For You: 1800’s Parties

This is another interesting tidbit from Light and Shadows of New York Life, 1875 – all about how to throw a good party.


New York has long been celebrated for its magnificent social entertainments.  Its balls, dinner parties, receptions, private theatricals, picnics, croquet parties, and similar gatherings are unsurpassed in respect to show in any city in the world.  Every year some new species of entertainment is devised by some leader in society, and repeated throughout the season by every one who can raise the money to pay for it.  The variety, however, is chiefly in the name, for all parties, breakfasts, dinners, suppers, or receptions are alike.

Of late years it is becoming common not to give entertainments at one’s residence, but to hire public rooms set apart for that purpose.  There is a large house in the upper part of Fifth avenue, which is fitted up exclusively for the use of persons giving balls, suppers, or receptions. It is so large that several entertainments can be held at the same time on its different floors, without either annoying or inconveniencing the others.  The proprietor of the establishment provides everything down to the minutest detail, the wishes and tastes of the giver of the entertainment being scrupulously respected in everything.  The host and hostess, in consequence, have no trouble, but have simply to be on hand at the proper time to receive their guests.  This is a very expensive mode of entertaining, and costs from 5000 to 15,000 dollars, for the caterer expects a liberal profit on everything he provides; but to those who can afford it, it is a very sensible plan.  It saves an immense amount of trouble at home, and preserves one’s carpets and furniture from the damage invariably done to them on such occasions, and averts all possibility of robbery by the strange servants one is forced to employ. Still, many who possess large and elegant mansions of their own prefer to entertain at their own homes.

Upon the evening appointed a carpet is spread from the curbstone to the front door, and over this is placed a temporary awning.  A policeman is engaged to keep off the crowd and regulate the movements of the carriages.  About nine o’clock magnificent equipages, with drivers and footmen in livery, commence to arrive, and from these gorgeous vehicles richly dressed ladies and gentlemen alight, and pass up the carpeted steps to the entrance door.  On such occasions gentlemen are excluded from the carriage if possible, as all the space within the vehicle is needed for the lady’s skirts.  The lady is accompanied by a maid whose business it is to adjust her toilette in the dressing room, and see that everything is in its proper place.

At the door stands some one to receive the cards of invitation.  Once admitted, the ladies and gentlemen pass into the dressing rooms set apart for them.  Here they put the last touches to their dress and hair, and, the ladies having joined their escorts, enter the drawing room and pay their respects to the host and hostess.  When from one to two thousand guests are to be received, the reader may imagine that the labors of the host and hostess are not slight.

Every arrangement is made for dancing.  A fine orchestra is provided, and is placed so that it may consume as little space as possible.  A row of chairs placed around the room, and tied in couples with pocket-handkerchiefs, denotes that “The German” is to be danced during the course of the evening.  There is very little dancing, however, of any kind, before midnight, the intervening time being taken up with the arrivals of guests and promenading.

About midnight the supper room is thrown open, and there is a rush for the tables, which are loaded with every delicacy that money can buy.  The New York physicians ought to be devoutly thankful for these suppers. They bring them many a fee.  The servants are all French, and are clad in black swallow-tail coats and pants, with immaculate white vests, cravats and gloves.  They are as active as a set of monkeys, and are capital hands at anticipating your wants.  Sometimes the refreshments are served in the parlors, and are handed to the guests by the servants.

The richest and costliest of wines flow freely.  At a certain entertainment given not long since, 500 bottles of champagne, worth over four dollars each, were drunk.  Some young men make a habit of abstaining carefully during the day, in order to be the better prepared to drink at night.  The ladies drink almost as heavily as the men, and some of them could easily drink their partners under the table.

After supper the dancing begins in earnest.  If The German is danced it generally consumes the greater part of the evening.  I shall not undertake to describe it here.  It is a great mystery, and those who understand it appear to have exhausted in mastering it their capacity for understanding anything else.  It is a dance in which the greatest freedom is permitted, and in which liberties are taken and encouraged, which would be resented under other circumstances.  The figures really depend upon the leader of the dance, who can set such as he chooses, or devise them, if he has wit enough.  All the rest are compelled to follow his example.  The dance is thoroughly suited to the society we are considering, and owes its popularity to the liberties, to use no stronger term, it permits.

The toilettes of the persons present are magnificent.  The ladies are very queens in their gorgeousness.  They make their trails so long that half the men are in mortal dread of breaking their necks over them; and having gone to such expense for dry goods in this quarter, they display the greatest economy about the neck and bust.  They may be in “full dress” as to the lower parts of their bodies, but they are fearfully undressed from the head to the waist.

Towards morning the ball breaks up.  The guests, worn out with fatigue, and not unfrequently confused with liquor, take leave of their hosts and go home.  Many of them repeat the same performance almost nightly during the season.  No wonder that when the summer comes they are so much in need of recuperation.

Make A Writer Happy

People are always happy to talk about their favorite books and authors, but did you know you can help them out?

Writing (17 of 30)

The best thing a reader can do for their favorite author is to take two minutes to write a review!

Most people would rather go to the dentist, though – there’s just something about that blank page on the website that intimidates people.

Here’s a painless way to write a review that will help increase your favorite author’s book sales and make them happier:

  • Stick to the big reading websites for your reviews: Amazon and Goodreads – and write a review on each one, not just one of them! Some people only look on one of the sites and never see the review you may have written on the other site
  • Just make a simple title like “I loved this book” or “You’ll want to read this” instead of wasting time trying to think up a catchy phrase
  • Start by giving a short summary of the main points of the book in 1-2 sentences. “A lonely girl is whisked away to a magical land and must try to return home.” “Three children travel to a magical land where nobody ever grows up.” “A simple hobbit must travel across the world to destroy an evil object that can enslave everyone in Middle Earth.” You don’t have to give a lot of information, just enough to get other readers interested.
  • Tell what you liked – this is the meat of your review so be honest. Let other people know what it is about this particular book that struck such a chord in your heart. Explain why it’s so good and why you keep reading it over and over. This is the part your author will most likely quote, so feel free to be as flowery as you want.
  • Tell why the other readers will like it – this is where you can say “if you like _____, you’ll like this book, too” and mention some of your other favorites!
  • End with a short endorsement like “I would definitely read any book this author writes” or “This author is one of my favorites.”

Writing (5 of 30)

Not so very hard, now, is it? Why not try it out – click on one of the links above and go praise your favorite writer!


For You: The Lads Travel

In the latest book, the lads (and friends) must travel across the country by train. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter for your enjoyment:


Half the car had been arranged almost like a pair of parlor sitting rooms, with large cushioned chairs facing one another and a small table between. I spotted the curtains that would be pulled around to form our “bedrooms.” We even had a sofa large enough for Kye to nearly stretch out on, in the back of the “parlor.” There was a coal-burning stove at one end of the car, which did wonders toward dissipating the damp chill in the air. I left Kye examining the chairs, which would fold out into our beds for the night. The table folded away into the wall as well. Our trunks and dressing cases were settled neatly in the back corner of the car, where we could easily get at whatever outfit we desired. One side of the car was to be mine and my “wife’s,” while Kye would take the other side. 

The forward end of the car contained a dining table and chairs. Kye set the picnic basket on the table, with a longing backward glance. We had our own kitchen at this end, with a cook and two waiters. 

“Once we cross the Rocky Mountains,” I told the ladies, “we will have a dining car on the train, like a moving restaurant.”

Emily clapped her hands. “I cannot imagine why I have not traveled more, if it is this comfortable.”

“Hardly as comfortable for the masses,” I replied. “Second class consists of hard benches arranged in rows. Even the ordinary first class passenger must share a compartment with others.”

“I remember the train to San Diego. It was not so bad, sharing a car, and I did not think that there were so many other people.”

More than I like on a journey, and I’m a man who enjoys company. “We weren’t on that train for 10 days, my dear.”

I also enjoy my privacy when it’s time to retire for the evening, and I like a bit more than just a curtain between me and my fellow passengers. I rang for a porter, gratified at the speed with which the man appeared. We might even have our own porter on this journey.

The porter — they all answered to “George,” after George Pullman, who invented the cars in which we rode — was a tall, thin, black fellow in a spotless white uniform. He flashed a grin at the coin I slipped into his palm, and brought a nice bottle of brandy and a box of cigars. The smoking car, he informed me, was only two cars in front of us, just past the first class compartments. Kye and I would be spending a good bit of time there, or on the platform at the rear of our car.

Barbara had been busy unpacking all the things that a lady needs to entertain herself: a selection of magazines, a basket of sewing, a writing kit, and even a sketching book. The car looked practically like a real parlor. I poured a brandy and took a seat opposite Emily’s. Kye and Barbara would have the chairs beside ours, at the opposite windows, until it was time to retire. Then, Barbara would remove herself to the servant’s area beside the kitchen, where she had a small but comfortable-looking compartment.

“We shall all have excellent views,” Barbara said now, watching out her window as the baggage handlers hurried about, loading the baggage car. She had set a canvas bag at her side, most likely containing an assortment of the lurid dime novels she read. If Barbara Myers had been born a man, she would likely have been an even more flamboyant outlaw than yours truly.

Emily prowled the car with Kye, poking her nose into all of the ingenious contraptions that made a railroad car into a living space. She and Kye exclaimed over the lamps, set in such fashion that they swayed with the motion of the rail and remained upright, rather than pitching from side to side. I busied myself watching the passengers now boarding.

There were the usual assortment of Traveling Salesmen, of course, weary-looking men clutching their sample cases. They spent much of their lives on the road, and thought of the hours ahead as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. They’d probably be good for a card game when the ride grew too boring. I spotted a couple of Young Families, the wives herding their offspring onto the car, or sending an older child scampering after a straying younger brother or sister.  An Elderly Widow ascended to first class, followed by her sour-looking maid. I felt sorry for whoever sat next to that pair.

A few last-minute arrivals bustled over, and were hurried on board. With a whoosh of steam and a series of great jerks, the double engines pulled us away from the station. A cloud of cinders flew past the windows, sparkling in the gloom, and the scent of wood smoke stung my nose. That ash would get everywhere if we opened the windows or left the car. Our clothing would require a good cleaning once we reached our destination. I had to remember that it was small price to pay for such a speedy journey. After all, it had taken our grandparents months to travel across the country. Just because I’d prefer to be relaxing within my own drawing room was no reason to disparage the wonders of modern technology.

The Price of Fashion in 1870

I’ve found a great little book for my research: Light and Shadows in New York Life, published in 1872. There’s a chapter that gives some idea of how much a wealthy woman of the time would have spent on her wardrobe. Of course, Miss Emily wouldn’t have been quite as ostentatious, but you can imagine that her gowns would have been pretty close to these prices, due to the quality of the material and the talents of her dress-maker.


Here’s a quote from that chapter – I’ve highlighted what I found most interesting.

Oh, and remember that $1.00 in 1870 would translate out to between $28 and $38 today!

Says a recent writer:

“It is almost impossible to estimate the number of dresses a very fashionable woman will have.  Most women in society can afford to dress as it pleases them, since they have unlimited amounts of money at their disposal.  Among females dress is the principal part of society.  What would Madam Mountain be without her laces and diamonds, or Madam Blanche without her silks and satins?  Simply commonplace old women, past their prime, destined to be wall-flowers.  A fashionable woman has just as many new dresses as the different times she goes into society.  The elite do not wear the same dresses twice.  If you can tell us how many receptions she has in a year, how many weddings she attends, how many balls she participates in, how many dinners she gives, how many parties she goes to, how many operas and theatres she patronizes, we can approximate somewhat to the size and cost of her wardrobe.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that she has two new dresses of some sort for every day in the year, or 720.  Now to purchase all these, to order them made, and to put them on afterward, consumes a vast amount of time.  Indeed, the woman of society does little but don and doff dry-goods.  For a few brief hours she flutters the latest tint and mode in the glare of the gas-light, and then repeats the same operation the next night. 


She must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each; she must possess thousands of dollars’ worth of laces, in the shape of flounces, to loop up over the skirts of dresses, as occasion shall require. Walking-dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball-dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost of from $500 to a $1000; while wedding-dresses may cost from $1000 to $5000.  Nice white Llama jackets can be had for $60;  robes princesse, or overskirts of lace, are worth from $60 to $200.  Then there are travelling-dresses in black silk, in pongee, velour, in pique, which range in price from $75 to $175.  Then there are evening robes in Swiss muslin, robes in linen for the garden and croquet-playing, dresses for horse-races and for yacht-races, robes de nuit and robes de chambre, dresses for breakfast and for dinner, dresses for receptions and for parties, dresses for watering-places, and dresses for all possible occasions.  A lady going to the Springs takes from twenty to sixty dresses, and fills an enormous number of Saratoga trunks.  They are of every possible fabric–from Hindoo muslin, ‘gaze de soie,’ crape maretz, to the heavy silks of Lyons.

“We know the wife of the editor of one of the great morning newspapers of New York, now travelling in Europe, whose dress-making bill in one year was $10,000!  What her dry-goods bill amounted to heaven and her husband only know.  She was once stopping at a summer hotel, and such was her anxiety to always appear in a new dress that she would frequently come down to dinner with a dress basted together just strong enough to last while she disposed of a little turtle-soup, a little Charlotte de Russe, and a little ice cream.

“Mrs. Judge —, of New York, is considered one of the ‘queens of fashion.’  She is a goodly-sized lady–not quite so tall as Miss Anna Swan, of Nova Scotia–and she has the happy faculty of piling more dry-goods upon her person than any other lady in the city; and what is more, she keeps on doing it.  To give the reader a taste of her quality, it is only necessary to describe a dress she wore at the Dramatic Fund Ball, not many years ago.  There was a rich blue satin skirt, en train. Over this there was looped up a magnificent brocade silk, white, with bouquets of flowers woven in all the natural colors.  This overskirt was deeply flounced with costly white lace, caught up with bunches of feathers of bright colors.  About her shoulders was thrown a fifteen-hundred dollar shawl.  She had a head-dress of white ostrich feathers, white lace, gold pendants, and purple velvet.  Add to all this a fan, a bouquet of rare flowers, a lace handkerchief, and jewelry almost beyond estimate, and you see Mrs. Judge — as she appears when full blown.

“Mrs. General — is a lady who goes into society a great deal.  She has a new dress for every occasion.  The following costume appeared at the Charity Ball, which is the great ball of the year in New York.  It was imported from Paris for the occasion, and was made of white satin, point lace, and a profusion of flowers.  The skirt had heavy flutings of satin around the bottom, and the lace flounces were looped up at the sides with bands of the most beautiful pinks, roses, lilies, forget-me-nots, and other flowers.

“It is nothing uncommon to meet in New York society ladies who have on dry-goods and jewelry to the value of from thirty to fifty thousand dollars.  Dress patterns of twilled satin, the ground pale green, pearl, melon color, or white, scattered with sprays of flowers in raised velvet, sell for $300 dollars each; violet poult de soie will sell for $12 dollars a yard; a figured moire will sell for $200 the pattern; a pearl-colored silk, trimmed with point applique lace, sells for $1000; and so we might go on to an almost indefinite length.”

Those who think this an exaggerated picture have only to apply to the proprietor of any first-class city dry-goods store, and he will confirm its truthfulness.  These gentlemen will tell you that while their sales of staple goods are heavy, they are proportionately lighter than the sales of articles of pure luxury.  At Stewart’s the average sales of silks, laces, velvets, shawls, gloves, furs, and embroideries is about $24,500 per diem.  The sales of silks alone average about $15,000 per diem.