Dress Diary 1855-1917

A few days ago, when I was looking at the Hollywood costume sketches at the Brooklyn Museum, I noticed this wonderful dress diary in their archives.

The diary’s owner, Ida Jackson, was born in Cazenovia, New York, in 1855, and at some point moved to Boston.  Twenty-five pages are available for viewing online. The earlier pages of this scrapbook have pictures of Ida– not all of them are dated, but they capture her at about ages 7 to 20.  The later pages have dress drawings cut out from fashion magazines, with samples of the fabrics and trims that were used to make them up.



For anyone interested in determining dates of old photos, a resource like this in invaluable.  And it is also a great resource for design ideas.  Look at that black and white trim on the top right of the page above – that design was woven in, not just printed on to the fabric.  I have, of course, printed up everything available (not all the pages are online) so I can study it in detail.

Accompanying this diary is a 7-page commentary that was written in 1946 by someone named Lawrence Romaine of Middleboro, Massachusetts.  It reads like a presentation that he might have given to a historic society, but it has plenty of informal comments in it, such as “My guess is that you may be a bit tired of it too. It is time to close.”  It seems like if these were notes for a presentation, he wouldn’t need to put in little off-the-cuff remarks like that.

It’s ironic that he spends a lot of time decrying the lack of information in the dress diary –“It is too bad that Miss Jackson didn’t write a bit more in detail… Whether mourning was worn for Mother or Father…we shall never know,” and so on — because he never says who he is, nor for what purpose he is writing.  But through the wonder of the internet, I found out that Laurence Romaine was a book antiquarian, and an expert on American trade catalogs, which he used as a source to study American manufacturing history.  He collected 41,000 trade catalogs which are now in Special Collections at UC Santa Barbara Library.  He also collected all sorts of popular culture items, and that must be how he came across this dress diary.

There are 11 boxes of textile information in that UCSB library, 5 boxes of sewing and needlework information, and 30 boxes of clothing information, but sadly, none of it is online.  All those treasures going unseen!  I feel very lucky to have found this delightful dress diary online at the Brooklyn Museum.