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Frontispiece of Masquerades, Tableaux and Drills, published by Butterick in 1906.
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July 6, 2010


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Any idea if the "magpies" on the shoulder and head would be stuffed, or constructed from feathers or possibly from fabric?

(I'm assuming there weren't trained magpies for costumes in actual 19th Century London)

Interesting question, and I've no idea of the answer. They were quite into wearing actual stuffed birds on hats in the late 19th century (interesting article with a list of birds here), but the idea of wearing taxonomy on one's shoulder and in ones hair seems a bit creepier. And I wouldn't have thought the magpie would be a typical bird to use; hard to go out to the store and just purchase a couple. But it doesn't seem out of the question.

Well, that brings up an interesting questions... are these illustrations really indicative of what people would wear, or in some cases are they as unlikely as they perfectly styled foods in gourmet magazines? Whoever designed this costume might very well have envisioned the wearer acquiring real, stuffed magpies to wear on their head and shoulder, thus being the talk of the town, whereas real ladies would look at it and say "Wherever would I find stuffed magpies?"

I've got both a (period) photo of someone in costume as a hornet and also have the drawing it seems to be based on, and she did a pretty good job. So in at least some cases, yes, they were indicative. That photo/drawing pair will show up here eventually. But I'm sure there was lots of room for individual interpretation -- for magpie, the concept seems to be either (1) black and white stripes or (2) half black and half white. Then add stuffed birds.

Assuming people of a certain class (landed gentry), and a few days lead time, one could ask one's gamekeeper to shoot them a magpie or two. The taxidermy would be the time consuming bit.

If one is a time rich lady of a certain class, and one's gamekeeper has made something of a mess of the magpies (as a shotgun might), then plucking the magpie and constructing something with the feathers might be a quicker way of making a magpie.

If one were to attempt to purchase, I note that ebay appears to have only one stuffed magpie for sale at the moment.

Well, then one could only do the first version. The second requires two magpies! :)

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