“The fact is, mere ordinary folk have not the remotest notion of the extravagant extent to which canine pets are pampered nowadays by their highly-placed mistresses.”
The Strand Magazine, 1896.
In 1896, an enterprising young lady named Mrs. Nugent opened a fashionable club for dogs at 120 New Bond Street in London. It was called the Dogs’ Toilet Club and offered many services for the pampered pets of the wealthy and well to do, including grooming, pet sitting, veterinary care, and dentistry. For those who wished to dress their dogs in the latest fashions, there was even a dogs’ tailoress who worked tirelessly to produce the finest in 19th century canine couture.
An 1896 issue of the Strand Magazine describes the reception room of the Dogs’ Toilet Club as being “quite sumptuous.” It was furnished with expensive occasional tables and decorated with artwork that was “distinctly canine.” Those in the mood to purchase a new wardrobe for their dog could peruse the contents of any one of the glass-topped display cases which showcased such eccentric elegancies as canine mourning costumes and bridal dresses.
Many ladies dropped their dogs off at the Dogs’ Toilet Club while they did their shopping. Others scheduled special appointments for grooming or veterinary services. Fittings with the “dog’s tailoress” could also be scheduled, for as an 1896 edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier states:
“At the Toilet Club all the new styles of coat can be seen, but each pet has to be carefully measured…”
The grooming services offered at the Dogs’ Toilet Club were as luxurious as one might expect at such an establishment. There was no cold water to shock the poor dog or soap to irritate his skin. Instead, the Toilet Club shampooed their doggie patrons with egg yolks and rinsed their coats with a warm water spray.
For pet poodles, the Dogs’ Toilet Club offered a special clipping service. Mr. W. R. Brown, who the Strand Magazine describes as a “premier dog-clipper” and “artist,” was available to clip designs into the poodle’s hair. He could produce an elaborate crest, a scene from a prizefight, or mimic the texture of fine lace. For a basic clip, Brown charged only a sovereign. For the more complex designs—some of which took two sittings and required maintenance clippings every month—the price is quoted as being “£2 2S.”
As mentioned above, doggie dentistry was also available at the Dogs’ Toilet Club. The Strand Magazine reports that a Skye Terrier was able to have two teeth extracted for a half a guinea. The Toilet Club also employed a “special assistant” for cleaning dogs’ teeth. This was generally done with a toothbrush and table salt. However, for those dogs who could not tolerate the salt, a “perfumed dentifrice” was used instead.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Dogs’ Toilet Club was the luxurious canine clothing on offer. According to the Kent & Sussex Courier, in earlier days a dog’s coat had been little more than a piece of cloth bound with ribbon. By the late 19th century, however, a dogs’ tailor was considered to be a “fashionable necessity.” Aristocratic dog owners demanded canine clothing which rivaled their own in quality and extravagance. The Dogs’ Toilet Club happily met this demand.
In the photo below, the dogs’ tailoress is shown working on one particularly luxurious promenade costume of “brown cloth, shot with pink, lined with rose-coloured silk” and “fastened with a 15-carat gold clasp.” Note the large, glass perfume bottles at her side. As the Strand Magazine reports:
“…these dainty garments must be perfumed, otherwise the captious canines might (and do) evince a sudden dislike to the expensive garment selected.”
For prospective members, the Dogs’ Toilet Club required that owners fill out a card. There were gray cards for town dogs and white cards for country dogs. There is no indication that membership standards were particularly rigorous. In fact, in an 1896 interview published in To-Day Magazine, Mrs. Nugent herself admits:
“I did not at first think of this place in the light of a club…but so many people came in with the inquiry, ‘May my dog become a member?’ that I eventually adopted the title of club.”
In the same interview Mrs. Nugent describes her clientele as beings “mostly young,” stating:
“Not so many older ones as you may imagine. But the gentlemen are by no means in a minority.”
The Dogs’ Toilet Club, though unique in London, was not an entirely new idea. Paris had already paved the way when it came to doggie indulgence with canine couturiers like Madame Ledouble, whose luxurious establishment in the Palais Royal is described by the Strand Magazine as “the Eldorado of Dandy Dog-dom.” Madame Ledouble made chic dog clothing and accessories. She also published a fashion book for dogs. Her creations for 1896 included winter visiting dresses of sable and ermine, yachting gowns with embroidered anchors, and traveling suits of box cloth, which the Strand Magazine describes as being:
“…complete with hood and pockets for handkerchief, railway ticket, and biscuit — the latter by way of refreshment en route.”
Public reaction to the Dogs’ Toilet Club varied. Many viewed it as just one more example of the frivolity and excess of spoiled, wealthy ladies with too much time on their hands. For example, a 1900 edition of the Review of Reviews states that the Dogs’ Toilet Club is “instructive as showing how foolish idle people can manage to be.” Others were not quite as generous. As one writer in a much later edition of the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art declares:
“We once visited a Dog’s Toilet Club in Bond Street, and were not amused, but only saddened, at the sights to be seen there, knowing all the mitigable sorrow which lies at the heart of the world.”
Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History. If you are interested in adopting a dog or if you would like to donate your time or money to a rescue organization, I urge you to contact your local animal rescue foundation or city animal shelter. The below links may also be useful as resources:
“The Dogs’ Toilet Club.” To-day. Vol. XI.-No. 131. London: W. A. Dunkerley, 1896.
Fitzgerald, William. “Dandy Dogs.” The Strand Magazine. Vol. XI. London: George Newnes, Ltd., 1896.
“Ladies’ Column.” Kent & Sussex Courier. February 25, 1896.
The Review of Reviews. Vol. 22. July – December. London: William Thomas Stead, 1900.
Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art. London: J. W. Parker and Son, 1921.
“Women’s World.” St. James’s Gazette. January 29, 1896.