Shopping in Paris (in 1907)

by Erin on October 28, 2006


Elizabeth Otis Williams

Have I mentioned just how much I love Google Book Search? I love GBS. A lot. Like, bake-them-all-cupcakes, write-them-mash-notes a lot. Not just because (or in spite of) I find about a book a week through them that I just *must* own, or because they're now letting you download PDFs of the older, out-of-copyright stuff (including old home sewing books, check it out!), but mostly because of serendipitous finds like this one.

Here's what Elizabeth Otis Williams has to say about shopping in Paris, before the Great War:

There are many good dressmakers in Paris, besides the large houses that all the world knows. The chief thing in ordering dresses at these places is to refuse to have them too much trimmed. They make such delightful elaborations with hand-made tucks, etc., and give such original and unexpected touches that one is tempted to let them err in making the trimmings and details too elaborate.

In the Reference List is given … dressmakers who we know are satisfactory both as to fit and finish. All the addresses given are places we know personally or through friends. Some are cheap, some are moderate in price, and others are expensive, but all are reliable, and make things that are good for their price. We know of other dressmakers who make lovely things but fail to keep their engagements, or who are unsatisfactory in their dealings, making bills larger than the customer has been led to expect, or using poor materials for linings. We have avoided giving addresses of this class. At places which are not reliable the model shown is often charming, but the dress that is sent home is very badly finished, and lined with inferior material.

French hats are not all made for young people. They make very chic and dignified hats for older women. In England or in America a hat made for a middle-aged woman is often quite too "old ladyish," or else it has no character, and its appropriateness consists solely in the fact that it is not noticeable! In Paris a middle-aged lady can get a hat that is suited to her years and yet handsome and stylish; and as for hats for young people, they are bewildering in their variety and beauty.

Isn't this marvelous! And yet it's something that I'd probably never have run across if not for GBS. (I checked Bookfinder.com — there are about five or six copies and they are in the $50 range, so this is not something I'd be likely to find anywhere, much less buy. According to WorldCat, twenty-six libraries have the 1907 editions, and two have the edition of 1911.)

Anyway, if you have a moment (or are stuck in an airport, as I am at the moment) go browse a bit. I was also fascinated by the (very short) list of restaurants where a woman could dine alone … not to mention this bit: "The marriage regulations are very strict, and foreigners contracting a marriage in France often think that they have done all that is necessary, and find afterwards that they have not." There's a novel in that sentence, all right!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Robinson October 28, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Such timeless advice.

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ambika October 28, 2006 at 6:19 pm

I love books on customs and culture from a bygone time. Frances Trollope’s ‘Domestic Manners of the Americans’ (however negative it is) for the details and everyday things it covers that you simply can’t get from a typical history book. I’ll definitely be checking out Google Book Search. What will they think of next. Seriously.

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htwollin October 28, 2006 at 6:48 pm

So, women had a tough time finding suitable hats in those days, too. Boggles the mind.

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Anonymous October 28, 2006 at 8:49 pm

Shopping in Paris is overrated. The French are overly romanticized. Yeah, I didn’t have a good time there.

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Carol October 28, 2006 at 9:51 pm

I once worked with a vascular surgeon that remarked that his daughter was a bit of a trial to him, “she would only buy her clothes in New York, Paris , and Tokyo.” I was ready to strangle her (and him) right then and there. I know I was jealous, but, my goodness, what a monster (spoiled b*tch) he must have raised.

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nora October 28, 2006 at 10:00 pm

The warning about “refusing to have [dresses] too much trimmed” is fun in the light of earlier discussion about the recent LACK of detail in dressmaking…though there is often still a lot of FUSSINESS on clothes (also previously discussed), which is certainly different than details, such as tucks, which can actually improve fit and style. I saw a skirt the other day that was MARVELOUSly trimmed, with rows of fancy applied pleating near the edge – looked sort of turn-of-the-century or something, but on an otherwise very simple brown cotton skirt. Out of my price range, sadly, but (for once) for good reason. And I imagine it made it hang nicely, too, from the weight…

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kmkat October 29, 2006 at 12:07 am

Google book search, huh? That totally appeals to my librarian side. (I felt so smug that I already knew about WorldCat, even though I only learned of it about 4 days ago.)My favorite quirky use of Google is the “define:” function when I don’t know how to spell a word.You type “define:” without the quotes but with the colon, then a space and the word. It comes back with definitions from various online dictionaries.

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Salinya October 29, 2006 at 2:40 am

That’s a great find thanks for sharing!

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Anonymous October 29, 2006 at 9:22 am

Dover now has reprinted Victorian dressmaking books as well as pattern drafts. Inexpensive and full of details. http://www.doverpublications.com

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vanessa October 29, 2006 at 12:33 pm

thank you so much for mentioning it. You just saved me a trip to the library, no lie and i was even dreading it but now i can sweetly look at the book while at home.

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oracle October 29, 2006 at 3:38 pm

Yes, it’s very neat.

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Gracie October 31, 2006 at 8:47 pm

I just read this little blurb in a publishing newsletter and thought of this entry in your blog. I guess the French aren’t as crazy about the GBS as we are. I, however, found the portion I’ve bolded to be too priceless not to share with someone. “The French Publishers’ Association has officially joined in La Martiniere Group’s lawsuit against Google over their Book Search service, filed last June. They have the same objections to the program as publishers and authors in other countries, but then there is this added twist: “One of the issues at stake is the way Google presents the search results: They are shown graphically as a ragged-edged piece of paper, as if torn from a book. That angers the French publishers because it portrays their work as just one step away from the trash can, said Tessa Destais, a spokeswoman for La Martiniere.”

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Cin November 3, 2006 at 9:02 am

I love old books on this topic, and have begun to succumb to my interest by trolling second-hand bookstores. One of my favourite finds is a Margery Wilson etiquette book from the early 40′s. Thank you for sharing this!

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