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.