Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 10

Author: William Cowper Brann

Glory of the New Garter.


A few seasons ago when Audrey Beardsleyism was the rage and Oscar Wilde a lion in "sassiety" gay plaid stockings in Persian or Audrey Beardsley designs sold as high as $7.50 a pair, enough I should say to enable a poor devil like me to live a week. But this is not all. For spring or June brides of the "swell London sassiety set," fine white silk stockings cost $22.50 a pair must go with a wedding gown and trousseau equally as extravagant, the climax of fashion’s freakish ways being the rose-made garter worn over said stockings. Parisian society which smells to heaven in fashionable odors has now originated garters made of primroses, harebells, narcissus, violets and lillies, the same being worn by the ladies at balls and receptions in Paris. Knots of blossoms are caught among the thick flouncings and ruches of the petticoats; and even the embroidered corset has its little bouquet attachment. The inside flounce of the most delicate evening gowns is made entirely of flowers, and the newest garter is simply made to conform to the general harmony of fragrance and color.

The appropriateness of a flower for garter-wearing purposes is considered according to the degree and strength of its perfume, the most highly perfumed being the most highly appropriate. Violets are in great favor, and are used for garters worn with lilac, lavander, delicate green or white costumes. Again, as American women love to ape the fashionable society of gay Paris it may not be very long before in the great cities of the country we may not only have the American morphine fiend and cologne-drinker, but also the perfume faddist. Not long ago a Paris druggist communicated to a few French "sassiety" women the plan of perfuming the skin by means of hypodermic injections. The favorite distilled odors are violet and lavender. I know not how true it is, but I heard that this fashion is already being taken up by some of New York city’s fashionable freaks of "sassiety" women.

I have recently been engaged in reading two very interesting histories, the one of the rose, the other of perfume, in reading which I was deeply impressed with the fact that all the civilizations of the past, previous to their downfall, had their rose fetes, their festivals of flowers where luxury and license ruled, where effeminacy ruled supreme, their perfumed halls and extravagant balls and soirees. Before the fall of the Roman Empire, the wealthy abandoned themselves to pleasure, luxury and licentiousness and such expressions as "living in the midst of roses," and "sleeping on roses" had a deep and tragic meaning. Seneca speaks of Smyndiride who could not sleep if one of the rose petals with which his bed was spread happened to be curled. Cicero alludes to the then prevailing custom among the Romans of reclining at the table on couches covered with roses. Ah, my jeweled buddies, there were Adonises in those days!

When Cleopatra, the perfumed serpent of the Nile, went into Cilicia to meet Mark Antony, she gave him for several days a festival such as the gods themselves would not blush to participate in. She had placed in the banqueting hall twelve couches large enough to hold three guests. Purple tapestry interwoven with gold covered the walls, golden vases admirably executed and enriched with precious stones stood on a magnificent gold floor. On the fourth day the queen carried her sumptuousness so far as to pay a talent ($600.00 in our money) for a quantity of roses, with which she caused the floor of the hall to be covered to a depth of eighteen inches. These flowers were retained in a very fine net, to allow the guests to walk over them. According to Suetonius, Nero (the fiddler of burning Rome and the tyrant par excellence of the ancient day) gave a fete at one time on the Gulf of Baiae when inns were established on the banks, and ladies of noble blood played hostesses to the occasion, the roses alone costing more than four million of sesterces, or $100,000. As the hag Tofana was the inventor of a new and deadly poison, so Lucius Aurelius Verus was the inventor of a new species of luxury. He had a most magnificent couch made, on which four raised cushions closed in on all sides by a very thin net, and made of leaves of roses. Heliogabalus, celebrated for every kind of vice and luxury, caused roses to be crushed with the kernels of the pine (pinus maritima) in order to increase the perfume. Roses were, by the order of this same emperor, scattered over the couches, halls and even the portierres of the palaces were decorated with the same. A profusion of flowers of every kind, lilies, violets, hyacinths, narcissus, etc., filled great quantities of space. Gallien, another cruel and luxurious princeling, lay under arbors of roses sometimes varying the performance by reclining on beds of roses. Before her downfall Rome could spend millions on her royal tables, support the dignity of a single senator at $80,000 a year, employ courts of sycophants and flatterers, impose taxes at the pleasure of her ruler, declare any complaint treason, marry her daughters for money and title, employ notaries to attest the fatness of her banquet fowls, punish a servant for disobedience and trivial offenses with death, while letting the monied thief and murderer go free with a mild reprimand, and making slaves and menials of the profoundest philosophers. The dancer and the buffoon received the homage and the adoration which in the golden age of Greece under the reign of Pericles only scholars, philosophers and artists received. Poverty in those days was crime, so in ours! Augustine of Rome was utterly ignored. "In exact proportion to the sum of money a man keeps in his chest," says Juvenal, "is the credit given to his oath." Verily, reader, these days at the end of the nineteenth century are greatly similar to those last days of Rome. Yvette Gilbert, the songstress of the vile, the recitationist of the vulgar, and Le Loie Fuller, the dancer of the serpentine, live off the fat of the land every day. The songstress and the kickeress get their thousands of dollars per week, while "the poor devil of a workingman" must be satisfied with a dollar a day cash and barrels of unlimited confidence. Caligula’s horse wore a collar of pearls and drank from an ivory trough. Nero fiddled while Rome was burning. Cleveland when president drank his morning coffee from a cup worth $100 at least, and went fishing at Buzzard’s Bay while the ship of state was plunging among the rocks and breakers of bonded indebtedness. Conde spent three thousand crowns to deck his palace at Chantilly. The Duke of Albuquerque had forty silver ladders. The expression then, as now, was often heard, "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer." San Pedro, Cal., November 11.


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Chicago: William Cowper Brann, "Glory of the New Garter.," Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 10 in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 10 (New York: The Century Co., 1899), Original Sources, accessed July 12, 2024,

MLA: Brann, William Cowper. "Glory of the New Garter." Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 10, in Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 10, New York, The Century Co., 1899, Original Sources. 12 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Brann, WC, 'Glory of the New Garter.' in Brann the Iconoclast— Volume 10. cited in 1899, Brann the Iconoclast—Volume 10, The Century Co., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 12 July 2024, from