The Faux Customer

You already know I enjoy stories of my favorite topics be it travel, shawls or millinery. This story had me do a double take. It comes from  a book I’ve been enjoying, The Diary of a Milliner , by Belle Otis in 1867:

“To illustrate the importance of what I have been saying I will tell a tale of to-day. Those who like to turn every thing to instruction may whittle a moral therefrom

A well-dressed lady came up to me, and asked me to show her some of our handsomest bonnets.

I asked. “Are you looking for any particular style or color?”

“No. I wish to see what will become me best.”

She deliberately took off her own bonnet and commenced trying those that were on the saloon table. One after one she took them up, and put them on her head, till she had seen about thirty casting their differently combined tints over her complexion. She invited my comments and suggestions upon each one. She viewed herself in each in the five mirrors of the saloon, in all the various light she could command, and placed herself in ever conceivable attitude before them.

One thing or another was at fault with every one of them. She had asked the price of all, and cheapened each to the lowest possible fraction for which they could be bought.

She then went to the side-table, and performed the same operation with fifteen or twenty more. There were none that exactly suited.

“Haven’t you put some away in drawers?” she asked. I went the same rounds with a dozen drawers containing six or eight bonnets apiece.

When those were exhausted she pointed to the window, and asked if I would be kind enough to bring here two handsome bonnets that were hanging there.

Something in the inner life, probably it was that attribute of the dual denomination penetration, admonished me that she didn’t wish to purchase a bonnet, but was seeking an afternoon’s entertainment at our expense. Another something, whether it was a spirit tapping, tapping at the inner door I know not, admonished me that there are times when to practice the forbearing policy of the remarkable patriarch, of whom I have been speaking, is to cast pearls before swine. Instead of starting for the desired bonnets, looked at her steadily in the eye while I modulated my voice to a very respectful tone, and replied:

“If you really wish to buy a bonnet, I will go down and get them; but I fear that will suit you no better than the others have done.”

She saw that her role was played to the end and a successful actress she had proved herself. She had confined her audience in the closest attention for about  two hours. The other two bonnets were beyond her reach. With the most inimitable coolness and unconcern she looked me back and replied:

“I don’t wish to buy a bonnet. I bought mine last week.”

If she had struck me in the face I wouldn’t have been more startled and surprised than I was at the exhibition of such boldness. I could scarce refrain from crying out, “O shame, where hides thy blush!”

After a moment, the ease with which she had accomplished her consummate piece of impudence. Moderated by my indignation to a sort of admiration. I would like to know more about you, I thought.

I could conceive of no motive that could induce a lady – so she appeared on the surface – to make so irredeemably mean an exhibition herself. I abnegated self in apparent interest in her affairs, and quietly asked:

“If you didn’t wish to purchase, why have you tried on so many bonnet?”

“I wanted to find out your prices, to see if I got cheated in mine. If I did I’ll never trade at the place where I bought  it again.”

She had told me the truth, but not the whole truth. I like to sift truth to the bottom, so I pursued:

“You needn’t have tried all those bonnets to find out the prices. I would have told you that, with pleasure, if it would have given you satisfaction.

“Oh, I wanted to see, too, if you had a bonnet in your store more becoming to me than mine. My milliner told me if I could find one in the whole city more so I might keep the bonnet and she would give me the money back!”


After extensive internal exasperation for the milliner, the discussion continues revealing the faux-customer had every intention of retrieving her money and leaving the bonnet she purchased as a way of punishing the shopkeeper, claiming “I haven’t worn it but three times, – once to church, once out to Roxbury, and once to the Museum.” and Store-keepers do tell such shocking lies in order to sell their goods, I see no other way but to keep strict watch of them, and bring them up to the mark when they overreach and don’t tell the truth.

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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