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 — 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!

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