Almost every newspaper and magazine in the 19th century had a column on what the rich and famous, both locally and abroad, were up to. Reports of the newest fashions seen about town were very common. Most of the time, these columns would report on receptions, dinner parties, balls and engagements. And usually in glowing terms. But there were also some very humorous, and sometimes cutting, anecdotes about the lives of the social elite.
The Fashions: Spring Openings and Styles
From the New York Herald, 22 March 1871
"Opening day in New York among the modistes is as uncertain and fickle as they deity they worship. The greater number throw open their treasures of fashion to the public to-day and to-morrow, and many others, even among the leading houses, defer the great event until April. However, from the 20th of March until the 12th of April scarcely a day will elapse without a grand opening taking place at some modiste’s establishment. Since the occurrence of the sad events in France, which not only dethroned the Bonaparte dynasty, but also the empire of fashion, modistes have been at a loss to know where the chameleon goddess would nest set up headquarters. A colony of Parisian modistes has temporarily established at Brussels, wanting, likely, a favorable opportunity to go back to the once gay capital, now in the hands of the sans culottes and long a stranger to fashion and gayety. Meanwhile, a strong movement is being made to establish here permanently a temple of fashion, from which American ladies can dictate to their sisters across the ocean. London has already recognized this temple, as the fashion magazines of that metropolis borrow all their plates and styles from New York."
Lady Mayo's Pension
Harper's Bazaar, 4 May 1872
"Lady Mayo is to have a pension of $5000 a year from the British government and $100,000 in cash for her children. The London Times calls this "parsimonious gratitude," and that seems to be the popular opinion. It is probable that the sum will be increased. Lord Mayo is bow known to have been a very able executive, and his successor, Lord Northbrook, although a man of capacity, is not believed to have that breadth of talent, not the peculiar tact and adaptability, required for a position of such vast responsibility as that of Governor-General of India."
The Treason and Tyranny of Fashion
The San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, California, 12 July 1878
"The subject of woman’s tame submission to the tyranny of fashions, imposed by men who treasonably invent new absurdities each successive season for the disfigurement of woman, is one that deeply concerns the whole question of the emancipation of the sex; and must be dealt with in a spirit of gravity repellent of the flippancy which is become the custom in speaking of woman in her relations to dress. Men-milliners become millionaires through diabolical devices to benefit their trade at the expense of society, and the disfigurement of the fairest portion of it at the same time; the man-milliners of Paris and London take snuff, and all the women in Christendom sneeze in concert—so to speak; and so it comes about that the noblest women are subjected to the vicious vagaries of the meanest of mankind that they are held by hooks of steel, in the eyes of a censorious world, to the malicious malformations of male mantua-makers—to escape the shadow of ridicule they submit to environment in substantial absurdities."
Lady Poltimore's Ball
Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, 22 May 1880
"Lady Poltimore gave a ball on Thursday last, which was pronounced perfect. The ventilation, the lighting, and the supper were alike excellent, and the company consisted of all the prettiest debutantes and many young married ladies, who vied with the hostess, who inherits the famous beauty of the three lovely Sheridan sisters. Lady Poltimore struck out a new idea in dressing the maids in the tea-room in black gowns, white aprons with bibs, and high white caps."
Remarks on the Alliance of Vanderbilt and the House of Marlborough
The Gentlewoman, London, England, 05 October 1895
“From New York I hear the great topic of the hour is the abnormal heat of the weather. Nothing within memory has equaled it; and no less than eight or nine sunstrokes are the order of the day in the New York streets. Then, of course, they are full of the new matrimonial alliance, and so popular has the young Duke of Marlborough become in Society that they speak of him almost civilly—even in the newspapers—and scarcely grudge him the hand of Miss Consuelo Vanderbilt and her five million dollars. The Duke, we know, is a charming young fellow, pleasant to look upon, and interesting through the fact that he has inherited all the features of the great founder of his house. Then he has shown something of his father’s brilliant intellect, along with a grace of bearing which is all his mother’s. At Hatfield, as elsewhere, he has made an enviable impression. Miss Consuelo Vanderbilt is not too much a New Woman, but just New Woman enough, highly cultured, faultlessly dressed, and reposeful of manner. One imagines she will make a very good Duchess. And she is not above a weakness for pretty things. Her collection of bracelets is well-nigh unique.”