Classical hair - in 1805

Elisabeth von der Recke

(Photo by me - all rights reserved) 

This is a marble bust of the Baltic-German poet and writer Elisa von der Recke (1754-1833) - made by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1805-1806. It is a great example of the classical ideas and ideals of the early 19th century. It was meant to look like something from the Roman empire; the whole portrait is made to look like something 1800 years older than it actually is. This includes both hair and dress. And though the dress might have worked back then, the hair is very much a statement of its own time.

The hair was kept long, very long, but cut short in front and curled to frame the face and leaving the ears bare. The hair was then parted in to three braids (one is on top of her head from front to back, which can't really be seen here, but you can see it here). The other two braids were wrapped around the head in a full circle - hence that it at first glance look like just one, but very broad, braid around the head. And the extra hair in the back was then shaped into two extra, wavy buns. It was really meant to look like something from the Antiquity - but even though Roman hairstyles could be quite intricate they would never look like this, making this something very typical of the early 19th century.

And it should also be remembered that this is not just the hair-do for some young girl playing around, the sitter was actually a famous, 50-years-old writer at the time of this portrait. This was meant to be original and elegant - and I think she succeeded in that.


Woman from Vetlanda

Woman from Vetlanda
Date: Late 19th century or early 20th century
Photographer: B. Bolling
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Vetlanda, Sweden
This a great example of the fashion at the turn of the 19th century - when the blouse was becoming a favourite piece of clothing for many women, more practical worn together with a skirt than a dress. And as can be seen here this did not necessarily mean that the blouse was not a fancy garment. This blouse is in all probability home-sewn, but elegantly so. Note the lace on the front of the blouse, the creases on the sleeves and of course the high collar - also with lace. This blouse is really a show-piece.

The brooch is a rather typical late 19th century piece, but the necklace is a bit more original - and it is hard to say if the design is crude or edgy and modern (for the time).


Women from July 1850

July 1850
Date: July 1850
Originally published in: Le Moniteur de la mode
Description: Two women outdoors - one in a walking-dress and one in a somewhat less formal day-dress. 

The day dress is perhaps the most interesting piece here, with the pink skirt and the white blouse. The key question is if this is a one-piece dress sewn in two different fabrics, or if it is a skirt and a blouse. It really does look like two-piece thing, the material is obviously very different and dresses sewn in two separate fabrics are not a common thing (it is actually so rare that I have never seen any evidence for it). But there is a big problem with this - in the 1850's a blouse was not considered a fashionable garment for the upper classes, and these fashion plates were made for that specific audience. (And no, it isn't a jacket since a jacket couldn't be tucked in to the skirt as is the case here.) Still, the material of the blouse is obviously expensive, only for the well off. From this I think we can draw two conclusions: it's a garment meant to be worn at home as it is much less formal, and it was probably aimed at the somewhat younger clientele, being a bit more practical, probably somewhat less expensive than a whole dress and easier to wear. The woman in the picture is wearing a bonnet, but since it's outside and the black lace is obviously there to hide her face from the sun it only reveals that she doesn't want a tan and nothing about weather she is a married (older) woman or not. But she definitely comes across as younger than the other one, the woman in blue.

The other dress, the walking-dress is much more straight forward. It's the typical shape, size and model for a dress of that type at that time - with the usual accessories of bonnet and gloves (and dog). Though I am not sure light gloves are the ideal for picking cherries...


A 1900 tea-gown in the Victoria & Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum - Tea-gown
This tea-gown, by the Parisian Rouff, dates to around 1900. The front panel was probably made in India, but to suit European tastes, and the lace is from Limerick, Ireland. According to the Victorian & Albert museum (where it can be seen) it is: woven silk damask embroidered with glass and metal beads, and metal thread, chain-stitch embroidered net.

Additional shots of the dress:
Victoria and Albert Museum - Tea-gown

The lace on the back of this dress is quite amazing - flowing like a cascading waterfall to the floor. Very beautiful but more meant for standing up than sitting down, one would assume. The same lace can then be seen at the sleeves and covering part of the skirt giving it a feeling of a fairy-tale princess dress. 

Victoria and Albert Museum - Tea-gown
Here the beading and embroidery can be seen very clearly - along with the dress silhouette so typical of the Edwardian era: a thing waist and the chest pushed out like on a hen (perhaps not the most flattering of models that fashion history has come up with).

All photos are (c) Rebecca Bugge.


Self promotion

I know a lot of you who come to this blog do so because you're interested in fashion history. Good for you, since I'm that way too - I might add. This means that you might be interested in photos I have that relate to this subject and which can be found here!

It is a collection of two kinds of things, one part photos taken in museums of different clothes and accessories, and one part is vintage photos which shows more of the clothes than just the upper part (as can be quite common in portrait photography). I hope you can find something there to enjoy!


Women from 1850 (this time with riding habit)

Victorian fashion plate

(Click on the picture for larger version.)

Date: 1850
Originally published in: Le Moniteur de la mode
Description: These two women actually manage to look rather natural in this scene - it is not a case of a morning dress and an evening dress sharing a bench in a garden (the arrangement of the models shown on these fashion plates does not always have much to do with logic), but two women dressed to be outdoors, in the daytime - which is exactly where they are.

The woman to the left, the one in the light blue dress, shows an ordinary dress - though with more trimmings than were always common even on fashion plates. She has the typical wide dress for the time around 1850, the slim waist and the sloping shoulders which were an ideal back then. The sleeves are long and indicate that this is a dress meant to be worn in the day time, or less formally (if you had the money you were expected to change for dinner - and if you could afford this dress, you had that kind of money! But as I have pointed out before, these prints were inspiration for people with less means too, they just did not make them quite as fancy but a liking for fashion among not just the richest is not a phenomenon new to our time).

The dress, or skirt and jacket to be more precise, to the right shares the same silhouette on the upper part of the woman's body, but the skirt is not as wide. This is a riding habit and meant to be at least a little bit practical (in reality it still meant that women couldn't sit in a normal saddle on a horse but had to have a ladies version where they could have both legs on the same side of the horse's back). A riding habit was of course really a garment only meant for the rich and idle who could keep riding horses - horses were common back in the good old days, but that does not mean everyone kept one, least of all for riding - which could explain the light, rather impractical colour of the skirt which ought to require washing up after just one outing, suggesting a lot of servants who could take care of that. More often riding habits were made of darker materials which could take at least some dirt.


The woman in a coat

Woman from Målilla
Date: Late 19th century or early 20th century
Photographer: Thyra Jensen
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Målilla, Sweden
Against a painted backdrop with birches and a stream this unknown Swedish woman shows off her quite elegant coat and walking stick. I have a quite extensive collection of vintage photos, but I do not have all that many showing women in coats - generally they prefer to show off their dresses (but for an example of a coat-dressed lady, see this photo - though admittedly that is a lady with quite a different... flair). Why this woman chose this outfit, and to pose with her walking stick will remain a mystery.

Whatever her reason, her clothes, attributes and general pose reminds you more of a portrait of a man from the turn of the last century than a woman. But a woman she is, most definitely.


Ester Blenda Nordström

Name: Ester Blenda Nordström
Born: March 31 1891
Died: October 15 1948
Married to: René Malaise
Children: None
Occupation: Writer and journalist

Nordström was born in Stockholm and it was there her working career started. At first she was volunteering at the newspaper Stockholms Dagblad, and later she got a job at Svenska Dagbladet. There she wrote under the pen-name "Bansai" and worked there 1911-1917. It was while at SvD she did her first work as an undercover journalist (she was one of the first to do so in Sweden). She took work as a servant girl at a farm and published a series of articles with the title "En månad som tjänsteflicka på en bondgård i Södermanland" [translated the title would mean: A month as a servant girl on a farm in Södermanland] and it was later turned in to a book: "En piga bland pigor" (1914). The main focus of both articles and book was to report on the harsh living and working conditions for a group of people who had very little ability to protest or in any way improve their lives. The book was later turned into a film in 1924, directed by John W. Brunius (but the actual story only loosely follows the book).

While working at Svenska Dagbladet she also made her other big undercover project, travelling as a teacher in Lappland and meeting the Sami people - it ended with yet another book "Kåtornas folk" (1916) [The people of the kåta].

Having left SvD she also took up a career as a fiction writer, aiming at young girls and she published "En rackarunge" [A little rascal] in 1919. This book is famous for actually mainly dealing with a young heroine who does not just end up married but the girl's growing independence. But her main work still lay with the social journalism and in the beginning of the 1920's she travelled to the US as a third class passenger on a boat, worked as a waitress once arrived and then travelled across the country as a hitch-hiker. She wrote about her experiences in the book "Amerikanskt: som emigrant till Amerika" (1923) [American: as an immigrant in America].

In 1925 she married the entomologist René Malaise (1892-1978) and went with him to Kamchatka in the Soviet Union and she stayed there in a small village for five years. She wrote about it in the book "Byn i vulkanens skugga" (1930) [The village in the shadow of the volcano]. By the time she returned to Sweden her marriage was over - they divorced in 1929.

She died in Stockholm in 1948, 57 years old.

If you read Swedish, her book "En piga bland pigor" was republished by Bakhåll in 2012 - and is well worth a read. It is a fluent and fascinating study of times not so far from us as we could be tempted to believe.


Evening dress and walking dress from 1846

1846 - Victorian women

Date: 1846
Originally published in: Unknown
Description: Two women in what is supposed to come off as natural poses where they are to show off the latest fashion.The naturalness of the picture is somewhat hampered by the woman to the right wearing a walking dress, and the woman to the left an evening dress - a combination that would rarely have been seen in reality. Especially not since it is hinted (with the bench one of the women is sitting on) to be outside.

The sitting woman in the walking dress is wearing a light blue dress (probably painted darker in original - the print has been somewhat bleached by the sun) with frills not just on the skirt but also on the sleeves, a detail that is not that common. She also has the usual attributes for a proper lady being out-doors: a bonnet on her head, gloves on her hands and a shawl behind her. The shawl is supposed to be worn over the shoulders, instead of a coat, which was quite popular at the time.

The other woman, the one who is standing up, has a dress a lot in common with the other woman's - in spite of this being an evening dress. The silhouette is the same, with sloping shoulders, V-shaped neck-line, the corset-created slim waist and a wide skirt (still not as wide as it would become some ten years later, but still wide enough to require a lot of undergarments). The thing that gives away that this really is an evening-dress are the short sleeves. A proper lady did not show her bare arms in the day-time. And if you spotted that, the lower neck-line hints at the same thing (even though it is far from as low as it could get). The fabric is very light, there are a lot of additional details to the dress, both to the bodice, sleeves and skirt, and is obviously made for showing off at social gatherings and dancing. And of course she is wearing gloves - because that is what you did at a dance.


Woman from Wimmerby

Woman from Vimmerby

Date: Sometime 1883-1888
Photographer: August Widén
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Vimmerby (or possibly Hultsfred), Sweden

Another shot from my collection of unknown persons from the past - from a family album. I don't know if she was a friend or a relative and no description was given on the photo. It was obviously clear to the owner and little thought was given to what would happen to it a hundred years or so later.

(Learn from this the good idea of always writing down who is on a photo, and perhaps also when it was taken - be it a photo on paper or on your computer, you will regret it otherwise, some day. End of lecture.)

The woman comes from somewhere in Småland, perhaps from Vimmerby (then spelled Wimmerby) or Hultsfred, where the photographer also had a studio. There is no date and her dress is rather indistinct fashion-wise, but the photography itself is revealing. On the back it says the photographer was awarded in 1883 (which of course means it can't be earlier than that) but I know from other sources later photos from the same man boasts of an award he won in 1888 - which makes it highly unlikely this would be taken after that.

The dress itself is not very fashionable, she is not wearing expensive clothes of the latest cut and her hair-do is quite simple. Her dress has a rather coarse fabric and the fitting is far from perfect - and at the same time it is likely this was her best dress, she has tried to add some finer details with the placing of the buttons and the arrangement with the collar. It is very likely she had seen pictures of the current fashion and then sewn this dress herself (and if she did not, someone in her family - in any case not anyone professional). She is in her Sunday best for this photo-shoot and she has even added some jewellery, both a brooch for the collar and a little horseshoe-shaped pin for her hair. All in all it would seem she was a member of the lower classes, probably one of those who worked the land without owning it, who were in abundance in the late 19th century Sweden - many of whom would leave this either for a life in the city or even take the big leap of faith and move to the US.

Compare this photo with this - it is from the same album, but of one of those women who left with hopes of a better life in a new place.


Women from 1850

October 1850 - Victorian women and a boy

Date: October 1850
Originally published in: Le moniteur de la mode.
Description: These two dresses clearly point to the thin line between day-dresses and walking costumes, they are both very elegant with a lot of trimming and lace details. Even the day-dress, the light blue one, is made to look fashionable and expensive and not just to be a practical costume worn around the house when doing the daily chores. It looks just as formal as the walking dress, the green one, which was meant to be worn when going out and when you were seen by others. The difference of function can only be spotted in the details.

The light-blue day dress is accompanied by a small lace cap on the woman's head, signalling her married status and worn all the time. The woman in the green walking dress has the necessary attributes for going out in a more formal way, she has a bonnet on her head (worn by both married and unmarried women when outside) and a big shawl over the dress - the same colours indicating they were meant to be worn together as one ensemble, though you might question how often that was done in real life since most women did not own that many dresses and most likely did not have a matching shawl for each and everyone of them for when going out.

(If you look at the photo at the original resolution - click on it - you cannot only see the dresses in high detail but also the names of the places where to buy the different details of the dresses, for example the lace comes from Cambrai - formerly spelled Cambray.)


Immigrant woman

Woman from Genoa, Nebraska
Date: 1890's
Photographer: Cody - probably the photographer's last name
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Genoa, Nebraska, USA

At the end of the 19th century thousands of men, women and children left their homes in Europe in search for a new life in the US. Quite a few of them came from Sweden - some of them made it over there, some of them did not, and quite a few of them sent photos home to family and friends they had left behind. This is an example of that. It comes from a family photo-album, which once belonged to my great-grandfather who had relatives who went over and sent photos home to him and his family. But the name of the woman in the photo is lost.

This photo is quite typical of the ones people took to show how well they did in their new world. It is much bigger than your typical CDV (the usual format for portrait photos from this time), over twice the size actually, and the woman shown in full figure is wearing a very elegant dress - especially if you keep in mind that she came from rather humble surroundings in her old homeland where a dress like this would have been reserved for higher classes than hers. Also the hair is made with great care. It is actually made with so much care that the poser chose to take her hat off and keep it on the chair next to her, and not on her head (which would have hidden her carefully arranged curls). And at the same time it is important to show the hat too - something she most likely would never had owned back home, women of the lower classes most often wore shawls and not hats.

Compare her with the woman on this photo from the same album - who is a typical example of what the women back home looked like, and how she herself would have been dressed had she stayed in her old country.


Sakuya Shiina

Name: Sakuya Shiina ( 椎名 サクヤ), Saku for short. 
Appears in:  Hoshi wa Utau (also known as Twinkle Stars, manga in 11 volumes)
Creator: Natsuki Takaya
Age: 18 years old

A character I love from one of the best mangas out there - and created by one of my favourite mangakas (manga creators) Natsuki Takaya, most known for Fruits Basket. The last chapter of the story was released in the magazine Hana to Yume in Japan on the 20th of January this year.

Saku lives in a small town in Japan, attending the last year of high school, working part-time, and has a small stargazing club at school with her two friends, Hijiri and Yuri. But life has not been easy for her, when her parents got divorced her mum had no interest in her and she stayed with her father and step-mother and became the victim of psychological abuse. She ends up living with her cousin Kanade, a rather lazy and unfriendly person who doesn't care for much - but that arrangement actually works. In school she is rather average and often get picked on. Her greatest interest is watching the stars, which gives her comfort and strength to carry on.

Things take a strange turn for her when she meets Chihiro Aoi, a young man who suddenly appears in her life - actually at her very informal birthday party when she turns 18. She thought he was a friend of Kanade and Kanade had invited him thinking Chihiro was Saku's boyfriend. He is, of course, neither. The second time Saku meets Chihiro they talk about stars - and the whole conversation ends with Chihiro shouting at her that he hates her. And then they end up in the same class in school.

Chihiro doesn't have much to recommend him, but still Saku falls for him. She can see that he is a troubled person, and she tries to show him how you can find happiness in this world all the same. She tries to teach him about the singing stars. He is a very slow learner, but Saku has patience, and even when she learns about him having a girl-friend from before, Sakura, who tried to commit suicide and ended up in a coma, she can't give up on her feelings. She knows that it will make her unhappy, that she can never compete with the duty Chihiro feels for Sakura.

How it all ended? You can find the answer here! (I don't want to have too much spoilers on this blog - but I have no such scruples on my other.)


Roman hair-do, ca 350 A.D.

Glyptoteket - Roman woman

Date: About 350 A.D.
Place: The Roman Empire
Exhibited at: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
Photo: Mine
Description: This is a late Roman piece (late as in "everything of importance to the Roman empire happened in the first 150 years after the year 1 A.D.", not as in that the western Roman empire wouldn't survive for another hundred years) and it shows a hair-do quite as complicated as they could be earlier. Romans might not have heard of hair-spray or -gel, but they still managed to create some amazing coiffures - and some where you wonder how anyone could have worn it. This hair-do is rather easy to understand - the sculpture offering a clear view of it (though it does not reveal if she had hair extensions - which we know were sometimes used).

With or without the help of extra hair, the hair was gathered into two long braids which was curled around the head to form something not totally unlike a basket (though a crown might be a more suitable term, if you want to sound fancy). This meant that the top of the head (not seen here) was left exposed, but framed by braids, and the face, in turn, was framed by a curly fringe, going from ear to ear and leaving just a couple of slightly bigger curls at each ear. It is obviously a hair-do for the very rich - and only the very rich would have afforded to immortalize themselves in a piece of stone like this - but at the same time it might very well have been a hair-do that would survive day-to-day business quite well.


Fashion from 1845

1845 - Victorian women

Date: 1845
Source: Unknown
Description: The colours of this plate have rather washed out, probably by too much sun but you can still trace a light green in the dress on the woman to the left and a light blue on the woman to the right. The colours were probably darker to begin with - and the dresses at this time were often in shades darker than these.

The dress to the left is a common day dress, worn in the daily life of most women at the time - complete with the bonnet of the married woman (or elderly women who were unmarried, but considered themselves off the marriage market). The woman to the right is wearing a walking dress, a little bit more formal than the day dress, meant for wearing when venturing outside - for example when paying a visit to friends. The dress is completed with gloves and a bonnet and a shawl. Shawls could be worn instead of a coat, and were rather big garments, matching the big skirts.


Woman with a stiff collar

Woman from Vetlanda
Date: Before 1909
Photographer: Nanny Ekström
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Vetlanda (Hvetlanda, with old spelling) - or possibly Wirserum (Virserum), Sweden.

This photo is possibly late 1890's, but more likely from the first years of the 1900's. There is no date on it (nor a name), but the photographer had changed her design of her own name on the photos by 1909.

The most striking thing about this portrait is the collar the woman is wearing. It has a rather male flare to it, very high and rigid - probably very uncomfortable to wear with a lot of starch (and I really mean a lot - these pieces could be so solid they had an almost cardboard-y feeling to them) and not entirely practical. It was not something you used as a woman if you were to run your household, do cooking and cleaning and look after your children. This was the time of housekeepers - if you could afford it - but that did not mean the woman was supposed to just sit back in a chair and not do anything, just that the odds of having to get your hands dirty was much lessened. This woman is not dressed for that - her attire has a formal feel to it which makes me guess (though, for obvious reasons, without knowing) that she either worked as a teacher or in an office of some kind. This is after all the time when women (unmarried women) were able to get out and get a job in a way that had never been possible before, without degrading herself in the eyes of society.

I unfortunately know precious little about the photographer herself - not much more beyond the fact that she was active in the late 19th century and early 20th, in a town in Småland, Sweden. She was obviously successful in her work because she could open a second shop in another, smaller, town. And she was herself a part of this new society where women had more possibilities of earning their own living - being a photographer was something that was considered possible for 'proper' women to do.