Tag Archives: Victorian stockings

A Delicate Purchase for a Young Man: 1881


And the Delicate Purchase He Had to Make.

From the Toronto News.

“Did you ever go shopping for women?” inquired a sad-eyed young man. “No? Well, I did once, and I have had enough of it. You see, my landlady takes a motherly interest in me, and talks to me just as she would to her own son. You may think this very flattering to me, but I assure you it has its disadvantages. The other morning my landlady told me she lost one of her garters coming home from the concert the evening before, and asked me to get her a pair on my way down town. I thoughtlessly consented. As I came down the street I thought I would go into White’s. Having entered, I tried to get my bearings by the lithographs on the walls, picturing all sorts of feminine harness in active service. As the lithographs began to grow more interesting, I concluded that I was in about the latitude of garters, and halted at a counter presided over by a young woman with a mischievous eye. That’s where I got into trouble. I felt my face getting red, but I firmly asked for a pair of garters, expecting her to hand them out forthwith. ‘What kind, please?’ said she, in the most insinuating manner.

“‘Oh, something pretty good,’ I replied, painfully conscious that my ears were blazing red.

“But what style do you want?” she rejoined, evidently gloating over my misery. Then it flashed upon me that there might be a hundred styles, and how was I to know what kind my landlady wore? My first impulse was to escape, but the door was too far away, and besides, my errand seemed to have been telegraphed to every one of those girls, all of whom were eyeing me. One of them had suddenly discovered that the counter needed dusting, and there she was, right where she could hear everything I said. I asked what styles were generally called for, and the young lady began describing them with a minuteness that had only increased my embarrassment. There was the circular kind, she said, and the suspender garter attached to a waist belt and another kind that fastened to the side of a corset, and then took down a lithograph showing the manner of wearing that kind of harness. I was in a worse fix than ever, and I mentally swore I’d do no more errands for a woman. Here she was, explaining all this toggery and belaying tackle, and expecting me to know what kind of standing rigging my landlady was fitted out with. 1 looked at her in an appealing way, but she wouldn’t help me out and then an inspiration of genius came to me. “What kind would you be most likely to lose off in the street?” I asked in my most innocent tone. That girl with the duster must have thought of something funny just then, for she began laughing immoderately, and when I went out with a pair of circular elastics in my pocket I felt that every girl in the store was making fun of me, but I didn’t dare to look around. The next time I go shopping for a woman I will do it by telephone.”

The Des Moines [IA] Register 8 March 1881: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One wonders just how motherly the landlady’s interest really was?  The theme of the young man shopping for a lady, only to be plunged into a morass of embarrassing underthings, was a perennially humorous one. We have seen how a verdant youth bought what he thought was a night-dress for the Beloved; also how an inexperienced young man sent a widow’s cap to his best girl, who was not best for long. And do not get Mrs Daffodil started on the theme of beardless adolescents buying silk-stockings

The ease with which these essential articles were lost formed the basis for many an historic moment and tale, such as the founding of the Order of the Garter and the tragic story of “The Lost Garter.


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.

Padding Ballet Dancers: 1881

ballet girl Vincente Palmaroli

Ballet Girl, Vincente Palmaroli

A writer in the New York Sun, who is beyond question a woman, thus lets us into the secret of pads and tights: In spite of her seeming scantiness of clothing a ballet dancer does not suffer from cold. Under her silk or cotton hosiery every ballet dancer, without exception, wears padding. The padded tights are heelless. A strap of the stockinet of which they are woven extends under the hollow of the foot. The webbing is finely ribbed around the ankle, and not padded below the swell of the calf, or where the calf ought to swell. The padding is of fine lamb’s wool fleece thrown up, like plush, on the under side into the web, which is of cotton, strong, and not too elastic. There is no padding around the knee, and none around the hips. The thighs are well padded. Few men or women have small, well-proportioned knee-joints, and even when they have sufficient flesh it is not so distributed as to produce perfect symmetry of form. These padded goods are, therefore, generally made to order.

This is necessary, for no two persons have the same proportionate length of thigh and leg. Again, many have good calves and the rest of the leg very poor and thin. Others have thighs and not calves; others have both thighs and calves, with sufficient flesh thereon, but it is not in the right places. How is all this remedied? Why, in the directest, shortest manner possible. The lady or gentleman who orders a pair of padded tights is waited on by a salesman or saleswoman, who understands his or her business. To the customer a pair of unpadded tights of perfect shape is first given to put on. Then he is measured, first around the waist, then around the hips, then around the calf, and then around the ankle; next along the inside of the leg. The measurer then carefully notes and jots down for the manufacturer’s guidance the deficiencies in the person’s figure. In about a week the garment ordered is finished. If there is too much padding at any point it can be seen at a glance and clipped off. Padded shirts or bodies for both men and women are also measured for when ordered in a similar manner. When the entire tights extending to the waist are not needed, calf-padded tights, extending only a little over the knee, can be ordered. These are worn with trunks.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 1 January 1881

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is relieved to hear that ballet dancers do not suffer from the cold. Too many accusations are wantonly hurled at that class of entertainer about the perils of cosy little suppers in the close atmosphere of private dining rooms and of romping in over-heated ball-rooms.

Such innocent appendages might prove a life-saver, as in this story:

Saved by Her Calves

The utility of a pair of patent saw-dust calves was strikingly illustrated last Saturday in Philadelphia. Shortly after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a mad cur, pursued by two perspiring policemen, dashed into Eighth street from Walnut and caused such a flutter among the petticoats as that locality has seldom witnessed. Among the femininity that was flouncing along was a nymph who flings her shapely legs before the footlights of the Grand Central theatre. This female could not face a rabid canine, so she bundled up her petticoats and made a dash with the others for safety. Her legs, which had served her so well before, did not go back on her this time, for the mad dog, probably attracted by the development below the knee, drove his poisonous fangs into her stocking and went howling on. The ballet-dancer, more dead than alive, was dragged into a drug store, where an eager and anxious crowd of men carefully examined her legs. Their fears were allayed, however, when the discovery was made that the canine had only destroyed the saw-dust padding which the young woman had tied to a lean shank to give it roundness and attractiveness. The eager, anxious, and solicitous men departed much sadder and a heap wiser.

The Southern Standard [Arkadelphia AR] 4 June 1881: p. 4

A similar imposture in a cooler atmosphere is revealed in A Swell Party on Ice.

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.


Poisoned Stockings: Something was Afoot

stripedsocksMrs Daffodil just found that today is Museum Socks Day. What better way to celebrate than with a post on Victorians poisoned by their stockings?

Something strange was afoot in the 1870s and 1880s: fashionable people were being poisoned by their stockings. It all began with the new aniline dyes and an innocent vogue for brightly colored and striped stockings, which opened new vistas for ladies wishing to highlight a well-turned ankle.

Serious objection is made to the new style of stockings in which the stripes run lengthwise. It takes too much mud to show the full pattern. Cleveland [OH] Leader 12 January 1876: p. 3

Here are some news stories highlighting the horrors of hosiery:

RED STOCKINGS Poison Two Young Ladies and an Arrest Follows.

Ben Rabenstein, a pack-peddler, some time ago, sold to Mrs. Ben Raeder, on Wilstach Street, near Liberty, some red stockings, which he guaranteed to be fast colors. Mrs. Raeder’s two daughters, Lillie, aged 16, and Amelia, aged 15, wore the stockings to a picnic in Cumminsville last Saturday. The next morning they suffered from a violent itching, followed by eruptions where the stockings had chafed the skin. Their condition rapidly grew worse, until now they are in a terrible state. Mrs. Raeder went to see “Squire Tyrrell about it, and had a warrant issued for Rabenstein’s arrest. Cincinnati [OH] Post 6 August 1892: p. 2

Poisoned by Red Stockings

Boston, Ind., Dec. 20. Both legs of Miss Eva Dooly were amputated at the knee last night. The amputation was made necessary by the poisoned condition of her limbs resulting from the wearing of red stockings. Leavenworth [KS] Herald 22 December 1894: p. 1

Was this some sort of Borgian conspiracy? Was there a mad poisoner at work? Mrs Daffodil has a working knowledge of poisons, but has neither the wit nor the chemistry to speculate about specific lethal agents in these deadly articles of dress, although in the 60 or so articles she has read, arsenic, prussic acid (as bought by Lizzie Borden to “clean her sealskins”—a nice euphemism for patricide.), and mercury are all either mentioned as possible dyes or mordants (dye fixatives). Red dyes, highly popular for stockings, were never color-fast and needed a fixative. The answer to these crimes of fashion lies in the very prosaic balance sheet. Some articles on the subject mention the cheapness of the toxic ingredients as the reason for their use.

The following article was syndicated widely in 1875 and makes very clear the blisters provoked by the poison arose along the lines of the colored stripes on the stockings.

Poisoned Stockings

The recent introduction and extended use of colored or striped stockings, and the evil effects experienced by the wearers of them, have served to direct the attention the physician and analysist to the question of the dyes used in coloring them. The Pall Mall Gazette, in noticing the evil effects of wearing colored hose, cites several instances where the first symptoms were intense irritation in the skin of the feet, swelling and an inflamed appearance; then an outbreak of watery blisters of all sizes, from groups of the size of hemp-seed to single blisters on the sole of the foot larger than a five-shilling piece. The condition was accompanied by general feverishness, rigors, loss of appetite, and a sensation of pervading malaise. In a sever attack the patient was rarely able to walk for three weeks, and after one attack passes off it was often followed by another of a milder type. In one case a gentleman was obliged to wear cloth shoes for upward of eight months, and with other patients the system has been so impregnated with the poison that blisters have re-appeared at intervals, not only on the feet, but on the hands, ears, etc., for more than three years. There was no doubt as the to cause and method of this blood-poisoning, for the blisters first came in stripes corresponding to the colored strips on the stockings, and the laundresses complained of the irritation and inflamed condition of their hands after washing these poisoned articles. A Scotch lady who suffered from a like cause brought a successful suit against the firm which supplied her with the goods, and it was formally announced by them that henceforth the use of arsenic in the composition of the dyes would be discontinued. Although having no wish to appear as “alarmists,” yet it is evident that the occasion is one calling for watchful care on the part of both purchases and manufacturer. As we have suggested above, these facts are worthy of special consideration at present. For, where the fashion of wearing striped stockings will, without doubt, soon be confined to gentlemen alone, yet the use by them of questionable colors may result in the disastrous effects above described. Iowa State Reporter [Waterloo, IA] 20 October 1875: p. 6

It was sometimes difficult to find a statute under which to charge sellers of poisoned stockings.

Dr. Edson, of New York, says the Philadelphia Ledger, has discovered an ingenious method of bringing to account in court the dealers in stockings poisoned by dye-stuff. There is no law, it appears, directly applying to such cases, so the Health Officer proposes to have the dealers charged with selling poisons without a label. It is a very “taking” scheme, but would hardly hold if a Philadelphia lawyer should be engaged for the defense. Brownstown [IN] Banner 17 December 1885: p. 2

Cases were reported from as far afield as Japan and France. As far as Mrs Daffodil has discovered, none of the victims are reported to have died although many were brought to the point of death (at least according to the papers), like this child.

Poisoned Stockings.

A Startling Case–Serious Sickness of a Four-Year-Old Boy

From the Utica Observer, march 4.

Yesterday morning an Observer reporter was informed that the four-year-old boy of a widow lady living in the Third ward was seriously ill and that the cause of the little fellow’s sickness was thought to be his poisoned stockings. It was ascertained that the case was in charge of Dr. Charles B. Tefft, and to him the reporter applied for information. He was told that the cause of the boy’s sickness probably lay in the fact that his stockings were died [sic] brown by the use of picric acid, but that experiments to be made in the evening would determine that point. The case was this:

Last Sunday the little fellow put on a pair of brown woolen stockings. Yesterday morning he was taken very ill. He commenced retching and vomiting and a yellowish hue commenced spreading all over his body. When Dr. Tefft was called the little fellow was suffering great pain. Dr. Tefft confesses that after an examination he was unable to see why the boy should be sick until his eye fell on the boy’s brown stockings, when the thought flashed over him that the newspapers were probably right, and that there was poison in them. He had them removed at once, and fond that the boy’s legs were fairly yellow. He then had the mother test the stockings, and she declared that they were very bitter. (!!!) The mystery of the poor little fellow’s illness was explained.

Dr. Tefft on reading upon the subject of picric acid, found that it would produce the same symptoms as those exhibited by the boy. This morning the stockings were put to a thorough test. A piece was cut from one of them and placed in hot water for a moment. Then placing it between the teeth a very bitter taste was perceptible, so bitter that it irritated the end of the tongue. The pair of stockings were then placed in the water. On wringing them the water immediately became discolored, assuming a yellowish tinge which could not be mistaken. There is no doubt that the picric acid in the matter used to color the stockings produced the boy’s sickness. At one time the little fellow was very near death, but he is now recovered. His yesterday’s attack was his first serious illness, but it is noted that during the time he has worn the stockings he has been afflicted with diarrhea, headache, and stomachache.

The stockings were not a cheap pair. They were as nicely made and of as nice a shade as any. But their effects are dangerous. This picric acid is not used alone for purely brown stockings. It is also used to dye striped hose in which that color appears. But all brown stockings are not poisoned. Some of them are manufactured by honest dealers who disdain to make use of picric acid on account of its cheapness, because they know its deadly effects. There is one sure test to apply to detect its presence. Stockings dyed with it, placed between the teeth and against the tongue, impart a bitter taste, which cannot be mistaken. Ladies or others about to purchase brown stockings would do well to apply this test before buying. Wheeling [WV] Register 13 March 1876: p 3

The image of ladies licking stockings before purchase is a diverting one. A brief scan of internet sources reveals that the primary use for the fatal picric acid is in munitions and explosives. We will leave the question of exploding clothing for another post.

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.