Portraying the Victorian Woman - Image 3

Portraying the Victorian Woman

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Image 3

We will date this photo to somewhere in the late 1850's.  Her hair is a late 1850's style which did not incorporate the side "puffs" of the earlier 50's styles.  Her hair appears to be thick and luxurious, but pulled back into a bun with fullness at the sides, but without the distinctive side puffs.  The shortened waist on this dress striking the woman at her natural waistline would indicate a later style as well.

  The dress fabric appears to have a bit of a shine to it, perhaps silk.  The neckline is cut into a habit-front with a white chemisette underneath.  Over this she has a wide crochet or open work collar.  The weave is open enough the neckline of the dress is visible through it at the shoulders, but it is more solid along the edge.  She wears a broach of some sort where the V-neckline comes together, a ribbon at her throat, and long dangling earrings.  She also wears a ring on the hand that is crossed over the other one, and a belt with stylish buckle.  The only trim visible (we cannot see the skirt treatment) is a simple ribbon just above the bottom of the cuffs.  The sleeves are approximately half way between elbow and wrist length, and she is not wearing undersleeves.  The absence of undersleeves is odd given the attention to detail in every other aspect of her dress.  

It is impossible to judge anyone's station in life from one photo, because some women were slaves to dress ignoring other areas where their attention was needed, but the attention to detail in this young lady's dress would indicate solid middle to upper middle class.  Her husband might be a merchant, planter, craftsman such as wagon or carriage maker, a druggist, a shoemaker, a miller, a tailor, a clerk, a minister, newspaper editor, a banker, a surveyor, or something along these lines.

She may have had help around the house, but also might have donned a work dress and provided for her own needs.  She probably was educated in the graces of dance, literature, art, and perhaps traveled to some extent.  She might have played piano, and her sewing skills might have included making clothing for her family and some of the fancier work.  

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