"Gussied Up" from Jerry

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jun 26 20:13:47 UTC 2004

>[to ads-l]:
>Douglas Wilson's early dating of "Gussy up" is interesting. About ten years
>ago I wrote on article on the expression and will send the title and reference
>to ads-l when I return from vacation next week.
>Meanwhile, I remember that the expression most likely derives from a
>character named August (Beekham or something similar) in a once popular
>but now
>obscure 19th century novel titled _Miss Nobody of Nowhere_. August, aka
>Gussie" was always overdressed--a quintessential "dude" as the term was
>used in
>the 1880's amd '90's.

I am not convinced that the "Gussie" character in A. C. Gunter's novel
"Miss Nobody of Nowhere" is likely to be the ancestor of "gussied up": more
likely it is a cousin.

I have some glancing familiarity with Gunter's character names in "Little
Puck" (the play from which our modern word "jinx" appears to be descended
as I explained earlier on this list). I recall "Hercules Savage" as an
intimidating school principal and "Packingham Giltedge" as a prosperous
stockbroker: Gunter apparently was given (at least sometimes) to rather
transparent character names!

"Miss Nobody of Nowhere" was first published in 1888, AFAIK.

Consider this humorous item from early 1886:


_New Era_ (Humeston IA), 7 Jan. 1886: p. 9(?), col. 2:

<<EVOLUTION OF THE OVERCOAT / How Gussie Gradually Brings the Garment into
Harmony with His Feminine Taste. / Caricaturists and writers have
endeavored to show that the garments of the gentle sex are becoming more
and more masculine as years pass on. .... a portion of alleged masculine
mankind is becoming affected in the other direction .... / .... / Take a
good look at this coat. It is last year's style, with a little lah-de-dah
cape half covering the shoulders[,] a pinched corset-suggesting waist, the
first departure towards the feminine cut. It is close-fitting and imparts a
suggestive doubt already as to the sex of its wearer, around whose slight
form it clings so lovingly. It is imported goods and possibly made in "deah
old London, ye know". / .... the overcoat took a step further and evolved
itself into the coat with a hood to it just like a lady's water-proof
cloak. They are to be seen daily all over town, as in this drawing, in
increasing numbers, showing that they have found favor with the "Gussies"
and "Chollies" who infest our society. No wonder women are wearing men's
attire when they see their own appropriated by these creatures. The step is
but a slight one to the next change in costume which "Gussie" will adopt.
In all probability next year you will see the overcoat worn by him adorned
with a large and beautiful bustle ....>>


Here a "Gussie" is an affected and effeminate man, who likes 'sissy'
extravagances in clothing. I guess a "Chollie" (i.e., "Charlie") is
similar, and I've seen a few other "Gussie and Charlie" pairs referring to
'effete' men in the late-19th-century papers. Why these names? I don't
know; the usual speculations are available; "Gussie" is a sexually
ambiguous name and it permits a lisp, while "Charlie" permits an 'affected'
loss of the "r" (according to my naive impression of the notions of the time).

It is of course still conceivable that Gunter's character existed earlier:
for example the same character might have appeared in multiple Gunter
works, or the novel might have been serialized in a magazine earlier (if so
I can't find it now).

-- Doug Wilson

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