Permanent link to this item
LADIES' COLUMN., Star, Issue 7843, 24 October 1903
EXPERIENCES OF A PARIS DRESSMAKER'S " MODEL." (Tit-Bxts.) Like, I expect, many other girls, I thought, iat about the age when one begins to really take an interest in one's clothes, that the life of the smart young women who " show off " beautiful dresses and clothing in the showrooms, or ateliers, of fashionable dressmakers and milliners must be far from unpleasant. When, therefore, some five and a half years ago the following advertisement caught my eye in the "Wanted" columns of a high-class ladies' newspaper, lat once answered it- It ran as follows: — ' WANTED, at once, a young lady, pretty, •ball (good figure essential), as " model ' in a showroom of » well-known Paris couturiere. A slight knowledge of Fr.ench desirable. Apply, with full particulars aa-.ioyheight, etc., and recent photograph,, ©folk had become necessary, owing to the death of my father, for me to do what my relatives with whom I went to live called " something." In reply to my letter I was asked to call at an hotel, and after an interview with the principal proprietor and his forewoman, who was a bright and clever Parisian, I was engaged at a very good salary. A little less than a week later saw me at my post. I soon found that I was to be treated very much in the light of a good-looking, animated automaton. I was told that, though my figure was superb, my waist — which, as it measured about 20in, I had considered reasonably sma ll was too large, and that consequently, ere I was fitted for the dresses which were to be supplied for my wear, I must visit Leoty and obtain a couple of corsets which would reduca my waist to a trifle less than 18in This I did, the firm defraying the cost, and I must confess that, though the waist-forming process was not pleasant at first, I was not a little proud of what was referred 1 to as my beautiful figure. Nearly all the hands in the various i ateliers and showrooms tight-laced. One girl, a pretty American who was much admired by customers? and their male escorts, measured less than 17in over her dress. Several were barely sixteen, and it was to this latter size that I was told I should ultimately be required to reduce myself. I very soon got accustomed to the tight-lacing, and became as anxious as my employers that I should possess a fine figure, which the beautifully, though plainly, made dresses with which X et Cie. supplied me showed off to perfection. Within a year of my coming to Paris I possessed the 16in waist desired by my employers, and was ' admittedly the finest figure in the showroom, in which I was chief model. Amongst our clientele, which comprised many of the smartest, richest and most beautiful women in the French capital, and also many smart Americans, there were, many who openly envied me my good looks, and— from a fashionable point of view — superb figure. I of ten wondered how the grand ladies who apparently took such a. delight in giving unnecessary trouble,' and in making us tightly-laced girls stoop about to adjust and display this fold of pleat, and this or that train, would have liked to have the same thing to do. At first this portion of my work used to cause me inconvenience, which almost deserved the name of torture, i and then some of the least considerate of our clients would remark upon my "red" face or awkward movements. However, the knack of stooping gracefully, even with a waist of sixteen inches, is soon acquired if one is at it five or six hqurs a day. I speedily found, however, that to 'be pretty and smart was not a virtue in everybody's eyes, I had scarcely been there a couple of months ere one middle-aged customer, who certainly could not, by any stretch of- imagination, be called good-look-ing, and who was fat and' years older than her husband, accused me openly to the farewoman of "making eyes" at her juvenile spouse, called me a "bold hussy" (only, being French, it was a more objectionable phrase than that), and said that X— — et Cie had no business to have such girls in their showrooms. "Far too attractive," she ejaculated, as the forewoman tried to pacify her. Truth to tell, I had scarcely glanced at monsieur, who was neither interesting nor attractive in any way. But he had rather openly admired me, and had said some pretty, impudent things concerning my looks in an undertone, which, unfortunately for him and me, his elderly spouse overheard. I found my life by no means -dull or uninteresting, and almost -without exception the showroom girls were well and even generously treated. I at all events could always have a pretty dress at cost price, and sometimes I was provided with a model gown and sent to some public gathering to show it off. Then it would be described in the papers and prove an excellent advertisement for the firm. It was certainly good! fun to read: "A beautiful, svelte Englishwoman was wearing a superb robe of soie d«laine, trimmed with point d'Alencon ; a confection which bore the stamp of coming from the famous Maison X : et Cie." Even though the " beautiful Englishwoman" in question was but one of the famous firm's models. The hours for the chief hands were not excessively long. Most of clientele did! their shopping between half -past eleven and four o'clock; and, except at very busy sealons, I seldom had to be at my post much before ten in the morning and usually left soon after five. To the observant the showrooms of a fashionable dressmaker in Paris at least provide much that Is interesting and instructive. Bomances of the type known as " passionel " soon appeared to me inseparable from the goods and dealings of X et Cie. This is rightly esteemed an extravagant age as regards women's attire, but to appreciate this fact to the full one must be acquainted with the ins and outs of such a house as that in which I have spent the last five years. Fortunes squandered, families literally wrecked by the riot of luxury in which the clients of X- et Cie, and doubtless those of many other similar establishments, indulged. Those who have held up their hands in astonishment at the idea of a woman spending a thousand a year upon her toilettes would bave been told by many of our clients that it would be impossible to dress smartly upon such a meagre allowance! A score of our clients ran up bills <I will not say spent) four or five times as much. A dress for the Grand Prix— which a shower would almost ruin — often figured on our books at 2500fr (£100). A costume for a smart ball or the opera, even though, as one lady said, the bodice portion . was scarcely more than a broad belt, might cost anything from £135 to £200 j a "simple" morning gown anything from £20. To this add hats at £12 and upwards; hosiery costing £6 a pair ; gloves for all occasions (each pair only worn once or twice) made to measure at 18s 6d to £1 4s per pair ; corsets at anything from £10 to £12 per pair, of which some of the fashionable women would have at leas* five pairs for wear when riding, dancing, for morning wear or for evening wear, as the case might require. The Detticoats en suite would cost, say, £12 to £20, and the other garments whose mysteries are generally hidden under the term " lingerie "—these in sets would often make a big hole in £40, smothered as they were in exquisite lace and ribbons. Two or three visits to the laundress, and these costly luxuries would need replenishing by others perhaps even more coetly and fantastic. A well-known, dancing-girl at one time owed a bill of upwards of £10,000 for oiofchtfj supplied during a period of little jaoreTiiftQ two years. It was paid by the
young scion of a noble house almost without a cavil at the charges. One, of course, meets with many types of women. . Most aro open to the delicate flattery which it is the business of both models and saleswomen to uso. I have often smiled to myself on hearing Mine Q say of some gown or jackot, the stylo of which suited my slendor ligure and 68ij> to perfection, "Madam, nothing would suit you better !" though madam addressed was rather short and decidedly stout. Of course, this was only said if one wer© getting tired of showing her things, or if one saw that she was "bent" on that style. The desire to flatter tl*o vanity of our clients was the reason for always calling out the waist measurements of any over 26in at 2in less, signalling the proper measurement to 'the attendant unobserved. On the same principle, we made a reduction of 3in on all waists over 30in. Of the many women who have passed under my eyea, French women always appear to have best taste ; Americans and Austrians coming next, and with little to choose between them. The Germans have least taste or idea of what suits them ; and, unless they were "society" -women or actresses, I found English women run the Germans very hard. Americans are the best customers" from a paying point of view, and seem .possessed of the idea that one must pay for the Paris style ; which X— ct Cie never fail to make them do. It is, indeed, refreshing to hear Miss P. Q. Kutner, of Chicago, exclaim with a soft nasal inflection, that a hat is " real sweet and very cheap " and 200fr, the materials of which did not cost as many pence. They are also, if really well-bred, by far the most considerate " shoppers." " Don't you feel tired at the end of the day, stooping about and trying on. things for a lot of silly women?" asked a young New York lady not long ago, " and," with a glance at my waist, " don't such tight corsets make you feel ill at times?" Arid more than this, she gave as little trouble as she could, whicb is worth a good deal of empty sympathy. Men are far more frequently found accompanying their feminine relatives and lady acquaintances on shopping expeditions in Paris thanjn London. A Frenchman will boldly— and often, intelligently— give an opinion concerning the hang of a skirt» the fit of a bodice, the colour of a material, or the style of a hat. He is easy -where an Englishman is awkward, an artist where an American man is merely a bargainer. One can, too, almost invariably tell the newlymarned : the man is generous ; the old man with a young wife is but little less so. Tha lover is the best payer of all.
LADIES' COLUMN., Star, Issue 7843, 24 October 1903
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.
This newspaper was digitised in partnership with Christchurch City Libraries (1910-1920).
Papers Past now contains more than just newspapers. Use these links to navigate to other kinds of materials.
These links will always show you how deep you are in the collection. Click them to get a broader view of the items you're currently viewing.
Enter names, places, or other keywords that you're curious about here. We'll look for them in the fulltext of millions of articles.
Browsed to an interesting page? Click here to search within the item you're currently viewing, or start a new search.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Switch between images of the original document and text transcriptions and outlines you can cut and paste.
Print, save, zoom in and more.
If you'd rather just browse through documents, click here to find titles and issues from particular dates and geographic regions.
The "Help" link will show you different tips for each page on the site, so click here often as you explore the site.