5/25/2008

Photo of the week - Consuelo Vanderbilt, 1899


Date: 1899
Photographer: Lafayette studios
Sitter: Consuelo, duchess of Marlborough (born Vanderbilt)
Provenience: London, England

This is another example of the photos taken by the famous photography studio Lafayette (for another example see this earlier post). And the sitter is just as famous as the studio, she being the American heiress and English duchess Consuelo Vanderbilt (more on her can be seen here).

The Lafayette studios mostly took pictures of people visiting the royal court, but they also had time to take pictures of people in more ordinary circumstances, as can be clearly seen in this photo. A duchess is hardly an ordinary person and her appearance is not that of a common woman, but she is dressed in day-wear and she was supposed to be able to walk away from the photo shoot without having to change her clothing.

Her dress is the latest fashion of 1899, with the narrow skirt that widens into a train, decorated with lace. Lace is something that is all other this dress, lace was very popular at this time, and good lace was very expensive so it was a good way to show off your social status (and that you had the money). The arms of the dress are very narrow and not quite so 'legs of mutton' as they would have been a few years earlier, when they would have made the arms look almost deformed with their great widths at the upper part of the arm and the narrowness of the lower part.

At the top of her head rests a hat on top of the curly hair that has been built up to add quite a lot to her height. The hat itself has a whole bouquet of artificial flowers decorating it, making it even higher - and possibly a bit hard to wear, but it is after all the time of the hat pin - a needle of about 1-2 decimeters with a nicely decorated head that was stuck into the hat and the hair (but preferably with some kind of care since it could really hurt if it went into the skin as well, it was a sharp thing after all).

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