not yet got her hat for Ascot or, if an American reader, for this week-end’s “Kentucky Derby.”

copies paris hats inter ocean 26 april 1903 p 15

From a 1903 Chicago newspaper.

The copying of French goods was, of course, common-place. In the press, one finds literally thousands of advertisements offering copied Parisian goods; a typical specimen of which is seen above. Milliners were also not above adding a French label to their “exclusive” models.  Neither were young ladies averse to basting a label pilfered from a designer hat into a “loving hands at home” creation, as in this story of an Easter bonnet. On the other hand, this young lady lost by her duplicity in adding a Parisian label.  Mrs Daffodil hopes that all of her hat-wearing readers may drive as stringent a bargain as the lady above, so that they may attend the races serene in the knowledge that their hat is the exclusive and genuine article.


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.


An Unpleasant Meeting over Shawls: 1877

An Unpleasant Meeting.

Not long ago two ladies stood at the shawl counter of one of the two leading dry goods stores in St. Louis. They were unknown to each other, but were each intent in the examination of shawls. One of the ladies was finally handed something that struck her fancy. She turned the article over and over, with admiring eye upon it, and asked its price. She was told what is was, and with a sigh laid it down again. ‘I like it,” said she; ‘it suits me perfectly, but I can’t afford it. My husband tells me that we must retrench as much as possible.’

The sympathetic saleswoman was about replacing the shawl upon its shelf when the other lady spoke: ‘You do not intend to take the shawl, then, Madame?’

‘No,” was the response.

‘Then I think I’ll take it. It suits me, too, and I was only waiting for your determination.’ Then, turning to the saleswoman, the last speaker told her to do up the purchase, adding, ‘Charge it to Mr. ___.’

The effect the name had upon the lady who was unable to buy the shawl was electric. ‘That’s my husband!’ she shrieked, and there was a scene upon which the curtain did not fall at once by any means.”

Kentucky Advocate [Danville KY] 16 February 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil had thought to commend the two ladies for not falling into a petty squabble or even fisticuffs over the shawl, as some women do at the bargain counter and that curious ritual known as the Running of the Brides, but when a husband is at the centre of the squabble, one really can do nothing more than retire to a safe corner to watch the altercation and possibly lay a wager on the outcome.

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.


Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898



By Emma M. Hooper

It is becoming an almost universal practice for husbands to allow their wives, and parents to make their daughters, a fixed allowance for their clothes and personal expenses, consequently the question has arisen as to how the best results may be obtained from the expenditure of a stated sum of money. Every woman should know how to spend money to the best advantage, but this she cannot do unless she is trusted with a certain sum at regular intervals—which sum, of course, must be largely dependent upon the income of the breadwinner of her home.

For the matron or young girl with fifty, one hundred or two hundred dollars a year, or, perhaps, even less, there must be a great deal of planning if the sum is to cover the necessary outlay for the year. It is for just such women that I have prepared this article.


For the muslin underwear all trimming, unless it be a crocheted or knitted thread edge done at odd times, must be omitted. Unless one is very hard on her clothes, which is usually another name for carelessness, three sets of muslin underwear added each fall to the supply on hand will answer every purpose. The material for these will cost three dollars. Two sets of wool and cotton underwear for three dollars should also be added; they will, with care, last two winters. The next year buy four cotton vests at twenty-five cents, thus alternating the expense.

A Seersucker petticoat may be bought one spring for seventy-five cents, and two white muslin ones the next for a dollar and twenty-five cents, so I will count in but one dollar for the yearly average. A black alpaca petticoat for two winters will cost a dollar. It may need a new ruffle the second year. Two heavy flannel skirts may be had for a dollar and a half, and two light ones of flannelette for ninety cents. These should last three years by making them with a tuck to let out as they shrink. Only a third of this combined expense should be charged to each year, and always arrange so that these articles are not needed the same year. The woman dressing on the sum of fifty dollars must be a manager and able to do her own sewing, or she will utterly fail to make the good appearance which every woman desires to make.


Six pairs of hose at a dollar and a half, and two pairs of shoes at two dollars and a half must keep her shod, and this will probably mean mended shoes before the year is out. A corset at one dollar and a half may be worn a year. A pair of rubbers and parasol one year, alternating with an umbrella the second, the three costing two dollars and a half for each year. A winter jacket at eight dollars and a spring cape at three, must last three years, so I will count in the yearly average expense for wraps as four dollars, as each garment may need a little new trimming or renovating of some sort. Two pairs of gloves, cotton and kid, and a pair of mitts crocheted by the wearer will cost a dollar and a half. A new hat, and an old one retrimmed each year, will mean five dollars, and it will also mean that recurling of feathers, steaming velvet to freshen it, and the cleaning of ribbons and lace must not be numbered among the lost arts, for such accomplishments prove a great saving to the woman with small means at her command.


In the line of dresses I allow two new ginghams and two cotton shirt-waists each spring, at a cost of three dollars for the materials. A Swiss or organdy, with ribbon belt and collar, every second summer, will be four dollars. A silk waist every second year will be four dollars; it will alternate with the best thin summer gown. A cheviot or serge dress in the fall will cost ten dollars with linings, etc., and will bear wearing for two years. Try and have a new fall gown one year, and a woolen one for the spring the succeeding year. A black alpaca skirt for four dollars will wear for two years. This makes a total of forty-six dollars and eighty cents, leaving a small margin for making over a gown, and for handkerchiefs, ribbons, veils, collars, etc.

These small things add much to one’s appearance, and need not be over an ordinary grade, but they should be fresh and bright. Iron out ribbon collars and veils when wrinkled, and they will last longer.


Dressing on fifty dollars a year requires careful economy, but what about the thousands who have less than fifty dollars a year for personal use? It means well-worn and carefully mended garments, and a new wrap only once in four or five years, and a very simple hat in two. One woolen dress at ten dollars must last three years. Among inexpensive dress goods it is well to remember that serge and cheviot give the best wear. Two gingham gowns will be two dollars, and two shirt-waists seventy-five cents; a crash suit for summer, lasting two years, a dollar and a half; a couple of heavy ginghams for housework in the winter, a dollar and sixty cents; six pairs of hose, a dollar and a half, and two pairs of shoes, five dollars.

Three sets of unbleached muslin underwear will be two dollars and a half, and two sets of merino, vest and drawers, two dollars; the latter must wear for two years. A seersucker petticoat made in the fall will be heavy for winter, and washed thin for the summer, at a cost of sixty-five cents. Two flannelette skirts for sixty cents, and two red flannel ones for a dollar and forty cents will wear two years, leaving half of that amount to be charged to each year. Count five dollars a year toward a wrap once in four years, and one new hat a year. Allow three dollars a year for a pair of rubbers, leather belt, handkerchiefs and gloves, and a dollar and eighty-nine cents for renovating a gown of last year, and an average of thirty dollars is reached.

Save at least a dollar and have some magazine to brighten your lives, even if it means extra darns or patched shoes, for the brain craves food, as well as the body, clothing.


This seems like untold wealth after the smaller income, but the girl or woman having one hundred dollars a year, and indulging a craving for amusement, will soon find it slip away unless she is very careful.

With this amount prepare the muslin underwear, sets of drawers and vests, cotton vests, petticoats, flannel and flannelette skirts, as described in the outfit for fifty dollars. To the six pairs of hose add two pairs of tan-colored to wear with russet shoes in the summer, adding shoes at two dollars, to two pairs for five dollars, allowing two dollars for hose. Corsets, a dollar and a half; rubbers, fifty cents. Parasol one year and umbrella the next will be two dollars yearly.

Every two years buy a winter jacket at eight dollars, and a light wrap for four, making a cost of six dollars per year. Two pairs of kid and two pairs of silk gloves will be two dollars and a half, and I will allow six dollars for millinery. Ten dollars is not too large a sum to allow for the many little accessories that add so much to a toilet, as collars, ribbons, belts, cravats, handkerchiefs, etc. Five dollars may be laid aside for the remodeling of last season’s gowns, and five more for the church donation and some especially-prized paper or magazine.


In the spring a jacket suit of serge with a silk front and linings will be ten dollars for two years. A crash skirt at seventy-five cents, two shirt-waists within the same amount, and a wash silk waist will be a dollar and a quarter extra. One season have a white organdy gown, and the next a figured dimity, each trimmed in lace and ribbon and costing. five dollars. A less expensive cotton gown will be four dollars, and an added black skirt of taffeta at seventy-five cents a yard, eight dollars, the latter lasting two years and answering for all seasons, as will a neat silk waist at the same price. One new fall suit each year will give a change, as the second winter sees the gown of the first remodeled. Allow six dollars for this each year, as it pays to buy as nice a quality of dress goods as one can afford.

The total now shows an average of eighty-five dollars and a half, and the remainder will be needed for an evening gown for holidays, changing with an organdy. For this price one of China silk at fifty cents, with a velveteen belt and shoulder bows, and lace at the neck, will be the best purchase, and make over for the succeeding year.

As white China silk washes and dry-cleans well it is a useful purchase, lasting two seasons for the evening, and then will answer for the lining of a chiffon waist. The latter would need four yards, at sixty-nine cents, and ribbon belt and collar. By having a white silk and two or more colored ribbon and velvet belts, sashes and collars, several changes may be effected at a small expense. Very pretty sashes are now made of a full width of chiffon or mousseline wrinkled closely around the waist, knotted at the back and allowed to fall in two long ends, which have been simply hemmed and tucked on the lower edge.


A person with a two-hundred-dollar income should certainly give some of it in charity. If living in the city, five dollars is a moderate sum to allow for car fare, the same for charity, and for the savings box, and another five for the church collection. An occasional concert, visit to the theatre, etc., may be counted as ten dollars, with reading matter and stationery at five. A journey for a short visit comes within the life of many, and can hardly be encompassed under ten dollars. The idea of buying the most expensive clothing in alternate years should be followed with this income, as with the smaller ones. Goods of a better quality may also be purchased with the additional sum. I can only give an average, as one person may visit a great deal, the next one seldom go out; one may be very careful in the care of her clothes, and another be distressingly careless, all of which affects the garment’s wear. With a limited wardrobe avoid striking novelties, startling colors and a large variety of shades. With the two-hundred-dollar income allow for the assistance of a dressmaker, when making the two best suits.


A winter coat at twelve dollars, a spring jacket at six, and a fur collar at eight, should last three years, at a cost of a little over eight dollars per year. Twelve dollars will cover the millinery, and six dollars the gloves. Count shoes as two pairs at three dollars, a pair of ties will make eight. A nice winter gown of broadcloth with velvet trimming may be counted for fifteen dollars, and may alternate with a stylish little dress of figured taffeta silk suitable for concerts, dinners, etc., each lasting two years. A black silk skirt, and an evening waist of light silk trimmed with lace, ribbon or chiffon, costing ten dollars each if both are made at home, will make the expense small when divided between two winters.

A dainty tea jacket of cashmere, lace and ribbon, costing three dollars and a half, will last several seasons. An evening gown of white net over percaline, with lace and velvet trimming, may be evolved out of fifteen dollars. Ten dollars will be used for freshening up the gowns of last year, and another ten will go for the little things—collars, cravats, veils and handkerchiefs.

For the spring buy a foulard or light wool gown one year, and a jacket suit of covert, serge or cheviot the next, the latter answering for traveling and outing wear, and the former for church and visiting. These gowns would certainly average twelve dollars each year. A piqué suit at three dollars, a white organdy lined with lawn for six, and a figured dimity for the same would be fifteen dollars. Three cotton shirt-waists for a dollar and twenty-five cents, and one of wash silk would answer for the summer.

In giving prices I take an average obtainable in New York, Chicago and Boston.


Eight pairs of hose for two dollars and a half, an alpaca petticoat with silk ruffles for two, a percaline petticoat for a dollar, and two white ones for two dollars would be a fair supply. Corsets, a dollar and a half; two heavy flannel skirts for a dollar and seventy-five cents, and two of flannelette for a dollar would last two years at an expense of half of that for each year. Four sets of underwear at a cost of six dollars may be allowed, though costing less if made at home. Three sets of mixed wool and cotton will last three years, and cost four dollars and a half. At least two pretty corset-covers for wearing with thin dresses will be a dollar and fifty cents.

Alternate parasol and umbrella at a cost of three dollars, rounding up a total of one hundred and ninety-five dollars. The small amount left is soon eaten up by a gift or two, an extra bit of adornment, such as a fluffy mousseline boa now so fashionable, a new purse, toilet articles, etc. If advice has any weight I would advise saving another five for the savings box, for it is such a comfortable feeling to know that you have even a small sum laid away for a the unexpected that is always sure to happen.

In selecting a wardrobe from season to season try to have a black gown, or at least a black skirt, always ready for use. If of silk, have it gros-grain or taffeta; if of wool, a serge, mohair, Eudora or cashmere. Do not buy in advance of the season, as the goods are then high in price, and beware of extreme novelties at the end of the season; they are too conspicuous to be forgotten.

Another thing to remember is that it costs no more to select becoming colors than others that do not bring out one’s good points. Having a gown made in a becoming style, simple or elaborate, does not increase the expense, or need not if the wearer knows how her gowns should be designed to suit her figure and complexion—the tests. When a limited wardrobe is necessary, avoid too great a variety in coloring, and under all circumstances have one gown of black goods appropriate for all seasons. By having a supply of colored ribbon collars, and one or two fancy vests and belts, this black dress will answer for the foundation of both house and street toilets, and you will always be ready for an unexpected journey, sudden visit or simple entertainment.

The Ladies’ Home Journal, Issue 1, 1898

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing to add to this exhaustive analysis of dress goods and ribbons except to define “crash” for those unfamiliar with the textile as a light-weight, coarse, unevenly woven cloth of cotton, linen, jute, or hemp.

The advice to frugal ladies to accessorise gowns of a single colour to simulate variety in one’s wardrobe has been repeated ad nauseam in fashion magazines since time immemorial. Mrs Daffodil has taken this good counsel to heart: her entire wardrobe of gowns is of black materials; the restful monotony varied only by aprons of white or black, as required.

Readers will find information on how wealthy ladies spend their dress allowances here.  How much fashionable gentlemen expend on their wardrobes is described here and here. An absurdly expensive bicycle costume is documented here. If one wishes to know what it would cost to be correctly presented at the Court of St James, here are all the details.

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.


Christmas Shopping in Gotham: 1892

Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shopping


“Van Gryse ” describes the Ante-Holiday Rush for Bargains.

There is nothing, unless it might be the international yacht- races, which creates the furore in New York that Christmas does. For at least three weeks before the holy day, the city is in a ferment. The shopping streets are packed ; the large stores are jammed. It is as much as your life is worth to go into Macy’s, and Fourteenth Street is a sight worth going a long way to see.

On Sixth Avenue, the happy hunting-ground of the penniless, the crowd moves slowly, plowing along in a double line, one side going uptown, one going down. It is mixed in character here. A stunning carriage comes tooting along, and draws up at the kerb with a rattle of chains and a glitter of varnish. Two lovely ladies alight. The one is a plump matron, some years past thirty. She is furred, and beaded, and perfumed, and corseted to the finest point. She is too fat for beauty, but has a lovely, fresh skin, and looks as if she liked a good dinner better than almost anything else in the world. The other is a slim, young lass, too well-grown to be her daughter — perhaps a younger sister. She is all in tan color and sable, with a big, furry hat, trimmed with lace and pink roses. She is something exquisite in her wonderful, delicate, frail, ethereal way. The footman holds the door open for them, and they rustle into one of the big stores, and the crowd of tawdry beauties and avenue belles stand round and stare at them.

The other women on the avenue are on a middle plane. They are not quite so unkempt as the Fourteenth Street gang, and, also, not so fine as the Twenty-Third Street set. A quantity of them are country folk, in for holiday shopping. These are big, rosy, buxom women, with round cheeks like winter apples, and a great reserve of strength to carry them through the day. They forge ahead aggressively, and, as a rule, carry their own bundles. A good many well-dressed girls filter through the throng, snugly dressed for a morning’s hard work, in close-fitting coats, little round hats, a small collar of brown fur clasped round their necks, their hands in red dog-skin gloves, and their feet in very pointed, shiny shoes. They look so well-fed, and prosperous, and busy that one imagines at once that they are heiresses out for a peep into the town’s cheaper by-ways. As a rule, however, if you follow them into some shop, you will find them spending a chary dollar or two on a silver stamp-box or a pressed-glass bottle for the toilet-table. And one such purchase as this will occupy a whole morning.

Inside the Sixth Avenue places — “emporiums” they call them — the crowd is terrific. Here the human mass is packed close, and the air is horrible. The ceilings are low, the ventilation wretched, and one-half of the throng belong to the noble army of the great unwashed. Add to this that most of these big shops have a restaurant concealed somewhere in their purlieus, and one may form a mild idea of the condition of the atmosphere. Upon ascending a flight of stairs — the elevator being so densely packed that it is tempting Providence to get into it — one is assailed at the top by a penetrating odor of ham-and-eggs, mingled with a strong aroma of coffee. At the same instant, an excited female, in an imitation sealskin coat, holding clasped to her bosom a large, low-runner sleigh, uses her free hand to clutch you violently by the arm, and demands fiercely: “Where is the restaurant?”

A polite person would tell her, an indifferent one would say he did not know, a rude one would suggest to her to follow her nose, and leave her wondering if she had a cold in her head or Russian influenza.

Emerging from Sixth Avenue, in an exhausted condition, one wends a weary way toward Fourteenth Street, and, being possessed of the curiosity which is such a blight on the character of the most perfect, stands on tiptoe for a good ten minutes to see over the heads of the crowd into Macy’s window. There is some kind of a panorama going on in there, and occasionally one catches glimpses of beautiful dolls, with frizzled heads and satin robes, moving round in stately tableaux. Some kindly personage near by informs you that it is a panorama in dolls of ” The Magic Flute,” and, simultaneously, a large man pushes you violently against three small boys, whom you, in turn, crush up against a woman with dyed hair and painted eyes. She, having had her foot trodden upon, vociferates angrily and straightens her hat, a remarkable edifice, upon which nod all the flowers that bloom in the spring. Then she pulls down her white-lace veil and goes away, murmuring threats of vengeance and wagging her draperies of old-blue plush.

Presently, having rested against one of the door-jambs, thought of all the examples of heroic endurance that history tells of, fortified yourself with a quinine pill, and silently determined to do or die, you press your hat on tightly and button your coat, if you are a man, and, if you are a woman, grip your skirt and settle your bonnet-pins more securely, and enter Macy’s with a firm front. A seething sea of women, from which, here and there, a man towers like a rock, greets you in the doorway and beats you back against a counter where some haughty damsels are selling photograph-frames. You pause here, catch your breath, lighten your hold on your umbrella, muff, or stick, and plunge in. Elbows are driven into you, high heels crush your toes, angular ends of exceedingly hard bundles give you savage digs as their owners bear them toward the door. Lost children get about your feet and appear to cling there till rescued by distracted mothers. People seem to tread all over you and to take a cruel joy in driving you up against the corners of counters and the sharp ends of brass rails. You begin to feel that you have been perforated in several places and that the edges of some of your bones have been rubbed through by constant friction.

You, in your turn, do a little private pushing, and tramping, and crowding. You tread on a good many skirts, which give with a rending sound. You glide sideways through the press with some success. You extricate from the mass the woman who — with a Noah’s Ark under one arm, a baby under the other, a go-cart dragging from her hand, and a real, woolly dog on rollers hanging from her elbow — is about to give way to despair. You get angry, and furiously knock the cane that the young man in front of you carries pushed up under his arm, so that the ferule of it hits people in the eyes and pushes off women’s hats. You are filled with a sort of sick fatigue at the sight of the shop-girls, who — pale, tired, breathless — go on making out checks and answering questions with the regularity and dogged persistence of pieces of machinery.

Once out on the street again, the fresh air revives your drooping spirits. The wide pavement is filled to the gutter with the Christmas throng. Along the kerb, conversing together and singing the praises of their wares, stand long lines of hawkers. There are sellers of beads and colored-glass balls for Christmas-trees ; sellers of shredded tinsel that one drapes over the tree ; sellers of little black imps in long, narrow bottles ; sellers of skeletons twisting round on lines of cord placed across a semi-circle of wood ; sellers of a mechanical toy which represents a man, woman, and dog walking together down Broadway ; sellers of cheap picture- books, of paper Punch-and-Judy shows, of note-paper, of metal photograph-frames.

From these to the stores the crowd surges in hurried distraction. Never were seen people in such haste. No wonder we Americans are a nervous, irritable, high-strung race, when we tear ourselves to pieces in this fashion. Every one appears to be fearfully pressed for time. The universal hurry soon communicates itself to the most determined loiterer, and you have not passed under the black -and-gilt clock that mounts guard opposite Hearn’s, when you find yourself tearing like the rest. Women in twos, women in threes, women alone, dash by you almost on the run. Young girls with set faces, their little, jet-trimmed hats all askew, rush across the street nearly under the horses’ feet. Pale-faced mothers drag children along by one arm. All the world is in breathless haste to buy their Christmas presents. No wonder the people are all bedraggled and pallid. Two blocks of this wearies one more than a ten-mile walk in the country would do.

Between twelve and one, this exhausted company, feeling the need for sustenance, drops into a convenient hostelry known as some sort of a dairy. Why “dairy,” heaven knows Anything less like a dairy could not be imagined. In the front of the place, near the entrance, several long counters are ranged. Behind these, numerous beautiful young ladies preside, and, for the trifling consideration of a dime, will hand out to you, on an inch-thick plate, one aged bun and an attenuated Charlotte russe in a roll of paste-board. Other delicacies of the like description are set along the counters under glass covers. They look somewhat like the cakes and dainties that people pretend to eat on the stage. The whole place — the regular piles of ossified cakes and buns, the counters, and the attendant nymphs — recall to one’s mind the restaurant in the depot at Omaha.

The shoppers in the neighborhood seem to find the dairy quite a harbor of refuge. They patronize it in large crowds. Back of the entrance, where the counters and the high stools are, there is a restaurant proper. It is really an immense place, extending through nearly to the next street. Here the world, still pursued by that feeling that time is flying and no precious moments must be lost, sits and feeds with terrible swiftness. The Indian-juggler feat is performed on every hand with wonderful address and a calm assurance that bespeaks long practice. A great smell of “coffee and sinkers ” goes up toward the ceiling, and the crashing of crockery is mingled with the musical voice of some unseen personage, who screams orders down into the depths of the kitchen regions. Over all, a piano-organ is heard grinding out the “Dolores ” waltz in a fierce endeavor to dominate the general hubbub.

But the timid feaster at the counter dares not enter into this thickly populated place of feasting. He lingers at the counter and is consumed with a scorching thirst, precipitated by the one bun and the Charlotte russe in the paste-board cover. Relief presents itself in the shape of a large, nickle-plated affair, with a tap in the front, which looks like a cross between an ice-cooler and a Babcock fire-extinguisher, and which certainly must contain some sort of drinkable liquid.

Approaching a haughty young person who stands behind the counter, and asking what that urn-like object might be filled with, you are tersely and coldly told: “Bullion!”

This does not mean precious metals, as one might suppose, but beef-extract. You deposit another dime, and the young person draws from the urn a small cupful of boiling water. Into that she puts a spoonful of a sticky-looking brown substance, stirs it round once or twice, sets the cup down in front of you, also a pepper-box and a salt-cellar, and departs. The pepper won’t come out and the salt-cellar is empty. You savor the bouillon. It is of a raging heat, and, also, of a weird smell. You taste charily, put down the spoon, and meditate for a moment. At this instant, the piano-organ, with a convulsive scream, breaks from “Dolores”  into the middle of “Sweet Dreamland Faces,” and goes off into that pensive strain at a hard-gallop. The “bullion” sends up a cloud of odorous steam. You wipe your lips carefully on a handkerchief, and, continuing to press it against your nose, you take a hurried departure.


New York, December 23, 1891.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 11 January 1892

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  In light of “Black Friday” scenes, so distressingly full of stampeding customers and rudeness, plus ça change….

Mrs Daffodil will resume her regular service 2 December; she must supervise the unpacking of the Christmas decorations this week-end.

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.


Henry Goes Shopping for His Sweetheart: 1906

Mrs Henry Spencer Lucy in mourning. Oil painting on canvas,Christina Cameron Campbell, Mrs Henry Spencer Lucy (d. 1919) [?1826 - 1898] by Giuseppe da Pozzo (Conegliano 1844 - Rome 1919), signed G da Pozzo Roma. A full-length portrait of the wife of Henry Spencer Lucy, who died 1890, and eldest daughter of Alexander Campbell of Monzie.In 1890 she assumed the name Cameron-Lucy in her widowhood. She is seen dressed in black with a white cap and veil, drawn back, sitting on a throne onsmall raised platform with a footstool n the carpet at her feetnext to carpeted table with a framed photgraph, small urn, ?chalice/monstrance and various other effects, holding a pice of paper in her hand.

Mrs Henry Spencer Lucy in mourning.  by Giuseppe da Pozzo  Note the widow’s cap.

A Shopping Incident.

The young man screwed his courage to the sticking point and dashed into the large drapery establishment. lnside were many customers, all ladies, and many attendants, all ladies, too, and all dressed in black, and looking very tall and dignified. Henry was sorry for himself; he regretted having ventured. All his courage had oozed out at his finger tips he felt very small and limp.

“Are you being attended to?” asked one tall young lady, severely.

“Yes that is, nun-no,” answered Henry.

“What is it you would like?”

“Well, I don’t quite know. It isn’t what I like, but— the fact is, it’s for a lady.”

“Yes. What article?”

“I really can’t tell, but I thought 1 would give her something.”

“Your mother?” asked the attendant with something like a smile.

“No, no, not quite my mother. What are those things there?”

“Those are the new silk stockings.”

“Oh, I beg pardon I really didn’t know. No, I don’t care to look at them; I don’t think they’d do.” Poor Henry was perspiring freely now and his knees were weak and trembling. “Something more like that, I think.” He pointed desperately at a bundle.

The young lady endeavoured to ignore his request, and a faint tinge of colour showed in her cheeks. “Wouldn’t you like to look at some hats?” she said hastily.

“No.” said Henry, feebly, “she has a hat. I really think those—“

“Those are petticoats,” said the attendant, desperately. “Shall I show you a few?”

Henry had almost collapsed. “Pup. pup-petticoats?” he gasped. “No, don’t show them, please. Gimme one of those.” He pointed to some articles displayed on a stand.

“Are you quite sure they will suit?” asked the young lady.

“Oh, yes, positive,” faltered Henry “Just the thing, I’m sure.” Henry would have bought a thousand-gallon boiler, or a ship’s anchor anything to get away from the terrible shop, where all the women were staring so, and most of them were laughing.

The parcel was made up. Henry paid and fled, and that evening he presented the dear eighteen -year-old girl he was courting with an elegant widow’s cap.

Observer, 23 June 1906: p. 23

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There were many different styles of widow’s caps for every degree of age and mourning, from coquettish confections for the “merry widow,” to the lappeted or “Marie Stuart” cap made popular by Queen Victoria, to the severe black crape for the inconsolable or the professionally grim. Caps could be made at home, but ladies were counseled that the results were rarely satisfactory. It was far better to purchase from a maison de deuil or a milliner.

A widow's cap for an elderly lady, c. 1891 New York Digital Collection

A widow’s cap for an elderly lady, c. 1891 New York Digital Collection

We have few records of gentlemen purchasing mourning for ladies; possibly Henry’s cautionary tale explains why.

You may read more about the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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 Dude in the Dress Goods Department: 1880s

dress goods clerk


Do you think you can sell dress goods and ribbons?” inquired Mr. Nathan Waltrous, senior member of the retail firm of Waltrous and McGill of Houston, Texas. The party addressed was a florid young man with a florid nose, florid moustache and florid hair. He was, in short, quite a Florida youth, and his name was Theopolis Duggan.

“I reckon so,” he replied.

“Can you be suave?”


“Can you support a becoming address in the presence of ladies—politeness, suavity. you know? “

“Oh, yes,” answered Duggan. “in the last place I worked the boys all said I was the suaviest man in the troupe, and a rustler among customers.”

“What business was it?”

“Pumps—wooden and iron pumps and hydraulic rams.”

“Quite a different line from dress goods and ribbons.”

“Well, yes, but l ain’t afeard to tackle ’em.”

Mr. Waltrous gave him a trial. The boys in the store labelled him “Pumps” from the first moment of his initiation into the dress goods and ribbon department. The second day a petite brunette inquired for some “chicken down” nun’s veiling. Pumps commenced to sweat.

“What color is it?” he blurted out.

The girl only rewarded him with a stony stare. Pumps rushed off after a new stock of information and inquired:

“Is this a provision store or a butcher shop?”

“Why?” asked a one hundred and fifteen pound salesman.

“Because there’s a gal there by the show case who wants some chicken down.”

The one hundred and fifteen pounds of pure and unadulterated suavity waited on her.

“Show me some elephant’s breath cashmere,” said an elderly lady in gold bowed spectacles. Pumps dropped a roll of paper cambric, and again started down the road after some more information.

“What’s elephant’s breath?” he gasped. “Hanged if I ain’t thinkin’ l’ve struck a menagerie.”

“It is a shade of woolen goods,” murmured another salesman, moving up towards the elderly lady and selling her a large bill.

“Bet your boots l’ll catch on,” said Pumps swaggering before the glass where ladies try on bonnets and hats.

Another young lady interviewed Pumps in the afternoon and said: “You know soutache on grey velvet is considered very chic.”

“It is just the chickiest thing agoin,” observed Pumps.

The young lady looked grieved.

“Show me some giraffe colored cashmere,” she said quietly.

“Another animal wanted,’ muttered Pumps breathlessly, as he reached the other end of the store. He, of course lost the sale.

“Show me some crinolettes,” demanded a spare woman with a cast in her eye. Pumps was nonplussed.

“If I was you I wouldn’t get a crinolette,” he ventured.

“You wouldn’t! ” sneered the lady.

” No, not at this season of the year. I’d get a pair of striped stockings and a poke bonnet.”

The lady walked out.

“What did she want?” inquired Mr. Waltrous, who had kept his eagle eye on the proceedings,

” She was hankering after a crinolette,” said Pumps, “and I don’t think we have them in stock.”

“These are crinolettes,” said Mr. Waltrous sternly, and pointing to a pile of garments.

“Them! Why I took them for base ball masks,” said Pumps.

“You will have to do better than this,” remarked Mr. Waltrous, impressively.

“There is a woman up at the front end who wants some Apollonaris. Hadn’t I better go out and get her a glass of seltzer?”

Some more condensed suavity waited on the lady and sold her a polonaise, a moliere waistcoat, an ostrich feather fan and ten yards of plum-colored velveteen. Pumps was paralyzed.

“You fellows have got the thing down midlin’ fine,” he said, pulling his vermillion moustache before the mirror.

“Evidently you have considerable to learn in this business,” said the head salesman to Pumps.

“All I ask is a fair show for my money,” returned Pumps, dejectedly.

“What would you do if a lady were to inquire for an imported jersey?”

“What are you giving us?” whined Pumps. “This is no stock yard or dairy farm.”

“That, my dear friend,” said the head salesman, ” is a short jacket introduced into this country by Mrs. Langtry. What if she should inquire for a tournure?”

“ Me-oh–I’d– “

“That will do,” shouted Mr. Waltrous, bobbing up from behind a bale of sheeting ; “you can just tournure back on this establishment, and hunt work in a lumber yard.”—Texas Siftings 

New American Speaker and Reader, 1901

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One understands why the “dude” mistook crinolettes for base-ball masks:

Chicken down” was “the newest shade of yellow” in 1885. “It has a green tinge, and is particularly unbecoming to blondes.” Godey’s Magazine, 1885

“Elephant’s breath” was a shade of grey with a hint of purple.

The Moliere waistcoat was a long, square-bottomed vest or faux-vest, usually with jeweled or enamelled buttons.

A polonaise (or Apollonaris as pronounced by “Pumps,”) is a gown with a draped skirt, looped up to reveal a decorative underskirt. It was a very popular 18th-century style (1770-1780) and was revived in the 1870s-1880s, starting with the “Dolly Varden” costume.

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.





Prepared to Carry Off the Store: Lady Kleptomaniacs: 1894


Devices to aid in shop-lifting.

Devices to aid in shop-lifting.


The Terrors of the Great Dry Goods Stores Everywhere.

Amateurs Steal From Impulse, but Professionals Go Fully Prepared to Carry Off the Store.

Washington Post.

The governmental system in our large stores has been brought to a miniature perfection. Each big house has its executions, its police, its laws and people. There are penalties and punishments, rewards and promotions, while every penny is accounted for to the powers who mete out recompenses to the just and the unjust. By appeals to personal interest it becomes the object of every employe to make money for his governmental rulers and to aid them in withstanding those whom, like the office seekers, we have always with us.

But each year thousands of dollars are lost from the pockets of the firm despite the legislations, bribes and adroit detectives. For what avail all these things against the half crazed, half cunning or wholly professional trickeries of a class of women who are interesting to the doctors, moralists and lawyers? As a class these women are the products of feverish, unwholesome mental and physical life in our great hysteric trade centers and they are little understood by even those who have to deal with them. Shoplifting is a profession and a disease; less a profession than it used to be, perhaps, because of the detective systems, and more a disease, as we dash with high pressure down the fin de siècle slope. Or, so the detective said when this suggestion was offered, the professional shoplifter poses as a kleptomaniac, knowing that it is her one sure means of escape. And if her haul is not too big and if too elaborate preparations are not found upon her, her chances of escape are excellent. The kleptomaniac acts with wonderful cunning and without any precautions save those of insane cleverness in blinding the eyes of detectives, floor walkers and employes not three feet distant.

The businesslike shoplifter is thoroughly equipped with every trained sense upon the alert, and her eyes on the good only when their guardians are at a reasonable distance. The kleptomaniac seizes small articles, often valueless. The shoplifter is out for “big pulls,” and can make off with 200 worth of merchandise in a morning.

A few days ago the clerk in one of the best managed shop in New York laid three rolls of silk, valued at $180, upon the counter to ship out of town. He was called to the further end of the counter for a moment and returned to discover that the cardboard from three bulky rolls of silk was all that remained of his shipment. There was no disturbance in the room, which was not crowded. Floor walker, shoppers, and employe had suspected nothing as some woman stowed sixty yards of silk upon her person and walked silently out of the door.

Spurred by his wrath over this bold stroke the detective in charge was moved to disclose some of the bitterness of his lot.

“The wickedest male criminal on earth,” said he, “can’t hold a candle beside a mild, shrinking, respectable little bit of a woman. I’ve been here twenty years ,and I know every mother’s daughter of ‘em who has been up to tricks for a living. But when a new one comes in she is bound to swipe something unless one of the two girls who work with me have the luck to spot her as suspicious.

“Our method of capture is this. I see a woman, dressed neatly and quietly, walking slowly through the store. Probably she carries a shopping bag on her arm and wears a long, full cloak. Sometimes she carries a baby, but in such a store as this that dodge attracts too much attention. But there’s nothing like a baby to stow the stuff away in. Why, once in an east side store, where I began my career, the searcher took twelve bottles of cologne, six handkerchiefs, and a lot of jewelry from a baby’s toggery. I suppose that kid was what you people who don’t know anything about it would call a kleptomaniac, because she yelled and kicked and looked surprised when we took the things away. That’s just what you have to expect though, when you’re dealing with a woman. Well, we follow the woman until she stops at a counter. Then one of my girls or both if necessary, takes her position close by, and asks the salesman, who is trained to treat her as an unknown customer, to show her certain goods. The foxy shoplifter sometimes sees through this, and then the girl guys outright and pays on the spot. That is the only absolute safeguard known to detectives. For unless sharp eyes look down in her lap, the woman can slip a piece of silk into her sham pocket or over her arm while the salesman calls ‘Cash!’ These new capes you’re wearing are a great snap for the shoplifters, almost as good as the shawls. How do we get the goods back after we have tracked the thieves? We don’t try to unless we are dead sure that she has them on her person the moment we accost her. I follow her into the street and ask her to kindly accompany me to the room where the stolen property she has on her person may be removed. She threatens and blusters and calls for a policeman. I show my badge and tell her the game is up, and she comes back quietly enough. What happens next this young lady can tell you better than I.” And the detective glanced at a handsomely dressed girl who sat tapping her gold- edged lizard skin purse on the lace counter nearby.

The bored-looking aide rose, pulled her veil, dabbled at her eminently correct gown, and advanced to be questioned concerning the queer characters in her charge.

“It’s a hard life, a responsible position, and I don’t think it worth the big pay,” she said, leading the way to a tiny room under the stairs, where many hundred women have been searched. “They act like fiends when I undress them, and work themselves into dangerous frenzies, if I show the least sign of mercy. Last week a German—just over—came in with diamonds on her fingers and an 1830 gown under her black satin cape. She was fool enough to wear the shoplifter’s pocket in her skirt, which is a punishable offense, you know. The opening was at the edge of her round belt, and the bag fell straight to her knees. There were a lot of little trinkets in it, and when I discovered them she threw herself around so that I had to call the detective. He couldn’t do anything with her, and before she left the store three men almost literally sat upon her, while we tried to bring her to reason.

“The cutest pocket is a long piece of cloth fastened with pins at each side. Though the lower edge is a draw string which may be wound about the pins when in use. But the instant I discovered that pocket, the wearer pulls the string, and the good tumble to the floor under her skirts, and I have absolutely no evidence against her, since neither pocket nor goods are found on her person. A common trick is to sweep small articles into an umbrella. Another is to lay a jacket or any other wrap upon the counter and pick up with it cloth, ribbon, lace, or almost anything. Then, if worst comes to worst, the lifter can throw the whole apparatus away. Yes, it is hard to know whether a woman is a kleptomaniac or not, but there are a few pretty good proofs. The professional comes in here, cool and collected, very much annoyed at the indignity, and perfectly overcome with surprise when discovered. She sobs and shrieks and hurls herself against the wall, offers immense bribes, and wants to draw checks in her husband’s name. If we agree to that settlement she would bring a blackmail case against the house next week, you know. Yet, it’s a good policy to let the toughest cases go on the plea of kleptomania, because we know their faces so well that they never venture to return. But the poor women who come to me by the dozen, half crazed with fright! Ah, it is enough to make one wonder if the next generation won’t be safest behind asylum doors,” exclaimed the competent young cynic, who is herself a type of the time.

“The men in this house and the detectives at police headquarters don’t believe there are kleptomaniacs, but they know better. What reason has a woman who is one of our best customers for stealing sponges? And yet she was brought here one day with two squeezed in her handkerchief. The detective had aroused her to her condition, evidently, for when I took her she was cowering with shame. Her hand was clasped so tightly that I could hardly open it. “They weren’t worth buying,” she said, “but they are so soft I must have them for my bath.” We let her go, of course, but now she shops with a maid. Her check is good for any amount. Most of them can’t resist the jewelry counter. The glitter seems to mesmerize them. And it’s so easy to drop a handkerchief over a pin or bracelet! The kleptomaniac ever has any professional apparatus about her. Her muff, parasol or handkerchief is enough, because it’s the little things she can’t resist. Do you remember that case which got into the papers a while since? The woman was an old customer of a big firm and well-known kleptomaniac. For a long time nothing was said, only the items were put into her bill and were paid without question. Finally some friend or other told, and her rooms were searched. Under the carpets, in drawers, and on shelves were dozens and dozens of tiny toys, worth about 3 cents apiece. She was a perfect nutter on toys, and she couldn’t help; taking them—even from under the detective’s very nose. As a class they are hysteric omen with no aims in life. They are weak and nervous, well-to-do without much to long for. They aren’t bad or unprincipled, because their shame and anxiety for their friends’ sake is greater than for themselves.

“’My husband ‘ is almost the first thing they say when they come before me. It’s like the opium habit. We ought to have physicians as well as detectives in these shops. I’m a  woman detective, you know.”

Dallas [TX] Morning News 1 January 1894: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The lady kleptomanic of a certain age was a familiar figure in the popular press. Well-to-do, handsomely-dressed gentlewomen, relicts of clergymen, daughters of noble houses—all varieties of these “silk and satin thieves” were represented. One particularly notorious specimen was America’s own Miss Lizzie Borden, who, four years after she was acquitted of being unkind to her Papa and Step-mamma, was tempted by some porcelain pictures at an art gallery in Providence, Rhode Island. The matter was finally settled without going through the courts, but not until Miss Borden had loudly protested that she had not stolen the articles and the matter had been aired in the local newspaper. Victoria Lincoln in her admirable book, A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight, suggests that Miss Borden suffered from seizures and may have killed without knowing what she had done. One wonders if Miss Borden so vehemently denied pilfering the pictures because she truly had no memory of it.

For more valuable information on lady kleptomaniacs, including Jane Austen’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot, please see this link.

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.