The Scent of a Woman With One Dress




Almonte Gazette September 26 1884


“ Are you as happy now as you were before yon were married?” asked Mrs. Burns of a young new bride named Mrs. Johnson.

“ Yes, indeed,” replied the Mrs. Johnson; “and a great deal happier!”

“That is strange,” suggested Mrs. Burns. “Not at all strange,” came from the young married woman.

“ You see, before I was married I used to spend half my time worrying about what dress I should wear, when my suitor called.”

“But don’t you try just as hard to look well when your husband returns home at night?” informed Mrs. Burns.

“Well, you see,” went on the bride of two summers, “ I don’t worry any about it now as I have only one dress to my name.”


The McNeely Sisters of Lanark County Ontario–


Women spun and wove their own cloth and a popular cloth was linsey-woolsey, made by weaving linen and wool together. This cloth was less expensive than pure wool but still warm and strong. Women also dyed the clothing they produced. They used some local materials, such as alder bark and black oak bark, to produce browns and yellows. Imported woad and indigo (both for blues) and madder (for reds) were also popular. Women made much of the family’s clothing from these homemade fabrics although they might also buy calico or gingham cloth for special occasions.


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Reverend James Robertson of Sherbrooke, Quebec and family-University of Winnipeg Library


To be honest women wore simple, slip-on dresses. Dresses might be made in one piece or might consist of a sacque and overskirt. The sacque was a long dress with a full skirt that hung loosely to the floor or the ankle. In a culture that highly valued female modesty women’s long skirts were useful as curtains. So simple a matter as bodily functions on a terrain that provided no shelter could make daily life an agony of embarrassment when there was no other woman to make of her extended skirt a curtain.


Image result for mum deodorant 1880s


So one can assume that we women were “rank in smell” –only owning only one or two dresses. Put simply, all humans stunk. Anthropologists now believe that our funky selves helped keep us from being some predator’s dinner. Our scent was so rank that the animal about to eat us would actually recoil in horror at the smell and would move on to eat something less repulsive. Now that’s a defence mechanism.

The first trademarked deodorant  “Mum” came out in 1888. Created by an unknown Philadelphia inventor, Mum was a paste applied to the underarms. It was soon followed by Everdry, the first effective antiperspirant. Everdry was an aluminum chloride solution that was dabbed on with a cotton swab to less than desirable results. Everdry took forever to dry, was messy, and had a nasty habit of stinging the user and eating through clothes. But hey, at least you weren’t sweating.



Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun



About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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