I’m still staying inside out of the heat, cataloging my antique photos. I’ve been working in the 1880s, and here are a few of my favorites.
When you look closely, you can see that the area around her mid-section has been re-touched. It looks to me as if the photographer even redrew the buttons to match up with her new waistline.
In Dressed for the Photographer, Joan L. Severa gives a description that seems to match this picture, “The bustle size reached its climax in 1886, as the short corset also returned; thus, the fashionable body was confined sharply through the rib cage and released just about the natural waistline into a nearly horizontal deep bustle in the back and fuller hips at the sides…” (p. 378)
I can imagine that when this lady handed her cabinet cards out to her friends, none of them had the courage to say to her, “Why, Minerva, how is it that you looked so much smaller around the waist then than you do now?” She would give them that look, daring them to say anything, and they just would have swallowed their words.
I have a lot of family photographs, but the one below is one of the few that I can date with certainty. This is a wedding photo of some very distant relatives — the man is 26 and has just arrived from the Netherlands, and the girl (also born in the Netherlands) is 16! Family records say the year is 1881.
I have created a database to help keep track of all the features of both photo and fashion styles to help me come up with dates. In case you are thinking of doing something similar, here is a sample page.
I was going to try to sort them by date first and then catalog them, but with the database (in Microsoft Access) I am able to input them randomly and then filter by whatever feature I want. I really like being able to put the image on the form.
I have also purchased the book 19th Century Card Photos Kwik-guide. It doesn’t have the detailed fashion information I was hoping for, but it is very helpful with figuring out dates from card characteristics just as borders, photography studio imprints, and so on. If only all these photographers had read the book, and mounted all their photographs according to trends, this project would be easier!