Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900

Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900

Hardcover(New Edition)



Fashion has always been a cultivating force. And during the 19th century—a time of great change—fashion was a powerful component in the development of American society. Through dress, average individuals could step beyond class divisions and venture into the world of the elite and privileged. Beginning in 1840, with the advent of the daguerreotype, that moment could be captured for a lifetime.

In Dressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa gives a visual analysis of the dress of middle-class Americans from the mid-to-late 19th century. Using images and writings, she shows how even economically disadvantaged Americans could wear styles within a year or so of current fashion. This desire for fashion equality demonstrates that the possession of culture was more important than wealth or position in the community.

Arranging the photographs by decades, Severa examines the material culture, expectations, and socioeconomic conditions that affected the clothing choices depicted. Her depth of knowledge regarding apparel allows her to date the images with a high degree of accuracy and to point out significant details that would elude most observers. The 272 photographs included in this volume show nearly the full range of stylistic details introduced during this period. Each photograph is accompanied with a commentary in which these details are fully explored. In presenting a broad overview of common fashion, Severa gathers letters and diaries as well as photographs from various sources across the United States. She provides graphic evidence that ordinary Americans, when dressed in their finest attire, appeared very much the same as their wealthier neighbors. But upon closer examination, these photographs often reveal inconsistencies that betray the actual economic status of the sitter.

These fascinating photographs coupled with Severa’s insights offer an added dimension to our understanding of 19th century Americans. Intended as an aid in dating costumes and photographs and as a guide for period costume replication, Dressed for the Photographer provides extensive information for understanding the social history and material culture of this period. It will be of interest to general readers as well as to social historians and those interested in fashion, costume, and material culture studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780873385121
Publisher: Kent State University Press
Publication date: 10/27/1995
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 540
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 11.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Joan L. Severa, age 89, passed away on March 5, 2015.She was born on August 7, 1925, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Her career started at the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 1958, and by 1979 she had worked her way up to Curator of Costume and Textiles, which included Decorative Arts. During her tenure, Joan published many articles on historic costume for living history centers and created the Patterns of History. Among her many achievements is her book,Dressed for the Photographer 1840-1900. The book won the CSA Millia Davenport Award in 1996, and prizes from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Victorian Society in America, Wisconsin Library Association and the Golden Pen Writing Award from the United States Institute for Theater Technicians. She followed up with another book,My Likeness Taken.

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Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great reference book for clothing historians, or those interested in learning more about historic clothing in America. The book covers American clothing history from the 1840s until the end of the 19th century. It features pictures of men, women, children, and family portraits. A detailed analysis of the historic clothing accompanies each picture. Most pictures depict people of the upper and middle classes, and there are some pictures of the working/laboring classes. The nuances of clothing fashions (sleeve designs, skirt lengths, collars) are also described. The book seems quite well researched, using primary sources and secondary information to obtain a high level of accuracy. Overall, this is a wonderful book.
Waterblob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent overview of the clothing and culture of middle-class America during the Victorian era. Severa analyzes fashion through contemporary photographic images and dissects what we're viewing in new ways. This is a topic not often explored.
ithilwyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lots of photographs in this volume. Great inspiration.
MsMixte on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great reference book.
emmelisa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has experienced the frustration of having 19th-century ancestral portraits without ancestral dates attached will find help here. Severa's immense depth of knowledge of American clothing styles in the 1800s is generously laid out before the reader, and soon you are amazed at the details she points out that you hadn't known were there. She does not limit herself to women's clothing, but covers men's and children's clothes with equal care. And the photos she has selected feature people from a wide range of economic levels as well. Even clothing that is largely in rags can have a story to tell, and Severa helps it to speak. Lengthy text chapters introduce each decade and give readers an overall view of major fashion trends. Spend enough time with this book, and you should be able to make at least an educated guess at the decade of the next 100+ year-old photograph you stumble across.