Victorian Decorating Ideas Magazine

Colorado Women Magazine

Rocky Mountain News
By James B. Meadow
News Staff Writer
Return of a CENTURY

    Castle Rock actress takes audiences to a very Victorian time! When it comes to synthesizing a sauce or seasoning a soup, basil is brilliant.

    Did you know that once upon a time you could not only cook with basil, but you could court with it?

    And if that expression puzzles you it can only mean one thing: You have not made the acquaintance of Constance Pringle, the pride of London England, and as resolute and demure a lady as you could ever hope to find, particularly in light of the fact that she's about 135 years old, or would be if she were real.

    In truth, Constance is Diana Reardon, a Castle Rock actress who's making a career out of spreading the courtship customs, vernacular and mores of the Victorian era to modern audiences at bridal showers, luncheons and retirement communities.

    "A lot of senior citizens are really entertained, because they're curious about how their parents and grandparents went about courting each other," Reardon says in an accent that bears absolutely no relation to the very British rhythms she adopts as Constance.

    How good is Reardon's shtick? Good enough that after her thoroughly engaging performance at the Heather Gardens retirement community, 84-year-old Florence Flannigan asks a stranger, "Now, where in England was she born?"

    Informed of Reardon's decidedly colonial upbringing, Flannigan asks in a thoroughly unconvinced tone, " Are you sure she's not from England?" But accent aside, what adds pizzazz to Reardon's performance is the rich legacy of courtship rituals she addresses; take" the language of flowers."

    Apparently, way back when, every flower was abloom with meaning. For instance, while the aforementioned red chrysanthemum and columbine meant "I love you" and " I cannot give thee up," respectively, the daisy meant innocence, the larkspur haughtiness, lavender dignity, etc. Helping the group become more fluent in the language of flowers, Reardon passes out pamphlets that provide the flora definitions. Then she invites her audience to help construct a bouquet that would be appropriate for a made-up situation. For instance, she asks the room, what flowers should "Amelia Wordsworth" use to intimidate another girl from going after her paramour, the "dashing and dapper" Heath Wellington?

    In a spirited burst of audience participation, the group shouts out flower names with the gusto and conviction of people shouting out letters and numbers at a bingo game: "Rhododendron" (danger), …"thistle" (retaliation),…"yellow carnation" disdain),…"choral bell" (challenge).

    "Oooh, you all are so good at this," a thoroughly delighted Constance squeals, commending the group members for their quick mastery of "floral repartee." Nevertheless, she takes pains to warn them about the "troublesome contradictions" that can befall someone not so literate in the language of flowers.

    "Even a flower's color has meaning," she says. Ergo, while you might want to send your beau a red carnation (betrothal) you certainly wouldn't want to send him a pink one (maternal love).

    A woman also had to be pretty precise about where she wore flowers. Say, for instance, a suitor had sent her a tussie-mussie (aka nosegay). If she pinned it to the cleavage of bosom," that would be bad news for him, since that signified friendship. Ah, but if she pinned it over her heart, "That was an unambiguous declaration of love."

    Besides the vagaries of flowers, Reardon delves into some of the other nonverbal languages of love and courtship, such as the placement of a stamp on a letter ("Did you know there were 13 different messages you could convey just by where you placed a stamp on a letter?"), how a hat was worn, the twirl of a parasol and, most interesting, the wielding of the fan.

    Assisted by "Geraldine" (Kaitlin Galvani,14) and "Loretta" (Kairee Burnor, 13), two "ingénues" who are students at Constance's pretend finishing school, she shows how the various positions in which a girl held a fan could serve as a bellows for the embers of love-or work like an ice-cold shower.

    When Loretta holds the fan on the tip of the left ear, she's saying in effect, "Please flirt elsewhere." But when Geraldine opens and closes her fan several times in rapid succession that's a crystal-clear assertion that she wants to be kissed. Woven into the fabric of Reardon's hour-plus performance are, to use her words," a potpourri of other topics." Fashion facts figure prominently, as Constance periodically elaborates on some aspect of her own venerable garb (gloves, dress, shoes, hat) or accouterments, such as her "reticule" (handbag) and timepiece ("We ladies always wear our timepieces around our necks, never on our wrists.") Also touched on is the subject of corsets.

    "We're used to being very uncomfortable in our time period," she says, explaining how the slavish use of corsets is intended to give women "the most beautiful, genteel waist." How genteel?

    Well, 18 inches was considered the standard. It's time for Constance and her ingénues to hie into the mists of time. Or as she puts it, ""Our carriage and footmen are awaiting, and we have to get back to our era." "Oh, she was just delightful," says Wilma Carr, giving voice to the predominant sentiment in the room and sounding a bit disappointed that Constance's performance is over.

Amazing how fast 100 years can fly by when you're having fun. 
For more information about Diana Reardon's "Sojourn

With a Victorian Lady, call 660-6429.



The Denver Post
In the manner of Victorians
By Glenn Griffin
Actress re-creates embodiment of a genteel era

    You could call the Reardon clan "Victorian 'R'Us."The thrust for things Victorian comes from actress Diana Reardon, who, as "Constance Pringle," is the Victorian equivalent of Ann Landers as she discourses on etiquette, the language of flowers, social decorum and "coming out" for young ladies. The actress has even gotten her family involved in some presentations.

    Husband Bob becomes "Cedric," a proper and presumably somewhat stuffy gentleman; son Zeke, 13, becomes "Preston," a school lad; son Zeb,19, is either "Whitmore,: the footman, or "Jeeves," the valet: but son Zack 20, Reardon sadly related, "doesn't perform with us, but he's an entertainer.

    He's into French culture and rarely speaks English around the house. Reardon herself also does presentations as Anne of Green Gables "grown up."

    Based in Castle Rock, Reardon mused that her fixation on Victorian graces and mores may have come from her own schooling. " I went to finishing school, actually. That's how I came to 'Constance Pringle.' I was taught acting and modeling. I became a model for TV and runway and I taught modeling.

    Then I became an image consultant. I went to corporations to teach body language, how to shake hands properly-and how you present yourself. I then became a columnist on image. I was able to interview some celebrities; that was fun." As "Constance Pringle" she still writes, freelancing to outlets such as the Denver Wedding Pages magazine. Actions, not words whether in costume or in real life, Reardon admires the Victorians. "They were very Bible-conscious and trying their hardest to be Christians-in the sense of 'Christ like' and not just saying they were Christian. Their morals were deep in their souls. Whenever a man said," Take my word for it, people did. It was a genteel time and people had manners-true manners, not a façade. They were trained from their youth, and today I feel people don't give their children that attention. They (Victorians) were very family-oriented.

    Pretty Women "I guess what turned me on to the Victorian era is that women just looked so pretty. No matter how plain a woman was she looked good. Their hair was in little ringlets, which they called kisses. They created beautiful hats. They were interested in music. They didn't have radio or TV, so a family had no choice but to be close. They naturally did a tremendous amount of talking."

    Out of that love of period came her enterprise: Constance Pringle, the "Victorian lady with a past," who-in full Victorian costume and British accent-will grace social occasions. Bridal showers or wedding receptions are natural outlets; special shows, such as for the Astor House Museum in Golden is another. It is an interactive show, not scripted. As she built the character of "Constance," Reardon imagined someone who "came from London, England. She's also a tutor of social graces and decorum. But she's more than that, she's a social godmother."  "A matchmaker, and they really had those." Thus "Constance" is a faithful guide for the socially upwardly mobile, especially American heiresses from new wealth who deliberately sought European, especially British, titles through marriage.

    Often in her presentations, Reardon is assisted by two debutante "cousins" whose successful coming out is in her (that is, Constance Pringle's) care. " They would hire her to stay in their homes for six months and to speak French. She would teach them an instrument, such as harp or piano, social graces and elocution, obviously. Also singing, which was imperative for a Victorian lady.

    As debutantes they would be 'coming out' in society for three months during which they would be invited to all the social parties." The Anne of Green Gables "grown up" presents an alternate character for Reardon-the storybook Anne has "married her beloved Gilbert and is now the proud mother of six." She is slated to perform on Prince Edward Island, Canada, next summer as part of an Anne of Green Gables Day-"a day-in-the-life thing." Other "Anne of Green Gables" performers tend to focus on Anne's childhood. "I'm the only person who's doing this ((the grownup Anne) according to all the resources." What, when all the etiquette and social gentility is done, will Victorian attitudes get you?

Timely application

   Reardon noted that son Zeb has taken it to heart and turned it to profit. " He runs the 'S.O.S Computer Care, With a Gentleman's Touch.' He goes in his top hat and bow tie-the whole look he uses with me for his business look." It's been successful, according to Reardon, especially for women who seek his help. "They know it's Zeb-who else could it be? And he keeps his Victorian manners, too."

Reardon can be reached at 303-660-6429.


A Collector's Bulletin Magazine
Charity Debuts A Very Victorian  Event
by: Cherie Conway

The new Victorian style Precious Moments figurine, Charity Begins In The Heart, celebrated her debut at Colorado Stationers on Thursday evening, April 16th.  Colorado Victoriana performer Diana Reardon delighted and informed collectors about the genteel late 1800's lifestyle as she brought Charity to life.
    Several years ago, Reardon invented the persona of a British finishing school instructress, Constance Pringle.  Dressed in elaborate period costume and assisted by "ingénues" Charity (Kaitlin Galvani,14) and Loretta, (Kairee Burnor, 13), Constance informed Precious Moments collectors about the social graces and knowledge charity would need for her debut into proper Victorian society.
    With a decidedly British accent, Constance helped the group learn the Victorian language of flowers and the nuances of fans and parasols.  Flowers in particular, delivered a strong, coded message.  Each flower was imbued with meaning.  A daisy meant innocence; Sweet Pea says "meet me," while a marigold signifies grief or jealousy; and inclusion of a thistle in a bouquet designated retaliation and vengeance!
    But as quickly as the group mastered the "floral repartee," Constance warned of further vagaries.  It seems that a specific color changes the floral message.  While a carnation might mean admiration and unfading beauty, a red one signifies betrothal.  A striped or yellow respectively means refusal and disdain.  With considerable relish, the group constructed several hypothetical bouquets to send Victorian messages in particular situations.
    Where a Victorian young lady wore flowers also sent a message.  Finishing school students, Charity and Loretta, demonstrated placement of tussie-mussies.  Proper ladies of the era depended upon their tussie-mussie (nosegay) to relieve an odorous environment.  A tussie-mussie pinned to the cleavage of the bosom signified friendship; pinned over the heart was a declaration of love.
    The two ingenues also demonstrated other ways young Victorian ladies nonverbally communicated with young men.  Various positions, movements, fans and parasols could say, in effect, "Flirt elsewhere" or " I want to be kissed,"  Even the position of a stamp on a "missive" could deliver up to 13 different messages in the Victorian Era!
    The hour long performance was thoroughly enjoyed by the attendees, predominantly members of Denver clubs, "Precious Moments, Precious Memories" and Friendships Are Golden."  The performance was co-sponsored by Crown House Hallmark and Colorado Stationers.  Diana Reardon, in the persona of Constance Pringle, provided most entertaining glimpse into the bygone era of Charity.
Pictures: captions
Diana Reardon as Constance Pringle 
Loretta demonstrates messages by placement of the tussie-mussie 
Diana's costume and glasses are all authentic the era. 
Demonstrating the use of fans 
Loretta and Charity 
Invitation to the debut of Charity 
Constance demonstrates use of tussie mussie to alleviate offensive odors.


Ever wonder what daily life was like during the 19th century? Anyone who has met Diana Reardon a.k.a. Constance Pringle- already knows. Reardon invented the fictional character of Constance, an English "social godmother", to teach audiences about Victorian manners and customs. She performs at a variety of functions in her home state of Colorado, including teas parties, charity benefits, retirement communities and bridal showers, where she teaches guests about Victorian courtship rituals.

Reardon came up with the character after learning about American social structure during the Victorian era. In the 19th century, girls from upper class families, especially families belonging to the " nouveau rich," had to conform to strict social rules in order to be accepted in high society. To gain more status, American mothers often brought their daughters to England, where money was scarce, but royal titles were plentiful. If an American girl married into royalty, her family's clout at home in America rose instantly; it did not matter whether she came from a well-established family or not. However, Americans were not well versed in proper British behaviors, such as presentation at court. To learn the rules and the faux pas of English society, American families would employ the services of a British social godmother to train their daughters to act like proper Victorian ladies.

The character of Constance Pringle embodies one of these social godmothers- she even speaks with an English accent! "She stayed in character the whole time," comments one viewer of Reardon's performance at a recent bridal shower.

A typical performance includes discussions on various Victorian customs. One of her most popular "lessons" includes an explanation of the hidden meanings of flowers . Reardon encourages the audience to create their own bouquets that convey special messages and hands out brochures that participants can use as a guide. She feels that audience interaction is vital to her performance and in allowing her to teach viewers about the era in a meaningful way. "What I do is extremely light-hearted", says Reardon, who strives to combine audience participation, humor and fact in each performance.

When she decided to start her own business, Reardon thought out her priorities and her interests carefully. "I wanted to have the perfect job. I asked myself, ' what would be perfection for me?' and the answer was looking my best, making people laugh and interacting with people." Her passion for performing naturally coincided and her business became a wonderful outlet for her creativity, as well as an escape into a fantasy world. People of the Victorian era enchanted Reardon with their ability, and necessity, to take things slow- a stark contrast to the way we live today.

"I was amazed by how beautiful, how very touching and romantic these people were- it was such a genteel time....they took the time each day to have tea-they took the ritualistic time to stop to enjoy life."

Given the hectic nature of life here in the 21st century, maybe we could all use a lesson on slowing down and appreciating the finer things in life with a Victorian social godmother.


Colorado Women News Magazine..................The editor of the Magazine asked me to write an article for their business feature on how I started my business; so here goes.

I have had the opportunity to create a true fantasy business from scratch. You may have seen me, if you live in Colorado, in my "get up" I wear for work. Dressed like that I am hard to miss. Why? The reason is I am a "lady with a past"_ A past that reaches all the way back over a century! I am The Victorian Lady.

One of the first questions people ask me is- what would encourage a relatively normal person, such as myself, to don an elaborate, obviously vintage, appearance? Well brew yourself a cup of tea while I finish my story. { If you like lemon in your tea, do not add it before the sugar. Sugar will not dissolve once the citric acid permeates your beverage}.

Now are you comfortable? Allow me to regale you with other questions I've been asked about how and why I started my business: My youngest son was eight at the time. I was contemplating how I could I could now help my family financially and hopefully find a creative outlet for myself. What did I want to take into consideration in building my ' niche'?

1. I did not want to deal with inventory[ I've been there}.

2.I wanted to make my own schedule.

3.I wanted to work alone.

4. I wanted to challenge my artistic self.

5. I wanted to pay myself well.

6. I wanted to look my best { to dress up like a princess!}

7. I wanted to do something I could feel passionate about!

8.I wanted to do something that would be fantasy oriented.

This may seem a large bill to fill but I was bound and determined to do it! It took me about a year to figure out what I wanted to do. After a lot of contemplation I came up with an idea I was happy with. I found all this as a Victorian entertainer! I created Constance Pringle, a finishing school instructor from England as my first character. Of course, this required that I learn  the proper accent and what a young lady would expect to learn from her tutor. I had a blast doing the research! I confided in a friendly librarian, letting her know what information I neede and why!

What would you expect a lady from the 19th century to look like? Well first she would don a floor length gown, possibly one with a bit of a train. If it were sunny, she would be carrying a parasol Whatever the weather a proper lady would be gloved. Lace up boots would deftly define her dainty fee and on her head would perch a beautifully plumed hat.

Where to go to find proper costumes? I found that purchasing period pieces is generally cost prohibitive. Besides you would not expect a centurion{ 100 year old person} to keep up with you at a party. Well, the same goes for 100 year old clothing! I purchase period patterns from Amazon Dry Goods and have my dresses made from new fabrics that can be washed and does not wrinkle. Another option, one that is even easier and less expensive, is to go to used clothing stores and piece together a costume i. e., a long full skirt and a a frilly long sleeved blouse. A used bridesmaid or prom dress could be a consideration as well. However you would probably need to make a few changes to make it look more authentic- look at pictures of Victorian gowns for inspiration.

How do I top off this vintage image? I do purchase authentic antique hats because their only job is to just sit there and look pretty. I also purchase straw hats and decorate them with fabric to match my costume. Silk flowers and netting create a beautifully nostalgic effect Ladies' lace-up boots, reminiscent of that by-gone era, are relatively easy to find. I bought mine at Foley's. Western wear shops are another source.

How did I promote my new venture? I did not have the financial resources to pay for advertising. I noticed that each county paper has a section devoted to local artists.  Would they be interested in covering what I am doing when I perform in their town? I found they are all interested in the unique. Within a year, I had 8 articles published about my business and used them to start a portfolio.

There is a consultant in every town that helps small business owners to brainstorm. This is a free service. The local chamber of commerce can tell you how to contact them. The consultant I spoke with suggested I look up in the phone book for retirement homes, country clubs, museums, tea houses and wedding shops [ for bridal showers]. I spoke with their event coordinators to set up performances. The local library also has a list of clubs that can be contacted.

My English finishing school tutor, Constance Pringle, Is always decked out with her parasol, matching fabric reticule [ petite purse], gloves and an embroidered handkerchief-which for an unmarried young lady was necessary to covey her feelings to potential suitors. She could encourage or discourage a besotted swain by using these accessories as a silent means of communication by the way she waved them. Charming period flirtations, which were administered with decorum, are also demonstrated to romance the heart. 

Giselle Dubois, my French milliner, is a very flamboyant character, so I dress her accordingly. I have created a dramatic tri-fold screen that is reminiscent of the ambience expected of a millinery Shoppe.

A deceptively opposite, conservative look was achieved for the Irish Victorian doctor, Tillie O'Malley, by donning a  black scarf at the neck and a black skirt. Tillie would not be concerned with a parasol when calling on patients, so her accouterment is a  doctor's bag full of period medical tools delight the audience.

The ever popular classic 'Anne Of Green Gables' series consists of eight  fascinating novels. I have turned this into a performance/book review. I dress her up as a grown woman in 1914 in a perfect replica of a n Edwardian gown. Her Titanic-inspired hat was found at Dillard's. Wigs are the best way to achieve an 1800's coiffure if you do not have long hair that can be put up.

When I perform as different characters from the Titanic, my audience is entertained while learning of the social nuances of life aboard the infamous ship. Meet an Irish immigrant, living on the lower deck and hear why she desires to travel to America. Listen to the opinions of a French lady and a peerage from Edwardian England. Allow Denver's own Maggie Brown to reveal the True story behind her character!

I must admit intense study for each character's creation was a must. My husband, Bob, recently asked of me if I could be content with the ones that I have already. " Can you stop creating now?", he asked. " No", says I." My next goal is a female Victorian detective, ready to come to the aid of like gender to dissolve their disturbing mysteries.

I am happy to say my business is doing great. As I became comfortable with one character, I created another. I found even more joy as I evolved to an entertainer able to encourage audience repartee. That's when the fun really began! I have added a 2 hour children's etiquette class as well. They are entertained while they learn, which I have found to be a great success.

There were many challenges and adventures in the building of my unique business, and I do not regret any of them! Thinking of starting a business of your own? My advice is to find something you are deeply interested in, and then use all of the resources that are readily available to you! Best wishes for your success!