No job opportunities exist for Violet Spinrad in 1870—that’s about to change. (We hate change.)
I didn’t know what to do, but I needed money.
I’d heard Silky Sue, had built a house next to her saloon. I left 14-year-old, Mc’Allister in charge of the other 5 kids, rode our spavined workhorse into Two Pan, and knocked at Mizz Sue’s back door.
I was shocked when a maid/cook/laundress woman named Georgette answered. She invited me in and told me Silky Sue would receive me in the parlor.
I about swallowed my tongue when she appeared in a blue high-necked morning dress trimmed with pleats, flounces, and ruching. I felt under-dressed, like a bucket woman in a sausage factory. I didn’t explain or apologize, but introduced myself and asked if she had any sewing I could do.
She seemed to know of me, though I’ve never set eyes on the woman. She asked if I could fix a corset so it couldn’t be tight laced. I told her I could sew anything, even a saddle. She instructed Georgette to take me over to the saloon and collect corsets. We went upstairs over the bar to see “the girls.”
They invited us into their room, even though they were attired in undergarments. I didn’t know where to look when talking, so I followed Georgette’s example and stared them in the face. It seems the saloon girls only wore their fancy Italian silk and velvet dresses when they worked. Those soft fabrics required a firm foundation and they had the strangest corsets I’d ever seen special ordered from Spain.
Their foundations didn’t slip over their heads like mine to be tightened by someone else (which I never wore taut). Theirs had metal busks down the front so they could be taken off and on without help…just like a shirt.
The gal named, Elyse, threw a fit when she learned I was altering the lacing. “A girl’s ambition is to have a waist measurement not exceeding her age, and marry at 21,” she yelled, throwing one of her corsets at me.
Georgette pointed a finger and told her, “Missy, that boat has sailed. If you’d stop squeezing off your air and passing out every night, you might be married to one of these toothless miners by now.”
The other saloon girl, Red, had nothing for me to sew. She was a singer and never wore her corset tight. She was explaining how she needed to breathe big when we heard yelling and the sound of fighting on the stairway.
Georgette pushed me against a wall, murmuring a prayer as the door flew open. A man lurched in. Drunk. Cussing. He stumbled toward Red with a knife and stabbed her.
The two men who’d wrestled with him on the stairway scrambled into the room and knocked the drunk down. Red banged him on the head with her porcelain wash basin, shattered pieces flying over the room.
“Hades Fire!!” Red said, examining herself. The knife had slit her silk camisole, but bounced off the whalebone stays of her overbust corset. She was fine except for the sliced undergarments. “I guess I do have some mending for you, after all, ” she told me.