Tag Archives: antique clothing

Currently Reading – Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa

I’d had this book on my wishlist for a very long time after reading Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion’s review of it.  I kept putting off buying it frankly, because the book, even second-hand, is expensive.  But as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”  I did finally find this at a great price, but now that I have it in my hands and have read most of it, I realize this is one book I should have just gone ahead and purchased at any price.

Yes, it is that great.  I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of nineteenth century clothing is really lacking.  If it is not sports clothing, chances are I can’t tell an 1848 frock from an 1862 one.  But now, with the help of Joan Severa, I’m beginning to be able to look at antique photos and clothing with much more confidence.

I want you to pay attention to the subtitle: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900.  So many times we tend to look at nineteenth century fashion through the drawings of fashion plates in magazines.  One of the first lessons of this book is that while American women read and used the ideas and suggestions in women’s magazines of the time, the clothes they actually wore had practical adaptations to fit their lifestyles.

By “ordinary ” Severa means the bulk of Americans of all races, ages, and genders.  She purposely excludes the very rich who were more likely to wear clothes from Paris, and the very poor, who had little chance to follow fashion at all.  But what she reveals is that most people, even the working poor, were able to make fashionable adjustments to their clothing.

The book is divided into chapters that follow decade lines.  Severa is quick to mention the overlap of fashion across decade lines though.  She begins each decade with an overview of what was fashionable, and the changes that occurred.  This is followed up with photographs that illustrate all the trends she mentions in the text.  Each photo has a careful analysis of the clothing being worn.  I’m finding it fun to look at each photo before reading the accompanying analysis to see if I can see the things that reveal the age of the photo.

The photographs in the book were chosen from a large variety of sources.  Each is clearly labeled with the source institution or private collection, and the access number if there is one.  I can only imagine the work it took to actually find such a selection of photos, as the book was published in 1995, long before collections were digitized.

The earliest photographs are studio daguerreotypes.  Note that Severa uses not just the clothing Etta is wearing to place a date on her photo, but also her hairstyle.

Most of the later photographs were taken outside of a studio setting, many taken by a professional photographer.  This photo was taken in 1885-86 in California and while the setting is casual, the subjects are carefully posed for the camera.

I love this circa 1892 photo of Mrs. Van Schaick in her camp clothes.

As cameras became more portable, photos became more casually posed.

This photograph is part of the Atlanta History Center collection.  Taken in 1895, during the height of the bicycle craze.  I doubt that she actually wore this long skirted, tightly corseted dress while riding!

I love all the photos of workers that are in the book.  Many were taken on the job site, but this photograph of a textile mill worker was taken in a studio.

Dressed for the Photographer is a whopping 591 pages, including a wonderfully functional index, a glossary of clothing terms, and a comprehensive bibliography.  What more could one ask of a fashion history book?

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What I Didn’t Buy – Victorian Jacket

My area of collecting (and knowledge) pretty much starts around 1915, and anything earlier is just a mystery to me.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t take the time to look at and examine the odd piece of antique clothing that might show up in my local antique malls.  You just never know when there might be a Worth label or something insane like that sewn inside.

Well, unfortunately, the label was not Worth, but there was a label, which you don’t always see in antique clothing.  This one reads “Allemus, Philadelphia, Pa.”  I’ve come up empty in a search for this store or maker, although there were quite a few people with the Allemus surname living in Philadelphia in the late 1880s.

But I thought the jacket and its details made it interesting enough to show here.  It was a combination of cotton velvet and a plain weave wool.  The  cording was applied in an intricate pattern.  The inside was lined in an off-white silk that was completely shattered.  In fact, there were bits of silk on the floor below where the jacket was hanging.

In the late 1960s and early 70s when some crazy kids were starting to become interested in wearing old clothes, this would have been a real prize.  Today I can see it as part of a Steampunk ensemble.

There were only two unfortunate holes on one sleeve.

This looks like a very labor (and time) intensive button to me.

This was priced at $10, which I thought was a real bargain.  But I wasn’t tempted.  I’ve learned how to say no to all kinds of lonely old clothes hanging forlornly on wire hangers in antique malls.  It has taken years for me to get to the place where I can actually say that!

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